Monthly Archives: March 2016

Trail Running Herman Creek Columbia River Gorge

5 Lessons Old Guys Taught Me About Running

During the recent Salmon Falls 50k race, I had a fun interaction with a couple older runners. These two guys were teasing me on the trail that I had blocked them out of the group photo at the race start. I’m 6’3″ and that does tend to happen. I chastised them back by mentioning that the race director (RD) asked me to stand tall to improve the handsomeness of the photo and block some of the riffraff. A little later on in the race, these guys confidently jogged past me as I was struggling to power hike a low-incline hill. Again they gave me grief about blocking them out of the photo. This time I told them I was about to take a nap, but I’d catch up to them later on. I mentioned that the RD also asked me to spend some time at the finish line to improve the race finish photos for all the old guys. We shared a laugh and away they went. That was around mile twelve. I never saw them again.

In January, I was running around the Willamette bridge loop. An old guy caught up to me and seemed to slow for a moment. He gave me a glance and then took off. I recognized the challenge and stayed on his heels. I managed to keep up with him for three full miles before we went our separate ways. A quick wave and I headed for the Hawthorne Bridge and home. Throughout the run, I was watching his stride. It seemed effortless. He didn’t bounce with each step like I did. He never seemed to take a quick breath. Just long, slow breaths and the most consistent pace ever. No headphones. No distractions. Just blasting around the river and taking me to school. I felt fortunate to recognize his fluidity and effortless stride and consistent gait.

That’s the same thing that struck me about the old guys at the Salmon Falls race. Super consistent and effortless. They joked with everybody they passed. The last time I spoke to them, I was nearly gasping.

Now, a qualification. I say “old guys” with utmost respect. These men were all in their upper 50s or lower 60s. At 36 years old, I’m still referred to as “kid” by a lot of old guys I see on the trail. When I say old, I don’t mean it in any derogatory way. Having just started my running habit fewer than three years ago, I know I’m still a beginner and have much to learn. I am hungry to improve and I read books and blogs constantly looking for any tips. I study my successes and failures on race day in order to remedy nutrition and hydration errors. Every training run and every race is an opportunity to get better.

Without further ado, here are the running lessons I’ve learned from old guys. To be fair, some of these lessons have also been reinforced by older women I’ve met on the trail. Running wisdom obviously isn’t exclusive to one gender.

  1. Set a comfortable pace and stick with it. I have a terrible habit of going out really strong on race day, only to hit a wall. I wind up walking as much as running during the second half of many races. When I get skunked by old guys in races, it’s because they have their pace dialed in. They’ve been training on long runs at that same pace they’ll use on race day. They don’t get caught up in the moment. They don’t spike their heart rate trying to separate from the pack on a long uphill. They don’t see people passing them early on and panic. Old runners stick to the plan. The endurance running adage goes something like this: start out slow and then go slower.
  2. Move efficiently. This was a difficult lesson for me to learn. It took months of physical therapy to iron out my erratic running motion. I bounced when I ran, wasting precious power vertically that could have been used to propel me forward. I never fully extended my legs behind me, which was robbing me of the power of toe-off and stunting the forward continuous rotation of my legs. I wasn’t twisting my hips at all, which was forcing my legs to land out in front of my torso and making balancing more difficult. A proper stride should feel natural and somewhat effortless, but it doesn’t come easy for many of us. From heel strike to slouching at the shoulders, so many of us are guilty of allowing bad habits to rob us of speed and endurance.
  3. Never deviate from your nutrition and hydration plan. At the second aid station I arrived at during a recent 50k, an older volunteer asked me if I was eating enough. He had the build of a runner, but I just assumed he was being silly. I was only an hour into the race. How many calories could I possibly have consumed so far? It turns out that my nutrition was way off. I should have been taking in more than 200 calories per hour on race day. Up to that second aid station, I had taken in nothing but water. It sounds like such a rookie mistake, but when you feel good at the beginning of a race, you can get caught up in the moment. I didn’t want to slow down to take in a gel or stop for a handful of potato chips at the first station. I bonked hard in that race, even though I felt that my training had been perfect. It wasn’t my fitness level. It was my terrible nutrition choices on race day. I’ve recently been working with liquid nutrition, like Tailwind. Sip every 10 minutes, supplement calories with gels or potatoes. I’m excited to try it out on race day.
  4. Train with a partner. Or two. Or ten. I rarely see old guys running by themselves on the weekend. Perhaps they do during the week. But when it comes to long training runs, they run in pairs or groups. And on race day, there they are. Running together at an agreed-upon pace that they know will work. They check each other’s effort and nutrition. And sometimes, they talk about where they like to go for pancakes after a run and they make your stomach growl during a 50k race. It’s harder to shorten a training run when you have a partner who will push you. It’s easier to make it through a difficult training run or race when you have someone who will joke with you and provide encouragement. During my most recent race, I listened to two older women discussing their running group. “Danny is in Mexico, but Ray is around. He’s still dealing with a quad issue from that 25k run.” They went through the rundown of their entire running group. It was clear that they cared about those other runners and wanted to see them succeed. That kind of encouragement on a regular basis is priceless.
  5. Leave the ladies alone. This lesson is one that I never struggled with, but one I felt obligated to call out anyhow. I’ve been in multiple races where groups of guys were running together and they had something to say to everybody who ran past. It’s all fun and games with other men, generally. But for some reason, every woman that ran near them got a fair share of mysogynistic nonsense. Comments about looks, short shorts, tight clothing and even sexual overtures make you sound like an idiot. Whether this is a generational thing or just a small cross section of morons who have infiltrated the running world, don’t be one of these jackasses. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about endurance running, it’s that distance levels the playing field. The longer the race, the more likely that women will finish as well as men. My massage therapist recently noted that of her husband and wife clients, men are the babies and women are the ones with higher pain thresholds. Let’s stop eyeing women as “the fairer sex” when we’re out running and start seeing them for what they really are: hardworking competitors who deserve respect. Let’s keep the catcalling out of our sport.

Those are my top five lessons learned from old guys. I’m sure there are way more lessons that I’ll come to recognize in time. What did I miss in this list? Have you picked up any nuggets of wisdom or helpful advice from an older runner? Comment to let me know.

 

Henry Hagg Lake Loop

Henry Hagg Lake Loop Mud Run

A couple weeks ago, my wife and I woke up to an unexpected sunny day. Taking full advantage of the weather, we went looking for a new trail to run. After so much time spent on the Wildwood Trail in Forest Park this winter, I felt eager to branch out. I love the Wildwood, but after running it almost every weekend for two months, I needed a change of scenery. Spring-like weather led us to Henry Hagg Lake southwest of Portland. Neither of us was familiar with this area, save for the 50k and 25k Mud Runs that take place here every winter. Our run happened to fall on the weekend before the races.

Henry Hagg Lake Loop Trail

An unusual stretch of several dry weather days left the trail in pretty good condition. There were pockets of slippery, mucky mud. For the most part, we ran easy over soft dirt and rolling hills. This trail is also well-known as a mountain bike trail. We felt fortunate to take advantage of the trail before the bikers and runners tore into it later in the season.

Henry Hagg Loop Trail Phil Krooswyk

We paid the park entry fee ($4 or $5) and parked at the dam. Starting off, we entered the forest right away and enjoyed the intense green of the flora. Though we trudged along at times, we put together some quick segments as well. From time to time, the trail blasts out of the forest and into wide open expanses with no shade of any kind. We welcomed these areas and soaked in the sun whenever possible.

Henry Hagg Lake Loop Mud Run

Our final mileage total was 13.7 miles. In the end, we realized this was my wife’s longest distance and mileage run ever. I’m not a huge fan of lake runs. But the hills around Henry Hagg Lake were more gradual than most and the scenery was terrific. All told, we only saw a one or two other runners and fewer than ten hikers. It turns out that a warm winter day when the weather is dry is the perfect time to enjoy this trail.

Henry Hagg Lake Trail Lizard

Phil and Julie Henry Hagg Lake Trail Run

2016 Salmon Falls 50k Medal

2016 Salmon Falls 50k Race Report

This weekend, my wife and I took a whirlwind road trip from Portland to Coloma, California. I had registered to race the Salmon Falls 50k as part of my 100k race training. I didn’t look into the area before we left and it didn’t dawn on me until we got there exactly where we were. Our hotel was located in Auburn, near the finish line of the legendary Western States 100 mile race. We drove through Cool on the way to the race (home of the Way Too Cool 50k). As we passed along the American River, it dawned on me. This was the second time in six months that I had booked a trip to a trailrunning hotbed that hosted a major event. I realized that I was preparing to race against some legitimate hardcore runners and I felt a bit out of place.

At the starting line, big groups of runners started to gather. I felt like everybody already knew everybody else. I wasn’t surprised that there was such an incredible community of runners in this area. Then I started seeing familiar faces. Nike-sponsored Sally McRae bounced up to the packet pickup area. Five-time Western States winner Tim Twietmeyer wandered past with his trademark permanent grin. I was starstruck and intimidated. As the race prepared to kick off though, my nerves subsided.

Salmon Falls 50k Start

This is trail racing. If you’re an endurance runner, you’re already a part of the scene. If you’re willing to pour your heart and soul into training and if you leave it all on the course, you already belong. Race director Tim Casagrande offered a few last minute remarks. Everybody huddled in for a group photo and away we went.

Right off the bat, it was clear that this was a different race than anything I had been a part of before. This was only my second 50k race. My other race was the Silver Falls 50k that started on a road and allowed everybody to spread out right away. The Salmon Falls 50k start was on a rutty, narrow, hard, dirt road. In fact, that’s the thing that struck me the most about all the trails on this course. The ground was super hard. I guess I’ve grown accustomed to the soft dirt and mud of the Pacific Northwest.

Inside of the first mile, we came to a creek crossing. There was a series of stepping stones off to the left and a precarious fallen tree crossing off to the right. Noticing immediately that the water was only knee deep, I bounded through the creek. I left a whole lot of people behind who were lining up to try and stay dry. My combination of Wrightsocks and Altra Lone Peak 2.0s dry out so fast, I had no worries about the water. In fact, I was pretty excited for an early cool down.

I entered an area of long, sweeping uphill and downhill trails. The scenery was breathtaking. I was able to drop downhill with speed. I power hiked uphill in a rhythm that allowed me to recover and keep my heart rate low. The American River swept through the canyon to my left. The trail alternated between technical rocky patches and hard-packed tan and orange dirt. I was having so much fun running and enjoying the scenery that I forgot to eat anything. And so my struggles began. I knew what nutrition I had in each pocket of my hydration vest. But I still started doing a mental inventory because nothing sounded good to me. I wound up passing on food for the time being and sipped water, knowing an aid station was up ahead. It was mile 4.65 before I ate anything. I swallowed a small glass of Coke at the aid station. I dumped some jelly beans into my mouth while I started hiking the next long climb.

Salmon Falls 50k Mile 12

Somewhere around mile 8, I realized my breathing was becoming labored. I checked my GPS watch and realized I was moving at a 6:55/mile pace. My goal pace for this day was 12:30/mile. Idiot. I backed off and tried to just maintain a 12:30 pace as I dropped into the aid station at mile 13. The scene at this aid station was ridiculous. There was a DJ scratching records, some guy in a horse costume (might have been a cow? I didn’t pay much attention), and all sorts of people cheering and volunteering. I was beyond hungry, but I knew I couldn’t eat much of anything. I downed some Coke, a couple glasses of water, and two bites of a Pro Bar protein bar. I walked up to the bridge crossing and started jogging down the road toward the second half of the race. This was the run around Lake Folsom.

A Tale of Two Races

I expected things to get tough at this point, but I didn’t realize what I was in for. Running around lakes is not something that appeals to me. Viewpoints are sparse, hills are steep and frequent, pesky bugs are more frequent. This situation was no different, save for an overabundance of poison oak. Thanks to the race director’s pre-race warning about this miserable plant, I escaped unscathed.

The stretch from mile 16 to mile 24 was the longest unsupported section of the day. I planned for this and refilled my hydration bladder at mile 16. When I got to mile 24, I had to fill it again. The heat was brutal. I can’t remember the last time I ran in shorts and a t-shirt without gloves or arm sleeves. The weather was beautiful, but it was one more thing I wasn’t prepared for. I wound up with a sunburned neck for my efforts.

Salmon Falls 50k Home Stretch

I played leapfrog with several runners between miles 15 and 31. It seemed like those of us this far back in the pack were all suffering from one ailment or another. Every person I passed or who passed me throughout the day had a word of encouragement to share. People were checking on each other and anybody who was struggling received heartfelt encouragement. Every aid station volunteer asked how we were and encouraged us to eat and drink up. The people you meet on the trail are the best part of trailrunning and this race reinforced that idea. The aid station fare was also well-planned and delicious. I fell in love with seedless red grapes and I’ll try to carry them with me whenever I run long from now on.

As I approached the last mile of the race, I was a little confused by where to go. I guessed correct and wound up running along the top of a huge dam. This lasted more than half a mile before reaching the trail into the finish line. This is a brutal way to end a long race. Seeing the finish and hearing the crowd for ten minutes proved encouraging and devastating. The cheering crowd at the finish line was amazing though. Turning that final corner and hearing my name called by the announcer, I couldn’t help but smile. I didn’t meet any of my pace goals for the day. I was still elated to run across the line and claim my medal.

Salmon Falls 50k Finish Line

The Salmon Falls 50k is a great race. The scenery, volunteers, planning, and execution were all terrific. With paid registration, we received quality jackets and race photos. I can’t think of a single thing to complain about. From the hard-packed terrain to the brutal elevation changes in the second half of the course. This is trail racing. You can’t always predict what you’ve gotten yourself into. You can prepare for every eventuality and still find yourself in pain on race day. It’s like Haruki Marukami said, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

Download and review more race details with the Garmin GPX file below.

Race day gear:
Shoes: Altra Lone Peak 2.0