Friday, October 17, 2014

LACtic Acid Trip

Months ago I started training for the Rugged Red.  I eased into long distance trail running.  First I took short non-technical runs.  I built up distance on the road and increased the frequency of my trail runs until I was ready for a distinct testpiece: Sand Turtle.  I decided for my first eight mile run since 2013’s Iron Horse training regime I would run the Sand Gap loop at Natural Bridge State Park.  It ended up being nine and a half miles instead of eight, but it was a strong effort even if it had something of a fluke factor.  That would be my fastest trail running pace all summer and into the fall.

Until yesterday.

The Sand Turtle loop (so named because it utilizes the Sheltowee Trace and the Sand Gap Trail) involves a hard climb up the Low Gap Trail from the trailhead to the Rock Garden Trail.  The final elevation is gained from the base of Natural Bridge to the ridge top.  From that point the run is miles of flat ridge running followed by a long gradual descent with a few short rolling climbs.  I averaged 11:07/mi that day. 

I had a meeting in Versailles.  Fittingly it was a Bluegrass Bike, Hike, Horseback Trails Alliance (BBHHTA) meeting to begin a new phase of the project in Woodford and Franklin Counties.  I decided for lunch I would have a nice trail run at Life Adventure Center of the Bluegrass (LAC).  What I didn’t realize (until my run was over) was that the trails are “mountain bikes only.”  Oops.

There was a saving grace.  I’ll get to that.  Right away.

I locked and closed my car door.  I stuffed my phone and car key in a zip lock and turned toward the trail.  The field off to the north was fuzzy gray with a misting rain.  The cool air and droplets on my skin were refreshing.  It was nice to be in the outside and have such compelling visceral evidence that I wasn’t trapped in a cubicle.

It was unlikely there would be any mountain bikers on the trails on a cool, rainy Thursday afternoon.  My presence wasn’t apt to intrude upon anyone else’s experience, and my footprints were likely to do far less damage to the trails than a mountain bike would.  Of course LAC seems to hold up well in wet weather.  I’m fairly certain other than the risk of skidding out the trails were actually in good shape for riding.  But I had a good go of it anyway.

My initial effort was sluggish.  I’d run the night before at the city park in Stanton.  I did a 5k with a full lap of strides followed by two circuits of running the bleachers at the football field.  I did a little core and halfhearted pullups as well.  So Thursday afternoon my legs were heavy and stiff.  I wasn’t going for speed.  LAC was about getting in some miles for base purposes and to boost my numbers in the 10,000 step challenge at work. 

Little did I know the first mile on the trails was somewhat of a record for me.  My pace was 9:07/mi for the first mile, 10:25/mi for the second, and then in the 11 minute realm for all of the others except one.  I ran 5.3 miles total and the Knucklehead Trail—as it’s called—drops into a drainage from the parking area, climbs the other side and returns.  It’s not an easy trail.  I’ve been frustrated on the bike there each time I’ve gone.

Not so as a trail runner.  I averaged a 10:58/mi pace.  Considering that on the road I’m about a 9:00/mi runner and on the trails I’ve been happy to average anything under a 12:00/mi pace I’ll take it.  I don’t think it was a fluke either.  I had to fight to run that pace, but I didn’t run too hard.  I was shooting for miles not performance.  I just needed to keep moving to get in an out at a consistent pace.  For me, good results on a long run are more about maintaining elusive focus than in pushing harder.

Lately I’ve been working on more focused training.  Contrary to our long held philosophy it’s not all training after all.  Strides have been incorporated into my workout runs and I’ve tried to segregate my efforts into “workout” and “base miles.”  While I’ve not had great numbers on my workouts it seems like maybe they’re paying off.  I’m attributing my fast trail run to the concerted effort I’ve started putting into getting faster.

Now really there is little chance I’d already be seeing gains from more specific training.  It’s been two weeks since I first tried strides.  On the other hand, I’ve been working on retraining my brain to run a faster cadence for a little longer than I’ve been doing strides.  My mental game was on as well, and I pushed through those initial sluggish moments and stayed in the mindset of keeping a fast cadence even when climbing. 

Despite a thin carpet of wet leaves and slickery surface conditions I didn’t worry too much about losing traction.  I just ran smart and didn’t try to do anything sudden. 
Still a lot of green
LAC is a unique trail system.  It criss-crosses a cool limestone based stream and runs along old stone fences in places.  I saw white-tail deer all through the area.  Fall is in full swing all over the state even if peak color is still a ways out. 

I had a surprisingly good run, both from an experiential standpoint and a performance standpoint.  And no mountain bikers were hurt in the making of the experience.  This gives me a boost of confidence that I can see improvements.  I need to work harder if I truly do want to become a faster runner though.  

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