… from a CrossFitter training to run an Ultramarathon.
Jesse and I started 2011 with the intention of competing/participating in at least 3 different events. We started the year with the 24 hour row, and quickly shifted gears to train and compete for the Powerlifting meet in Washington in April. But somehow running an ultramarathon crept it’s way into my mind in January and I have a notorious habit of making things happen as soon as they are conceptualized, regardless of whether or not they are realistic (Jesse won’t even tell me ideas/plans until he is ready to see them happen).
I’ll save the description of the psychological process for another time (it’s an entry in itself). I have however gone through a significant body process. I had a few nagging running injuries from the past that I brought into the process with me. I also acquired a few irritable things in the early phases of training and trying to solidify running with the pose method. But I can honestly say that 9 months, hundreds of training hours and dozens of treatment hours later I feel better than when I started (injury wise). The original injuries are gone, as are the transitional running aches and pains. All I have now is a slightly nagging IT band tendon that also seems to be resolving in the 11th hour. One of my goals was to approach race day injury free and I feel that I have almost completely accomplished that. To be honest, the odds seem generally stacked against an ultra runner. I absolutely would not be in this position without my understanding of the human body, my baseline strength and my health care people. I also took extra rest days when needed, was attached to the ice pack regularly, stretched religiously and didn’t ignore any pain that felt significant.
Like every other fitness agenda that I have had, a large part of it is experimenting to see how my body responds/changes/adapts to the task. I’m a good candidate for experiments like this as I have always been athletic and my body weight hasn’t varied more than 5ish Ibs since I filled into my scrawny teenage body. Being a CrossFitter for the last 4 years and using CrossFit as the foundation for my training, I also set the goal to not let my lifts go down while training… for as long as humanly possible. I actually succeeded in this until about late July (right around when the runs got long). My deadlift and squat hovered at around 5-10#s under my PRs which I felt really good about. I actually PR’d my bench and finally got strict handstand pushups. I even PR’d my Eva time by 4 minutes and a few other benchmarks like Helen in the earlier days of training. But once my runs got longer my general fatigue went way up. Day to day activities and work felt ok but I had hardly any gas for my CrossFit workouts and my lifts felt sooo heavy. It was taking me about 4 days to fully recover from long run days but I was lifting within 3. It was hard to swallow that I was less of a well rounded CrossFitter and had become an endurance athlete. This is the closest thing to specialist (by fitness definitions… not necessarily by performance, haha) I have ever been.
It was also right around that time that Jesse announced to me that my bum had disappeared. I knew that was the beginning of the end for my lifts. I think with specialized training the body shifts to what is needed, and muscle that isn’t being used dominantly well… goes away. I remember on some of the earlier longish runs feeling like I was carrying too much muscular weight in my legs and glutes (which I know sounds weird because I am relatively small to begin with). But once I started to feel like I was losing muscle mass, I also felt lighter and more efficient. A week and a half ago, 3 and 4 days after my longest run day (40ish kms on trail so roughly 5 1/4 hours) we tested my maxes for my powerlifts. I came up 15# short on my backsquat, 10# short on my bench, and 40# short (!!!) on my deadlift!!! It was a blast to my ego and all I could say to Jesse was “well I can run really far really slow now”. That said, I don’t know how many 124# endurance running females (CrossFit Endurance athletes not included) are able to deadlift 235# 10 days out from an ultra. How could that not help on the hill climbs?!?
The other change that happened is that I suddenly realized that I am now designed to go slow no matter what I am doing… train to go slow=go slow. We knew that the research pointed to that, but I had never realized how dramatic that concept can be. Having CrossFit workouts with running in them is a great measure for this. Even though intervals have been a huge part of my training, as time has gone on my long runs have become more comfortable and my short runs/intervals much much slower (but the sad part is I still feel like I’m going fast). My body has transitioned from a high proportion of fast twitch muscle fibers to what feels like almost entirely slow twitch. I feel like I have hardly any explosive power right now. Although to be totally fair, I think that a degree of fatigue is playing a significant role in my current CrossFit workout performance.
So now that I have taken you through how I felt and what I THOUGHT was happening to my body I will fill you in on the results of my latest Bodycomp Imaging scan. Jesse and I had scans done last February so I could compare to then. I went in two days ago to do a pre-race check in and see what the actual effects of training were. I was shocked by the results.
– My overall body weight was up 0.8 Ibs (although had I not eaten our Thanksgiving dinner to the point of stomach pains, and button loosening, the night before this would likely have been less) * I didn’t expect my overall weight to have changed much since I rarely fluctuate.
– My lean muscle mass was down 0.1 Ib. That’s it! 0.1 Ib loss?!? Good I suppose, but why does it appear so much more significant???
– My body fat is up 0.7 Ib …. given that I eat at least twice as much now including lots of higher glycemic fruits and veggies, not surprising.
– I have lost a tiny amount of mass from my right leg (my weaker leg already), and my left leg has become slightly “fatter”. weird.
– Overall my lower extremities, including glutes, have had insignificant change in muscle mass. This baffles me. My pants are loose and people keep telling me I look tiny.
– And somehow my right arm (non-dominant) has become larger in muscle mass than my left (dominant).
Being someone that analyses bodies for a living, the inconsistency of what I feel and see with what the scan tells me makes me a little crazy. Muscle composition, neural patterning and muscle fiber type are the variables I suppose.
All in all, this process has given me some great perspective on training as a fitness generalist vs. as a fitness specialist. I also find it fascinating that the same body can perform and look so different given a set training regime. The length of race that I have chosen has obviously pushed the threshold of my ability to stay proficient in opposing skill sets (olympic lifts espcially), and my ability to balance CrossFit with specialized training. I couldn’t (well could, but don’t want to) do this over the long term. I also know that I could not have trained for this event without my base of fitness from CrossFit (also see post to come later about the psychological process 😉 ). Endurance stuff is fatiguing in a different way from CrossFit and I have realized that I can’t have it all. I loved the long training runs on the trails, but I miss feeling really strong. I feel far from the most “fit” I have ever been, even though this is the most dedicated I have ever been to training for an event and I feel completely prepared for race day.
So for those of you who are curious about what the event actually is… it’s a little race called Twin Peaks in Corona, CA in the Santa Ana Mountains. It’s 52.5 miles (84kms) with 17,000 feet of ascent and descent. I chose it because it’s a small race (150 people max, they scratch a line in the dirt for the start and finish) and it’s beautiful and dry there. The race day forecast is sunny and high of 29. My goal is to enjoy the view, fight the mental demons, keep on learning (cause this process isn’t nearly over yet), and finish in roughly 14 hours (cutoff is 15 hours and last years top female was 13:20).
Here is a google earth walk through of the course…. it’s kind of cool if you like that sort of thing…
I truly am excited. One of my favourite things in life is doing something for the first time (once you’ve done something you never get to do it not knowing what it’s like again).
See you soon! Have a great Thanksgiving weekend.