Tuesday, February 7, 2017

winter running & 'the good life'

Hey Seattle trail runners! Are you loving these snowy, wet February days? It definitely feels less motivating to train in the cold. Though I remind myself that 'now is the time!' (i.e. my work-life is a bit seasonal), so I have more unencumbered free time to run those long training runs (even in the middle of a weekday sometimes). Also, I live for the 'runner's high'; which is especially therapeutic in these days of uncertainty.
Apart from the endorphin effects, why do I love running so much?  Well, truthfully I don't always love it and since turning 40 a couple years ago I feel less inspired to run on pavement especially. 
Me after finishing the Deception Pass 25k
I have become a trail runner for a variety of reasons.... the chief among these being that I have a strong sense of adventure and believe in the supreme healing powers of spending hours breathing fresher air; submerged in nature. 
Other motivations at the top of my list are: building physical endurance and releasing mental anxiety. 
I am by no means close to being or becoming an elite runner. Completing one ever 50km trail race and one ever full marathon was my attempt to get a taste of the ultra-runner lifestyle and I decided over the decade of my 30's that I'm not as dedicated to that lifestyle:) I feel better when training at the half marathon to 25km distance. Moreover, I prefer the balance of variety of doing other things; particularly cycling, swimming, back-packing, and skiing. 
Perhaps its partly due to living in the city and growing up in the north woods (of Michigan) that I need to spend long hours doing these vigorous outdoor activities, or perhaps it is more a result of my personality. I grew up to become a more 'restless' adult. Which seems partially the result of having a fairly sedentary adolescence (after having my thoracic spine fused due to severe scoliosis). 
Discovery park's outer loop

Last Saturday's training run was a 9-miler of Discovery Park from the Ballard Health Club. This is an easy go-to; mostly trail run that I like to do when I don't have time to get to Cougar, Tiger, or Squak mountain trails. It's definitely not as challenging, given the just over 500 ft gain, but a good one to work on speed and you can easily increase the trail distance by adding various size laps in the park. Last night I ran just over 4 miles in the slush, Wednesday I'm shooting for 4-5 trail miles, and this weekend will be a 10-12-miler. This time I'm shooting for either Cougar Mountain, Paradise Valley, or Soaring Eagle. Then I'll need to taper to ready myself for a half marathon on February 25th. Running the Fort Ebey Kettles trail race will be my first running event since the Deception Pass 25k in early December. 

Steps through the woods @ Discovery
Again, I know training in winter weather can feel daunting; so here are my top three ideas to help motivate and keep you moving:
1. RUN WITH FRIENDS. I personally prefer to run with a buddy for about half of my runs. Though I look forward to my solo runs for mental clarity; running with a friend (new or old) is a good way to learn about them or catch-up; as well as a gauge for your own pace and distance. I recommend seeking out a good match to your fitness level or even partnering with someone slightly faster/ stronger (if possible). This will maximize your own training. 
2. MUSIC. I love making playlists! I prefer music with good, heavy beats. For me it helps distract my brain for longer solo runs especially. My mind can wander; conversely the rhythm of certain music helps me focus on my stride. Podcasts can work too; though I prefer the beats and rhythm to get me pumped. Don't forget to stop and take some breaks though- listening to your foot strike and breathing can be valuable in monitoring your exertion level vs. pace. Also; as on many of our local trails- the ambiance of streams, bird songs, and wind can be therapeutic.
3. TRACK YOUR PROGRESS. I was skeptical at first of jumping on the bandwagon of fitness monitoring devices. However, I do see the results now that I've had and intermittently have used a Suunto Ambit 2 for over a year. There are a variety of cool, very accurate devices out there and a big range in prices. I love and recommend Suunto, despite my particular model (an older one) not having the longest battery life (lots of charging required). 
It is enlightening to see your stats at the end of a training run or race, as well as track your pace, and distance during. 

Despite the psychological and physical benefits of increasing distance, the wear and tear on your leg muscles can takes a toll. So my next blog post will be about how to mitigate the pain and soreness, as well as other fun and thoughtful endurance sports recovery techniques. Meanwhile....go outside!