‘Comfortably Numb’ Trail Race Post Mortem

So – Survived this extremely technical run and lived to tell the tale…just!

Not quite the time or the placing I was hoping for, but I’ll take it for what it was – A good first serious forray into the world of trail racing. This race is known as a ‘west coast classic’ in these parts of the world, for a number of reasons. The main one being is that it really is extremely darn difficult, because of the ascending, descending and in particular, over the terrain in which you are asked to do it!

It was noticeable right from the start that I had the legs of many of the ‘racers’ as I inadvertently ended up leading the strewn out pack up the first fire road hills and onto the first couple of single track trails. However, this is where it all went wrong. I almost immediately hesitated and took a slight wrong turn and the 3 guys behind me all took off in the ‘correct’ direction. No big deal, just took off after them.

This was quickly followed by two or three kilometers of straight up switchback hills and worse, causing one or two to walk some of the steeper climbs. The terrain quickly switched to a ‘wall to wall’ root carpeting of the forest floor together with rocks, some mud and naturally more climbs as the first half of this race took us predominantly uphill.  It was in here that I quickly learned that my road speed alone was not going to be enough as I vied for my position for a few kilometers with a couple of guys who were 1) seasoned trail runners and 2) very accomplished at descending rapidly in this loose, slippy terrain. And so it went with them passing me on the downhill and me overtaking on any flat (not that there was much ever!) and the uphill sections.

This definitely become a little weary for me until I let these guys simply stay ahead for a bit. So out there on my own for a while allowed my to ‘run’ (more of a run , hop, step, dance and jump really) at my own pace and also come a little unstuck once or twice as I struggled to find any race markings and the natural path – obviously slowing me down further. A couple of near full body-plants into the ground were beginning to niggle with my temperament as I become more frustrated with myself until I eventually hit the ground a little harder, dusted myself off and took off again.

Eventually we reached a slightly rockier, firmer section of the race which allowed me to plant some firmer footing as I was getting fed up with the tree roots at every step and this typically meant being out in the open with the sun beating down on me.

Eventually I approached what I thought was territory that I recognized from a couple of previous forrays into the very end section of this trail as I’d previously tried to accustom myself with and felt a little happier. That was until I spotted a photographer on the course and tripped coming down off some rocks and boulders. Down and with the wind sucked right out of me, I really wanted to stay down to regroup, but with this photographer telling me I was doing great and in 6th or 7th place…for now, I realized that I had to get up and back on my running feet quick, not least as my pride was hurt and all I could think about was hoping he hadn’t captured that magic moment on film!

Shaken and in a bit of pain, I carried on, but in trying to shale off the niggles, I was quickly passed on some tricky downhill sections by a couple of speedstars who’d come from deep within the pack. By now, I was longing for some open, buff trail, where I could open my legs and really run. I knew I had the legs and speed to take these guys ahead of me, but was being well beaten by a few guys who were obviously far more comfortable on this terrain than I was.

Eventually I came out of the technical trails onto something I could really run on and set about giving some real gusto to my effort. Frustrated for miles about not being able to really speed up and let my pace show, I now wanted to see if I coud either catch someone, or at least feel better about pushing the envelope a little with a kilometer or two to the finish.

As I approached the finish, I could hear a few cheers and the tannoy. I’d obviously gained a little ground, but all I could do now was round off the last few hundred meters feeling relatively fresh, but happy to let rip.

Speeding across the line I always feel a little cheated as there’s always the thought that if I feel so good still, why couldn’t I have left a bit more out there on the course?! That said, all in all, a good fun run.

Apparently I’d missed the several bear sightings – too busy looking for my footing to see that far away from me…at least I assume they weren’t that close to me!

I was glad to have made the decision to run with a hand held water bottle. Something I wasn’t inclined to do, especially as there was supposed to be a water station at the halfway mark, which, didn’t materialize. Thankfully, the bottle also broke my fall a few times as well, although not sufficiently to stop me damaging my rotator cuff presumably on lens!

On reflection though, not a bad performance, slower than I had predicted by about 1o minutes, but given falls and wrong turns, not bad. Definite room for improvement and a nagging desire to quickly improve my technical downhilling skills.

Next up, the ‘Tenderfoot Boogie 50KM in 6 weeks. Mainly trails, but nowhere near as technically difficult!

Maybe we’ll give the Xterra trail running championships here in Whistler a throw of the dice with a concerted effort to run trails between now and then. Shouldn’t need much incentive, especially with a chance to run in the world finals in Hawaii at stake!

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‘Comfortably Numb’ – Trail Race

This somewhat aptly named trail race takes place this 4th week in June in and around Whistler, BC. Due to the heavy snowfall this past winter, even this late into the year, there will still be a lot of snow to contend with on the trail during the race, further adding to the complexities of this run and its already numerous challenges.

Personally, as much as I love trail running, I guess you’d say that my bread and butter is on the smoother, buffer road surfaces. However, this year I am determined to focus a lot more on trail running, not least because it is far more enjoyable, better scenery, more fun and a lot easier going on the body in terms of the impact with each pounding step or stride. On another slightly ‘blue sky’ approach, around the part of the world I live and the way society is taking to this sport, there are a lot more trail running challenges and perhaps a greater chance to get sponsored as an athlete – Like I said, ‘blue sky’ approach!

I currently live in the mountains and have an embarrassment or riches outside my door when it comes to trail running, so it seems only fitting that I grasp this opportunity with both hands.

Now, as with most sports, most training and fitness is very sport specific. The greatest, fittest swimmers in the world do not translate into some of the best runners simply because they are ‘fit’. Same deal with translating from road running to trail running. Although similar, trail running engages and requires a lot more of the runner. More concentration when judging your step and how to approach the terrain, different muscles – a lot more core for example and a lot like everything, there is a completely different skill set is involved with the trails. For me, my biggest development is to improve on my descending skills as some folk will literally throw themselves down any and all terrain, no matter how slippy, dangerous or imposing it looks and this is where much time is made or lost.

So having already ran the Zurich marathon in some heat and sickness earlier this April and a half marathon just 3 weeks ago, I embarked on throwing myself at as much trail running as I could handle in the 3 weeks build up to this race. It is an extremely technical race and this in itself is perhaps one if not the biggest challenges of this course.

The terrain is a real hot pot of slick tree roots crossing in every which way, to rocks and boulders, wooden bridges, some slick, some not, switchbacks to ascend & descend with no real end in sight and a chance….just a chance of sighting or coming across a bear or some other wildlife.

Personally I cannot wait to get at the course and see what exactly it has to offer. Apparently in places there are still patches of snow to navigate, so we’ll see just how much this slows the course down. The record was set at 1hr 49 by an outstanding athlete, so I can only hope to come in somewhere around the 2hr zone and hope that with these conditions I place well. Given my self certified novice status at trail competitions, this will serve as a real test as to how well prepared I am to handle the arduous trails out here in BC – How hard can it be, eh?

Understanding the need to taper and recover from races and training

As runners we’ve all heard about the need to taper or recover leading up to important races, but why do we hear so much about it?

Most of us will appreciate the need to ‘back off’ from our rigorous training at times or perhaps tak a day off from running altogether as our muscles and body just feel too fatigued to get out there and run some more, but why? You can often read that there is a benefit to running / training whilst on tired legs to mimic how you will feel in the latter stages of a race for example. This is often a form of raining that those preparing for an ultra marathon might do – say a 25/30 mile run on Saturday followed by another 15/20 on Sunday.

What many don’t fully appreciate is that it is while resting that our body repairs and heals itself. In other words, the adaptions that take place after a hard work out, such as a long run or speedwork, tempo runs, etc, these only take place while resting. When we are pushing ourselves to improve, be it to run longer or faster, we create many microscopic tears to our muscles. It is this damage that when healed and repaired, grows back stronger – allowing us to be stronger, faster or more adept at running further.

Now, if we continue to push ourselves hard every day, running or training on already damaged and fatigued muscles, it becomes very hard to train well. I wouldn’t encourage it, but anyone who’s tried to run hard and / or long every day will tell you that their training performance simply suffers as they struggle to maintain the quality. It is for these reasons, amongst others, that we need to back off and have ‘recovery days’, either cross training (perhaps biking or swimming for example) or possibly even have a day off after a hard session. Think how hard it is to complete your weekly long run in the build up to a marathon or half marathon if the day before you completed a multiple set of speed interval repeats. Your long run suffers, you may not complete it all as planned and such, you won’t get the benefits that you would have otherwise received.

So after weeks of building up to your race goal, doing all the ‘good’ things, such as hill repeats, tempo runs, speedwork, etc, your body will hopefully have made some pretty big adaptions, but chances are, is that there are still a lot of muscle tissue damage that needs to be fully repaired and glycogen stores replenished and topped up. To run at your optimum – often known as ‘peaking’, you’ll need to have all muscles rested, fully repaired and feeling fresh. This means reducing the volume of training you’ve been doing. Too often people will also reduce the number of quality sessions in this ‘tapering’ period, which will typically be somewhere between 2-3 weeks for a marathon and less for shorter distances.

The trouble with reducing the ‘quality’ sessions too much is that your body will begin to lose its leg turnover speed. So, you should reduce the number of speed repeats, or the length of the tempo runs, but keep some fast leg turnover work even into the last week – to a degree. However, as you reduce the mileage over the couple of weeks leading up to your big race, your legs should begin to feel ‘fresher’, even sprightly. Your energy levels should feel good as your start to burn off less glycogen and calories, fat, etc. This said, be mindful not to overeat and consider reducing your fat and calorific intake as your reduce your output. It is natural to put on a couple of pounds in the last week or so, but no point in undoing all that good work, eh? It’s hard dragging extra weight around a course!

Similarly, after your race, in particular a long distance event such as a half or full marathon. Your body will probably have run as hard and as longer as it ever has. No matter how you feel immediately after the race, you will have created some damage, hopefully only microscopic muscle tissue tears, but often bigger problems to tendons and cartilage. Running too much too soon after the race will greatly increase the risk of getting injured. Muscles will be fatigued and further stressing them, particularly in the first few days and week will often result in a breakdown. When fatigued muscles don’t work properly, the force and impact each stride has on your body will need to be soaked up, possibly by tendons or bone. Trust me, this IS how we get injured!

Ease back into running slowly. Nothing too long or too fast for a couple of weeks afterwards. Don’t get me wrong though. This period before and after our race where we’re reducing the amount of running we do is tough. For me it’s the worst and the hardest part of training for a race. I’m a runner, I want to run, but running and training smart will help you all in the long run. Something many of us all learn the hard way!