Richmond is quickly becoming a hotbed for endurance athletes. In addition to the upcoming 2015 UCI World Cycling Championships, Richmond also boasts an international-caliber off-road triathlon (XTERRA, happening June 15th), one of the nation’s largest 10k races, a top-notch junior elite triathlon event, the immensely popular Dominion Riverrock, and countless other running, cycling, and multi-sport events.
Fortunately for this great community, the Richmond area also boasts some great spots to train for the above races. Below are a few of my favorite training spots, and how I use them to build fitness. Whether you’re a cyclist, runner, adventure racer, or triathlete, you’ll likely find that one or more of these venues provides you with some worthwhile (and fun) training options.
What/Where: Most Richmonders have been out to Belle Isle for one reason or another. It sits in the middle of the James within sight of downtown, making it a quick and easy getaway for city dwellers. The footbridge on Tredegar Street (near Brown’s Island) provides access.
How I Use It: One time around the main loop on Belle Isle is almost exactly a mile and features forgiving packed gravel and a small climb on each loop. When I’m training for a half marathon, I do a workout called “Belle Isle Miles,” which I structure as a fartlek workout. Fartlek IS a real word, and usually refers to any workout where a runner is alternating between faster and slower running in some kind of structured manner. I do my fartlek on Belle Isle by alternating one loop of the island at half marathon race pace (“tempo” effort) with a loop at steady, everyday running pace. This workout allows me to pile up a good chunk of mileage and practice race effort in manageable pieces.
Old Gun Road West
What/Where: On the south side of the river, Cherokee Road eventually turns into Old Gun road if you head west. The west side of Old Gun provides cyclists with a 2-3 mile climb of varying steepness.
How I Use It: Working against gravity allows many riders to reach an effort level that is difficult to achieve on the flats. To that end, I like to do 5-6 minute repeats up this stretch of Old Gun at a relatively high intensity, then spin easy back downhill as recovery. Start with 2-3 trips up the road for the duration of your choice. As you build fitness, increase the number and length of the repeats. Old Gun is relatively narrow and has a couple of sharp bends near its bottom, so ride heads-up and be considerate of other riders and drivers.
Robious Landing Park
What/Where: Robious Landing Park is just off Robious Road, near James River High School. The park hosts the popular I Love the Tavern Triathlon late in June each year. The park has river access and a network of shaded gravel running trails.
How I Use It: The park is one of the area’s most popular spots for open water swimming because the river is relatively wide and the current is usually weak. Nevertheless, swimming a certain distance upriver usually takes twice as long as the same trip downriver. I make this work for me by turning this into another “fartlek” effort: I swim hard upriver for an interval of 5-10 minutes (choose a time with which you are comfortable), swim back to my starting point, and repeat. This workout replicates the conditions I face in open water swim races, where I am often forced to go between hard efforts and recovery efforts. ALWAYS be safe when swimming in the river. Never swim alone. Ideally, have a friend alongside you on a kayak or paddleboard. Wear a brightly colored swim cap so you are visible to boats and from the shore. Avoid swimming after heavy rains or when river levels are too high for your swim ability.
The James River Park Trail System
What/Where: We all know it’s there, most of us have been on it, and you can access the James River Park trail system from anywhere between downtown and the Nickel Bridge, on both sides of the river.
How I Use It: Every time I run Northbank Trail, I reach the spot where you can see the Richmond skyline, and think how lucky we are to have such a beautiful and extensive trail system in Richmond. I’ve literally never had a bad run on the trails. If you’re tired of plodding through your neighborhood, make a trip to the trails, enjoy the peace and quiet, and explore. You can run as long as you want to run without having to see the same thing twice. Alternately, pick a route, make it your own, revisit it often, and test yourself. When I’m feeling my oats, I hammer my favorite loop of Buttermilk/North Bank and see how fast I can cover it. The feeling of running fast on your favorite stretch of trail is like nothing else.
These are just a few ideas to try. Explore on your own and see what your neck of the woods has to offer. Always be safe, and always be courteous of your fellow athletes, other vehicles, and your environment.