It’s been quite a while since I updated the blog, mainly because winter’s arrival in Montana brought my training to a screeching halt. While 5 straight days of running in sub-zero temps proved challenging, in the end it was the wind that was impossible to negotiate. So, tail between my legs, I admitted defeat, and made a tough decision. I finally came to the realization that if I was truly serious about running, I needed to leave Montana. After disappointing several people and making a few arrangements, I loaded all my possessions into what at this point is a fairly-weathered 2000 Pontiac Grand Prix. It was the third time in under a year that I’d moved. At some point when you find yourself moving this frequently, you take a moment to question whether you really have a purpose in mind, or if you’re slowly becoming a modern-day gypsy. A vagabond going wherever the wind takes you, doing your best to simply put off the not-so-enjoyable realities of being an adult. If you’re lucky, moments of self-doubt such as these are typically short-lived, and the excitement of new experiences quickly drives unfavorable thoughts from the mind. It was with those experiences in mind, that I set out late on a Sunday afternoon, bound for Arizona.
I like driving at night. The roads are quiet and you never make bad time. If you’re lucky the stars or even the moon are there to keep you company (along with some caffeine and what one hopes is a very long iPod playlist.) Cities pass by as awe-inspiring seas of light, rather than overcrowded metallic jungles choked in an ever-increasing cloud of pollution. Above all else, there’s something liberating about seeing the sun set in one state, and rise in another. I almost wish I had a picture of the sunrise the next morning in Arizona. I’ve never seen the sky turn such a perfect shade of gold. Contrasted with the clear blue desert sky, and jagged red buttes old as time itself, it’s one of the few sunrises I’ve seen that I think I’ll still remember when I’m old.
After a half-day detour to the Grand Canyon, I eventually made it to my destination, the city of Flagstaff. I was pleasantly surprised to find that in many ways it reminded me of Montana. Rather than desert, Flagstaff is situated on the edge of the largest Ponderosa pine forest in the United States. Snow-capped peaks linger just outside the city limits, and although there are no grizzly bears, wildlife is quite abundant.
In the past 12 days, the biggest shock to me has been how much tougher running at 7,000 feet is. When I first visited Montana, and began training at 5,000 feet, I soon found that it was tougher than I had anticipated. That summer found me gasping like a fish out of water more often than not. Of course after some time at elevation the body adapts, and although training at altitude is still tougher than at sea level, you get used to it. I was under the misguided impression that being used to running at 5,000 feet would make the transition to even higher elevations easier. At 7,000 feet, the air is over 20% thinner than it is at sea level. It’s great for stimulating the production of red blood cells, which makes if feel like you have an extra lung when you get back to sea level. If you’re not used to the elevation though, it’s as if the thin air transforms the most benign of hills into a potential cardiac arrest. Naturally, I learned this the hard way, and after stubbornly attempting to train hard the past week and a half, I’ve finally conceded that it’s best to just ease back into things, and wait for the body to get acclimated.
If you ever have the opportunity (or misfortune?) to be running at altitude, remember to ease into things. Even if you are in great shape, your body needs several weeks to adjust before you can expect it to perform at a high level. It’s a lesson I won’t soon forget, as I gradually ease back into training at a high level over the next month.