Friday, February 26, 2016

Warm sense of well-being

In a recent Seems Like Science post about dynamic exercises to do after a run, I mentioned that I very seldom do any static stretching. You know, the kind where you strike a fairly awkward pose and hold it while one or more of your muscles whines in protest.

Hamstrings: "WHAT THE HELL, K?"

In general, I prefer to use dynamic movements to warm up for and cool down from workouts. Static stretching prior to exercise has been shown to have negative effects on performance without any evidence of injury prevention, and stretching after exercise has not shown any mitigating effect on DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), possibly even having a negative effect on blood flow.

For a few years now, many people (including myself) have been intrigued by the possible positive effects of cryotherapy after exercise in the form of ice baths. They were supposed to help flush out metabolic waste, reduce muscle inflammation and breakdown, and generally make your body much happier about whatever ridiculous training session you'd just put it through.

There's a problem, though.

They're really damned unpleasant.

(This was after my very first ultra)

I really hate being cold, and lowering myself into a freezing cold tub of water is just about the last thing I ever want to do. I tried them a couple of times back in 2010, but have never gone to the trouble since. I have partaken of a bit of natural cryotherapy since, but even that only happens under extenuating circumstances.

Running 50 kilometers makes you do weird things.

Recently, however, the effectiveness of cold therapy has been called seriously into question. What's been suggested instead is using a hot bath or sauna after a workout, which totally vindicates a practice I've always felt was beneficial but for which I had no scientific backing. It just felt good.

I try to swim 4 days per week, and not just because my swim times in triathlons are flippin' abominable - I find it's the best form of active recovery when I've been beating my legs up badly through run and bike training. The hydrostatic pressure of the water; the gentle, zero-impact load on my sore leg muscles; the elevated blood flow to remove metabolic wastes from my tissues; they all come together to help patch me up and let me get through another day. I generally try to swim as my last training session of the day, and if there's one available (and I have time after I've got whatever arbitrary yardage in I deemed necessary in the pool) I will always hit the hot tub for a few minutes afterward.


This is the one and only time when I will do some static stretching to try to work on range of motion (which tends to be severely hampered by distance running). My muscles are already nicely warmed up from my swim, and the heat and gentle buffeting of the jet-swirled water seems to keep the blood flowing nicely. I'll take 5-10mins to stretch all the major players: my shoulders (in various ways because my shoulder flexibility is really poor, which doesn't help my swimming at all), hamstrings, calves, quads, piriformis and groin muscles all get a bit of attention, with special emphasis given to any part of me that may be particularly damaged.

Everyone's a damn comedian.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend jumping directly into a hot tub after a long run due to the possibility of heat exhaustion from an already-elevated core temperature and accumulated dehydration, but since I do a cool down in the pool and keep a bike bottle full of water on deck with me (then bring it along to the tub to drink while I stretch), I feel like I'm mitigating the risk factors. Well, and since I'm at a public pool there's generally a lifeguard available to fish me out if I start to sink..

While the experts had been touting the benefits of vasoconstriction (narrowing of the blood vessels) through cold therapy to essentially squeeze the blood out of your sore muscles and slow metabolism to prevent inflammation, there's increasing evidence that the best way to build fitness is actually to let the body recover at its own pace because ice baths blunt the muscle growth signals that lead to adaptation. The only way to make a muscle stronger is to damage it and let it rebuild to withstand the increased demand, and I can't think of a better way to encourage that than to promote blood flow to the damaged muscles. If it happens to feel great, too, then why wouldn't you at least give it a try to see if it works for you? I won't even make you stretch if you don't want to - just let the warm, bubbly water wash away your soreness.

It sure beats shivering.

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Oracle Trail 25k Winter Trail Race - Saturday, February 13th, 2016

More like 27k, but who's counting?

This is not a day that started well. I woke up after a repeatedly-disrupted sleep to the exact weather that had been promised - REALLY EFFIN' COLD. Like "holy crap is the car going to start?" kind of cold. As I munched on a bagel and got ready to go, I seriously contemplated just rolling back into my nice, warm bed because this was starting to seem mildly suicidal.

At the 25k start time.

I tried to be as ready to go as possible before we even left the house: I wore my New Balance WT1210 Leadville shoes, Smartwool socks & Smartwool NTS 250 weight merino wool longjohns over a pair of Patagonia Active hipster undiesCraft PXC Storm Tights as an outer layer for wind protection and warmth, Dirty Girl gaiters, a very old sample-only (I don't think it was ever a production piece) Icebreaker GT 200 weight merino wool shirt over my sports bra as a base layer, with a longsleeve polyester Horror Hill 2014 race shirt as a second layer under my Louis Garneau Powerblock jacket. For my hands I went with an older model of Icebreaker's Quantum merino wool gloves under a pair of Kombi Backyard mittens, and on my head I wore an old Saucony Velocity running hat with an Outdoor Research Windstopper Peruvian hat overtop, plus a Mizuno Breath Thermo headband because I don't take chances with my ears. As it was mandatory equipment, I threw a space blanket wrapped in a couple of elastic bands in the back pocket of my jacket, and put a couple of single-serve gels in one front pocket plus my flask of EFS Liquid Shot in the other front pocket. I hoped keeping them inside the outer layer and against my belly might keep them from freezing, and I elected to carry my hand bottle for hydration. I threw my big down coat on over all this gear, and off we went...against my better judgement.

Was a bit late getting on the road, but fortunately had no issues getting to the race site and even managed to use a WARM washroom at the gas station up the street before arriving (along with a couple of other racers who had the same idea). Had to park across the road from the starting area and then walk across with my kit, which turned out to be a bit further than I'd expected. I had elected to leave my down pants behind in the car to put on after the race, but nothing could have persuaded me to relinquish my down coat prior to the gun going off. As it was, my legs were almost instantly chilled despite my armageddon-y tights and wooly longjohns underneath. I was a bit concerned that the Smartwool socks I'd chosen (because they're good and thick, and I know they play nice with the shoes I'd decided on) left a gap of bare skin below the base layer, but I snugged my Dirty Girl gaiters up over the outer tights to try to seal in warmth and cut the wind...not to mention keep the damn snow out!

At those temperatures, though, everything frosts almost instantly. My toes were cold within minutes of exiting the car, and Tanker the Wonder Sherpa's face fuzz began to ice up immediately.

This is seriously under 10mins of exposure.

I consulted with the race director and one of her crew who had run the course the day before - he confirmed that the far end of the 25k course was definitely icy, so I'd be testing out my brand spankin' new traction devices (also mandatory equipment and purchased just for this race, but never previously run in) and needed to put them on before I headed out as they're difficult to don with even my liner gloves on, let alone mittens. Then my traitorous digestive tract decided that the stop at the Shell was insufficient, so I braved the on-site portajohn. Everything went ok until I was trying to get my leg layers pulled back up and heard a weird noise behind me - like a faint rustle and tiny splash. I finished getting myself re-dressed (priorities, people!), then looked behind me..

..and saw my emergency blanket - MANDATORY KIT, mind you - floating in the mess of "pre-race nerves" down the hole in the portajohn. It had apparently worked its way out of the back pocket of my jacket while I contorted myself trying to pull my drawers up, and of course it wouldn't just fall on the floor. Nope, that's not my luck.

Effin' fabulous.

Because I didn't have another, I fished it out. Yeah, that's right. Fortunately it was folded up tight inside the elastic bands and just sat on top of the horrors below, so I was able to wipe it fairly clean with toilet paper and stuff it back in the pocket of my jacket. I mean really, everything I was wearing was going to go in the wash as soon as I got home anyway, right? Suck it up, buttercup.

Yeah, super impressed over here.

Back out of the loo, the early start was about to go off, so I cheered on the amazing folks who were taking this race on either blind or blindfolded. I can't even imagine..

With a few minutes left to go before I went wandering off into the frozen woods, I got my hand bottle out of the little cooler bag I'd brought, threw a merino wool Buff on hood-style to seal up my neck, then kissed Tanker (who got zero photos because our camera froze up) and lined up to start while listening to the pre-race announcements. I also changed up from my giant super-warm gloves to my mittens (I'd kept my merino wool base layer gloves on the whole time, as my hands were freezing), and decided I'd keep the little chemical handwarmer packets I'd been using to try to keep my fingers from falling off into my running mitts. I hadn't done my proper warm-up routine and my legs were freezing - I actually wondered whether my toes would snap off once I started trying to run on them - but no time for that: off we go!

A bit of double track, then I followed the rest of the pack (most of whom were ahead of me) into the single track that wound through the woods, up and down hills, through switchbacks and sharp turns. The sun was shining, my toes eventually started to warm up (which was REALLY PAINFUL for a bit and then just ducky), and my hand bottle with a scoop or two of eLoad sport drink crystals mixed in was staying liquid - life was good. I couldn't access my watch to keep track of time, but I started sipping on my hydration whenever I had the chance since the course seemed to be mostly runnable but required attention to stay upright. That meant I couldn't really safely drink while running, but if we were walking up a climb, I drank. It was a really beautiful course, and I tried to ensure I devoted some mental run time to appreciating the scenery while I huffed and puffed and tried not to fall down.

Someone else's photo, poached from the Oracle Trail facebook page

My right thumb got awfully cold, and I finally remembered that it has a tendency to go a bit numb when carrying my hand bottle even in warm weather - I think the bottle puts some pressure on the blood vessels leading to it or something. I started trying to work it a bit to get circulation flowing, but it was pretty far gone. Hmm, this may have been a bad idea, especially since the bottle was already starting to freeze despite my hopes for the sport drink crystals (and specifically the sodium content) acting as an antifreeze. Ah well, if I stop somewhere I can probably just take the lid off and have a sip. I ran along to a junction of 3 trails, and was directed to the left. Like a good little lemming, I followed the people ahead of me and the volunteer's direction off to the left-hand trail, and thanked the kind lady like I did all the other volunteers on course.

What was weird is that there were no flags or strips of trail tape in the trees, and we'd been instructed that the whole course was marked. I ran along a bit more, then lo, what's this? I came upon a group of at least 20 runners all stopped at another fork in the trail, with no markings and no idea where to go. We decided we'd go back to the last junction with the volunteer there and ask, but when we got there the lady was gone! We all tried the right-hand trail instead, which quickly led us back to the start/finish line.

Not cool.

But gee, it looks so simple!

We weren't able to get any really clear direction from the race staff at the start area, so we ran back the way we'd come in, retracing our steps to the first junction with the amazing disappearing volunteer. Some people decided they'd follow a very off-piste section that led down toward the road, while myself and a few other people took the left-hand fork the way we'd been directed and tried to press on. I discovered that not only was my hand bottle frozen at the drinking valve, it had iced up sufficiently that I couldn't get the lid off. With it now useless, I stuffed it in the back pocket of my jacket (the one not occupied by sewage-dipped space blanket, that is) and tucked my poor frozen thumb inside my mitt, pressing it up against the little handwarmer packet to try to defrost. I think the smartest thing I did all day was stuff those little packets into my mittens.

When we came to the second unmarked fork in the trail, I decided to try the left-hand way, and 3 others came with me. There were already some prints in the snow showing others had come this way, so it seemed like a good wheeze. We ran along for awhile, then met up with some trail markings again, climbed up this insane little scramble that had me using my hands to try to pull myself up but was definitely marked as part of the course, and followed the trail taped path...right back to the damn intersection where the volunteer had been. We tried taking the off-piste bit down through the long grass and grabby branches to the road, but didn't like this not knowing business, so we headed back to the start area via the right-hand trail again to gain more intel.

The blue line is approximately the first loop back to the start, the purple line is after we headed back out.

One of the people I had been running with for the second loop had a GPS watch and said we'd only done about 10km so far. Bob was frustrated and sounded ready to give up and go home, but I suggested that if we'd already done 10k we could just try to find our way through the 15k course and then that would give us the 25 kilometers we'd expected to run. I also grabbed a bottle of water from a volunteer and slammed most of it along with a shot of EFS gel, ditching the useless hand bottle on a picnic table to pick up after the race. The three people with whom I'd been running (Bob, Tiffany and a lady named Paulina who said she was doing her first trail race ever) all joined me as I headed out for a do-over, though we wondered a bit about our sanity as we did so - I think it was Tiffany who said "Only runners would actually decide to head back out on a day like today".

So off we toddled, 4 little ducks in a row, through the gorgeous forest under the bright sun. After a couple of second-guesses where I ran back to check and make sure I hadn't seen flags off in another direction at a turning (meaning I had to work very hard to catch back up since I didn't want to be left alone in the woods), we finally located the spot where we'd made a wrong turning. We had followed the flags for the 5k course instead of the trail tape for the 15/25k route...the difference between which was not explained until our 2nd visit to the start/finish area. Consulting with Bob's watch and noting we were getting close to the first aid station at 8k (which we'd never found on our first forays) and had already been out for over 2 hours, I pulled out my gel flask for some EFS Liquid Shot and discovered that it had turned into soft-serve ice cream in my pocket. I managed to get the cap off and squeeze out a chunk, hoping I'd soon have some water to wash it down.

We did finally reach the 8k aid station and I did get a couple of small cups of water, though they had already packed everything up and seemed to be about to leave. A fellow on a fat bike who was patrolling the course offered to act as a guide, which we gratefully accepted. We all remained resolute in our decision to follow the 15k route rather than try to find a shortcut back to the start, and set off with the fat biker at our tail. 

Bob's Garmin map - the rest of the data is here.

It seemed to get much colder for awhile, and not just because we'd spent a few minutes stopped at the aid station - perhaps we had turned into the wind, or maybe the trees simply weren't providing as much cover. All I know is that suddenly my face was freezing cold, and my toes were starting to complain again. We were climbing some longer hills and did some more walking than we had previously, really working through the geography of the Oak Ridges Moraine. My fellow hardy souls and I all seemed to be starting to feel the effects of the running we'd done as glutes and hamstrings began to protest. Still, we pressed onward and (despite some mis-direction from our fat biker) finally made it to the junction near the bell tower aid station.

We met a volunteer there who took our numbers and let us know we could take the left-hand trail to go to the aid station itself, or take the right-hand fork to continue on toward the finish - we had no intention of crossing the road into the Walker Woods section that comprised the extra 10km of the 25k course. Since we'd already done 22km by Bob's reckoning and noone wanted to go to the aid station, we all trundled off after a brief stop (during which I nibbled a bit more of my EFS soft serve) to the right to try to finish this damn thing. At least the trail conditions had been great for us all day - packed powder covered most of the ice, making my traction devices pretty much unnecessary, but the snow wasn't so deep that it sucked up too much energy. I was, however, SO ready to be done. 

At least it was still pretty.
(Another photo poached from the Oracle Trail facebook page)

Somehow we couldn't even manage to follow the trail markings correctly from the bell tower and ended up off-course again. Finally finding a wide, main trail that led down to the concession road the parking lots were on, we met up with another fat biker and another couple of runners who directed us into the woods again. After running another loop and being spat back out onto the same trail (slightly closer to the road), Bob's watch was saying we'd already done 26km and I just wanted a way out. I ran down the trail to the road, hooked right, then ran along 7th Concession to the main tract parking lot, up the long driveway, and finally across the line where Tanker awaited after somewhere around 27km. I later heard that only tiny percentage of the people who ran the 25k actually made it through without going off course at some point (which was apparently closer to 26.5k anyway) - one fellow even said he ended up doing 42km! Most who got lost apparently ended up taking a shortcut back to the start/finish, though, leaving them with less than the originally intended distance. You'd have to be some kind of weirdo to want to run more than that in the Arctic chill, right?

You know it's cold when one of your pigtails freezes to your face.

Official "25k" time: 3:43:05
3/5 W30-39 - 13/23 Women - 36/50 O/A

Bob, Tiffany and Paulina had apparently taken a slightly shorter-but-slower route through the woods, and came through a few minutes after me. I had high fives for all of them, 'cause they were awesome and I don't know what I would've done if I'd been out there all by myself. I'd only managed to drink about 750ml of fluids and had about 200cal of eLoad and EFS in the 3.75hrs I was out there, so dehydration or bonking were real possibilities, not to mention the strong chance my clumsy arse would end up twisting an ankle or falling on my head and ending up a frozen lump in the woods.

Eventually, however, I made it! I even got my hand-knitted finisher's scarf and a bowl of chili to try to warm up.

Yes, while sitting in the car. In the sun.
Still shivering.

The outside temperature topped out at -23c with a windchill of -34c, and I was also seriously happy to have those down pants.

Huge thanks to the volunteers who endured horrific conditions in an effort to make this a great day for us runners. While the course marking and marshaling could use some work, I had a blast trotting around in the gorgeous Durham Forest for the morning and wouldn't hesitate to come back and race again. There are bound to be some teething troubles in the first year, and I'm confident the race director will get it all sorted out. The swag bag with a pair of chocolate covered Oreo cookies & some vanilla sugar scrub was a nice touch, and I love my finisher's scarf - have worn it every day since the race! 

The only unfortunate fallout from all of this fun is a bit of nasty frostbite to my left big toe and the very tip of my second toe - the big toe having been frostbitten last year during a 10 mile run in freezing rain - and a rather more alarming dose to the end joint of my right thumb.

Not awesome.

It's now 6 days after the race and my thumb is still sore, swollen and a bit numb at the tip, which is really inconvenient as it's my dominant hand and that impacts on more things than you could possibly imagine until you're forced to go through life with a less-than-useful thumb. I'm less concerned about the toes, which are still a bit numb but don't really affect my day-to-day life so much. I don't think there's any permanent damage (no blistering and nothing has fallen off yet), but now I know for next time - DO NOT USE THE HAND BOTTLE if planning to race on Hoth.

We honestly passed this on the way to & from the race site.
I would've happily carved one open and crawled inside.

I also suspect that the frostbite to my toes was partly a result of the gap between my socks and my longjohns. With only a spandex gaiter to trap warmth, I'm sure the blood running through my ankles on my way to my feet was losing a lot of heat there that could have prevented the freezing that occurred. Next time I'll need to either risk blisters with a different pair of (taller) socks, or figure out some other way to close up that gap.

Of course, some people might just decide that racing in ridiculously cold temperatures isn't something they'd risk again, but who ever said I was bright?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Possibly my last race..

..will be tomorrow.

Not because I'm done with this endurance business. Nope, I'm still trying to plan out my 2016 season and there are a ton of events I'd like to try.

I may, however, not survive long enough to do so.

When I heard that Frosty Trail was cancelled this year, I was disappointed because it's always a good time...but the same day held news of a new race, being put on by the as-wonderful-as-she-is-badass ultrarunner Rhonda Avery.

The Oracle Trail boasts 5k, 15k or 25k options. It seemed like a no-brainer to sign up for the 25k, as that's around the same 3 hours of running I'm used to doing at Frosty Trail.

Ok, I've never actually made it quite that far, but it should be no problem...right?

Well, I did register even after knowing I was injured for Horror Trail last Halloween. I didn't run much in November (74.4km) as I tried to rehab the damage done at Vulture Bait, but started to get into a groove in December, logging 155.4km. I might not have been running long distances, but I was back to a consistent 5- and then 6 days per week of getting out for no less than a half hour/5km. At the end of the month I even put in a bit of a streak to close out the year and begin 2016 on the right foot, despite the weather turning to crap.

All through January I build mileage weekly, knowing I'd have to get a couple of good long runs under my belt before Oracle Trail to avoid injuring myself again. I totted up 230.1km of running for the month, pushing my long run up to 21.6km by the 29th. With another 20.5k of hills done last Saturday, I figured I was as ready as I'd get and have been tapering with easy 5-6k runs all this week.

Fitness isn't the problem.

The first major issue I'm staring at is the course: I don't know anything about the Durham Forest except that it is loosely in the vicinity of the Oak Ridges Moraine, which was the location of the Tour de King mountain bike race back in 2012. There was a lot of up. Add to that the nasty rumour that the whole trail is ice covered and I've never actually run in the traction device I had to buy (partly because it's mandatory equipment, partly because I'm allergic to falling on my face), and those hills see see touch more daunting. Hell, I don't even know if I'm looking at rooty, rocky singletrack under the reported ice and the snow that WON'T STOP FREAKIN' FALLING this week, or smooth walking path. This could be way more challenging than Frosty Trail ever has been, or potentially smoother sailing. I won't know until I get out there.

None of this, however, is really a major problem.

This is:

Oh, momma..

While it had turned uncharacteristically mild for a bit there - I ran 8km last Sunday on bare, slightly muddy trail in knickers and a long sleeve shirt with no jacket - we've been thrown back in the freezer this week. I've been running the last few evenings in -10c or below, but -22c for the high? That's beyond "cold" and into the "ridiculous".

I can dress to keep myself warm and work hard to keep my core temperature up. However, there's no way I'll get through a 25k race even in perfect trail conditions without hydration, and trying to keep water from freezing in tomorrow's temperatures is going to be damn near impossible.

The last time I ran with my hand bottle in this kind of cold, the mouthpiece froze up on me after 6km. The first aid station is 8km out from the start. I do have a race vest with bottle holsters on my chest, but I don't think I could get my jacket done up overtop of it. I'm also concerned about the strap from the bottle compressing the insulating airspace in my mittens and chilling my hand.

The other option is my hydration pack, which does have an insulated drinking tube...but the replacement bladder I had to put in (after the original sustained some damage that led to a leak) has a narrower tube and different valve than the original, both of which make it more prone to freezing up while the valve is virtually impossible to get flowing again once it ices up.

I actually lean toward using the bottle, as at least I can stop and take the lid off to get a sip if the bite valve freezes - the hydration pack doesn't have that option. It also means less extra weight to carry than the pack even if it ices up and becomes completely useless. I just really hope the aid stations have some kind of solution to keep the fluids on offer flowing, because I'll at least need a few sips to wash down some gel along the way.

I'm pretty happy I'm a bit of a camel when I run - I've only been drinking about 500ml / 1 pint per hour on recent long training runs - but there's still no way I'll manage without at least a bit of hydration on the trail.

Not an action shot - I'm frozen in place.

So off I'll traipse into the woods tomorrow morning, hoping to emerge out the other side with a tale to tell of endurance in adverse conditions. If, however, you don't hear from me next week, SEND HALP PLZ.

At least it's supposed to be sunny..

Friday, February 5, 2016

Run drunk

No, that's not a suggestion.

Yes, I know that the beer mile is a thing. That's not what I'm talking about.

What I'm talking about is the effects of endurance exercise on higher brain function, specifically the cognitive impairment that results from long events.

There are a couple of studies that back up what I've been noticing for years: if you exercise for a really long time, you end up pretty dumb.

Why do all these pink elephants keep following me?

Not in any lasting way (well, in my case..), but in a way that could put you in real danger.

Here's the thing: if you've raced any events longer than 90mins (enough to deplete your glycogen stores), you've probably noticed that you're not really in any condition to write your SATs by the end of it. Even basic math like "how many laps have I done" or "how high do I need to jump in o not to catch my foot on that AAARGH" can feel unreasonably challenging.

The problem is that your muscles are working hard and diverting blood flow - and thus both sugar and oxygen -  from your brain. To make matters worse, it's almost impossible to replace as much fluid as you're losing during a long event, so you end up dehydrated as well, which is the same thing that occurs when drinking alcohol. I really do use the term "run drunk" for a reason!

Not only does all of this drop the odds of you joining MENSA before the finish line - it can take some time to recover from the effects of putting your brain on a bit of a starvation diet. The same effect can be produced by exercising at high intensity for shorter durations, but since that tends to dissipate more quickly than exhaustive exercise-induced cognitive impairment, it's not as germane to my point.

I swear I have one, and I really am getting there. For now: courage.

Being run drunk (or cycling or swimming or skiing or multi-sport drunk, since any exhaustive aerobic exercise produces the effect) is usually just a cause of forehead-slappingl dumb moments during a race: putting your aero helmet on backwards coming out of the water at a triathlon, leaving the bike-to-run transition still wearing said helmet, taking a gel every 20mins instead of every 40mins (and wondering why your gut rebels), or being completely incapable of calculating distance/laps completed vs remaining. The sort of thing you laugh about later.

Pretty sure I've been outsmarted by plant life during a long event.

What's no laughing matter is the fact that some of this impairment can continue for hours after the event has ended, leaving a bunch of somewhat loopy athletes packing up their gear and getting into the driver's seat of their cars to head home.

Most of us know better than to get behind the wheel after drinking alcohol, but how many endurance athletes give a second thought to the danger they may pose to themselves and others by operating a motor vehicle after a long race? While I know as well as anyone how much you really just want to get home and scrape off the smelliness so you can put your feet up and eat your bodyweight in sugar and deep fried things dripping with cheese (or not - whatever your jam may be), I'm asking you right now to think about the sheer horror that could await you on your journey.

I know I'm incredibly lucky to have Tanker the Wonder Sherpa to drive me home from all of my events. Between the sheer fatigue and general idiocy that I've generated even from a lousy Olympic triathlon or 25k trail race (to say nothing of the half iron distance tris and ultrarunning events I've done, or the 100 mile, full iron distance and even 24hr events others regularly engage in), I'm sure I'd have killed either myself or someone else on the road home by now if I didn't have my faithful chauffeur. The way in which exhaustive exercise impairs cognition is exactly the way you need to be sharp in order to perform the subconscious analyses of traffic patterns and react quickly to changing circumstances when driving a vehicle.

I'll say it again: you are a danger to yourself and others out there if you're driving while run drunk. The effects are so noticeable and lasting in my own personal experience that I refuse to ride my motorcycle if I've trained or raced for over 3hrs in a day, since it takes up even more mental run time than driving a car. I don't care how beautiful the day is and if it's the only chance I'll have to ride in the next month: my bike stays parked for the same reason it would if I was on narcotic painkillers or had been slinging back shots of whiskey all morning.

Now, I understand that not everyone is lucky enough to have such an incredibly supportive spouse and sherpa - Tanker is one of a kind, and I'm incredibly grateful for everything he does for my pathetic little athletic career. However, I will suggest that there are a few ways that you can avoid getting behind the wheel while still goofy from a race:

1) Carpool. If you happen to know of someone doing a shorter distance race (or better yet - volunteering) at an event you're participating in that is long enough to leave you loopy, why not ask if they're willing to hang out and wait for you to finish up before heading out together? It's better for the environment and creates less traffic/parking congestion, too!

2) Take a cab or public transit. Yeah, I know this isn't always feasible due to distance, cost and availability, and who the heck really wants to deal with public transportation when you're sore and smelly? Still beats never being able to race again because you were hurt in a car accident, though.

3) Stay close by. Many races partner with a local hotel to offer great rates to athletes, and there will often be a shuttle bus to and from the event. You'll typically only be a few minutes' ride away from a hot shower, and even those few minutes will be spent in the company of other athletes high on endorphins who will actually enjoy swapping racing anecdotes with you instead of merely tolerating your post-race motormouth! Even if there's no race-specific hotel or shuttle, you'll be in better range to grab a cab affordably, or possibly even walk or ride your bicycle back to the hotel. You might even be able to work out a carpool with another athlete staying at the same place who will either be in better shape or has their own driver for post-race.

4) Have a friend or relative drive. This is really the best way to go, since it gets you home with the least amount of fuss and expense. I know that most races require you to get up at stupid o'clock in the morning to drive to some gawdforsaken location so far outside of town that you start to hear banjos, but I'm willing to bet every single one of you has at least one person with a driver's license that wants you to come back safely. Explain to them that you'll essentially be a taller version of a drunken circus midget by the time you complete this idiotic thing you're planning on doing, and you don't want to run the risk of hurting innocent people with a couple of tons of metal and glass afterward. Buy them a caffeinated beverage of their choice on the way to the event, preferably accompanied by something hot to eat (the one time I failed to buy Tanker the Wonder Sherpa a toasted bagel with cream cheese or sausage & egg breakfast sandwich on the way to an event, I broke my wrist during the race. Just saying..). Let them nap on the way there if they like, and make sure they have the car keys so they can go get lunch while you're out running around in the woods like a crazed baby deer for hours on end. Offer to buy them dinner after the event, a case of beer, or that Faberge egg they've had their eye on (depending on their tastes and/or your budget). Seriously - show your appreciation for ripping them out of their cozy bed and wasting their day, and maybe they'll even agree to do it again for you in the future.

It seems to work for Tank!

5) Have a nap. If all else fails and you simply must drive yourself home, try to find a way to get your head down for at least 20mins before you depart. Bring a pillow, hop into the passenger seat and lean it back, toss a blanket on and saw some logs for a bit. It's still not a great option, but at least you'll be a little bit more on your game.

Whatever it is you do, I implore you to find some way to avoid driving while under the influence of endurance exercise. Whether it's as simple as the inconvenience and expense of having to repair damage to your vehicle or the crushing heartbreak and guilt of taking an innocent life, the consequences of driving while impaired - whether it's from direct causes like alcohol or drugs, or just the side effect of a long race taking its toll on your higher brain functions - can destroy lives and shatter families.

Please. Don't drive run drunk.

(Especially if this is your idea of a duathlon transition beverage)