June is probably the best month in the life of a trail runner. Snow melts and clears higher mountain trails followed by a vibrant green up and blooming wildflowers. There's a contagious energy in the trail running community from the nicer weather and open roads. People are ready to get out there - and everyone fuels each other. It makes me think back to this and my congruent urge to travel, because such a desire goes hand in hand with running. I am inclined to run, wherever I might find myself in the world.
June ends with the best bang of all: The Western States 100 mile race in California. The race that brought our sport to life, thanks to Gordy Ainsleigh and his delusional idea of going by foot in a horse race in 1974. Did you know he briefly held the world record for fastest marathon by a person weighing over 200 lbs? He also slept on a massive pile of horse shit in a sleeping bag the night before he curated the 100 mile race. Beast, that man, but you already knew that.
As you know, Justin and I are relatively new to trail running and have been scoping all the resources around the area. We joined Seattle Running Club and debuted our singlets at the Vashon Ultra/10M in the beginning of the month. We also got acquainted with Seven Hills Running Shop, Seattle's one and only trail specific running store. Thanks for the new Hokas! I'm officially a part of the clown-shoe platform gang.
Seven Hills Running Shop also hosted a movie event at their store. They played Solstice, which documents local athlete Ashley Lindsey and her debut 100 mile race at the Western States. The movie caters to the larger crowd of trail and ultra runners because she isn't part of the elite pack. I loved her outlook on the race and hope to one day take on the ultimate running endeavor of a 100 miler. The cinematography was really well done and I think even those who aren't obsessed with running would enjoy this film because running 100 miles is such an incredible feat. Watch the trailer here.
We also watched Unbreakable. Oof... this movie wasn't bad, but it was disappointing. The film featured amazing, inspiring athletes, all whom I glean motivation from, but there was way too much film wasted on shooting everyone's dinner and random acts of affection with their significant others. I got dizzy when the camera couldn't focus on the sauteed kale in Anton Krupicka's kitchen. I'd rather watch the happenings of the actual race than a ten minute choppy shot of athletes talking about their race numbers, whose conversation you can barely hear. The trailer is far more entertaining than the movie itself. Watch it here.
In other news, Justin stuck his hand in a blender earlier this month before the Vashon Ultra. I bought him some hand sanitizer to keep things from getting infected.
I'm also on the brink of simultaneously losing more toenails than ever before. To keep myself in denial and avoid flashing my bruised and blistered nails during the summer I solved my problem and painted my toes black.
I read this article and was reminded to always make sure people know where I am when I hit the trails. Actually, this article isn't about that. It's about making sure people aren't searching for you when you are WITH THEM.
Still thinking about Gordy Ainsleigh? Watch this.
And finally, this is for all the women on the trail. Make sure you run like a girl.
I learned early on that strength training is an important component to mountain running. You can get by without physical conditioning in road racing or track distances (I don't recommend it) but if you want to stay injury free and run to your full potential on the trails, then you might want to consider supplementing training with strength conditioning. If you're not a runner, these exercises are also great for your fitness!
Justin and I have been attending the Performance Kinsesis classes at 5Focus that past month. The classes have been a good way to break into strength training. We had a long stretch without racing so it was the best opportunity to add a new component to our training. We both felt weighed down and sore from jumping into it but we are slowly adapting.
We were finally in a steady rhythm of our new training regimes, and then our package at 5focus ran out. The kinesis package was actually awarded to Justin for winning the Lake Union 10k last August so we got through on a freebie. We could renew the package for a practical deal of $15/class but we are cheap students and I'd rather put that dough toward a new pair of running shoes. So I resorted to other options...
Don't be a hater, but Pinterest has some great core and hip strength exercises floating around. The majority of "pins" usually consist of a photoshopped barbie-ish woman in a skimpy sports bra, but every now and then there is a truly helpful routine. I collected a few, adapted most of them, scapegoated the 5focus classes for ideas, and then set up my own circuit. Then I hit up the internet for the best deals on equipment. 5Focus has fancy kinesis machines, but I can easily work the same muscles on my own accord with the simple items pictured above. 5Focus highlighted my weakest areas so I now know what I need to focus on.
I also like the idea of a backyard workout so I don't have to feel like I'm on display in a public area. I usually don't need a trainer calling at me to keep me motivated and I'd rather not choke on air conditioning. Instead I put on some tunes in the backyard twice a week and work my core zone.
I didn't want to take pictures of myself doing each exercise, so the following links will guide you in the right direction. These four basic items will get you off to a good start. Here's what you'll need:
Yoga Ball: There are endless balance exercises you can do with this ball. I find myself constantly tripping and finding my balance in rugged areas on the trails so I would denote balance as an important focus for strength conditioning. Core and hip strength are what I use this yoga ball for. Fitness Magazine has one of the better charts of ball exercises.
Medicine Ball: I use this mostly for core and arm strength. I went for the six pounder, but I probably would have been better off with the four pounder since I'm more interested in high reps. And I'm weak. So I do reps of haybales and use the medicine ball to build my core like this during sit-ups.
Resistance Bands: Not only can you work your entire body with resistance bands but there are great stretches you can do as well post run. My favorite exercises are on page 27, 33 and 34 of this manual. I'm also a fan of the thera-band squat.
Yoga Mat: This isn't necessary, but if you're allergic to grass or don't want ants crawling up your crack you might want to invest. It's nice to have a surface to lay on for basic crunches.
We also have a portable pull-up bar that was bought a few years ago. You can easily find one for around $20 online. Justin usually grabs the bar whenever he walks past it.
I finished my finals week for school and I hardly know what to do with myself. I work full time so I suppose my life has fallen into a normal routine. But who works normal hours these days anyway? We live in an over-worked society that glorifies being busy.
I recently decided to race Angels Staircase in August, and although it's a couple months away, it's a beastly race that has lingered in my nightmares. It is part of the Sky Running Series, which is notable in itself. The course starts at 2,000 ft and climbs to 8,000 ft in one steady 11-mile ascent. After the summit, racers flip a U and race another 11 miles to the finish. Once I made the decision to attempt this course my entire focus on trail running shifted toward this endeavor. Not because I'm trying to make some sort of an elite marking, but because I simply want to do it. It's a humbling feeling being a competitive runner of twelve years and suddenly realizing I might not be able to run a race I'm signed up for. The key here is that I want to run this race - I don't want to show up, climb 2,000 ft, stumble into a walk with shot quads, and hike my way to the top. This might happen anyway, which is no shame in the face of trail running, but I am doing everything in my power to prepare my body to run this race. The goal for the next two months: Run up.
I had a free morning mid-week and took advantage of the east side trails, knowing I could avoid the weekend crowds. I was looking for something with a good climb (duh) where I could combine running downhill on tired legs with steady, unfaltering uphill. Squak Mountain was a good pick because there is a fire road on the south side that rises ~1,800ft in 2.5 miles. I decided to do hill repeats which would give me a chance to switch muscle groups and adjust my legs to running downhill intermittently. I wasn't sure how many repeats I could do, but I decided once my legs gave out and I felt the need to break into a walk then I would turn around and head back to the car.
Justin and I had recently ran together on a nearby trail, climbing around 2,000 ft, so I knew I had at least one hill in me before busting my quads and walking. I did a little bit of a warm up down the road so I could loosen up before jutting directly up hill. I wasn't out to run this as a workout, or even a long run, I suppose I was just testing the waters with no other intentions in mind. Once I started climbing up the fire road I felt great. My breathing was mellow and I soaked up the hovering Evergreens. It was amazing to think back to February when I could barely run past 1,500 ft before breaking into a walk. I was with some former Portland teammates and I dogged in the back of the pack with screaming quads and ended up reaching the top with a painfully slow run/walk combination. I was the solid caboose that day, but that's what happens when flat-running city girl meets mountain trail.
I hit the top of Squak, turned around, and cruised to the bottom. During my second attempt I got swooped by a Western Screech-Owl whose talons barely nicked my head. It was a great distraction from the hell hole I was climbing. I turned around for a third ascent and reached the top in a steady climb. I think the surprising ease of this run was due to the intermittent recovery down hill, which I will obviously have to adjust to as time goes by but I had to start somewhere. Baby steps right?
I had a couple GUs through this run that I conveniently stashed at the bottom of the hill. However, I reached the car with the hunger of a cave woman. I stretched a bit and then drove to PCC where I ransacked the hot food section and chugged three coconut waters before reaching the check stand.
I Recommend parking off May Valley Road. There are lots of options beyond the fire road, but if you're looking for a steady climb or hill repeats right through Seattle's backdoor, this is it.
Squak Mountain: 21430 S.E. May Valley Road, Issaquah WA
Distance: 16 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,400 ft
I am an outdoor and travel junkie who is currently completing my doctorate in occupational therapy overseas in rural Fiji. On Sweet World Travels you will find stories of my life with my husband, the communities we serve, and the many adventures we take.