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Training Day: the sequel

by Emily Gindle » on Nov 12, 2010 2

Is there something about finding a love for running that intrinsically turns one into a masochist? I asked myself this question several times as I ran up Finger Rock Canyon. Having checked out one side of my half-marathon trail, I thought the next day I would check out the other side. The darker side, it turns out. My hugely steep nemesis.

Training day the sequel began less enthusiastically than the original. I was tired. The Finger Rock trail starts out much more easily than Pima Canyon; after a short stair-stepping section, it’s mostly smooth and flat for a mile as it heads into the canyon proper. This is the only easy part of the trail. After this, it takes only 4.8 miles to reach the summit of Mount Kimball, where Pima does the same in a more relaxed 7.3. My goal was to get to the steep part and give some of it a try.

I had been warned by some more avid hikers that it might be better to run my proposed loop in the opposite direction; taking Finger Rock downhill is like roller skating on ball bearings, with a treacherous drop off the side of the ridge: three miles of nerve-racking fun. I wasn’t looking forward to running such a steep trail uphill either, gaining 800 feet per mile, which is steep enough to use your hands somewhat regularly to negotiate tall steps.

Even the first gentle mile of the trail felt tough. Running felt sluggish. You know those nightmares where you’re trying to run away from someone and it feels like you’re having to pull yourself through water? I have those all the time. Running on this particular day felt a little like that. I thought seriously of just turning around and going home for a relaxed lunch.

The steep part starts immediately in your face. You’re on a nice flat trail and it runs into a wall and veers up the side. That’s how you know you’re there. And when I got there, surprisingly, I wanted to see what it was like. I started high-stepping up the side, and only made it about twenty yards at a running pace before I was completely out of breath. So I stopped, panted, got my breath under control, and went another twenty yards. Stopped, panted, ran some more. The little choo-choo that could.

I passed a couple of women and their dog out hiking, and in typical fashion they wanted to know about my shoes. I told them about my Fivefingers and my running plan, feeling quite a lot like a crazy person as I described how awesome the rocks felt on my feet and how great it felt to kill myself trying to run such a steep mountainside. They seemed inspired, or at least they were very polite. One woman said she’d go try some out when they got back into town, and they let me run ahead of them, though with my sprinting and resting I only barely stayed in front. I could hear them chatting on the trail behind me the whole time, and they actually made very good running partners this way; I would stop and hear them coming and I would start running again.

Running that trail downhill is just plain dangerous. Usually I’m a track star when it comes to downhills; I use the momentum to do a controlled fall, planning where my feet will go an instant before they hit the ground. I love this feeling. But in Finger Rock Canyon, the trail is covered in little rocks that roll underfoot, and there are sudden boulders in the way of the trail. Momentum is useless when you have to prepare to brake at any instant. So I minced my way back down the steep mile, and as soon as I got to the flats I was flying. I felt faster than I ever had in my life.

And I’ve got a cure for those slow-mo running nightmares: it’s all in the toes, like trying to push a car. Navigating the steep terrain in my Fivefingers, I could roll through my whole foot and push from the toes, a feeling I’ve never felt in regular running shoes, but a feeling that feels free from the sluggish pounding of running along uninspired. It’s the feeling that makes the difference between running stuck and flying.


  1. Chito Peppler

    November 13th, 2010 at 1:31 am

    Hi Emily,

    Your descriptions are very vivid and your narrative very enlightening.
    Makes me want to put on my FF now and just go flying. Yes, they are liberating and invigorating. Vibrams have revolutionized my running.



  2. Emily

    November 13th, 2010 at 9:27 pm

    Hey Chito, thanks for the encouragement! Sometime you should write us about your own flying experiences. – Emily


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