Sunday, July 8, 2012

Scream Training

My previous post showed The Scream half marathon profile, which I repeated above. While the image is stretched out and exaggerated, the numbers are accurate.

While trying to train for this race, I discovered that running down long steep grades of more than 3% is really freaking hard. And as you can see, The Scream has some long stretches of a lot more than 3%.

Roll With It
Up until now, mstrategy for running downhill was to just "roll with it". 
believed that fighting gravity just trashed your quads and wasted valuable potential energy. 
So I would just move my legs as fast as I could and not worry about pace. Didn't matter if that meant an all-out sprint in the middle of an 40 mile ultra, I would just catch my breath on the next uphill.

The problem with the "roll with it" strategy is that it only works for very short descents, like the ones in the local single track trails. The acceleration of gravity is constant. So on a long decent, no matter how fast you are going, it wants you to go faster.

That is, until you hit about 100 mph when the air resistance will balance the force of gravity out. [Actually it would be a lot less than that, and if I was smart I could calculate the top speed with the angular force vectors depending on the slope, air density, "friction" of your legs, etc.]

The point is that on a long downhill more than a quarter mile my legs just can't keep up with it. So for 13 miles of downhill, I needed to learn to descend at a "moderate" pace.

Descending at a moderate pace means slowing yourself down, gracefully absorbing the downward force with your legs.

I have no doubt that big cushy shoes can absorb some of this force for you and make it easier. 
I am also sure that some barefoot zealots will argue that your feet and legs can do a better job than foam rubber, but currently mine cannot.

I find that running a steep downhill in minimal shoes is very hard (and forget about barefoot). It takes an enormous amount of quickness and coordination to gently place your foot on the ground, and there is no margin for error.
It is like having raw eggs being thrown at you, three times per second (or faster), and having to catch them without having them break.

I have seriously thought about breaking out the cushy shoes again just for The Scream. Hmmmm.

Training Plan #1: Gravescrew
To train for The Scream, I tried to find a place around here that is most like the course.
Shannon said that Corkscrew Hill in Umstead is a lot like the course.
It is gravel-ly, has a lot of twists and turns, and is relatively steep. Measuring from Cedar Ridge down to the bridge, it drops 160 feet in about 2/3 of a mile, for a -4.5% grade. 

I had planned on running repeats of this hill, but that just seemed like a lot of work and really not fun.

So instead for training I just ran out to the top of Graveyard Hill and ran from there down Corkscrew to the bridge. I call it "GraveScrew". I did repeats of one. This was about 1.4 miles with 200 feet of drop. Kind of like one tenth The Scream. It's a deci-scream.

Again, this seemed really hard to run down at a moderate pace. I would either be sprinting way too fast or plodding too slow. I think I ran it 4 times and each time was slower.

Training Plan #2: Sliding Treadmill
Next I tried propping up the back end of our treadmill.
This chunk of wood made it a -5% grade.

I tried to run on this, but I hated it. It felt impossible to relax and get a normal stride on it. I was struggling and hyperventilating when running at a 6 min/mile pace. Then I realized it was actually 6 mph, a 10 min/mile.
After that, I decided running in the 99% humidity, 90 degree heat, and swarming flies was preferable.

Shannon loved the descending treadmill and just ran a 5K PR on it, going just under 20 minutes for the first time. Now she is a good downhill runner.
Though without the rubber legs holding it in place, the treadmill slid all the way across the room.

Lula gazes down the mountain

Training Plan #3: On The Course
We took an impromptu trip out to Jonas Ridge a couple weeks ago and did a training run on the course as a preview. We did 4 miles, running from mile marker 2 to 6. It has a steady -4.3% grade.

If I am good at running downhill, I figured I should easily set a 4 mile PR as well as 5K PR.
Here is how it went:

Mile 1- 5:45 , holy crap, this is steep
Mile 2- 6:00 , holy crap, I am out of breath
Mile 3- 6:30 , holy crap my legs are shot.
Mile 4- 7:00 , holy crap, please let this be over.

My time in the Umstead 4 miler was faster, and that was before I was actually training.

So with that reality check, I had to re-access my goals:

  • Beat Josh
  • Half Marathon PR
  • Don't hurt myself

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