Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Hills of Orcas Island

After spending three weeks in Colorado, my wife and I headed to Orcas Island in Washington for our cousin's wedding. We were there for three days, so I wanted to take the opportunity to get some sea-level training in.

I also wanted to test out my new running shoes, Hoka One One Bondi Bs. Hokas are the object of much speculation among runners because of their radical design. They have a full inch of padding both under the heel and the forefoot. They are also extra wide for lateral stability. Some runners believe the generous padding encourages poor running form, while others say the padding allows runners to maximize speed, especially on steep downhill runs. Since I had had such a difficult time on the downhill segment of the Kendall Mountain Run, I decided I'd give these expensive shoes a shot. I've been spending a lot of money on blister treatment anyways, so why not see if a change in gear could prevent some wear and tear on my feet and legs? (This post isn't intended to be a review of the shoes, though -- I may decide to do a separate review later).

In addition to being a beautiful island, Orcas is also very hilly, so whatever training I got in while I was there would have to incorporate hills. For my first run, on Friday, I decided to do some speed work. The plan was to run 9 miles -- One mile for warm-up, then 6 at "tempo" effort (whatever that pace turned out to be on these dramatic hills), then two for cool-down.

The warm-up mile was almost completely uphill, so I warmed up quickly. Then, as I started in on the tempo run, the road continued uphill, flattened, then headed downhill -- about 240 feet of downhill! I finished the first mile in 7:12. I could tell that the shoes were helping to cushion my strides; it felt quite good. Then I reached a dead end, and so had to run back up the same hill. My pace for Mile 2 slowed to 8:06. Then it was back down towards the start. I picked up speed until my pace approached 6:00 per mile. I was flying! But I hit the bottom of the hill before the mile ended and headed up another hill (in the opposite direction from the start of my run). This one was even steeper than the first hill, and my pace decreased as I climbed over 100 feet in about a tenth of a mile. By the time the mile was over, my pace for the mile was 6:52. For Mile 4 I was determined to keep my pace up despite the uphill, and completed it in 7:55, again with over 220 feet of climbing. Finally things "flattened" a bit and I managed a 7:12 and 6:54 for the final two miles, each still with over 100 feet of climbing. My overall pace for the tempo was 7:22, including 889 feet of climbing and 1045 feet of descending.

I took an "easy" day on Saturday, 6 hilly miles, in preparation for my tough long run on Sunday.

The plan on Sunday was to run from our rental home on the water to the top of Mount Constitution, and back. The mountain isn't Coloradan in proportion, but it is over 2,000 feet tall, and the cabin is at sea level. The round trip would be nearly 20 miles. This would be my last "easy" long run before my marathon in two weeks at Crater Lake, and I wanted to get a sense of how well my legs held up during extended uphills and downhills in the new shoes. For a normal long run, I might try for an 8:30 pace overall, but I wasn't sure how to adjust my pace in this super-hilly environment. I decided to just try to maintain a similar effort to what I do on any other long run.

The first few miles were by now familiar territory, with several long-ish climbs but nothing over about 200 feet. My pace oscillated between about 8:30 and 9:30 depending on the hills. Then, around Mile 4, the road started the steady climb to the interior of the island. I arrived at Moran State Park, where Mount Constitution rises, and stopped for a couple pictures:

The quaint sign at the park entrance

The start of the climb. Unfortunately the sign obscures the dramatic incline

Now it was up, up, up, a steady climb for 3 miles. I knew the road flattened out for a couple miles near the top, so I wanted to give a solid effort for these three miles to see how I handled it. Here are the splits:

Mile 6: 374 feet, 10:28
Mile 7: 484 feet, 11:18
Mile 8: 551 feet, 12:10

The hill wasn't quite Kendall-Mountain steep, but it was definitely a challenge, averaging about a 10 percent grade for two solid miles. About a mile and a half in to the climb, I was ready to take a walk break, when I saw a group of four cyclists working their way up the mountain ahead of me. Could I really be catching up to the cyclists?

I decided to see if I could pass them, and I kept running. Slowly I closed in on them, passing two of them and telling them "they'll probably beat me on the way down." There were two more ahead, and they seemed to be picking up the pace. I kept pushing it, and finally caught a third cyclist, who asked me if I'd be running the Triple Ripple. I hadn't heard of it, but I've since looked it up -- looks like fun!

There was one more cyclist ahead, but I was never able to catch him. At the end of Mile 8 the road leveled out and he zoomed off ahead of me. As it turned out, "leveling off" is a relative term. Miles 9 and 10 were still primarily uphill as well, with 330 and 240 feet of climbing. But finally I made it to the top, turned off the stopwatch, and climbed to the top of the observation tower where I took a couple photos:

The obligatory self-portrait

Not every day do you get to look down on the clouds!

After looking around for about 10 minutes, it was time to head back down. Without going all-out, I wanted to see how quickly I could descend on tired legs, and how the new shoes performed. It took a while to get used to the new shoes, but after a mile or two I was able to get into a nice rhythm. Most of the downhill miles were in the 8:00-range, but I did manage a 7:11 on Mile 13. The hills were steep enough that my legs still took quite a pounding, and by the time I got to the flatter (but still downhill) Miles 16 and 17, my pace had slowed considerably. I only managed a 9:08 on 16 and a 9:50 on 17.

The good news is that after all that downhill (and all that climbing), I didn't feel completely spent. My legs were still responding, and I kept a respectable pace all the way to the end, even on very hilly terrain.

As I headed into the final steep descent, I decided to see if my legs were still able to turn over quickly. I hit the "lap" button on my GPS and took off as fast as I felt I could handle, which turned out to be a 7:56 pace. The .2-mile descent dropped 146 feet, nearly a 14% grade, and I found I could still run fairly strongly, even after almost 20 miles of running, including 3,700 feet of climbing and descending. During the Blue Ridge Marathon, I struggled to maintain an 8:20 pace around Mile 20 while descending a hill that wasn't as steep, so I'd say this is a strong endorsement for the Hokas' ability to absorb a pounding.

After the run, I was tired, but not completely spent, despite arguably putting in more effort than I might have on a full marathon. After an hour or two, my legs didn't feel bad at all, another sign that these shoes are helping (of course, all the other hill training and racing I've been doing lately probably didn't hurt either!).

Now it's time to start tapering for the Crater Lake Marathon, which is in fact just 10 days away. I'm looking forward to it!

Details of last Friday's and last Sunday's runs are below.

No comments:

Post a Comment