Fast and Flat beats those hills
It’s been 9 months since I moved out west. Nine months of hilly trail runs, and I still haven’t convinced my mind, lungs and feet that I love running hills. Hiking hills – LOVE IT; in fact, the higher I go, the more likely I am to burst into song (usually from a musical). I’ve been waiting for that same “Sound of Music” moment to kick in on the hill training, but so far my favorite part is still when the hill ends.
Last week-end at a conference in Park City, Utah, I commiserated with a colleague about hill-running. Given the choice, we’d both prefer to run flat at altitude rather than a hilly trail at sea level. She’s from Alaska, and spends a fair amount of time out and about on Denali (3000m – 5300m elevation), but I’m from sea level, so either I’m REALLY gifted at performance at altitude (unlikely, but unproven; I’ve never run a race at altitude) or I’m supremely not gifted at hill running. How much do we hate running hills? When devising a route to run in Park City, it included running DOWN into town, planning to return up the hill on the Gondola. So while those outdoor runs were pretty as anything, the best run I had out there was flat on a treadmill, incline set to 1.5%, with Meghan Trainor in my earbuds.
Rattlers and Seal Lions and Bears, oh my! (and humans)
Once I get past the whining and crying about hill running, the scenery out in California more than makes up for the quad burning. Not only that, but the wildlife that share the trail make it even more exhilarating. One of those “Aha” moments for me about moving out here came during a hilly run at altitude in Mammoth, coming from sea level of course. Mammoth is at approximately 8,000 ft, and the peak of the ski mountain is a bit over 11K. It was a challenging run, but strikingly beautiful. It got even better when I ran into this guy:
The 4-minute differential between a flat mile and a hill mile
Sometimes it’s totally worth it. Last weekend I did my long run at Torrey Pines State Reserve – one of the most gorgeous trails in the world, right in our backyard. The one problem with running this trail, is I can’t bring my favorite running buddy, Chase. The trail is not dog-friendly. Feeling a little guilty about leaving Chase at home, and facing the monster FIRST hill, I started out pretty sluggish, to the tune of over a 12-minute mile. But over the course of 8 miles, a couple of wonderfully awesome things happened. Three quarters of the way up the monstrous hill, my tongue hanging out of the side of my mouth, a cyclist passing me slowed down, looked right at me and said “You’ve got this!” That was pretty much all I needed to rev the engine as I yelled back “Ditto and thank you!” A few minutes later, I got a reward:
After running up and down those hills for a while, exchanging some more “way to go”-like words with other runners, I encountered two very excited hikers working on the world’s most precariously taken selfie. Instead of sticking to the clock, I remembered what Chris McDougal (author of “Born to Run”) told me about running after I waited in line to meet him and have him sign a copy of his book. He said “Run wild. So what if you stop and look around at the scenery or smell the flowers.?” So Selfie-guys and I helped each other out of selfie-mode with a little photo session:
The last amazing thing that happened was running into this adorable little sea lion pup on the beach. He was so sweet, and I think he even resembled Chase!
It was a reward for me to meet him, however, in all likelihood, he was on the beach because he was sick or hungry. This year in Southern California there’s been a huge increase in the number of sea lion pups washed up on shore, leaving their mamas earlier than they should because there’s not enough food. Mama sea lions are also abandoning the pups for days at a time looking for food. I ran up the beach, and found a lifeguard who knew about him, but was hoping he’d make it back out to sea. That obviously wasn’t happening, so the lifeguard went to collect him to go to Sea World for a check-up.
On the Run Again
Today I went out running in the canyons with the world’s best running dog:
Within a few minutes I let him off leash to lead the way. Well he led the way right over to a guy who looked just like this:
In a prior post , I talked about seeing a surprisingly large number of human patients in the ED in San Diego who came in with rattlesnake bites. I’ve since learned it’s extremely common for dogs, especially off leash in the trails, and more often in hotter weather, to sustain rattlesnake bites. It’s so common that all vets in the region carry antivenin. It’s also common enough here that there’s an industry offering rattlesnake negative behavioral conditioning therapy for dogs. We’ve gone back and forth about taking both pups to this class. Though I have yet to take Chase to Rattlesnake Avoidance School, today Chase slowly approached the snake, not in hunting mode, but in “let me sniff you out mode,” and luckily, as soon as I called him (with a dash of terror in my voice), he came. And Chase remained on leash for the remainder of the run, happily ever after. Amen.