Two very different runs

trails_signI try to focus here on concepts and philosophy, rather than “what I did on my run today” kind of stuff.  The whole “I saw a cow, stepped in a puddle… my knee hurts” kind of blog is fine to read, but just not what I want to talk about.  And this is my blog… my sandbox, and my toys… so step off.

That being said.  I’m no purist.  I’m not a classically trained runner.  I don’t even play one on TV.  I just run.  And I have made most of the mistakes a wannabe runner can make, but I’m always up for more.  Some would say that to be really GOOD at something, you should specialize.  Trail running vs. road running, for example.  A lot of people I talk to say that especially road running is NOT good training for trail running.

OK… two things.

First, I have never been concerned about being GOOD.  Just getting better.

Second, I LIKE both.  I think each has something to offer the wannabe.  And in my somewhat unique situation here in Columbia, I have the opportunity to do both.

So here is an example of my last two runs.  My thoughts and actions applied to each.  It just kind of shows where I’m at right now with running and fitness in general:

12/29/14 Trail run- Rock Bridge State Park

This run actually starts the day before.  I had run 13 miles on a flat “rails to trails” section of the MKT.  A real gem of a trail here in Columbia that we are lucky to have.  I am trying a plan for marathon/ultra training that uses back to back long runs, so the trail run was to be 6-8 miles.  I like this plan because it is only 5 days per week.  This gives me two solid days off and also some flexibility with my work schedule.

Trail conditions were mediocre at best.  A light freeze on warm ground made for a crunchy outside with a soft, squishy layer underneath.  Rocks were slick and creeks were cold.  My mantra this year is “slow and easy”.  I decided to run with a small group who are training for an ultra in May (Berryman).  When I am just running on my own I usually run faster than they do, but MUCH shorter.  However, I’m really trying to ease up on the gas a bit and go longer so the pace was perfect.  They are all experienced ultra/trail runners so I tried to feel their pace.  I found that I am running wrong.  They cruise the downs, go easy on the ups and hammer the flats.  I would lose them on the flats if I wasn’t careful and run over them on the ups if I wasn’t paying attention.  Matching their pace I found that I felt better all the way around.  Especially at the end.

About half way through the loop, we took a turn I had not taken.  It was announced that this loop would take us 9 miles.  Given that I wanted less, I almost bailed.  But I didn’t.  And I’m not sure why.  It also took us backwards on a lot of the trail, which made it like running a new trail.  I think partly because of the company and partly because of the new (to me) trail, I was just distracted enough to take my mind off my legs and how sloppy my footwork was.  The trail was pretty crappy and there was a lot of hopping from side to side of ruts.  I also noticed that I was the only one doing this.  Everybody else just plowed right up the middle.  So I tried matching their line as well.  Sure, I got muddy, but the decreased effort to go the same distance was also noticeable…

As we came to the end of the run, one of the group challenged us to run some stairs.  My watch showed just short of 9 miles and, but for the peer pressure of the moment, I would have stopped.  Instead, I added another mile of stairs and finished at exactly 10 miles.

I’m not particularly proud of the fact that I went more miles.  In fact, that can be dangerous.  Over training leads to injury.  I will need to stick closer to my plan from now on.  I am training for a marathon.  They are training for a 50 mile race.  Of course they are going to run farther.  However, it was encouraging nonetheless.  A good run, longer than I had planned, successfully navigating crappy conditions, and learning a few things along the way.

12/30/14 Dreier’s Dirty Half Dozen (A route)

This fantastic running group that I have been privileged to be a part of for the past 7 years meets on Tue/Thur mornings at 5:30am.  We take attendance, honor the dedicated, and we name and announce our routes each day.  There are usually 3 distances from 5-10 miles.  In the summer, we can easily average 80+ runners.  But even this morning, there were at least 2 dozen hardy souls ready to roll on a breezy, 20 degree, DARK morning.  The motivation this group has given me is probably the only thing that has kept me going when things got bad.

Today’s route was one of the only ones (of the dozen or so we switch between) that I had not covered the entire “A” route on.  It’s long (9.3 miles) for us and there is a very real danger of getting hopelessly lost as it follows a twisty path through neighborhoods full of dead ends, cul-de-sacs and other perils for the directionally challenged.  Since only the fast runners usually run the full route, I can’t keep up.  And you really need a Sherpa the first time you do this run, so I was usually out.  But today I decided to tackle it anyway.  Hoping that perhaps I could hang with SOMEBODY long enough to get through the new stuff.

There is a reason they call this run the “Dirty Half Dozen”.  But I’m pretty sure they don’t know how to count.  I counted at least 50 hills on this route, all of which were steep enough to give me tunnel vision at the top.  OK… maybe not that bad… but still.  I wasn’t sure how my legs would behave after Rock Bridge (also kind of hilly) so I took it easy at the start.

So many runners whose blogs I follow or listen to on social media are scared of running in the dark.  Especially new ultra runners really fret about it.  But, for about 9 months of the year, we run in the dark every time.  This is significant in this case because on this route there are some spots where I would consider the darkness “advanced”.  Pitch Freakin’ Black… actually.  Which is weird for being in town.  At one point we went down a street and I completely lost 2 runners who were only about 40 feet ahead of me.  Street signs were hard to spot.  It was almost like I had just started running in the dark again.  Which sucks when it’s on a route you have never run.

To make a long story longer…  I fished a little for a group that was going the full distance.  My legs were good for about 8:20/mi pace so I knew the fast group was out of my league.  Two groups just laughed at me when I asked if they were going long, so I prepared myself for an adventure.  Luckily, there were a couple of runners just ahead of me who I guessed were going long and I could (barely) keep them in sight, so I stalked them.  They successfully navigated themselves (and, by association, me…) through the course and, though we shaved a little off because they were tired of hills and I had no idea where I was going… We still managed 8.5 miles and I didn’t get lost or die.  That’s a winner.

This run just reminded me that there are always new challenges.  My challenge was running long on tired legs on a new route.  I showed myself that I’m in good enough shape to do that.  Changing the new route from “stressful” to “adventure” made it more fun.  And, let’s face it… Columbia ain’t that big.  I would have eventually popped out onto a street I knew.  It wasn’t that big of a deal.

I guess the point of all this is that I’m still learning, just about every time I go out.  And I still like both trails and roads.  I see no reason to specialize.  I may do a few more trail runs since I am looking at a trail marathon, but I don’t think I’ve lost that much by doing mostly road training.  I can navigate in the dark, on uneven surfaces and poorly marked roads/trails, in most any weather.  Maybe these runs were not so different after all…?

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