Bush or Bitumen?

This might seem a funny question to pose given that we’re predominantly a trail runners website, but it’s something that pondered my mind this weekend as my plans had to change somewhat to allow for various things happening over the weekend. I wasn’t able to get a really really long run, so while Vizey and Darrel went hand-holding on the GNW for 80 of its finest kms, I split my weekend to do a back-to-back the week ahead of the Great Ocean Road 100km this Saturday.

I do enjoy doing back-to-back runs like this because I really think it hardens your legs up and also enables you to deal with recovery better, so the plan was to do around 90kms, with 40 on the road on Saturday with Marcus, and then 50 on my own in the Blue Mountains on Sunday.

The reason I pose the question, bush or bitumen, is I’m wondering what people think of the merits of training on both? Sometimes I do think that when training for a big 100 miler that’s run mostly on trail, we can get a little carried away with doing everything on the trail. Running a ‘faster’ road run is good to help boost the average speed at which you travel, so instead of grinding out a 6 hour 40kms run, it’s good once in a while to knock off that 40kms in 3.5 hours. OK, so it’s not great for time on your feet, but it does get you working your body harder, as I found out in the early hours of Saturday morning as Marcus and I set off at 3am from Rushcutters Bay.

I’m not advocating the substituting of trail runs for road all the time, but sometimes, when needs must a quick 40 is a good answer to time shortages. What it also does is make sure you run all the hills too… sometimes we can get a little ‘lazy’ on the trail when confronted with a hill, and the walking shoes might come into play, coupled with some hand-holding. On the road, there’s no excuse – although I’m sure Mr. Vize will contest that there’s no excuse on the trail either ๐Ÿ™‚

Overall though, Marcus and I had a good time yomping through the back streets of the Eastern suburbs, saying hello to the stragglers returning from their evenings out. All the time our bodies were asking why we’d taken them from our beds and forced them to run amongst the concrete of Sydney at 3am. Drift through the night we did though, and before we knew it, dawn was breaking on the horizon over at Coogee and the 40 clicks was duly knocked off well before 7am – just in time for brekkie.

My body felt this one though. While only traveling at around 5:35km pace, the bitumen really does take it out of your body and I raise my glass to those nutters from our Aussie rep team who commit to 24 hours of the stuff.

So with part one of the back-to-back weekend complete, it was left for my favourite part – a 50km bush run in the Blue Mountains.

It was a much later start than I’m usually used to. With the missus doing a jewellery course in Wentworth Falls, this gave me 6 hours to burn to spend some time back in a place I love. It was hard making a decision as to where to run, but having never been on the Andersons firetrail that runs from Wentworth Falls to Woodford, I thought this would be a cracking time to go exploring along here and see what was on offer.

Parking up at the disused QVH on King Tablelands Road 4kms south of Wenty Falls, I was on familiar territory heading the 7kms down King Tablelands Road, which starts at an altitude of around 857m, descending to just over 700m when you reach the turn-off for the track. All in, a very lazy start to the day, which was only going to get lazier over the next 10-11kms or so as the firetrail made its way towards Woodford. Indeed, it’s pretty easy not to notice the slight downhill gradient here, that is until I made my way back a few hours later.

Having never been on this trail before, I didn’t really know what to expect and the time was broken up by having a few mountain bikers whizz past me, although I got my own back on some of the slight inclines on the way out as they slid into granny gears and shifted along at a stupidly slow pace uphill, while I made it my duty to beat them to the top ๐Ÿ™‚

It was then that I made the descent down to the river around 6-7kms outย  from Woodford, where I knew I’d be crossing the river twice, before a slog back up the hill. I’d decided to run the hill as I’d had a fairly easy-going ride up until now, and it wasn’t before long I was on open track again and hitting the bitumen at Woodford smack on 25kms and 2hrs 32mins on the clock. Conveniently I found a tap in a garden, filled the bladder and bottles and made my way back down the hill for the descent to the river again.

Having crossed the river, I made my first and only mistake of the day – instead of carrying straight on down a small single track, I hit a hard right and made a climb up the hill. Halfway up I thought this was odd as I knew I had to cross the river again and it struck me that rivers don’t flow up hills. But carry on I did to around 480m in height and a gate across the trail. Dohhhh! Wrong turn idiot… so back down the trail and the correct course was duly found and the second river crossing.

This is where the hard work starts though. From what is a very easy run down, the last 18kms home is all but a gradual uphill slog to the hospital. Firstly is an initial 200m climb from the river, which I decided to walk given that I have a race in 6 days time, before undulating gradual climbing back to King Tablelands Road.

I don’t know quite what I was thinking here, as having walked the hill I suddenly became obsessed with making sure I was back to the car in under 2hrs 50mins for the return leg. Lord knows why, but I started to push myself on the hills and the trails and had a thoroughly good time doing so. The temps had warmed up a bit too, so it was nice to get some kind of heat in ahead of GNW – more please! By the time I’d reached King Tablelands road for the last time I was pretty tired, but knew that I had to work hard for these last 7kms, so push on I did. I had 42mins to get home if I was going to achieve my goal.

Again it’s undulating dirt road back, with a final little climb of 50m in the last 500m or so. Push hard I did, coming back in 2hrs 49mins. Nice… given the 10 min detour up that hill. So a pretty solid run the day after that road run, and great training for GOW coming up this weekend.

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I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

9 thoughts on “Bush or Bitumen?

  1. Interesting question Dan. I’ve been doing a lot of back to back runs with one on road the other on trail. Usually the trail run is longer both in distance and time but the intensity (and monotony) of the road can be tougher physically and mentally. Found the road work has helped me build a more consistent pace on the trails. The back to back strategy seems to be less wear and tear than one big run too. Working for me anyway. Good luck at GOW!

  2. I have been combining both surfaces in training recently with trail out and bitumen back. GNW-PMC combos. Really good to work yourself hard over technical trail and then have to up the pace on a paved return. Still I know which surface I prefer…still reckon an all out bash at a road marathon can be tougher than a 100miler.

    Happy trails at GOW Dan!

    1. Nice one Spud. I think where you live can dictate what you do too. Currently most of the running during the week is done on road, with a small trail run thrown in too. Then it’s the big trail run at the weekend. But doing a road run at ‘pace’ reminds you just how hard they are be on the body…

      Agree on the road marathon… they are effectively long runs done at pace if done properly. I remember having a crack at Gold Coast last year and I was smashed at the 35km mark… it’s a fine line.

      See you for the big dance in a few weeks… Need to go and support our Mexican friends first though ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Agree with all that has been said, road hurts like hell ! Give me soft pine-needle clad single-track any day. Trail smells better, no diesel fumes and views around every corner.

  4. I can understand someone running 100% on trail (very lucky people), but feel sorry for people who only run on roads! Perosnally I don’t think we are designed to run on roads, they are tough, only use a group of mescles on and on and eventually hurt more and create frequent injuries (but they do make us faster)! Saying that I can only train on trails over the weekend if lucky because of lack of access to the trails and shortage of time unfortunately! Any idea if road running can be improved/tweaked to help with trail runs?? Reading this a while back I thought there must be something wrong with elite marathon training: “World-class athletes tend to be injured about once a monthโ€”but some much more often. ” from http://www.active.com/running/Articles/What_Makes_an_Elite_Runner_.htm!
    could it be because of too much road training or pro trail runners are as frequently injured?!

  5. Mixing it up on different surfaces is critical to optimum performance. Different stimuli (surfaces, paces etc) make for a better all round strength runner-period-14 years of trail and error attest to this for me.

    1. Thanks Martin, quick question, do you mix it up during your training blocks on a weekly basis or do you do several weeks of trail and then several weeks of road depending on upcoming races ? For example I have dropped the road training down to a minimum of once per week whilst I focus on GNW100 and this is not ideal if I suddenly have a crack at a fastish 30km or more road run.

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