Writings on running, primarily in the mountains

Reflections on a 100,000 foot vertical month

Having taken most of the past 9 months off from consistent running, I went into June with few expectations. When my good friend Nate shared his goal of attempting to climb 100,000 feet in the month, I found myself intrigued by the prospect. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure my fitness was at the point where I could attempt such a feat. Yet after a few weeks of strong training, I slowly realized that it might, in fact, be attainable. Patience, pacing, and resolve became the name of the game. By the end of the month, I found myself with 102,650 feet of climbing on these hardy legs of mine… and what an unexpected treat it was! Some highlights:

While reflecting on the month, I jotted down a few notes to myself about things I learned along the way:

Training (running)

  • I’m the type of gal who thrives on steady, sustainable volume, especially in this period where my focus is building base. When I pace smartly (heart rate focus, especially on climbs) and a sustainable way, I’m able to recover quickly and put in back-to-back big days

  • On the topic of heart rate (HR): maintaining 140s-150s on the climbs and 120s-130s on the descents seems to be a good approach for day-to-day training. On almost all of my runs, my HR averaged in the low-to-mid 140s

  • I’m not at the point where I’m ready for focused speedwork, though occasionally I did run some of the flats a bit faster and push some climbs. Even though I didn’t do speedwork, I my pace increased throughout the month at the same HR ranges (likely because I still have a lot of base to build!)

Training (strength)

  • Increased running volume = decreased time in the gym, though I still aim to go 1-2 times per week

  • In the gym, I keep it simple and effective (barbell compound lifts), but aim to maintain vs. adding weight each session

  • My upper body lifts (overhead press, bench press, and row) have held steady, but I’ve decreased my deadlift by ~15% to ensure I don’t overtax my legs

  • Prioritizing balance/core is essential for me to ensure my descents don’t get sloppy. I do daily planks, single leg squats, single leg deadlifts at home and have added Pallof presses and lateral band walks to my gym sessions. A little each day goes a long way

Technical climbs

  • My climbing speed improved throughout the month, but I’m still far from where I’ve been in the past as I have a lot of base to build

  • Interestingly, I use poles much less frequently. I still like them for very steep climbs, but I find myself carrying them on more moderate ascents. I wonder if I’ll forego them entirely at some point

Technical descents

  • Though my climbing still needs work, interestingly I’ve become much faster (faster being very much relative in my case) on mountain descents: 1-3 minutes quicker per mile on average

  • What’s helped?

    • Practice! Most of my weekday runs are on a local mountain with ~1,000 feet of climbing that includes smooth and rocky sections. Continuous practice has helped me gradually build confidence

    • Maintaining a “running” motion (core and lats braced, hips up and relaxed, and visualizing myself flowing) makes the descents considerably smoother. Previously, I ran technical downhills with a very jarring motion due to a lack of confidence

    • Not overthinking things (I used to hyperfocus on how bad my form was and as a result I took a lot of awkward steps)

    • Staying within my comfort zone as I continue to build confidence. When I push too hard, my form quickly gets sloppy and I’m much more likely to roll an ankle

Recovery (a.k.a. learn from the dogs)

  • In the past I used to do a lot of activity outside of my runs (i.e. walk 20+ miles per week in addition to running). Training with my dogs has taught me a lot. When not running, they chill. I now do the same thing and it’s made a huge difference

  • (Almost) daily meditation keeps stress and anxiety in check

  • Adjusting my sleep schedule to become a morning person has done wonders for my sleep

Footwear

  • My current go-to shoes are the Salomon Sense Ride 1s, HOKA Torrents, and Salomon XA Elevates depending on terrain and conditions

  • I had high hopes for the Sense Ride 2s (the new upper is dreamy), but unfortunately they are not grippy in the Whites and I took a bad fall on Moriah as a result. Interestingly, I’ve realized that with Salomon shoes, black outsoles are much grippier than colored ones. I do hope Salomon comes out with a Sense Ride 2 with black outsoles. For now, I’m going to stock up on all of the Sense Ride 1s I can find

Nutrition

  • Big volume and big vertical means a need for big calories

  • Day-to-day, I primarily eat real foods, in particular those high in choline, folate, iron, and K2 (eggs, beets, spinach, cheese, shellfish, and beef) as these are what my body craves. That said, I don’t shy away from anything (in particular on back-to-back big days) as I used to in the past

  • Tailwind, Swedish Fish, jerky, and nuts (usually chocolate covered ones) work best when training, as well as the occasional VFuel gel

Body

  • I have a very different body type now than I’ve ever had in the past while running consistently

  • The added muscle/weight on my frame seems to have led to increased resilience and recovery. I can handle back-to-back big vertical days much better than I was ever able to in the past

  • I still struggle at times when I see photos of this new version of myself, but I’ll take feeling healthy and strong over anything

What’s next?

  • I have a 6-week work sabbatical coming up in August and would love to use the time to 1) set a Pemi Loop baseline, and 2) continue to take time off my Presi Traverse baseline

  • As I’m building fitness, I find myself itching to race again, but realize I need to be patient and still have a ways to go. I likely need at least another 6-12 months of dedicated base building before I can consider it. Body and mind willing, it’d be fun to run Javelina 100 or Grindstone 100 at the end of the year if I’m ready

  • My ultimate goal is still - and will always be - to return to Western States. Watching this year’s race has fueled the fire more than ever, but again I know I must be patient and that it’s likely a few years out for me

As always, a few photo highlights from the month:

Larisa DannisComment