Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Roads vs Trails

This past year of running was a bit schizophrenic. The first five months, I was out on the seawall (or close to it), week in and week out, clocking off time with a Garmin. At no point did I ever fear for my life. The next five months (minus one off for injury - 'bad trail behaviour") I was also on the seawall, running fast - during the week. On weekends, I was tripping over roots on the trails.

"A" Race choice
The Vancouver marathon was the "A" race for spring season. It took me a over a month to finally commit. When I saw the results from the VFAC members who raced Sacramento in December 2011, it lit up something inside me that had been quiet for three years. I signed up for the BMO Vancouver 1/2 marathon. It didn't give me what I needed - I'd still wake up at night, and I could feel inside me how badly I wanted to do another marathon.
 I analyzed every different way: How would I train through audit busy season? Would I get injured? Could I hit my goal time? Who would I run with? Finally, I could sense my friends' patience wearing thin, and I signed up - then sent coach John several e-mails immediately after. The finish line of the race was 10mins from my place, and it was an easy transit trip to the start line.

30 mile
I signed up for the Kneeknacker 30mile race in February, less than two weeks after a break-up, possibly after a couple drinks. I did not know the course specifics (except that it was hilly and would be painful), elevation, or training plan. This course was on the North Shore - but still at least close to Vancouver. I tried to avoid telling coach John about this race as long as possible...then finally succumbed after several drinks post-marathon.

50 mile
I signed up for the North Face 50 mile on the day it sold out in July. I signed up less than a week after running (and injuring myself badly) the Kneeknacker. I was sober and not going through significant relationship flux. This was possibly the first time it occurred to me that I am capable of making very impulsive, truly questionable decisions. One "proceed to checkout" click, and I had just chosen my fall "A" race. I originally planned to just sort of omit telling this to John....until the guilt got too much, and I blurted out my race plan one day before practice.

I followed coach John's amazing running plans. Every two weeks, we would have workouts assigned to us, complete with distances and paces. I did what he said, and I got fast.

30 mile
For the kneeknacker, I attended most of the Sunday training runs. These were open to entrants and non-entrants alike. The routes were shown far in advance on the kneeknacker website, and meeting times were organized and strictly enforced. For the rest of the training, I sort of...winged it. I went to VFAC Thursdays, did tempos on Tuesday, did yoga to make my hips hurt less (this involved a lot of yoga). I used back-to-back weekend runs as an excuse to stop going to the track Saturday.

50 mile
San Francisco is pretty far to go for training runs. Coach John gave me a program, which combined week-day marathon training (think 21k tempos and 9-10k interval workouts) with weekend longer trail runs. Realistically, my weekend long runs were determined by: who had a car, what mountain looked fun to run up, and who wants to come with me. It is pretty crazy when running the Grand Canyon is actually a completely legit part of a training week, in terms of elevation and distance (actually, I took the rest of that week a bit light as I didn't even do back-to-back workouts that weekend).

Training, in the end, was doing as much as my body could handle, as fast as it could handle. And accepting the inevitable breakdowns (physical and mental) that would result.

Distances are unpredictable (but overall longer)
Whe I did marathon training, time and distance were easy and had some logical relation to each other. 25k? About two hours. 35k? About 3 hours.

I remember doing the 38k long run for marathon 3hrs15mins, it was the longest run I had done in almost three years.

Less than two months later, and a three hour kneeknacker training run was considered short. In another five months, three hours WAS my "shorter" of two weekend runs.

I do judge trail runs by time, as 25k on trails has taken me anywhere from 2.40 (All Hallows course) to 4hrs (Comfortably Numb trail, minor ankle sprain). The elevation, terrain, my navigational issues, and even the weather conditions matter way more than the distance.

Running hungover
For marathon training, Sundays were long run days. The runs would be on concrete or very, very easy trails (when I was still able to convince people to run up to the Cleveland Dam with me). Occasionally, I would go out Saturday night for a few drinks, forgetting my inability to hold any amount of liquor. This would result in some rough Sunday mornings. However, a bunch of water and some coffee later, I was completely able to run 30-some odd kms with no more lasting damage than an eventual hangover.

When the trail runs are over two hours and run at "Brooke" speed, I stay sober the night before - I need all my wits (and some sheer terror) in order to keep my footing. On very sober runs I have still  managed to roll ankles, scrape my hip, and do all other manner of wipe-outs. With my lack of motor skills, if I was hungover I would likely be dead by now. This committment to not drinking was helped by the sleepovers at Brooke's - I think she has bottles of wine there that pre-date the internet.

running scared
The most traumatic things that happen on road runs are typically raccoon sightings, skunk sightings, and bathroom emergencies where no bathrooms are to be found.

Trails have a whole new level of terror. There is running in snow (and being freaked out about post-holing: when you fall through old snow to who knows what sharp pointy thing beneath), getting lost running in snow, slippery roots, slick wet wooden boardwalks, more pointy rocks, and mud. It is basically a "choose-your-own-adventure" of how you wish to injure yourself. Also, apparently, there are also bears.

Gauging the success of a workout
It's easy to figure out if your workout was successful: Did I hit my pace? Did I do the distance I was supposed to? Is (insert body part with nagging overuse injury that is always on the verge of blowing up) feeling ok?

With trails, it's a bit looser - I stopped running with my Garmin because 10/min kms are a bit too embarassing to experience on a daily basis. My only pace goal, ever, was to keep up to Brooke. Some days, I was able to do this while talking. Other days, not so much. To me, a successful trail run is when I have not significantly injured myself, minimized time spent getting lost, and was able to keep up to people going uphill.

Minimal post-trail injury = happy

A really successful trail run also has a "epic" factor - did I finish loving my life a bit more than when I started? There are so many gorgeous places nearby, so many great views, and so many downhills. I would rather feel a bit wrecked, go slow, do some wipeouts, but have amazing views at the end to take away with me.

Road running technique is pretty basic. Run, keep running, don't stop to walk, and for the love of god don't wear one of those water-bottle fanny packs and get mistaken for a Running Room member.

For trail running (and even racing) - walk (or "powerhike" - sounds more hardcore) the hills. Walk early, walk often. Then nail the downhills.

Howe Sound crest called for a lot of powerhiking

Explaining your race results
Road races are fairly easy to explain to others (the results, at least, not why you thought it as a good idea to train for a marathon during your busiest work time, while moving apartments). I can give times: a 1:25.46 half-marathon, a 3:05.40 marathon - I can give rankings: age group, overall. It helps to justify why I train like I do.

VFAC post-Sun Run 10k

It could be my habit of crying at the end of my trail races, or my inability to run without injury or getting lost, but it's a bit harder to justify how happy I am with my trail race results. My 7th kneeknacker female finish - hell, I was just happy to have made it off the trail (sort of) in one piece. My 21st North Face 50 mile finish - I was happy to no longer be eating gu chomps.

Unconventional trail techniques that actually helped me
This has pretty much all been gained from Brooke. She's had podium finishes for all her trail races this year, so I figure she knows what she's talking about:

One of the rare kk training run photo breaks allowed

- do not stop for gels. you have gels while walking the uphills.
- do not stop to go off-trail for bathroom breaks.
- if you are taking more than 30 seconds for a bathroom break, you are doing it wrong.
- do not stop to de-layer - do it while running (this is true for pretty much any time you want to stop)
- when you are done your run, don't wait to change until you are in an enclosed space.
- whatever size your hydration pack is, it's too big.
- if you haven't run into five people you know, you've probably gone off-route.
- your 40 min grouse grind time is too slow.
- pink makes you go faster.
- whatever direction you are thinking of going in is probably the wrong one.

Aside from the performance anxiety I get every time I want to de-layer, these tips have helped me race aggressively on longer runs. The only issue was when I wanted to go to the bathroom on the 50-mile run buddies tried to talk me out of it, but it wasn't until they mentioned the poison oak situation that I was finally persuaded.

Roads: you can run fast, you run with a bunch of other people, it's harder to get lost, your mom understands the distance you are racing, and coach John does not give you the side-eye when you announce your "long run" plans

Trails: it is ok to take 1-2 hours to warm up, walking is encouraged, you get to eat a lot of mini cliff bars, chips are a valid recovery food, and the photos are much better.

Overall, having distance running - whether on roads or trails - as a hobby is sort of ridiculous. But I feel doing both types of running allows me to be twice as ridiculous, and maybe pick up a trophy or two along the way.

1 comment:

  1. Just for the record - some of us would consider wine that's from the pre-internet period as a rarity we can't afford, not a reason to not drink it.

    You know. Those of us who drink wine. As something to enjoy. For fun. As something that isn't done to recover. (haha, lies, I definitely drink wine to recover. From my epic "I have spent 21 straight days in the library for 10-12 hours without a break and want to die" periods. Pre-internet wine sounds pretty freaking awesome right now.)