This post is a bit late because I wanted to save it for after I ran the Psycho Wyco 50k this weekend. My main goal here is to convince you that running off-road is beneficial, fun, and not crazy. I think it will help in your Hospital Hill training.
But first, I have to tell you how much fun I had yesterday.
I was signed up for the 50k—three 10-mile loops around Wyandotte County Lake. I ended up doing 20 miles in 4 hours and 28 minutes. I'll get to the drop in a bit. Still got a nice medal for the 20-mile finish, and shirt, etc.
As soon as I arrived I ran into people I knew. I've been a Trail Nerd for as long as I've been back in KC—going on 7 years now. I've also been leading the Wednesday night Beginners Run for a while now—four years, I think. So, I know a lot of Nerds (of the trail variety—I also know lots of science nerds, policy nerds, music nerds, hipster nerds, and just plain nerds...if you need a nerd, just ask me, I've got one for you).
I ran into Larry and Coleen before the race and asked them if they were looking to run at a snails pace. They were! We agreed to take it easy and have fun. Justin was with us most of the way as was Sherri, which scared me, as she was the female 100-mile winner at The Hawk last year, and all-around bad-ass ultrarunner. Wael ran most of the first loop with us also, but he was "taking it easy" as he had just won the Men's 50–59 age group at the Rocky Raccoon 50-miler last weekend. His "take it easy" was to ditch us about 7 miles into the race.
The first loop around the lake wasn't bad. It was still cold enough that the mud was relatively frozen and the 150+ 10-milers (who started an hour after us) hadn't torn it up yet. We put in a respectable 2:01 loop. I felt good.
The second loop got fun. We ran into seas of mud almost as soon as we started the loop.
Okay, here's the "training" part of this post. When you're running through mud like this you're working way harder than you are on pavement, which is why I think it's a useful training tool. As soon as you put a foot down it's going to slide: forward, back, left, right, or some combination of the four. So, not only is your brain (and muscles) trying to figure out your next step, it's still trying to figure out where your last step is going. You end up working your leg muscles a lot more just to recover and keep yourself stable with each step.
You never do this running on pavement, unless you're running on ice, of course.
People spend tons of money and time trying to figure out how to stay healthy while running. I've never had a *serious* running injury and I think part of that is because I spend time on the trails as well as the pavement. It's trail running that forces you to use all the muscles in your legs and torso in such different and unpredictable ways.
Anyway, back to the race. The second loop was significantly more muddy than the first, which made it significantly more fun! There were a couple of places where we had to stop and go down a hill one at a time so 210-lb Larry wouldn't slip and bury 100-lb Coleen in the mud.
On one hill I thought, "Hey, I can run this!" So I ran around Coleen and Sherri and started bombing down the hill, sliding with each step. This was fantastic entertainment for everyone around me when I went ass-over-teacup into the woods after I couldn't recover a step. That was fun! I also completed the mud bath with a few slips on a ridge that required ropes for traction in some parts.
Once we finished the second loop I was done. I could have done another, but I started feeling the stress of "so much to do" creeping over me. Med school did that to me all the time and now grad school is doing it. I have a lot of respect for people who can manage their running with families and small kids because those demands are absolute, while my silly grad school demands are somewhat self-imposed yet still hard to ignore. Being on the trails helps that stress go away a little.
Go play in the mud everyone—it's fun, and good for you in so many ways.