I have a whole new respect for those weekend trail warriors I see AND hear while I hike California’s hills. Those Camelback-wearing hoofers, whose heavily labored breathing and sneakers, grinding and shuffling against the gritty path, are often like a ripple in the otherwise calm of the wilderness.
Trail running is no joke. Not only are climbs long and steep, but the footing is often loose and uneven, causing the legs to work even harder to push and stabilize the body on the ground. I learned just how hard this endeavor was going to be last week, when I embarked on my first real full trail run. Holy smokes! And…have I mentioned this already? I have about five weeks left of training before doing a full marathon on trails. Yikes yikes yikes.
The Westridge Trail is nothing that unique, as far as trails go, but it’s located in a tucked-away area, between Mulholland Dr. and Sunset Blvd., so it’s not as populated as some of the popular trails in the Santa Monica Mountain area. It’s a great road for mountain biking, walking or running, as there are no “technical” areas to speak of.
I have been sporting these REI trail running gaiters, cloth covers that go on with velcro and hook into your shoelaces to keep rocks out. I’m not sure how I feel about them yet. I guess I expected that they’d look cute, like legwarmers or something, but they hit right at the widest part of your calf and cover your slimmer ankle and shin to create a rather un-shapely cankle. They do keep the tops of my socks from getting dirty, but the dirt seeps in through the aeration holes in my Brooks Ravennas anyway, so my socks still end up dirty. Is it worth the extra gear to keep rocks out? Maybe I’ll try next week without gaiters and do a comparison. I think that they at least provide me with the convincing appearance of knowing what I’m doing.
Up, up, up, up, up. That’s the first part of this trail, from gradual climbs to steep climbs, and rarely a flat for the first 3 miles. Just to show how difficult this climb is, I changed my intervals from 7/1 to 3/1. Even at that, there were some intervals where I found myself looking at the timer to see just how much longer the torture was going to be. While climbing, I couldn’t help but think, “How is this kind of a climb going to feel after 13, 14 miles of this?”
One thing I notice with me and hills is that the actual climb doesn’t get that much easier. A steep hill is a steep hill. I can’t imagine a day when I’ll trot effortlessly over the crest, like this one ridiculously fit dude I see in my neighborhood. I like to think that maybe he’s holding his breath until he gets out of sight/earshot of me, and then lets loose several deathly gasps and throws up. I’ve been hardcore hill training for four weeks now, and it’s only gotten a little easier. Still, I keep being told that the more you torture yourself, the better you get. Bring on the pain, I guess. I’d just better see some progress in five weeks, or I’m going to bite someone.
Three and a half miles on trails takes forever, especially when most of it is uphill. Surprisingly, though, three and a half miles of mostly downhill is almost as long. I’m getting really good on my downhill stride, though. I used to be afraid of going too fast downhill, worrying that I would blow out my knees. My TNT coach, Christy, taught me how to keep a level body position, soft, yet supportive legs, and to let gravity do the work for me. Wheee! I now fly down hills with the greatest of ease, and not one of my knees has complained about it.
I sprinted the last half mile back to the start, concentrating on my agility and turnover, both things I’ll need out on any trail course. I stretched my semi-fatigued hamstrings and quads on a metal gate, and headed home, pleased that I’d finished seven of the almost eight mile trail. I thought to myself, “Wow, to equate the trail marathon, I’d have to run up and down this thing over three times!”
Needless to say, i have my work cut out for me, but at least I’m off to a good start.