Pushing Down

The arrival of spring this year found this runner looking-forward eagerly to a long event that started up in the mountains and ended down in town. With a couple thousand feet of overall drop, I figured it was a sure formula for a fast pace and an ego-boost to start the season. Sure enough, I crushed my goal pace on the first half (which contained nearly all the downhill) but when I got to the flats…ouch! Turned out my enthusiasm had gotten the better of me and my legs were already shot. By the last few miles I could barely get my feet off the ground as I watched shufflers pass me by and ended up with the worst finish I’d had at that distance in years.

Looking back on it now, I see several things I did wrong. First off, after years of living and training in a mountain region where up and down is a fact of life, I’d taken my fitness in that regard for granted.   Ignoring the fact I’d spend half the last year living in a city where a highway overpass counts as a scenic overlook, I just assumed running all that downhill at an eager pace would still be my thing. Wrong!

Second, because that city sojourn had been at sea level and my regular home and running are all above 6000’ elevation, since my return I’d focused my training on pace work to get re-acclimatized to thin air with less oxygen. Add in the long runs needed to prepare for the event distance, and I completely ignored the kind of up and down runs that would have prepared my legs for this event.

As I mentally beat myself up for that overconfidence, I recalled that an event in which I’d DNF’d a few years ago also had a big downhill in the first half, and that time too, I’d been proud of my pace on those drops, self-image swelling as I wove my way around slower runners and watched the valley floor come rising up to greet me. There too, once we got back on the level, my legs were noodles, only that day, on top of the fatigue I discovered I had no idea how many miles were left to run, thanks to poor signage and a course that looped around and crossed-over itself like a pre-schooler’s shoelaces. Pretty sure my car was closer than the finish line, I bailed and snuck away in shame ( well, maybe just embarrassment…). So much for that earlier flash of ego!

Putting those two together, I’ve resolved to spend this winter on uphill runs and treadmills with the incline set high. And, never again to be deceived by an early downhill. It’s one thing to let it all hang out on a downslope at the end of a run ( thank you to all those race-planners who lay out their courses for a downhill finish, you let us mid-pack runners feel like heroes!). From now on I’ll read the entire elevation profile (another thank you to all the race directors who include that vital info on their web site), and take just a little help from gravity’s boost, while preserving my legs for what comes after.

Pushing downhill, I’ve discovered, is a drug best-taken in controlled doses!

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