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

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

DOMS and Hills

I remember being shocked that my exceptional downhill running on the roads did not translate at all to trail running. On trails, I was terrible and only slowly got to mediocre in shorter races and stayed terrible at long ones. I'd quickly develop delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) which hobbled me on hills. What was the problem - the length of the hills, the steepness, the number or having to run them after having run for several hours?

A quick glance around the starting line would show that I did not look like most trail runners, who tended to be short and muscular (I have the typical build of a 1500/5000m specialist - which I was). The idea seemed to be that the more muscle you had, the less the damage of hills - specifically downhills - had an effect. Squats, lunges and a ton of downhill running seemed to be the answer.

Then, a few years later, a new subtype of trail runner started to appear, the small light marathoner type, which, while few in number, were starting to fill the upper ranks. And they were not doing the muscular work of the others. They were still running hills, but emphasizing the uphill (because one spends more time going uphill in a race than down, making that a priority) and running easily downhill. Because of the sheer volume of hills run, plenty of downhill work was being done, but done easily.

Kaci Lickteig, reportedly 5'3" and 90 lbs.
 The idea is that the faster one runs downhill, the greater the impact force and the more muscular damage. Moreover, it's not the pitch or length of the hills that was my (sometimes literal) downfall, so the theory goes, but the terrain. Because one cannot plant one's foot just anywhere, but must shift from side to side, landing with the foot turned at times rather than flat, a lot of muscle fibers not commonly used come into play; also one necessarily has to take some longer or shorter strides, also changing how the muscles are used. There is also an unconscious tensing of muscles one does when running on uneven (and even shifting, like loose rock) terrain that leads to fatigue.

The answer seems to be, then, according to the new idea, to run a lot of very technical hills, but to run hard uphill only. Being able to run technical downhill when tired from the uphill is key. I'm now seeking out hills where one can run long and gradual uphill, but steep and technical downhill (for locals, running Afton's gravel road up to the campground and down the now rutted steep campground hill seems best at 1.6 miles per loop and 300 feet of climb).

Oddly, the rehab work I've been doing on my Achilles tendons which has strengthened the small peroneal and foot flexor muscles may be more important than strengthening the large quadriceps and hip flexors; because these muscles are small, they tire easily.

It's a strange new world, if this is correct. If it turns out to be wrong, the alternative is box jumps. In the scientific literature, the way DOMS is generated in studies is doing 100 jumps off a one meter box. Logically, if one could slowly build up to tht, DOMS would not occur. This would be a small amount of time and efoort, but the amount of recovery time might be prohibitive.

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