Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Other Voices : Trail Markers

Alan Tanner : trail convert

Do you remember what it was like when you ran trail for the first time, and everything was new and strange? There is a big difference between road and trail, and things that I now do by second nature all had to be learned somewhere (and continue to be learned). I always thought that if I could go back to my first ever trail race and analyze myself it would make an interesting article. So when Alan Tanner asked me to help a group of road runners (including himself) prepare for the Rogue Trail series, I asked in return that he record his thoughts and experiences on making the shift from road to trail.

Alan is a real character and probably the biggest smack talker I know - he's the only guy I know who can match me at stirring the pot!!! He doesn't realize this, but for the first few weeks of the group runs (until I figured out the pace of the group) I used him as a gauge for how hard to push them. I would run the hills and stand at the top chuckling. If he had enough energy to punch me and enough breath to curse me ("you Welsh f&*#er" seemed to be the metaphor of choice) then I would simply increase the pace until he stopped. If he didn't have the energy to even give me the finger then I was going too fast and would ease off a little.

Yeah, he's a character. But he's also a top guy and a good buddy (and not just because he's written some nice things about me). I also suspect that he may be getting hooked on trail running - I wonder if there's an ultra in his future?

Trail Markers
by Alan Tanner
So I’m guest writing….this usually evokes an image of the host sipping rum on the beach while someone else takes over writing an article, but in Mark’s case its more likely that he’s either
a.) out running,
b.) looking for a new place to run, or
c.) stashing pizza behind rocks on the route of his run.
Knowing this fellow is all about running helps one understand where I get reeled in. I’m not a terribly good runner or even a fast runner, in all honesty. I enjoy the endorphins, the clean air, the exercise, and sometimes the company – so when Mark offered to coach a beginner’s trail session for a rag tag crew of not-too-fit road guys, I jumped at the opportunity. It has been an incredible learning experience with a dozen training sessions and the Austin-based Rogue Series races under our belts – and which I’m grateful having had the opportunity to be coached by someone of Mark’s caliber.

Mark asked that I compile a few odds and ends regarding what I experienced during my first two months of trail running. Readily coming to mind is the renewed sense of things hurting – body parts I didn’t know I had, a few odd creaks and pops afterward, soreness where it usually isn’t, and learning all over which gear works and what doesn’t.

First few runs: Finding that nice set rhythm one gets on the road when I can switch on auto pilot, zone out, occasionally check heart rate and distance while pounding the road for 90 minutes isn’t a done deal on trails. I actually had to pay attention, watch where I planted my feet, twist my oversize load between trees, avoid branches and stumps and generally figure why my HR is spiking 30 minutes into a run. At the top of every hill, I kept thinking, “Dammit, I’m supposed to be in better shape than this!” It was a rude awakening – and the creeping humidity levels here during June raised the bar considerably. I’m learning to pace better, learning to scan the trail and anticipate how I will clear obstacles, seeing creeks as a means to cool down, utilizing new stretching techniques, and changing my gear as I discover what simply doesn’t work.

Shoes and socks seem to be the first order of business. After a few dozen miles, it became apparent that old road shoes were not making the cut. Thick cotton socks I thought would be better for cushioning were getting soaked in the creek and creating chaff issues which tended to become blisters without changing over to a dry wick type sock – not to mention the extra weight from water being held by cotton fibers. Solomons and black Belagas from Running Warehouse solved that initial problem. Aside from shoes and socks, all my other gear seems to translate well enough to this brand of running.

Staying hydrated and powering through bursts that aren’t usually encountered on my road runs became the next order of business. At present, carrying a water bottle on trail runs and chewing a couple of the Shot Blocks usually gets my 180lb rig through a 6 mile run. I hardly ever worry about hydrating while on the road out to 8-9 miles, but I have found it advantageous to carry at least a pint of water per hour of trail running. With the temp creeping to triple digit here in Austin, I’m exploring the various electrolyte replenishment drinks since I’m not yet confident enough to trail run at night when the temps are more bearable. I still run with plain water bottles, since I have so many gimmes, but investing in Amphipods will be the next order of business as I start to carry two bottles for longer runs .

New stretches were necessary after we graduated from easy trails to more technical trails. Evidently, the twists, turns, lose rocks, and different manner of landing, along with shorter strides can wreck ankles and hip joints. I simply could not figure where these new aches were derived and my usual stretches were not helping. A brand new game was being played on my body and it hurt! Fortunately, Mark knew every ache from experience and had a specific stretch to get me through yet another week and gradually things came back to order. Words of caution: Mark cannot tolerate complacency, as he has now added another few miles of hill work after the trail routines…fortunately, this component is optional, but I’m certain David will be writing soon enough on his hill experiences with our Welsh guru.

Race Days: Its awfully nice to show up to a trail run and actually find parking within 300 yards of the start line….no more than 4 people stacked in line for a port-a-pot, and no queuing before the start. 200 or so folks to a category and that’s it. The trails are sometimes single track, which makes for interesting passing, and I can’t say enough about running under trees….from the stand point of shade and the ready availability in case one hydrates a bit extra – a luxury not always prevalent on a road race. Folks are polite and most seem to be fellow outdoorsmen/women who respect their environment and one another. These races were actually fun!

All said, this has been an enjoyable diversion from standard running, and one that I hope to continue exploring and gaining new friendships. Thanks for leading the way, Mark!

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