only thing worse than being
talked about... is not being
-Graham Chapman as Oscar Wilde
And the only thing worse than trail running is not trail running. The purpose of
this page is to describe how and why I entered a trail running race,
the Imogene Pass Run, for four years
(2001--2004). Hopefully these remarks are encouraging to anyone
interested in the idea of running not-on-asphalt. Hopefully the
Imogene runs will continue, although I was obliged to skip the 2005
writing a page about trail running is born from a conviction that one
can be a mediocre or terrible or even non- athlete and still get a lot
Talking about a personal subject (for me) like trail running requires a
certain degree of
personal revelation, which I've never been particularly good at.
I'll start off by getting that out of the way, but first some links:
My Condition if you're interested in
where the author is coming from.
The Silver Streak if you're
interested in the author's approach to trail running.
2005 to see a record of how the game plan went in
to see what happened next.
Skip this page if you're interested in
Condition: Gory Details
"Mr L Prosser was, as they say, only human. In other words he was a
life form descended from an ape. More specifically he was forty, fat
and shabby and
worked for the local council. Curiously enough, though he didn't know
it, he was also
a direct male-line descendant of Genghis Khan, though intervening
racial mixing had so juggled his genes that he had no discernible
characteristics, and the only vestiges left in Mr L Prosser of his
mighty ancestry were a
pronounced stoutness about the tum and a predilection for
little fur hats."
Guide to the Galaxy by
Physically I'm not in good shape. In addition to matching the
description of Mr L Prosser
quite closely and having creaking joints I'm also 'Factor V-Leiden
positive' which means I
am hypercoagulable or prothrombic... in other words, prone to
life-threatening blood clots. In fact I had a couple big ones in my
legs in 1995 that hospitalized me and left me with vascular damage
in my legs. Nowadays I
occasionally get small clots that last for days to weeks to
months; these make it painful to get around. To manage this
condition I take
Sodium Warfarin ("coumadin"), a blood thinner they often give you after
you have an operation. It's also an effective rat
poison. I take it forever or until a better
solution comes along.
The bottom line is I work at getting healthy: diet and exercise.
Empirically I'm doing ok; I have a sort of
sawtooth condition/weight curve over time but the trend has been in the
correct direction since I moved to Colorado in 1998 and started running
as a dedicated pasttime. If I have one thing operating in my favor it
is a predilection for being stubborn (in addition to the one
for hats). Working against me: I am easily distracted and can desist
running for long periods when other things become interesting.
One other remark on physical condition: When I start a jag of
consistent running I have serious cramping issues. Avoiding them is
easy: I just need to drink a lot of water and stretch before falling
at night. The other night I failed to do this and decided to get up off
the couch at some point. So I moved my leg sideways and all the muscles
on one side
(the adductors I think) decided to try and curl into little detached
This hurts a lot,
particularly when one set of cramps sets off another set of cramps in
another part of my leg (or on the other leg).
I have to remember to
stay highly motivated to hydrate and stretch...
The number one thing I am good at when it comes to trail running is not
speed. Nor is it distance. Nor is it climbing hills.
Not descending hills either. Not running in the flat. Not
drinking beer after a run. Not kicking hard at the end or
starting off well. Not pushing myself, not running with good form. Not
staying healthy consistently for years at a stretch. I'm rotten
at all of that.
The number one thing I am good at is outrunning fenceposts. There has
not been a fencepost sunk into the ground on this planet that I cannot
outrun. This may not seem that important, I know, but it is, so
I'm bothering telling you so. Outrunning fenceposts and the
occasional tree is important because if I held myself to higher
trail-running standards I would never leave the house. You have
to understand that going for a run in and around Boulder is a little
bit like trying to get in a few baskets during a Boston Celtics
practice. I was running a couple weeks ago when I was silently
passed from behind by a running club... from Kenya. I kid you
not. My officemate took something like 15th place in the Hardrock
100 this summer. I kid you not. This is a 100 mile race that
takes place at an average elevation of about 11,000 feet above sea
level and has something like 70,000 feet of total elevation
change. I kid you not. Again, that's over 100 miles. It
took him 33 hours. Here
is how he describes the experience.
So this brings me back to racing against fenceposts. Really what that
means is consistently getting outside to do a workout, never mind my
lack of speed, my condition, the world-class runners zooming past or
any of the other myriad reasons to stay home. Sometimes I am very
consistent, sometimes not, and six-plus years of working at it has led
to my personal First Paradox of Running.
This is time spent planning the run, making time for the run, getting
there, getting changed, getting back, getting cleaned up, and
mentioning that I went running to anybody who gets in my way. By
far the most important of these little running-support activities is
the one that took me the longest to figuring out: Planning the run is
really important and easy to mess up. This leads to the Second
Making time to plan runs sounds like a dumb thing; I should be able to
just say: 'Tomorrow I'll run at lunch' and be done with it. For
me, this does not work. For me, if I do not go into some more
detail then I will fail to run, even odds. For me runs can not be
improvised because (a) life is demanding and (b) there are many fun
easy things to do and (c) running is hard. Consequently when I do
try to improvise runs it is all too easy for other things to assert
themselves and prevent me from running. At least on a consistent
basis. Some serious runners describe running as an addiction, and
while I think I understand that a little, to me not running is more of an
addiction. That is, running consistently takes a lot of discipline and
effort. Thankfully there are several levels of reward that proceed from
successfully being consistent.
Incidentally running on trails means that you are constantly shifting
your balance and coping with small obstacles. This plus the relatively
soft surface (relative to asphalt for example) means that trail running
avoids some of the injury hazards of running on roads. There are two
tradeoffs: You run faster on streets and you have a better chance of
getting eaten by a bear on a trail.
Here are some personal reasons for running,
often predicated on consistency.
Syndrome #1: Post Run Euphoria
Crank that stereo. (I feel great every time I finish a run... or at
least some part of me feels great.)
Syndrome #2: Existential Euphoria
It's good to be alive. Running consistently improves my
day-to-day-moment-by-moment joy of life.
Syndrome #3: Energy
Let me carry that for you. I have more juke and more jump when
I'm running consistently, get more done too.
Syndrome #4: Clear Head Good Idea
Wait a second; I think mass and energy might be different forms of the same
thing... Time spent running on trails is time to think
differently; this can lead to a good idea or
Then I run faster so I can get back and try it
Syndrome #5: Short Term Challenge Effect
Can I run to the top of this hill? I bet I can... I think
of my slowest running speed as a low-gear for
recovering from exertion, for example climbing a hill. Knowing I
always have low gear available makes it easier to push for brief
Syndrome #6: Grind It Out Effect
"Ok grind ten more minutes and it's the fun downhill section."
Really long runs (say longer than two hours) require a certain amount
of dealing with tedium, but doing so is also a kind of reward.
Syndrome #7: Stepping on the Scale
Golly I've lost a pound... I'm wasting away here... Wendy's for
today! (Sorry; that's a trap for me, a false and wicked and evil conclusion.) I have my best
resuls when I work on my (poor)
native eating habits at the same time that I'm consistent with running.
And that means avoiding
burger joints in favor of Thai food and cooking good stuff at home.
This is also part of that x2.8 rule; it takes longer to eat properly.
But doing so--in concert with a consistent running program--means that
I do in fact eventually lose excess weight. Which is good. But I try
and keep it as a consequence
of the hard work rather than an objective
of focus. If I become too weight-obsessed I get anxious and
consequently make no progress.
Syndrome #8: Rolling Out the Miles
If I knock out another six that's 43 miles this week... holy
cats! It can be utterly astonishing to find out how far I can run in a
week after a couple months of running consistently. And that has
important implications for summer runs that cover twenty miles through
mountain meadows. Like they become possible.
Syndrome #9: Backpacking Trips in a Day
"No officer I don't have a backcountry permit; just here for the
afternoon." ...which brings me to: When I was in college I was
introduced to backpacking in
the Sierra Nevada mountains in California. A typical 3-day hike
cover 16 miles carrying 35 pounds of gear and food. Tents,
sleeping bags, water filters, stove fuel, extra socks and layers of
clothing, toenail clippers and moleskin and flashlights and pot
scrubbers. The list goes on. But lo and behold: Trail
lets me to do the same trip in one day (provided I make an early
start). In fact
my favorite long summer run covers about 15 miles including a three
mile stretch along the continental divide. It takes seven hours
and I just carry a camelback with water, some essentials and lunch. The
trick is to walk the steep parts... and beware the treachery of mountain goats.
Syndrome #10: Crossovers
You want me to play underwater hockey??? Um... ok. How hard
could this be? I find any other sport becomes much
more enjoyable when I am not spending the entire time sucking wind. On
other hand, nothing can
prepare you for underwater hockey, except maybe pearl-diving.
More On Consistency
Since consistency is so important I'd like to address it as an issue.
The biggest enemy of consistency in my experience is having a rotten
time running. As an extreme example, I have lost count of how many
times I have seen people (usually men) in much better shape than me out
on the trails running really really hard and fast... and puffing and
red in the face. I'd bet money this is their first run in over a year.
They zooming past resolved to Get Out And Start
Running. I am also sure they finish their inaugural run in awesome time
and are so sore and miserable after the exertion that they don't come
out the next day or the next or the next.
This is not to belittle them because I have done the same thing, many
many times. Finally I figured out that any time I run and it's not fun my chances of being
consistent take a major hit. Here are some ideas I have for
making running fun, starting with the most important, my third rule:
Incidentally this Third Rule is something I'd be dubious about if I
came up with it myself. But I didn't; I got it from my officemate who
as mentioned runs 100 mile races at high altitude in the Colorado
Rockies. He's nuts. And he insists that walking counts as running. So
Other travel-on-foot counts as running also. 2 miles of
snowshoeing counts as 3 miles of running. Running up Gregory Canyon
toward Green Mountain (fairly steep) and back down over the course of 1
hour and 15 minutes counts as running 6 miles even though it is closer
to half that in actual distance. And so on; I think one is free to make
up conversion factors as needed.
To continue some ideas on how to keep it fun and stay consistent:
Get the best shoes possible.
Restrict mileage and build up slowly.
Run slowly slowly slowly until running faster is fun.
Run faster in short intervals until longer intervals
If Not Having Fun: Think about why and change the
Bring a friend or a canine.
If leashes are required: See www.coldspotfeeds.com for dog
harness / tugline / belly-band gear.
Find other runners to form a mutual support and
Research running trails, travel to them, and run
On short runs:
Over-dress in cold weather. This is a matter of
taste but I hate hate hate getting cold.
Bring water for before and after but don't carry it
along if out for under an hour; too heavy.
Take mental notes as you go on equipment issues to
fix before coming out again.
On long runs on road-accessible trails:
Cache food and water along the way in advance rather
than carrying it.
On long runs in backcountry:
Use a larger camel-back with capacity for other gear
food in addition to water.
Put a water purifier in the camelback to cut down on
weight (really long runs).
Take gloves, an ear-covering hat, a waterproof shell
jacket, and an extra undershirt (capillene).
Take along fried chicken or some other pure
Take along toilet paper, a compass and a map.
When I began this page I had 38 weeks prior to the 2005 IPR. Weeks
and "miles per week" are my adopted training interval; this is a common
training approach, e.g. for marathons. Below is
(for me) an ambitious schedule running from December 2004 to IPR in
September 2005. It will be
hard to hit the mileage goals but what the heck. (o's are
goal-miles, the x's
are miles run.) At the right actual quota miles run are listed. Extra
miles may be distributed around to other weeks and back-filled when I
don't hit the goals. This will make reading the chart a little
confusing. The column at right shows miles run in the actual week over
goal mileage. LR indicates a "Long Run" for that week.
Total distance goal is
about 1200 miles.
01 13--19 xxxx 4 / 4
02 20--26 xxxxx xxxxx xx 13 / 12
03 27--02 xxxxx xxxxx xx 13 / 12
04 03--09 xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx x 16 / 16
05 10--16 xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx x 16 / 16
06 17--23 xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx x 16 / 16
07 24--30 xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx 25 / 20
08 31--06 xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx 24 / 20
09 07--13 xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx (low mileage week; s'ok.) 10 / 20
10 14--20 xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx LR:12 27 / 25
11 21--27 xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxo ooooo (achoo!) 14 / 25
12 28--06 xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx LR:15 27 / 25
Going into the "serious" phase of 30+ miles per week I'm a little behind
schedule but very happy with the miles and--most importantly--getting
stronger with no major injury issues. (205 / 211)
13 07--13 xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxoo 28 / 30
14 14--20 xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxoo ooooo ooooo (Estin Hut!) 18 / 30
15 21--27 xxxxx xxooo ooooo ooooo ooooo ooooo 7+ / 30
plan: Th 5.1 Fr 10 Mesa Sa 14
Hey, he's doing quite well...
How the author met
with a terrible obstacle. Will he recover? Will he
ever trail-run again? Stay tuned!!