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Changing Seasons, Changing Focus

Penguin Peak from Bird RidgeThe weather warms, the snow softens and melts and attention turns to the next objective. There's still skiing to be done here in Alaska but I have to drive a little farther to find reasonable conditions. So, the after work agenda changes and mine turns to running. 

At 175 pounds, I'm not the most likely of runners. But a large aerobic capacity can still move my carcass uphill at a good clip, at least for a 50 year old. The cool thing about living in Anchorage is that the running community has an affection for uphill races. With a trick right ankle and aging knees, I typically take my time running downhill. Any advantage I might gain through suffering and stubbornness on the uphill is likely to be erased by the more downhill inclined competitors. I hate the idea of being passed like that but such is my fate. But with an uphill only event, I stand a better chance of holding my own.

With an encouraging series of events on the schedule I've decided to spend some time preparing for and racing my peers up various dirt hills in Alaska. I haven't raced in a running event in over 25 years so I'm psyched to toe the line again. There are some longer events on the schedule, too, that I will sign up for. I'm hoping the length (50km) will temper some of the kamikaze antics on the down. These events also traverse some wild-ass terrain so why not, results notwithstanding?

Bird Ridge

The record snow fall this year is delaying the opening of some of the common training trails around town. Bird Ridge, out Turnagain Arm, about 25 minutes from Anchorage, is a popular stair master. It climbs 3,500 vertical feet in 3 miles. Most of it is melted out now and the snow covered sections have a trough cut through making for casual passage. I've been up 3 times now. The annual race up it is in a month. I hope to be ready.

Looking back to Cook InletLooking down the first 2K of Bird Ridge

Bird Ridge profileMy first lap up Bird was surprising in that I felt pretty good chugging along, sometimes breaking into a jog when the pitch eased. These weren't my first steps running. No, I tried to be sensible and do some easy runs around the neighborhood a few times during the last few weeks. Twenty to 30 minutes tops. But when I started up Bird I couldn't help myself from driving the pace. I wanted to go up in under an hour. It took me 59 minutes flat.

Going down led to the expected soreness over the next few days. In spite of my twice-weekly weight room sessions at the squat rack, nothing creates muscle soreness quite like walking/running downhill. On my walk down I thought about a reasonable goal for the race and decided that 50 minutes would be worthy. The skinny young guys manage in about 40 minutes. If I want to be competitive with my middle-aged peers then 50-ish minutes is where I need to be. It's gonna hurt.

The next time up I tried to jog more of it and push pretty hard for the first 2,000 feet. I wanted to average 4,000 feet/hour. Mission accomplished. That pace would get me close. The big unknown, of course, is how much faster I'll move when the trail is snow free. Bird Ridge snow trenchI know my heart rate drops when I stumble along in that trough. The ridge also flattens significantly during the last 25% of the route so I'll be running faster there, I hope. This time I went 56:30. Whatever, it's going to be exciting to throw down come race day.Up hard, down easy. Pretty obvious

The other thing I realized the third time I did it (without a watch) is that the start is in a different place than where I'd been starting which should be shorter and, thus, faster. Here's hoping.

Skill Transfer

I have an ongoing dialogue with Matthew Weatherley-White from Restwise about the transferability of various movement patterns of one sport to another. Basically, can we cross train? I've always maintained that it's mostly a myth. Sure, you can do other activities than your chosen sport in order to fight boredom or avoid injuries driven by repetitive movements. But there is no substitute for the actual movement pattern of a sport for preparing for that activity. Simply no way around it. 

Since my other competitive outlet is skimo racing, we often discuss the merits of various off-season pursuits. I have one successful skimo racing friend who insists that single-speed MTB riding is the key to his success. He mentions something about "power". I insist there is little power required in ski racing. It's more pure aerobic effort and high rate foot turnover. This is why I'm convinced that trail running is the best preparation short of skiing year around. I doubt it's a coincidence that the best skimo racers in North America and Europe are also champion trail runners.

So, running it is. The foothills in Anchorage are laced with single track. The sun shines all night in the summer. Road bike riding sucks here. What else could I do? Bears be damned, I'm going to get out and get high this summer and explore. The frequent races will keep me focused. I'm psyched. Hopefully, those stupid running injuries stay away. I don't want to be that guy. - Brian

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Reader Comments (3)

Good luck and thanks for the update. I'm in a similar situation to you with running - turning 50 next month and did way to much running in the 70's. I have entered the local 50k a few times and trained mostly by hiking. The course has 7800' of climbing with most of that coming in the first 3/4 of the race. So, I end up getting passed at the end on the downhills, but it's still fun. Unfortunately, the real runners can fly downhill, even after 40k.

I agree with you that cross training has very limited direct transfer. I think it's great for taking a break from your primary sport of choice while still maintaining some fitness, but there's no substitute for specificity if your goal is to go as fast as possible.

May 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKRB

Forrest said you'd be the only guy bc skiing in spandex, didn't see you out there.
FYI there is some very fun skiing in ANC right now. I understand if you want to run. Also at this time of year you will find better running North of ANC rather than south, ohh and the mountain biking in kincaid is sweet right now you don't have to wait for the Hillside to melt.
So far when running and encountering bears I just run at them screaming, it turns around the surprise element and has worked every time, I know it is not recomended but.....less hassle than trying to run with bear spray( effective weapon btw)

May 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTB


Haven't skied much lately but definitely out there in Lycra earlier. Always good for a funny look, especially up here in AK. But since I'm usually going pretty fast on little gear no one says anything. But even if they did...just makes sense to me.

I have a few days off coming up so I plan on heading up to Turnagain Pass to check the lines up there. Should be good.

Had my first two brown bear encounters last week out on Turnagain Arm trail. Stay tuned for that little TR.

May 22, 2012 | Registered CommenterBrian

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