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Running the Skyline Trail
July 17, 2021
The infamous Skyline Trail in Jasper, Alberta

It’s been an unusually hot and dry Edmonton summer so far and with travel restrictions easing, we are noticing a lot of our patients are taking time off to enjoy the Alberta Parks and Mountains. After a challenging year and a half of restrictions, we hope that you will ease into your summer activities wisely. 

It is no secret that hiking and camping are favourite activities of mine every summer. With a busy work and life schedule, preparation for my summer adventures is always less than what I would like. With so many mountains to climb, it’s hard not to overdo it!  However, after every adventure, once the aches and pains resolve, I spend some time reflecting on how to better prepare for my next adventure, which usually is just around the corner from my last one!

Last summer, I had the privilege of running and hiking the infamous Skyline Trail in Jasper. This is a 44.1 km trail that offers exceptional views as you cross three mountain passes. As you might have guessed, with mountain passes comes elevation (what a great word/name!).  If travelling from Maligne Lake to the North, you gain over 1400 m to its summit before descending close to 2000 m. It’s a thigh burner for sure!

We started out early one Saturday morning in July with much excitement but a few nerves as well. The trail from Maligne Lake slowly rises through the forest until it breaks through the tree line just before the 10 km mark. The climb to the Notch, or the highest point on the trail is steady and relentless. Throughout this climb, we experienced all 4 Alberta seasons! Our bodies were holding up, food was going down well, and spirits were high. After the Notch, we began our descent into the valley. As you know, the impact loads with downhill running and hiking are always higher than uphill. It was here that we began to feel those nagging injuries. By the 30km mark, our pace slowed considerably. Those last 14km required a big mental push but in the end, we made it!

Lunges are one example of an eccentric exercise

When I reflected on this experience, it taught me a lot about training, injuries, and overall preparation. My calves and right knee were my weakest points as they hurt the most and took the longest to resolve. We paced too quickly on the uphill and flat sections, leaving our muscles too fatigued to handle the descent. When training for a repeat attempt this summer, I needed to make some changes. 

To increase my tolerance for descents, I have added more eccentric exercises to my strength program. As well,  I have steadily increased my long slow runs to get used to being on my feet for 8+ hours. Eccentric exercises involve contracting a muscle while it slowly lengthens under load. Single leg squats and lunges are two examples. Once I established some base strength, I progressed to plyometric exercises such as depth jumps. Studies have shown that long distance runners can reduce their delayed onset of muscle soreness or DOMS by adding similar eccentric exercises into their strength program (1). In terms of the long runs, I focused on duration as opposed to speed and progressively added more time to my runs. We plan to run the Skyline again in just over a month and hopefully the preparation pays off!

Remember, that the best predictor of a future injury is an unresolved nagging injury. If you have minor symptoms while walking in Edmonton, that problem will become much bigger hiking in the mountains. What injuries are you  struggling with? Before your next adventure, and to ensure its success, give us a call!  Our team would be more than happy to keep you moving!

Happy trails!

References:

1. Selkar, S.P., Ramteke, G.J. & Dongare, A.K. (2009). Effect of eccentric muscle training to reduce severity of delayed onset muscle soreness in athletic subjects. European Journal of General Medicine, 6(4), 213-217. Retrieved from http://www.bioline.org.br/request?gm09045

Submitted by Katelyn Rennie

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