A least I'm not doing the 50-miler version of the NFEC
August 21, 2016 3:35 PM   Subscribe

Can you help me be a better trail runner, and train for a hilly San Francisco half?

I’ve signed up for this North Face half in early December. I’ve done a couple of trail runs up to 15k, though not with quite this elevation. I’m certain that I’ll have to run/walk it (personally fine with this) and will finish before the cutoff. But I’d like to be able to run more of it than not. I’d also like to not get injured.

Right now I do a fair amount of cross-training because I’m a terrible summer runner. Once September rolls around though, I hope to up my mileage and hone my workouts for this half. Other than just forcing myself to do hills, what kinds of cross training would be good to prepare for this kind of course? I currently run a few days a week, do some other cardio work and regular strength training classes (Barre, Bodypump, Bodyshred). Or some incline (walking) intervals on a treadmill, up to 25.

I live in the DC area - any local suggestions for prepping myself would be appreciated. I've also never been to San Francisco before, so there's that.

I’ve forced myself to run in most weather conditions (though not with this distance) - so I think I’ll be ok with some questionable weather. San Francisco trail runners - would it be worthwhile to invest in a jacket? I usually keep it pretty simple - old race shirts and basic activewear.

Lastly, are there any tricks to keeping your trail running shoes clean? Mud is to be expected, but I don't want to trash good shoes. Is it really worthwhile to invest in specific shoes geared for trail running? Are they easier to clean? My go-to shoe are Brooks Ghosts (road shoes) - they keep my feet and legs happy.

Many thanks for any advice.
posted by raztaj to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I can't help with training in DC or racing in SF, but I've been a trail runner for a while (including the 50-mile NFEC in Wisconsin) and I can give you some advice on gear. I'd say trail shoes are a must-buy, and if you're happy with the way your Ghosts fit, you could look into Brooks Cascadias. They have about the same weight and heel-to-toe drop, and they're built with a similar shape. Version 11 just came out this spring, so you might be able to find some v10s on sale. For cleaning them, I just spray my trail shoes down with a hose when they're particularly muddy, then let them dry in the sun.

For trail running cross-training, I'm a fan of core work (planks, etc) and walking at a steep incline (a long set of stairs, treadmill ramped all the way up). Some trails are steep enough to be basically un-runnable, but even if you're walking, you'll want to be able to power up them.
posted by brozek at 6:25 PM on August 21, 2016

I'm not a runner, but I live in SF and spend a lot of time in the Headlands/Marin, where the race course is.

There may or may not be mud in December. Our rainy season really kicks off in January, but despite several years of drought, it's normal for us to have at least a couple heavy rain events in November and December. The trails in the Headlands are basically fire roads, and even when dry can exhibit extremely eroded gully surfaces, and because of local geology, our gravel is basically square and is tailor-made to make you fall down even when you are going up.

Our microclimates are no joke. A few miles can vary 10+ degrees in temp* and that's not even looking at elevation, so I would say yes, bring a lightweight water-resistant (but breathable) shell you can throw on for those times when you have to trudge. It's not going to be cold cold, but cold-and-foggy-and-windy (especially on the ridges) is really unpleasant and can sap your strength even if you normally run pretty hot.

This has probably already occurred to you, but google [your area + cross country] and see if there's a team you can join, or at least a coach or experienced runner you can consult and/or train with. As I said, I'm not a runner, but I do hike in the area and the hills suck even at walking pace, so put that training in as much as you can and then some.

*It can be 55 and socked-in fog and windy at the top of Hawk Hill and in the low 70s and totally sunny at Fort Baker, 3 miles away and ~900 feet lower.

Have fun and give us locals a shout for a meetup when you're here!
posted by rtha at 8:14 PM on August 21, 2016

I've not run that specific course but I have run a bunch in that area. If you are not used to running hills, you probably won't be running at all on these hills. The half marathon course splits all 2200 feet of climbing into three long hills, for an average of 700 feet per hill (seven stories!). Instead of running on inclined treadmills, start mixing in some 10-15 sessions of stairclimbing at a sustainable speed.

Along with these hills are some equally long downhill stretches. I'm not sure how you can approach these in the gym as it's going to trash muscles that you usually don't use when running. There's also a huge skill aspect as it's hard to regulate your speed while also keeping your footing and also not running of a cliff.

I'm concerned about your use of road shoes. As rtha says, many of these are fire roads.. with a lot of rough jagged rock sections. Land on a pointy rock that goes through the foam part of your shoe, and you will be second-guessing every single footstep. And losing traction while running downhill is unpleasant, to say the least. You need something with a rock plate.

There isn't really much weather to worry about on the coast, even in December. It *might* get down to 60 degrees. It might even be as hot as 80 degrees. It will probably be windy.
posted by meowzilla at 11:35 PM on August 21, 2016

Congrats on taking on this new challenge.

To some of the unaddressed points:
1. Your shoes (trail or otherwise) probably won't get that dirty. When mine do, I wash them in the machine, and let them air dry. Nothing magic. I like light wool socks, so that even if I get wet, it's fine. Trail schools usually drain better than road shoes as well as part of the design.
2. Seconding trying to get up and down practice. December is month away! Consider DOWNHILL training as well, so that you can feel confident and not get hurt. Uphill is exhausting, downhill is where you get hurt (weak ankles, quad adductors). Even a consistent 2-4% down treadmill (they exist!) Is better than nothing. Downhill run is about the courage of your convictions, applying the brakes less, and staying perpendicular to the surface.
3. As a thought experiment...what would you do if you were doing NFEC? Maybe consider doing that :)
4. Clothes: I tend to run super super naked. At that race, I would have short shorts, a racer shirt, maybe calf sleeves, and a windproof shell. I also train in MN, so freezing is where it turns into pants weather :)
5. Practice more intentional walking. Not ambling, not foot stomping. More butt, less quad. Good, solid ankles, foot and arch strengthening exercises!
6. Seconding fb seaching for your local trail groups. I know the ones for here, sf, and NJ, but not dc!
posted by gregglind at 5:28 AM on August 22, 2016

You're recommended to have trail running shoes not because they'll get dirty, but to lessen your chances of face planting. For trails with a lot of elevation, and any chance of dirt or mud you don't want a road shoe.

The recommended (by manufacturers) way to clean trail shoes, is essentially don't :) . What I do is if they're particularly muddy, allow them to dry in the shade, then with a stiff (non-metal) brush clean out the treads, or clap them together a few times outside. If you really want them to be clean, then you should just clean the outside lightly.

If your shoes are ever wet (from running in the rain, or over zealous cleaning), it's recommended to stuff them with newspaper to help them dry. Long soaks in water, and UV are listed as things bad for shoe long term life. Try to see a dirty upper as a trail shoe's badge of honour.

You can simulate uphill work as others mention, but that's not going to be the punishing part. The downhills are what can be bad. If you're a good hill runner, and your legs are fresh, you can do a controlled fall down, where you're not trying to slow yourself, so much as quickly picking up and putting down your feet so as to keep yourself controlled.

When one becomes tired, one's legs might not be able to be fast enough for that, which means that you need to slow yourself down while running downhill. This is the eccentric loading that will kill your quads. When I'm tired, steep downhills are way worse than steep uphills. If you can do any eccentric strength work for your quads, that should have some benefit to your downhill running.

Your course is a loop, so ultimately what you run up, you need to run down. Don't underestimate training on downhill running when your legs are already tired.
posted by nobeagle at 9:43 AM on August 22, 2016

Hey, how did it go for you? We were up on Hawk Hill yesterday (Sunday) for our last day of the season and watched all the runners on the trails down below. You had good weather - maybe on the too-warm side for the activity, but at least no mud. Hope you had a good time!
posted by rtha at 8:36 AM on December 5, 2016

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