I sat there, nose-deep in a post-race hamburger, legs shaky, clothing drenched in sweat, when I heard the announcer proclaim, “The age-group winner for women 35 to 39 is Laura Williams!” I almost dropped my burger.
The XTERRA Rock Dallas 15K trail run had been brutal, featuring just over nine miles of mostly single-track, highly technical, rolling, rocky hills. At night. In the dark. In 90-degree heat with 65-percent humidity. It felt like running through 102 degrees of sticky, molten-lava air. About two miles in, my only focus was to finish the race without keeling over. Winning my age group felt downright miraculous, especially considering I hadn’t run, in the traditional feet-to-street sense, more than three consecutive miles in over a year.
A couple months before the race, I spoke with Rick Muhr, a long-time Boston Marathon running coach, lamenting the gradual breakdown of my mid-30s body. I loved to run, but the repetitive impact killed my back, and no amount of therapy or cross-training seemed to help.
Muhr got it. He’s been running races for over 40 years, and coaching them for over 20. He’s no stranger to running-related injuries. Then he made a suggestion: Why not try training with less impact?
“Thirty to 40 percent of impact is all you really need during training,” Muhr said. The notion sounded kind of like, “Why not try eating, but without ingesting calories?”
Then he explained. “If I do a long run outside, I’m on the ZR8 the following day, recovering,” he said, referring to the Octane Zero Runner — a specialized, zero-impact cardio machine he happens to know a lot about, given that he’s the company’s Zero Runner Coach.
Muhr gave me an education. The Zero Runner is different from other zero-impact equipment due to its hip and knee joints. These separate joints enable the user to adjust form with each step, accurately mimicking a natural running gait. Feeling hopeful that this might be the answer to my running problems, I got in touch with Octane Fitness and arranged to put a Zero Runner ZR8 to the test.
I've got four weeks to #train for a 10-mile #trailrun, and I'll be using this @octane_fitness Zero Runner #zr8 to help me do it! 80-percent of my training will be zero impact, and I haven't run more than 3 consecutive miles in five years due to back problems. Wish me luck and stay tuned for my progress and my final report on @mensjournal. Thanks Octane for supplying the ZR8! #running #training #lowimpact #noimpact #zeroimpact #zerorunner #guinepig
From the time I received the ZR8 to the time of my race, I had five weeks to train. I was in pretty good shape at the point, but not necessarily running shape. I put together a program consisting of four training days a week, heavily weighted toward the Zero Runner, with just two days a week of outdoor running. While Muhr suggested doing about 30 to 40 percent of my training with impact, I wanted to see if I could get away with doing even less. My training distribution broke down like this:
- Week 1: 20 miles ZR8, 1.6 miles running — 1 percent impact training
- Week 2: 23 miles ZR8, 3.2 miles running — 12 percent impact training
- Week 3: 26 miles ZR8, 10 miles hiking, 5.4 miles running — 13 percent impact training
- Week 4: 22 miles hiking (I was out of state and couldn’t use the Zero Runner, so I supplemented with long-duration hiking), 5 miles trail running — 19 percent impact training
- Week 5: 25 miles ZR8 — 0 percent impact training
In total, I ran only 15.2 miles — a paltry 10 percent of my training. Cardiovascularly, I felt good about my prep for the race, and my back had held up nicely, but I really wasn’t sure if my legs could go the distance on varied terrain.
It had been over a year since I’d toed up to a starting line, and I was nervous. But when the whistle blew and the swarm of runners took off into the park, my nerves faded. My legs felt good. I tripped and stumbled a few times on hidden rocks and roots, but the hills themselves didn’t break my stride and my feet cycled through their paces without exceptional fatigue. There was just one thing I didn’t plan for: The weather.
The night of the race was one of the hottest, most humid nights of the year, and I don’t think a single runner was adequately prepared for the challenge.
Everyone was slow. Super slow. Even the all-around winner averaged almost nine-minute miles, while the fastest female averaged 12.5-minute miles. While I never stopped running, my pace slowed to a crawl, and I crossed the finish line in 2:18:31, averaging just under 15-minute miles. Not exactly a time I was psyched about.
That’s why I almost dropped my burger when I heard I’d won my age group, and why I was all the more surprised to find out I placed as the sixth overall female. Arguably, training on the Zero Runner worked. I completed the race, placed well overall, and my back survived to tell the tale. But I can’t help wondering how much better I could have done had I spent a little more time running outside to acclimate to the heat. It’s the one factor I didn’t consider, but plan to the next time around. I’ve already signed up for my next race.