(I’ve watched this video a few times to give me inspiration and to experience some of the course).
In less than 3 weeks, I will be standing at the base of a mountain before running 10 miles up and 7 miles down.
As I do with all longer races, I’ve been studying the course and memorizing tips from seasoned participants. Instead of a regular “fan” facebook page, the run has a private “group” which acts as more of a forum with pretty specialized advice and lots of pep talking. Ed, a seasoned Colorado trail runner, is a frequent participant!
But even with all of the studying and analyzing, I am (like usual) more than a little apprehensive about how this will turn out. I am still a pretty new runner overall (just a little more than 2 years in), so I haven’t figured out my groove, nor do I have the experience to know with certainty that I won’t die during any given race. Add a 5,000 foot elevation gain into the mix, and you get a little Amy who has spent the last month really frustrated with the process because I am uncertain and afraid of spending 17 miles completely miserable. Or dying. It happens to people occasionally. Even with all of the reassurances, I know my fears won’t be eased until I cross that finish line for myself.
Initially, before actually starting to train, I set out with a goal of placing third in my age group. The last time I did an untraditionally distanced small trail race at the Bataan Memorial Death March Half, I ended up 3rd female overall, so I figured this could be manageable, even though I really didn’t know how the pace per mile differentiates between regular running and Imogene running Based on last year’s times, to place 3rd in my age group, I’d have to run a 3:03, which didn’t seem too far fetched for a 17 mile distance. But then someone said that your Imogene time is actually pretty close to your marathon time.
Well, there goes that dream.
So, after that bubble burst and once I actually starting to run on trails and feel the affects of limited oxygen, my goals have really switched to:
1) Don’t be dead last
2) Don’t be too miserable
I also figured that while my body can train hard and race hard, it doesn’t recover very well at all, so putting myself through a grueling training schedule in an attempt to be an age group competitor when it doesn’t appear to be realistic seems like a way to spend another post-race month trying to get my legs to function correctly without actually getting a “PR” time or even a gauge of my fitness and speed levels. No thank you?
So, with the anticipation that I will sign up again for Rock n Roll Arizona in January with every intention of a sub 1:40 time, I’ve decided to use this race (for the first time ever) as a race where I “stop and smell the roses” (or in this case, “stop and check out the view from the summit while enjoying a bowl of chicken broth). But I do also value my life and I don’t want it to end somewhere beyond the tree line with all of the mountain people mumbling about “being prepared” and “cocky road runners who think they can run Imogene.”
So, we’ve definitely been putting at least a little effort into training for this bad boy. I won’t even pretend that we’ve been consistent or super die-hard about this training cycle. We started training later than I wanted to, and we’ve really been skipping a lot of workouts. But luckily, I’m at least finally starting to feel faster than I had been (still about a minute per mile slower than I was last summer which is kind of YIKES), and I’m starting to gain my confidence on the trails, so overall, considering my goals, I think I will be ok.
What Imogene Training Has Looked Like:
1) Long runs: this is still a 17 mile race, which isn’t necessarily short. Next week we will max out at 18 miles. Usually, for road races, I don’t do long runs farther than the race distance, but since Imogene will be harder in elevation gain than any of our training runs, I wanted to build up a strong endurance base. Like regular races, these long runs are also key in perfecting a fuel and hydration schedule. We’ve been incorporating some solid foods in with our ClifShots, and I’ve been working at stopping for a good drink of water every mile beep.
2) Runs at elevation: At about 6,000 feet, Albuquerque doesn’t have a wimpy elevation, but we’ve had to go out of town and do a couple of runs a bit higher. The 15 miler was at about 7,200 and the 12 miler peaked at about 11,600. Next weekend, we’ll probably peak at about 10,000. While none of these are preparing me for what 13,000 feet might feel like, running with less oxygen will hopefully be helpful.
3) Runs on trails: Almost all of our runs are now on trails. Unlike normal running, there is a constant change in direction, and you have to get used to rocks and tree roots and navigating around people since trails aren’t very wide. It is also a bit different running on dirt than relying on the constant pushback from asphalt. Your body is used differently for trail running than road running, so for me, getting accustomed to the changes has been a good (and I hope useful) method. I went from a sad contender a few weeks ago to running an 8:30 trail mile (albeit, only 1) on Saturday.
4) Stepmill: This is that machine at the gym that looks like a staircase. Usually, the people on it are all the way hunched over and walking very slow up them stairs. Thanks to the steep uphill portions of mountain running, many trail steps really do feel like “stair” steps. They really engage the quads, and I am having to do a huge push with one leg to launch the other forward. The stepmill helps stimulate that motion. As an added bonus, (assuming you are hitting around 90 steps per minute and actually standing up like a normal person), stepmill is hard! I am completely dying and dripping in sweat after 30 minutes.
5) Occasional speed work: We’ve done 2 track sessions and 2 hill sprint sessions. For our hill sprints, we’ve been doing half mile repeats which are really long and torturous. If I had to guess, I’d say that hill sprints are more valuable than track sessions for this race, but I wouldn’t say that we’re putting very much effort into increasing speed (which is really apparent with my paces).
6) The easy runs. The relief. The ones where you finish and you are like, I wish I could run 3 easy miles everyday and still BQ during marathons. (But not really because I know myself and I know you and we are all crazy). We had a couple of days of yoga written into our plan and we haven’t been doing a great job actually doing it. Because trail running uses up so many different muscles instead of the same ones over and over, I really haven’t felt all that sore. I know that’s not a good excuse, but when I’m feeling good, and it is Friday night, I just don’t want to.
So, this is what a typical week of Imogene training is looking like:
Tuesday: 4-5 trail miles
Wednesday: 3 easy miles (sometimes on a trail)
Thursday: hill sprints followed by 1-2 trail miles
Friday: Yoga (or happy hour)
Saturday: Long Run (sometimes on a trail)
Sunday: “Long Recovery Run” 6-10 miles on the trail
Will this training plan get me to Mountain People glory? Probably not. But I am hoping that I’m at least establishing a strong base and that come race day I won’t regret not doing more. In the very least, I have improved leaps and bounds with my trail running, I have shipped my comfort zone far far away, and I’m allowing myself to relearn everything I know about running and my personal limits. And I think for me, this time around, that is enough.