Monday, June 11, 2012


Rails to Trails Does Not Equal Trail Running

Working title of post: ASPtJoF (Ass Stomped Plus the Joy of Falling)

Last weekend I ventured onto the Poto Trail as recommended by a few fellow runners.FN1  This was my first ever trail run unless you count running through my neighborhood, cutting through backyards, running through a house, and using a trampoline to bounce over a fence to get home before my sister.   

Seriously, I’ve never tried anything like trail running.  My several jaunts on Rails to Trails paths were useless as preparation.  The dramatic changes in incline, the unending altering of the trail from large rocks to partially unearthed roots to sand, the narrowness of the path, and the poison ivy was a lot to deal with for my first trail run.  So it figures I insisted on doing the entire 17.5M loop my first time out. 

Only, I went about 18.4M.  The trail is well marked—sorta.  I’m sure if I had gone with another runner familiar with the trail I could have avoided my several ‘lost’ moments; minutes standing in the middle of a three way intersection and attempting to recall the many tracking stills I’d developed growing up in the burbs.  The Poto Trail, while beautiful at times, can be confusing when a cross country skiing trail cuts across your trail and there are no signs to really indicate which way is correct.  Still, I muttered my way through.  Even more confusing is when you arrive at a fork in the trail and the large tree you encounter has a large red arrow pointing right.  Why is that confusing?  Because the large red arrow takes you off the actual path.  Here is my hint, if you find yourself on the Poto Trail and you hit said fork in the trail, ignore that particular arrow unless you want to find a parking lot.  

To make things worse, I tripped several times and ‘ate dirt’ twice—hard.  Admittedly, by the last five miles the best I could do was walk a quarter, run a quarter.  I was exhausted.  The canopy protected me from baking in the high 80s sun, but the warm temps combined with my 10M run in 85+ degree temps the evening before made this even more daunting than I ever imagined.  At times there was no recourse but to walk parts because running was too dangerous.  Anybody willing to ride that trail—and several bikers passed me—is insane.   

I was half expecting to run into Jareth the Goblin King and half expecting I’d found myself in Escher’s Ascending Staircase.  When I emerged I let out a triumphant but minimally audible “yeah!”FN2

Things I learned: Trail running has nothing to do with road running.  They are about as related as people are to gibbons.  Any attempt to trace some form of common ancestry between the two is blasphemy.  There are dangers in the woods equal to that of red hooded little girls.  Never run a difficult and unfamiliar trail alone; or at least don’t make a practice out of it.  My cell phone works while in the woods but if you call me I may not be my usual pleasant self.FN3  And finally, ordering a pizza and asking it be delivered to you at post number 11 on the Poto Trail is about as useless as calling the local Domino’s pizza in Muskegon and asking them to deliver a pizza to your 100 foot sailboat heading north to Ludington simply because you are on the night watch and bored and surprised you are getting service out on Lake Michigan.     

FN1: Thanks In Steph’s Shoes (I think) and congrats to Steph and her family for adding a new future long distance runner to the clan.

FN2: Purposely left uncapitalized for effect. 

FN3: Sorry my love. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

At Some Point You Have to Run, Not Read

Over the past six weeks I’ve done a ton of reading about ultras.  There is a lot of stuff out there.  Some information was extremely helpful, some good, most of it resembling general runner’s common sense, and a healthy dose of crap. 

Let’s focus on the crap.  The 10% rule.  First off.  It has to be the dumbest rule for running ever. I never once heard my track coaches say don’t increase your mileage by more than 10%.  In stark contradiction, we would often jump more than 40% and the team did not suffer a rash of injuries or tired legs.  In fact, we had very few injuries or tired legs as a team.  Is this simply because we were young?  Does the 10%R not apply to high school runners?  Or just high school runners who have not heard of the 10%R? 

I’ve always ignored this stupid rule.  I’ll continue to do so as I train for my ultra.  Point and case: two weeks ago I ran 21 total miles (a low mileage week comprised of a 3M run, two 4M runs, and a 10M run).  Last week I ran 44 total miles (a 10M run, a 12M run, and a 22M run). 

I’m not a freak of nature.  I’m not those rare injury free runners.  I’ve been injured before, but it sure wasn’t because I callously disregarded the 10%R.  I think runners are best suited to determine how much their body is comfortable adjusting up their mileage.  And if you feel comfortable enough to increase your mileage by 100% then do it. 

Now, to the running stuff.  All of my runs last week were on RtoT trails (nice and kind crushed limestone).  Of particular beauty is the NEST, a 71M trail that I was only able to run a small part of.  If you ever get a chance I strongly suggest you run this.  Strangly, as I begun to slow my runs down—aiming for an 8:30/M to 9:00/M pace—I’ve developed this awful habit of rocking my right hand.  What is up with that?   

Perhaps the best thing I’ve read from all the ultra info is this: “You are an experiment of one.”FN1  That said, my first major long run of my ultra training was a 20M to 22M run on the Lakelands trail.  This was the first time I incorporated the following things into a long run (or ever): wore recovery socks (like this excellent runner); carried a phone, carried toilet paper, and wore a Camelbak (first time ever).  Also, Sunday was the first time I ever attempted a long run where the weather was in the high 70s to begin the run. 

My approach was to incorporate at least one walk per 10 miles.  But to take two to three walk breaks.  Starting a long run at 5pm and heading directly west into the sun was not easy, but I need practice doing runs where I’m uncomfortable to begin with.  At mile 4 I had to stop in order to figure out exactly how to use the Camelbak, and then to retrieve my Yurbud which fell off.  At mile nine I slowed to a comfortable walk and emptied my shoes of the plethora of little rocks which had joined me for my run.  I resumed my run at mile 10.  At mile 15 I was feeling pretty tired, so I allowed myself a mile walk break at mile 16.  Then another at mile 20.  My walk times were 16min, 17min, and 17min.  Almost every mile I ran was in the 8:20 to 8:35 range except for my first two miles and mile 13; all run at an 8 flat pace ±3 seconds. 

That’s the good news.  The bad news.  I’m still running too fast.  I’m struggling to slow things down. I'm rocking my hand. I never felt it, but got a huge blood blister on my right big toe.  I ran out of water during my last walking mile.  I failed to bring any salt tablets.  Experiment of one.  I love making mistakes—so long as I learn from them.  And I’m excited about getting back out there and on a more challenging trail. 

Lastly.  I wobble back and forth as to how difficult this will be.  Sometimes I am overrun with the attitude of: “Eh, it is only one mile more than double digit miles.”  At other times I laugh and think: “How are you going to run 80 more miles?”   

FN1: I’d credit this but I forgot where I got it, and I’m not really willing to reread all of that awful crap to let you know exactly where I found this nugget of wisdom.  Deal with it.