The Rut 50K is one of the most technical mountain races in the U.S. and in order to set myself up for success I made sure my training reflected both the steep, rocky sections of the course and the fast, runnable sections (as a mountain runner I realize I have a skewed view of what “runnable” means!).
Here’s how I did it.
These are key because it’s easy to lose speed running technical mountain trails all the time where it’s hard to open up your stride. My road workouts did end up being fartlek style, running by effort more than by pace.
Of course, The Rut is a mountain run and I love my hill repeats and uphill tempos. I did everything from 15-second hill sprints to long tempos up mountains. Even for a 50K, VO2 max hill repeats can help make the long uphills during a race feel more comfortable. In mountain running I don’t try to keep an even effort like I would in a flatter trail race. I expect my effort to be higher on the uphills and because I did hard hill sessions during training, I could handle the discomfort on the Rut’s long uphills. On some of these sessions as well as a few long runs, I would also focus on running the downhills fast so I could be confident my legs could handle The Rut’s long descents.
Another piece of the training puzzle for The Rut is hiking up really steep grades, often at high altitudes, normally surrounded by stunning views!
I’d often hike grades that I couldn’t run if I wanted to. As much as I love running fast there’s a special place in my heart for power hiking and the practice paid off in The Rut, especially in the last mile to the top of Lone Peak. I didn’t look like I was moving fast but I was able to keep a steady pace without stopping.
Practice on Technical Terrain
I can’t finish this story without mentioning how important it is to try and get in some runs on technical, rocky terrain. Technical running is a skill that can be trained. If I stay focused on what’s in front of me, my feet are much better at naturally finding the best places to step. I’ve never fallen on technical terrain because my focus is solid whereas it’s easy to fall on easy terrain when you let your guard down or look up to enjoy the view.
Hills and Mountains
What if you want to run The Rut but don’t have mountains in your backyard? I started trail running while living in the midwest and I coach runners in this situation who successfully complete mountain races, you just have to be creative. One afternoon when I wanted to practice hiking it was storming outside so I went to the gym and hopped on the stairmaster. The scenery wasn’t great, but I used music to help harness my energy and focus. You can also do uphill workouts on a treadmill or make the most of the hills you have in your area. It’s a heck of a good challenge and embracing it will help prepare you for running a technical mountain race like The Rut.