Sports Psychology

Top O’ The Rocks

Top O’ The Rocks

I am blessed to live and run in Tucson where I am surrounded by five mountain ranges, all with extensive trail systems. The Tucson Trail Runners use many of these trails to organize an informal series of annual runs. Over the last 17 years I have traversed every one of the series runs multiple times. Even though I have logged thousands of miles over well known terrain, I have a different trail experience each time. Some days I might be tired from a long day at work or a hard training run the day before. Those days are opportunities to take a better look at my surroundings, especially the condition of the trail, focusing on where and how I place my feet. On the flip side, I might be more rested for the trail run and ready to fly over the rocks and shoot for a fast time; in which case I will throw caution to the wind and let my feet do the thinking.

Depending on your state of fitness, energy level, or training intensity, your stride length and foot placement will change significantly. After finishing a trail run I can usually describe my day as a ‘Top O’ the Rocks’ or a ‘Tween the Rocks’ kind of day. If I am mentally sluggish or physically tired I tend to shorten my stride and step around or between objects rather than over them. This is especially true when running downhill. When I run tentatively too much I am more susceptible to ankle rolls and further fatigue sets in. When I am rested and feeling strong I can bound from rock to rock or over rocks, roots, and trees more efficiently with less impact. I can keep my body moving forward rather than expending energy with excessive lateral movement.

One of the benefits of trail running is how varied terrain strengthens the smaller supporting muscles of the lower legs and increases ankle resiliency. Both methods of negotiating objects on trail – over or around – have training effect especially in the ultra distance where you will experience different energy and fatigue levels throughout the day. There are often times the legs and feet need to know how to run on cruise control relying on the neural myelin wrap developed from the many hours of practice of foot placement on trail. For example, in the middle of the night you will need to rely on those automatic connections and strengthened muscles to keep you upright and on course. Look for tangents and avenues of approach that enable forward movement and solid foot placement. Don’t over think the trail; let the mind-body connection flow. Time on your feet is your greatest training advantage.

After a recent 15-mile hilly trail race, a friend of mine commented on how much faster I was able to run the downhill than he was. He is six inches taller than me and had much longer legs. We started the race together but when we got to a steep climb I power-hiked while he lifted his knees higher and pushed up the hill. I gradually lost sight of him until 45 minutes later on the downside of the course. As I was twisting and turning my way down the switchbacks with expert and subconscious foot placement, I caught a glimpse of him below. I caught up quickly and we cruised into the finish together. Even though I shortened my stride on the uphills and even walked at times, I managed to lower the course PR by 10 minutes. It wasn’t so much that I ran faster on the downhill that day, although I did; I ran more efficiently by saving my energy earlier in the run and relied on previous practiced foot placement. I really enjoyed a ‘Top O’ the Rocks’ trail day.

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This post was written by:

- who has written 3 posts on Trail Running Club.


I moved to Arizona from Minnesota in 1994. I live southeast of Tucson near the 800+ mile Arizona Trail. I have served over 27 years in the military and have a BS in Management. I am currently in the Army National Guard at the rank of Chief Warrant Officer Three. My wife Trish and I have been married 16 years and own a fitness franchise called SNAP 24/7 Fitness. We plan to open in 2013 in Vail, Arizona.

Some of my professional and running career highlights are:
• Certified Army Master Fitness Trainer - I evaluate soldiers who cannot meet physical fitness and/or weight standards, provide a personal training schedule, and monitor their progress. I have overmaxed the Army Physical Fitness Test for the last 23 years with a best 2-mile run time of 9 minutes and 36 seconds.

Event Management and Competition:
• Arizona National Guard Marathon Team Coordinator
• Former Biathlon Coach and Athlete (Cross Country Skiing and Rifle Shooting)
• Captain of 2011 9-person relay team - Placed 4th of 150 teams at Texas Independence 204-mile relay
• Trail running and racing since 1991
• 17-time selection to the All-National Guard Marathon Team
• 34 sub 3-hour marathons
• 2:33 marathon / 1:10 half-marathon personal bests
• Completed over 70-ultra distance trail events

Masters Race Highlights

• 2012 and 2009 Pemberton Trail 50K Master's Champion
• 2011 Tucson Marathon 1st place Age Group 40-44
• 2010 Run Against Breast Cancer 1/2 Marathon - Master's Champion

Trail Highlights:
• Finished 5 100-mile trail races - Western States, Wasatch, Javalina, Bear, Angeles Crest
• 5 time winner of Mica Mountain Trail Marathon (27 mile), 6000 feet ascent/descent
• Previous Crown King 50K and 50-Mile Champion
• Course record holder on multiple Tucson Trail Runs


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