trail in font romeu

Most of my runs have been on stuff like this...

There is an overly simplistic model for how long it takes to fully adapt to a time change: one day for every one hour of time difference.  I have a general distrust for anything that prescriptive, especially when it tells me something I don’t want to hear.  It supposedly takes “12 weeks to get in shape,” and “six weeks to make adaptations in the weight room” and “six seconds for every pound of body fat you lose, per mile of your race.”  I find most of those things totally inaccurate, so when people are telling it would take NINE days to adjust to Font Romeu, France?!  Hells to the no.

at this snail pace this pace.

I’m only training up here for 20 days, and you’re telling me 9 of those are pretty pointless?  Damn.  I need every day I can get!  In past years, when I did something more sensible like go to a sea-level training base in Europe, it would take me three days max to adjust, and by day four I’d be tearing up some 1k repeats on the track.  But I’ve already been convinced that Font Romeu works wonders for endurance athletes, with Paula Radcliffe training here for 15 years and a bunch of other people who set PB’s in events ranging from 800-marathon (including OTC athletes Nick Symmonds, Jemma Simpson, Chris Thompson, Ben Bruce, and Sally Kipyego last summer).  The list of success stories in long, so train patiently for the past eight days I have done.


Rinker, AKA Rinkles, is all business.

At long last, I get the call from Rowlando to do 8 x 1k progressing on the track on Tuesday morning: day nine of altitude.  He wouldn’t be in town until the evening, so it was me and Rinker (Rinkles) and a breezy 6000 foot track.  I had no specific times to hit, (the workout being effort based,) so I was pretty excited about it.  Failure is impossible in those kind of workouts if you set realistic expectations and don’t think too hard.

lindsay allen

Lindsay Allen back in the day

As Bridget and I strolled down to the track, a feeling of purpose came over us, and our girly chit chat was replaced with quiet focus.  At the track were several little pocket groups at various stages of warmup: Alberto Salazar talking over the session details with his athletes Lindsay Allen and Alvina Begay; a couple African athletes floating through a few final strides; Paula Radcliffe doing some active stretching while Gary tunes up his bike to pace her through her reps; a Russian woman I vaguely recognize talking over last minute workout details with her male training partner, as she strips down to her bun huggers and sports bra for the first rep.

What a gift to get to train in this kind of environment, I think to myself.  Dr. Bob in Seattle would be all over the vibrational frequencies of this place.

I did my warmup, the usual stuff, and Rinkles went over to the start line to time me.  We waited as Lindsey and Alvina sprinted by on some shorter reps with Alberto yelling splits, and then another moment as Gary led Paula through the finish line of something that looked quite hard.  “Alright, keep it controlled for the first few, Fleshman,” he said.  “The last four you can pick it up if you feel good.”

The first half of the workout was an absolute joy.  My times were quicker, and they felt more relaxed, than I expected, and I recovered well after each one.  On the fourth rep, Paula and Gary cruised up behind me, and when they didn’t go around me, I ended up subconsciously picking it up and running a little too fast.  Whoops: four to go.  Hopefully I didn’t blow it there.

Each of the last four 1k reps, I picked off a little bit of time.  On rep 7 of 8, I was hurting pretty bad.  The altitude was gaining on me, and the desired physiological effect of the workout was doing its job perfectly.  The Russian woman was sprinting 300’s with her training partner, and they flew around me looking graceful and explosive.  I felt the usual conflict: pain trying to talk you out of the work that needs to be done.  I felt alone out there, and the task seemed great.  This conflict, this moment, is where the choice is made that leads to breakthroughs.  I walked the final 15 seconds of my recovery and thought of Paula, and all the tough workouts she has done alone.  Any great pursuit requires the lonely exploration of one’s human limitations.

As the pain and fatigue began to grip in, I tried to embody the characteristics needed most in endurance racing: toleration of, and relaxation into, pain; being phased by nothing; disassociation with the physical outside world; directing the flow of energy within.  I finished my last rep in 3:00, faster than all the others, hunched over with the pain of the effort, but smiling inside with satisfaction.

before, during, after