Spring Racing and Transvulcania

Let me just open up with some news about my first big event of the season...I'm racing Transvulcania in May. It takes place on one of the Canary Islands - La Palma - which is essentially a mountain dropped into the ocean off the coast of Morocco. As you can guess, this means a lot of climbing and descending, and probably some sharp lava-type rock. The entire Transvulcania event happens over several days, offers multiple race distances, has thousands of competitors, and oh ya...it's the first race in the 2016 SkyRunner Ultra World Series. It will be the biggest and most important international running race that I have ever done. To state the obvious here, I am taking my preparation for it pretty seriously.

With Transvulcania such an important goal, the first few months of 2016 have been focused on doing the best that I can to be ready for some of the challenges it will throw at me. The distance, 73km, isn't anything to scoff at...but it is within my comfort zone. I like racing in the heat, but to be ready for the hot May weather in the Canaries, I will do some acclimating at home. The one factor that I can't do much about though is the altitude. The profile for the race is essentially a 17km climb (from sea-level) to 2000m, rolling for 30+km up to 2400m, a ripping 20km descent back to sea-level, then finishing off with a 4km climb up to the finish line. So as you can see, the bulk of the race will be spent at about 2000m. This definitely is not 'High Altitude', but it is enough to take the sharp edge off of ones performance. Realistically, my only plan for the altitude is to just respect it and pull the throttle back a bit. With that said though, I have been working on something that might help in the first part of the race - climbing with poles.

I have never been a fan of hiking/running poles, essentially because I think they are dorky. But the engineer in me has done the calculations, and given that they are allowed (for sections) in Transvulcania, I think they could be of some benefit. The real problems with using poles though are more peripheral - like storing them while running, the time it takes to pack/unpack them, and their impact on your fueling. It all comes down to determining if there is a net gain to using them. Will the time and/or energy savings make up for the lost time from having to fumble with pulling them out and packing them away? Given that I will probably only use them for around 15km km of climbing (at approx 15% incline), the net benefit isn't obvious. There is a real possibility that my expensive, folding, carbon poles will end up in a trashcan half way up the first climb.

Ok, so now to what has been happening for the last 3 months...

Steps from the finish at RRR. photo by Brian McCurdy

I can sum that one up pretty easily - lots of miles, and a sprinkling of racing. I took a 'down' week at the end of December, which is rare for me, but It meant that I came back really motivated. I hopped in a couple shorter, local, XC races in January. I was happy with the with those efforts, and I managed to post some quick times and win both of them. I then got into the grind - a stretch of four weeks (into mid February) where I put in some of my biggest training ever. That lead me into another pair of races, the Coast Mountain Trail Series - Run Ridge Run (25km), followed a week later by the Dirty Duo Ultra (50km). I kinda surprised myself at Run Ridge Run. It felt like I only had to put out a 7/10 mental effort for a 9/10 physical outcome. I won the race, and despite a slightly longer course this year, set a new course record. Feeling pretty proud of myself, and probably a bit too confident, I lined up for the Dirty Duo 50km the next weekend. It was all part of the big picture for Transvulcania, and I (mistakenly) expected to be feeling good again. But as you can guess, things didn't go to plan this time around. I suffered...I bonked...I got my ass kicked , but hung on for 2nd place. Conngratulations to Relu for taking the win. On the bright side though, it turned out to be one of those 'mental toughness' days. I didn't get the physical performance that I was hoping for, but the back-to-back weekend experiment produced some valuable data. I now know what I won't be doing in my lead up for Transvulcania !

I was still leading at this point in the DD...but the cracks were forming. Photo by Chris Thorn

I was still leading at this point in the DD...but the cracks were forming. Photo by Chris Thorn

Quite strangely, after cratering at the DD on the Saturday, I woke up Sunday and felt really good. I decided to just go with it...screw taking any easy days... and I opted to jump right in to a surprisingly strong 12 days of training.

...I know what you're thinking, and it was in the back of my mind too - MISTAKE - but the proof, as they say, is in the pudding (whatever the hell that means). The possibility of taking another beating didn't deter me from lining up for a race this last weekend (2 weeks after the DD). It was race #2 for Coast Mountain - the Cap Crusher (13km). The shorter distance, and very hilly course, meant that it was going to be a nasty anaerobic test...and it didn't disappoint. With a few fast guys hot on my heels for motivation, I put in a hard effort and managed to cross the line in first. More importantly though, the course was essentially the same as last year, and I was about a minute quicker this time around. Seems like I'm moving in the right direction.

Some amazing scenery for a race. photo by Brian McCurdy

Some amazing scenery for a race. photo by Brian McCurdy

Scott, myself, Noel - mens 13km podium. Photo by Brian McCurdy

With 5 races in the bank already for 2016, I feel like that is probably enough before Transvulcania. I am tempted to hop in to the 5Peaks race in Alice Lake next month, but it's more likely that I will bring my girls with me and volunteer for it instead. For the next month or so my focus will be on a little less mileage, but a little more specific intensity, and maybe a speed session or two thrown in there. And oh ya...probably some practice with those damn poles.