What Goes Up Must Come Down…Hopefully on Two Feet

Every time I write a post about trail running, I focus on all of the stuff we’re doing to get up the mountain, but not really even mentioning the whole “getting back down” part, even though multiple people have said that for Imogene, the downhill portion is more physically taxing than the uphill portions. I tend to think I am a strong downhill runner which almost seems like a silly and maybe even embarrassing thing to admit. It’s like saying I’m really good at the one thing in running that requires no skill aside from just being a body of mass subject to the laws of gravity. BUT at least I have that!

Not only does my pace slow down considerably while running uphill, I also feel completely miserable/tired/frustrated any time I’m faced with an incline.   I can handle flatness and seem to do ok with it as evidenced by the Chicago Marathon, even though I prefer to add little elevation changes so my muscles don’t get tired.

But when I’m running downhill everything works in conjunction to make me feel like I am the most fast, amazing runner on the planet. Stand in the way, and I will knock you down with my downhill runner awesomenss.

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So, basically I spend a lot less time worrying about downhill training because overall I LOVE it.

BUT. But.

I have noticed that this whole thing gets a little more complicated when it comes to trail running.  Suddenly being a body of mass subject to the laws of gravity seems like less of an advantage when I can’t control myself going down, and as a result my quads get a beating because they are trying to stop me from missing a switchback and ending up going a bit too far over the side of the mountain.

Also, rattlesnakes. Not having control of your body might make you run into a rattlesnake like the run we saw during our 18.5er on Saturday. This alone is reason enough to consider going about downhill running in a strategic way. photo (5) Even though downhill trail running is different than running down a street I think the general tips and tricks and principles still apply: allow gravity to do its thing while attempting to reduce the amount of “braking” action you’re doing. But on some of these trails (and apparently at the top of Imogene Pass when you first start the descent), this requires considerable bravery and skill…things I don’t necessarily have as a strict “body of mass” downhill runner.

So, we have been practicing descending upon steep downhills (mostly because once you reach the top, you generally have to get back down). For me, my most obvious weakness has been  my core.  While a strong core will do wonders for just about anything in life, a weak core will make steep downhill running without falling down pretty impossible. At least for me.

But after all the talk about downhill training, I decided to do a little bit of research in hopes that I could improve my abilities and maybe be more prepared for this race.

After reading a bunch of lists on how to improve downhill running (actually, there are like 3 lists out there about downhill running), it looks like these other things are also important:

1) Hot Potato Steps:

Remember when you played hot potato as a kid (or yesterday…) and you tried to get whatever object (usually not actually a hot potato) out of your hands as fast as possible because presumably, it was “hot.” Kinda the same thing, except your feet are your hands and the trail is the hot potato. Think of times when you’ve missed a stair and ended up going farther down than you anticipated.  It usually results in a hard landing.  This is the same type of thing. Your foot is going farther than it thinks it is going, so it lands harder.

Apparently the more you replace “pounding the pavement” (dirt?), with being light and springy, the less pressure you are putting on your legs.

2) Bend slightly forward: 

This helps you use gravity while giving you more control.  Leaning back is part of the “braking” action that increases impact on your legs.  If you’ve ever been skiing, this makes a lot of sense.

3) Trail Shoes: I went against my own advice and purchased new/unfamiliar shoes last week.  I went with the Brooks Cascadia because most of the people in the facebook group said having traction on the bottom of your shoe will help prevent sliding during the initial steep descent from the summit. Trail shoes are made for this very purpose, so it makes sense to use what tools are available.

 So, I decided to put these two secrets to downhill success to the test during our last 18 mile run on Saturday.  We ran up the La Luz trail to the Sandia Peak summit, and then back down.  This course actually has a larger elevation gain than Imogene, so it was a good training run and in the very least assured me that I wouldn’t come in dead last at the race provided I stay in one piece.
We started down where those houses were: 9 miles up, 9 miles down

We started down where those houses were: 9 miles up, 9 miles down…check out those new shoes!

So, did incorporating these super secrets for downhill running success work?

Well, attempting to focus on not tripping while simultaneously playing hot potato with my feet and remembering to bend forward was…a good way to slow down.  It was just too much for me to concentrate on at once.

Bending forward: I feel like I worked hard to improve my running posture and keep my shoulders up, so bending forward felt a bit counter intuitive…but it worked.  I felt so much more in control of my body than the flailing around that I usually do.

Hot Potato Feet: Just didn’t work out. I tend to really lengthen my stride which makes each foot push off feel heavier and harder, but when I tried to shake things up,  I felt like I lost control of my steps. In general I think it is too late in training to try and change my form that much, and I’d rather not attempt something this new this close to a race for fear of making things worse.

Trail Shoes: Worked well, and I think helped my feet take less of a beating on the rocks.

In conclusion….I’m hoping that by incorporating the “bend forward” technique, I’ll at least add some control to my downhill running and reduce a bit of the impact that my legs will feel.  We’ll see how it turns out during race day!

What are your downhill tips and tricks? HELP ME PLEASE! 

What is you elevation “strength?” 

I hope everyone has the most amazing Labor Day Weekend!

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Sometimes We Conquer Mountains

First of all, THANK YOU SO MUCH for all of the words of encouragement yesterday! Have I mentioned recently how much I love you all? Because I really do. And thank you for not telling me that I’m crazy, even if you’re thinking it (trust me, I’m thinking it too).  You guys are amazing!

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So, as part of the whole, We’re Running a Marathon thing, we decided to do a kick-off by climbing a mountain (if you are singing Miley Cyrus right now, then my job here is done).  Also, while my knee wasn’t loving the idea of running this weekend, walking was fine, so naturally walking 8 miles with a 3,775 elevation gain seemed like a good idea!

Albuquerque has a  mountain chain called the Sandias that make up the eastern border of the city.  The La Luz trail will take you from the bottom to the top at a 12% grade incline.  I’ve climbed the trail before, and Aaron has done it many times, but we thought the whole idea of conquering a mountain seemed like a great way to jump into the 18 week marathon battle.  How awesomely symbolic are we?

We got our start at 7 a.m. at the same time as a friendly group of Canadians.  Every person on the trail at that point was running up.  I wanted to start running with them (I was totally worried about being judged as a non-runner…THE HORROR) but my knee and my fear of aggravating it further told me to keep walking.  I was impressed that so many people were starting their Sunday with a nice trail run.

La Luz starts out as a desert climate.  My incentive to walk faster was knowing that the higher we got, the less likely we were to encounter rattlesnakes!  I HATE rattlesnakes!

 {looking up to our destination}

At about mile 5, the dirt trail converts to a boulder field.  You are essentially hiking over a rock slide that happened possibly 1000 years ago! The whole thing feels a little unstable, like, yes, those rocks have been there for hundreds of years, but it isn’t like they are attached to anything.

The trail ends as a forest with wildflowers, large pine trees, and ferns replacing cacti and yucca and a magnificent view of the city and beyond.

While I wouldn’t classify this trail as a very hard climb, it is a wonderful reminder that 1) we are small compared to the vastness of the world and 2) we are not invincible.  One rock slide or one trip over the edge, and you’re done for.  Yet overcoming that fear and living life “on the edge” will be well worth the effort (symbolism AND metaphors? I’m on a roll!).

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t offer a prayer of thanks for my legs and their ability to walk, run, and to climb.  Our bodies are such powerful tools, and I am blessed to have complete freedom to use mine without limitations.  I am thankful for every step I took up that mountain.

Almost 4 hours and nearly 8 miles later, we reached the top, triumphant, and actually not all that worn out. We celebrated with our pre-made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and beers that Aaron carried up the mountain for us! There is a restaurant at the top, but it was a Sunday, and you can’t purchase alcohol before noon in New Mexico on Sundays.  So we provided our own mountaintop party.

Instead of climbing back down 8 miles, we took the Tram (Formally the world’s longest) down the mountain in a trip that took less than 20 minutes to cover what took us almost 4 hours.  (It is of note to mention that if you opt to do this, you have to pre-park a car at the base of the tram, then drive a second one to the base of the trail.  They are about 2 miles apart).

We conquered the mountain like we hope to conquer marathon training!  And, as an added bonus, after the hike, my knee actually felt better!

Friday Night Hike

The Lavenders are doing a 5-K race this morning, so last night, instead of our usual run, possibly compromising our racing speed, we decided to take advantage of the amazing weather and late evening daylight and go for a Friday hike in the foothills.

Rock climbing is not my forte

I love my mountains.  If I had ultimate power, I would take the Sandias and plop them next to whatever city I lived in.   Unfortunately I also have an irrational fear of rattlesnakes, so during the hot summer months, I am perfectly happy just looking at them from afar as opposed to actually hiking in them.  But this time of year, the trails are relatively rattlesnake free, so I had no problem being nature girl for an hour.

embudito

Yesterday we opted to go to the Embudito Trail at the top of Glenwood Hills between Montgomery and Manitoba. The trail was DRY.  Without a doubt a small mistake could easily start a fire like the one that broke out  this week at the top of Menaul and Tramway.  Kind of amazing how venerable this dynamic habitat is.  

But otherwise, the trees are blooming and birds are unhibernating.  We even found a small stream of run-off (we did slightly venture off the approved trail, but Aaron is kind of a mountain man who really knows his way around the foothills, so I trusted his judgment). 

Aaron was in charge of the pictures (hence the 10 or so taken of my backside as I hiked down in front of him), and his Android Retro Camera really makes the trail look amazing. 

 

Happy Trails!

A & A