Race report: ‘Experimenting’ at the 10th annual Snake Run

I’m still a trail runner, dangit! (Clint Green photo)

Leave it to me to play the stupid card.

Sometimes I try things just because I can. You know, that whole “I do what I want” attitude that all the kids playfully throw around when they do something they know is kinda dumb but still get away with it.

I’m no kid, so I don’t get away with it, at least not very often.

I spent the winter focusing on strength and dialing back my running. Gaining strength and keeping up a high volume of miles don’t mix well. Most of us must choose one or the other. So for this winter, strength won out, with decent results. It also made it to where I was running nine or 10 miles a week.

Going back a year ago, my running volume was higher, but still not high. On a lark, I decided to enter the six-hour event at the annual Snake Run in Tulsa. No real goal, just get out there and run some trails for awhile to see how many miles I could log before the gun went off. Keep in mind, I hadn’t trained to run that long on my feet or for any significant distance for months. Even when hiking the last big loop, I still logged 25 miles, just short of a marathon. Not that impressive by that race’s standards, but hey, a little extra effort would be a pretty easy way to snag another 26.2 without having to bother with 18-21 weeks of training. My kinda plan!

It got me to thinking about things. I hiked the last loop of that race, chatting it up with another runner who was also done running but wanted to finish one last lap before calling it a day. When we finished, I managed to have plenty of energy to do a few short loops to get my total mileage to 25. Had I not shown up late and maybe ran at least a part of that last loop, a marathon and change was in the bag, right? So that was my plan for this year.

Or more like my experiment. Knowing the course, the event and a few tricks of slow distance racing, I figured it might be possible to get that distance or more with minimal training. Never mind that I am also about 10 pounds heavier than last year (gotta eat to get those gains!) and was running less.

The event

The Snake Run had been going on in Tulsa for 10 years now. It has two events: The 3-hour race and the 6-hour. The race director designed a course on the easiest trails of Turkey Mountain, meaning that the course is built for speed. Runners try to get as many miles as they can by running on a 3.75-mile loop, and if time is almost up, they can switch to a half-mile loop to finish up.

Course map.

The catch: If you don’t finish a loop before the final gun, that lap doesn’t count, even if you were within sight of the finish line. So there’s a lot of strategy in this one, banking miles and knowing when to peel off the big loop and start doing laps on the short course.

I did my first 25K distance on this race a few years ago in the 3-hour event and improved slightly the next year. Last year was my first shot at the 6-hour event, and I enjoyed the heck out of it. What would happen if I pushed it a little harder?

I knew that no matter what, I wouldn’t be anywhere near the leaders. The top male runner logged 40 miles. The top female, 36.

Uh oh

The starting gun sounded and I took my place in the back of the pack. No sense feigning greatness here. I was experimenting, and my weird goals didn’t need to get in everyone else’s way. The first lap went OK, the temps in the mid-50s and plenty of sun.

But there were some early problems. I found myself tripping a bunch, which is stupid, because I know these trails. “Keep your feet!” I yelled at myself more than once.

Normally, that’s not a big deal because trips and falls happen when you run trails. But a couple of weeks ago, I hurt my back twice in one week: Mid-back doing cleans and a few days later, lower back doing deadlifts. It’s been twitchy ever since. Stumbling forward to catch myself before face-planting got my back angry. Not good when you’re less than four miles into something projected to go much longer.

Also around that time, the familiar burn of a blister started making its presence known on the arch of my left foot. And maybe about 10 miles after that, my right knee was barking at me. I think the two may have been related.

The temps began to climb, my body ached and griped and moaned and pitched a world-class fit after the third lap was done. I popped some ibuprofen and decided to break things up between speedier running and power-hiking.

The fourth lap went like a charm, and I finished it with two hours and 45 minutes left on the clock. I told myself that if I could finish Lap 5 by the 4:10 mark, I’d have a marathon in the bag. Score one for the lazy runners!

Sadly, things started falling apart. My body wasn’t used to going this long and this far. Those pleasant temps raced through the 50s, the 60s and the 70s – pretty hot for a long-distance event. Every muscle around my hips was screaming. And by the time Lap 5 was done, the clock read 4:20. The race director, Ken “TZ” Childress, told me jokingly, “I’ve got bad news: You’re probably not going to win today.”

Best quote of the day, and great humor to take the edge off the facts.

I was trashed and getting slower by the minute. My left foot was barking loudly. So was my right knee. The temps had crossed 80 degrees, and the trees were still too bare to provide any meaningful shade to blunt the sun’s rays. Seven laps weren’t happening. No 26.2 that day.

Yes, even back-of-the-pack, untrained runners get a little bling when it’s over.

I finished my sixth lap, ate some barbecue, and with some time still left on the clock did one last half-mile loop to finish things off at 22.5 miles. Squarely back of the pack. They gave me a medal anyway and didn’t make fun of me, which was awful sporting of them.

Silver linings

That’s not to say the day was a bust. After all, this was an experiment. And the results showed me that no, you can’t run marathon-length races without a passing attempt at training. Your body needs the pounding of miles and time on your feet to perform, something no amount of squats, deadlifts and cleans will give you.

Additionally, I got to see a bunch of running buds. My friends Tyler and Miranda were there, with Tyler cheering on his bride as she gutted out her first-ever half-marathon in the 3-hour event.

Another running couple, Steve and Brooke, were slaying miles together, also on the 3-hour race. Both did well, fighting off the heat and running strong. Runners I don’t know, whether they were fast or slow, would say “good job!” or “great work, keep it up!” when we passed. Lots of high-fives were shared.

Clint took photos of all of us while helping Ken and the gang with the logistics of the race. Bryan and a bunch of local trail runners kept track of people’s loops and times.

And those aid stations. One of the best things about this race is they don’t mess around with the aid stations. They do them right, stocking them with plenty of drinks and food.

I met some new faces, and even got a lift to the parking lot when it was over so I didn’t have to stumble down the hill to my car. Good souls, these trail runner types.

Oh, and I got a sweet dirt tan line.

The dirt tan line. And if you look close, you’ll see the mondo blister I ran with for about 19 miles.

Lessons learned

So what do I make of this?

Well, if you’re going to run long distances, you should prepare accordingly.

Running in the heat sucks.

And as I write this, I’m a hurtin’ unit.

But it’s tough to beat a day running around in the woods. The fact that I can do that is more than a lot of people can say, given health problems, time constraints or something else.

And you can’t top the crowd at a trail race, or a group run, or even just a couple of friends who decide to go pound out some miles in the dirt. I’m gimpy today, but I’m good.

Next year, though, I should actually train.

Bob Doucette

Should there be weight classes in running? Four arguments against it

I'm no lightweight runner, that's for sure. But I'm not going to seek special treatment because of it.

I’m no lightweight runner, that’s for sure. But I’m not going to seek special treatment because of it.

An interesting discussion popped up on the Trail and Ultra Running Facebook page, attached to a link that asked the question: Should marathons be divided into weight classes?

The reasoning was that many other sports have weight classes. So why not long-distance running? The writer used the analogy of boxing, and plenty of people who commented on the link also mentioned sports like mixed-martial arts, competitive weightlifting, wrestling, and so forth. Arguments for more weight classes seemed to go like this: Smaller, thinner people have a physical advantage over larger people in marathons. So why not split ‘em up?

It should be noted that some races offer “Clydesdale” and “Athena” classes for men and women who toe the line with more size than the smaller competitors. I fit nicely within the Clydesdale ranks, and my times show it. I’m mid-pack at best when I’m trim and in good shape. There’s no way I can compete with the front-pack runners who rarely weigh more than 135 pounds.

I fault the article for saying running and boxing are both “combative sports” (they’re not). But the general question is a decent one to ponder.

You’d think that someone like me, who usually enters races at 184-190 pounds, would embrace more weight divisions in endurance events. But I don’t. My thoughts:

Combat sports and weight lifting use different methods of athleticism to succeed than running. You might be thinking, “duh!”, but this needs to be explained. Boxing, wrestling, MMA and powerlifting use force and power against either an opponent (another fighter) or an object (a barbell). It takes mass to move mass, so naturally larger lifters can lift more weight, and when pitting two, equally skilled combatants against each other, the larger one has an advantage in terms of how much potential force can be behind a punch, kick or throw. With running, your energy is applied to moving only yourself against the friction of the road, an incline, or the wind. How well you do this is affected by your weight, but is more affected by your conditioning, and your build relative to your stature. If the latter two are adapted correctly for the sport, weight becomes a nonissue as it will automatically conform to the demands of high-level competition.

Weight-classed sports are designed in a way to accommodate a person’s genetics in terms of size. This matters less in running, because “size” is more under the athlete’s control. It would make no sense to put a 160-pound boxer in the ring with a dude who weighs 220. Similarly, you’d never expect a 120-pound powerlifter to lift as much as someone who weighs 250. These people’s sizes are often a component of their genetics. This happens with runners, too, but here’s the thing: If a runner wants to have a build that is conducive to running fast, a lot of that is under his or her control. Diet and training can make someone fast and efficient regardless of being 5-foot-4 or 6-foot-2. There are genetic and hormonal factors that can come into play for some people, but for most runners, your size relative to your sport are determined by you.

Distance running is already split up into numerous classes. Endurance sports don’t need to have a bunch of weight divisions because the fields are already broken up into age groups and gender. Go to any big-city marathon, and you have somewhere around 8 or more age groups per gender. Age makes some sense, as that is a major factor that the runner can’t change. Splitting up into even more categories seems to dilute what it means to be a “winner” and lessen the significance of podium finishes. If we do this, what’s next? Height classes to help shorter runners? We could keep going down this rabbit hole until we get a few dozen podium photo ops per race.

Running is already one of those sports that rewards far more than just winning. Many races give out medals just for crossing a finish line. I have no problem with that (I treasure my mid-pack finisher medals), but if we’re going to make the podium more accessible by adding new classifications, we’re watering down the significance of what it takes to win. Though I compare my times to friends, I mostly compete against myself. I realize that if I want to have a chance at winning, I’d need to drastically change my training, diet and lifestyle. I’d need to be about 60 pounds lighter to be fast enough to challenge high-performing runners. But I like barbecue and tacos, and I don’t want to lose so much muscle that my strength goes away. With that in mind, I know I’ll never be a podium finisher. And I’m OK with that. Along the same line, I do not and will never expect any race director and athletic organization to write up new rules to make it to where someone like me, who won’t commit to elite-level training, reaps the rewards of an elite-level finish by stepping on a platform and holding a trophy that looks and feels like that of someone who is actually elite.

So those are my thoughts. How about you? Yay or nay on weight classes? Holler in the comments.

Bob Doucette

Recapping the 2016 Route 66 half marathon

Pre-race running stoke. Me and my nasty beard.

Pre-race running stoke. Me and my nasty beard.

It’s been a funky year in running for me. The beginning of the year saw me get pretty lazy on that front as I spent most of the first seven or so months working on strength. I did work on some speed, ran for six hours on trails in March and did a few 5Ks in search of a PR (to no avail). Even during the fall race season, I didn’t enter much.

So going into the Route 66 half marathon, I didn’t have very high expectations. I spent the bulk of my time building up a base, working my long runs into double-digit miles and trying to get my body used to running on pavement for a couple of hours. Considering where I was starting from, I felt good about being as strong at the end of my long runs, in terms of pace, as I did in the beginning. I also made sure to run plenty of hills, remembering hilliness that the Route 66 course presents every year.

The problem, however, came from this fall’s weather. When the fall training cycle starts up, I’m mentally ready for lots of hot-weather runs. It’s part of the deal in the Southern Plains. But I expect that by October, things should be cooling down enough to really work on pushing the pace throughout the week. Unfortunately, Oklahoma went through its warmest October on record, with only a couple of days where highs didn’t reach the 80s. Often, those highs were near 90.

To race faster, you must be able to train faster. Throughout the fall, that didn’t happen for me. Throw in a couple of interruptions in my training schedule, and I went into my fifth half marathon with low expectations. I was heavier than I needed to be and slow. While my workouts were ahead of where they were a year ago, I had a feeling that this race might be my slowest half to date.

THE COURSE

If you’ve done this race before, you know that it fools a lot of people. Oklahoma is a relatively flat state, and newcomers arrive thinking this will be a fast, flat course.

And a good chunk of it is. Just not the majority of it.

You run downhill for most of the first mile, then spend the next four battling a series of rolling hills through a residential area. It’s scenic — the old neighborhoods of midtown are filled with big trees and stately homes, and the fall foliage was in its full glory. It was gorgeous to view with a bright sun and blue skies on what started out as a crisp, cool day.

After five miles, runners spill out into Brookside to begin about three miles of flat ground. The course ducks back into a neighborhood for a couple of miles and a long, deceptive uphill that can zap the unwary. It then goes back out onto the flats of Riverside Drive before taking the long uphill slog back into downtown.

HOW IT WENT DOWN

I made sure to start out at a measured pace, and for those first four miles, I was fairly slow. It looked like I might match or exceed the previous year’s 2:20 finish.

One thing that worked in my favor (besides the cooler temps): All that hill training. Every Monday, I’d run three miles on one of the hilliest streets in Tulsa. That, combined with plenty of strength training in my glutes and hamstrings, really helped me feel fresh by the time I hit the flat part of the course at Mile 6.

It was here where I noticed that my mile times were getting faster. After nine miles, I was only a couple of minutes off my 15K personal record. By Mile 10, I passed the pacer who was holding a 2:15 pace.

Let me say, first off, that I am not fast. At all. But around this time, I knew I was starting to close in on my half marathon PR, a 2:11 split I hit in 2013 when doing Route 66’s full marathon. Back then, I was running 20 more miles per week and weighed about 13 pounds less. I didn’t foresee breaking that mark, but of one thing I was sure: I wouldn’t bomb like I had the previous year.

And then came the race’s great equalizer. Once you’re 11 miles in, you must go back into downtown, which is atop a hill. Southwest Boulevard is what takes you there, and it’s the biggest hill on the course. My cardio to that point had been taxed but was solid. That is, until that hill.

That’s where I cratered. The hill got me again, just like it had in here previous races. The 2:15 gal breezed by. No shot at a PR.

But getting past that, I recovered. And the last mile flew by. I sprinted the last hundred yards, and crossed the finish at 2:15:04, my second-fastest half.

Race bling.

Race bling.

WHAT TO MAKE OF IT

I see a lot of what-ifs. What if I’d been a little more disciplined on the diet? What if I had pushed my training a little harder? And so on.

That’s my nature. I tend to look at what I could have done better, and achieved better results. A lot of the reasons I do this (and I know it’s true for many of you) is to test myself, to see if I can improve my fitness and performance, to see what this ole body can do.

And that’s all fine. But some of the things I did worked, and I do believe that training in warm to hot weather for most of the season paid off in November.

But most of all, it’s always nice to exceed your expectations. Putting up a 2:15 in a half marathon isn’t the pinnacle of long-distance running, but I didn’t believe it would happen this year. And then it did. It’s a sweet reward, almost as sweet as the post-run feast, which is really the best part of race day.

How did you do in your last race? Gimme a shout in the comments.

Bob Doucette

Previewing the 2016 Route 66 Marathon, Tulsa

Marathon starting line stoke: It's real, man. (Kirk Wells/Route 66 marathon photo)

Route 66 Marathon starting line stoke: It’s real, man. (Kirk Wells/Route 66 marathon photo)

I haven’t raced a bunch this year, but it’s hard not to get excited about running in the Route 66 Marathon. Organizers do a great job in setting up an interesting and challenging course through midtown and downtown Tulsa, with good course support and a sweet finish line party to boot. Not to mention the race’s always-epic medals.

The race weekend starts off with a 5K event on Saturday, and the half and full marathons are on Sunday.

Before I get too far into it, one special note about one of the race’s longtime organizers, Chris Lieberman.

Chris made this race become a reality for Tulsa. Before Route 66 was born, there was no major marathon here. Chris, along with Kimi Hann, changed that in a big way, growing the event into what it is today, one of the state’s most-loved long-distance running events.

Chris has also been instrumental in bringing in other big-time events to Tulsa that have nothing to do with running. Case in point: The Center of the Universe Festival, where great national and local music acts converged on the city for three days of rock ‘n’ roll.

In March, Chris suffered a traumatic brain injury after taking a 10-foot fall off a ladder. It’s left him in a lengthy recovery process, one in which he’s making progress, but it’s a tough deal nonetheless.

Those close to Chris are asking that if you can, honor him by signing up to be a volunteer for the race. You can do that here. If you want to know more about Chris’s situation, check out this site. You can also follow his progress on Facebook: Just do a search for “Chris Lieberman Updates” and “like” the page.

Chris has been an amazing supporter of all things Tulsa, as well as to runners here and in many cities and states. It would be good to send him some love, through volunteering, or prayers, or good vibes. You can also donate to help with his recovery.

OK, on to the details of the race…

First off: the packet pickup and expo. The expo takes place at the Cox Business Center in downtown Tulsa. You can pick up packets for your race from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 18 and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 19. At the expo, there are going to be a ton of vendors, speakers and a bloggers’ forum. If you’ve got time, check ’em all out.

Second: Let’s talk about the course. It’s the same as it was when the race changed its format to finish in the Brady Arts District downtown, right by Guthrie Green.

Courtesy Route 66 Marathon

Courtesy Route 66 Marathon

The marathon and half marathon follow the same initial loop right up into the 13th mile, when marathoners head out of downtown for their second loop. So here are some things you need to know…

Don’t be fooled by that first mile. It’s mostly downhill, so it’s fast, and the excitement of the race will amp up a lot of people’s paces. Soon after reaching 15th Street, you will meet a really big hill, and the hilliness of the course won’t stop for while. Running through the neighborhoods of Maple Ridge and near Woodward Park is really scenic, but there is a lot of up-and-down between Mile 2 and Mile 7. Pace yourself accordingly.

The hills will relent as you go through Brookside, then turn west on 41st Street. Turning north on Riverside will remain flat, but the course ducks back east, then north again on Cincinnati Avenue and into a neighborhood. Mild elevation gains and losses prevail from Mile 8 to Mile 10. After that, it’s a good, flat section of Riverside Drive into Mile 11. And then it gets real.

At Southwest Boulevard, you will begin the climb back into downtown, and it’s not small, lasting the better part of a mile. Just past Mile 12, you’ll turn north at Denver Avenue and start heading north and downhill toward the Brady District. Marathoners will turn back east at Second Street to begin their second loop while those doing the half will continue north on the last mile — one more climb, then a mostly flat finish.

For those going the full 26.2, it’s another trip out to midtown, but in different areas. You get to avoid the hills of 15th Street to start, instead eventually making your way south on Peoria between Mile 13 and Mile 15. Here, you’ll turn back east on a familiar road, south past Utica Square, but then farther east into different neighborhoods. I’ve found these areas not as hilly as Maple Ridge, but that will change soon enough. The mellower grades continue from Mile 15 through Mile 18 as you head north toward the University of Tulsa.

You hit one small but steep climb on 21st Street, then a long, gradual uphill slog toward the school between Mile 18 and Mile 20. The uphill continue through the school, then relents a bit as you leave and go back south on Delaware.

And then, my friends, comes the biggest mental test of the full, at least in my estimation. Just before Mile 22 begins, you hit 15th Street (also known as Cherry Street), and its sizable hills. Between Delaware and Peoria, they are big and somewhat steep.

Just when you think another huge hill awaits, you turn north back on Peoria (between Mile 23 and Mile 24) to start the trek back downtown. Fortunately, the hills of Midtown are behind you. If you have any gas left in the tank, you can make some time here. If you don’t, at least gravity won’t be devouring you the entire way there. A slight grade up take you from Mile 24 to Mile 25, then a gradual downhill on First Street to Denver Avenue lets you coast.

If you want to do the Center of the Universe Detour, it pulls off the course in the middle of the First Street stretch. It’s a party up there, and they give you a commemorative coin for your trouble. Back on the main course, you go downhill fast on Denver Avenue, under a bridge, then one last, short uphill climb to the Brady District and the final, mostly flat portion of the course to the finish.

Last few observations…

First, I hope you did some hill training. Though only a few of the hills are big and there are some sizable flat spots, this is not a flat course. At all.

Second, expect good course support. Organizers have lots of aid stations along the way, well-stocked and well-manned.

Third, watch the weather forecasts. So far, it looks really good. A cool start in the upper 30s, and a high in the mid to upper 50s. Dress accordingly, and keep watching the forecast. Weather in this state can be fickle.

Last, enjoy it! I’ve run this one a couple of times, and it stacks up really well with any race I’ve done. The course is scenic and challenging, which always makes for a good time.

Bob Doucette

Can you be a fast runner and also be strong?

The changing physique of Ryan Hall is instructive.

The changing physique of Ryan Hall is instructive.

I saw an article in Outside Magazine recently that attracted a bit of ire from readers. In it, the writer checks out the case of American endurance athlete Ryan Hall, and how being so good at long-distance running made him, physically speaking, weak.

Hall has retired from a prolific and successful career as an elite runner, and has since taken up weight training to go alongside a less intense regimen of running. Since his retirement, he’s packed on some muscle and become noticeably stronger. The conclusion: Elite distance runners are fast on the course, but that speed comes at a cost. Namely, strength.

This is where a bunch of online readers collectively lost their minds. They attacked the article, the writer and the publication. You can read it here.

But what they failed to objectively conclude was that the premise is the article was right.

If you’ve read this blog much, you might be surprised to hear me say that. I’m a committed runner, regularly racing in 15k, half marathon and 25k events. Mostly, I run for fun. How can I dare to say that runners are weak?

Let’s step back a moment. There are some things we have to square away before I can defend the article in question, and my agreement with it.

We need to define “strength.” From the outset, let me say that it takes a mentally strong person to run big distances, and to run those distances fast. Running long distance at higher speeds is grueling. Pain is constant. The body is telling you to stop. You can’t be a sub-1:30 half marathoner or a 3-hour marathoner and not be mentally and emotionally tough, not to mention well-conditioned.

But it’s important to distinguish between being “well-conditioned,” “mentally strong,” and “emotionally strong” and what qualifies as “strength.”

Strength is quantifiable. You can objectively measure it. The easiest way to do that can be found in how much mass you can move. Can you pick that thing up off the floor? How much weight can you lift above your head? These types of questions can be answered — and usually are — in different weight lifting moves. Someone who can deadlift 500 pounds is stronger than someone who can’t. It’s that simple.

At the elite level of long-distance running (or even at distances like the 5k), efficiency is key. The heart and lungs are going to be taxed at the highest levels, so any mass (muscle or otherwise) that is not essential to the goal is either going to slow you down or be pared off your frame. There are muscley people who can do a 5K 21 minutes, but you won’t see anyone who looks jacked running 15-minute 5ks or 80-minute half marathons. The extra muscle competes too much with the rest of the body when the pace approaches that of runners like Hall, or Meb Keflezighi, or even college scholarship athletes involved in endurance sports.

On the other end, it’s extremely unlikely you’re going to see high-level distance runners who can squat or deadlift twice their body weight. The training that goes into running really fast, or really far, or both forces the body to adapt, and when it comes to running, the sacrifice comes at the cost of muscle, and ultimately, strength.

This is even true of fast-but-not-elite runners. The 1:30 half-marathoners, or the 3:30 marathoners, for example. Or most people who run ultras on a regular basis, regardless of pace. Similarly, you won’t find any power lifters running 24-minute 5ks or any bodybuilders breaking four hours in a marathon. They might be strong, but they won’t be fast or be able to go very far.

(I might add for beginning runners and exercisers, you can gain strength and speed for awhile, but those goals will eventually collide.)

I’d look at my own history here. When I run less, I gain strength. When the miles pile up, I lean up. But I also lose strength. Right now, I weigh about 190 pounds. During marathon training, I dipped to 172. I can deadlift probably 80 more pounds now than I could then. But I doubt very seriously I could come within an hour of the time I hit for those 26.2 miles, and my current 5k is a couple of minutes off my PR. (As a matter of disclosure, I have tried to be both, but the results have been predictable: At my best, I’m moderately strong and not very fast.)

What I’d conclude is this: When you see articles like the one mentioned above, don’t freak out. Don’t get offended by a headline that tells you endurance running will make you “weak.” Understand that strength is objectively quantifiable, and being really fast while also being really strong are competing goals that, for most people, won’t happen simultaneously. Go ahead and train hard for the goal you want, and embrace your own “strength.”

Bob Doucette

Four things that make a great trail race

The results (aftermath?) of a good trail race.

The results (aftermath?) of a good trail race.

I did a trail race last weekend, one of my favorites that’s right in town. It’s the Snake Run, a unique race where you run as many miles as you can for either three or six hours. Winners are based on who covers the most ground on a winding loop through some of the mellower single track on Turkey Mountain in Tulsa. Some people come out and really grind out a lot of miles (the gamesmanship with these folks is something to behold), while others grab a few loops, say hey to friends and have a mellower good time. All types are welcomed.

The passage of time sometimes makes it easy to forget why these smaller trail races are so great. I took some stock on that subject during this one. And after running for almost six hours, I had plenty of time to contemplate it. So here are some thoughts…

The race has to be interesting. People will come back to races that go through fantastic scenery, provide a great challenge or attract excellent competition. If you’re the type who wants — and finds — all three, you’ll probably mark that event on your calendar every year.

It has to be well-run. Problems with timing, course management, etc. are sure-fire ways to have people not return. If you have a race director who runs a tight ship, everyone is happy, the race gets a good reputation and more people come back year after year.

You have to have good aid stations. The best trail running aid stations are a sight to behold. Trail runners and ultra runners know what competitors want and need. You won’t see aid stations with only water, sports drinks and power gels. You’re going to see all kinds of salty, or sweet, and definitely tasty food choices to keep you powered through your run on a good trail race aid station. You might even see some beer or liquor, just to keep things interesting. At one aid station this weekend, a volunteer saw the salt lines on my tech shirt, snagged a salt tablet and made sure I downed it with some water. My friends, that’s how an aid station is done.

You’ve got to feel the love. This one is harder to nail down. But it starts at the top, from the RD to the volunteers, and to the runners themselves. Friendliness, encouragement, high-fives and good times when it’s over are what get people coming back for more. I’ve always got that at the Snake Run (runners, fast and slow, saying “good job!” or “nice going!” to each other as they passed by was frequent). On my last loop, me and a runner from Missouri chatted it up, and it made the pain subside for awhile. The trail running community is pretty awesome, and if you run the type of race that attracts these kind of folks, you’ll only build onto the sport.

There are worse ways to spend the day. (Jessica Wiley photo)

There are worse ways to spend the day. (Jessica Wiley photo)

So those are some of my ideas, and I can tell you that the Snake Run checks all the boxes for me. That’s why I’ve run it four years straight.

What makes a great trail race for you? Let’s hear it in the comments.

Bob Doucette

Revisiting speed work: What my workouts have looked like

Well, lookey there. It's me trying to run fast. This one is during a trail race and not in a speed workout.

Well, lookey there. It’s me trying to run fast. This one is during a trail race and not in a speed workout.

Earlier this week, I wrote about doing more — and harder — speed workouts as part of my weekly training. I got a lot of good feedback here on the blog, on Facebook and on Twitter. A lot of you have been putting in the work in terms of speed already, and more of you are interested in trying these types of workouts for yourself.

I’m sure there is a ton of information on the Web about speed workouts, their benefits, and how to do them. I figured I’d share what mine have looked like for the past few weeks. The goal is to include one speed workout per week. Any more than that — especially if you are into doing the longer distances — might be counterproductive.

This isn’t a schedule or a plan, just what I’ve been doing with the able coaching of a trainer at my gym. Also: I’m not fast, but not a total beginner. So the speeds listed are for me, with the goal of breaking 24 minutes in a 5K. So here goes…

Week one

Warm-up (2 minutes, 10-minute pace)

5 x 800 meter intervals at 8-minute pace (one lap walk break in between)

Five-minute cool-down (could be an easy-pace run or, if inside, something low impact such as an elliptical or stationary bike. I can’t believe I just typed that, but there ya go).

We decided that I cruised through that fairly easily, to the next speed workouts were going to be more difficult.

Week two

Warm-up (same as before)

5 x 1,000 meter intervals at 8-minute pace (one-lap walk break between intervals)

This was harder, but still doable. Definitely could feel getting into that anaerobic state on the last couple of intervals. From here, we experimented with faster speeds.

Week three

Warm-up

5 x 400-meter intervals: first two at 7:30 pace; second two at 7-minute pace; last one at 6:40 pace. (one-lap walk break between intervals)

Cool-down.

This one was tougher, mostly because of the speeds. But still doable. At the end of the week, we did our two-mile time trials. I did mine in 16:42, and it felt as if I was in an anaerobic state a lot earlier than I expected. But finding myself in that state during the speed workouts allowed me to settle in and gut out the last laps breathing really hard.

Week four

Warm-up

400-meter interval at 7:30 pace, walk a lap.

2 x 800-meter intervals at 7:30 pace, walk a lap between intervals.

400-meter interval at 7:30 pace

Cool down

The 800s at that pace were difficult. But I do believe I can go faster, or do more intervals.

Couple of notes

These training runs are best done in one of two venues: at an outdoor track (it’s easy to measure distance by the lap) or (again, I can’t believe I’m typing this) at the gym/home on a treadmill (easy to track distance and set speeds). It may not be as fun as running free on the road or on the trails, but sometimes this is how you build performance. It can’t all be fun and games.

Eventually the goal is to string together consecutive 1,000-meter stretches at a speed that will break that 24-minute 5K time. This would be a major improvement from my PR (26:08) and would nudge me closer to the front quarter of the pack in most larger races.

I’d like to emphasize that in terms of speed work, these are novice paces — plenty of runners near my age crush longer runs at speeds faster than an 8-minute pace. But this is where I’m at, a guy who does most runs in the 9:30 to 10-minute range. The whole purpose of doing speed work is to break out of a multi-year rut. Scale your speed workouts to your ability.

So what are you doing for speed? What are your goals, and what are you doing to get there? Feel free to share your successes, failures and ideas in the comments.