Mountain Running: The How and Why
By Ryan Woods
Let’s say you’re a runner residing between Georgia and
Maine or maybe between California and Oklahoma. You’ve got several notches on your belt from your local 10k but
your times have dipped or the excitement has gradually faded as the city blocks
blend seamlessly into monotony.
Maybe the excitement remains but you’re looking to add an event to your
calendar to keep motivation high throughout the year. Well if you live in or near the aforementioned states you
may be missing out on a running challenge that will take your breath away. Literally. I’d like to formally introduce you to mountain running.
Fifteen years ago I signed up for “The Bear,” our local
western North Carolina hill climb covering 5 miles and climbing 1500ft. I finished at a snail’s pace up the
grueling final climb with a burn in my quads and calves I’d never experienced
or imagined possible. My lungs
burned and my heart raced as my 36 minutes of misery had finally ended. I staggered through the chute and then
took a look around. What I saw was
North Carolina, Tennessee, and even a little of Virginia. Miles and miles of Blue Ridge Mountains
provided the backdrop for the most rewarding finish of my life… at the
The event in its 3rd year at the time had just
over 100 finishers. Today it sells
out at over 800 runners within a few weeks of registration opening. Back in 1997 I swore I’d never subject
myself to that kind of burn again.
By 2011 I’d subjected myself to it an additional 13 times. The number one reason why this event
brings me and 800 of my peers back year after year and the reason you should
consider mountain running is the finish.
All runs give you a finish line but only mountain running gives you a
finish with a view.
Right now mountain running is booming. More and more events are popping up
each and every year providing runners with short hill climbs to ultra runs
involving several peaks. Here’s
how the road warrior turns into a mountain man:
--- Find your event. Trailrunner magazine provides a detailed list of trail runs
and mountain climbs. Google is
also a decent source for information.
Try typing your destination state + mountain run. You know how to Google.
--- Research your event. All mountain runs are different and thus preparation should
differ. You want to take into
account the elevation profile, terrain, distance, and time it takes like
competition to cover the distance.
Here’s why for each:
profile – prepare your body (Quads!) for the type of ascents and descents the race
provides. Try and find local runs
to simulate your event with climbs and descents. If you live in the flats of America and are going to travel
to an event then try and simulate what you can on a treadmill. Be prepared on steep climbs to cross
well beyond your lactic threshold.
– Rocks, roots, mud, and snow will slow you down and will require proper
footwear. Rocks and roots should
put you in a protective shoe while mud and snow will require you to outfit your
feet in a shoe with lugs. Pavement
requires, well, just your normal racing shoe. Single track trails will keep you focused on the trail and
can make time go by quickly while wider paths may lead to speedier times and a
steadier pace. Keep in mind the more
technical the terrain and the more aggressive the elevation changes the more
your pace will suffer.
and time. Most races you prepare
for by looking at the distance.
For mountain runs time maybe a better judge of how to prepare than
distance. Look at some of your
event’s previous results and search runners on athlinks.com for an idea of how
much a course slows people down.
If a 2:20 marathoner wins an 18 mile mountain race in 2:20 then you
should prepare for a marathon effort and for marathon fueling. Search a few names in the results and
try to determine a time you may run.
Prepare your training for a race lasting that time.
--- Enjoy the climb!
Take a moment to look around as
you grind your way up and down in the mountains. It will hurt on the way up but nothing makes you forget
about the burning in your legs quicker than a 360 degree view. Afterwards sit back and enjoy a well
earned beverage of your choice.
Mine’s a double IPA that always seems to taste better with a few
thousand feet of elevation change.
Next time that road event feels a bit stale I hope you will consider
joining me in the mountains.