You CAN Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

I ran for three years before I had any desire to run a marathon. I thought people who ran 26 miles were crazy. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why anyone would want to put themselves through that much pain.

Six marathons later, I’m training for a 50K.

Training for a marathon and a 50K trail race are similar, but there are differences. I’m new to trail running, and it’s definitely not the same as running on pavement. Other than the obvious difference of concrete versus dirt (and roots, rocks, and stumps), I’ve been surprised to discover a few things I’ve never experienced in marathon training.

Lake Grapevine

Run, don’t walk:

The biggest surprise happened this past Sunday, when my friend Hari and I ran 23 miles on trails. We started slower than usual. Complete darkness, no moon, and huge spiderwebs–with spiders–spanning the trail forced us to slow down. Later on we took walk breaks and walked the steeper uphills. The last few miles of the run, when I was bone tired, I was surprised to discover something I had never experienced before.

For the first time ever, even when I was exhausted and ready to be done, running actually felt easier and less painful than walking.

This was huge. My brain normally begs me to walk those last few miles of a 22 miler or a marathon–and walking feels good. This time I was not only able to start running again, it actually felt physically better. I’ve read about this from ultra-distance runners but never experienced it myself before Sunday.

Hari at Grapevine

Something salty, please:

I alternate drinking water and Gatorade in a race, but only because it’s there. I’ve never craved Gatorade in a race, even when it’s humid and warm, and I’ve never noticed it having any effect on my performance. On the trail, however, especially this summer in the extreme heat, Gatorade is like an elixir that brings me back to life. I keep it in a cooler with ice, and crave it’s salty sweetness until I get back to the car. It seems to make a difference in my running and energy level, so it must be replenishing my salt levels. Potato chips after a run are good, too, but not like an ice, cold Gatorade.

I’ll take dolmas with that pizza:

My stomach tends to shut down on both very long runs and marathons. I completely lose my appetite, so figuring out what to eat is a big concern of mine. On the trails, I’ve discovered that real food gives me much more energy, before and after the run, than GU’s, gels, and Honey Waffle Stingers. My best run so far was when I bought dolmas at the Greek pizzeria the night before and brought them on the run. They were easily digestible, tasted delicious, and seemed to give me much more energy. I had a sandwich after the run (my friend Susan’s post-run meal of choice) and felt great the rest of the evening.

Last week I didn’t bring real food and had the opposite experience. I ate only chocolate GU’s and Honey Waffle Stingers and could barely choke them down by the end of the run. I brought a sandwich for afterwards and barely made it through the first bite. Not eating enough made me feel sluggish and spent the rest of the day and evening.

Eating real food seems to give me the most energy, but it’s hard to force myself to eat when my appetite is gone. Maybe I should try pizza next time.

Rockledge Park, Lake Grapevine

Rainy days and trail runs always get me down:

I never “zone out” on my long trail runs like I do on the streets. I focus so intently on the trail, and on not tripping, that it’s mentally exhausting. My legs feel amazingly great the day after my Sunday long trail runs, but my mind seems to take a beating. My Mondays, and sometimes Tuesdays, too, can be kind of gloomy. I feel like I have nothing left in the tank. My first run on the road after a long trail run always feels so easy, mainly because I don’t have to concentrate so hard.

I have to wonder if this is also tied in with figuring out the best nutrition for these long runs, or if it’s nothing more than extreme tiredness. I know it’s common to feel somewhat down after a marathon, so I’m wondering if it’s a similar syndrome. Any post-marathon depression I might have experienced in the past was merely a result of accomplishing a goal, and feeling somewhat aimless until I jumped into training for the next race.

Running is running, right? One foot in front of the other and just keep moving. Not quite. It’s not that simple, and moving up to a new level is teaching me that this old dog still has a lot of new tricks to learn.

Trail Running at Grapevine

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8 comments

  1. Michelle

    I’m pretty much exclusively a road runner, but have always wanted to get into trail running. Thanks for the insight into the differences! I’ll also definitely have to try dolmas on a run. It’s always the must unpleasant part of my run when I’m downing gu.

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      You should try some trail running. Since the trails are about an hour’s drive from my house, I only manage one trail run a week. The rest of my runs are still on the road. I can handle a few GU’s, but they’re more a necessary evil than pleasure!

  2. AndrewGills

    I can’t wait until I reach the point where I can keep running at 22 miles. At the moment I.have to walk / run from about 32km (20 miles). Though I do often get a second wind around 42km. Go figure.

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      I’ve only had one marathon where I ran without walking the last six miles. It was incredibly tough, but I was on pace to qualify for Boston and nothing was going to stop me! I hope I get a second wind in my 50K when I need it. I think I kind of experienced that on my last long run when running felt less painful than walking those last few miles. Usually walking feels so much easier for me, so it was a nice change.

  3. iRuniBreathe

    This was a FANTASTIC post. Just what I needed to read and hear. I need this kind of positive inspiration as we get into longer distances and unknown territory.
    Good work on getting those workouts done!

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      Glad I could inspire you! We all need to help each other out, especially when we get to the tough part of training. It helps me, too, to read your blog and see how you’re progressing (especially on those hills!).

      • iRuniBreathe

        Of course, we can all draw strength from each other’s experiences.
        Sadly, the hills are pretty much done and we’ve moved on to speed work. I am not speedy, and speed work seems like a long slow slog through mud. I know it’s necessary, but I’d rather just be running. šŸ˜‰

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