Mt. San Gorgonio Trail Run / Hike via Vivian Creek 8-11-13

I’ve done my share of tough trail runs that turn into hikes at some point and I have done some cool backpacking trips that I wonder just how fast I could have moved if I wasn’t under such a heavy load. With all that said, the Vivian Creek Trail to the summit of Mt. San Gorgonio is TOUGH.

I went into this thinking I can run 7 miles up Mt Baldy in under 2 hours without it being my top effort. I should be able to run / hike San Gorgonio at least at 3 miles per hour pace Making this a 6 hour trip. Once again mother nature bitch slapped me. The first mile took 21 minutes, without stopping, and that includes starting from the trailhead, so it all wasn’t straight up.

Once you cross the riverbed, it goes straight up. One of the toughest miles I have gone up. It took us 21 minutes and my calves were on fire. I knew then the day might be a little longer than I originally planned. With one or two minute stops to shoot some video the miles were averaging 22 minutes. When we reached the two hour mark we were at mile 5.2 and the day would get slower from there.

The altitude hit me around 9,500 feet of elevation. My heart rate would not lower and could hear my pulse. I figured it was better to slow down and play it safe. I live close to sea level. I was up there without any acclimation. By 10,000 feet the trail was getting steeper again and the next mile was difficult. In fact, Norma, a lady I met on the mountain, said it was the steepest part of the trail. I think the first mile is steeper but you are moving at 11,000 feet of elevation and the air is thinner. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and it was good enough to pass people.

The last 500 feet of elevation gain felt easier. Maybe I was getting used to the altitude but the trail did flatten a little. I tried to jog but my heart rate raced up again so I walked quickly to the summit.

It was a perfect day. The summit is know to be cold and windy. From what I read, people stay 10 – 15 minutes then head back down. When we got there and over the next 45 minutes 33 people ending up partying on the summit at 11,503 feet. One local said it was the most people she had ever seen up there at one time. We ate, took pictures with the San Gorgonio sign, walked around and enjoyed the view for almost an hour. Feeling refreshed we started to head back down.
Four hours up so we figured 3 hours down. We ran the runable sections. It quickly became a quad pounding experience. We felt bad because we would pass people take a break, they would catch us then we would pass them again, requiring them to move over and let us pass them again. After 2 miles down we limited out breaks and ran the next 5 miles.

We passed these two quick hikers then a mile later they were in front of us again. They had done this hike a few times and knew “legal shortcuts”. That one probably saved them a half mile. We followed them down the next one. It was probably the old trail and it did save us a little time but it was steep, no running.

With 2 miles to go our 3 hour guess was going to be fairly accurate. We were moving right around a 17 minute mile pace until we hit 1.5 to go. About here is where the trail gets extremely steep with loose rocks and a cliff on one side of the trail. This was the toughest mile for me because my toes were jamming into the front of my shoes, my legs felt like mile 26 of a marathon and the riverbed looked way down there. We moved as fast as we safely could. We could almost taste the beer that would be waiting for us at a Mexican restaurant down the road in Forest Falls.

We made it down in 3 hours and 6 minutes. Overall a fantastic day. It was great to do it some good friends, Paul and Henry. I was doing it as a training hike for my trip to Mt Whitney later the year. We had a beer and got home hours later than I expected but it was totally worth it,

Here are some take-aways: Always be prepared. The hike is a full 18 miles round trip with over 5,000 feet of climbing. Add at least 2 hours to what you think your fastest time would be. Climbing mountains is always harder than I think. I took 132 ounces of liquid and drank close to 100. I bought three layers of shirts and used two of them. Remember, it was perfect day. I used lots of sunscreen. I wish I had more “real” food like sandwiches and fruit. I came back with some trail trash but overall the trail was clean, thank you hikers. Mt Whitney here I come.

My Garmin data is below. I must have bumped the stop button on the way down so basically I only have the climb but that’s what matters. It has the elevation 400 feet lower than what it says on its own map. Go figure. Moving time just over 3 hours up, check “View Details” in the lower right corner of the Garmin data box below. I feel pretty good about that.

Train Focused, Steve Mackel – In Training for Mt Whitney

Marathon Training Tip – Running with a Metronome – Great for Beginners and Advanced Runners with Coach Steve Mackel

Training Tip – Learn to Love Your Metronome

Whether you are new to running or a seasoned veteran, using a metronome can help you in many ways. As Danny Dreyer says, “Start out focusing on your form to build a strong running foundation.” Well, your running form is partially dependent on your cadence. Unless you have perfect rhythm, let a metronome set your cadence (how many times your feet hit the ground per minute).

A metronome is objective. It doesn’t lie and doesn’t get tired.

For the beginning runner, the metronome can help set up good running form. Using a metronome usually helps a new runner keep their strides shorter, making it less likely that the stride will lengthen in front of their bodies setting up a heel strike. The metronome can also have cardio-respiratory benefits. When you move your feet and legs faster your heart rate tends to rise. If a beginner can be patient and work in the 170 – 180 strides per minute (SPM) range , after several week the body tends to adapt to the legs and feet moving at that speed and the heart rate and breath rate begin to adjust downward. In the adaptation phase, the new runner should expect to take frequent walk breaks when heart/breath rates rises. A benefit with be breaking a sweat and burning more calories. As the beginner adapts to the metronome they will enjoy the benefits of less braking, better form, and will burn a bunch of calories.

For the seasoned runners a metronome can make you faster. Remember speed is a mathematical formula:  Stride Length x Cadence = Speed. Read any long distance running book and almost everyone agrees that 180 SPM is the gold standard. But running at 180 SPM for hours takes training. It took me almost a year to run an entire marathon at 180 SPM. The fact is, most people run at much lower/slower cadences. Imagine if each of your strides were 3 feet long, taking just 3 more strides per minutes would add 9 extra feet of road covered each minute. In 10 minutes you would cover an additional 90 feet, and in 1 hour 540 additional feet. This translates into speed, and by only taking 3 extra steps per minute.

Plus, the metronome helps you pay attention. I know it sounds tedious and many of you would rather run with music but remember, each song has a different tempo or cadence.  Yes, there are websites that say they mix their music so each song has the same tempo but it is pretty difficult to keep the songs sounding good as the pitch is increased or decreased.

Every race that I have set a personal record has been while I was using a metronome. When I get tired it reminds me to keep my feet moving to it’s exact cadence, rather than my foot turnover slowing down . It also reminds me to check in with my body and focus. It is a great tool to help you with your ChiRunning®. Give it a try.

Train Focused, Steve Mackel – Senior ChiRunning Instructor

Steve and Gary’s Marathon Training WebCast 1


Steve and I completed our first WebCast on Monday Evening. We only sent the invitation out to a few people as we are still trying out the technology.

We had over 25 people on the line and we answered many questions sent in including

  • How do you deal with knee pain?
  • How do you prepare for trail running?
  • What pace should you run during the week?

We are scheduling our next WebCast soon and look forward to meeting you on the air.

Click Here to Listen to Our WebCast

Gary Smith
ChiRunning Instructor