Reflections On Timothy Lake: Race-Specific Trail Running

Posted by Alice Diffely on Fri Jun 7th, 2013, No comments (be the first!)

Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of running the Timberline “Half Marathon”.  It’s actually a 14.2 mile trail race ringing the shores of Timothy Lake in the Mt. Hood National Forest, about 50 miles SE of Portland, OR.

Living very near a trailhead, I typically train on the trails in Portland’s Forest Park several times a week.  Yet I had never seriously raced on trails before.  Somehow, I’d feared that the intensity of a race would detract from my enjoyment of nature and sully my love of the trails.  It turns out my fears were unfounded.  Repeatedly during the race, I would round a curve and detect a smile spontaneously spreading across my face, as I was greeted by yet another shimmering view of sunlight bouncing off the surface of the lake.

Even as I delighted in the scenery and experienced waves of gratitude for the spring breeze wafting across the trail, I had no difficulty employing an aggressive approach to the rolling terrain.   I credit Danny Dreyer’s emphasis on the importance of race-specific training (discussed on pp. 129-139 of the Chi Marathon book) with enabling me to experience the bliss of running in nature while simultaneously competing at my best.

As I trained for the event, I followed the Chi Running Intermediate Half Marathon Training Program.  During Weeks 6-11, spanning the Conditioning and Mastery phases of the program, one of the workouts each week includes either a Hill Run incorporating both uphill and down hill running form focuses, or Hill Repeats involving 6x2 minute intervals of focused uphill running.  The goal is to run each successive uphill interval a little bit faster than the previous one, without increasing your Perceived Rate of Exertion. 

When following the training program in preparation for past races, I’d commonly done a fair number of my Hill Runs on the trails in Forest Park.  My Hill Repeats were typically on paved roads in my neighborhood, however.  This time around, I intentionally took to the woods for both my Hill Runs and my Hill Repeats.  This got me accustomed to doing some faster running on the trails.

During the race, I felt simultaneously focused, relaxed, and confident.  I charged up hills relying on the power of my arm swing; then flowed down the other side by leaning, relaxing, and allowing my pelvis to rotate.  Having practiced some faster running on my home trails, the heightened concentration required to navigate rocks, roots, and occasional fallen trees came naturally to me.  I felt no need to hold back, because my mind was alert enough and my body agile enough to navigate obstacles without sacrificing speed. 

I’m generally not too focused on results.  With the altitude, hills, and technical terrain of this trail race, I really didn’t know what to expect.  But I was pleased with my time of 2:05, with an average of 8:48 per mile.  Being the 4th woman to cross the finish line overall and the 1st in the 45-49 age group were nice bonuses.  But more importantly, I am infused with a new excitement to use the beloved trails in my neighborhood to train with specificity for future trail races.  Including the Timberline Half Marathon in 2014, for sure.

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Just wanted to say that after reading Chi Running and trying it for a week, I felt like it finally "clicked", and I cannot even remember how to run the old way (which I did faithfully for over 20 years). 

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