Road vs Trail and 2016 Plans

With pretty much all of my focus being put on trail running since December of last year, I thought it would be interesting to run a road marathon, and being new to the Pacific Northwest, the Portland Marathon seemed like an interesting way to explore my new city. After so many 4+ hour training runs, and an 11 hour and 35 minute 50 mile run, I thought it would be interesting to see how I reacted mentally to the shorter race. Plus, a lot of my shorter, weekday training runs for my 50 miler were done on the road, and I could tell I was getting stronger and faster. My only other marathon was last December in Memphis, TN, and I finished with a time of 4:37:06. I was fairly certain I could run my next faster, but had no clue how much faster.

My original plan was to maintain the weekly mileage of my ultra training and modify the long runs appropiately. However, after my 50 miler, my training consistency pretty much fell apart. I had a good recovery, and started working towards building mileage again, but then went on a 16 day Wildland Firefighting assignment near Crater Lake National Park, and ended up with a total of 20 days without a single mile ran. Plenty of manual labor, hiking, and lugging gear 16 hours a day. Not quite running, but definitely solid cross training. I eventually was able to start building mileage again, but I didn’t have much time to ramp up to a 20ish mile long run and taper; only 3 weeks to build and then a 2 week taper until race day. My first long run of 14 miles was one of the more agonizing runs in recent memory. Not only did my legs really feel it, but my energy systems were all out of whack. Not running for so long, and not being anywhere remotely in control of my diet on the fire assignment seemed to have messed with my fat burning, and my crashes seemed abrupt. I did have a fantastic 21 mile run trail run 2 weeks later though, where I felt strong pretty much the entire way. My food dependency was still very out of sorts though, it took me 2 Clif bars and 3 gels to get through the run. I would just going from fine to starving very quickly. I actually feel like I’m only now getting my nutrition back under control to where I have sustained energy on long runs.

Race day finally arrived, and without the comfort of training consistency, I decided to just go out and run what I felt was a sustainable pace for as long as I could and see where it got me. For nutrition I was carrying 4 Gus. For whatever reason, the Portland Marathon would not have any traditional gels at their aid stations. At every aid station, they had water and some electrolyte drink I’d never heard that could apparently only be found at Whole Foods, and a few of the later aid stations had gummy bears and pretzels. The starting area was a sea of people and a winding array of porta-potty lines. Loud music, cheers, and announcers echoed through the streets. Nothing like the low key trail race starts I had become accustomed to. Despite the contrast, the energy was infectious and I was getting excited for the run ahead. About 4 miles in, that energetic buzz was wearing off and I was missing the silence of nature and the solitude of running on singletrack. Crowds cheered, loud music blared, and I was practically shoulder to shoulder with runners. Finding that quiet mental space to enjoy the run was a struggle to say the least.

As far as my performance went, I felt really strong for the first 18 miles, but I could feel the fatigue setting in. By mile 20, a day that had started in the high 40s was now approaching 80, and I was feeling pretty rough. The wheels were starting to fall off. The last couple of mile were plagued by calf cramps that may have been remedied by a 5th Gu that I didn’t have. I tried their mystery electrolyte drink and it tasted horrible. Gummy bears would also not prove to be my savior. While I’ve managed to feel relatively strong crossing the finish line at every race to date, this one would be a walk/run. I couldn’t even run the last .2 miles without stopping. It was demoralizing to say the least. Despite the last 6.2 being less than fun, I still managed to shave 22 minutes off of my previous PR with a finish time of 4:15:12, and it was very educational to hit “the wall” and know what it’s like to push too hard for too long. Could it have been avoided if I would have ran 10 seconds per mile slower? Did this only happen because of the much warmer temps at the end? Was I doomed from the start since I trained on trails for a road race? Who knows. While I definitely enjoy seeing improvement, I still run for the enjoyment of it, not chasing a number.

What I learned most that day was that I enjoy trail running far, FAR more than road running. I’m highly motivated by my surroundings and the adventure of trail running. I’ll take the solitude and the only support being a thinly manned aid station every 5-10 miles over cheering crowds and aid every mile any day. I’ll take steep, unrunnable climbs over “fast and flat” hands down. I’ll take streams, trees, meadows, and mountain views over city streets. I’ll even take an event that takes almost 12 hours to complete over a 4ish hour road marathon. I just enjoy the unique mental challenge of such an endurance event, and I enjoy being one with nature.

So what’s next? I’m currently awaiting the lottery results to see if I’ll be running the Gorge Falls 50k. That will be my first ultra of 2016. I’d also like to run the Volcanic 50k. Beyond that, I plan on finding other events in the 50k-50 mile range, and possibly a 100k, to develop as a runner. My training focus will now include a lot of sustained climbing. I keep going back and forth on whether or not I should tackle the 100 mile distance in 2016, or if I should wait until 2017. There are times when running for over 24 hours sounds like the most exhilarating challenge in the world, and there are times when I dread the thought of the training commitment. Then I tell myself, if you can find time to train for 50 miles, you can find time to train for 100. Running the Mountain Lakes 100m is a good possibility for September of 2016 though.

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5 thoughts on “Road vs Trail and 2016 Plans

  1. Great writeup. At least you know very clearly now what you want to spend your time and efforts working towards. That much of a PR despite hitting the wall is pretty amazing. Maybe you should just plan an annual road marathon just as a fitness check for the heck of it?

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