High Altitude / Low Performance Camp

By: Carmen Troncoso

A few weeks ago, my 53-year old body finally started sending me subtle hints that it might want to start cooperating with my running again. I decided to take advantage of this and began to gradually and tentatively increase my training volume and intensity. All the while, I’ve been careful not to fall into the past mistakes when I increase one or two of these elements too quickly and end up cutting my season short.

So, taking advantage of some planned vacation time during the week of Thanksgiving, I recruited by trusty side-kick (aka husband) and headed to the mountains of New Mexico for what turned out to be a successful High-Altitude (but Low-Performance) 8-day training camp.

First, we headed to the geriatric town of Ruidoso, where we are known as “those youngsters who run” and drink obscene amounts of coffee. On our first day, after our generous serving of rolled oats and several cups of espresso at the very nice Sacred Grounds Coffee House, we headed uphill to a well known fitness/running trail at the entrance to the Lincoln National Forest. We typically use this trail as our “altitude adjustment” run and since it is frequented by (even more) casual joggers (most of whom are from Texas), you feel mighty empowered by the feeling that comes from lapping them time after time while cruising at a brisk 9-min per mile pace.

That night we headed to the local Irish Pub and we ran into Troy –who used to be the king of the Lavazza-infused espresso at Sacred Grounds and is now trying to achieve the same status pouring pints of Guinness  Troy was quick to strike up a conversation and inform us of a recently opened trail system around Grindstone Lake, just outside of town. He told us he has been mountain-biking out there but thought it would be ideal for “hard-core” runners like us.

The next morning, after the Guiness had cleared our system with a solid ten hours of sleep, we drove out to the trail around Grindstone Lake. BINGO!

At the parking lot we struck up a conversation with a young mountain biker who gave us a quick verbal tour of the trail, and then we headed out …..at a snail’s pace, and not without Ricardo first giving the usual warning, “be careful, don’t go fall on the trail”. As a side note, I must say that the first time Ricardo and I went on a date (we were 19 or so), it was a run in the mountains outside of Monterrey, Mexico. We were jogging along, talking, giggling, listening to birds and watching the butterflies, when… WHAM! Down I went. So it is not unreasonable (but yes annoying) to have him give me the same warning every time we go for a trail run.

So, off we go for our 7-mile run around Grindstone Lake. Within a few minutes I am a couple of switchbacks ahead of Ricardo (who takes a little longer to ease into his run), and yes…..you guessed it…. down I went. I try desperately to get up quickly, like a cockroach on its back that realizes that the Orkin-man cometh, but I was too slow. He makes the turn, and there I am rolling on the ground with bloody knees and hands. We laugh for a while, and off we go, knowing that the fall is out of the way.

The trail was absolutely wonderful, felt almost like the Formula-1 track, where they picked the best aspects of various circuits and compiled them all into one. I felt like I recognized bits and pieces of every trail I have ever run (and fallen) on. The 7-plus mile loop took us almost 60-minutes, and by the time we finished I had already devised all kinds of different training sessions, fartleks, hill reps, etc. we could do on the various portions of the course.

That night we drove up to Albuquerque via the town of Socorro where we stopped for lunch and tasted a superb Red Chile Porter at the Socorro Springs Brewery. Try it if you can. In Albuquerque we spent the night at my cousin Emilio’s and the next day headed out to beautiful Santa Fe.

We spent much of that first day in Santa Fe walking around and eventually ended up at the Running Hub, where the very friendly staff pointed us towards the best running trails just outside of town. We drove up to the trails, planned the logistics to come back later to run on them, and then proceeded to totally blow-off the run that day (High-Altitude / Low Performance). We were able to rely on my background in exercise physiology, however, to convince ourselves that the mere fact that we were sleeping at high elevation was doing wonders for our fitness!

Later that day, while enjoying another Porter at the Santa Fe location of the Second Street Brewery we noticed a very active bicycle trail just outside the Pub and when we got back to the hotel we googled the hell out of it and found that we could hook-on to it not too far from our hotel. So, the next morning we did manage to get our asses out on the trail for a most enjoyable little run.

Back to Ruidoso, and after another ten-hours plus of sleep, more rolled oats and coffee, we went back to Grindstone Lake. This time we are doing “Juliette” -a streamlined version of our beloved Julia, ideal when oxygen is at a premium and you want to maximize the amount of time you can run at a quick tempo before your legs completely give up on you. It went well, I slayed windmills right and left, and even my faithful Sancho Panza was not too far behind. There were high-fives all around and we rewarded ourselves with a fine Thanksgiving dinner in our little cabin at the edge of the Ruidoso River.

Tomorrow…. 7-mile loop around Grindstrone Lake redux – minus the fall I hope.

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