Today I had the special pleasure of introducing a friend to the joys of trail running in Frick Park.
It all started with a casual comment Chris made in late August that he was thinking of doing some distance work in Frick Park, to get a change of scenery from where he lives and runs, south of Pittsburgh. I said, “Hey, let's do this together”, and looking at our schedules, we determined that today would be the first day we could sync up for a long run in the morning.
So basically, we had this run planned a month and a half ago. And luckily, the weather was great today!
This was our first run together, outside of our both having just last week run in the Fineview Stepathon.
Back in August, Chris had warned me that he might be slow. I said that I did long runs slowly in any case, only speeding up near the end. What I didn't say was that I fully believed that with the training he's been doing toward the goals of his first 10K (which he has done: he did the Great Race 10K this year), his first half marathon, and his first marathon, he was going to get fast in just a matter of months.
And I was right! We ended up running 13 miles, and not very slowly.
The planned route
I had a basic idea of where to show Chris around in Frick Park. By coincidence, almost exactly a year ago, I actually did a writeup about a favorite long run of mine in Frick. I figured that we might do a subset of that run, around 10 miles, this morning. We'd improvise to cut the run short or add to it, based on how we were feeling.
The temperature started at around 36 F, but was slated to go over 50 F by the time we expected to be done, and it was sunny. It was perfect fall running conditions!
My experiment today
As I have mentioned lately, I have been experimenting, with great success, with fasting before running in races. Today I extended the experiment by fasting, for the first time in my life, before doing a long run. I have often fasted before doing a run up to 6 miles, but not much longer than that. Typically, for a long run, I eat something before heading out, and bring a snack of some kind to eat at some point after about an hour. But I have always wondered whether eating (especially any carbs) was just training my body to depend on carbs, etc. What if I could train my body to just go into fat-burning mode and stay there, by avoiding carbs and avoiding food altogether?
So today, I didn't eat before the long run, and although I brought a snack as insurance in case I bonked, I wanted to see how I would feel for the entire duration of a long run.
We started off at around 10-minute pace for the first hour of the run, taking the Riverview Trail (winding all the way down), the Falls Ravine Trail down into Fern Hollow, then crossing Commercial Street and going up to Summerset at Frick and back down.
We didn't go into Duck Hollow because there was a barrier with a sign saying that the section of trail was closed. I didn't know whether to believe that (I've seen that sign there for a long time now), but didn't want to run into any possible trouble, so we turned back.
Once back in Frick Park, Chris picked up the pace, to about 9-minute pace. OK. He was running faster than I would have chosen to run myself if I had been on a long run alone. I silently kept up. One thing about running with other people is figuring out what shared pace to adopt. If individuals have fitness levels that are too different, running together might not work too well. In our case, it appeared that Chris was rapidly closing in on my level, and for all I knew, could already be beyond it!
Anyway, since we had cut short the route that would have led to the Monongahela River, I decided we'd do more exploration within Frick Park. We took the Nine Mile Run Trail down to where it emerges in Regent Square, then came back up, then turned onto Braddock Trail. We got off Braddock Trail at the point where the annual Run Around The Square turns onto it, and headed back into Fern Hollow.
Then we went up north on Tranquil Trail, branched off Homewood Trail to pass by the Frick Park Lawn Bowling Greens, see Homewood Cemetery, and head back down. By then, I calculated that we should head back, because we were going to have done about 12 miles total by the time we got back to my place.
Going up Falls Ravine Trail, I finally started feeling hungry. But I was OK, not lightheaded or bonking, so I did not eat the snack I had brought. This was already the furthest I'd ever run in my life completely without pre-run food or any fuel during the run (I had two or three water fountain stops but that's no calories).
Taking the Riverview Trail, we reached a point at which I told Chris I liked to go fast for a whole mile uphill, so I sped up and went for it. I was going at under 8-minute pace as though running the last mile of a 10K race.
At some point near the end of that uphill stretch, Chris called for me to wait up. He had gotten some stomach cramps. He said he wasn't used to running at this speed. We walked for a bit before we resumed running out of the park and back to my place.
By my estimate, based on my pretty good feel for my pace and subtracting time at water fountains and walking, we ran about 13 miles. My feet were pretty sore (I wore my Vibram FiveFingers KSO Trek shoes, as usual in the trails), but I was feeling great; and I hadn't eaten anything since dinner the previous night! OK, I was hungry and ready to eat a meal, but I had not bonked or anything. This gives me some confidence to try more fasting experiments in future runs.
I told Chris that I believed he was fundamentally strong and could run really fast, that he should add long interval training sessions to his current regimen of long runs and hilly speed training. It's the long intervals (running about a mile at 5K pace) that do wonders. We had just gone out and practically run a half marathon casually, so for his first half marathon coming up in months, he should be able to train well and actually set an ambitious time goal for it. I would not be surprised if in his first half marathon he is able to run faster than in my fastest ever half marathon! Put in the long runs and the interval training and one should be able to race one's first half marathon, not merely finish it. In my experience, if one has done enough training for a half marathon, it can be raced almost as though a “long” version of a 10K race.
The marathon is another story entirely. I may write something up about that some day.
It was a beautiful day for a long run in Frick Park, and I was delighted to introduce Chris to some of my favorite routes in it.
Also, I was pleased that my experiment with fasting worked out.