Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Mountain Climbing Preparations, No 1 -- Training by Running

Having a big, long-term, terrifying goal has flow-on effects. It motivates you to to do things which then develop their own sub goals.

One of the ways to train for mountain climbing (or anything that requires endurance) is running. The training web sites recommend that as much as possible you train "in kind", i.e. by actually carrying a heavy pack uphill. However, there's limits to how much or how often you can do this (viz, aborted tramping trip in the Tararuas, Dec 17--20). And in any case, it may not be possible to simulate the stresses you will be under climbing. The duration, pace, elevation and difficulty of any treks you get to do will depend on things like the time available, the terrain accessible, the preferences of your trekking companions, and the vagaries of the weather.

Running, on the other hand, allows you to destroy yourself at your leisure. And with my ability at cycling (distinctly mediocre) or swimming (close to non-existent), running is the obvious choice for sustainable, easy-access pain infliction.

Thus, it was the decision to aim for Aconcagua that provided the incentive to get back into running. I was long past due to replace my running shoes, since my existing ones were falling apart and never fit me that well anyway. When I finally made the trip down to the Shoe Clinic to have my gait analysed and buy some shoes, I'm not sure if I'd actually gone as far as saying it out loud, but the idea was certainly germinating somewhere in my mind.

At first I mainly ran on hills, or at least included a hill in the run. I managed to run for 1 hr 45 around the bays, with a loop up part of Mt Victoria. I did several runs up to the Brooklyn wind turbine. From my flat in Northland, that requires a descent to Aro St, followed by perhaps 280 metres of vertical ascent over a few kilometres.

In the most recent of these excursions, I pushed on past the windmill along the increasingly rough track that heads towards a mysterious radar station and eventually the sea. After about 25 minutes on this track, it started to get dark, the misty drizzle got thicker, and in the end I only just turned around in time to make it back to the windmill before the weather and the night closed in. I had been out nearly two hours -- not long by marathoners' standards, but seemingly a bridge too far for my body. I must have suffered dehydration, salt loss, or something, aggravated by being battered around in two indoor football games over the next couple of days (see future post on "training mix"). For about the next week I felt wiped out, even mildly depressed.

I was at risk of getting discouraged and allowing my training schedule to drift into haphazardness. Fortunately, I discovered that there is a half marathon scheduled for February 21 as part of the Wellington Round the Bays event. The opportunity to run under 1 hr 30 is something of a lifetime goal and a definite motivation. I have run three previous half marathons, in times of 1:34, 1:37 and 1:31. The last two were in strong northerly winds, and the last one may have been "worth" less than 1 hr 30, given that the winner didn't go far under 1:10 and I was 80th in a field of 800. But the time you did is the time you did, and it remains the case that I've never broken that magical figure.

I've now entered the race, and even just the anticipation of entering was enough to inspire a 16 1/2 km post-Christmas jog when I was down south at my parents' place. Since coming back to Wellington, I ran over the course last Thursday (appreciating the rata-splashed joys of the Miramar peninsula), and on Sunday did an out-and-back run of the first leg from Frank Kitts Park to Kilbirnie Park. I managed the course proper in 1 hr 35, while the 14km Sunday run took bang on an hour. That leaves substantial room for improvement if I want to reach my target.

Slightly worrying is that on both occasions there was a northerly tail wind on the first leg and I couldn't do it in less than 29 minutes: on Thursday my 7km splits were 31/34/30, and on Sunday approximately 29/31. It was somewhat odd that Sunday's last leg should be the quickest: on the positive side it shows good endurance, but on the negative, it could suggest that for some reason (encroaching age, poor technique?) I have no speed.

A consoling factor is that I think (based on my reading of the course map) that I have been adding some extra distance on to the first bit by doglegging around Te Papa. I have also been running with a small backpack carrying a little food, light pants and a sweater, and carrying a drink bottle in one hand. You don't want to run for an hour or more without liquid, but I think the bottle may be a slowing factor by restricting use of the arm which is carrying it. On Sunday, I ditched the bottle in a bin by Cobham Drive; it was notable that my time on the return leg was only 2 minutes slower despite running into a howling northwesterly that was so strong at times it was hard to stay upright.

Anyway, I'm off for another run tomorrow, and this time will be able to leave my things at work and run without a backpack, so we'll see how that goes. Also, although I know it's good practice, it would be nice to have a little bit less wind!


Soph said...

You are sooo much fitter than me already. I would die running for that long.

Simon Bidwell said...

Thanks Sophia, but I probably have quite bit more free time to practice. Also, I would die trying to swim pretty much any distance at all :)