Sunday, March 29, 2009

Run on the Yellow Brick Road

The Jan 2009 issue of "Runners World" magazine carried its usual column by Jeff Galloway. In it, he posed as "Fact of Fiction" something that I hear a lot of runners discussing. To quote, "Asphalt is softer than concrete and treadmills are softer than both. FICTION. While some people say they feel the differences among the surfaces, after coaching more than 250,000 runners, I haven't seen any difference in rate of injury or fatigue when running on asphalt, concrete, of treadmills. You can reduce the impact on your body on any surface by taking enough walk breaks from the beginning and wearing a running shoe that fits your foo well."

If I had a dime for every time I've read or heard someone say, "Running on trails is so much easier on your body", I could retire and become a full-time triathlete. This might be true in some parts of the world. I'm thinking about some of the "trails" in Germany that I used to bike and walk the dogs on. They were nice and wide, well maintained, with thousands of years worth of decayed leaves ground into the surface, and enough rain to keep things soft without being muddy. My experience in the Southwest portion of the United States says otherwise. Trails here are hard as rocks. (Because a lot of them are simply rock, and those that aren't rock are compacted sand or caliche clay, which might as well be rock.) I hear people saying things like, "That trail is so cool! Lots of technical single track." Well yeah, lots of places where you can't pass without somebody moving off the trail, and don't even think about looking anywhere other than the trail six feet in front of you because you'll miss the rock/root/gully that will trip you and/or sprain your ankle (or worse).

If running on trails is easier, it's because you can't run very fast. Ten-minute miles seem to be regarded as a reasonably fast pace. (Although the fastest trail runners do go faster.) It's hard to get into a rhythm. Start, stop, turn left, turn right, jump up, jump down. It's a great way to get in a "weight room" training session for your legs, but less so when it comes to exercising your aerobic engine.

If I'm going to "run", give me a street/road/highway any day. I don't think you get any additional cushioning by running on a trail, and I don't have to worry about stepping on a rock or falling into a gopher hole. Would I ever run on a trail? I have, and I will again, but I maintain that "running" is a relative term when you compare roads to trails. I'm not fast on either, but I sure feel better on a road.

Even a yellow brick road.


Monday, March 23, 2009

We're Not Worthy!

Enough of the off-season. I went to the Raptor Du (formerly know as the Stealth Du) at Holloman AFB last weekend. The perfect way to kick off the year and to get me motivated to get back into training.

The folks at Holloman have been putting on a spring du and a fall tri since before I ever did a race. There are some real horror stories about the lack of organization there during some of the past races. The first race I did there was the Oct 2003 tri. I am retired military, so I didn't have any problem getting on base. I spent 4 months at Holloman back in 1977 doing the old "fighter lead in" program, so I more or less knew my way around. However, when I got to the pool, it didn't look like anyone was there, there was nothing in the way of a transition area, and the door to the pool was locked. I wasn't that early, so I started to think I must be at the wrong place. However, a couple of other people were also standing around, and shortly a few "USAF types" showed up and started setting things up. After a fairly long time, someone who seemed to be the race director showed up and got the building unlocked. It turned out that the gate guards didn't have a list of the "civilians" who they were supposed to allow on base, so a lot of people were showing up late. This turned out not to be a problem, since nothing else was ready to go. The race finally started about two hours late. The race itself wasn't too bad, other than the lack of marking/guides on the bike route. The two leading women ("Gabi" and "Mary", both elite-level athletes) took a wrong turn and ended up out in the boondocks northwest of the base. Mary bagged the race after that, but Gabi kept going. I was actually pretty pleased to have her pass me during the swim leg (it was a run/bike/swim tri). For a while, I thought I'd biked faster than she had biked. Things were so bad that year that I received an "apology letter" from the Services Squadron commander a week later.

Since then, their races have generally been pretty well organized. They have been slow getting the results/awards compiled, but they seemed to be trying. This year, everything was very nicely done. Everything was set up early, they started exactly "on time" at 8:00, they had road guards out (although this didn't prevent everyone from running a few extra meters when we followed the first few runners past one of the turns, and a couple of people on the bike turned early down a dead-end street), and they had a lot of people working the timing and recording issues. We had time for a quick shower, then they provided a pasta "brunch" (it was still only 10:30 in the morning), followed by a quick but accurate and well organized awards ceremony. They had hard copies of the final results for everyone, and the whole show was wrapped up by 11:30. They really had their stuff together, and I'm looking forward to the tri in October.

The "we're not worthy" portion of this entry has to do with one of the guys in my age group. Actually, "Mark" is four years older than me, so I only have to deal with him the year when I age up, the same year that he is a senior citizen in the group. When I was little, I was a reasonable baseball player. I figured with a little extra practice, I could play in the big leagues. However, baseball skill evaluation can be pretty subjective. I'm not sure that everyone playing MLB today was tearing up their little league circuit. Somehow, they managed to make it, though. However, "endurance sports" are fairly easy to evaluate. If you can run/bike/swim/ski/etc. faster than the other guy, you win. Eventually, you'll get older, and the younger guys will catch you, but you can hang on to some "age group" glory. Mark is simply ageless. OK, he can crush me like a grape in a duathlon where his faster running and biking give me no chance. He doesn't swim really fast, so I can get some cushion in a tri with a "long" swim (1500m or longer). Even then, I'll need a good day on the bike/run to stay with him. The amazing thing to me, he was 6th overall at the Raptor Du. He was the fastest person there over the age of 39. Mark is 59 years old. (Do the math, he'll be 60 next year.) He's not the only "old guy" doing incredible things in the world of multisport, but he's the one on the local circuit that I know and who I get to compete against. I'm going to train hard and do my best in my races with him, but gosh all fish hooks, some people are simply better than the rest of us.

We're not worthy!