"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Downhill Racer

I finally had a decent run. It's been a while, maybe a month, since the last one. And I learned something!

Musical prelude

As I drove to Afton Monday for another stab at Nigel's hill, I was singing along with the radio. I can't sing a note, but I was listening to Tom Waits, Lou Reed and Bob Dylan and they don't sing all that well, either. First was Waits' "Falling Down," then Reed's "Walk On the Wild Side" and then my favorite Dylan song, "You Ain't Going Nowhere."

Were those titles being prophetic?Falling, walking and then stopping?

Be yourself

I arrived after most of the runners had already left; partly because I knew I'm doing a 24 hour run in two weeks and will have to run in the heat of the day and partly because I don't schedule my holidays so tightly that I feel the need to get up at 6 AM. I ran into Helen and Eric in the parking lot and she asked about the ankle. I said it was fine and that I felt I needed to get in some real training to make up for my bad showing at Superior. She pointed out that I had run it with a broken ankle and I said "I still had one good leg. I could've hopped it." I was trying to sound like a tough guy with a sense of humor, but it came out sounding psychotic.

I ran into a bunch of familiar people out there and met a few people who read this blog and introduced themselves. So here's the answers to the 2 questions everyone asks:

1) The ankle's fine. There's the tiniest crack in the bone and it didn't need plates and screws and the torn ligament didn't need sewing back together. I'm running on it and it doesn't hurt unless I bang it on something (then it hurts a LOT). It's fine. Really. I'm not just saying it, it's fine. Okay?

2) No, there's no such thing as the Chiwaupee. I thought people would read the comments if they read the post and see the disclaimer, but apparently not everyone did.

The run itself

The plan had been to get in one last long run before FANS of 4-4 1/2 hours, doing as many hills as possible to test the ankle. I ran way too hard to run that long. I'm no fan of the Garmin Forerunner, but I had my 305 on, as it has its uses on trail runs. I averaged a heart rate of 150 for two hours (peak of 169) and my top speed downhill was 4:48 per mile. The hill starting from the river, going up Nigel's hill and continuing up to the highest point near the next intersection is 3/4 of a mile long and 320 feet high. I did it 7 times before it got to be a bit much. I was trying out a new formula for a rehydration drink and using the Nathan pack and Nathan handheld I bought with some of my winnings from Trail Mix; it was cloyingly sweet - ick. I also swatted the firt mosquito of the year.

My running's going downhill fast

I've always run downhill on roads exceptionally well but can't run downhill on trails at all. It's the downhills that separate the good trail runners from the bad (it's the uphills that separate the good from the great), so I spent the winter working on it. I figured the problem was that trails have longer hills, steeper hills and more total hills, so I ran a very long hill for as much as 9 hours.
I felt it did me no good, as I had fried quads at Ice Age and was walking downhills at Superior.

I can run downhill on trails. I've shown that I can. The problem is running them when I'm tired. It's taken me a while to see that the problem isn't technique, it's pacing and rest. I raced too much without adequate rest. I could've run my races comfortably if I hadn't tried to run them hard as well. Instead of learning how to run downhill when exhausted, I should try harder not to have to.

See, I learned something! Well, that is, if I don't do it again, I've learned something.

There is something about downhill running I've learned that may be useful to others as well. Most people who have trouble with the downhills think it's a matter of leg strength (the hill runners tend to be weight lifters and bicyclists as well), but it's really about balance. There are three components to balance: vision, the inner ear and muscle proprioception in the foot. The best downhill runners are looking at the path far ahead of them, whereas the poor ones stare at their feet; they trust that their feet, if and when they slide or hit something, will adjust automatically (ever notice that the elderly tend to stare at their feet when they walk after they've once had a fall?) This is why running on trails in the dark is important; one needs to learn how to balance when one can't see well. As for the inner ear, it's hard to run when you're lightheaded, so dehydration, low blood sugar, oxygen debt (from altitude or running hard) and exhaustion all make it harder to balance.

Really, it's fine.


Runner Brewer said...

so, how's the ankle?

SteveQ said...

Matt, I knew you'd be the one! If you wanna know, it'll be kicking your backside soon.