Running Horizontal: How a run on flat, even ground kicked my ass.

by nomeatbarefeet

Most of you know that I love to run trails; uneven, technical, lots of ups and downs, trails. Clips from our recent video of Hard’ack are evidence that our local trails do not have much flat, even running. There are some sections that allow you to open up a bit, but mostly the terrain is rolling (at best).

You may also know from past posts that I have enjoyed doing some thing “crazy” for my birthday. For my 30th Katie and I put together and ran “The 1st (and only) Jonathan Auyer 30th Birthday 30k: A Run to Benefit Me.” (You can read the report here) Last year, for my 31st, I ran the Vermont 50k. (Check it Part 1 here and Part 2 here.) This year I wanted to run the length of the Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail: 26.4 miles from Saint Albans to Richford. Here is a map:

To prep myself yesterday I went out for an 11 mile run, just to see how my legs felt. I quickly realized that there was no way I could do the entire rail trail.

Now one of my previous runs was a 5.18 mile run that had almost 900 ft. of climbing; my 11 mile run had only about 650 ft. of climbing. I usually feel really good after my trail runs, albeit my legs are tired. But I hadn’t made it more than 5 miles on the rail trail before my hips and gastroc muscles were aching. I was pissed! I had just done the Jay Peak 25k! I ran the 0SPF Trail 1/2 over the summer! Those races had some serious climbing and put some serious strain on my legs. Why couldn’t I run 5 miles in a straight line without feeling it?

Because when you run rolling trails or hills your legs become accustomed to constant changes: up, down, flat, up again, your legs are used to a variety of terrain. On flat ground the same group of muscles are working all the time, and so you will experience quicker muscle fatigue and soreness if you are not accustomed to it, which is exactly what happened.

While I was a bit ticked-off I quickly realized that this “failed” training run was a blessing; it was evidence of what I needed to work on. I cannot just focus on one type of running if I am to be well rounded—as a runner, as a trail runner, I need to give my legs & lungs a variety of workout conditions. This means running flat, even ground; doing speed work; and yes, doing what I love: running in the hills.

I still want to try and run the whole rail trail at some point. But for now, mixing up my training will make me a better runner overall, and in the long run that is for the best. I don’t often run on flat, even ground because the trails—what I considered “real” trails—are constantly calling me. I always want to be on them. But I think I will appreciate them more, and I will appreciate being able to move through them easier, if I, every once in a while, leave the vertical and run the horizontal.