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Skiing and Snowboarding : Athletes

At the World’s Toughest Race Does It Pay To Be Young or Experienced?

The story at this year’s 32-mile Molokai2Oahu Paddleboard World Championships won't be the sharks, massive ocean swells, or roaring winds. It’s all about two of the race favorites, Dave Kalama and Kai Lenny.

Ironically, Kalama, who has crossed the Kaiwi Channel more than 30 times and is 28-years older than Lenny, has taught his younger competitor almost everything he knows about the sport.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/dave-kalama-backside-surfing_fe.jpg","caption":"Dave Kalama is no stranger to the Molokai2Oahu. Here he is going backside on a wave during the 2012 race."}%}

Will it take 49-year-old Kalama’s strength, wisdom, and mental toughness or 21-year-old Lenny’s youth, agility, and endurance? Or will two-time champ Connor Baxter or Aussie Travis Grant blow them both out of the water? Stephanie Pearson checks in with the legendary waterman and the rising star before they take the battle to the waves on July 27.

OUTSIDE: What makes this race so much more difficult than every other standup paddling race? 
KALAMA: It’s a 32-mile race, but because of the current it paddles at more like a 45-mile race. The closer to Oahu you get the stronger the current gets and the last mile and half is directly into the wind, which averages 15 to 25 knots. As for the sharks, well, yeah they are out there and I have seen one or two, but you’re so tired and fatigued and trying to focus on what you’re doing that you don’t have time to think about them. The mental battle is what matters. It is a constant battle to not give up.

LENNY: Yeah, I mean it’s absolutely insane. The race is more than just paddling a normal course. It’s so mentally challenging you tend to have to lay down the line and push yourself. By being the best you can be is how you win. It’s not so much that you beat the other guy. I always joke that it’s the first 30 miles that are easy and the last two that will kill you. At 30 miles I feel fine, but the last two I really have to put everything into it because my mind is telling me to stop and when it turns straight upwind I have to dig into my soul.

Standup paddling is unique in that a 49-year-old and a 21-year-old can have an equal chance of winning the World Championship. Why is that?
KALAMA: In almost every other sport you would be laughed at if you thought you could be competitive at 49. But standup paddling is not just purely about physical fitness and is a relatively low impact sport where agility isn’t as critical. It’s more about endurance and emotion—the psychological side of it. There’s so much to it, being able to read the ocean, maximize every glide, make educated guesses on what’s going to happen. If you took marathon running and chess and threw it together, that’s a little bit what it’s like. You have to have the endurance to even get in the game, then it’s a giant chess match the whole way across, based on moves you think your competitor is going to do, and you have to outguess and outwork your competitor.

LENNY: Dave has all this ocean knowledge that allows him to work less, but paddle smarter, and that’s what makes him really fast. He’s been reading the water close to 50 years and I haven’t been around that long. I have the endurance and the speed, but I lack a lot more in ocean knowledge. I also have long arms and can keep a little bigger stroke, which can add up to a mile.

So how do you train for this keeping in mind your respective ages, strengths, and weaknesses?
KALAMA: I really like to do long paddles in my training because, for me, so much of it is the mental aspect. It’s a constant mental battle with yourself to just keep going. Then it’s pushing and maximizing every glide and paying attention to what your competitors are doing without getting too focused on them because you gotta stay focused on yourself. A lot of times I can catch those really big bumps that if those guys did catch it may overtax them. I’m trying to catch bumps anywhere from six inches to eight feet. I have a saying: “The little ones pay the bills, the big for the thrills.” The little ones keep you moving and the big ones are a lot of fun, but they take a lot of energy and are hard to catch, so you can’t count on them. A lot of people think “Ah, Dave you can do it man, you’re so solid you can put so many miles in.” The fact of the matter is, it doesn’t get easier, I’m just used to not quitting.

LENNY: I’ve been traveling so much and doing so many other races that I haven’t been able to train quite as much specifically for this one. At a minimum you want to do two months of training. There’s no other race like it. It’s the hardest race I do all year. It may not be the longest, but it’s definitely the gnarliest. It’s all included: the channels, chop , churn, swells constantly changing, going upwind at times, not only that, but you’re racing, going against guys that want to win as badly as you so that pushes you to go 100 percent for 4.5 hours.

How will you stay mentally focused at mile 27?
KALAMA: I have to listen to music. The theme to Rocky always gets me pumped up.

LENNY: All I can think about is focusing on each stroke, each swell, and focusing on not letting my mind wander. I don’t listen to music, but I have a song playing in my head. There’s this song called “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Lorde. That song is cool, it gets you pumped. I love rap but over 4.5 hours it gets too much.

What’s your secret to beating each other?
KALAMA: There’s no real secret to beating Kai or Connor Baxter. You just have to be fast. You have to manage your fluids, your calories, your energy output, and you gotta glide fast. If you do all those things really well you give you yourself a chance. I hope Kai and Connor race each other and I can do my own thing and see if that plays out because I’m not sure if I can go head to head with them.

LENNY: I would rather put all my energy on myself to do well. Kelly Slater can look at someone and they break. It’s super gnarly. That works for other people, but I would rather do my own thing, and put all my energy into what I need to do. On the beach we’re really good friends, but once we get on the water, it’s not vicious, but it’s intense. Everyone’s going to do everything in his power to beat the other guy. Then when we get back on the beach we’re all friends again. If you get smoked, you laugh it off. That’s why standup is the best sport—there aren’t as many egos in it yet. I hope it doesn’t ever get to the point where people become more selfish.

What have you taught each other about stand up paddling?
KALAMA: When Kai started to get really good at wave riding it definitely inspired and motivated me to push myself to get better at wave riding, for sure.

LENNY: I remember Dave always told me, ‘Kai, you want to work as little as possible and paddle as smart as you can.’ That’s something I’m going to take to heart. When the going gets tough you tend to want to do 100 percent. Also huge is taking the right line and having patience. If I end up being able to beat Dave, he’s going to know it was all him giving me the tips to do it. I’m surprised he ever wanted to be my mentor or train me, because he basically has been helping me get better and pushed myself to be able to beat him. But he tells me that he hasn’t given me all his secrets and I believe him.

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Smaller Runners Have the Advantage at Badwater

Until December 2013, California’s 135-mile Badwater ultramarathon, which started in Death Valley and ended at the Mount Whitney Portal, was considered the ultimate endurance test in an extreme heat environment.

That’s when a temporary moratorium was placed on all sporting events in Death Valley. Obviously, the announcement threw a wrench in this summer’s 37th edition of Badwater, scheduled to take place July 21 through 23. But you can’t just axe the world’s toughest footrace, so race organizers revised the route, which now incorporates more than 17,000 feet of elevation gain between Lone Pine and Whitney Portal. Although temperatures might not reach 125 degrees, the 97 brave souls who toe the line will likely still be treated to triple-digit temps.

And although some runners will incorporate special clothing and aid-station ice baths into ther races, other runners will have a more natural advantage: their body size.

While running in hot weather, an athlete’s primary goal—besides winning—should be to maintain a constant core temperature by balancing heat production and heat loss. Exercise itself creates internal heat. In fact, 80 percent of energy produced by exercising skeletal muscle becomes heat (the other 20 percent generates adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to power the muscle. Extremely hot environments can also cause athletes to take in heat, just as cold environments cause us to lose heat.  

Runners also battle heat externally via hot weather and humidity, both of which make running more difficult. Hot temperatures cause heat to transfer from the environment to the body, while humidity makes evaporative heat loss more difficult. In comfortable environments, to get rid of excess heat, blood is shunted to the skin, where warmed blood can lose heat through evaporation (sweating) or convection (if skin temperature is greater than the environmental temperature). Both evaporation and convection depend on the skin's surface area—the larger surface area, the better the heat loss.  

So, bigger runners should be better at cooling off, right?

Wrong.

Surface area and body mass (that is, muscle mass) are not at a one-to-one relationship—for every unit of body mass you increase, you don't get an equivalent relative increase in surface area. Smaller runners actually have more surface area relative to body mass, which gives them greater heat-loss ability for their relative mass.

According to a study in the European Journal of Physiology, this “distinct thermal advantage” corresponds with speed. Because lighter runners produce and store less heat than heavier runners at the same pace, they can run faster or farther. This difference was most striking in hot, humid conditions (95 degrees, greater than 60 percent humidity) and essentially absent in cool conditions (59 degrees).

Indeed, in 2004, exercise physiologist Tim Noakes published a related study in the Journal of Applied Physiology finding that African runners ran faster in the heat than their Caucasian peers. “Larger Caucasians reduce their running speed to ensure an optimal rate of heat storage without developing dangerous hyperthermia [heatstroke],” the study reports. “According to this model, the superior running performance in the heat of these African runners can be partly attributed to their smaller size and hence their capacity to run faster in the heat while storing heat at the same rate as heavier Caucasian runners.” 

In this study, the heavier Caucasian runners (169 pounds) ran approximately 10 percent slower during 30 minutes of exercise in hot conditions (95 degrees, 60 percent humidity) compared to the lighter Africans (131 pounds). The difference is dramatic when considering both groups ran the same time in the exercise test conducted in cool conditions (59 degrees).  

In other words, a slower but smaller runner has a substantially better shot at beating a faster but larger runner if the temperature is high enough.

Although many other factors can help regulate core temperature (clothing, heat adaptation, genetics, age, etc.), the bottom line is that the smaller you are, the better you should be able to handle the heat. So although the Badwater 135 might not reach 130 degrees this year, the soaring temps should be sufficient to give an advantage to the slight of frame.

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What if Sitting Doesn't Kill?

Think you’re “resting” at your desk job? Yet another study has attacked Americans' favorite activity: sitting. The latest report, from the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, finds that for every hour you sit, you lose eight percent of your fitness gains from each hour you worked out that day. Sound really depressing? We thought so. That’s why we’re happy it’s probably not true.

Much has been made over the past few years about our sedentary lifestyles and how they’re killing us and how we should probably never, ever sit down. In this latest jab at the seated position, researchers tried to figure out the relationship between exercise and time spent sitting. Depending on whose article you’re reading, and whether or not you’re an athlete, you’ll either be really, really excited about the results, or really freaking depressed. 

Time put it like this: “Because exercise has a more powerful effect in helping the heart than sitting does in harming it, one hour of physical exercise could counteract the effects of sitting for six to seven hours a day.” 

Runner’s World put it like this: Each “time unit of sitting cancels out eight percent of your gain from the same amount of running. In other words, if you run for an hour in the morning, and then sit for 10 hours during the day, you lose roughly 80 percent of the health benefit from your morning workout.”

[Note: Running counts as vigorous activity. If your activity has less vigor, you can count on losing 16 percent of your workout-induced fitness gains every hour you’re hunched over a desk.]

Fortunately, it’s not that black and white. “People forget the gray area,” says Stanford exercise physiologist Dr. Stacy Sims. “If you go for a run, you’re going to get the benefit, but it’s better if you go for a run, then don’t sit all day.”

The issue here seems to stem from the study’s definition of fitness. Researchers looked into cardiorespiratory fitness, the kind involving your heart and lung capacity. Or, as many athletes may know it, the kind VO2 max indicates.

Look at it that way, and it’s not surprising athletes don’t have enormous gains from each day’s exercise, even if they don’t sit all day. It takes weeks to see a measurable change in VO2 max. And that’s with a concerted effort of high-intensity exercise.

As for your musculoskeletal and neuromotor fitness, this study did not look into those systems, which should improve with training even if you do sit during the day. “If you plan your recovery right, like your nutrition recovery, you won’t be losing fitness as long as you get up and move around during the day, too,” Sims says.

Neuromotor gains, for example, should be preserved if you follow the recommendations the researchers put forth: walking up stairs at work; standing while talking on the phone; holding walking meetings; sitting on a fitness ball or using a standing desk; taking a lunchtime walk.

“If you’re training heavy weights,” Sims says, “and then you sit on that muscle, it gets compressed, so you’re actually reducing that neuromuscular signaling.” But just getting up and walking around will reduce pressure on that muscle so you don’t lose the signaling you built up.

As for strength gains, you won’t lose strength by the hour as you sit, either, Sims says. Just get up every hour so your muscles don’t tighten up, which can lead to imbalances, which can lead to injury.

So don’t give up on your training. Just make an effort to stand up, stretch, and move a little throughout the day and you can kiss this new eight-percent rule goodbye. 

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What It Takes to Finish the World's Toughest Ultra 20 Consecutive Times

On July 11, human anomaly Kilian Jornet smashed the six-year-old course record at the Hardrock 100 Mile Endurance Run. Despite Jornet’s unbelievable speed, Coloradan Kirk Apt, who finished in 39:38:51—nearly 17 hours behind Jornet—received the loudest applause at this year’s awards ceremony.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/kirk-apt-smiling_fe.jpg","align":"right","size":"medium"}%}

That’s because the 52-year-old—who broke the course record in 2000 with a time of 29:35:00—kissed the Hardrock for the 20th consecutive year, a new record. The race was his 48th hundred-miler since 1991; that’s an average of 2.1 hundreds per year, and he’s managed to show up healthy and fit to all of them.

In an era when elite ultrarunners drop out as soon as the smallest thing goes awry, Apt is the exemplar of what determination and perseverance can accomplish: a level of lifetime fitness unknown even to the most famous and revered professional athletes.

We caught up with Apt at his home in Grand Junction to see how 20 years of Hardrock is even possible.

OUTSIDE: When did you start running ultramarathons?
APT
: I actually don't remember; it was probably a year or two before my first hundred, which was Leadville in 1991. In 1990, I paced my friend Greg Brunson at Leadville. The next year, we reversed roles, and since then I've lost count of how many times he has paced me in my 48 total hundreds. Probably close to 20, including Hardrock again this year.

What initially drew you to the sport?
The simple love of running in the mountains and the challenge of resetting the edge of the envelope physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. 

Who was instrumental in you getting hooked on the sport?
In addition to Greg, my early mentors include Steve Mahieu, Charlie Thorn, and John Cappis. 

You dropped from your first attempt at Hardrock in its 1992 inaugural running due to food poisoning. Was that a formative experience?
Maybe, in the sense that the experience solidified the feeling that I really don't like not making it to the finish line. That remains my only hundred-mile DNF.

You finished Leadville before you first ran Hardrock. Did that prepare you for the 100.5-mile loop through the San Juans?
Oh, it was so different than Leadville, and I was still quite low on the learning curve. There was so much uncertainty before the first Hardrock; we wondered whether it could be completed in 48 hours. I remember going into the run with a healthy dose of fear and respect. Certainly it was beneficial to have the 100-mile experience of one race, but Hardrock is a very different experience than other hundreds.

What memories do you have from your first Hardrock 100 finish, or have they all blurred together?
I do remember my first Hardrock. As for gear, I had the whole house with me, a huge backpack. I wasn’t even experienced enough to think I knew what to expect. My plan was to go out and see how it came to me. That first finish line was very special. I remember running super conservatively and feeling huge elation running into the finish, which was down by the gazebo and courthouse [in Silverton, Colorado] back then. It made up for the disappointment of the DNF the year before. 

What was winning the 2000 race like for you?
We were living in Boulder that year, and it was a low snow year. So, just great training in the Front Range. I certainly didn’t go into it with a “win or bust” attitude, but I knew I was super fit.

I did my thing through the race and found myself in the lead. We were going counterclockwise that year, and I got to Chapman aid station [mile 82] feeling pretty good and thought, “I've got a shot at winning this.” I’m really not competitive by nature, so I had to convince myself to go for it because it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. It was a big mental effort to keep myself pushing.

I had the best running day of my life on probably the best day to have it. That was the high-water mark of my lifetime fitness.

Being able to show up at Hardrock for 20 straight years and fit enough to finish such a tough course is a level of lifetime fitness most people can’t achieve. How do you do it?
Luck. Also, because I've made Hardrock the focus of my year, all my training and other prep has been all about getting to the start line in the best position to be successful. I try to have a healthy lifestyle, eat well, get regular bodywork, train smart. I also take time off when necessary. And I stay positive.

What has been the key to your training?
I now train at really low intensity. I don’t have any problem walking if a climb is working me. My [slowing] times kind of reflect that.

For me, it’s just been the long run. Time on my feet. I don’t care how much ground I cover or how fast I’m going. I do try to get as much terrain [vertical gain] in as possible. May and June are the key times, but you can’t always get up high with snow in Colorado. I just do what I can.

When I was more competitive, I was underemployed, so I had more time to train. My partner, who is also a runner, and I have been together for almost 20 years. We don’t have kids. She’s key to keeping me on track with my training. 

Have you had any injuries along the way?
About five to eight years ago, I realized that my adrenals were kind of shot. That really had a hand in increasing my finish times at Hardrock. I worked with a naturopath doctor, got regular acupuncture, and was on multiple herbal adrenal-health supplements. Eventually that fixed it. Three years back, in the spring, I started to roll my ankle a lot—worse than usual. I ended up having to wear an air cast every time I ran for a year.

What’s your diet like?
I eat mostly vegetarian, but certainly not completely vegetarian. Dinners are always centered around a gigantic pile of steamed vegetables. I also eat beans and quite a few eggs for protein. 

What keeps you motivated year after year?
Well, there’s nothing I’d rather do than spend all day on my feet in the mountains. Motivation hasn’t been an issue.

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