Tuesday, February 16, 2010


I fell down three times on my run this morning.  Stepping out the door in the pre-dawn darkness I knew it was one of those days.  A day where a curb presents an obstacle and the legs simply won't lift.  This morning was my 49th ascent of Green Mountain in the past 47 days, and I could feel it.

My first tumble came while scampering off of Green's summit rock.  It involves a simple, typically ungraceful but usually uneventful maneuver that I've become quite familiar with over the past seven weeks.  A curiously weathered cavity in the large chunk of Fountain formation sandstone conglomerate provides the most obvious route on and off the summit, and for the majority of the winter this has been at least partially filled with grippy packed snow and ice.  My without-style method of down-climbing is to sort of crab-walk/controlled-fall down the face stabbing the non-rock material with my trusty Microspikes and depositing myself safely back on flat ground.  Today, the usually much grippier landing spot failed to provide my 'spikes with any purchase and the next thing I knew I was lying on my left side checking to make sure I hadn't broken an arm.  Fall number one.

The second incident was one of those situations that I occasionally think about as being very bad if it actually occurred, but it simply usually doesn't.  With maybe five minutes of path remaining before being deposited back at the trailhead parking lot, the Gregory Canyon trail crosses the drainage on a decidedly over-constructed wooden footbridge.  Directly above this bridge are a pair of extremely short but steep switchbacks littered with the usual rock and ice.  Most mornings I skitter down this mindlessly, often grabbing a handy branch to swing/steady myself around the final switchback.  This morning, however, I caught a toe and plummeted headfirst downtrail.  Despite several large rocks being there to break my fall I regained my feet with no real issues other than a slightly tweaked hamstring.  No biggie, it's felt that way for almost four years now.

(The results of a summer-time digger.)

The final fall occurred on the corner of 10th and University.  Every single morning I subtract maybe two yards of running from my journey by shamelessly shaving the sidewalk corner with a quick step through the college students' house's front yard, often stepping over empty beer bottles and cans.  There is also, however, a very significant tree root on this path that every other morning I have very consciously stepped completely over.  This morning, the legs just weren't having it, though, and a split second later I was sprawled on the sidewalk hoping that I hadn't torn any holes in my tights.  That one really yanked the hamstring and I had to walk a half-block or so massaging it out before I could resume my stumble home.

My fatigue this morning was no surprise.  Yesterday I doubled up on my visits to Green's summit, and the afternoon ascent was a particularly notable effort.

Runners often ask me what sort of speedwork I incorporate into my weekly training routine, and I usually have to--somewhat sheepishly--explain that I don't tend to do anything resembling a structured "speed" workout.  I mostly gave those up when I graduated from college, and I don't regret it.  Instead, even when I'm not in the explicit pursuit of some sort of silly summit streak as I am now, my bouts of increased-effort-running occur much more intuitively.  By feel.  Only when the body is saying, Let's Go!  As it turns out, this still happens at least once or twice a week--about as often as it would if I were to schedule it--but I never force it.  If, when I get to the hill, my legs feel like going, I let them.  If that happens two days in a row, I let it.  And if it doesn't happen again for another week, or even two weeks, I don't worry.

Approached in this manner, hard running is never a chore and almost always on the emotional spectrum in the vicinity of "pleasurable".  It embodies that most primal of activities: simply charging through the woods at your personal apogee of effort until there are no more woods to charge through because you've reached the top. 

(Dave Mackey, Rickey Gates, and Jeff Valliere getting primal on the Amphitheater trail in May 2009, with Rickey running the FKT. Photo: George Zack)

When conducted as part of a run to the summit of a mountain, though, it is certainly not fast.  My route yesterday involved tackling Green on arguably its most arduous, official terms (there are other unofficial routes up Green that are even more sustainedly steep): the combination of the Amphitheater, Saddle Rock, and Greenman trails.  This ascent is just a little over two miles in length but gains ~2500' from trailhead to summit.  Considering that there is one somewhat extended flattish section about half-way up, suffice it to say that there are many other stretches that could only be described as damn steep.  (With a section on Amphitheater in the 40% range, I believe.) 

Without these qualifiers yesterday's ascent time of 32:19 (for two miles!) would appear laughably slow, but after a little research, it would seem that only one, maybe two people are known to have broken 30 minutes on this route (one of those being Rickey Gates, whose preternatural ability to run fast up big hills is inarguable, and nearly unassailable by anyone else in the country), so I'm fairly pleased.  For now.  Considering the snow.  Because even with this morning's falls, my fitness appears to be moving in the direction of up.

If only my knee would allow me to start logging some true long runs.


Unknown said...

Wow, talk about getting your "money's worth" on that run! Thanks for sharing the good, the bad and the ugly with us Anton.

Speaking of Mount Washington, you should consider doing that race...afterall, there's 'only one hill'. Seriously, you could probably qualify as an elite and bypass the lottery.

Neeraj Engineer said...

Wow! 49 ascents is amazing and you still have many more to go.
Btw, can you describe your knee pain a little more? What part of the knee hurts? When does it start and do you have any other pain? Like in the calfs?
You should really go see Josh Shadle (tri-massage.com). He has a money back garantee if he can't help you.


Anonymous said...

100 ascents in 100 days is certainly alternative medicine for the knee,but if it works!
Fingers crossed,goods things for 2010.

Anonymous said...

Your approach is what running is all about; you have tapped into the psychology of good hard running; you show up ready to race and prove not to be a head case as your results speak for themselves. Stay healthy and enjoy it all. We sure enjoy your amazing results.

Brandon Fuller said...

That crack on the summit always confuses people. Its not a big deal but it always gets people into interesting positions.

GZ said...

I am curious as to what you see as a true long wrong. Actually, maybe I am scared ...

... I get the entire go on feel thing and I think it makes sense on more days than not. However, do you still stick with this philosophy when, say, six weeks out from a race? Or four weeks? Maybe it does not make as much difference in the ultra space, but I think most non ultra races - people would have a very tough time with floating for two weeks before their next "hey I am on, so let's go and I am going to wait until then" session.

I mean, I guess there is some benefit to doing that. I can see holding off on that for two weeks in January, February ... I am not sure I'd have the discipline to not force the issue in say May, June ... (unless there was some other good reason like sickness).

Thanks for the photo credit.

Anton said...


A "true long run" for me is anything 4 hours or more. Right now, the knee has me stuck at 2hr at any one time (but two 2hr runs in one day is no problem).

You bring up a good point about the last six weeks before a race. But, it is during this specific build-up for a race that I think it is most important to be in tune with your body and listening to when it is ready to go hard and when it's not. I know that I'm ready to run a good race when I feel "on top" of my running--like I'm appropriately absorbing every session and that I am running the correct intensity and volume that my fitness allows. Most of the time, if the body doesn't want to pop a good hard hillclimb, then it's probably not a good idea to force it into doing so because you'll just end up digging yourself into a deeper hole of fatigue. This "hole of fatigue" is what I try to avoid at all costs the last two weeks going into a big race.

For instance, this past summer I had a terrible 5hr run five days before the Leadville Marathon where I subsequently ran what I considered to be a very poor race. HOWEVER, the whole goal for the summer was to run well at White River and the LT100, and in order for me to get in a 6hr long run the following week (what I feel I need to be ready for a 50 mile race) for White River, I had to get in that 5hr run the week of the Leadville Marathon. So, I sacrificed the marathon to a larger goal of White River where I ended up having a very good race. Point being, I did "force" a key run in that build-up but it was only an issue because of poorly-spaced races.

With regards to ultras, in the past I've drawn the analogy that doing 6-8hr long runs in the last few weeks before a goal ultra is like doing 12x400 leading up to a mile or 5K race. They're both workouts meant to "sharpen", i.e. train very specific metabolic systems and goal paces. So, for me, it is very important to get in those long runs in the last month before an ultra in order to be prepared.

However, in my post, I was talking about the inclusion of high effort or intensity in my training regimen (not volume), and that is something that I only do if my body is feeling on and sort of goes by itself. I will force a key long run the last weeks before a big race, but I definitely won't force the intensity of it. I'll make sure that I get the time in on my feet, but that I'm not pushing too hard if my body doesn't want to.

Does that sort of make sense? As simply as possible: for me, the "key workouts" for ultras are volume-based not intensity-based, and my "run hard only when inclined" philosophy is, by definition, in regards to intensity, not volume.