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Trying to Make Speed Ascents Suck Less

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Being a Boulder resident and rock climber, solo ascents of the flatirons inevitably become incorporated to the repertoire of my recreational activites. While I am extremely fortunate to have access to such a unique climbing opportunity, doing something over and over again does get slightly repetitive. To keep it interesting, it’s nice to change things up a bit, or at least set new parameters to make 5.0 climbing a little more engaging. A popular trend among (a small group) of Boulder climbers is to see how quickly one can run to the base of the Second Flatiron from the trailhead, solo the flatiron (via Freeway, 5.0+++), and then run down the trail from the top, right back down to where you started. It’s really quite a nice loop, so of course, someone would need to invent a way to make it a trek of pain and suffering, which strangely I am thankful for. The speed loop of the Second Flatiron really is a captivating objective and truly a great way to test the limits of your body. Some dude has tested himself so much that he has managed to complete the loop in just under 30 minutes.

The Flatirons from the beginning of the trail. Freeway follows the middle of the center formation.

A little background on me: I’ve spent my life on the East Coast and have been in Colorado for the better part of a month now; I love rock climbing, and I don’t hike or run very often. It’s actually pretty hard to get me to do anything cardiovascular. Even though I have been living at 5,000+ feet for about 4 weeks, I highly doubt my body has perfectly adapted to the conditions, especially considering that I have barely pushed my cardiovascular system since being here. Therefore, even just the half-mile approach to the base of the route is pretty brutal for me, let alone the several hundred feet of climbing and the descent hike that follows after. But with an injured tendon in the ring finger of my right hand, climbing in the Flatirons is mostly all I can afford to do at the moment. I soloed Freeway a couple times. It’s really fun, but I’m not pushing myself in any way, which is where a lot of the value in the sport comes from in the first place. Therefore, I decided to hop on the speed loop train. My goal is to complete it in under an hour.20160708_073143To get a sense of my base, I did a lap on the route with no running on the approach, just brisk hiking. It was tough, but luckily pretty quick. In order to get a proper idea of how my body works at elevation, I pushed myself hard during this trial, taking only a couple minutes rest to put on my climbing shoes at the base of the cliff. My time on the first trial was about an hour and 45 minutes. On the approach I was really huffing and puffing. To cut weight I didn’t take any water, maybe not the best decision for my body, but weight is time and I want to be as light as possible. Does the weight loss win over the comprise in hydration? Probably not, but still, I want to cut the weight. Maybe there’s a way to get the best of both worlds, travel light and stay hydrated.

Looking up Freeway from the base

First my mind went to supplements, where it never really goes usually. For the most part, I try to get what my body needs from proper nutrition coming from whole foods. However, this project seems like a good moment for experimentation. There is a product, Acli-Mate, I have heard of friends using, which is a sports drink powder that is specifically formulated for mountain athletes and tourists looking to quickly acclimatize to new alpine environments. It’s a very Karuna beverage, perfect for outdoor adventures. Just to experiment, I thought ‘why not, let’s check it out.”

When I went again the next day, I mixed Acli-Mate in with my morning water before the climb. A few noticeable changes include: less water intake during the climb, lower muscle fatigue, 1:32trip time (~10 minute reduction). To really sum it up, I suffered a little less. My body was operating more efficiently. This is not to say that the difference was night and day. A hard hike is going to be hard no matter what supplements you take beforehand. But with that said, the Acli-Mate definitely helped. It made the experience just a little less stressful on my body.

Now, I have no idea how much was the Acli-Mate and how much was the placebo effect that comes with taking a supplement, but regardless, there was a difference, albeit relatively small. Any positive change is one I’m willing to run with. I have a limited supply on the Acli-Mate, so I’m not going to use it every time I train. But on my serious attempts to break the hour time mark, it will surely be a part of my nutrition plan.

What I think is best is that I just lap the route a bunch and get in shape. I’m not in cardio shape whatsoever. I don’t run. To break the hour time mark I will need to run, as much as I hate to say it. Maybe by just doing the loop over and over I will be able to do it in under an hour. I know it’s an achievable goal and once I reach that milestone, I will likely want to see what more I can accomplish. Therefore, there will be a point where I am truly pushing my personal limits and coming mere seconds shy of my goals, at which time, I will be looking for every possible way to shave those precious seconds off my time. That’s where ditching the water and using products like Acli-Mate will come into play. I love the idea of cutting weight while not compromising my hydration and hampering my body’s performance. This product definitely has some potential to be a valuable tool, however, not the only tool.

Looking East from midway up Freeway

Over my next attempts, I will be playing around with different things, testing different variables. The Acli-Mate was the first I discovered but I know there are more. What are they? I have no idea! But I’ll be playing around with different things as I go forth on this journey of running, suffering, and (some) fun climbing. I can’t wait to see what else cuts the suffering and makes this mode of fun a little more type one. Stay tuned for updates and if you have any ideas I’d love to here them in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Trying to Make Speed Ascents Suck Less

  1. Josh C. says
    July 16, 2016 at 9:31 am

    I am acclimatized to altitude as I live at 7000+ ft, but I still like to use Acli-Mate as a morning wake up drink and before outdoor adventures and summits. Definitely, have on hand for low land visitors who don’t want to lose a day to not feeling their best. Thanks for the article.

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