Welcome to the Rock Creek Roundup, a monthly series featuring trail and running commentary, and a selection of articles, videos, products, and stories I’m into this month. Check out previous Roundups here.

Adventure.

What does that even mean?

I hear people throw around words like adventure and epic on a daily basis. Hell, I do it myself.

But if we’re being real … how often is your (or my) daily run truly an epic adventure. Or even an adventure at all.

Google defines adventure as, “an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity.”

My go-to trail routes — even long runs — may be exciting, but they’re rarely hazardous and by definition not unusual. So am I wrong to often refer to a run as an adventure?

I don’t think so. And while I may roll my eyes when I see someone label an hour-long outing as something epic, I get it.

This past weekend I joined Andrew, a RCR member from Indiana, for a nearly twelve hour thru-run of the Art Loeb Trail. We started around 5:30am, in the rain and cold, and slowly made our way from the foothills to the mountains.

The rain continued as the sun came up and for nearly five hours, until we took a rest on the summit of Pilot Mountain. Almost as if it knew we had arrived, a huge gust of wind roared up the side of the mountain, pushing the clouds away. It was our first real glimpse of the layers of peaks and valleys that surrounded us.

A post shared by Doug H (@rockcreekrunner) on

Before long the sun came out, views opened, and soggy miles ticked by.

And as I huffed up the many mountains, splashing down the other side, I couldn’t help but smile and be grateful.

Adventure is something we trail runners crave.

Just the thought of it makes hours spent at our desks, in front of a computer, more manageable. And the anticipation of a future adventure will keep us up at night, and wake us up early to train the next morning.

We’re not the do-nothing crowd.

We like mountains. Trails. Uncertainty. And thrill.

And by God, even if our weekly runs aren’t what they write novels about, they’re still another important chapter — no matter how long or short — in our own grand, amazing, beautiful adventure.

An adventure of epic proportions.


What I’m Digging this Month: March, 2017

Protecting Our Public Lands

With proposals to sell off public land and major cuts to the EPA and Department of the Interior, the future of public lands and parks are in question. As a citizen who uses and relies on these protected spaces daily, I feel it’s my duty to stay engaged and involved with their protection. The question then is, what’s the best way to do that?

A group of trail runners found their solution by founding an initiative called Run Wild. Here’s their story.

In other public land news, Former Patagonia CEO donates 1 million acres of parkland to Chile.

Maps: They’re Important (and now free)

I love topo maps. Especially when they’re free.

National Geographic now has a tool that lets you download any 7.5 minute topo in the continental U.S.A., and it’s awesome.

Learn more and start downloading maps here.

And if you’re curious, here’s a map of my home trails.

Goal Setting with 3rd Graders

A post shared by Doug H (@rockcreekrunner) on


Yesterday I had the honor of speaking to an an elementary classroom about lofty goal setting, using my experience with running goals as an example. It was not only an out-of-my-comfort-zone experience (I know very little about interacting with kids unless they’re three months old and birthed by my wife), but also an incredibly inspiring experience.

The kids set goals to become musicians, athletes, judges, and smoothie shop owners, and more importantly, they established actions they can take today to start working towards those goals.

Now it’s time for me to dream big again as well.

Life in a Day by Billy Yang

This was a good month for trail running films, starting with Life in a Day, a film by Billy Yang following four women vying for a Western States 100 win.

A Decade On by Ginger Runner

Then there’s A Decade On, which shares Brian Morrison’s Western States journey and redemption. If you don’t know Brian’s story, it’s fascinating.

Words are powerful.

They can rally crowds, inspire greatness, and get you out of a terrible funk halfway through a run.

Several years ago, while out on a 30-mile training run, I found myself repeating the phrase,

“You can do anything for ten minutes.”

I had roughly ten minutes to go before arriving at my car where food and water were waiting, and as terrible as I felt in that moment, I knew I could push through for another ten minutes.

That mantra has gone on to get me through many rough patches over the years. Moments when negative thoughts and doubt were so overwhelming that all I could do was focus on the next ten minutes. Then the ten minutes after that, and the ten minutes after that.

Running mantras have been such an important part of my training and racing that a few years ago I collected a set of short stories from other runners featuring their mantras. It’s called The Power of a Running Mantra and can be downloaded here.

And in today’s episode, I share my story from that eBook, along with a few tips for creating a mantra of your own.

Because you never know when a short phrase could be the difference of you crossing the finish line and not.

Listen to the episode here:

Click here to download the file.

Or subscribe and download on:

PodcastiTunesButton copystitcher

Support for Today’s Episode

This episode of Trail Talk was brought to you by Discover Your Ultramarathon, the eBook system with training plans, audio interviews, and a 129-page guide to get you through your first 50K or 50 mile ultra.

Pick yours up now at rockcreekrunner.com/ultramarathon.

And by the Next Level Runner program, a monthly membership site devoted to taking your training to the next level. Learn more: rockcreekrunner.com/next-level.

 

Mountains. Big mountains. Lots of vert, epic overlooks and speedy, gnarly descents in the backcountry.

If you’re anything like me, the more rugged, remote, and mountainous the race, the more my mojo starts pumping. In running we can challenge ourselves against the clock and each other, but we can also challenge ourselves against the terrain.

And the more batshit crazy the terrain, the more people seem to flock to it.

The only problem? Most runners live nowhere near the mountains.

A few years ago I moved from Washington, DC to the Western North Carolina mountains in Black Mountain, NC. We had hills in DC and mountains a few hours away, but nothing like what I have now.

And I’m not going lie, the idea of running a mountain race scared the crap out me. As much as I wanted to run a race with big vertical numbers, I found myself sticking mostly to the flat trails in my area.

After all, how can one expect to take the quad-busting pounding of mountain running on race day when they train on tiny hills?

Through some extra hard work, creativity, and discipline. That’s how.

The Flatlanders Guide to Training for the Mountains

Are you a flatlander who wants to run or race in the mountains? Here are six approaches to building the strength and power you need to tackle the climbs.

1. Use what you have.

Look for mountains in everything.

That was my mantra in DC. Instead of wishing for mountains outside my back door, I created them by using what I had. They might not have been long, but I took full advantage of every foot I could gain.

Here are a few of the common places you can find “mountains”.

Stairs

Stairs are just about everywhere — in your home, office building, stadium, or apartment complex — and if you live in the city chances are you have access to a few buildings with several floors.

Climb them, over and over. Your hill workouts can turn into 50 flights of stairs.

Of course, no staircase is created equal, but your average staircase is about 10-12 feet of climbing. 50 flights is 500 feet of gain.

Mix it up with outdoor stairs in parks or stadiums, which tend to be spaced differently and are often further apart.

A post shared by Doug H (@rockcreekrunner) on

Treadmill

We trail runners like to bash the dreadmill, but it can be an incredible training tool at times, especially for hills.

There are two types of treadmill hill workouts I recommend:

  • Long and steep — Crank up your treadmill to the highest incline and power up it for 15 – 20 minute intervals.
  • Rolling — Some treadmills come with a rolling hills presetting, where they randomly raise and drop the incline for different lengths of times. If your treadmill doesn’t have that setting, do it yourself to mimic the rolling gradual hills of the trail.

Parking Garages

A friend from Florida once told me they ran up and down parking garages because it was the only hill in town. I love it.

Find a mountain in everything.

Hills

Best of all are actual hills, especially if they’re longer. While it might be mind-numbingly boring, each repeat adds up for both climbing and descending training, and an hour of powering up and down hills can add up to a lot of vertical change.

Do you have access to both short (steep) and long (gradual) hills? Mix it up regularly to practice both the sustained climbing of a gradual hill and the short effort bursts that come with steep hills.

Quick Tip: Don’t forget to practice speed hiking on the steeper hills.

2. Simulate shifts in leg stress.

Successful ultrarunners are masters of maintaining a consistent effort. No matter the terrain, they know how to adjust pace and speed to keep their effort level in check. That keeps the engine running for hours on end.

But consistent effort doesn’t mean your legs will face consistent stress. Like it or not, uphills are harder on certain muscles than flats or downs, and flats and downs — as fun as they may be — test your body in their own unique ways.

It’s not perfect, but one way to mimic shifts in leg stress (and also, in return, effort) without hills is to simulate those shifts through varying intensity. Confused?

Let’s break it down:

During a race you may face several different climbs of 20-30 minutes, followed by a stretch of flat along a ridge-line or descent. You can mimic those shifts in training by varying your effort throughout a run.

For example, run 20 minutes at a easy pace to simulate the flat or descent, then 30 minutes at a tempo effort to account for the climb. Follow that up with another 20 minute easy “descent” and another 20-30 minute tougher climb.

3. Toughen the mind.

I’ll never forget leaving the aid station at mile 94 of the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 tired, beaten up, and ready to finish, and coming face-to-face with the daunting climb that lay ahead. The climb was a relatively short 500 feet of gain, but at the end of a race with over 16,000, it felt like Everest.

“How the hell am I going to get up to that ridge?” I thought to myself.

And for the umpteenth time that day, I felt like crying. Or quitting. Or punching my pacer out of frustration — even though he was the only reason I made it that far.

During any race, climbs are almost always the most mentally straining part of a course. Whether you can see the summit or not, it takes guts and determination to power up instead of retreating down.

Throughout your training, focus on mental toughness. Build a strong mind that doesn’t back down from powering hard on the treadmill or running a bonus flight of stairs. Learn to keep your head focused on where you are and what you’ve achieved, not how much further you have to go.

Repeat a mantra.

And remember that each step forward is one step closer.

4. Bulletproof your legs with strength training.

Uphill running draws on power from several different muscle groups, including your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and Achilles tendons. Building strength through exercises that target those muscles, along with increasing agility, will translate to better preparedness once you hit the climb (or descent).

Here are a few exercises I recommend to target those muscles. Add 10 minutes of strength exercises to your post-run routine at least three times per week:

Lunge Matrix:

Targets: Glutes, hips, hamstrings, and quads. Also a great pre-run warm-up.

Here’s a video on how to do it.

Bounding:

Targets: Lower legs and stabilizer muscles.

Here’s a video on how to do it.

Squats:

Targets: Glutes, hamstrings, and quads.

Here’s a video on how to do it.

Step Ups:

Targets: Glutes, hips, quads, knees, and stabilizer muscles.

Here’s a video on how to do it.

Box jump:

Targets: Glutes, hips, quads, knees, Achilles Tendon, and stabilizer muscles

Here’s a video on how to do it.

5. Don’t neglect the downs.

What goes up, must come down. And while blasting down a hill might be a thrill in the moment, it will end up becoming just as taxing on your legs as a trip up the mountain.

So whatever you do, don’t neglect your the downs during training.

When writing a training plan, I always include “downhill days,” or hill runs where the focus is not on powering up but powering down. That builds strength in the quads, strengthens your joints, and teaches you how to run down a mountain in control.

Schedule downhill repeats every few weeks — even if they’re on those same short hills, stairs, or parking garages you have in town — to prepare the legs for a downhill beating.

6. Take strategic weekend trips.

And finally, how do you train for the mountains without any mountains?

You go find mountains.

Brilliant, I know. I’ll pause until the ovation is over …

… … …

But seriously. When possible, schedule a weekend trip to the hills for strategic long runs. Maybe that’s during a peak distance effort in training, or a training race that builds towards your goal race.

Gather your family, friends, or running club, and schedule a run-cation for a big day in the mountains.

When mountains are closer (within a few hours), schedule your longest long runs on those trails.

Flatlanders Conquer Mountains All the Time (And So Can You)

Are you at a disadvantage? Maybe.

Do you need to put in more effort? Probably.

Can you still do it? Absolutely.

Don’t let a lack of hills deter you from chasing a goal race. Train with intention and make it happen.

Have you ever been a few weeks out from a race and thought to yourself,

“Well crap. I’m way undertrained.”

That’s what happened to me about a month ago ahead of last week’s Black Mountain Marathon. Skipping the race wasn’t an option, which left me with two choices:

I could (1) run it all out, fully knowing I might blow up and crawl to the finish, or (2) let go of all expectations and ‘just have fun.’

The thing was neither of those sounded very appealing. I need every quality training run I can get, and treating it like a fun run would mean not taking full advantage of the day. But blowing up … well that didn’t sound very good either.

In today’s episode of Trail Talk, I share what happened last weekend, and the lessons I learned from piecing together a race I’m proud of on little training.

Listen to the episode here:

Click here to download the file.

Or subscribe and download on:

PodcastiTunesButton copystitcher

Support for Today’s Episode

The brand new tumblers. Cheers to Adventure: http://rockcreekrunner.com/tumbler

 

Welcome to the Rock Creek Roundup, a new monthly series featuring trail and running commentary, and a selection of articles, videos, products, and stories I’m into this month. Click here to read December and January’s roundup.

Ultrarunning has a 100K problem.

When I think through the reputation of your standard ultramarathon distances, here’s what I picture:

  • 50K — The introductory ultra. Longer than a marathon, but approachable — both mentally and physically — to most interested runners.
  • 50 Mile — The separator. A significantly longer race, which separates out those who really want to go long vs. those who want to dabble in the 50K distance.
  • 100 Mile — The crème de la crème. The distance most of us strive for, and the one we proudly promote through the wearing of belt buckles.

All wonderful, challenging, and something to be proud of.

Then there’s the humble 100K, a 62ish mile race often forgotten by the masses. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at the numbers.

In 2013 (the most recent data I could find), there were 69,573 ultramarathon finishes (I believe that’s US only, though it doesn’t say).

Over half, or 51.5% of those finishes, came from the 50K distance. 23.2% from 50 Milers, and 8.6 from 100 Milers.

Only 2.9% of finishes came from 100Ks.

In other words, the 100K shares about the same percentage of finishes as Gary Johnson did votes in the 2016 election … not very many.

Note, the remaining 13.9% of finishes were in timed events or non-traditional distances.

Since those numbers were a few years old, I did a bit more research. While I couldn’t find finisher numbers for 2016, I did tally the number of races for each distance currently listed on UltraSignup for 2017:

  • 50K — 560 races
  • 50 Mile — 226 races
  • 100K — 120 races
  • 100 Mile — 157 races

That’s a larger share than expected, but still the forgotten stepchild by comparison.

Now I know what you’re thinking …

Who gives a shit?

Well, probably not many people, but I think you should. Here’s why:

In Defense of the 100K

As I’ve planned out my race schedule for the year — with an increased work load, 10-week old cold, and other new obligations — it became clear that training for a 100 Miler would need to take a back seat until at least this fall.

But I still wanted a massive challenge on the calendar to get my training juices flowing.

I decided on the UROC 100K taking place in May, and through that process, it occurred to me that 100K is kind of the perfect distance for most ultrarunners.

1. It’s long. Unlike a 50K or 50 Miler, the 100K distance will take most runners 10-15 hours to finish. That most likely means running in the dark, running through multiple meal times, and spending most of a day on the trail. It’s a true test of grit and determination.

2. It’s not that long. At the same time, 10-15 hours is a lot different than 24+ hours, like you see at many 100 mile ultras. The recovery period will be shorter and the overall disruption to your life a lot less.

3. It’s logistically closer to a 50M than a 100M. For a 100 Miler, most runners bring full crews, pacers, and at least a few drop bags. For a 100K, there’s less of a need. In part because you’re (probably) not running through the night, but also because it’s a smaller undertaking.

4. Training is Manageable. Don’t get me wrong, training for a 100K will take a lot of time, effort, and determination, but for me, in my life right now, it feels a lot more manageable than properly training for a 100 Miler.

5. It’s a massive accomplishment. Not that 50Ks and 50 Milers are not — they most certainly are — but the 100K distance is nothing to scoff at, and should be considered a truly massive goal.

And that’s why I’d like to see more finishers of the underrated 100K distance.

I’ve only have one finish myself, and look forward to challenging myself to the distance again in a few months.

Update: I was quickly reminded by a few readers that the 100K distance is far from forgotten outside the US where the metric system rules, and off the top of my head I can think of several high profile international 100K races. Consider this a commentary on the US scene, and another lesson we can learn from our friends abroad.

Now, for that roundup …


What’s Worth Sharing on this Month: February, 2017

The Run With the Trails Tumbler

I hear the new tumblers — released just two weeks ago — have already tagged along on many adventures.

Get yours here.

A Pen and Paper Training Log

For the past few years I’ve kept a digital training log in a spreadsheet, and I believe keeping a log of some sort is something every runner should do. It’s a way to track progress and notice issues, and make adjustment accordingly. And it helps hold you accountable to stay focused.

Last month I received the Runner’s Log from Territory Run Co. as a birthday gift, and I’ve got to admit, it feels damn good to keep a pen and paper log over a stale digital one.

I don’t plan on going back.

A post shared by Doug H (@rockcreekrunner) on

Did You See the 37 Videos Post?

If not, you should check it out.

Hours of sweet trail and mountain running videos.

Run Like a Girl (in the Snow)

Hat-tip, UltraRunner Podcast.

Our Sport is Spreading Like Wildfire

While looking up those 100K stats above, I couldn’t help but notice how much the sport is growing.

Again, these are 2013 numbers, but between 2010 and 2013, ultrarunning saw a 50% increase in finishers. I’m sure that number is much higher through 2016.

It makes me incredibly happy to see so many people challenge themselves at the 50K or longer distance.

Well done, everyone. Well done.

The 23 Minute Post-Run Routine

A regular post-run routine was something I struggled with for a long time. Once the GPS stopped, so did my motivation.

But over time I’ve been able to change that by making my “run” the entire workout experience and not just the run itself. By doing so, I have a well balance post-run routine that helps with strength, recovery, and mental focus.

Here’s a formula for creating your own post-run routine, which I published yesterday on No Meat Athlete.

Sometimes a race just doesn’t go as planned. That’s the harsh reality of training for and racing an ultramarathon.

And it’s what you do with those failures and setbacks that make or break you as a runner.

In today’s episode I share a clip from a recent interview with Rock Creek Runner Community Member Karen Clarke on her setback at the 2016 Leadville 100, and what she turned that disappointment into strength.

Listen to the episode here:

Click here to download the file.

Or subscribe and download on:

PodcastiTunesButton copystitcher

Support for Today’s Episode

The brand new tumblers. Cheers to Adventure: http://rockcreekrunner.com/tumbler

 

I sometimes wonder why I even bother running.

Last Saturday night, after returning to bed from changing a dirty diaper around 1:00 AM, I picked up my phone — an unfortunate habit since the Eliza arrived. The next hour took me down a rabbit-hole of news regarding the refugee and travel ban, and I quickly became overwhelmed with thoughts of what, if anything, I do really matters.

My work, goals, and hobbies all center around running. And what’s the point? 

After all, every minute, every mile on the trail means I’m not spending time with my family, helping others, or doing something more productive for our collective futures.

It’s something I’ve recently felt a lot of guilt over.

But then, as I set down my phone and began to fade into sleep, I remembered running through the golden, crisp leaves last fall.

A photo posted by Doug H (@rockcreekrunner) on

And the determination I’ve felt throughout the final miles of races, when my body screamed to stop.

A photo posted by Doug H (@rockcreekrunner) on

And the stillness of the many summer sunrises.

A photo posted by Doug H (@rockcreekrunner) on

And the joy I felt playing outside with friends.

A photo posted by Doug H (@rockcreekrunner) on

And the blinding glow from stunning winter snows.

A photo posted by Doug H (@rockcreekrunner) on

I hear runners justify their runs because it makes them better people when they’re not running. I’ve done that many times myself.

But the truth is, I run for me first. I run because I love it. Because it gives me peace, happiness, and escape, and because it challenges me in a way that I find thrilling.

Are there more productive things to do? Probably. But when I’m out there on the dirt, it’s running that brings me joy.

And that’s the point.

If it makes me a better husband, father, or human being in return, awesome. I’ll certainly take it. And I’ll always make time for other important activities.

But — as much as I’d like to say otherwise — when my pre-dawn alarm wakes me up to run, it’s only me that I’m getting out of bed for.

And as selfish as it may sound all typed out, that’s all I need.

Photos in this post were taken as part of my year of daily Instagram shots, an attempt at capturing and sharing a precious moment each day of 2016. Learn more here.

 http://www.rockcreekrunner.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=12584&action=edit

A photo posted by Doug H (@rockcreekrunner) on

A photo posted by Doug H (@rockcreekrunner) on

A photo posted by Doug H (@rockcreekrunner) on

A photo posted by Doug H (@rockcreekrunner) on

A photo posted by Doug H (@rockcreekrunner) on

A photo posted by Doug H (@rockcreekrunner) on

And that’s a wrap! The Great Birth Week of Giveaways has come to and end, with 35 winners and hundreds of dollars in prizes.

Thank you for participating, and thanks for helping to celebrate my birthday! That’s me and the fam on top of Mt. Pisgah yesterday afternoon (on a birthday hike).

Now for the important part …

Did you win?

Here’s the complete list of winners:

Friday’s winners:

1. Altra Lone Peaks: Holly M.

2. Discover Your Ultramarathon: Mike W.

3. Rock Creek Runner stickers:

  • Christine D.
  • Phil
  • Quentin L.
  • Elizabeth M.
  • Tom L.

Thursday’s Winners

1. Janji Longsleeve: Carrie M.

2. Rock Creek Runner hat: Magnus T.

3. Rock Creek Runner stickers:

  • Frank D.
  • Clinton L.
  • Loree
  • Paul L.
  • Meredith Z.

Wednesday’s Winners

1. Lumo Run Sensor: Maria O.

2. Rock Creek Runner hat: Thomas B.

3. Rock Creek Runner stickers:

  • Stacy G.
  • Joe P.
  • Chad D.
  • Arden H.
  • Hillary

Tuesday’s Winners

1. Night Runner Shoe Lights: Cooper J.

2. Next Level Runner: Karen A.

3. Rock Creek Runner stickers:

  • Dawn
  • Laurie A.
  • Paco
  • Fredrick
  • Billy D.

Monday’s Winners

1. rabbit Running shorts: Kristina P.

2. Rock Creek Runner hat: Nathan P.

3. Rock Creek Runner stickers:

  • Candy
  • Megan S.
  • Jason S.
  • Mariah D.
  • Erin B.

We have arrived to the fifth and final day of the Great 2017 Birth Week of Giveaways!

So far we’ve given away several really great items (to 28 winners), but I have to admit that this might be the best day yet. If you’ve somehow missed all the other announcements, this will explain what I’m talking about:

Friday’s Giveaway (The last day!)

Here’s what we’re giving away today:

1. Altra Lone Peaks 3.0 (one winner)

The Lone Peaks by Altra are my very favorite trail shoe right now. They have great traction and are built to last. I’m giving away one pair in the color of your choosing!

Learn more about the Lone Peaks here: Men’s | Women’s

2. Discover Your Ultramarathon eBook System

The Discover Your Ultramarathon is my eBook system with training plans, audio interviews, and a 129-page guide to get you through your first 50K or 50 mile ultra.

Learn all about it here.

3. Rock Creek Runner stickers (5 new winners every day)

Five winners will receive a few Rock Creek Runner stickers to slap on the back of their car, water bottle, or anywhere they want to show trail running pride.

Thursday’s Winners

And now for the moment you’ve been waiting for! Here are the winner’s from yesterday’s giveaway:

1. Janji Longsleeve: Carrie M.

2. Rock Creek Runner hat: Magnus T.

3. Rock Creek Runner stickers:

  • Frank D.
  • Clinton L.
  • Loree
  • Paul L.
  • Meredith Z.

Note to All Winners: Look for an email from me later this morning with the subject line “Rock Creek Runner Giveaway Winner.” That’s when I’ll ask for product/shipping information.

And remember, everyone is automatically re-entered into the giveaway each day. No need to complete the form again. You are eligible for more than one prize.

Photo credit.