The following is a blog post I wrote for Flotrail.org (new site launching this month on trail running) on March 8th, 2012:
“You seem like a mudder.” The words of my high school cross country coach always came to mind when I toed the starting line at the Oregon high school state cross country meet in Eugene. I think he was suggesting that my slow, sloppy over-stride (complete with heel-striking tendencies) was more suited for racing the rugged terrain of rain-soaked grass and dirt paths. Whatever he exactly meant, all I knew was that I qualified for states in cross country all four years of high school but on the track I never made it. It annoyed me that I wasn’t fleet footed enough to race a single lap around Hayward field (where the state track meet was held).
The theme continued in college: guys that I consistently beat in cross country would crush me on the track with their sub 29min 10k speed. I was never fond of the uniform, flat surface of the track and its boring left turn. However, as the years passed I found myself putting in most of my training miles on soft and hilly trail surfaces in rural Oregon and upstate New York. I fell in love. The trails always beckoned to me, but back then (aside from some cross country) racing on them was simply out of the question.
Post-collegiate running lead me to racing pavement miles.
During a two and a half year stint representing the Hansons-Brooks Distance project in Michigan I piled on 4500+ mile years and gained some insight on different marathon training systems. More specifically, at Hansons I learned the value of detailed race preparation in terms of analyzing the race course, listening to the experiences of veterans, and figuring out different race strategies. For example, the Hansons are meticulous in covering an entire marathon course on foot (over the course of a weekend) about two months beforehand so their runners can actually feel the hills and visually witness the turns of the course. Before running the Boston marathon in 2010 my teammates and I trained extensively on downhills to prepare our quads for the elevation drop in the first half of the race.
After racing the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trails for the Hansons I finally decided that I wanted to explore some other things in life and change my running routine. However, the lessons instilled during my time in Michigan have carried over into my new ventures of training for trail running and ultra marathons:
So far I’ve learned that metrics like the amount of vertical elevation covered each week can be just as valuable to know as the number of miles run. On some days your training pace per mile just isn’t as critical as the number of minutes you spend on your feet. In order to prepare for my debut trail ultra marathon I have consulted with (and received helpful feedback) from trail running veterans like Max King, Yassine Diboun, and fellow Flotrail contributor Jacob Puzey. I have studied the blogs and read interviews from Anton Krupicka, Scott Jurek, Geoff Roes, and Hal Koerner. On YouTube I have found videos of various races and training venues that have helped define the sport. Much like a student studying for a final exam I have researched the elevation maps, the terrain, and the result achieves of the race I am preparing for. I have used calculations (and experiences from epically bonking in marathons) to figure out a fluid and hydration strategy that will hopefully be optimal for my body. With the advice of other ultra trail runners and from my research on the web, I feel more confident in my transition from the roads to the trails. The choice to race on the trails has really been in the back of my mind for a number of years and so I don’t view the change as an abrupt transition….yet.
I’ll admit that I’m a total n00b when it comes to ultra marathon training and racing (especially on the trails) so I’m surprised that Flotrail even let me come on as a contributor. However, as I make my 50k debut on March 17th at the Chuckanut trail run in Bellingham, WA, I will hopefully gain some more insight on what it takes to compete in this great sport.
New challenges await, and I look forward to helping contribute to this great new site and all it has to offer to the trail running community. Thanks for reading and best of luck with your training.