Trail Running: a beginner's experience.
Wikipedia describes Trail running as follows: "Trail running is a sport which consists of running and hiking over trails. In the United Kingdom and Ireland it is called mountain or fell running. It differs from road running and track running in that it generally takes place on hiking trails, often in mountainous terrain, where there can be much larger ascents and descents." You won't see this on your treadmill. Well, maybe on a poster
Thanks, Wikipedia, for that insightful information; we can all sleep easy now knowing that it differs from road running in that it generally takes place on trails. I believe that they missed out the fact that road running is mind-numbingly boring and requires the participant to reduce their thought pattern to nothing more than the odd fizzle or spark in the subconscious, and that it regularly leads to things like shin splints and knee trouble. Well, such was my experience. After taking up road running for several months in order to give my body some sort of variance to climbing and the hangboard training that went with that, I had to stop completely. And it wasn't because my mind couldn't think of anything to ponder on any more (maybe it's a bit of ADD kicking back in but I would often be running along and find I would be thinking "Man I wish I could do something else, I'm bored, sucks that I'm still an hour from home, oh look, a magpie..."), but the fact that the concrete was giving my legs such a hard time that if I didn't stop then they soon would.
My friend and climbing partner who was a physiotherapist had a good look at my legs, did some positioning pain tests, looked at me and said "You're just not built to be a runner. Look at you, your legs are too short, and besides, if you're getting this many injuries then it's obvious that your body's just not designed to run". Way to kick someone in the guts.
Matt Adams running the Razor Back
I'll show him. Even though I hated the idea of competitive running I thought "I'll sign up for a marathon and post a good time just to prove him wrong. Better still, I'll do a marathon that climbs 1200 m in the first 12 kms, that will show him". Another friend of mine had been pestering me to sign up to the Razor Back trail run in the Victorian Alps, so I could kill two birds with one stone. Plus I thought I should start training for some alpine climbing trips I had coming up. Plus apparently running is good for you (click HERE if you don't believe me) Four birds with one stone.
Turns out that short legs aren't too bad on the trail. In fact, the more technical the trail the better it is to be not much taller than a 6th grader. I gave up the road completely and focused on the trails. Luckily in Sydney there's no shortage of half decent tracks; the Great North Walk, Manly Dam, Bobbin Head, West Head, Middle Harbour and the Royal National Park to name a few provide something to do.
The first thing that I noticed was that I wasn't bored! Yay-yeah! No longer did I have to wrack my brain to think of things to distract myself with. On some tracks in particular, there is no time to get bored. I quickly found that regardless of distance, without even realising it too much I almost doubled the time I spent running and had more fun doing so. Suddenly longer trails became possible simply because I could be bothered to do them.
Summit selfie. Mt Feathertop
The second thing I noticed was that the injuries went. Not straight away, but steadily they went from being the main focus, to being manageable, to going altogether. I put this mainly down to the varied stride pattern. Especially on more technical trails, hardly two consecutive strides are the same and suddenly the repetitive nature of running and impact is greatly reduced. You may not find this very interesting and neither did my shin splints, as they soon got bored and went away. Softer surfaces also makes a big difference as does forefoot striking. Changing that wasn't a conscious decision, but the nature of a more nimble, varied running pattern means less heel strikes.
So there I was, the little guy who was told by a "professional" sports physio that he would never be a runner, running for 2 hours, 3 hours, 4, 5. And actually enjoying it. The weekend rolled around for the Razor Back run. A fantastic run, with fantastic alpine views, and a culture amongst the people there that I'm used to seeing at the crag, where you could be screaming on a 31 or leg shaking on a 17 but as long as you're living on the edge it doesn't matter where in the field you are. Seeing as though I live my life with the "climbing is not a sport" mentality*, I justified joining in these trail events and signed up for a few more.**
It's a fine line now between balancing climbing and running, but on the whole I have to say that it has improved my climbing, and for certain has helped recovery fitness, especially on climbing trips. It tends to suit a wider variety of people and takes you to places you actually want to see... only faster. Now the only challenge is looking as cool as Anton Krupicka.
Example image of Anton Krupicka. Note: midriff, sunnies, etc.
* It's a recreational discipline, as is surfing, as is rhythmic gymnastics, as is synchronised swimming.
** Sheila Binegas, our in house climbing competition crusher is doing her best to change my opinions.