When I (used to) think of trails, I picture birds singing and creeks burbling contentedly while the air sighs blissfully through the trees. Then I was lucky enough to join a Ragnar trail relay team. That relay is coming up soon, June 26 and 27. 15 days from today, in fact. How hard can it be, right?
Well, pretty hard, it turns out.
I believe that training specificity is important to race day. That means you need to run the conditions you expect on race day. Going to run the Chicago Marathon? Running flat courses will serve you well, especially on windy days. Going to run the Boston Marathon? Better get some good downhill practice in. Going to run a Ragnar? Two-a-day workouts are your friend.
Specificity isn’t an every day thing. You still cross train. You still run intervals, tempo runs, hill repeats, fartleks, long runs, et cetera. But you also spend some time in the conditions you expect on race day.
Knowing I was running Ragnar Cape Cod, I haven’t worried at all about the mileage. Not counting the pneumonia, I’ve been logging over 20 miles a week for a while. I can do 17 or 18 miles in a 20 hour period. No problem.
What IS a potential issue is the whole trail thing. So a few weeks ago, I decided to go run on a trail. I had already purchased some Salomons, and it was time to get some miles into them. I chose a path I had hiked once before, and went for it, and was almost immediately sorry! The path I chose had over 700 feet of elevation gain in less than two and a half miles. The average grade was nearly 7%, with at least one section of 30%. I don’t run 30% grade… uphill OR downhill. Instead, I walked a lot. And got bit by mosquitoes several times, in spite of the repellent I was wearing. After 2.4 miles, I took a 15 minute break, then headed back to the car. While my pace was roughly two minutes a mile faster going downhill, it was still pretty intense. The trails were steep enough that I was essentially just trying not to fall.
I think it’s a good thing I’m running those hills, though, as the Ragnar has 2,700 feet of elevation gain over the course of 15 miles. If only a third of the course is uphill, that’s an average grade of 10%.
I think this is going to make me a much stronger street runner. I’m certainly working harder for each mile than I have in a long time, and logging way slower times along the way.
Oh, and the views? Awesome. Here’s a photo of me after getting to a fire tower (and somehow managing to pull myself up to the observation deck).