Tuesday, February 5

Returning to Normal: Travel, Altitude, and Attitude

Oh my goodness, how a little travel can throw things into a frenzy! I was on business travel last week and took the weekend to stay with a friend and run a race with an Oiselle pal.

The race went as well as I could expect... It was my first time racing at altitude--about 5,400 feet.

So let's get this straight: if the NFL makes a big deal about Denver's Mile High Stadium (with a mile being 5,280 feet), then I have rights to make a big deal about running at just over a mile high.

Finishing a 5k in 36:14 isn't fantastic. I know that. But my lungs didn't burst, I didn't pass out, I didn't let myself get overwhelmed enough to require medical attention, and--most importantly!--I finished the race!

Ayesha, who had just set a PR, met me with about a quarter mile left to go and ran with me. I was really touched by that. We had just met. Sure, we're part of this awesome team, but still... we just met. She came back for me and helped encourage me until I sprinted for the finish line. I felt a great sense of accomplishment crossing the finish line because I overcame the pain my asthma caused me.

Since running that race, I've taken some time to learn a little more about why it was so difficult for me to run that day.
  1. Acclimatization - I arrived on Friday afternoon, but ran on Sunday. That's not enough time for my lungs to acclimatize to the environment. Even if it was, a practice run would have given me a great deal of information about what I could expect to experience in the race.
  2. Allergies - Almost IMMEDIATELY after the race, I was a sneezing, sniffling mess. I had to get allergy medication to address my symptoms. I am normally not a very allergic person, but running and breathing in all that dry desert air brought me allergens my body wasn't familiar with, and I learned that in addition to having an asthma attack, I may have also been reacting to the allergens. Well, isn't that nice?
  3. Dry and cool air - While 40 to 50 degree days in Albuquerque were certainly warmer than the 15 to 20 degree days I left behind in Pittsburgh, the air was still cool. Moreover, it was drier than I was used to, so even though I was completely comfortable in the temperature, the dryness may have affected me.
  4. Quick ascent - I flew from Long Beach (sea level) to Albuquerque (4,900 - 6,700 feet above sea level; airport at just about one mile above sea level), which was a direct ascent. No stop along the way to acclimatize, nothing to ease my lungs into the environment of high and dry... Just *bam* walk off the plane and I'm on higher terrain than I've ever been before.
It's true that even if I had time to acclimatize, had a slower ascent, got used to the dry air (or maybe used my face mask since the air was cool AND dry), and took some allergy medication before running that I may still have been sucking air...

But knowing why I struggled to keep going at least helps me put the mental aspect of the race in perspective: this wasn't my worst 5k (my worst was in 37:27 after having the flu and coming back from an injury!), I finished (booya!), and I was 171/247 people total. Not bad. At least, that's the attitude I'm taking.

I'm really tired from my travels, but I'm hoping to hop back on my training schedule. It's been tough to make the training group meetings on Tuesday evenings... and I didn't get to do many of the Saturday long runs in January... so it's time to buckle down a little. My Brooks' Adrenalines are covered with Chaco Canyon, NM, so I think they're okay to get a little wet or dirty in the awful weather Pittsburgh is having... (Yes, I've been resistant to messing up my shoes... even though they're just shoes... but mostly because I need dry shoes to pack in a suitcase.) I need to create "normal," and then get back to it.

So here's to February and a full three months till my first half marathon...!

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