Monday, September 19, 2011

What does a Trail Run Look Like?

One of the things that almost everyone encounters when they first run on the trails, especially in the mountains, is how different it is from road running, especially regarding the pacing.    It try to explain to people that this is not like running on the roads at an 8 minute pace for 5 hours with no breaks.  It is more like a really fast hike, with lots of breaks and fast walking the hills!  This makes it much more attainable and understandable for people who have never done it.  I cannot imagine pounding my body for hours on the road, exposed, traffic, boring, hot, etc. but hours in the woods feels like fun, adventure, unplanned excitement to me!  Let me give you a good example of what this past weekends' “run” looked like: 

I ran with a small group,  we are all training for a 30k or 50k in November on the trails we would be running this day. The run started at a really nice little park in North Georgia ( at 8am.  I got up there around 7:30am to warm up and take care of business before others showed up.   

The 9 of us got started at about 8:15am for what was predicted (by Robert, the cruel man who designed this course and is the Race Director for this race) to be a 3 – 3.5 hour run of about 15 miles.  It ended up being 16 miles with 10,000 feet of elevation change and took me 4:15 – and I was the 3rd person done (really the 2nd as one person who beat me back got lost and cut out part of the course)!  Here is how the course laid out: 

- Uphill for about a mile right out of the parking lot, not tough but not too easy either - very nice trail and great scenery, very cool morning and everyone started out way too fast in this section, trying to run hills they really had no business running!

- Then a long, steady, very fun downhill for 2”ish” miles. I stayed in the back here cause I LOVE downhills and knew this would be a long day if I trashed my Quads 3 miles into the run!

- At 3.5 miles we hit the low point of the course, 2100 feet    For the next 4 miles we climbed, almost the whole time, up to 4200 feet!  Do the math, this equates to about a 10% average incline.  Probably “fast hiked” 90% of this section!  

- Then, for added cruelty, we dropped (no switchbacks) almost straight down for about .5 - 1 mile to where the RD had stashed water, Gatorade and treats (BTW, I saw a guy I know from other runs coming down this hill fully decked out in overnight attire carrying 2 full gallons of water, found out later he was out on a 24 hour run, if my wife is reading this, realize I could be a lot, lot worse and probably am headed that way, but not yet :-).  Took me about 2 hours and 15 minutes to get here.      You get the picture here, over 2 hours to do 8 miles, no 7 minute mile pace on this trip!   

After too long of a break, I couldn't wait any longer and headed back the same way by myself (yep, a 4 mile downhill – thank God I do lots of functional leg training that strengthens my Quads and ankles)! 

Total time running, about 4 hours 15 minutes (I know, sounds slow as s$$$ but look at the website for this trail and it says average time for 12 miles - we added 4 - is 9 hours so not too shabby).  Amazing trail, amazing scenery, cool new people met, ran 2:15 with people and 2 hours completely solo (interesting with no i-pod, ended up singing to myself to scare away bears and to pass the time on the downhills - realize I don't know all the words to many songs and seem to gravitate towards "Desparado" and "Turn the Page" a lot ;-) and felt fantastic afterwards.  No real mental or spiritual epiphanies on this trip, just wanted to share what a long trail “run” looks like, at least for me (I am sure there are a few studs out there that would run this whole thing, but not many)!  So, join me on my next one, don’t think of it as a run, think of a fun day hiking, jogging, meeting new friends in God’s amazing creation of nature!

Until next time, God bless you all and thanks for reading!