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Athlete Race Report: Bennett Isabella – Marathon to Machu Picchu

Thanks to BPC athlete Bennett Isabella for the great race report. And an amazing performance! 

Peru race report, Marathon to Machu Picchu

Readers Digest Version

Time started: 4:00AM

Miles traveled: 27 miles

Time lost in the dark: 26 minutes

Thorns still stuck in my arm at the end of the race: 4

Total elevation change: 20,000ft

Offical time: 7:07:42, 1st place, new course record, wishing I had not got lost and went sub 7…

 

Generally our travels revolve around a race.  Last week in Peru I ran the marathon and Jess ran the 30K. This was along the ancient Inca trail and it was one of the most beautiful races I have ever done.

This marathon is bid as “The World’s Toughest Marathon,” and after doing it I have to agree.  These are terrible running adventures to go on because you are with a group of people who have done all sorts of other races in the world and your bucket list keeps growing as a result.  After the race a few people who had done the North pole marathon, the Mt Everest marathon, the Great Wall marathon, etc., said this was definitely the hardest they have done.  The Inca people did not believe in switch backs. If there was a mountain in front of them, no matter how steep, they just went straight up it. There were thousands of giant stone steps on this course and the path was paved with big rocks that had been placed into the dirt making each step a choice on where you wanted (or did not want) to land and each downhill a stairway that if you fell were guaranteed at minimum a fractured something.

We stayed in camp the night before at the base of some Inca Ruins just a few kilometers inside of Machu Picchu National park.  We woke up at 2:00AM so we had time to eat, and get ready and hike a couple kilometers to the start line.  The marathon starts at 4:00AM because the gate to get into the area of Machu Picchu closes at 3:30PM. With an average race time of 10-11 hours, all the time is needed.

Two days previously I went on a run/hike trying to get up to the Glaciers I could see off the balcony of the hotel where we were staying. We almost made it before we had to turn around so we were not stuck on the mountain after dark.  That days accent was 4088 feet within 8.9 miles. Normally not recommended 2 days before a difficult marathon but it may have been a once in a life time opportunity so we had to take it.   It left my hamstrings pretty tight but overall I felt okay.

At 4:00AM it is completely pitch black, with absolutely no lights except the ones we had.  I had my Black Diamond head lamp with 90 lumens showing me the way and I started off feeling strong.  I went right to the front keeping a conservative pace but putting a little distance between me and the next person.  The race starts out on a dirt path with little streams every couple hundred feet to jump over, and the beginning is all up hill.  I felt good and kept my pace going as I was coming up toward what I thought must be the top of the first climb.  It was still dark when I crossed over a little wooden bridge and saw a path going straight and one going to the left with no signal to which was the correct one.  I thought the one going straight looked more used so I took it…going the wrong way.  In the dark with only a few feet of light in front of you its very hard to make a decision with such limited data.  The first indication that I might have chosen wrong was when I noticed a bunch of Yellow Eyes staring at me.  I had run into a cow pasture.  In most races this would be a big indication of something wrong but I had passed some donkeys, dogs, and cows on the path already so I went around them and the path turned very narrow.  I ended up running through a bunch of thorn bushes, got turned around, and ended up at the bottom side of a cliff next to a stream.  I decided to try and make it back to where I had come from and eventually wound my way back to the cow pasture.   At this point I found another racer. After a few minutes we found the correct trail. In my state of complete frustration, I took off fast and furious after losing over 20 minutes of time and bleeding in multiple locations.

I got to the next check point where I had a good down hill for a few miles to make up ground.  By this point it was getting light and I could let my legs loose.  It was uneventful for a while until we started the accent up to “Dead Woman’s Pass.”  This accent went up tons of uneven stone stairs.  About half way up I passed everyone that was in front of me and was in first position.  As I got closer and closer to the top it was extremely hard to keep going and a couple times I bent over on all fours on the steps and had to stop so I did not throw up as we got up to 13,799 feet.

After getting over the top you can see the trail going just as steep down for a very long time.  I could not really catch my breath so I started to descend as best I could with only half breaths.  At the bottom of this trail, the worst part is you immediately start the next climb which is even steeper and may be even more difficult than the first.

 

About half way up I started climbing with one of the local porters.  He was a younger guy and he was fast.  He had a 25 kg pack on his back, and he was wearing sandals. He was flying.  I just tried to keep up with him, even though being near him made me feel like a complete wussy because I had only a couple handhelds and a small camelback along with trail shoes.   I could tell he liked the challenge of keeping ahead of me so we ran for an hour and a half together.  I could not believe how smooth he was going down those dizzying rock descents in sandals, never missing a beat. Once we got to the aid station at Phuyupatamarca he stopped to rest and pointed me onto the last portion which was mostly down hill.

Along the trail there are 6 large archeological sites, a couple that you run right through. Quite amazing scenery.  After running all these stones and stairs I got good at picking my spots and could see them a few steps ahead of time.   The trail for the last few miles is a little easier with some patches of dirt to run on which felt ohhh so good by that point.  There is one last stair case that is straight up which I took on like a monkey using my hands to pull me up to the Sun Gate from which you get to run mostly down hill to Machu Picchu.

It was an amazing finish. As it opened up you saw only the amazing ruins in the Andes Mountains of Machu Picchu.

My official finishing time was 7:07:42, good for first place and a new course record even while getting lost.  I was pretty dang happy about that.  The best time previous was 7:13.  If I had not gotten lost I would have been under 7 making it look really cool, but hey that’s part of adventure racing.

Start Walking To Go Longer, Faster

There is an ongoing debate on the usefulness and legitimacy of using run/walk intervals in one’s training and racing. It seems like some people think that if you have to walk, you didn’t really complete the distance. Jeff Galloway would give you a haymaker if he heard you talk like that.

If my memory serves me right, I thought the objective was to get from point A to point B in the least amount of time possible. I believe most amateurs are more than capable of doing their best scratch marathon or shorter distance race without walking, but ultra marathons and marathons within an Iron distance triathlon are another story. This becomes less of a battle of fitness, and more of a battle of fatigue resistance, impact reduction, and smart nutrition. Oh, and some mental toughness. But that’s a whole other topic.

But the pros don’t walk! You are only mildly correct. Depending on the distance and difficulty of the course, many pros run/walk in their training. But, just as a reminder, here are the reasons why they are pros:

1. They have a natural ability to perform at a high aerobic level
2. They have an affinity for vast amounts of pain and suffering
3. They have much more time to train and RECOVER from training
4. The are fast enough that they are only on their feet 50-60% of the time that an average amateur is
5. They have fewer outside stressors that affect their ability to train and RECOVER

We constantly get people coming to us training for ultra distance events. Many of them have in the past hit the duration milestones, nailed their pacing during training, and then fell apart on race day. There are a ton of things that can go wrong in an ultra distance event, but the 2 major killers are poor fueling and fatigue.

The fact is, very few people will do the mileage of an ultra event before race day. One, because its not safe. Two, because most people don’t have the time to train that much. And three, it would take weeks to recover from such a workload.

By utilizing a run/walk schedule, you can help fight ultra performance enemy number one and two! The impact on the muscles during each and every ground contact causes tiny tears that are a major source of muscle fatigue. By taking periodic walk breaks, your body gets short recovery periods, much like not pedaling on a bike. At the same time, walking with long strides actively stretches out the working muscles and helps preserve their elasticity, thus helping reduce damage. In our own athletes, we have noticed much smaller regression rates in pacing for those utilizing run/walk for runs over 90 minutes.

The other performance enemy is poor nutrition. By taking short walk breaks we can better plan and time our nutrition. The walk break is a reminder to eat/drink. When we are constantly running, it is very easy to forget to eat and drink…and it is very easy to get behind on our nutrition. Choosing specific walk intervals to eat and/or drink on ensures you are getting all the necessary nutrition you need to keep your fuel, water, and electrolyte stores topped off.

At the same time, when our heart rate increases, digestion tends to shut down. This means that the food we are putting in is just going to sit there. In the realm of poor nutrition I am grouping in GI issues because stomach problems are usually a result of poor nutrition timing, meaning eating when the effort is too high. Over long duration, our heart rate will increase for the same perceived exertion due to the phenomena known as cardiac drift. One of the reasons many people go exclusively to coke toward the end of an ultra distance race is because their heart rate is elevated regardless of their exertion level, and their body will only tolerate simple sugars. Anything that takes more effort to digest will just sit there and likely cause GI distress. As you walk, you can easily take in nutrition, and more of it. As your heart rate drops, your body will more easily digest the foods you are taking in, which means you won’t fall behind and suffer the dreaded bonk.

But doesn’t walking mean I am going really slow? What is worse? Running half the race and then walking the rest because you are fatigued and/or bonking, or taking walk breaks and maybe sacrificing 30 seconds per mile on your overall pace. Given the unpredictability of ultra distance events, along with the sacrifice and work put into training for one, I would rather take the safer bet.

Thanks to my high school algebra teacher, I can still do equations. Mrs. Pinion would be so proud. She would also say “math never contradicts itself, it only reinforces,” which I find useful because I am about to do just that.

Using the equation:

Combined Pace = (Run Int +Walk Int)/((Run Int/Run Pace)+(Walk Int/Walk Pace))

We can see that some very respectable paces are possible. Keep in mind the distances we are discussing here.  Most people can walk a 15 min/mile pace, but it obviously depends on the course. The example highlighted in red was done to show an athlete how feasible it was for him to break a certain 100 mile course record.

Run Interval Walk Interval Run Pace Walk Pace Combined Pace
00:07:30 00:00:30 00:07:30 00:15:00 0:07:44
00:07:00 00:01:00 00:08:00 00:15:00 0:08:29
00:08:00 00:01:00 00:09:30 00:15:00 0:09:54
00:07:00 00:01:00 00:09:30 00:15:00 0:09:57
00:08:00 00:00:30 00:08:00 00:15:00 0:08:13
00:10:00 00:01:25 00:07:00 00:15:00 0:07:29
00:10:00 00:01:34 00:09:30 00:15:00 0:09:59
00:10:00 00:11:25 00:08:45 00:20:00 0:12:29
00:07:00 00:01:00 00:07:30 00:15:00 0:08:00

 

Now lets compare this to running half of an iron distance marathon, and then walking the other half. Say your goal pace is an 8:30 mile. If you run half the marathon at that pace and then crash and walk the rest. Or lets say you crash and get yourself back together so you only walk about 2-4 miles of the marathon. More equations were involved but I will spare you this one.

Run Distance Walk Distance Run Pace Walk Pace Combined Pace
13.1 13.1 00:08:30 00:15:00 0:11:45
20 6.2 00:08:30 00:15:00 0:10:02
22 4.2 00:08:30 00:15:00 0:09:32
24 2.2 00:08:30 00:15:00 0:09:02

 

So would you rather sacrifice 30 seconds per mile and take your walk break every 7-10 minutes, or hope you don’t have to walk more than 2.2 miles of the run? In our experience, the ones that don’t end up being forced to walk usually qualify for Kona and have run a sub 3:30 off the bike. But in case you are wondering, there are those who have qualified for Kona using run/walk.

Still not convinced? Try the calculator below for yourself. Please excuse our primitive calculator. Although I can handle mathematical equations, I am not a computer programmer. Just in case you don’t know, you can multiply your minutes by 60 to get the number of seconds and vice versa. (i.e. 10 min = 600 s)

For more info on how a run/walk schedule could get you to the finish line faster, give us a shout.

[Video] Annie Oakley and Sharpshooter Triathlon Recap

It was a great overall weekend out at Herb Parson Lake. Great seeing so many people out there getting in some short course action and having a blast! Again, a big congrats to our athletes for their great results. And a big congrats to everyone else who got out there and crossed the finish line. Those of us in the endurance community are a little jaded because we’ve made it our lifestyle, but the fact is we are a rare breed.

Here is a quick video from each of the Saturday races. No I am not a videographer. Just getting use to all this video stuff. Nonetheless, hopefully there is some entertainment value for you.

See you out there!

Are You a Triathlete Training Like a Crit Racer?

Are you a triathlete training like a crit racer? Or the other way around? Read on to find out.

At BPC, we are firm believers in specificity with regards to achieving that PEAK in athletic performance. The training that an athlete is putting their body through should reflect the demands that their goal event is going to require. Hopefully this post will shed a little light on how you should be training depending on your goal event.

In order to keep this short, sweet, and to the point: Triathletes should make sure they are incorporating longer, steady state intervals into their training program.

Want some visual proof? Here is a power file from an athlete who recently participated in the hilly Mighty Mite triathlon:

Mighty Mite

The red line represents threshold for this athlete. Peak power spike was 185% of threshold and it is clear that the athlete did not stay there for long.

The peaks in this file come from hills and the troughs are from descending down the other side. Less than 10 times during this 35+ minute bike leg did our athlete stop pedaling.

And here’s a look at that same athletes power file from the much flatter, Memphis in May Triathlon:

Screen Shot 2013-08-01 at 1.11.26 PM

The red line again represents threshold. This was a longer event and the goal for our athlete was to keep power below threshold. Power falls off at the end a bit, but wind along with prepping for the run account for that. Very consistent effort – very little time spent not pedaling.

The goal for a triathlete during the bike is to complete the leg as quickly as possible while still maintaining a level of energy necessary to finish strong on the run. It is because of this that you see very even pacing targeted very near this athletes threshold. Huge spikes in power require recovery, and recovery generally comes at a loss of overall avg. speed. We can do a whole separate blog on pacing, so that’s where we’ll leave that.

If you are a triathlete, take note of how often you spend coasting during a workout. Do you only ride with groups? Odds are you’re spending a lot of time hitting peaks and troughs in your training. Might be time to change that up!

Again, to keep this short and sweet: Criterium racers need to include short burst, high power anaerobic work into your training program.

For proof, let’s take a look at a file from the recent TN State Criterium:

Crit file

 

The red line again represents threshold for this (different) athlete. The blue line shows roughly where 200% of threshold would be for this athlete. Peak power was right at 350% of threshold during this race. As compared to the triathlete’s power file, take note of how many times the athlete stops pedaling (pink line hits the bottom).

So what can be taken from this power file in a general sense?

– Crit racing requires numerous, repeated power spikes greater than 200% of threshold.

– Periods of rest (where the pink line bottoms out) are generally followed by high spikes in power. This is typically coming out of corners and following attacks.

That’s all for now!

Want to make sure your training is going to help your racing? Not sure how and when to incorporate race specific training? Drop us a line!

Bunny Hop Before Beast Mode

Over the last few years, a terrifying trend in cycling has been rearing its ugly head. No, it’s not the amount of people doping. It has to do with the number of people who’s fitness far outshines their ability to handle their bike. The number of wrecks I’ve witnessed in a non-racing environment has seemingly doubled, while the number of wrecks in races has skyrocketed. No, I don’t have any hard numbers, just observations from someone who rides and races a lot. I have yet to attend an event this year that has not had at least one wreck. My most recent adventure saw six wrecks (in my race alone), which included a ten rider pile up. I have witnessed two people get air lifted this year. I hate to see even one person hit the deck. Sometimes it is not your fault and the conditions are to blame. But, most of the time, good bike handling skills can get you out of a bad situation.

Having the ability to control your machine makes being on two wheels much safer and, in turn, much more fun. It’s great to be able to hammer and make people suffer. You can even get a custom Dr. Watts paint job if it makes you feel really good about yourself. But what the people you are riding with will appreciate much more, is if they know you are the least likely person to cause a group pile up. If you are new to the sport of cycling, we suggest doing bike handling work as much as possible. If you are a vet, regardless of experience or race category, it is never too late to spend some time on bike handling. There are a lot of energy savings gained through solid cornering, handling and positioning skills. Here are a few very basic tips for improving your bike wrangling and pack riding:

1. Slow MoI don’t mean roll at 5mph. I mean creep as slow as you can go without falling over. You can do this seated, standing, clipped in, or unclipped. If you are unsure of yourself, practice riding in the grass. Make sure you are in an easy gear so if you feel off balance, you can quickly start pedaling and get your balance back.

2. Track Stands. This is the next progression to riding super slow. You actually want to practice balancing the bike in a stand still. Work on this out of the saddle, and keep a lot of weight on your hands so you can shift your center of mass off the back end of the bike. Again, make sure you are in an easy gear so you can quickly get yourself out of trouble, if needed.

3. Bunny Hops. The bunny hop is a much needed skill for mountain biking and cyclocross, but it is also a very useful skill when riding in a pack. When you are in the middle of 4 people across the road, you may not have a choice to move left or right to avoid hitting a hazard or debris. If you are in the front of the group, hitting something that could cause you to go down can ultimately mean any number of people behind you are coming down with you. Although, there is no guarantee the people behind you won’t hit the hazard if you go over the top, at least you better your own odds for avoiding a potential meeting with the concrete. Obviously, make sure to alert the group there is a hazard in the road first. And as a side note, no one likes the Bunny Hop King either so save it as a last resort. There is no reason to bunny hop every crack in the road. I digress. Anyways, in a race situation, there are times when the fastest line and a split decision may put you into a hazard. Utilizing the bunny hop can ensure this line is the fastest and not the quickest way to an ambulance.

4. Hands Up This is not something to practice in a group. Riding with one hand is a must for any cyclist. If you cannot ride comfortably with one had on the bars, you should likely avoid pack riding. Make sure you are comfortable grabbing bottles and food from your pockets and cages. Then proceed to work on making yourself comfortable touching other things like your shoes, the brake calipers, and work your way down to the bottom bracket. You need to try this at speed since the bike has more balance the faster you are going. Then work on it at slower speeds. Try this with all different hand positions and on both sides.

5. Get Off the Road! I don’t mean this in the same sense as the redneck in the truck behind you does. I mean try your hand at some slower more technical mountain biking. Mountain biking is great for improving your neuromuscular abilities, thus improving your handling in a less technical scenario like the road.

6. Look Into the Future. By this, I mean look into a turn. Physically turn your head and stare straight to where you want to go. Your head controls a lot of your body movements, so wherever the head goes, the rest of the body generally follows. Looking into a turn will initiate the leaning of the bike and help keep you on a solid track through the turn.

7. Inside Leg Up. Just like you would see a Moto GP rider take a turn on the track, you want to make sure your inside leg is up. This does two things. It weights the outside foot, putting more force into the tire/road connection. It also ensures you won’t clip your pedal on the ground and lose control.

8. Weight the Inside Hand. Yes, I know how that sounds. The inside hand should be pushing directly down toward the ground to force the bike to lean. When taking a turn at speed, the lateral forces you experience want to push you out of the turn. Weighting the inside hand helps create that balance of lateral force pushing you out of the turn, and gravitational force that creates the friction that keeps you stuck to the road. Without the downforce you will likely not take a clean line through the turn, or you will highside your bike and do your best superman impression. You do not actually steer with the handlebars when at speed. You simply lift the inside leg, weight the outside leg, push the inside hand down, and look where you want to go.

When can I stop working on my bike handling and just focus on ripping the crank arms off my bike??? As soon as you get as good as this guy, you can stop.

 

If you would like more information on how to improve your bike handling skills, or would like to work with our coaches on improving your skills, please don’t hesitate to contact us