I had intended on running 4 x mile along the paved Rock Creek Trail, but I wanted a partner, if only to chase or to run part of each rep. I tried to get Sam, Karl, Jimmy -- even Benedict Sloane(!) -- to join, but all had other plans. Sometime late in the afternoon I nixed the idea of going to Rock Creek altogether and instead decided to workout out at an old “J”-shaped hill/loop in Cabin John I use to run on years ago.
I warmed up for 3 miles and immediately felt my blood sugar drop – not a good sign before a workout is set to begin. I chugged some Gatorade, too much in fact, and decided to ease into the first rep with a swishing belly.
My goal was to run 6 or 8 x half mile -- starting at 13.1 pace and working down to 6.2 pace. It should have been easy, but what makes this workout hard is the terrain. The first quarter mile is essentially flat and you run along a worn-down blue stone road (see picture on far right). However, soon after the halfway mark you begin to climb…and climb. The hill gets exponentially higher as you run, but it’s not a “ridiculous” climb. In fact, it’s quite practical (in terms of something one might encounter in a race) making the route ideal for workouts. You even have a chance to stride it out in the last 20 meters. At the bottom of the “J”, where you finish, you simply run a ¼ mile trail that connects you back to where you started (ie – the top of the “J”). My first rep was very slow – 2:45, but I’ve learned that it’s good practice to start out easy when working out here since the hill surprisingly doesn’t get smaller after each rep. In fact, it appears to get bigger.
My next rep was essentially right on pace – 2:37. Next I hit 2:38, then 2:40. As I remembered, the route didn’t get any easier. Essentially on each repetition, I’d hit ¼ mile somewhere between 74 and 78, before driving into the incline. I’d attack different parts of the hill with different gears, but after rep 1, I was never was able to negative split. Each time I hit the hill, I got slower. 2:41 and then 2:43. Although I was falling off pace ever so slightly, I felt strong and I felt as if I were getting tough. I had planned to stop after 6 (I was really huffing and puffing), but I really need to work on my strength and something told me that since I wasn’t running very fast, instead hard, I could keep at it. A light rain began to fall and an owl started to hoot; ominous signs when the workout was starting to hurt. I ended up running 2:39 on my 7th before faltering to a 2:47 on the 8th. Still, I was happy with the effort. Workout done, I regained my composure and ran a cool down through the trails just as the sun began to set. I got in 11 miles and a big 15.5 for the day.
It was great to get away from the track and although I was pining for companionship, it was a good test to do the workout alone. There is also something to be said for working out in the woods at twilight - I had the entire road to myself and it was all very reminiscent of cross country practice – just man and earth.
ALSO, I wrote an article for the Washington Running Report in what will hopefully be a reoccurring column a came up with called “Off the Beaten Path”. Check it out HERE.