Training isn’t always sexy.
I’m in Guatemala City for work for 10 days, and while some of you might have seen photos I posted from a trek up a 13,000 foot volcano here (or from Hardrock last week), training in Guatemala City (for me) is not fun or ideal in any sense of the word when getting ready to run a race like UTMB. That said, in other ways it’s perhaps ideal, because it’s forced me to do something I consider invaluable in training for a mountain hundred, and that’s hiking uphill with purpose. To those trail-loving, mountain runners who scoff at even roads (which I also like to run), treadmills sound kind of dreadful. And if I was in Bend right now, being that it’s summer and the trails are plentiful and free and safe to wander, it’d be really hard to motivate to head inside to a treadmill, but I’ll argue that a treadmill hike makes for a better workout as you can force yourself to hike with purpose for an extended period, at a set pace, and that’s harder to do outside—if you set the treadmill at 14:17 pace, you either keep up or get spit off the back.
But I’m not in Bend, I’m in one of the most violent cities in the world (in a safe neighborhood, but you can look up the stats on Guatemala City—it’s scary), and have been asked not to run by myself outside, except at 6 a.m. on one street that goes for a few kilometers on a bike lane that has major traffic intersections every hundred meters or so. Granted, I met a couple of ultra/trail runners during my volcano trek on Saturday and have plans to run hills with their group tomorrow night, so were I to stay here for longer, I’d figure out a way to be outside more, but short-term work trips can be tricky in figuring out how to navigate work security protocols and apply common sense in a city I don’t understand. Being here, and like many of the places I visit for work, again reminds me how incredibly lucky I am to live where I live and to have been born in the US. If work travel teaches me one thing as a female trail runner, it teaches me to never take things for granted. I am very lucky.
Oh, and there were the 10 days prior to this trip I spent in beautiful Ouray and Silverton, Colorado running on the Hardrock course, and falling in love with the San Juan Mountains. So training has not been all bad in the past month, and has not been confined to the treadmill a the Holiday Inn in Guatemala City. But, back to the treadmill…
On several occasions during technical mountainous 100s I’ve asked myself the question, “Why did I waste so much time running to train for this?” Meaning, all of those short 6-8 mile mid-week runs, that were just recovery runs to get in weekly mileage—what was the point of them, when so much of a race like UTMB is spent slogging up a steep climb? Why just run to train for a race where you’re actually going to be hiking for almost half of it? Or why not spend more time training to hike? So, this year before HURT, I spent at least a couple days a week—and more initially after some knee problems resulting from a fall incurred while en route to the World 100K made running difficult up until about 6 weeks prior to HURT—hiking uphill on a treadmill at 15% grade (as steep as they go at my gym both in Bend and in Guatemala), at a good clip (15:00 pace or faster, but usually shooting for 14:17 (4.2 mph) or 14:38 (4.1 mph) pace. For me, hiking for 6 miles at around 14:30 pace (takes a tad less than 90 minutes) is a good workout—my heart rate is up above 150 the entire time (Guatemala City also sits at 4900 ft.). Today, I did 6 miles at 15% grade alternating between hiking at 14:17 pace and running at 11:45 pace for a half mile at a time. The gym here is steamy, and I was dripping. It got to the point where my shoes were so wet that I was squishing out the sides, in addition to dripping on the treadmill such that I slid off once, and the last half mile was sort of a slip and slide. Not sexy. But 6 miles hiking/running up a decent grade is way more race-specific than getting an easy 6 on flattish terrain, and counts the same in a mileage log, but is so completely different. Not all miles are created equal.
In the past week I got in a disappointing 62 miles (80 would have made me happier), but I hiked 18 of those miles uphill on the treadmill (for a bit over 14,000 feet) and did another 4 miles (5,000 foot climb) to the top of Acatenango. That’s 19,000 feet+ of climbing in 22 miles during a week when it would have been easier to not get in much ascent (6 mile runs on the treadmill are much quicker and less brain-numbingly boring than 6 mile hikes—thank goodness for podcasts). Not the mileage I wanted, but time better spent, perhaps. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Yes, boring as hell, but it’ll make me appreciate my long runs up mountains in Bend this weekend even more; I plan to hit 4 weeks in the 80s and 90s frolicking on Oregon’s beautiful mountain trails before I begin a 2-week taper into UTMB.