Saturday, 23 February 2013

Running in the Dandenong ranges 2 - Hill running tips and tricks

A blog about my weekend run with the Dandy Runners and some thoughts and hopefully advice for tackling Puffing Billy in the great train race or any other hillier race. This run may have been a little hillier than the Great Train Race, but I had a ball. The Puffing Billy tips come just after the Dacite Track, so feel free to skip down to there. The later tips are for some of the more extreme hill climbs you might find out on your trail runs or mountain runs. 

5:45 and the alarm goes off. Quick breaky, top up the Camelpak and after stumbling about in the dark to get all my gear ready I finally get to lace up the Invo-8 Trailroc 235s (hit for my review) after a few weeks on the bitumen and head for the hills. After arriving in the car park and meeting up with the rest of the runners we took off down Doongalla Road towards the trails. The first couple of kms came easily as the conversation did. I got some great pointers as to how I should be training for my up and coming half marathon (a  blog to come next week, I want to test how I am running at race pace on a week day training run) and before we knew it it was the first rest stop... actually the bathroom stop but we wont go there.

The first track was the Staples track. A gently undulating track, quite wide and  a very enjoyable run. I got talking to some of the group and the kms soon rolled over. The gradual incline eventually led us to the Dactite track. As we looked up the track a feeling of dread came over me. Steep was an understatement. Ah, this is a 7 minute track one of the group said. Hmmm, 7 minutes of pain... maybe. He was going to time the run, so I hung back and picked his brain before I took off with him. 

A sign of coming pain...

Puffing Billy tips:
1. On a long and steep incline, the trick is to keep up a high but manageable tempo. You also want to keep your self tall - don't hunch over thinking this makes it easier. You'll actually be compressing your airways. No wonder your're sucking wind so hard :)  Shorter steps will allow you to keep the same pace/effort level over varying inclines and gradients. Ultimately you want to be maintaining a steady effort. It is worth it, you'll get to the top!
2. The descent can be your friend. The key to hill races/trail runs is to use this as your recovery phase. You want to find a balance between using it to recover and lower your heart rate but also to pick up the average km time that you have lost coming up the previous hill. You should be trying to relax your legs and not build up to much return energy by shortening your stride. Again, keep it higher but steady tempo.
3. What pace will you need to run? The million dollar question. I'm hoping to run about 4 minute kms to finish in about 52 minutes. I'm hoping that will fast enough. 
Does not do the incline justice

So we took off and soon reeled in the others in the group. We passed some walkers who were resting at the 'peak' of the gradient but the track continued on around the corner. I saw another of the group and was relieved to be at the top but was told to keep going.... So not what I wanted to hear but I had to keep at it. The track eventually flattened out a little and I finally reached the end. My running mate was already heading back for more. His time - 8 minutes, mine was about 8:45 - 9:00. I do know my heart rate had peaked at 183 somewhere along the way up. 

We regrouped and turned up I believe the Channel 10 track. This was a much more pleasant run through ferns and the Aussie bush, a nice rolling gradient where a good conversational pace could be kept. 

Another ridge and we stopped to regroup. As we looked to our right there was this insane track - Toroa Track - The steepest incline I've seen and the conversation from a few of the runners was: Oh, maybe it's dry enough to run today. Nah, not me another said. Yeah, usually you've got to hang onto trees and roots to get up it. Should be doable today though. Well, my new partner for the was keen to do it and so was I. We worked out the next meeting point and took off while the others took off. 
So tip one was high tempo, tip two was on your toes. I managed that quite well but was wondering if I should be picking off the roots/ridges or hitting the clear clay. My thoughts were that hitting the roots gave more grip...

The trailrocs once again performed sensationally. They have to be the best running shoe I have at the moment. The tri-compound grip (link to a little more info on the shoe) worked a treat. I was able to run forward on my toes and really dig in and grip the earth. The flexible sole allowed me to toe off and use all my foot and calf strength. I felt like spiderman!

At the top it was a well earnt breather, then 'how the hell do I get back down?
Again, I asked the question. My thought was like a bike, slow, steady short strides. But on the toes or flat footed?

Crazy hill tips:
1. On the ascent keep running forward on your toes and use your calf strength. It hurts to begin with but when you get that strength it becomes easier. Nothing helps more than just getting out there and doing more hill runs, trail runs and mountain runs. 
2. When on crazy inclines keep to the smoothest path (the clay or trail 'gutter') possible. You'll get the grip you need and it also allows you to control your stride to keep it short and regular. You waste extra energy when you stretch or reach. And, when its wet those roots are treacherous. 
3. On steep descents, keep your high tempo but with short strides. try and keep your lift low so that you retain complete control and can stop at any given step. 
Loving the off the beaten path

Phew, got all that? I made it safely to the bottom and enjoyed a fast recover descent with a little up now and then as we continued along the trail to catch the rest of the crew. Massive credit to my running mate for the tips and again, the trailroc 235s really enabled me to run freely and more importantly, safely down a pretty crazy track.

From here we went real bush! The track became single file through dense ferns and scrub- avoid the divots, the blade grass, prickly creepers and bobs your uncle! Brilliant fun, perhaps the most true trail running I've done. I got chatting with another Inov-8 runner as we discussed our shoes of choice and how we are going with our natural running journey. 

At the end of this great section we went along school road which was again rolling up and down but very manageable. We turned onto another track and went bush for a while before coming to 'Deer Hill'. This was named for the deer farm to the left. It could also be 'Oh dear hill' as it was another insanely steep hill. My running mate had given me a heads up on this one as he had previously held the timed record of 28 seconds up the hill. A few weeks ago it was run in 26. Well, lets see how quick we can do it today he says. Again, sucker me thinks why not. 

The rest of the group left us to it and the watch was armed. He took off, me not far behind. High tempo, short lifts and the quads and calves were pumping. Another name for the hill came to mind as I was ascending but I won't print it here. 3/4s of the way up and I was in a world of pain but had to press on. Non existent pride was at stake! Apparently the track turned to the left and the old dead trees was the finish. Focus... push on... YES! done in 37 seconds. Very happy with that thank you. 

The heart rate peaked at 178. Working hard I am. We regrouped and continued on the trail. I ran ahead with the faster runners only to meet this tree who had parked on the track. Fortunately we could work our way through it and continue on. It was a laugh watching the other runners appear from no where. 
We can't go over it, we can't go under it, we'll have to go through it!

The trail rolled on, and we got to Olinda - Basin Road and crossed over to another great bush section that required us to pick and weave along the track as through the rather unforgiving scrub. Terrific fun but not when your calves play up with cramps. 

Well, thats about it. A lazy 16.3km of the hardest hills I've done, including that insane optional extra. Following the Puffing Billy tips made a massive difference to my run up the longer more graduated hills today. On those insane little side tracks and sections... I'm not quite a mountain goat yet, but I loved it!

To get all your barefoot trail gear head to

I also found some very tempting new trail and road shoes at the

New Arrivals

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