Saturday, May 7, 2016

Training by Not Training

I used to wonder what would happen if competitive road marathon runners got on some of the mountainous trail courses in the Western US. My prediction was that, gifted though they were, trail and terrain would be the undoing of people accustomed to flat predictable streets. I finally got at least one data point when a trail runner I'd met a couple times in one of the groups I ran with, ran against a Tanzanian guy who was single-digit finisher in one of the big Northeast U.S. marathons. No doubt the trail runner I knew was a strong runner, but he wasn't a national-level ass-kicker. And sure enough, the trail runner beat the road marathoner.

I can't extrapolate too much from that N=1, but I also wondered if familiarity with the terrain meant something as well. Because the race in question was on Mt. Diablo, which the trail runner knew like the back of his hand. There's something to be said for being familiar with a trail; your body just knows when it needs to gear up for a climb and how nasty it'll be and when it can relax. It's for that reason I was so interested in this great piece by Tommy Rivs about his experience trail racing in Costa Rica. Long story short (but still worth reading the long version), an outstanding college runner got his ass handed to him in a mountain race in Costa Rica by the locals - even after training for it for 6 months. So of course he wanted to know why, dammit. And the answer was that the guys who beat him were porters. Almost every day during the year, they hiked up that specific mountain, with weight, and then ran back down. Not surprisingly, after becoming a porter with them for a few months, he took 30 minutes off his time in a 20-mile race.

Legally you have to put pictures on blog posts. Above, Mt. Diablo from Mt. Tam (from Wiki), below, looking back down Cerro Chirripó in Costa Rica, from

Perhaps also relevant: these porter guys were porters as moonlighters (literally; read the piece). During the day they worked in coffee fields. So no part of any of their jobs involved sitting down.

No comments: