Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Ups & Downs of Running in Vermont


The hodge-podge of updates continues!  I need to devote an entire write-up to this past weekend's run and I still "owe" an update for the previous weekend's long run, so it's time to clear the decks and get that old one outta here!

Where I live, I can pretty comfortably run and 8 mile loop without encountering any significant hills.  If I stick exclusively to the busiest road running near my house (Rt. 15), I can run almost indefinitely before I hit any sustained terrain.  There's only so much running you want to do where traffic is bombing along at 50+ MPH, so I tend to go off the main thoroughfares which means tackling hills.  I really don't mind uphills and I'm starting to learn how better to run downhills.

My goal is to lose less time on the uphill than I'm able to make up on the downhill.  I've worked on dialing in a shorter-than-was-initially-natural stride for my flat-ground running.  This causes me to use a bit less energy launching myself into a longer stride and catching myself on my heel as I land.  In theory, it should also be easier on my body since the overall impact is reduced.  In shortening up my stride, I can come a little closer to a flat-foot landing, but I still end up leading with my heel.

When I hit a reasonably steep uphill, I shorten up my stride considerably and run on the balls of my feet.  I think of tacking a hill the same way you'd run (or jog) up a bank of stairs.  My mental picture is literally chipping away as the slope, little by little, until I reach the top.  This also uses different muscles than my flat-ground stride, so it gives me a chance to recruit some additional muscle groups into the run.  I try to keep my overall pace the same, especially if I know there's a downhill immediately following the uphill.

I used to hate downhills and, while I won't say that I love them, I've found a way to cope with them.  When I first started running, I would resist gravity and try to keep a pretty steady pace going.  This ended up with my landing very heavily on my feet and jarring my legs.  It wasn't pleasant!  What I've started doing since then is allowing my stride to elongate and go into almost a loping gate down the hill until I find a pace that feels like I'm as close to "coasting" down the hill as possible (the pace will vary with the slope).  This also has the 'different muscle groups' benefit that my modified uphill stride has.

Whether this is right or not, it's what I've found works for me as part of my training in the hills of Vermont.  This past weekend's 18-mile run covered close to 1500' of elevation change.  Most of the uphill was a gradual slope, but there were some steep downhill sections that were challenging.  My run took me out from my home onto the busy Rt. 15 for several miles into Jericho.  After little bit of a muddin' detour along Raceway Road, I picked Rt. 15 back up for a short bit to get to Brown Trace Rd.  Climbing to pinnacle of the run, I then started a several mile descent down via Barber Farm Rd to River Rd/Rt 117 and the Winooski River.  I've been fighting off a bruised or irritated tendon/ligament on the top of my right foot and I was able to very clearly determine that running downhill does not improve that condition!

The way this route was laid out, I was running somewhat into a headwind on the descent.  Unfortunately, that headwind was present for about the next 3 miles as I ran back toward Essex on Rt 117.  I hit the bottom of Sand Hill Rd. at about mile 16 and started the last SERIOUS hill of the day.  Near the top, the wind was dead in my face and blowing hard enough that my pace at walk was not substantially slower than the pace I was pushing at a job.  Finally reaching the top, I got back up to speed and finished out the last 2 miles strong at still had enough left to comfortably complete my 25 jumping jacks & push-ups at the conclusion of my run.

2011-APR-03 Diet Log
2011-APR-03 Nike+ Run Graph -- distance is off; shoes not calibrated to sensor.
2011-APR-03 RunKeeper Stats

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