Adventuring with Alia

Chronicles of a distance runner


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Cross country running

Remember that one cross country race that you executed perfectly? You trained the perfect amount and managed a taper with just the right balance of rest and active stimulation for your legs and lungs. You were able to go out hard, race with confidence and grace and tie it all together with a badass kick, not showing any signs of pain or weakness other than maybe a bit of a grimace for good measure. Afterward, you went around distributing and receiving enthusiastic high-fives and everyone was happy and no one puked or felt like fainting and it was the BEST DAY EVER.

No? Doesn’t sound familiar?

Well here’s something to think about: “perfect” cross country races? I don’t believe in them.

Cross country is painful in its entirety, gritty, and overall not very pretty. Just stand by the finishing chutes of a race and watch the vast majority of the field come stumbling through the line. That situation has got to be one of the most accurate portrayals of the phrase “blood, sweat and tears.” At times, cross country running seems closer to waging a personal war on any given course than running with perfect fitness.

Of course fitness is needed, but at the end of it all, true cross country tends to come down to a “survival of the toughest.” And that is one of the many reasons why I believe that it is as true to the core of running possible.

Perfectionism

Too often, we get tied up in exact fitness. We attempt to equate all our workout splits down to the most minute details, factoring in all possible elements affecting performance on any given day at any given time. While diligence and attention to detail are undeniably pertinent aspects training, it becomes easy to get carried away and lose sight of the actual enjoyment of the sport.

Sometimes, we need something to shake us enough to remember why we’re out there in the first place: to kick ass.

As my HTS Elite teammates and I gear up for club cross country next weekend in Bend, OR, I’m trying to keep this in mind. I’m excited for my fitness coming back to me through some painful-cross country specific workouts, but more than anything I can’t wait to race as part of a badass team on a course that is more than rumored to be “true” cross country.

HTS Elite doing a cross country workoutHTS Elite during and after a hard cross county simulation on grass. Photos courtesy of Brad Hudson. 

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This is not California: the beginning of winter in CO

Last spring, as I was spreading the word of my approaching move out of state, I received a certain reaction many times. It would generally consist of a pause, sometimes a head tilt, and something along the lines of:

“You know it snows there, right?”

Yes. Duh. I knew that living in Colorado would mean learning to grapple with a bit more of a winter than I had grown up with. Luckily my move in June secured a handful of fairly warm months before the snow started. And now…it’s actually beginning.

Last Thursday, I woke up to a blanket of white outside which was equally frigid as it was beautiful.

Snow daze

Growing up in Northern California, snow days were a phenomenon that I only saw in movies. I didn’t really have a grasp on what a “snow day” would actually be like, but I knew that I wanted it…mainly because it would consist of no school and also probably a good amount of hot chocolate and other wonderful things I was positive I was being deprived of.

Unfair

Snow day = a “Christmas-y” day of sorts, right? Sounds logical. It’s understandable why I would find it upsetting that I did not get to partake in this sensational experience. Not to worry though; I’m about to do the “snow” thing many times over in the coming months.

Impact on training

Unfortunately the beautiful white stuff outside also makes for some less-than-ideal running conditions from time to time.

Friday was one of those days.

Our usual morning workout was pushed indoors to the human gerbil machines (treadmills) to avoid ice. Luckily HTS Elite has access to the awesome facilities over at Rally Sport here in Boulder. We took over the long line of treadmills, and noisily got our various workouts in.

Treadmill workout

 

Photos curtesy of Brad Hudson

To be honest, there is a part of me that is childishly excited about the snow. I’ve never experienced a white holiday season, and even as cold as it is, the beauty is astounding. Looking up at the Flatirons covered in a silvery dust is breathtaking.

However, I’m generally surrounded by people who have a fairly good idea of what to expect from coming months; they’ve already been here through a full winter and spring cycle. And I’ve heard many times over that the worst is by far yet to come.

So, we’ll see how this attitude of excitement fluctuates as the cold persists past the holiday season and into track.

But for now, I’m enjoying the change in seasons and white-dusted surroundings.

snow covered


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Learning to run slow

One of the most important caveats that I’ve had to learn at altitude so far is the importance of running slow.

Wait, what?

I know, I ultimately moved here to run faster, not slower. Hear me out. 

Changing thought

I love my aerobic runs. I love running a decently fast pace on my aerobic runs. However, since moving to 5,000 ft. I heard the necessity of running easy on aerobic/recovery days echoed again and again.

Run your easy runs easy, so you can run your hard runs hard. 

Fair enough.

Recovering from hard efforts is not something to be taken lightly, especially when you’re operating in altitude. Even when you’re acclimated, you’re still depleting your body more than you would at sea level.

I understood, but still had a tough time breaking the habit. I’d wear my GPS watch on aerobic runs purely to keep my pace in check, routinely swearing at myself when I would inevitably see mile splits that dipped too low. There was a constant game of tug-of-war going down between my mental and physical capacities. Highly obnoxious.

The “aha” moment

The tug-of-war game continued until I had what I’ll call my running slow “aha” moment several weeks ago. I finished a decent workout, started my three mile cool-down, and realized that I genuinely didn’t want to run one damn bit faster than I absolutely had to. It was more of a glorified shuffle, if you will.

It. Was. Fantastic. I got it. Running slow…is pretty awesome.

Solo to supported

I could be completely delusional, but the partial neurosis that a year of solitary training propagated in me was difficult to let go of. I didn’t fully comprehend the amount of mental energy I was expending before and during workouts alone until now.

Conversely, I also had a difficult time summoning that amount of intensity explicitly for workout days without allowing it seep into my regular runs as well.

Having a group to run with out here has already changed my training for the better in so many ways. Group runs let me enjoy the recovery that aerobic days should be without getting impatient. It’s more than just a run; it’s a much needed social outlet as well.

rollinsville_run

One of the many Sunday long run group pictures, courtesy of Brad Hudson. 

It’s only been two months here, but I just fall more and more in love with this place.