This year, having completed IRONMAN Boulder in early June. I decided that it was time to explore some new challenges. A friend had been competing in the Imogene Pass Run for a few years and it sounded like an interesting event…a 17 mile run on a rustic 4 wheel drive road from Ouray, CO to Telluride, CO, crossing Imogene Pass at 13,120′. The run begins in Ouray at 7800′ and gains altitude for 10 miles to the summit, then descends for 7.1 miles, finishing in downtown Telluride. Having never attempted an offroad race, nor raced at such altitude, I was curious as to how the morning would unfold. This event is very popular and limited to 1500 entries. The signup always takes place on June 1 for the race that happens every year on the weekend following Labor Day, and typically fills within 15-30minutes. I had mentioned the race to my friend Charles Garabedian a week or so before June 1 and he was smart enough to set an alarm on his phone that also triggered a text notification to me. No excuses and we both got in. The big question was, “how do you train for this?”
I still had some triathlons on my schedule and Charles had races and travel, so we didn’t get to do much organized training together, unless you count our weekly 5k beer and pizza run at the Flatirons Running store. Still, we both managed to complete some offroad and trail runs and arrived in Ouray “ready” to race. Here’s an example of one of my training runs at Hall Ranch that actually was a decent representation of the conditions we would experience. http://www.relive.ccc/view/1157228654
With a high altitude event such as this, weather can be a huge factor (and the event organizers continually stress this, seemingly attempting to instill fear and uneasiness into the athletes with tales of gale force winds, hailstorms, accumulating snow, and frigid temperatures) but we were definitely blessed with near perfect conditions for the morning. It was nearly 50F at the start and mostly clear skies. I experienced a few drops of rain in the final half mile to the finish line, but some later competitors spoke of hail at the summit and the showers in Telluride continued off and on through the early afternoon.
The race started on time and was a little crowded for the first half mile. There are a couple sections where there are alternate routes allowed and the group separates as they scramble up different paths and rejoin again on the “road”. During the early miles the incline is moderate and somewhat rolling, so the majority of the field in my vicinity were still running. I had set a target heartrate and my pace varied with the incline, but I still was moving through the field and felt good about everything. My fear of heights kept me away from the edge of the road and the sheer drop to be found there, but i had plenty of room to maneuver through the group. I was, however, overdressed for the conditions and found myself shedding my jacket and hat early on, tying the jacket around my waist and shoving the hat in my waistband. all was good.
Aid stations were well stocked and staffed with enthusiastic and supportive volunteers. They were spaced a little over 2 miles apart on the ascent and by the Lower Camp Bird station at 5+miles, the grade started increasing and running segments became fewer and far between. Pushing on to the Upper Camp Bird station at 7.6miles was a mix of jogging and power hiking. This is also where the road really kicked up and the altitude became more of a factor. For reference, my time at LCB 7.6miles and 11, 235′ was 1:50:33. The 2.5 miles to the summit at Imogene Pass (13,120′) took me another 58:28 of mainly hiking as fast as I could.
I found that once above 10,000′ I couldn’t use my Camelback because the effort of drawing on the water tube and not breathing for that short time caused my heart rate to instantly drop 15-20BPM and start the world spinning. I resorted to gulping down a couple cups of water/Gatorade at the aid stations instead.
My goal for this event was to simply finish but, little did I know, I was in 2nd place in my age group at the summit. Had I been aware of this my downhill strategy might have been a bit more aggressive as I finished in 3rd, giving up my 11 minute lead and another 8minutes to the eventual 2nd place finisher on the 7mile descent.
Usually my downhill running is strong and I can use it to my advantage, but this day it was my downfall (although, thankfully, I didn’t fall down). The descent is not only steep in many places but, being a rugged 4 wheel drive vehicle path, it is strewn with rocks, boulders, and loose dirt/gravel. One has to pay close attention to the conditions on the ground to maintain footing, and a lot of time is spent maneuvering around this obstacle course, constantly adjusting the chosen path. Meanwhile, the cool air, combined with the heat emanating from my body was causing my glasses to constantly fog up, blurring my vision, especially when they would slide down my nose a bit, since the fogging was heaviest at the top of the lenses. Constantly stopping to wipe my glasses was unknowingly costing me my 2nd place finish. Oh, well, “better safe than sorry” was all that was on my mind. I probably would have been best to just take them off and stick them in a pocket. Speaking of pockets, there was also the issue of my jacket (remember, tied around my waist earlier on) that twice slipped down to my knees, almost taking me to the ground.
My only goal, other than just finishing, was to finish in the 4:00 range. I don’t know how I arrived at this time, but it seemed like a good number. I ended up at 4:12:41, which was close enough for me, knowing that I could have gone downhill faster with a better plan. Rolling into the finish at Telluride, I came upon Charles and his fiancee Laura. We had breakfast, after which I found out I had an award to wait for. Charles finished in an impressive 3:24:18 for his Imogene debut, but the super competitive 35-39 age group put him out of the awards placings. So, Charles and Laura retreated to their lodging and I had a couple beers while I waited for the awards ceremony, then grabbed the bus back to Ouray where I soaked in the hot tub and enjoyed the rest of the day with my wonderful (and relieved, as well as amazed) wife Karen, who was seriously fearful of me possibly being carried off the mountain on a stretcher. Ending the day, I slipped on the Normatecs and started thinking about Imogene 2018. 🙂
CHEERS, and thanks for reading. Leave comments below, and for more info on the amazing Imogene Pass Run visit their website at http://imogenerun.com
You have seen them many times; Approaching the top of the hill, trudging along, panting loudly, slouched over at the waist, shoulders swinging from side to side, head like a bobble head doll, this runner is in total agony. Reaching the peak, they let out a huge sigh of relief and begin the descent with long slow strides, heel striking well in front of their body, leaning back to slow down, hoping to catch their breath after the climb. Well, DON’T BE THAT PERSON! Don’t be the person who dreads any run that has elevation gain. Don’t fear the hills on your run. Make them your friends and allies by learning to go up and down efficiently and quickly.
Hill running is an acquired skill that can give you an edge on courses that others avoid or slowly suffer through. The first thing to do is to adopt the mindset that even though a hilly course will likely slow you down some, there are ways to minimize just how much you slow down. Once you do this you will have the confidence to take advantage of the hills and use them to your advantage over your competitors.
Of course, you must train on hills to fully develop these techniques, so first find a hill that you can regularly use in your training regimen. This should be long enough that you are climbing or descending steadily for a few minutes from bottom to top (or reverse). Even when I lived in pancake flat south Florida we had causeway bridges over the waterways to run on, so you should be able something suitable. You can incorporate the hill(s) into your regular runs or set up a hill repeat session to be done on a regular basis. Once you have your hill it is time to work on your technique. Here are some tips that I have used through the years and try to instill in my athletes.
When running up a hill, especially a long climb, focus on the top. Keep your “eyes on the prize”, and imagine a force drawing you to the top of the hill. Feel it. Really…..feel it.
Keep your posture upright with a slight forward lean, but don’t bend from the waist, and have all of your body movements, arm swing and foot push off, directed to the top of the hill.
Minimize upper body rotation and head movement.
Maintain a high knee swing to produce a higher landing point as your body moves forward and up the hill. Combine this with a strong push off to generate more force to move you up and forward.
Visualize a hand at the base of your spine, pushing your hips up and forward. This will help to prevent bending at the waist by leading with your hips.
Maintain leg turnover. Keep the legs moving, even if your stride has to shorten a bit to do so.
Monitor your breathing and heart rate. Don’t blow up and lose form and stamina.
Once you reach the summit of your climb, carry through and push right into the downhill. Now is not the time to rest. Gravity will help you recover while you are moving down the other side.
Okay, now you’re at the top and it’s time to go down. Don’t be a slacker…this is where you can really make up some time and finisher places. One of my favorite ways to do some of my long runs in training has been to run up one of the canyons here in Boulder County. I pace the session to maintain zone 3 heart rate for anywhere from 5-10 miles going up. Then…..turn around and hold the same heart rate going back down. No rest for the wicked. This is a training drill, but the point is that one can go fast and even recover on the downhills.
Effective downhill running involves some technique changes. The risk of injury is high, especially if one tries to go fast without making some modifications to their flat land running form.
First and foremost, lower your center of gravity slightly, putting yourself in a position where it is impossible to completely straighten your legs and lock your knees. Nothing will shorten your running life like hammering down a hill and jamming your knees on every footstrike.
Don’t overstride and put on the brakes with a foot strike that lands downhill from your body. If you look straight down, your foot should disappear under your body an instant before it hits the ground.
Control your speed by adjusting your forward lean. More lean, go faster. Too fast, straighten up. Make these adjustments as necessary, depending on the pitch of the hill.
Raise your arms, if needed, and use them for balance. I, sometimes, just lift my elbows and keep my arm swing moving, like chicken wings. Still, avoid upper body rotation
The majority of leg movement is under and behind you, using a strong push off and kick.
Increase your leg turnover speed. Keep those legs moving. Again, shorten your stride if necessary. Don’t just lope along. This is free speed with gravity on your side.
In conclusion, one can learn to make hills a weapon rather than an obstacle. Practice and develop your technique to increase speed, reduce effort, and minimize potential for injury. Don’t wait. Start today.
Here is the revised 2017 guide to the new IRONMAN Boulder swim, bike, and run course.
At a recent panel discussion I was asked by a member of the audience how to manage an IRONMAN training schedule for someone who didn’t have a “normal” work schedule. My initial response was to determine just what the questioner meant by “normal”. Upon finding out that he was a pilot, and his schedule changed frequently, I was able to give some advice on flexibility and finding ways to make the workouts fit his schedule. It very rarely works the other way around. We’d all like to plan our perfect training schedule and then plan our life around it, but that isn’t an option for 99% of us. As we didn’t have time to delve very far into this, I have been thinking about it since and decided to take the discussion a bit further.
In today’s world, the “normal” 5 day, 40 hour work week seems to be a quickly fading remnant of the last century. However, many of us, as triathlon coaches, have developed models based on the 7 day week with 5 work days and a 2 day weekend. We typically plan around this, using what is often referred to as the “basic week”. The “basic week” model usually places the long run/long bike days on Saturday and Sunday and then uses a planning session with the client to put together the rest of the week in a manner that seems to fit. Thus, we have “if it’s Tuesday it must be swim/interval run” ….every week. The sessions change. Duration and intensity changes. But the “basic week” stays the same. This can work for (maybe) half of our clients.
That brings me back to the gentleman at the event. He doesn’t have a “basic week” that works for him. His situation, like many others, demands some creativity. This is where the Art of Coaching begins. This is where the fun begins. Now I’ll go into some detail on how to make the IRONMAN dream become reality for the client who has no time to train. Actually, he only thinks he has no time to train because he has probably looked at generic plans and “basic week” plans that make no sense in the life he lives. He really has plenty of time to train but it needs to be managed differently., creatively.
First of all, we have to sit down and look at everything realistically. We need to devise a long term plan with goals and benchmarks along the way. Commitment to these goals must be established, because IRONMAN is all about commitment. How far out should the IRONMAN race be? This year? Next year? Longer? Current fitness level, along with prior commitments, plays big in this. Let’s say our client is reasonably fit and wants to complete his IRONMAN in late summer, giving us a little under a year to prepare. Now the planning begins.
I like to use a linear calendar for my long term plans, rather than grids and pages. It just works better for me. Onto the timeline I put today and I put RaceDay. Okay, now there’s some space to fill in between these two points along a straight line.
This is where targets, benchmarks, and goals fall into place. I may want to see the long bike day at 3 hours by 4 weeks and 4-5 hours by 8 weeks, for example. Based on fitness and ability I will block out my big buildup/taper in the final 9-12 weeks. FTP testing at certain intervals and a few key workouts at points along the line. Benchmarks to test the plan come into the picture. All of these are plotted on the calendar. Now, the plan is taking shape, but without any specific schedule at this point.
With a constantly changing work schedule the creativity has to come to play. I often can’t schedule more than two weeks ahead, sometimes weekly. A conventional schedule doesn’t fit these situations, but we have already put important markers on the calendar and now I weave in the workouts that will bring it all together. Workout priorities become critical with these time constraints. What is more crucial where we are in the timeline…distance or intensity? Maybe a long workout needs to be split up through the day. That 15 mile run may become a morning 5 and a late afternoon 10. What is more important…the 10 mile tempo run or the track speed session if the week only has time for one or the other?
These clients are the clients that need the most guidance and these challenges are what make my coaching business enjoyable. I love problem solving and thinking outside the box. With so many available pre written or computer generated plans available to the athletes, the coach’s role has to be more than sending a training schedule every month. I see myself as a mentor, consultant, time manager, and cheerleader, all in one. Finding the finish line by using many different routes to fit the varying needs of today’s clients is where the artistry lies.
I was talking recently to my longtime friend Bruce Wilk, owner of the Orthopedic Rehabilitation Specialists physical therapy practice and the Runner’s High running store, both in Miami, FL. The subject of our discussion was the current trend in the running community that everyone should be using a forefoot striking running style. This is being promoted by many coaches as well as shoe manufacturers. What does this mean? The idea is being promoted that the only way to run fast is running on one’s toes. Bruce asked my thoughts on this and I had to confess that I hadn’t really thought much about it. This may make some sense for a sprinter, but I feel that there are other factors of running form that are more important, especially for a distance runner.
Leg turnover when running determines the frequency, the “when”, of foot strikes. In observing other runners I notice that far too many recreational runners have a slow, loping gait that has them rocking side to side as they “fall” from foot to foot. These runners also tend to reach forward with their lead foot, causing a heel strike on their fully extended leg. This is a solid invitation to knee injury. Just like the cyclist that grinds along, slowly turning a hard gear, increasing the cycling cadence and the running leg turnover can increase efficiency and help prevent injury. As in cycling, a turnover of 80-90RPM is a good number to aim for. This would mean that the right foot will strike the ground at least 80 times per minute. Most music stores sell small electric metronomes (about the size of a small mp3 player). Some click, some have an earphone jack, some both. One of these in your pocket set at 80bpm will give you an audible signal to keep your feet moving. Adjust your speed and effort by altering your stride length, not your turnover.
Next thing to make note is “where”, in relation to your moving body, your foot is striking the ground. Ideally this point should be directly under you, not in front. I tell my athletes that if they look down while running their foot should disappear a split second before it hits the ground, as their body moves over and blocks their view. If one’s foot hits the ground ahead of the body it exerts a braking force, slowing one down with every foot strike. If one maintains proper running posture (shoulders relaxed, body upright with a bit of a forward lean, eyes focused and drawing to a spot 8-10 meters ahead),then the foot should land under the body. As the body moves over the foot the leg fires, driving the foot against the ground and accelerating the body forward. If the foot strikes the ground too far forward we have the previously mentioned braking effect plus the foot is on the ground longer as it waits for the body to catch up before it can push forward. If it strikes too far behind, the full force of he leg firing is not accessible and hamstring injury is at risk.
And this brings us to the “how” of just how the foot should strike the ground…forefoot strike? midfoot strike? heel strike? Since our discussion I have paid careful attention to my own foot strike, without trying to consciously change anything. What I have observed is:
1) At LSD (long, slow, distance) pace I tend to land on the outer edge of my foot, but basically neutral or what is referred to as “mid foot”. As I run a little duckfooted(turned out)this seems natural and when my body moves ahead, my foot rolls in and onto the ball of my foot, pushing off with my big toe.
2) Now, as I pick up the pace my foot is on the ground a shorter time, my forward lean increases, and my footstrike becomes a little more to the forefoot since my body is moving faster over the planted foot.
3) Also, when running hills I find myself using more forefoot strike uphill and neutral, sometimes even a bit of a heelstrike, when running down. I attribute this to the ground ahead of me being higher going up and lower going down. This probably affects my ankle position at the point of impact.
This indicates that for the same person(myself), the foot strike can change with speed and terrain. I have studied some video of elite runners and triathletes, and observe that almost universally they have a fast leg turnover and a foot strike directly under their bodies, yet I saw forefoot running, midfoot running, and yes, even the dreaded heelstrike. I attribute this to different degrees of flexibility and elasticity in the leg and ankle. It seems like an exercise in futility to focus on trying to run on one’s toes all of the time, especially if the run can be better improved by these other things. By paying close attention to posture, leg turnover, and keeping the foot landing and passing under one’s moving body, the rest will take care of itself based on speed, terrain, ankle flexibility, and body structure. If the “when” and “where” are in place, the “how” doesn’t really seem to matter.