Typical single track technical trail on the northshore of Clinton Lake in Lawrence, Kansas.

Road Pacing for Technical Trail Running

Typical single track technical trail on the northshore of Clinton Lake in Lawrence, Kansas.

Typical single track technical trail on the northshore of Clinton Lake in Lawrence, Kansas.

I’m learning! In less than two weeks I’m running a 10K on the trails with my sister, Sharron, who will inevitably kick my butt. So yesterday I listened to my cross country star husband, Tim, and decided I better increase my normal run to start preparing. I thought I was working hard before, and I was, but this is a different kind of hard work. Intervals and bursts require strength, energy, speed, and a little bit of crazy. I’ve got all of those aplenty.

Single track, technical trails are all about balance and coordination while quickly maneuvering uphill and downhill through the rocky and root-filled paths. It’s challenging, intense, a little dangerous, and I absolutely love it. Distance, however, requires patience, control, persistence, and discipline – none of which are natural strengths of mine. Distance running is all new to me and increasingly fascinating – especially since I’m adding distance to technical trail running and learning from road runners who are new to trails.

Running hill sprints and technicals I can do. Actually, I can handle a technical hill with less effort than a long, flat run. During a mud run I fly through the obstacles to get ahead because the rest of the crowd will always catch up and pass me on the long, flat paths. Weights in the gym? Check. And I know how to blow up my calves, quads and hamstrings with inclines, declines, etc. But yesterday was the first time I’ve truly taxed my legs on a run.

When I say I’m not a runner, I mean it.
I’m just not.
The only reason I say trail runner is because it sounds better than the more accurate trail maneuver-er…or something like that.

I kept my Forerunner 620 on the heart rate/training effect screen for most of the run. Normally I don’t pace. I’m 48 and I like what I like. I run fast for fun then when my heart rate exceeds 175 I walk until it recovers to around 140 then I burst again. Yesterday I consistently adjusted my pace to keep my heart rate between 150-160. No 140-150 walking, no 165-175 bursting. Just jogging. I was actually acting my age for a change.

The run was different, to say the least.

The slower pace was not boring, per se, but a little less exciting, to be honest. I’ll admit, though, that this run was more peaceful than normal. I was able to take my eyes off the trail just a little more than usual which is wonderful now that the cold weather has thinned the underbrush and, unlike summertime, it’s easy to see deep into the woods. I was also able to run much, much longer distances between walking breaks. When I did need to walk, the duration was considerably shorter than normal and the quantity of walking breaks was literally half as many as usual. My overall trail mile times – get this – were about the same.

But here’s the best part: my distance doubled.
Yeah. Doubled!

My Snapchat story update after this run.

My Snapchat story update after this run.

Usually I only “feel it” in my legs the next morning, if at all. For the first time, my legs were unstable and my feet were tingly toast by the end of the run. I actually had to ask Tim and Sharron if that was normal! This morning I woke up as stiff and sore as I’ve ever been. I always stop between 3 and 4 miles because I am so, so winded but yesterday I didn’t stop until 6.2 miles. And it’s a good thing I did because my legs were wearing out so badly I tripped at 5.2 then again at 6.1 miles. That sixth mile was a killer. Usually I dance up the technicals but by that last mile I could barely lift my feet high enough to clear the rocks and roots.

So now, of course, all I want to do is continue this type of running until I master it (and try to stop wishing I had cared more about my fitness when I was much younger). I will never abandon the trails for the roads; concrete’s just not my style. And I’ll always interval train because I believe in it and, quite frankly, that is my style. But I am surprisingly excited about how much I’m learning from road runners and I can’t wait to see how much I can enhance my trail running experience by adding distance.

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