Monday, January 16, 2012

Training: The Buildup Phase

As the word "buildup" implies one has to be in a state of atrophy or degradation before you can "build up". Unlike so many dedicated superhuman runners who seem to never allow themselves to fall into disrepair, the rest of us mortals find those occasions where we have slacked and given our shoes a chance to air out and de-stink a bit, and our tummies time to expand. This means that we must start the training process over again. How much you have previously ran, length of running hiatus, and your abilities as a runner, will determine how smooth or painful this stage of training is.

It begins the same as all things running, with a single step. The difference is that this first step often adsorbs the added impact caused by the extra pounds gained during the holidays (darn those chocolate oranges). Unlike the last time you ran fit and well, this step reminds you just how out of shape you let yourself become. The first system to tap out tends to be the lungs. This initiatory run seems to cause the lungs to revolt and sear with pain and all the huffing and puffing just falls short of filling your oxygen quota.

It is a good thing then that your pace for this first run falls somewhere between snail and tortoise. Now the mind kicks in and begins to scold the runner with such thoughts as "how come you took a break" or "this pace is pathetic, I might as well be walking laps at the mall", or you begin to sound like a fogie reminiscing about the good ole days like "I remember it only took me 17 minutes to get to this point during the summer". After the self-flogging you start to settle into some sort of a laboured rhythm.

Then for some of the more unfortunate runners, their pulmonary system has an unpleasant surprise in store for them. All the millions of capillaries that we had spent the previous year growing for maximal blood flow, had spent the hiatus sealing themselves up since they were no longer needed. Now that the body is having to work, it decides it is time to open up the old capillaries and move some blood to the surface of the skin to aid in the cooling of the over-insulated machine. This may seem harmless enough but for anyone who has experienced the burning and itching associated with running after a break, knows the torture I am talking about. No matter how hard you scratch your ribs, stomach, and thighs you can't begin to quench the fire from within. Millions of rusty pipes being flooded with blood for the first time in weeks or even months. All that can be done is a half trot half scratch lope down the trail or road (possibly even whimpering) until you finally have had enough training for one day.

With run number one out of the way you are able to start the next run knowing you have at least ran once previously and so you start again. This time things work a bit better, not anywhere near comfortable but at least the itchy capillary thing is over (it tends to only take one run and the phenomenon vanishes until the next time you run after a hiatus).

Now starts the phase of building up some fitness momentum. Unfortunately, fitness follows Newton's first law all to well, in that an object at rest wants to stay at rest and an object in motion wants to remain that way. In many ways fitness is like a gargantuan iron steam locomotive. If neglected, it kind of sits there in all its ginormous glory, and rusts to the tracks. In order to get your fitness moving down the tracks in the right direction again you first have to use some superhuman strength just to get it to budge. This is really what the first few weeks of a new training program are all about. Getting that fitness in a state of motion and moving in the right direction. With dogged perseverance and consistency you find your fitness on track and moving in the right direction.

It is at this point that we are the most prone to injury. The lungs and heart have finally figured things out and found that they are still capable of providing the oxygen necessary to fuel the furnace. Herein lies the conundrum, with your new found fitness, and zealous impatience to achieve that fitness level you once had you begin to ignore such basic laws of running like the 10% rule. Why not increase distance this week by 25 or even 50%? Now it is your legs who tap out. Up to this point your limiting factor has been your respiratory and pulmonary systems, now that they are working, and you are logging some impressive miles, you start feeling some pain along your shins or perhaps a slight twinge of something on the side or lower knee. Now is the time you must exercise extreme caution because you can kiss all those previous weeks of training goodbye if you make one wrong move at this point. You are on extremely thin ice. You now must let up a bit and let the legs catch up to the lungs. This interim stage usually takes a few weeks of tip-toeing the knife edge between too much and just enough. If you listen to your body and try not to get too greedy with mileage your legs eventually turn the corner and you begin increasing your mileage again, a little wiser from that close call.

You are now running consistently. You have lost some weight and your mental state has improved. You are positive and seeing great improvements. You can run 4-5 times a week with little problem. Your pace has progressed from tortoise to something a little quicker. Your long runs are at the half marathon mark no problem. You have made it through the buildup phase, it is now time to turn your attention to an entirely different beast, the long run, but that is a whole different story for another day!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Years Eve Long Run: Getting Lost on Vancouver Island

On top of Seymour Hill

Going for a run in a new location is always exciting and really increases your love of trail running, and this New Years Eve run was no different. Although I have been living on the Island for over three years now I still haven't even began to explore all the trail systems and parks even a few miles from my house. One area I haven't spent much time is Thetis Lake Regional Park. The park is wildly popular among residents because of its beautiful trail system, scenery, and more likely its appeal to dog walkers. It also hosts trail races like the extremely popular Gunner Shaw 10K and the Stewart Mountain 10 miler. It is amazing that I haven't run this park but one other time, with its amazing trails and rich cross-country race history. In the end, the main reason I haven't spent much time there is I don't like driving to a run if I can reach a similar type of run easily from my doorstep, I don't like paying for parking (May-September), and lastly I am not a huge fan of trails populated with dog walkers. I don't mind running around dogs on most trails but sometimes really popular trails get so choked with our canine friends it can really slow you down or prevent you from ever really reaching that flow state that can be so fickle to achieve.

That being said I decided it was time to give the park a try as my last run of the year. I went early enough in the morning that I figured the majority of dog walkers would still be avoiding the morning chill. I chose a course to run that followed closely to the Stewart Mountain Course with the exception of me running a smaller knoll called Seymour Hill first, and then also running to the summit of Scafe Hill as well as Stewart Mountain. The trail system is honestly straight forward and well marked so as to why I had such a hard time navigating this run is beyond me. Granted I haven't spent much time there before, and the main route has no fewer than 15 forks in the trail, but in the end I think I was just so busy enjoying the run that I wasn't paying much attention to what I was doing, but I am getting ahead of myself.

I started the run at a nice slow chug up the south side of Seymour. My blood began pumping and I quickly warmed up in the rays of the winter sun. I was in awe at how many cars were in the parking lot but the majority of people walk the main trail around the lake, so I had Seymour all to myself. The views of Thetis were absolutely beautiful and I was able to do one of my favorite things on the island which is glide along the tops of the hills over the moss covered rocks with amazing vistas all around me. After taking a photo or two at the top I began my descent and after a mile of beautiful twisting, turning, descending, single track I met up with the main trail that ribbons around the shore of Thetis Lake.

I knew that I needed to stay left near the shore a certain distance and avoid several right hand turns until I reached the correct right that led me north towards Stewart Mountain. The problem was in my attempt to hug the lake I took the trail that heads due south along a peninsula between the upper and lower Thetis Lakes and after a mile on that found myself literally back to where I parked. No Problem I thought I will just head north along the west shore of the lake and eventually meet back up with my main route to the north. In all, this wrong turn cost me several miles, but the trails were so amazing and the weather so perfect I just considered it a privilege to explore a few extra miles of trails.

I then began to probe my way toward the northwest end of the lake to find my main route to Stewart Mountain. I was unsure which trail I needed to take because I strayed from my original route that I had planned on running. So I found myself literally running every off-shoot trail I could find. I would run it until it dead-ended into a road, parking lot, race car track, or gravel pit. I was a bit frustrated to be honest but the trails were amazing and I had them to myself because I was away from the main lake. Eventually I found the correct trail after literally running every wrong trail in it's entirety. I thought it is a good thing I like to run long distances because otherwise I would be spent before I ever made it to the north bound trail that takes me to Stewart Mountain (which should have only taken about 25-30 minutes to reach).

I ran over streams, and puddles, and through trails with water pouring down them. I ran past old rusty cars and by old water tanks. It was a ton of fun to explore and every corner was new which is why I love running new areas so much. I finally reached Stewart Mountain an hour later than I had originally planned. At that point I realized I packed zero fuel and only had water and I could use a calorie or two going into the climb but pushed myself and thought it was good fat burning training. At one point I saw an overgrown trail that appeared to be a shortcut and would shorten my climb by quite a bit and so I took it. Within a minute I found myself chin deep in ferns and soggy grass. I stepped in a puddle that went up to my knee and finally broke through to the main trail after quite a battle with the brush, and while I was in the bush I donated my maps to the undergrowth. Finally I made the summit. It wasn't by any means a spectacular summit but it felt nice to lay down and I enjoyed the solitude and peace that comes from going further than anyone else is willing to go. I snapped a few photos, and took some footage, got a large swig out of the water bladder and headed back.

The way down was uneventful and now that I had a feel for the area I ran straight back to my car even without my maps that apparently didn't help anyways. What a great run and way to end 2011. I finished up the week with about 40 miles and felt really happy with each of my runs.

At the bottom of this post is the video I made of the run with another great song by Seven Mary Three. Feel free to laugh as I get lost, take shortcuts that don't pan out, and end up losing my maps (I know my wife sure had a good laugh at my expense). The video is in high definition so toggle to 1080 P before viewing to get a better picture!

Seymour Hill Ascent

Seymour hill

Thetis Lake

Running the Mossy Rocks

On the Summit of Stewart Mountain