Running has been a big part of my life for a dozen years or so, but in the past two years, I’ve become hooked on trail running. I love the variety of the trail itself, the challenge of the elements and the beauty of the outdoors.
Until two months ago, Keokuk, Iowa, was my home base. I spent countless hours running the hills along the Mississippi River, and recently, I added the trails at Geode State Park, which offer some fun single-track around a scenic lake. From this training, I was able to run several 50-mile races, including one in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming, and a 100-miler, as well as a number of marathons.
But my new home in Lincoln City, Oregon, will take my training to a new level. Today’s run in the Drift Creek Wilderness illustrates the difference in the two locales. A 7-mile trail run around Lake Geode in Iowa resulted in about 875 feet of vertical — 125 feet per mile. Today’s 7.5-mile run on the Horse Creek North Trail was good for 1,700 feet of vertical — 225 feet per mile.
And while the total vertical is one thing, the sustained ascents and descents are an even bigger difference. The trail around Lake Geode constantly rose and fell, but it was difficult to find a sustained climb of more than a half mile. Contrast that with Horse Creek, which dropped — and subsequently climbed — 1,400 feet in 2.25 unbroken miles.
If you’re training for a mountain trail race, which is my favorite kind of race, you need to prepare for unrelenting climbs or descents.
The first time I ran the 50-miler in Wyoming’s Bighorns, I was unprepared for the vertical. The first 18 miles is a steady downhill, and one climb rose 3,000 feet in about 3 miles. You can’t train in Iowa for those conditions. The following year, I added plenty of repeats on the biggest hills that I could find, but it was still a poor substitute.
So while I explore the many trails of Oregon — and particularly those in the nearby Oregon Coast Range — I’m learning many lessons that will help me become a true mountain trail runner. Today’s lessons included:
- Being ready with a back-up location. I had planned a run around Olalla Reservoir, owned by the Georgia-Pacific lumber company. But when I arrived, I found the gate was locked and a sign warned off visitors due to a low water level at the reservoir. Uncertain if the prohibition extended to the surrounding trails, I headed off to another location.
- Following a route on my GPS watch. Last week, I missed two turns while running the trails at Cape Perpetua Scenic Area. This week, I had downloaded the GPX file for the run to my watch. The Horse Creek trail is an out-and-back trail that is easy to follow, but it still gave me a chance to work out the kinks in following a route on my Suunto Ambit2.
- Embracing the rike. Yes, “rike” — part run, part hike. There’s no way I’m prepared for a 2-mile uphill of 1,400 feet. And frankly, after a 10-week layoff in training, I’m not even ready for an uninterrupted run of 6 or 8 miles in the mountains. But a steady rike keeps me on the trails and extends my distance.
I’ve taken a number of hikes in the surrounding mountains since my arrival in mid-November, but today’s run was just my second true trail run. And all I can say is: Bring on the Oregon mountain trail runs and the lessons that come with them.
For an animation of the run, which also includes some photos along the way, watch this: