A morbid curiosity brought me to Pack Monadnock on Sunday. No, it wasn't to see if the snow was gone yet. Fortunately it was. I wanted to get a sense of what it was like to run up a 12% average, 20% maximum grade incline. Pack is paved, gains 800ft in 1.3mi. The last time I time-trialed up this road was on crutches.
What I really needed a rest day instead. 6.4hrs of solid riding the two prior days worked my legs over pretty good. I told myself I'll just kind of "soft jog" up. Some of my runs at work induced calf tenderness. I suspected that going up a steep grade could exacerbate this. I wanted to know. No sense in entertaining foot races up mountains if my calves would implode. In talking with other runners, running injuries are insidious. You get sucked in, thinking all is going well, then one day you wake up and you can't run.
Cathy came out to hike up with me. I really just wanted to get it over with and walked for about one minute before beginning the timed run. So no warm-up, and my leg muscles were tighter than a violin E-string. I eased into the climb. About 0.3mi in, I hit the 18% pitches before the first switchback. I started thinking there was no friggin way I'll be able to run the whole way up. I pressed on.
I get through the chicane more than half way and the grade relaxes a bit. I wore my minimalist Nike Free's and immediately felt the heel pounding on the less steep parts. One thing I noticed is that running uphill is actually not very abusive on your body. There is no jarring. In fact, on the steepest parts. I found it easier to run completely on my forefoot, never touching the heel. I had no idea if I was destroying my calves or not. I did not perceive any pain.
Finally the last 0.2mi at 18-20% grade came into view. It looked so much steeper on foot than it does on a bicycle. I wore my heartrate strap for this run, the first time running. My HR was amazingly low for how badly I was suffering. But I was tired too, so that is expected. I divided and conquered the 20% section. Midway I so badly wanted to break running stride. I told myself this is like any of hundreds of bicycle hillclimbs I've done. I can hurl after I stop at the top.
I made it. My HR finally broke 160bpm. I was amazed to see a lap time of 13:04 minutes. I've done repeats here on the bike that reached 13 minutes when I got tired (my PR is nine minutes and change). With a little focused training, fresh legs, a warmup and a serious attempt, I could probably approach 11 minutes on this hill.
What impressed me the most is how alike running and biking up a steep grade are. They seem to recruit common muscle groups. The burn in the lungs and legs is about the same. I thought running would suck orders of magnitude more. My calf test experiment came back negative: I had no calf issues after the run. In fact, the walk back down was more painful than the run up. So now I'm even more conflicted on what to do with the running stuff. I shouldn't get too hung up on it though. I'll never be very good at running. I don't have the "masters base" that other guys my age have, and my body build is all wrong. Something to dabble in maybe.