About three years ago I was on business travel and looking to get an endorphin fix. The DC area hotel I was staying in had a huge vacant stairwell. I ran repeats, explosively up, easily down. Later I developed debilitating DOMS - Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. I described this as the "worst DOMS ever."
My worst DOMS prior to that episode came after hiking Tuckerman's Ravine with my 60 year old mother about 10 years ago. It took so long to summit that we feared running out of daylight on the descent, so we walked the auto road back down. The next day I suffered debilitating DOMS. I was 40 at the time, and she wanted to visit Boston. I could barely get in and out of a car. My mother found this thoroughly entertaining. She suffered no lingering effects from a full day on our feet.
Today I have a case of DOMS that easily tops both of those. I ran repeats on Pack Monadnock on Sunday. I ran up Pack twice two weeks ago with no issues, although Dave and I took it pretty easy coming back down. So what happened this time?
With the Mt Washington foot race on the horizon, I needed to step it up a notch. I would attempt three repeats on Pack. The 50 mile MTB hammerfest on Saturday left my legs feeling like trash, but I was really after calf and Achilles tendon conditioning, not intensity. Three times up meant three times down. That's 2400ft of descending on 12% average grade, 20% maximum grade.
The first run up felt awful. I almost turned around before the first switchback. But somehow the summit miraculously appeared in about 13 minutes. One complete. I ran back down. Not walk, not jog, not run-walk, but an honest run the whole way. I was only a minute faster than the climb, but running downhill was something I was never able to do in my life.
Second time up felt much better. I was a tad faster at less perceived exertion. I ran back down again. Things didn't feel quite right in my legs by the time I got to the bottom. But walking around a bit to recover, I felt good to go for a third run up.
The third time up still felt pretty good. Even though I beat myself up pretty severely the day before, I felt like I could run uphill at this tempo pace all day. It was the descent each time that was taking a toll on me. My third run up was slower at 14 minutes, not unexpected. Heading back down, I sensed some funky muscle damage. I walked most of it. Once to the car, I felt fine again and was quite proud of my workout.
There were other nut jobs there. Eric Otto and a friend were doing repeats on bikes, training for Mt Washington. They did "only" five repeats on the cold, drizzly morning. I've never done more than four on the bike. Then there was a Gate City Strider's runner doing repeats, just two. Also training for Mt Washington foot race.
My best on Pack last year was 11:46. I figure I need to break 11:30 on Pack to have a shot of breaking 80 minutes on Mt Washington. At some point I need to get over to Mt Ascutney for a solid benchmark. A sub-35 minute time on Ascutney is needed for an 80 minute finish on the big Rock Pile. Crazy goal? Perhaps. I'd have to beat some pretty solid runners with that time. But Mt Washington isn't your typical foot race either.
When I awoke Monday, DOMS was already setting in. I nearly fell out of bed. This was going to be bad, as normally DOMS doesn't really hit me until 24-48 hours later. By midday at work, colleagues were making fun of me, like what do you expect, running up a mountain three times. I was pretty much immobilized.
It's not the running up. It is the down. Only eccentric muscle contraction causes DOMS. This is when the muscle elongates while it is trying to contract. This happens running down hill, as you have to absorb energy to control your speed. No different than brakes on a bike really. The energy has to go somewhere. I figure the downhill power my body had to dissipate was about 220 Watts. All eccentric muscle contraction. Seems harmless enough. On the bike, I can produce over 370W going up, which is all concentric muscle contraction.
When I did the stair repeats three years ago, I think I did only 1000ft or so of descending. On Pack, I did 2400ft. You'd think with the hours of running I've accrued now, this wouldn't be much of a problem. I seem to be particularly sensitive to eccentric muscle contraction. Wonder what this means?
Anyway, I'm supposed to run 8 miles on Tuesday, and I can't even get out of a chair right now without support. DOMS usually peaks in about 36hrs for me and is gone in 72. I really don't want to lose 2-3 training days because of my stupidity. Studies suggest that DOMS, while painful, is not indicative of serious muscle damage. In fact, running can alleviate the pain, although it may cause excruciating pain starting out. It is getting over that initial five minute hump. I'm skeptical. Will I stay sore inside on Tuesday or try to punch through DOMS?