Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Running and Climbing: A Proven Recipe for Mt Whitney Success - Part II - Mt Whitney for Runners

Part I presents my argument for running as one part of a three-pronged training program.  The other two elements are climbing and altitude acclimatization. Part II explains to habitual runners the necessity for climbing as high as possible as often as possible.

Robin and Natalie:  Runners. Climbers.  Mt Whitney summit-ers.
First of all, I've been running since The Beatles were still a band.  As I've outlined in many previous posts, I've both competed and coached.  I know firsthand the runner's mindset.

"I run, therefore I am invincible"

For instance, most runners believe running inoculates them from pretty much every malady short of AIDS.  They eat what they want and as much as they want.  They do get fewer illnesses and use less sick time.  For a large percentage of runners, this belief is justified.

Unfortunately, this belief crashes to the ground when climbing high.  First, altitude can affect a person psychologically and physiologically regardless of one's physical condition.  Second, distance running is nowhere near as muscular as climbing.  A good, stiff running hill climbs at maybe 300 feet per mile (57 meters per kilometer).  There are climbs on my Mt Whitney Dirty Dozen list with sections in excess of 1,250 feet per mile (237 m/k).  Mt Whitney itself averages 569 feet per mile (108 m/k).  So we're no longer gliding effortlessly over the ground using as little muscle as possible.  We're using our quads, hammies, glutes and core muscles to a much greater degree.  Plus, we're wearing a pack.

The Coffee Hikers from Pasadena, CA:  Runners.  Climbers.  Mt Whitney Summit-ers (Tamara Silver photo).
 So we have to practice at high altitudes to ready ourselves for even higher altitudes.  Climbing is more like circuit training with a gazillion reps than like running.  Our legs and core lift our body-and-pack-weight over and over again.

24 hours?  Really?

I heard one three-time marathoner brag about how she went up and down Whitney in "less than 24 hours"  having spent little or no time at altitude prior to the climb.  That's way too long.  I can't even sleep that long.  My wife Robin, whose lifetime longest run is 8 miles (12.9 k), who ran no longer than 6 miles (9.9 k) while training for Whitney, went up and down in 15 1/2 hours.  She did it in far less time because she spent a lot of training time climbing high.  After we were done, Robin told me next time she would spend even more time preparing up high.  Meanwhile, Marathon Woman may never do another 14-er again.

Charles Hirsch:  Runner.  Climber.  Cosmo Centerfold Eye Candy.  (Charles Hirsch photo)
 No matter our sporting background (or lack thereof), we all need the same basic preparation.  We must increase our cardiovascular efficiency, climb with a pack for muscle building, and climb high to acclimate.

But wait, there's more...

Having said that, we know running will improve our climbing.  However, my own "experiments" show climbing also improves the running!  When I reach the 5-digit altitudes with the Mt Whitney Dirty Dozen, my average running pace drops a minute per mile. Hills melt away under my feet.  Instead of plodding up three-mile inclines on distance runs, I start looking for ways to shave more time.

All that time climbing steeply up in the thin air improves everything.  Your running in a rut?  Bust out by busting up.  When life gets you down, climb up.  Altitude affects attitude too.

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OK guys, let's keep 'er civil and mannerly. This is not a political site so diatribes of that ilk are not welcome and won't be published.