Saturday, September 21, 2013

Endeavor Team Challenge: The Decision and Prepartion

I'm the sort of person that sees videos of, and reads books about Olympians, Navy Seals, Base Jumping, Army Ranger challenges, people fishing in 100 foot seas, climbing Mt. Everest, surfing giant waves, Special Forces training, scuba diving caves, riding bikes thousands of kilometers, running hundreds of miles through deserts, lifting insane amounts of weight, and performing any other type of physical or mental challenge and I say, "I want to do that!"

Some people may think that wanting to do risky things is crazy, but all of my life I have been compelled to push my physical limits. I find pleasure in testing my body, in seeing just how far I can go. Setting a challenging goal, working to get there, then rising to the occasion is rewarding; being a sportswoman makes me feel alive and happy.

Usually the barrier to doing things like jumping from planes, reaching the summit of Mt. Everest, or diving in caves is lack of money, or a life choice (I became a teacher, not a member of the military or a professional athlete/water woman). However, when the opportunity arose for me to compete in the Endeavor Team Challenge, none of those barriers existed. I immediately recruited a partner and entered the race. This would be my first ever endurance race; a 30+ hour challenge over 45 miles in the high Sierras.

After deciding to do the Endeavor Team Challenge, my partner, Mike Harding, and I had about four months to prepare for the race.

How do you prepare for a race that consists of so many skills? The simple answer is that my life up to that point had already prepared me for the race. The events in the race would cover running, hiking, swimming, kayaking, mountaineering, obstacle courses, strength events, and mental challenges; all things that both Mike and I had done at some point in our lives.

For the months leading up to the event, I continued to train CrossFit four times a week, lift weights three times a week, do a long, weighted hike at least once a week, run intervals twice a week, and mix swimming, rowing, rock climbing, and skills work (like tying knots) into my program here and there.

Preparation became a key component in the success that Mike and I would have when the race came around. Because we did hikes together frequently, Mike and I encountered most of the problems that many people would have to face during the actual race. Some of those problems were fueling and foot care. Though caloric intake and feet don't seem to be at the top of the list for training for an endurance race, eating the wrong food or not taking care of feet could very well take us out of the race.

During our first 20-mile test hike, both Mike and I got blisters on our feet, suffered stomach problems, and became dehydrated; not the scenario that we were hoping for! By the end of the hike, I could barely walk because my feet had become so painful; I had blisters on the balls of both feet and on the tip of one toe. Besides the blisters, my stomach was bloated and tender from all of the power gels, bars, and other sugar-laden food I had consumed.

Mike wasn't fairing so well either. About halfway through our hike I had run out of water (!) so Mike had to give me some of his, which made both of our intakes wane. Being that it was about 90 degrees outside, we had to consume more, so we quickly ran out of water. With about 5 miles to go, we found a swimming hole, cooled off, and drank some of that water. When we had finished and arrived at the car, we both had the feeling that our first long training hike was quite a disaster! We planned to do the same hike in 5 weeks to try and improve on our performance.

In between our 20 miles test hikes,  my training intensified a bit. I added in shorter, sprint-style hikes in which I'd wear a 20# weight vest and hike at about 90-100% uphill for about 30 minutes. These hikes built my capacity to work at a higher output over an extended period of time. In addition to those sprint hikes, I added a couple of double days during which I would do Olympic lifting or other heavy lifting and a short metabolic conditioning session in the morning, then another metabolic conditioning session at night. On some days I'd swim or row in the morning, either as intervals or as a long, slow distance. One day I put in 13.2 miles on the rower at about 80% effort; another day I swam 24 x 25 meters underwater with 20 seconds rest in between each 25 meter swim. The days were varied, but I was always trying to build my work capacity in some way.

When it was time for our second 20-mile tester, Mike and I were better prepared all the way around. Instead of leaving mid-day in 90 degree heat, we left the parking lot at 6 am in 55 degree heat. We brought an extra 3 liters of water, and had refined our nutrition plan. I wore wool socks and had some "hike goo" on my feet so as to prevent blisters.

As far as nutrition went, for the second test hike my strategy had changed to whole foods with no added sugars or preservatives. Because I normally eat whole foods, I figured that I should stay the same for long events too. For fast sugar (a good balance of glucose and fructose) I brought squeezable "Ella's Organic" baby food (both fruit and vegetable mixes). This was both pure and easy to digest; it took the place of energy goos. For a fat source, I brought squeezable nut butter, mostly macadamia nut butter because I did not want to overload on the PUFAs in almond butter. In addition to the nut butter as a fat source, I also brought squeezable coconut butter and oil. A protein source that was easily digestible was a little harder to figure out, but I settled on making myself meatballs and meatloaf. The recipe was simple as to not upset my stomach: salt, pepper, olive oil, and organic green chiles.

Besides those primary sources of fuel listed above, I also brought along baked green beans, or baked zucchini for an added carbohydrate. As far as electrolytes went, many drinks like Gatorade, nuun tablets, and other energy drinks bug my stomach too (surprise!), so instead of drinking my electrolytes, I took "salt stick" salt capsules. The capsules are composed of magnesium, potassium and sodium, so they take the place of sugary electrolyte drinks. I took one pill every hour.

This hike went better! Mike and I took shorter breaks, didn't get blisters, and avoided dehydration. I also recovered faster and did not feel spent and tired for days following our effort.

After this hike, Mike and I had a few more weeks until the race, so we continued to train various modalities and skills and lift heavy. Some Sundays Mike and I practiced the CrossFit portion of the event since that was one of the few "knowns" in the challenge. Practicing the CrossFit portion gave us the opportunity to see how we would lift the log/railroad tie, and how we would break up reps. It proved to be valuable information when we had to do the challenge at 3 am during the race!

All in all, preparation set us up for an easier race. By no means were we great at everything, but we did not have any doubts going in, that we were weak in any one area.

Four days out from the race, we arrived at altitude (7,000+ feet) to try and adjust before the start. Three days out from the race we were doing sprint repeats, swimming easy, and walking in the hills. Two days out from the race I did a long hill run, some bouldering with Chris, and some swimming. The day before the race I ran and swam again. Because we took a few days to get used to the thin air, come race time we felt no ill-effects due to altitude.

After four months and a life time of training, Mike and I were ready to go!