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The Exodus from the Road to the Trails —
I’ve noticed a recent phenomenon that I feel compelled to address, because it’s a topic near and dear to my heart. And because I have an opinion about everything. But it may sound like I’m being an elitist bitch (if the running shoe fits…), so I brought my Colorado-based ultra running superstar runabler, Heidi, into the fray for a slightly different perspective. Warning: we’re both talkers – snag some coffee before settling in! There appears to be a mass exodus from the roads to the trails. More importantly, there seems to be a significant increase in the number of runners wanting to do ultra marathons. Which is great! There is always room for one more in the woods (if not, we kill them and leave them for the coyotes) [#truth], and I’m so glad that runners are expanding their goals and wanting to run previously-unfathomable distances. And, how can we blame you. The trails are awesome. They aren’t the end-all-be-all of running, but they do come with nature and mountains and dirt and cool people and Rice Krispie Treats and more dirt and scenery and hot chocolate and rocks and wild critters and…a lot of awesome things! Get your butt out on the trails, take it all in, enjoy every moment you have out there [except the ones that suck…wait until your selective memory kicks in to truly enjoy those moments]. Mother Nature is the bomb dot com, scope her out on your feet. You [probably] won’t regret it. I love the trails. I want you to love the trails. I also want you to survive on the trails without hating me or yourself. More selfishly, I absolutely do NOT want you to make any silly mistakes or over/under calculations that will keep me off the trail, for any reason. Trails will rock your socks off [literally, if you’re lucky] but they are NOT easy peasy, lemon squeezy! Ultras are not nearly as simple as they appear to be on social media. Don’t be fooled by the cheesy grins and finish line leaps—it’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. Ultras command a lot of time and dedication and blood and tears and respect. Mostly respect. We work our asses off to make it look (somewhat) easy. Like those new Under Armour commercials circulating right now. We do it for the Insta. Don’t quite believe me? My buddy Chris has one of my favorite “trail newbie” stories—he’s become kind of a legend in town for his innocent ignorance and idiocy on his first trail run. Long story short, here’s how he described his run: Ran up hills like I thought I was some sort of King and then bonked hardcore mile 12. Howard Greg was out there too. Nursed me back to life with water & Gu. I think I ate a pickle before the run. I had done Tough Mudder before, so obviously I was ready for ultras. Boom. That’s the mentality that is a no-no in the woods. That’s what will get you hurt, or worse, laughed at. That’s what I want to try and fix. So, being one of the ultra-loudmouths in the ‘Ham, I decided to bring you this handy cheat-sheet/wake-up call/come-to-Jesus moment: Change your mindset If you’re used to a serious training regimen, pay close attention. Trails are a totally different animal. Yes, it’s still running. But it’s not about mileage or pace or PRs. It’s about effort and time on feet and having fun. You may bust your ass for two hours and only get 7 miles. That’s ok! That’s two hours on your feet and a healthy dose of reality about how trail miles + road miles are NOT the same thing! Also, it’s perfectly fine to walk. In fact, practicing power hiking is encouraged, and will often allow you to blow past stubborn slow runners on a race course. Walking on hills isn’t weak, it’s smart because you know you need to save energy for those remaining 40 miles of hills ahead. Unless you’re an elite [if you are…I can’t help you, I’m so far from an elite I don’t even get to admire the asses + hamstrings of the slow elites!] you’re not going to give a flying fuck about your numbers when you’re out on the trails. Okay, that’s a slight lie—you might care in the beginning, but when things go awry, [don’t worry, they eventually will] the only number you’re truly going to care about is the cutoff time at the next aid station or the percentage of battery you have left on your headlamp when you’re in the middle-of-nowhere at dark o’clock. This is very different from the average road runner’s view on running—and yes, I think I’m allowed to make that generalization; I ran exclusively on roads for years and every single 0.02 counted, damnit! At first, it was weird to ignore the numbers, but now the lack of regard I have toward the numbers is a huge part of how + why I love the trails. Plus, the best part of trail running how easy it is to become a plain ol’ hiker if the trail is kicking your butt when there’s someone there to see you struggle…a great cue to reign it in + perfect the power hike! Choose trails wisely So while your weekly runs may look different than what you’re used to, you still have to train. Arguably way harder than you train for road races. But it’ll be a different kind of hard. A harder hard. A morning wood hard (blah, road running) vs drunken wood hard (yay, endurance trail running!). A road is a road, whether it’s hilly or flat or cambers to the right or has potholes. However, not all trails are created equal. Dirt ≠ trail. Gravel roads ≠ trail. Unless that’s the type of terrain you’ll be racing on, then it actually does = trail. But you get the gist of it. Select a variety of trails that best mimic the race course you’ll be running, so that come Race Day you’ll be confident in your abilities to not kill yourself. And if you’re not training for a race but just trying to get your booty out on the trails because it sounds badass…wander around on the trails close to you; you’ll find a few that really challenge you. Those are the trails that’ll change you as a runner! Or so I’m told; I’m still running down technical, rocky trails in an attempt to become a faster descender. The jury is still out… Get uncomfortable Let’s be honest—outside of purposely-tough workouts and races, road running isn’t all that uncomfortable. It often allows you to blissfully zone out for the duration of your run, where nothing matters but the sound of your breath and the pounding of your feet and the sleepy chatter of your friends. We have all shuffled our way through early morning runs without being fully awake. Hell, half the time I’m able to crawl back into bed as if my run had never happened. But try doing that on a trail, and you’ll be eating a mouthful of dirt for breakfast. Trails require you to be hyper-present in the moment, with your mind going full speed watching for every single rock and root and snake that can roll your ankle. They require you to problem-solve as you’re figuring out the best way to power-hike a hill while taking in calories while not throwing up your intestines. They take your body to an entirely new level of discomfort. Your legs scream and your upper body aches in ways you never thought were possible, and you’re hungry and nauseous and delirious and more tired than you have ever been in your life. Yet you keep moving forward toward that finish line, because that’s what ultra runners do. They suffer through the most miserable conditions and emotions, and come out on the other side alive. Barely. Well, now Heidi wants to know what the hell she’s doing wrong with this marathon training thing she’s attempting. My brain gets so bored on road runs that my feet fall asleep + give up on life! Okay, slight exaggeration, but seriously, since I started running more trails, I seriously struggle on the roads…and I’m pretty sure this is a two-way street. You’ll also struggle with the aspects of trail running you don’t get on the roads. That’s okay! Own the struggle, strengthen those stabilizer muscles [or own those trail-tumble scars] + cut yourself some slack! Oh, and open your mind to the sufferfest; it’s a painful bitch but it is precisely what keep us coming back for more. The human mind is weird. The ultra mind is a tiny bit broken. Put in the time Yes, physically you can tackle the mileage of an ultra. No one doubts your abilities. But can you handle it potentially taking twice as long as you’ve ever been on your feet? Do you know what to do when your legs say, “Nope. I’m done.” but you still have a long way to go? The secret to ultra running is that it’s 80% mental. You need to build confidence out there in them woods. Where to put your foot. How to navigate roots. How to bomb a downhill. How to eat without puking. How to finish when every fiber of your being wants to sit down and quit. And you can’t learn that any other way than with a shit-ton of practice. It requires countless hours and miles of successes and failures and trial and error to train your body both physically and mentally. Revise your hydration and fuel plan You will eat approximately 5 times the calories and drink 5 times the water on the trails. Plan accordingly. A single Gu tucked into your pocket won’t cut it anymore. You’ll find yourself either munching on a handful of those Hunger Games berries or sacrificing your calorie-depleted body to a pack of wild turkeys. Who apparently eat humans? Embrace your inner sherpa, invest in a water bottle or hydration pack, and stuff it full of enough food and water to survive two weeks in the woods. Yes, aid stations look close on a map, but it may take you 1.5 hours to go those four miles. And you’ll be happy you carried all the things when you bonk in-between said aid stations. Buy the shoes Yes, you already have a closet full of smelly sneakers. Yes, you should get another pair. A trusty pair of trail shoes will drain quickly and efficiently after your water crossings. They’ll offer you the right amount of stability and cushioning. They’ll make you strong like a bull. Do you need them to successfully run an ultra? No. But your banged-up and swollen piggies will thank you for your purchase. Especially since as a noob you’ll be looking more like a newborn fawn and less like Sage Canaday out there. Get muddy You’re running in the woods. Woods have dirt. When it rains, dirt becomes mud. What do you do? Run through the mud! Outside the fact that being covered from head-to-toe in mud makes you look badass, running on the trail itself instead of tiptoeing like a ballerina around the puddles prevents trail erosion. Because, believe it or not, these trails didn’t just appear. People worked hard to create them, and by stepping off the trail itself you’re both damaging the delicate forest ecosystem and giving those trail volunteers a big Eff You. If you don’t want to get dirty, stay out of the woods. Don’t even get me started on this one…I have no room for cutesy sass here. Stay on the damn trail! I don’t care how new your shoes are or how prone you are to blisters [this is where that pack-all-the-things mentality comes in handy – throw in a pair of extra socks or blister pads…yes, you have room!]. I don’t care what the 10 people in...