Would you prefer to run up a snowfield, or down a rocky mining road? Maybe neither.
During the 42nd annual Kendall Mountain Run this July, hundreds of participants did both.
Starting in Silverton, with the turnaround point being the 13,066 feet elevation summit of Kendall Mountain, this 12 mile round-trip course boasted half a mile of snow each way. That meant both ascending over snowfields, and descending another half of a mile on snow, often at a fast pace.
These were quite unusual conditions for this annual race, which has been run annually for more years than most of its participants have been living. From teenagers to runners in their seventies, during this race most were able to smile broadly when any cameras came out.
As for running several miles downhill on rocky, wet mining roads at race pace, how does a person keep that smile from turning into a grimace of pain from a bad ankle sprain, the heel pain of strained plantar fascia, or worse?
For one thing, everyone should hope for a good, soaking rain.
That is, everyone should hope for a good, soaking rain the day before the event. It sounds counterproductive, I know, but the moisture on a dirt road full of rocks actually binds the soil together rather well, resulting in less slippage.
As for the larger, flatter rocks themselves, it is best to try to not step directly on them when wet. Details, details, but important ones.
The eyes have it
Many joggers, walkers, and runners nowadays are wisely and intentionally avoiding asphalt (and especially cement). This necessitates readying oneself for the challenges of trails studded with tree roots, gravel, and rocks the size of Fido’s head.
Small gravel can act much like ball bearings beneath a shoe if the trail or mining road has much slope. Experienced eyes almost unconsciously evaluate the size and depth of gravel and small stones. This can help us to develop a sense of how long a foot needs to remain in contact with the ground in order to transfer muscular effort into forward thrust.
Other simple measures can reduce or nearly eliminate the chance that we will lose our footing.
Avoid sudden changes of direction, even a change as little as twenty degrees or less from the direction of travel. Inertia carries the runner or hiker forward. On a dirt road or trail, any attempt to make a cut around a dip in the road or around another runner may lead to a side slip on these gravel ball-bearings.
Running at faster speeds, of course, will magnify both the pleasure of locomotion and the consequences of a misjudgment in foot placement and direction. Such an error can produce a nasty case of abrasions which the road cyclists have named “road rash”.
This is a fragment of the quote from the Greek philosopher Socrates, a decorated war veteran who was known to routinely walk barefoot year-round, even in ice and snow. For our purposes of staying upright and avoiding injury in jogging or running downhill on snow and rocks, knowing thyself and thy course is a practical necessity.
Both the Kendall Mountain Run and Imogene Pass Run from Ouray to Telluride contain a downhill component involving a six mile descent of 4,000 to 5,000 vertical feet. Many local hikers from our area routinely take on such descents during their hobby hikes on the peaks in these San Juan Mountains and other Colorado ranges.
Knowing one’s fitness level and one’s ability to tolerate timberline’s decreased air pressure and it’s less available oxygen is a very important prerequisite. Acute Mountain Sickness is a distinct clinical diagnosis and a miserable condition that can partially be avoided by this foreknowledge of fitness.
The appeal of a six mile downhill run may have the drawback of the temptation to allow gravity to do most of the work. Injury here may be avoided by ignoring the urge to over-stride on the downhills. Such control may spare not only the ankles and the three arches that make up each human foot, but also the knees, kneecaps, and hips.
Is your second toe longer than your big toe? This common variation, termed Morton’s foot, can force the longer toe into the shoe’s toe-box thousands of times on a downhill run. A bruised toenail bed results.
Several days of pain, swelling, and limping may then be followed by complete loss of the toenail itself four to five months later. This injury can be prevented by effectively lengthening the big toe, either by purchasing a set of silicone toe caps, or taping a bit of dense foam to the end of that toe.
Our beautiful region’s trails and roads may be calling your name, whether for a race or just for fun. Answer that call, stay fit, and have fun doing it.
John T. Unger is a Diplomate of the American Chiropractic Board of Sports Physicians, with over twenty-five years of practice in Montrose. He has successfully treated hundreds of such overuse injuries, several of which have been on himself. Ideas for future columns are welcomed at sportsdocunger.com.