Trail Run & Training Progress

Much like the unstructured trail run I went on last weekend, I’m just going to start writing this blog post and see where I wind up.

 

Right now I’m just focusing on endurance, attitude, and form. The individual runs are relatively unstructured, allowing me to hone in on those aspects. Rather than holding a specific pace for intervals, I’m just going for an overall zone each run. Next month I will start to add in interval workouts, necessitating putting down more detail in advance, but right now I’m enjoying the process of just going for a run without performance expectations.

 

Last Sunday I had a trail run scheduled, but I didn’t know where I was going until that morning. I had some backup ideas in case I wasn’t divinely inspired, but I didn’t need them. I glanced at the list of trails listed in the front of the book, and picked a park to head to, not even sure which route I would take once I got there. I had selected Huntsville State Park, north of Houston. My first trail run when I moved back to Houston was near the park, and I hadn’t been back to the area since. In my head it was maybe an hour north, but I wound up driving quite a ways, over an hour and a half, listening to Hidden Brain podcasts during the drive.

 

I arrived at the park, was given a trail map with closed portions highlighted, and parked at the first spot I saw next to a trail head. I kinda had an idea, looking at the map, that I would run out on the Chinquapia Trail, a 6.8 mile loop around the lake, but might turn back after 3 miles because part of the loop was closed. I forgot all this. The beginning of my run was kind of confusing. If you look at the map, you’ll see that the arrow pointing north is on the diagonal. As I ran and crossed certain paths and landmarks, things weren’t jiving in my head, so I just meandered, somehow still staying on Chinquapia without really trying to.

 

This was my favorite trail run so far in Texas, and I will be back. The ground is great, with technical stuff to maneuver, like roots and rocks. The path winds, it’s never fully single track but really fun to navigate all the same. I got so lost in my enjoyment of running this trail that I forgot to turn back at my 3 mile mark, and when I got to the closed off portion of the trail, realized I could still make a loop (see map below), but I’d be adding 2 miles to my run. Oh, well- if I was feeling tired or sore I could walk. A big portion of this training phase is not overdoing it- I want to get to interval training energized and ready to work hard. I had only planned on running 16 miles total for the week, and 5.5 for the day, but wound up running that last two making my total mileage for the week 17.7 with the day’s run being a total of 7.2. I called the run before reaching my car, deciding I’d tacked on enough extra mileage, and walked about another ¾ of a mile to finally get back to my car.

 

I had my first fall since breaking my ankle in 2015! I’m excited because I came up without a scratch and more importantly without any muscle or tendon injury. This was super exciting. The fall itself was surreal, I tripped over a root, and time froze as I wondered whether I was going to be able to find my footing or go down. I went down, and didn’t fight it. This is the way I typically fell in the past, not trying some awkward footing last minute to save myself a little scratching or bruising. I did try to stop the fall when I had the ankle break, and I hope that lesson to just let the fall happen sticks forever.

 

Finally, last month I decided to pull back on the intensity of my training, while still progressing with distance, and this month I’m seeing positive results. My average pace is dropping, I’m recovering faster, and focusing on form has led to me running faster even though it feels like I’m putting in less effort.

 

Lesson:

  • Evaluate where you are and where you want to be. Create a plan that makes sense to take you there. Harder doesn’t always mean better, but smarter usually does!

 

One of the benefits of having a plan is that I never wonder if I should go for a run. Its right there in front of me, the next step I need to take to be the kind of runner I want to be.

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The route I ran is marked in Blue. There was a little more steady incline on the back end (Green Route/Triple C Trail), otherwise little hills throughout. A really FUN RUN!

Race Recap: Crazy Desert Trail Race

I decided to sign up for the Crazy Desert Trail Race because it was part of the Trail Racing Over Texas (TROT) series, I had already achieved a first place in their Horseshoe Trail Race, and I found the event really well organized and supported. I figured I should keep the momentum going, and see what I could do in another of their trail races. My one hesitation was that it is about a 7 hour drive from my home in Houston to San Angelo, Texas, where the race was being held at San Angelo State Park. I knew I wouldn’t be ready for a half-marathon, not an enjoyable one anyways, so I selected the 10k distance to make the long drive worth it. The other distances available were 100k, 50k, half-marathon, and 5k. I really like that TROT usually makes a variety of distances available.

 

My training for the race was not extreme. I did a couple of trail runs in the weeks leading up to the race, but I mostly just did easy runs. My overall focus right now is to build up my running base while escaping from the muck of chronic tendon & knee pain brought on by muscle imbalances. So, I run and foam roll, and I get sports massages, readying myself for some more intense speed work in the spring. The week leading up to the race I only ran twice, once on Monday, and I felt some nagging tendonitis trying to rear up. So on the recommendation of the trainer teaching my personal training course with NPTI, I took the rest of the week off until Friday, when I jogged a two slow miles to shake off some pre-race jitters.

 

Although I went over the race course that was sent out, even saving the route to my Garmin profile, I failed to note that the actual length of the course was 5.7 miles, not 6.2. This was not a big deal, but I’ll get to that later. The elevation climb looked mild, and I’ve been doing a grip of core work so I felt prepared to run the whole thing. If you aren’t used to running hills, the strain of keeping your torso relaxed and upright can be surprising, so make sure to do work that stresses the endurance capabilities of your core muscles.

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The Race:

Warm up: ½ a mile and some stride-outs. I decided to conserve energy instead of doing an overly thorough warm-up  (and as you can see, I consumed it as part o the process, too)

Gun & First Mile: 8:25

1592CAAA-D75D-4AA4-9539-EC44217E8B0CI lined up in front and went out strong. There were maybe 6 people ahead of me after the first mile, and only one woman. As I watched her take off, I debated trying to keep up with her. She was moving fast, and I kept my eye on her but let her go, swearing to myself that she was the only female runner I would be behind. I fell into a line of runners, with about three guys ahead of me. I made my way past one, then another, until I was behind just one guy.

 

Mile Two: 8:32

This mile was a game-changer, and made the whole race more thrilling for me. I was still closely following the one man ahead of me. I wasn’t paying attention, and clearly neither was he, because we ran off course, missing a turn off. We realized our mistake about a 100 meters from the right path, which doesn’t sound like a lot, except to get to where we were, we had been navigating a dry creek bed and ducking under not one, but two barbed wire fences. Something didn’t feel right, yet we probably had taken five other runners with us. We heard commotion from where we came, looked to see people turning back and realized our mistake. When I saw the right path I felt furious. If I hadn’t been following so closely I probably would have seen it, but my eyes were on the runner in front of me, not the course. So 200 wasted meters later, with about ten new runners in front of me, I got back on course.

Mile Three: 9:05

I caught up to and passed the women that were in front of me, and most of the men. There were still two ahead of me, and one was not keen on letting me pass. At a place where a photographer was stationed, I had the opportunity to pass him, as there was more space, and I charged around. I’m eagerly awaiting the results of that photo! Right after I passed the guy, we reached a significant incline. There was another guy ahead of me, and he was walking. I decided to run it. The guy behind me was still on my heels, and though running up the hill didn’t give me a significant advantage as far as putting distance between us, I thought maybe it might tire him out and give me more space later. I’m very confident and efficient on hills, and after we reached the top he did wind off dropping back significantly while I pressed on.

Mile Four: 8:55

I kept up my pace. I was almost shocked at how good I felt. My calves were burning, and my breath was labored, but as I scanned my body I only felt like running faster. With two miles left to go (remember I didn’t know at this point the course was half a mile short of a 10k), I was running a sub-8, unprecedented on trails for me. I felt like the only thing I was racing was my own capacity for pain. The guy who had been walking on the incline in mile three had taken off, and I let him go. I was doing the most I could. Another runner approached me, and was on my heels the rest of the race, but he never made it around me. These last miles were my favorite part of the course, there was more technical running, and having someone on my heels was keeping me focused on the task at hand.

Mile Five: 9:22

Go-time. Believing I had a mile and a half left- the 1.2 plus the extra distance I had run when we went off course, I decided it was time to shake out everything I had left. This wound up being my slowest mile, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. There was some more technical footwork required, and including multiple cattle-guards, which I swung off fences and stepped over rather than jumped over- trying to avoid rolling an ankle.

Mile 5.8: 7:23 (8:23 pace)

At 5.7 miles I saw the U-haul that TROT had parked in the lot, and realized then that either my watch was off or the course was short. It was bittersweet, as I realized I had more gas in the tank, but as I crossed the line, and realized I had averaged an 8:48 pace for a trail race that I really hadn’t trained to I was pretty proud. I hadn’t lost my placement after the detour after all, coming in 2nd for women.

 

My take-away experiences from this race are significant. I really pushed the entire time. I didn’t get discouraged from the set-back of going the wrong way, I used it as an opportunity to challenge myself more. I ran with tenacity and used my head. Philosophically, I thought about how I broke my ankle in a race two years ago, and I’d gladly trade losing my place and some time in a race over that experience ten times over, that I had driven half a day to get here, and a set-back is only a loss if you don’t use the opportunity to better yourself.

Race Recap: Rhythm and Blues 5k

I ran a race last weekend that gave me the opportunity to counteract a mindset that had been holding me back, a mindset that created a belief system that had me giving up too often. I touched on this aspect about myself in a previous post. I had identified an ugly work pattern that exists not only in my racing style, but in my general life approach. The picture: I rush into something and then give up. I might not necessarily leave the venture alone entirely, sometimes I’ll just give less effort. Believing the goal I set is unattainable, maybe because of some minor setback or unforeseen obstacle, I’ll either divert my energy to an easier cause, or lower the bar I was originally reaching for. It’s a self-protecting measure I developed to protect an oversensitive ego. This way of living no longer serves me the way it once did. As I get older, the thought of leaving more undone is colliding with my increasing awareness of mortality and legacy, and how I see myself is mattering more and more than what I think I can prove to others.

 

In the 5k I ran last weekend, and I went out too fast to start. I projected from my workouts prior to the race that I could run a 7:45 pace, and hold it for 3 miles. However, my pace for the first mile was a 7:33, likely much faster than that for the first half mile. Going out with too much intensity meant I didn’t have as much left for the second half of the race, which consisted of more uphill running than the first half. I kept my eye on my pace, and watched it steadily climb, to 7:40, 7:50, and past 8:00 once I was on the uphill. Everything hurt. Aside from going out to fast, I had almost no warm-up, as I overslept, and my only pre-race activity was running from my car to the starting line, where the National Anthem was being sung just as I arrived. So, with less than a mile of warm-up to get me going, I moved to the front of the pack anyways. I could have hung further back in the crowd, which would have helped slow me down to start, but that morning I knew I didn’t want to deal with moving around other runners as the race got going.

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I don’t think I was even at the first mile marker at this point. I’m looking ahead to the top of a hill (or what constitutes a “hill” in Houston)

So that was what was happening on the ground. In my head, mile one felt like it took forever, even though I was running fast. Mile two was even longer. I was actually looking forward to mile 3 even though I was starting to feel like there was lead in my legs, because I knew all I had to do was run to the end. Just keep running. This is where some of my workouts were really helpful. I’ve taken to only jogging or running for rest between working intervals, which has done something great for my mindset- I don’t stop. I hope I never walk in a race shorter than a half again, as I’ve sort of eliminated any excuse for that through practice. I now know that no matter how exhausted I feel, I can pick my feet up and put them back down again at a decent pace until the worst of whatever I’m feeling goes away.

 

In the last half mile, I didn’t want to walk or slow down, but I did really want to stop giving so much effort. It wasn’t getting me anywhere anyways. I’d push harder, only to look at my watch and realize I was still running an 8:06 pace, which was pretty demoralizing. (I may run the next race without the watch and see what happens, on that note). The thing is, I didn’t let up, I still pushed, and at the end of the race, when I heard footsteps behind me, I somehow found a kick. I had been using other runners as benchmarks to keep me moving forward as strongly as I could, and I didn’t want to give up a place in the last 100 meters. The runner didn’t catch me, I’m happy to report, and the photog captured some great images of it all.

 

I finished in 24:31, cumulative pace of 7:53 per mile. I was third for my age group (30-34), and 9th female overall. I was not thrilled about this result, even though I recognize it is far from something to complain about. The more time I’ve had to analyze, the more I see that it was a really good race to start to look at what I can improve on. First and most obvious- prep better. Wake up on time, eat breakfast, do a decent warm-up. That one’s easy. Second, I need to work on my form some, I’m looking at pictures and noticing that my left arm has a tendency to cross my body too much, thought its possible that I could have just been looking at my watch just before the snap. Third- stop relying so much on the watch. Learning to gauge pace from feeling would really serve me, especially for goal four- hold back at the start. And finally, fifth thing to work on is my endurance. I had the heart this race, I know it, but I got to a point where there was just no gas in the tank. I’m surprised I had a kick at all.

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Hurting.
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I hear footsteps and look for some grit.
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Pretending that I’m actually running a 100 meter race and didn’t just run 3 miles.

Here’s the deal, I didn’t give up or in, and putting so much effort in for a time that is over a minute slower than my PR hasn’t deterred me. My goal is to run a sub 22 5k- this is not unattainable, but it will probably be pretty hard. That’s cool. Finally, I learned something pretty neat this weekend- as long as special events aren’t scheduled, Downtown Houston is straight up dead on Sunday mornings, and I look forward to doing some fun and training runs there in the future- running down the middle of an empty urban street a la Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky.