Mountain runners – a whole different animal

This week I thought it’d be a lovely idea to spend $30 to wake up at 5am on Sunday and run 2.5 straight up some ridiculously steep slopes that less idiotic people enjoy skiing DOWN. It was an informative experience, to say the least…

Shortly after the starter yelled “go!” at 7am I discovered that mountain running is actually better described as mountain speed-hiking. 200m in I followed the lead of the experienced-looking woman in front of me and switched from a slogging run to a brisk hike in order to keep my heart from full-on exploding. I didn’t manage another step of running until the last 400m, which were, blessedly, downhill. 

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The hiking gait kept my breathing under control, but unfortunately my glutes and calves were horribly unprepared for the constant strain of pushing uphill in slick snow, and I lost about a dozen places and most of my dignity over the arduous 2-mile, 2,300 foot-gain climb. I watched helplessly as masters-division mountain runners, several snowshoers, and even skiers footing heavy, skin-bedecked skis scooted past me as I wobbled up the incline. The final (extremely steep!) uphill 50m found me crawling on all fours, legs no longer willing to work without assistance. 

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An encouraging friend running next to me and a flock of cowbell ringing spectators provided the boost I needed to push over the final ridge, and then it was (thankfully!) downhill to the finish. I grimaced with the sudden shock of pounding on my destroyered leg muscles, but managed to fall foot-to-foot to a  somewhat speedy finish, trying desperately not to face plant. I was happy to finish right with my friend, a tough ultra runner, and was even happier to flop into the snow to cheer in his wife and the rest of our group of friends. 

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After the post race breakfast and prizes I reflected on what I learned:

  • Mountain runners are TOUGH. The race was in honor of one of the local USA mountain-running team founders, and was designed as a test of mountain running grit. It managed to make a 2.5 mile hike into one of the most challenging activities I’ve ever done, and I’m even more in awe now of athletes who choose mountain running as their competition of choice. 
  • My aerobic system is coming along fine from my solid running training this winter. My muscular strength/endurance, not so much. Basically, I learned in a very painful way that I should be lifting instead of being a slacker. Oops…

In short, this race was a great, painful reminder of my weaknesses. Here’s to actually working on my leg strength and managing my next race without resorting to crawling on all fours!

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