Recently, I participated in the Iron Warrior Dash (IWD), a 15-mile off-road obstacle course. In early January I suddenly had the urge to start running again. No, this wasn’t a New Year resolution, just a coincidence that I suddenly felt the desire to begin running again. The weather here in Texas was pretty mild and running is a great way to take advantage of that. My other motivation to start running was this race. I happened to have seen an email in my junkbox from the folks that put on the Warrior Dash, that advertised that they would run three new races this year called the Iron Warrior Dash. The original Warrior Dash is a 5k with 12 obstacles; the new Iron version is 15.2 miles with 24 obstacles. I ran the 5k version in 2011 and it was a lot of fun and well produced, so this sounded like a great challenge. I invited my good friend and business partner Chris Hackerd  to join me and he heartily accepted…Truth be told he had already asked me if I wanted to do event this with him but I must not have been listening….some people say I’m hard of hearing, others say I have selective hearing…

A Goal With 10 Weeks of Training
I put together a training plan similar to one I used for a marathon I ran in 2004. The plan is essentially a graduated step-up plan, with four days of running per week: Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, with Saturday being a long run day. For example, Week #4: Monday, 4 miles, Wednesday, 3 miles, Friday, 3 miles and Saturday, 8 miles, the following week would be 5, 4, 4 and 9.

Throughout my training  I was pretty excited because I managed to stick to the schedule almost perfectly from week 1 through week 8. Unfortunately week 9 brought about a couple of wrinkles. First, I had traveled the prior week, and somehow tweaked my lower back during the trip. I’m not sure if it was the hill running I had done or the bed I slept in, but the pain was intense enough that standing up for longer than 20 minutes was near impossible. To add insult to injury, we had a rather large wind storm here while I was gone and my mother-in-law’s fence blew down. I spent a few hours rebuilding it on Friday night and in the process really aggravated my lower back and probably tore some back muscles. So running during week eight was non-existent. But by Wednesday of week nine I felt better and ran Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, although there was another wrinkle that week, which was that I was on vacation and in Colorado. So these runs were at elevation and I learned a valuable lesson here, running in Austin at 700’ on mostly flat terrain is incredibly different than running real hills or at elevation. I know, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out, but actually experiencing it makes it really hit home. Taking this into consideration, my next training plan will involve real hills and varied inclines on the treadmill.

Some things I did and learned along the way…First, I ran a total of 140 miles during my training period. My goal was 175, but the week and a half of injury and my vacation scrubbed two long runs.

Urban Running

Road vs. Treadmill
Treadmills…boring. Almost everyone agrees. In January about half of my runs were on treadmills but in February only 20% were treadmill and in March, none of them. I found that 3-4 miles is my limit on the rolling electric road, anything more and it bores me to tears. So to the real road I went. I learned something out there as well. I am a point to point runner. Meaning I don’t enjoy running laps, loops or circles, rather I’d really enjoy starting at point ‘A’ and finishing at point ‘B’. This revelation turned into a great experience. Not only was I running in a lot of new places, I also enjoyed the process of planning the runs. Through this I ran on routes such as starting from our neighborhood, through the University of Texas campus, around the State Capitol, down to Lady Bird Lake and along the shoreline of the lake. Nine miles of sightseeing. What an awesome experience. Obviously this takes some planning and often a partner. Fortunately my wife was always ready and willing to pick me up, drop me off or help me drop a car somewhere the night before so that my run would be fun and different. I also managed to run home from work a couple of times, a 6-mile jaunt, and then I rode my bike to work the following day to recover my car.

Trail Running (What I Learned)
I don’t have a lot of experience with trail running, at least not recent experience. Years ago I use to participate in adventure races, but that seems like forever ago. I learned one thing while training, you really need to concentrate on picking up your feet on the trail. It’s easy to shuffle along on the road, sidewalk or track, but on the trail this will most definitely lead to a trip and possibly a fall, especially as you tire.

My Training Gear

Merrell Bare Access

Shoes: I mostly run in zero drop barefoot runners. All my training was done in Merrell Bare Access and Bare Access 2 Runners and about 90% of my training runs took place on asphalt or hard packed, decomposed granite trails. I love these shoes, but when I did my first real trail run with them at a local park, I realized that I could feel even the tiniest pebble through the sole and this made for a pretty uncomfortable experience. Even though they feature an 8mm cushion, I was pretty sure I would hate them in the Iron Warrior so about three-quarters of the way through my training I got a pair of New Balance Minimus 10 Trail shoes. The Minimus appeared to have a more substantial sole, more conducive to trails.

NB Minimus

While these aren’t a zero drop shoe like my Merrills, they are close with only a 4mm drop.  I can’t find a spec for the cushion thickness but the bottoms looked much more conducive to trails, so I gave them a shot. While I wouldn’t recommend them for extreme off-road running through unpacked trails, they worked really well for my purpose on hard packed trails. They are light at 8 oz., durable with a grippy Vibram sole and they drain well, which is super important in a race that involves multiple water crossings.

Compression Socks and Sleeves: I experimented with several versions of compression socks and a set of compression sleeves for my calves. The socks I run in are the CEP Progreesive Running Socks. I ran in them for most of my long runs as well as some of the shorter ones. I also wore a pair for several hours after many of the long runs. While it is difficult for me to quantify how helpful they were, I do know that even after a 20+ mile week of running, that my legs while tired, were in much better shape than I ever expected.

Hydration & Food: Leading up to the race I used a waist mounted bottle system from CamelBak called the Arc 4 Hydration Belt, it features four convenient 8 oz. snap-in bottles that are easy to remove and replace while maintaining pace. The back band of the belt has a small zipper pocket for keys or maybe some gels. It seems to awkward with four bottles so I removed the two from the front. While it was good for 16 oz. of water when I needed it, I just never got used the weight on my waist while running.

So I learned a lot along the way. This was the most serious training that I have put in since a marathon almost a decade ago. While I missed my goal for total mileage during my training period, I feel like I built a solid foundation to which I look forward to continuing to build upon after I recover from the Iron Warrior Dash. I already have several other races on the docket to continue to motivate me throughout the spring and summer. If you’re interested in hearing more about the race itself and how I did, come check out my personal blog where I recap the event. I also share plenty of things for future races plus I some insight about the very unique obstacles.

Steve @ACK