I always get a kick when a non-marathoner says to a marathoner something about the marathon being 26 miles long, as in "Did you really run 26 miles?". I love when the response is "POINT TWO!!". That 2/10th's of a mile is the crowning kick-in-the-pants from that damn Queen of England who wanted to see the Olympic Marathon finish in front of her nice cushy throne chair. What a legacy - "Peasants, I want my fat butt comfortable, so now till the end of time, if you want to run a FULL marathon, you've got to do that POINT TWO!".
So, now that I'm doing many more Trail runs than I am doing certified road marathons, that got me thinking about the mentality of trail and ultra runners. We (trail runners) simply don’t give much thought to exact distances and certainly not to the specificity of a road race distance. Rarely (very rarely) do trail races come out to an exact distance, close to an exact distance, or even close to the advertised distance, so it makes little sense to focus our training on exact distances. One of the races I do just about every year is our local Oak Mt 50k. It's generally conceded that the actual distance is around 33 miles, but it's a 50k, so it's "around" 31 miles. Generally, there is an unwritten allowance of about a 10% variance that runners will have no problem with. When we do a trail race, much of the Facebook discussion is not "what was your time?", but "what distance did your GPS show?". Then it sounds like a bunch of Saudi Arabians bartering for a carpet before a distance is settled on that everyone was happy with and that's that. Of course, if based on the reading of several GPS's, the decision of how far ANY run will be is whatever the longest reading was!
When on a long training run on the trails, my main focus is usually on the time spent out there... "How'd your run go?"..."Oh, it went fine. Did about 3 hours". And for some reason, I'm also obsessed with vertical gain (how much I climbed)...I'll get back to that in a minute. The distance piled up running (a loosely interpreted term) is merely a by-product of the run. Most trail runners will say "I ran X hours at Red Mountain", not primarily reciting the distance covered. Their sole focus is on time and (for me) vertical gain. Seeing as my 20 miler had over 3000 feet of vertical gain over all kinds of obstacles that God finds humorous to put in my way, my time wasn't in any way comparable with the same distance on the road. Four miles per hour is pretty good clip for me on the trails. That time spent on my feet was far more valuable than the distance I ran because my mental awareness had to be focused on fueling and effort instead of pace. But let’s be honest, what I was really focused on was nothing. For the most part, I spent several hours daydreaming about future runs, past runs, what's to eat tonight, how my fantasy teams are doing, and other extremely important stuff. Analyzing the run will come later with a beer in my hand.
That’s one thing that is so great about running on the trails. We aren't bound by some incremental mileage number forced upon us (once again, by the British). I don't have to obsess about that POINT TWO. I get to worry about obstacles like rocks, roots, and ruts....and hills. I said I'd come back to this. For a long time, I've tried to come up with some kind of grading system based on elevation gained per distance traveled. In other words, if I do 10 mile run and I have 2300 feet of elevation gain, how tough is that run Every run and trail is different, but there should be some way to make me feel better after a self-perceived crappy run. If I can say "Well, this run rates an 8 on the "Al-difficulty-scale", then I might feel better. ULTRARUNNING MAGAZINE does have a 5-level grading system based on elevation per mile and difficulty of the trail itself. And I did find this "Hike Difficulty" calculator which I'll use sometimes. Are any of you as nutso as I am? If so, have you come up with any type of rating system? Of course, if I do come up with a good rating system, then I'll probably start worrying about the POINT TWO of the rating! I'm getting a headache...better go for a run.
I'll see you on the roads - AL
"One child lost is too many...one child saved can change the world."