Why is the Marathon So Hard

Boston-Marathon-Finish-Line-810x539

The marathon is uniquely challenging. It is well more than twice as difficult as a ½-marathon and, in many ways, more difficult than an ultra. Still, for many runners, it’s the pinnacle of achievement. Why is it so hard?

Things start to happen between 13.1 and 26.2, both in the race and the training.

Seemingly well-fitting shoes and socks can develop hot spots and lead to blisters. Unnoticed imbalances can lead to twinges then to excruciating pain and injury.

Then there’s the wall. The wall is muscular as well as physical. While many can power through or fake it for 13.1, that’s very hard to do in a marathon. Almost inevitably your muscles will fatigue. Most marathoners aren’t adequately trained to run a full marathon strong. While you can survive a marathon at 30 miles per week (mpw), most runners need to do 60+ to be able to run strong (more on marathon training below). Lacking adequate training, your muscles will fatigue significantly, and you will struggle over the waning miles.

The other part of the wall is metabolic. While many can get by with little or no calories in a ½-marathon, almost everyone needs calories in a marathon. Even with frequent aid stations, it can be challenging to absorb enough and the right kind of calories to fuel your effort. You need to take in enough of the right kind of calories to keep the engine going strong without upsetting your stomach.

Just like in racing, things start to happen when you increase your mileage from 30 to 60+. Good shoes start to cause problems. Muscle imbalances and weaknesses are exposed. There’s a much greater risk for illness and injury. It takes a while to adapt to the increased training load. I would argue that it’s not just the mileage, the training load in your current racing season that matters, but as you move up to a marathon, it’s the accumulation of training over a few years that’s determinant to marathon success. In other words, the jump from ½ to full marathon may be best done over a few years. However, many make the jump more quickly.

Increased training means increased stress. That means your body needs more rest and sleep. Elites, running 100+ mpw (plus strength and form training) typically sleep 10-12 hours/day, and they are resting much of the rest of the time. Running is their job, their life. With the rest of us, running comes in addition to the many other activities and stress in our lives.

Proper pacing is difficult in a marathon. You may have a goal pace, but how do you know that’s the best pace for your fitness level? At the marathon distance, you have few if any opportunities to test your pace, your fitness level for a full 26.2. What seems good for 10, 15, or 20 miles (hopefully you’re not doing many that long at race pace) may not be good for 26.2, Even if you do get your goal pace right, it can be hard to get that pace right on race day. Crowds and excitement can make early paces hard to hit. Even if you do hit the early miles on target, those so-called accurate early splits may involve a lot of fatiguing varied pacing weaving through a crowd. It’s been said that every 10 sec/mi too fast you go the first mile causes you to slow 1:00/mi in the last 6mi.

Bottom line, training for and racing a full marathon adds significantly increased difficulty and risk over a ½-marathon.

Certainly, finishing and doing well in a 100mi race is harder than a marathon. However, there are elements of it that are easier to handle. By ultra I’m generally talking about distances well beyond a marathon, 50 miles and beyond, not just a “mere” 50km.

At faster paces and higher efforts, getting in and absorbing sufficient calories can be more challenging in a marathon than in an ultra. The harder your effort, the harder it is to digest, to handle the volume and types of calories you need. In 100 milers, I’ve eaten things like pizza and pb&J, things I would never consider nor could handle in a marathon.

If you crash in a marathon, you have less time to recover than in an ultra. Crashing is almost expected when you’re racing for 10, 20, 30+ hours. Many ultra runners learn to handle it and can come back to finish strong. That’s not the case with sub-ultra where once you crash, once you bonk, once your muscles fatigue causing you to slow or walk, your goals go out the window and it’s just about survival/finishing.

A marathon is difficult to get right. It deserves respect and eyes wide open going in. Understand the challenges and risks going in, and be prepared to deal with them, and you have a better chance for success.

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Trail Running at Night

Running trails at night is a different than daytime. The experience is different. Your perceptions are different. For some, it’s exhilarating. For others, it can be intimidating. For some nighttime is the only time you can run trails over the colder months because of schedule and limited daylight. For some it’s a necessity in training for ultras. Regardless of the reason, here are some tips to make the experience better and safer, and maybe encourage a few of you rookies to give it a try.

MWNightNightRunners

Lighting – the brighter the better
Lighting technology has improved greatly and at much lower costs since the days when I started running trails at night, with dim yellow incandescent or battery sucking halogen bulbs. LED technology has made lights brighter, lighter weight, longer lasting, and more affordable. Sufficient lighting is an important part of enjoying the experience.

I recommend a minimum of 200 lumens, in general. Your individual needs may vary depending on your adaptability to dark and sensitivity to glare, terrain, speed, and length of runs, however, 200 is a good starting point. Lights in that range are compact and relatively inexpensive. You might want more if the terrain is technical or you want to run fast (relative to your own normal speeds). In general, err on the side of brighter.

Head vs hand vs body
Each has its pros and cons.
Head, pros: Keeps your hands free. Shines where you are looking.
Cons: Bright light by your eyes creates glare and diminishes contrast.

Hand, pros: Can be directed where you want. Coming from a lower angle can provide better contrast. Less expensive than headlight for comparable brightness.
Cons: Takes your hand away from holding a water bottle or grabbing something from your pack. The light moving with your arm swing takes getting used to. It also takes practice to train yourself to automatically change the angle of the light as you swing your arm to reduce the bouncing light effect.

Body, pros: Coming from a lower angle can provide better contrast. Keeps your hands free.
Cons: It’s likely to bounce more. Can get in the way of taking clothes on and off quickly.

Battery Packs
Cold reduces battery life. If you are doing longer runs at night, you’ll want to keep your batteries warm. With headlights, there are different types of battery compartments to consider.

Front: Most of the lightest headlights have the batteries in front, part of the light compartment. In general these are more comfortable. However, they are exposed to the cold which will shorten their life. Also, they are limited in battery size. Once the batteries become too big, for brighter and longer lasting lights, batteries in front would bulge out and the lights would. At that point, headlights tend to have battery packs away from the light.

Back: Battery packs in back are attached to the strap, often with an additional strap that goes over the top of the head. A flat pack in back can be larger and more comfortable than in front. If you wear a beanie, it will help keep the batteries warm. If not, it’ll be exposed to the cold.

Pocket: Some lights have a pack that can be put in a jacket or pack pocket with a longer wire connecting to the light on your head. There, the pack stays warmer and the batteries last longer. Also, this type of pack can be larger for a brighter and longer lasting light. Taking the batteries off your head can be more comfortable once you figure out good wire placement. Another advantage is that you can change the batteries without taking the light off your head. However, the wire can become a problem if you have to take off your pack or jacket.

Carry extra batteries and practice changing them in the dark.

Rechargeable batteries generally don’t last as long as alkaline. I understand the desire to save money and reduce waste. However, while rechargeables may be fine for training, alkaline might be better when racing through the night.

One more tip, don’t shine you light in others’ eyes. When approaching someone coming the other way, keep your light down and to the side. If stopping to chat, turn off your headlight or point it down.

Perception of speed
In the dark, it can feel faster than it is; it can feel like you’re working harder than your pace would tell. I remember running the LT100, on the Colorado Trail section coming back into Mayqueen, how hard it felt like I was working, then dismayed when I looked at my watch at Mayqueen at how long it had taken me. Be aware that even familiar routes might take you longer. This may impact your ability to navigate, especially on unfamiliar trails.

Finding you way
Trails look different at night. Landmarks can be hidden. Even familiar trails can be confusing at night. Pay more attention to your surroundings and your progress along the trail.

Awareness, headphones
It helps to have greater awareness of your surroundings. Your vision at night is already diminished. Adding headphones further limits your awareness. If you can’t leave your music/podcasts at home, turn the volume down so you can hear the natural sounds along the trail.

Safety
There’s danger in them woods. I’m not trying to make you afraid and deter you from running at night, just to make you aware that the risks, though small, increase at night. Be aware. Be smart. Running with others increases both the feeling and actuality of safety. And, if you get hurt, it’s good to have others around to help. There are fewer trail users at night, so much less likely that someone will happen upon you if you need help.

Be smart. Be safe. Have fun. See you on the trails.

http://www.runuphillracing.com/
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Runuphill-Racing/173711160680

Benefits of Heat Training

It’s getting hot out there. Bundle up.

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Heat training can improve your fitness, help you adjust to altitude, and improve your racing, even in cold weather.

The body responds to stress with the production of heat shock proteins (HSPs). HSPs are so named because they were first identified as a response to heat stress, but are produced in response to many stresses. but they are thought to be  responsible for a number of beneficial  physiological responses including increased blood volume and quicker and more effective perspiration (1). The latter is an important part of heat acclimatization.

Increase blood volume is similar to what you get with altitude training/living. This may be due to the fact that when it’s hot, more of your blood is diverted from your muscles to help dissipate heat. Thus, your body reacts to the decreased blood/O2 available to working muscles by producing more blood. Some (not all) research has shown similar effects to what you would get training/living at altitude. And, the benefits from heat training seem to occur faster than with altitude training, though maybe not as great. It seems to help regardless of whether racing in hot or cold, high or low.

There are several ways to do heat training.

  1. Train when it’s hot. Do it on your long or medium relatively moderate intensity. Do not do your hard workouts in the heat as it’s hard to get enough intensity safely when it’s hot. Also, don’t do your easy/recovery workouts because training in high heat is high stress.
  2. Bundle up with extra clothes to simulate heat. Former elite runner Benji Durden used to bundle up during the hot and humid Georgia summers (2,3). That may be extreme. 100-mile world record holder Camille Herron covers up if it’s below 80-ish (4). This is especially effective over the winter (6)
  3. After a run, spend time in a sauna or take a hot bath. Ultra coach Jason Koop recommends 20-30 minutes. This may give similar benefits to training in the heat with low stress (5, 6).

Heat training affects people differently, so be alert to how it affects you personally. Start small to let your body adapt.

Stay hydrated in the heat. The goal is exposure to heat, not dehydration. Dehydration is damaging.

Train smart. See you on the trails (and roads).
http://runuphillracing.com/

1) https://www.runnersworld.com/training/a20792387/training-in-heat-to-prepare-for-altitude/

2) https://www.runnersworld.com/advanced/a20834172/still-running-still-dreaming/

3) https://www.runnersworld.com/advanced/a20791232/common-myths-about-running-in-the-heat/

4) https://www.facebook.com/19710841/posts/10103391453427138/

5) https://www.outsideonline.com/2098556/surprising-benefits-training-heat

6) https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/fitness/could-overdressing-during-your-run-improve-performance/article37918033/

 

Imogene 101

The Imogene Pass Run is one of my favorite mountain races. It’s challenging and the scenery is stunning without the crowding of Pikes. I’ve raced it four times, all top-20 finishes, finishing between 2:37 – 2:45 on the full course (1:52 on the weather shortened course in 2006). Although my experience up front may be a lot different than the bulk of IPRs, I have heard from lots of friends from all parts of the pack.

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In this I will talk about:

  • Where to stay
  • Course
  • Training
  • Equipment
  • Strategy

Where to stay
Ouray or Telluride? You’ll hear different opinions. There is no one right answer.

Ouray – Pros: You can sleep later. You can use your own (hotel) bathroom rather than having to wait in line for the porta-potties.
Cons: Long ride back after the finish. Will have to miss much of the post-race festivities.

Telluride – Pros: Easy walk from the finish. You can shower and change, and still participate in the post race festivities. Your family can sleep in and watch you finish.
Cons: You have to get up extra early to catch the bus or drive. Parking is difficult in Ouray. If you drive yourself, you then have to take the bus back to get your car (don’t drive yourself, take the bus).

I prefer staying in Telluride. The human body performs better after a few hours – time for your lungs and blood vessels to expand and your muscles to warm up. I like being close to my bed, shower, clean clothes after the finish.

Course
The race website, http://live-raceresults.com/imogene/course/ has a very detailed course description that I don’t need to repeat. However, there are a few things to note that will help.

You are allowed to take shortcuts on the way up. There are two to consider, and one that’s almost a must. You should check out the first two before the start:

0.32mi – Most of the front runners will cut the hairpin turn (red) rather than following the road around (yellow). It’s not a big short cut, and may not matter once it gets more crowded in the middle of the pack.IPRshortcut032_LI

0.44mi – Just after entering the dirt road, there are three choices, one more than the two mentioned in the course description:

  • Go right, dropping down across the bridge, then left up a small single track (yellow). Most of the top runners will take this route.
  • Just after the bridge, as the road curves left, stay straight, veering off the road, and climb up the left side of the ravine (red).
  • Follow the main road wide around to the left (blue). While the first two are much shorter, they are narrow and will back up. As the back-ups grow, this option becomes more viable.
    IPRshortcut044_LI

8.0mi – About 1/4 mi past the UCB aid station, the smoother jeep road will curve wide to the right, then back to the left (yellow). The old road goes straight up a rocky section (red). The 8mi cone is on this straight section. Going straight can save most a minute or two.IPRshortcut80_LI

The start of the course can almost be called gradual, 910’ in the first 3mi. It’s a wide and smooth 2WD road. The road then gets steeper up to the LCB aid station, 1,000’+ over that 2.1mi stretch, still fairly smooth. You drop down from the aid station, then the real climbing begins. It’s almost 14% from there to the summit, with a few pitches >20%. There’s a false summit about 1mi from the top. From there, you should be able to see and hear the people at the top. There are some giant rollers in the last uphill mile. There’s a short, single track section just before the summit. It might back up there. Just relax and go with the flow.

The start of the descent is the steepest and most technical. It drops at almost 16% in the first ~2mi, the dirt can be loose, rutted, and there can be some black ice (in 2005, I slipped on black ice, perhaps 30 seconds down from the summit, and broke a finger). After the first downhill aid station the descent is more moderate, ~10%, and the footing much better.

At mile 13, you have ~0.7mi of almost flat road. Remember to increase your effort here because gravity won’t be helping much.

At the end of the dirt road, you turn left and have 2-½ steep, paved blocks to the finish. The transition from dirt to pavement, the different feel, can be tricky, so be alert to prevent falls. As the course description states, “the second greatest number of injury falls in the race occur in the 2.5 block stretch just ahead of you.”

Training – Train for the hills, not the altitude
The altitude will affect you, especially coming from near sea level, but you can’t train for it. Anything that you might think you can do to train for altitude is something you should be doing anyway. Intervals and hills will get you faster and stronger, but will not cause your physiology to adapt to altitude.

Heat training can help. This could include bundling up even when it’s warm or training in a sauna. The additional blood required to dissipate heat reduces the available blood to the working muscles, somewhat simulating altitude. Just be careful to hydrate well if you do this. Otherwise, there isn’t much you can do about altitude other than getting there early or buying an altitude tent (or doping).

Train for the hills, both up and down. For uphill, include short, hill sprints, not just long grinds. Short, powerful sprints build strength and efficiency that you don’t get with slower and longer runs.

  • Uphill striders. Always get a good warm up before sprints and intervals. Go into the sprint with a few skips and/or high knees (simulates a strong uphill stride). Start with a few easy strides, building to full speed. Slightly exaggerate a strong knee drive parallel to the slope, forceful backward arm drive with the same leg going forward (helps drive the knee forward), and leg turnover. Go near all out about 20-30 seconds, a few strides past where your legs start to tighten up, your stride starts to slow, and form starts to break down.
  • Uphill sprints – Warm up and start similar to the striders. I like to take a few easy strides on flat at the bottom of a hill. Go all out for 6-10 seconds. Keeping it short engages different muscle fibers and energy systems than > 10 sec.
  • Uphill bounding. Long, powerful, gliding strides, getting hang time. Focus on a powerful, explosive stride. When you land, compress, then explode into the next glide as quickly as possible.

 

Downhill – Good downhill running can gain you 10+ minutes on the descent, reduce the risk of falling, forestall late race fatigue, and reduce post-race soreness. Good downhill running also translates into better and stronger flat running. You don’t need a lot of downhill running to prepare the muscles, though it does take time and practice to improve your form and efficiency. Read more at https://runuphillracing.wordpress.com/2018/04/26/benefits-of-downhill-training/

Practice hiking. Being a strong and efficient hiker is a skill that doesn’t necessarily come from running. Practice both for power and form. As with running, train using some short bursts in addition to longer hikes.

You often see people bent over, pushing on their thighs with their arms as the hike uphill. I am not a fan of that technique. That closes off your hips, limiting your stride, and tends to compress your lungs, limiting your oxygen intake. Instead, I prefer staying tall, keeping your hips and shoulders open. Pump your arms back to help drive your legs forward, and keep your stride relatively short and quick.

Practice switching between hiking and running. You want to make the transition smooth and quick. Learn to feel when to switch, what it feels like when the walking is too easy or the running too hard.

If you live where there are no or few hills, you need to be creative. For uphills, you can use a treadmill and stair climber. Focus more on short, uphill sprints than long grinds. For that, there are lots of options including bleachers, building stairwells, highway overpasses, multi-level parking garages, and berms.

Downhill training can be more difficult to accomplish without hills. I’ve heard of people putting the back of a treadmill up on blocks. Run down stairs. As said above, you don’t need a lot of downhill training, so if you can drive to a hill once a week or two, that will help. Some more tips from last year’s Pike Peak Marathon female masters winner, a flatlander.
https://trailrunnermag.com/training/trail-tips/training-for-mountain-running-from-sea-level.html

Equipment
Shoes, shirt, pants. Everything else depends.

Road or trail shoes? It’s a personal preference. The terrain isn’t that technical (see my course notes above about the downhill), so some might do better with something like a cushioned marathon training shoe to reduce leg fatigue on the descent. This depends on how comfortable you are on dirt.

Hat, gloves and jacket depend on the weather and how fast you are. High mountain weather can be unpredictable. Even though it may be clear at the start, severe conditions may show up by the time you get to the summit. However, by checking the last possible forecast, you may get an indication that severe weather is very unlikely, allowing you to consider leaving some gear at home or going lighter. I typically start with a long sleeve over a short sleeve (I hate being cold), then tie it around my waist several minutes into the race. Only once, in four times, have I needed to put it back on higher up.

Water – carry as little as you need. Water is heavy. 70oz, ~2 liters, weighs ~4-1/2 lbs. Weight will have a bigger impact uphill than on flats. If you’re planning to carry a hydration pack, consider not filling the bladder or bottles all the way, using the aid station fluids, and filling yours as needed. Bladders are harder to fill on the run than bottles.

Personally, I carry a bottle near empty from the start (just enough at the start to keep my mouth from getting dry) in a hip pack. I’ll primarily use the aid stations on the way up. At UCB, I’ll fill the bottle ~½-way and transfer it to a hand strap. Even towards the front of the pack, it’s a long trek from there to the summit. I’ll put a little more in at the summit so I don’t have to slow or stop on the way down.

Should you carry a pack? It depends on how much gear and clothing you need to carry. Some things to consider before deciding to use a pack. Gloves, light hat, and gels/bars can be carried in a pocket fairly easily. I’ve use a bike jersey at the race. As long as what you’re carrying is light, it won’t bounce. Long sleeve and jacket can be tied around your waist. To tie a full zip around your waist, unzip it not quite all the way, tie the arms, then zip it up as much as possible and tuck the arms under the zippered part.

Strategy

Crowding is minimal, so you don’t have to rush the start to avoid getting bogged down. Run your own race.

Although they say that your finish time will be similar to a road marathon, that can vary widely. Good hill runners, both up and down, should be able to run significantly faster here than in a road marathon. For example, Matt Carpenter’s course record of 2:05:56 is a lot faster than his road marathon PR (and faster than the marathon world record at that time). My slowest time at IPR (2:45) is faster than my marathon PR (2:53).

Take advantage of the aid stations. Take a little extra time to eat and drink, then carry just enough with you to get to the next aid station. Water is heavy. You don’t need to carry enough for the whole race.

Minimize switching back and forth between running and hiking. Switching takes extra energy. It’s not worth switching if it’s just for a few strides.

Run as much of it as you can. A slow 18min/mi run is faster than a brisk 25min/mi hike.

Practice power hiking. Practice running downhill.

Make sure your laces are snug for the descent. Consider using lace locks or similar with static, non-elastic laces, and pulling them snug at the top.

Most important:

  • Have fun.
  • Smile.
  • Soak in the scenery.
  • Gain strength from your fellow racers.
  • Embrace the challenge.
  • Embrace the weather.
  • Thank the volunteers.
  • Smile some more.

Start Training Now

You have a big race coming up, and a training plan that’s maybe 20 weeks. When should you start training? Should you count back 20 weeks from the race to start?

When was the last time you made it through a training cycle without something interfering with your training – injury, illness, life, loss (temporary) of motivation? Chances are rarely, if ever.

Then, what do you do? You could double up to make up for missed days or try to cram three weeks into two. That only increases the risk of further illness or injury. Maybe you go into the race underprepared. This also can lead to injury, an unenjoyable experience, and much longer recovery. Perhaps you adjust your time goals or, even skip your goal race as a last resort.

A better approach? Don’t wait. Start training NOW! Give yourself extra time to:

  • Take and come back from time off;
  • Adapt to increasing training volume and intensity;
  • Spend more time working on weaknesses; and
  • If all goes well, get into even better shape.

StartTrainingNowI know the idea of a longer training plan may not sound appealing. However, adding time to your training plan can reduce stress by allowing you to take a more relaxing and flexible approach.

Stretch out the start of training or the biggest ramp up period. Take four weeks to build go through three weeks of training progression, for example. This allows for greater adaptation, and reduces the risk of injury and psychological burn out.

Take an extra easy or rest day during the biggest ramp up period. This also allows for greater adaptation, and reduces the risk of injury and psychological burn out.

Break away from your plan for a bit to give extra focus on your weaknesses, the things that are limiting your improvement.

If it goes well and you avoid significant time off, you can repeat peak load (volume and/or intensity) training an extra week or two, or spend more time working on your weaknesses. This will get you into even better shape, and better solidify your fitness.

Currently (May, 2018), I’m on a multi-year plan to run Boston in 2020. This is allowing me time to gradually build from running weekly mileage in the teens last year, to the 60s and 70s I’ll want to hit my marathon goals. I don’t have to rush my training progression. I don’t have to force training when my body is telling me to back off. And, it’s giving me time to be able to get a lot of repetition of both the desired distance and intensity training. I know the more training I can put in at those peak levels, the better my race will be.

Train smart. See you on the roads and trails.

Adam
http://www.runuphillracing.com/

Benefits of downhill training.

Down hills. Ugh. They pound the quads and stress the knees. Most runners seem to dislike down hills (even many of my trail running friends). However, downhill running can build strength and endurance, and make you more efficient, even if you only race flat roads.

Dirt road downhill

Steep downhill

Another piece of The Wall
The wall, late race fatigue, traditionally is blamed on low glycogen (blood sugar). That idea came about before the advent of easily portable calories and fully stocked aid stations every mile. Sometimes forgotten is that muscle fatigue is another big cause of the wall, late race slowing. Eccentric contractions, the type prominent with downhill running, are a big cause of that fatigue.

Muscles are at their strongest when they are shortening. For example, when you do a leg press or extension, the bulge and definition you might see is from the shortening of your quads. Eccentric contractions are when your muscles work while lengthening. This happens when you land. Your quads work to stabilize and absorb impact while your knees bend, while your quads are lengthening. Even the most efficient runners have some eccentric contractions on flat roads. This is a major factor in late race muscle fatigue, and why, for example, it hurts to walk down stairs after a big race.

Downhill running exaggerates the impact of landing, the eccentric stress. Thus, training downhill is a great way to build eccentric strength and condition your legs to handle the impact in longer races, and to reduce late race fatigue.

Downhill running also magnifies flaws in your stride. Inefficiencies that you may not notice on flats or up hills are brought out when running downhill. Improving your downhill stride will make you more efficient all around.

Another benefit of downhill training is to improve your leg speed. A faster leg turnover can be easier to do on downhills.

Downhill Training
For most runners, downhill training should be added fairly early in the training cycle, after you have a few weeks of running on your legs, but before start adding a lot of intensity and other stress. The stress, the resulting soreness, so is likely to disrupt a rigid training schedule. You might want to consider adding a few weeks to your training plan for this.

To start, try training downhill every 1-2 weeks. It doesn’t take a lot of downhill training to adapt. It’s likely you’ll be extremely sore after the first downhill session, but this will lessen and then go away with subsequent sessions. Once you no longer have significant soreness after a downhill session, change to a maintenance mode where you train downhill every 2-3 weeks. This can continue until you start your taper

Downhill training is best done where you can get a good pace going. I like to do this on moderate to very steep, dirt or paved roads, or smooth trails, with good footing. This allows me to open up my pace and get some good quad pounding. If it’s too steep and/or technical, where you have to slow down and alter your stride, you lose some of the eccentric stress.

You want to get 10-20 minutes of cumulative downhill. One of my favorite nearby places to do this is on Lookout Mountain Road, Golden. There, I’ll run up the Chimney Gulch trail, ~1.5mi (700’, 9%) from the lower road crossing to Windy Saddle, then down the road, ~2.5mi (5%). https://goo.gl/maps/V4wWu6TfMXq

If you can’t find a long hill, you can do repeats on a shorter hill. Here are some Denver area hills that are good for downhill training:

  • I70 frontage road, Genesee – Golden.
  • Kerr Gulch, Evergreen.
  • Grapevine Rd, between Genesee and Idledale.
  • Oh My God/Two Brothers Road, Idaho Springs.
  • I-70 bike path: Loveland Ski – Bakerville, Silverplume – Georgetown.
  • Witter Gulch, Evergreen.
  • Magnolia Road, Boulder.
  • Sunshine Canyon, Boulder.
  • Repeats of the service road at Lakewood’s Green Mtn
  • Repeats at Bluffs Regional Park in Lone Tree. From the lot, stay left, clockwise. Jog up the long hill to the top. Continuing W, run the long (~1km) downhill. Jog back up the way you came. Repeat the same hill, or run hard down to the start (~0.45mi).
  • Repeats of dam roads at Bear Creek Lake Park, Cherry Creek, Chatfield.

How to run downhill efficiently
This is not a how-to article, and it’s hard to teach in writing, but here are some tips:

  • Focus on lifting your feet, not putting them down (they’ll come down on their own). Imagine you’re running on hot coals to keep your foot strike light and quick.
  • Lift your heals behind you, like butt kickers. Where it’s not too steep, you want to paw back against the ground. The steeper and more technical it gets, the less the amplitude of the paw back and butt kick.
  • Keep your body in alignment, heals, hips, chest/shoulders. Don’t lean back.

Here are some tips and drills to help with your downhill form:

  • Downhill butt kickers. Do this on a gradual hill. Exaggerate your heel lift in back up to your butt. This will help with your paw back, which reduces braking.
  • Run downhill with loose shoes, first with a normal stride, then doing butt kickers. Pay attention to whether your feet are pulling back into the heel of the shoe or you’re jamming your toes. The goal is to pull back.
  • Downhill striders – short, quick strides, paw back.
  • Run with a pack loose around your shoulders, with some amount of weight (e.g., a filled bladder). Practice leaning back to feel the pack pull away from you, and forward to feel it pushing you. You want it to rest lightly on your back, not pulling away from you, and only lightly pushing.

In 2004 (?), I did a snowshoe race that  finished with a 5mi, 2,500’ descent, mostly on a packed ski run with good footing. I was in a fierce battle for the lead, so I went all out, averaging 5:00/mi for the downhill. The tails of my snowshoes hit my butt with almost every stride. While my butt ended up black & blue, my quads did not get that sore.

Stories and interviews of champion runners on downhill training:
Camille Herron (world record 12:42 at the 2017 Tunnel Hill 100)https://www.polar.com/blog/camille-herron-uses-sports-science-to-run-farther-and-faster/
http://www.roadtrailrun.com/2017/11/a-world-record-racer-story-camille.html

Nick Clark (15:44 at Western States)
https://activeataltitude.com/interview-with-nick-clark-2010-review-and-prospects-for-2011/

The Folly of Mileage Goals

CalendarThis is what I sometimes call the Silly Season – where people report their annual mileage (and elevation) as if it matters. It doesn’t. Volume does certainly matter – running 2,000 miles/year will likely make you a better runner than running only 1,000 miles, all else being equal. However, it depends on how you get there. Miles/elevation are a means to an end, not an end unto themselves. It’s what those totals are made up of that matters more than the totals themselves.

Mileage totals should be a byproduct of your training. Train to get faster, you’re A races, your time goals. Let the miles accumulate naturally, a byproduct of a sensible training program.

Here are some principles to guide you, and things to be aware of when tracking miles:

  • Increase your volume, and intensity, gradually. Don’t rush to meet mileage targets if your body isn’t ready.
  • Stress is cumulative. Pushing yourself far and/or hard may feel good for a while, but repetitive overstress and under rest will lead to injury and illness.
  • Include variety, in speed and terrain. Don’t pad your totals with easy, flat miles, when what you need is speed and/or hills. Total heart beats might be a better measure of training volume/stress (don’t rely on any single measure).
  • Include breaks and downtime in your training. It’s important to include some off or low stress time within a training cycle to let your body catch up, and between cycles to better recover before ramping it back up again. Don’t neglect important down time to meet mileage goals. Remember, stress is cumulative.
  • Listen to your body. When you’re sick, beginning to feel a potential injury coming on, stressed, fatigued, hit a plateau, etc., back off to let your body recover and refresh, rather than pushing through to hit mileage targets.
  • Don’t add an extra run, or a few extra miles, just to meet an artificial mileage target. Run them only if they value to your speed and endurance, without overly risking illness and injury. Use mileage targets to motivate you – to get you out the door when you’re feeling lazy – but don’t become slaves to them.

If you have 2018 mileage goals, write them down, then put them away and don’t think about them again until the end of the year. After your race and time goals are past, and after some recovery/down time, then go back and look at your annual goal. See if you’re within reach of your goal, or any milestones. Within reach means it’s OK to push yourself a bit, but don’t overextend yourself to the point where you risk injury, continued improvement, burn out, and your next years’ goals.

The mileage, and components thereof, are a means to an end, and should not be an end unto itself.

Train smart. Run happy. See you on the trails.

Adam