Runlikely: Squats are Evil

The best part about these write ups is that I can sit on the couch while working on them.

The latest stats:

Long run: 18 miles
Long run elevation gain: 3,494 feet
Effort: Easy+
Time: 5:31 (average pace: 18:24/mile)
Emergency poops: 0

Total miles this week: 38 (or will be when I run this afternoon)
Total elevation gain this week: ~6500
Total hours training: ~10 hours 45 minutes

The good news for me is there was nothing particularly dramatic about this long run. The bad news for you is it’s a more boring story.

I ran up the Olallie Trail with the goal of going to Mount Washington. The first section is a flat-ish uphill on the Palouse to Cascades Trail (formerly known as the Iron Horse, formerly known as the John Wayne Trail). The trail is primarily used by mountain bikers, which made me a bit nervous, imagining I’d be dodging folks flying down the trail.

Starting up the Palouse to Cascades Trail

But the course is open to hikers, too, and the bikers I went by were nice and courteous. The mountain biking angle made the trail pretty fun—a pretty gentle, steady uphill, with little ups and downs and wide, rounded corners which were fun on the way down. And I think the course is pretty similar as far as elevation gain to the one on the 50k, which makes it excellent training ground. And the fact that it’s essentially one trail the whole way helps, too — I think that’s a big reason why I was able to do this one a full hour and a half faster than the 16 miler last week.

On the way up, I kept a steady and slightly relaxed hiking pace and didn’t need to stop at any point. I listened to the final episode of Rabbit Hole by the New York Times, and then switched over to Dr. Death, which I’d started months ago on a road trip but never finished. I grimaced several times hearing about just how terrible this doctor was, and it may have made me step more carefully on the way down (do not fall and need surgery, Colleen, you never know who that doctor might be!!).

I kept meeting a couple of mountain bikers who were stopped for breaks. “You must have got up early!” they said when they rode past me on the uphill. Then I caught them again just before the trail descended briefly. “It’s you again! Bet you can’t catch us on the downhill.” And then finally I met them where their ride ended. “There she is!”

Maybe it’s dumb but I’ve always loved these interactions outdoors, and I missed them during the pandemic, when people were much more cautious about interacting with strangers. Most of it is that I really like people, and I like the small comraderies of doing a hard thing together, even if you’re doing it separately. But part of it, too, is a bit of magical thinking: when I know there are people ahead of me, my brain relaxes and thinks that I won’t have any animal encounters, or more specifically, won’t be mauled by a cougar or bear. (Or charged by a deer, which has now been added to my mental fear bank.)

Of course, this doesn’t make any sense. Having a mountain biker a mile ahead of me doesn’t mean a bear can’t decide to wander down to the trail, or that a cougar isn’t watching. (I mean, I do like to think they steer clear of active trails much of the time, but on the other hand there was a cougar so aggressive at the Mount Baker Trail I used to frequent a couple of years ago that they shut the trail briefly, so…)

But I’ll take the respite from worrying about animals, and when I passed those mountain bikers, I didn’t know if anyone else was on the trail ahead of me. So my brain started creating spooky stories. I thought I heard a rustle and spun around, spotted what I thought was a bear, and jolted—only to realize it was a tree stump, like the dozens of tree stumps I’d passed all day. As I turned off onto the trail for Mount Washington, a narrow little strip of footpath through tall, thin trees, I started stressing that I would hike face-first into a cougar den or bear foraging den. “Hey there!” I called out every five seconds. Just in case the imaginary bear hadn’t heard the last one.

When I got to a steep uphill, just shy of my nine-mile halfway mark and just shy of the summit, I thought: nahhhh and turned around. “Hey there!” I called out every five seconds, again, just in case. I stopped to pee, and then “hey there!”‘d again.

And then ahead of me was another woman runner. “Sorry about all the hey-there’s. I freaked myself out about seeing a bear.”

“I get it,” she said. “Have a safe run!”

The way back down was anxiety-free because I’d already run those trails, so the magical thinking told me there couldn’t be any animals. I also passed several people coming up on bikes or hiking, which helped.

That said, according to my watch, my downhill pace was worryingly slow. Like 15, 16 minute-mile slow. I don’t know if that was a fluke of the watch — I certainly didn’t feel like I was going that slow — or if the trail was steep enough that I was putting the “brakes” on. In which case, I really need to practice getting my feet to move quicker and getting comfortable moving fast downhill, since that’s what’s going to help me make up time from the uphills. It’s a balance, though, because downhill… hurts. Or “hurt” might be extreme, but it’s quite taxing. One of my knees started to ache a little, and my feet were really taking a pounding.

I’d felt really good and strong until mile 10 or 11, but then my muscles seemed to start sending signals to my brain: “hey! we’re freaking tired!” I tried eating a little more, thinking that could be part of it, and eating didn’t seem to hurt. (I’d eaten a bagel for breakfast and drunk a latte, and 3/4 of the way up the trail I’d eaten a ham and cheese croissant. I’d also been sipping Tailwind. After that I switched to the Huma gels I’d brought.)

But I kept going. My hip twinged a little but nothing too wild. My butt got sore. And as the trail flattened out, I picked up my pace a little. I got to the bottom and then ran further up the Palouse to Cascades Trail, doing a 1:30/30 run/walk to finish off my miles. When I turned to go back to the car, I managed some sub-13-minute miles going down the trail, even though I was very tired and walk/running.

One thing I noticed toward the end of the run is that I was having a trouble getting a deep breath. It felt like I was holding a lot of tension in my torso/chest, and couldn’t quite get my lungs to expand. I’m not sure what to do about that, but something to think about, considering I’d still have another 13 miles to go at the 50k.

As far as the rest of training (and the title of this post) — it was quite humid this week which made my weekday runs kind of miserable. I mean, they were fine, they were just slow and sweaty as hell.

However, on Tuesday, after 6 miles, I decided to add in some “3-minute mountain legs,” which coach David Roche recommends for trail runners. It’s essentially reverse lunges and single leg step-ups onto an elevated surface. He recommends 25-50 of each. I did 15 reverse lunges on each leg, 15 step ups onto a low bench at the park, and then added in 10 side lunges for each leg.

I… was so insanely sore. Walking up the couple of feet of my driveway to get the mail, I groaned and grunted. Steps were brutal. I was hobbling for days. It made the rest of my training week significantly harder (I was recovered by the long run, luckily.) Run 16 miles? Sure, my legs say. Squat 15 times? Forget about it.

Which tells me two things: I could probably really use these to improve my uphill hiking and possibly my downhill running, and also I need to start smaller. (And maybe stretch those muscles right afterward.) I’m going to try doing them today after my run, and depending on how sore I am, again on Tuesday, so that I don’t ever end up sore on my long run from lunges.

2 responses to “Runlikely: Squats are Evil”

  1. Elizabeth Frazier Avatar
    Elizabeth Frazier

    Wow, sounds like you are making great progress!
    Nature is beautiful but I have also freaked myself out on hikes. One time in Vermont I saw a very odd person. Turns out he goes out without any tent and hikes and sleeps in the woods regularly.
    I camped for years and never got used to the woods at night.
    Thanks again for a wonderful candid account of your adventures!


    1. I’m definitely not used to the woods at night — that’s when my brain goes totally wild. I’ve basically let go of the idea of solo backpacking, although maybe for a real bucket list trip I would do it. But yes, some very serious hikers will “cowboy camp” without a tent. I tried it once and wasn’t a fan, haha.


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