Thursday, May 15, 2014

Lesson 3 | What goes up...

The second event in the Trail Series was at the venue where my very first trail run was. I was psyched, as I remembered the route from the previous time, but I still went to study the map. As I studied the map it dawned on me that either my map reading skills weren’t as sharp or the route had dramatically changed. It was the latter, so previous knowledge of the route didn’t help. I studied the map and saw that it started out flat and then had sharp turn onto a long straight uphill, then a sharp turn onto a very short flat part, which leads to a very steep and windy downhill and finally a fairly straight and flat route to the finish. One thing I couldn’t tell from the map was what part was jeep track and what part was single track.

Again applying lesson one, with lesson two being implemented, we set out. The first flat part was all jeep track and was almost 1km long. This caused a lot of people to pick up the pace, because it felt as though this was an easy run. I was tempted to do the same, but kept my pace as I knew the hill was still up ahead. At the turn that signalled the uphill for me, I was a bit shocked. Fortunately the uphill was also jeep track, but you could see it going up all the way to the top and almost everyone was walking it. I think when you have to stare at the mountain in front of you it does break you a bit. Most of the people that had paced it on the flat were now walking, but I just felt something in me telling me not to walk, but to keep running or should I say jogging.

It was small steps, but I knew if I started to walk it would be hard to start jogging again. Slowly but surely I passed a lot of runners who decided to walk it out. It was an epic mental battle for me, but I kept jogging. Finally, when it started to flatten out and I could see the arrow in the distance that pointed to the single track. I decided to reward myself by walking the last piece of jeep track and to catch my breath. Onto the single track the windy, steep and technical descent began. But I was in luck, because there was no one in front of me and I could go at my own pace. As I descended I realised that my breathing was more rhythmic. Eventually it started flatting out and got a lot less technical although still single track. I found a good rhythm and only one guy passed me from the apex of the single track all the way to the end.

Lesson learned: What goes up, must come down, so run the uphill and "rest" on the downhill.
In every trail race I’ve done, the start and the finish lines are at the same place, which means the total ascent and descent will be equal. By combining lesson 2 with strategically running the up and down hills, you can gain a lot of time. Had I walked the long uphill, I would probably have gotten stuck behind some people on the technical single track and would definitely not have done as well as I did. I jogged the uphill which (and certainly does feel like) used a lot of energy. But running downhill uses other muscles and if you keep the momentum you can actually "rest" on the downhill. Of course I had no way of knowing that it would be a jeep track uphill and single track downhill. The question is, what if it is the other way around? That would be a lesson for another time. :-)

Feedback: Do you also feel your heart rate drop and breathing stabilise when you run downhill?

Relaxing on the down hill.


  1. Well, if the descent is really technical, it does cost some effort as well. I've had times where my heart rate hardly dropped (maybe because i was scared as hell, haha). but most of the time it's like you say. I try to get a reasonable place in the pack as soon in the race as possible in order not to get stuck on single track parts. but of course, some people are faster uphill and more reserved in the downhill bits. luckily, trail running has less money involved than F1 or bike races, and it's "NOT DONE" to close the gap when someone wants to pass. On the contrary: I often "yell" (well, in a low voice, so not really yelling, haha) stuff like "coming through on your left/right" and people give me space. And the other way around of course. Got to love that about trail running :-)

  2. Hi Marijn!
    Thank you for sharing. :) As you point out everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. I guess I'm not necessarily faster on the down hill, but I recover (as in, heart rate and breathing) quicker on the down hill, and can then give more output.
    Haha, yes, giving a pass in trail running is something unique to it. Let's hope it continues!