Running: Lost Trail 1/2 Marathon 2013

I used to be an awesome runner and then I took a 1/2 marathon to the calf!

Ok, not really (and sorry for the terrible Skyrim reference) but this weekend’s foray into the world of runs longer than 10k was chock full of lessons. Hopefully by sharing some of them here I can help you, my dear readers, as you become better runners yourselves.

Things the Panther did right for the run

1) General fitness for the distance. From my trainer to my wife, the refrain I heard most often was “oh you can run 13 miles no problem”, and they were right. The distance on the road is, while at the outer boundary of my experience, not out of my capabilities. I’ve run a 20k+ distance before without a lot of drama, and with nearly no support (I ran with no water and no nutrition and didn’t have an issue). My cardio limits currently put this distance well within reach.

2) Nutrition/hydration. I did well here too. I brought a bag of gummi bears (great for quick energy and well accepted by my body under duress)  and picked up a set of Blox during the race. I drank electrolyte at every station. During the race I never cramped and only felt like I pushed myself a bit past my anaerobic threshold once or twice, both times on hills that I should have walked but ran anyway because I was playing a mind game with another runner (see “playing into their hands” below).

3) Pace & Effort. I generally did well not pushing out of my comfort zone during the race, running my own race and being careful in terms of heart rate zones (the previously mentioned mind games being an ill advised exception). Where I faltered was in the hills, though really my lack of training there probably meant there was little I could do to help that.

4) Clothing. I made a late morning decision to ditch my first layer and go with just a compression top, and it was a good thing. The temperature jumped almost 5 degrees in the hour that passed from arrival to race start. After that it only kept climbing. My tights stayed on more for compression value than heat and I did suffer a bit of over-heating in the legs as a result, but it was worth it. Wearing my spring tights would have been a better choice however.

Where the Panther Screwed Up

1) Shoes. This one irks me, but the shoes I wore were not the shoes I should have worn. The fact that I am unsure of exactly which shoes I should have worn comforts me not even a bit. The issue at hand is multi-layered. First off, the Merrell Road Gloves I wore are (as the name should tell you) designed for road use. The Lost Trail was mostly definitely off-road. This mean rocks, off-camber areas and tons of uphill and downhill action. The result was that both my feet and my legs suffered. The former from dozens of rocks punching through the bottom of the shoes (as well as a LOT of grit and sand getting in), the latter from the difficulties I had maintaining my forefoot strike stride on 13.1 miles of hilly off-road terrain. Don’t get me wrong, I love these shoes and will continue running in them as well as doing my workouts, but for longer distances and trail running I must find a solution.

2) Hill and trail training. While my motor was up to the distance, it was hardly up to the elevation changes. That, combined with my utter lack of any hill training, meant that from mile 8 to mile 13.1 I was a very sad panther. By that point my quads and hip flexors were shot to hell, I was sloppy in my stride and all semblance of mindful and gentle running were quickly disappearing.

3) I played right into their hands. One of the most important mantras you will hear over and over as you get into endurance running is “run your own race”. Obviously this is tough, there’s a guy in front of you, and that girl keeps pushing from behind to try and pass you. It is nearly impossible not to react, to push a bit harder in places to keep ahead or make a pass. In truth, unless you are a REALLY good runner, you are better off running the distance as though you’re the only one out there. I did not do that. Nearing the end I found myself passing and being passed by people and allowed it to get to me, to the point where I ran up a couple hills that I 100% should have walked up.This, I am sure, contributed to the pain I am feeling today in my quads, hip flexors, ankles and calves. In the end I wasn’t really racing anyone that mattered in the standing other than myself, and at this point looking back I would say I lost as much as I won. Lesson learned, hopefully.

(On a related note, I was surprised at the on-trail antagonism I encountered. While most other runners were friendly, if still competitive,  one guy made a very snarmy comment at me while I sat, shoe off, trying to fix a forming blister. Considering how far back he was, I really have no idea what the deal was. Perhaps he thought he was being funny, or didn’t realize what I was doing, but here as elsewhere I would say the Golden Rule applies. While I know I shouldn’t care, it made me smile a little when I finished well ahead of him.

This was actually NOT the guy I was playing a little mind game with. That gentleman soundly beat me and I spoke with him later and found him to be quite nice and an experienced runner, here on vacation with his wife from snowy Utah. )

4) I didn’t smell the flowers. Folsom is beautiful, and the trail we ran was fantastic. I spent far too much of the race head down, considering how much further I had to go, how I was doing, etc. Those things are important but so is enjoying the view. You’re not going to change anything about your fitness at this point. Outside of running mindfully and considering your tempo and pace, it is a waste of effort to contemplate complex strategies. Enjoy the damn race.

5) I let the bikes annoy me. A lot of running is mental, and if you let your mind become clouded or confused, you risk not running well. Late in the race a number of somewhat rude mountain bikers zipping by me gave me a serious case of the grumps. Thing was, it wasn’t a closed course. There were signs asking riders to avoid our trail but there was no way to keep them off it. And honestly the best way to have avoided them was to have run the race faster, I only ran into them in the last 45 minutes. The fastest runners in my age group finished 1.5 hours ahead of my 3 hour finish. So stop bitching and get training. 🙂

Overall, the lessons to be learned here are many, and I’m sure as I race more I will learn more. The biggest and most vexing problem continues to be my shoes. I love the road gloves for 10k road runs and shorter, but I have not managed to find a shoe that I like for the longer distances. Everything else on the list was either between my ears or was related to fitness and/or planning issues in terms of training, all things I have a solid grip on. Equipment, on the other foot, remains a puzzle. I am looking at some of the new offerings from Skechers (I know, right?) and am even considering Scott Jurek’s Cascadia shoe. The trouble, of course, being that it is tough to test drive these puppies out on long haul runs. My issues are occurring at 10 miles+, which is impossible to test while running around the block. Hopefully more “test drive” events will happen at my local shoe stores. I gained a lot of insight into the Adidas Boost shoe that way. Here’s hoping…

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