Man practicing trail running and leaping in a path in the coast

Trail running is about as basic as a sport can get. But that doesn’t mean it’s free of expenses.

Constant need for new gear. Increasing race prices. Travel to trails and races.

That’s just a few of the expenses trail runners have to budget for each year.

When my wife and I moved from a regular, well paying 9-5 jobs in Washington, DC, to peruse our dream jobs in Asheville, NC, we both knew it might be awhile before we felt as comfortable financially as we used to.

And that we might have to make cuts and sacrifices while we figured everything out.

So the past 6 months have been one giant experiment in how to run and race like I want to, while doing it on a budget.

It hasn’t always been easy. I pulled my name from a race I hoped to run with some buddies, and I’ve missed out on a few other cool opportunities to run new trails, but I’ve learned a lot about how to cheat the system.

And be the trail runner I want to be all while saving money.

Today I want to share a few of the tricks I’ve implemented over the past several months that have saved me money on everything from races to gear.

How Trail Runners Can Save Money

1) Find the Hidden Gem Races

There are more big  name trail races and ultramarathons with big name sponsors and hosts than ever before, and for the most part, this is great for the sport. Top notch races means easier access for runners.

But it’s not always great for the wallet, as many of those top notch races come at a premium.

Fortunately trail runners still have access to numerous small, local races, hosted by trail running clubs or ultrarunners in the community.

These races are typically no frills, with basic aid stations, and pizza and a cooler full of beer as the post race meal, but they’re also a ton of fun and incredibly welcoming. Often times, they’re also some of the best managed and most scenic races around (a perfect example is my most recent race, the Cumberland Trail 50k).

And they’re always cheap.

Search UltraSignup or ask around your local trail community for races in your area.

2) Sign Up Early

While small, hidden gem, races are fun and inexpensive, sometimes you just want to run one of the larger events.

The appeal of big crowds, loaded goodie bags, and overstocked aid stations, is nothing to be ashamed of.
Unless they sell out immediately, races like this will often have discounts for runners who sign up early.

To best utilize this strategy, plan out your race calendar well ahead of time, and set reminders on your calendar to sing up as soon as registration opens.

3) Get Your Shoes at a Discount

Shoes are the most important and often expensive piece of gear a trail runner has to purchase. Most experts agree that shoes should be swapped out every 300-400 miles, which means that if you’re running high mileage weeks frequently, you’ll run through several pairs of shoes throughout the year.

To save on shoe costs, I always check discount online retailers first. The Clymb is one of the best, with a nice selection of trail running shoes at a discount. (Full disclosure, The Clymb is a Rock Creek Runner sponsor)

When I find a shoe I like at a good price, especially if it’s a sale price, I’ll go ahead and purchase multiple pairs. Even if I don’t touch one of the pairs for a few months, I’ll have them ready when I need them.

4) Cut Back on Food Costs

The workout nutrition industry is massive, and your go-to bars and gels can add up quickly. Here are my favorite tips to cutting back on training food costs:

  • Make your own energy gels and bars
  • Find cheaper alternatives to gels or bars that offer many of the same benefits
  • Buy in bulk instead of one gel at a time, either through your local running store, directly from the company (Greenbelly bars are one of my favorites), or through discount sites
  • Avoid post workout smoothie/juice bar trips and make them at home

5) Camp at the Start/Finish

I have camped, or had the option to camp, at just about every non-local trail race I’ve run. That’s in sharp contrast to road races, where I’ve never even considered the option.

Many races offer camping at the start/finish line, or at a nearby campground. It’s cheap, usually has showers or a creek to clean off in after the race, and almost always makes race morning logistics easier than traveling from a hotel. Camping is also a lot of fun when the sites are overrun with runners.

6) Carpool to Races with Fellow Runners

When I told a friend I couldn’t make a trip to a non-local race because my wife needed the car, he suggested I find another runner in the area and carpool together. For some reason, this had never crossed my mind.

If a race doesn’t publish the entrants ahead of time, email the Race Director to see if anyone from your area is also signed up for the race. Chances are they’d be willing to carpool with you, so you both can save on gas money, and have someone to debrief the race with.

Plus you’ll get bonus points for being a good steward of the Earth!

7) Hunt for Discounted Gear

Just like shoes, clothing, hydration equipment, and other accessories get worn out quickly on the trails.

Take a similar approach with gear as you do shoes, and hunt down great deals online. When something you like goes one sale, like trail running shorts or tops, jump on it and purchase more than you need. You’ll be glad later down the road.

I also like to follow the stores and brands that I like on social media and subscribe to their newsletters (again, The Clymb is a go-to here). As a perk, they often post discounts codes and announce sales through those outlets only.

With gear, it’s important to buy quality, not cheap. I used to get all my running shorts at Target, but they would fall apart after season. Now I hunt down the brands I know fit me well and hold up mile after mile.

8) Join Your Local Running Club

Running clubs are not only a great training tool and good way to meet people, but they are also a good way to save money. Even if they do have a fee.

Larger clubs often hold their own races and events, have race specific training groups for members, and offer demo days on different gear. All of which will save you money.

Being more connected with your local community also gives you more people to share rides with, like I mentioned above.

Putting These Tips Into Action

The beauty of saving money is that you don’t have to do everything at once. Making the choice to camp here or shop there can make small differences that add up.

Now it’s your turn. How do you save money on gear and races?

 

start

I love the running community.

And after a long weekend in Bethlehem, PA, I’m feeling more connected than ever.

A few months ago I received an invitation from Runner’s World to take part in a special weekend at the Runner’s World Half and Festival with several other bloggers. We would get a sneak peak in Runner’s World HQ, hear directly from brand sponsors of the event, hang out with each other, and participate in as many of the three races as we wanted.

I, along with most of the other bloggers, signed up for the “hat trick,” which consisted of back-to-back 5 and 10ks on Saturday, and a half marathon on Sunday.

After last weekend’s draining 50k, I wasn’t feeling as jazzed on the running part as I would have liked. It’s been nearly two years since I ran a road half marathon, and I knew I wasn’t recovered enough mentally or physically to really push for a new PR. Even on Friday, I wasn’t sure if I’d run all the races.

But after the days leading up to Sunday’s main event, everything began to shift.

A Tour of Runner’s World HQ

bartyasso

We kicked off the weekend with one of my favorite events: Dinner with many of the Runner’s World editors at their headquarters.

The food was good, but the tour and chatting that followed was even better.

Even if you aren’t a Runner’s World reader, you have to admit that they’ve played a major role in the growth of running’s popularity over the past few decades. From Dr. George Sheehan to the hilarious Mark Remy, over the years, an incredible line-up of running influencers have covered the magazine’s pages.

The one and only Mayor of Running himself, Bart Yasso, along with David Willy, RW’s Editor-in-Chief, showed us around the offices just outside Bethlehem. We heard stories from Yasso and saw the passion from Willy. We also got a behind-the-scenes look at how an issue of Runner’s World comes together each month.

For a running dork like myself, it was like hitting the jackpot, and their down-to-Earth welcome reminded me just how open this community is.

A Closer Look at Altra, Time with Budd Coates, and Lots of Fun (and Karaoke)

rw-coverFriday was the special “blogger” day, as I liked to call it.

We kicked it off with a town-wide scavenger hunt (yes that’s me in a skirt at 0:24), before spending the day at the expo center speaking with some of the event’s sponsors.

One of the more interesting parts for me was hearing from Budd Coates about his book Running on Air. His breathing technique and philosophy makes a lot of sense, and I look forward to diving into the book more over the next few days. A full review will be coming soon.

I also loved hearing from the founders of Altra running shoes. I’ve been running off and on in Altras over the past few months, even using them during last weekend’s 50k. They impressed me right away, and the foot shaped toe box has done wonders for my blister prone toes.

Altra’s philosophy and story is unique and powerful enough that I want to save it for a full post and review of the two shoes I’ve been wearing, but if you’re interested in learning more now, check out their videos here.

The rest of the afternoon was filled with yoga, a talk from Team RWB, and more time with Bart and other Runner’s World staff.

After the official biz was over, Matt of No Meat Athlete, Dani of Weight Off My Shoulders, and Presley of Run Pretty decided we’d prep for the weekend of racing with a little fun.

I’ll spare you of the details, but it might have involved a few hours of Black Jack at the Sands Casino and duets with Matt at our hotel’s karaoke night. Yes, our Comfort Suites had a karaoke night. And yes, the running bloggers might have closed it down.

It was a blast drinking beers and getting to know so many of the bloggers in person. As my wife put it as we chatted on the phone, “It’s like summer camp for running bloggers. Where you can all geek out and tweet about it.”

Having Fun During A Race (x3)

Like I mentioned before, leading up to the weekend, the racing part had me least excited. Getting lost made me mentally drained, and the thought of running three road races in a row just wasn’t making my shoes dance.

So on Friday night, when some of the bloggers I was hanging with decided we’d all run the 5k together, I was relieved. No pressure to push hard, and no solo suffering.

The 8 am start came early, but jokes were flowing from the very beginning. It was the most casual I had ever run a race, and it was a lot of fun.

That first race set the tone for the next two.

An hour after finishing the 5k, we were back in the starting corral ready to do it again.

Someone in the group need to stop for a potty break? No problem, we’ll all wait.

Opportunity to run with David Willy? Sounds great, let’s all slow down and soak in the moment (he was running slow in order to chat with other runners, not because we were faster).

Spot “funny lady” Liz Miele (who performed a hilarious routine for the entire expo Saturday evening) a mile from the 10k finish? She’ll keep us laughing down the chute.

Sunday’s half marathon was no different. I may have finished over 30 minutes slower than a PR, but I had a blast. And that was the best case scenario.

Multiple stops and handfuls of candy from strangers later, the races were over. And my times didn’t mater.

These races were about fun.

I’m thankful to Matt, Dani, Presley, and the entire community we were running with that reminded me running isn’t just about pushing hard and testing your limits, it’s also about laughing, having fun, and sharing support.

I hope to keep that spirit alive through every race I participate in moving forward. Does that mean I’m not going to push or go after a PR? Of course not.

But at the core, running should come down to having fun. Because in the end, when our legs can’t handle new PRs or distances, that’s all we’ll have left. 

Big thanks to Runner’s World, you put on a great event in Bethlehem. And major congrats to all of the runners that I met and didn’t meet (especially Arun and his GF. Sorry we missed each other!).

P.S. If you’re curious, here’s the full list of bloggers that were a part of the event:

With one of Altra's founders, Brian Beckstead
With one of Altra’s founders, Brian Beckstead

 

Photo Credit: Dani Holmes-Kirk
Photo Credit: Dani Holmes-Kirk

medals

cumberland

Last Saturday, with one mile left in a 50k ultramarathon, I made a 4-mile mistake.

To tell this story properly, I think I should start from the beginning.

About three months ago I was hanging out on UltraSignup, looking for an October race, when I stumbled upon the Cumberland Trail 50k.

Jackpot!

Not only was this a solid mountain race, with over 8,000 feet of gain, but it was a point to point, traveling (almost, I would soon learn) the entire length of the Cumberland Trail, with beautiful and technical singletrack. Just the kind of race that feeds my inspiration.

On top of that, it was tiny, with only about 20 racers on race day.

My ideal race.

Deciding to Race An Ultramarathon

Since my very first, I’ve approached ultramarthons more as a challenge than a race.

The point was always to see what I could do on that particular day, and not worry about what others are doing around me. I guess that’s in part because I haven’t been competitive enough to try to win a race, but also because that’s never been the motivator.

But after a great summer of training in the mountains of Western North Carolina, and with a small field running a course that fits my particular strengths (slow, technical trail, with lots of climbing and descending), I caught the competitive bug.

How could I place if I really set out to race? I knew I wasn’t a contender for the win (UltraSignup ranks you against other entrants ahead of time based off previous ultramarathon finishes), but I did want to see what I could really do if I fought for it.

So I created a plan:

  • I would focus my last few weeks of training on appropriate workouts and follow through with a structured taper
  • On race day, I’d use this new competitive spirit to push harder up hills and let myself go on the downhills
  • I would be strategic with nutrition throughout the race
  • I’d try to stick with and go after other runners, using that as motivation to fight through low points

If I was going to blow up, I was going to blow up big.

And on race day, after a night of channeling my inner dirtbagger and camping in the back of the car, I was jazzed and ready to race.

Miles 1-29

Normally in a race report, the author might break up their race into 10 mile increments, or let the course dictate the separations. But for me, there are only two distinctions: the miles before I miss a turn, and the miles after.

The first 29 miles go pretty much as planned. I run smart, push hard, and use a group of 3 other runners to keep me on pace and where I wanted to be.

As for the course, it is spectacular. Vibrant yellow and orange leaves and remote singletrack keep our minds off the rain and fog and inspired to cover miles.

Because the course follows a single trail (aside from a quick detour early in the race) from start to finish, the race director had no need to mark much of the course. For nearly the entire race we are to follow the white blazes that identify the Cumberland Trail. All day long I focus on those white strips of paint.

White paint means I’m moving the right direction.

With about 8 miles to go, I reach the last major climb before descending nearly 6 miles to the finish. During this climb that I hit my only real low point, losing some ground, but quickly regrouping in time to charge the downhill that should ultimately lead me to the finish.

I’m descending very well all day, and I know that if I just put my head down and grunt it out, I can make up any lost ground and then some coming into the final miles. Hopefully placing right where I predicted.

So that’s exactly what I do. I put my head down and take off.

I’m moving so quickly that I slipped on the juicy mud three times during that final decent. But I don’t care. Each time I hop up and continued forward.

Following the white trail markers.

When Stubbornness Gets in the Way of Reality

As I start that final descent, I know I’m making up ground. Even if I’m not able to pass anyone else (which I really believe I can), this was to be my strongest ever ultramarathon finish. I’m start feeling a sense of pride.

I even start thinking about what this post will look like after a race where just about everything went right.

I push on, following those white makers.

After awhile, however, things started feeling off.

I’m running along a highway, which doesn’t makes sense.

And I hit another climb when deep down I know I shouldn’t.

But I charge on, looking over my shoulder to see if anyone is coming and focusing up the trail to see who I can catch.

Finally I glance down at my watch in frustration. It reads 32 miles. More than a mile longer than it should, and I can tell I’m still nowhere near the finish.

Damn it. Where did I go wrong? I’m following the trail! 1000 curse words and questions run through my head.

Stubborn and still afraid of getting passed if I am in fact on the right path (stupid, I know), I keep going.

Until I run into some campers.

“Hey! Do you know how to get to Cove Lake State Park?” I yell from the trail about 30 feet up the hill.

They turn to see who is calling out, and look somewhere between confused and frightened as I catch their eyes.

I’m a mess. Mud splattered throughout my white shirt, caked on my legs, and smeared all over the back of my shorts from sliding.

I’m also soaking wet, tired, and hungry. I’m ready for the this race to be over.

“Yeah sure, it’s that’s way…” one of the campers points in the direction up the trail I just covered. “Where are you coming from?”

It was a question I have no interest in answering, knowing that if I say 32 miles up the trail, it will require a much longer explanation. And I’m pissed.

Instead, I ignore their question and respond with another.

“Are you sure it isn’t that way?” I point in the direction I was going, hoping for a different answer.

“Yeah, you definitely don’t want to go that way.”

“So have you seen any other runners pass through?” I look for something, anything that doesn’t make me feel so defeated.

“Look,” he says, realizing how hopeless I am, “If you go down this side trail, it takes you to a road, which will get you back to the park quicker than the trail.”

At least it’s something. I slowly jog, completely defeated, down the side trail to the road, where I flag down a car for further directions. I contemplate hitching a ride, but knew that even if I want to, no one will give me a ride looking like this.

Coming to Terms With Disappointment

Over the course of the 30 minutes it takes me to walk/jog the two miles back to the finish after turning around, my emotions go from anger to disappointment.

I put so much into those last miles, only to realize I was literally going the wrong way.

I’m out here to prove what I can do, and botched the whole damn thing.

Finally I arrive at the finish line, coming from the opposite direction as everyone else.

No joke, I actually cross the line from the other side.

But by the time I make it to the picnic area where the other runners I had been chasing down were already showered and eating pizza, I find that the disappointment has faded.

I had to let it go.

The small crowd cheers me in, and laugh with me at the story, and the race director sighs with relief. He’s just glad to see me.

I don’t run ultramarathons for the perfect race. No one does. Ultras are just too unpredictable and would leave you too disappointed.

Something I had forgotten when caught up in the excitement of competition.

Instead, I run them for the challenge. Missing a turn and getting lost is just a new challenge.

Once I’m able to let go of the disappointment and laugh at the situation, I’m able to accept that.

In a way, it’s a relief. I still ran well. I still covered nearly 35 miles. And I still learned a little better what I am capable of. And of course, I still exposed my weaknesses.

Overcoming obstacles, digging deep, dealing with disappointment, and achieving something great. That’s the storyline of all successful ultramarathons. That’s what ultrarunning is all about.

This might not be the post I dreamed of writing at mile 28. But that’s OK.

Side Note: It turns out that turn off was marked properly and I just simply missed it. This was a beautiful race I hope to come back to next year, and figure out exactly where I went wrong.

Trail

A few nights ago I was checking my Twitter feed one last time before bed, when an article caught my eye.

Man Floating in Bubble Rescued By Coastguard

“This’ll be a funny,” I thought, and clicked on the link.

But as I read the article and watched the video, I didn’t find it very funny. Instead, I got frustrated, then embarrassed, then a little mad.

It was about Reza Baluchi, an ultrarunner who has run several extreme distances (like a complete loop around the perimeter of the United States), who set out to run over 1,000 miles from Florida to Bermuda…in a floating bubble. To raise awareness for world peace.

Yup, a floating bubble.

His plan was to sleep in the bubble and live off energy bars. He had no boat accompanying him, and apparently had no good navigational tools. Just a few days in, he was flagging down boats to ask for directions.

Directions…

Before I go on, if you haven’t seen it, watch this video to catch up.



To get a better idea of what this bubble looked like, you can check out videos like this one.

If you read much news, you’ve probably already seen this story. Because it’s been popping up everywhere, including NBC, BBC, NPR, and CNN. Just about every major news organization out there.

And while they don’t all share the same tone when covering the article, they all start with a similar lead in.

“Ultrarunner Reza Baluchi”.

Ultrarunner. When was the last time an ultrarunner was all over the mainstream media? I don’t have the answer to that question, but I do know it isn’t very often.

But I don’t want to just talk about Reza. Instead I want to talk about something this media coverage brought to mind. A bigger trend that seems to be growing in popularity as ultrarunning also grows.

When is Ultra Too Ultra?

For most people, it hasn’t been that long since the marathon sounded like a near impossible achievement.

When someone would run 26.2 miles, their friends and family were blown away.

Nowadays, however, that’s no longer the case. Over half a million US runners finished a marathon in 2013 alone!

I don’t want to downplay that achievement, but I think it’s fair to say that these days most people know at least someone who’s run a marathon. And that the once impossible distance no longer seems that impossible.

So it’s only natural that people are pushing further. They want to see what other impossibles are actually possible. And they’re turning to ultras.

That’s why I ran my first 50k, after all, and why I continue pushing further today.

But more and more, these attempts of ultra-endurance impossible are getting increasingly…ridiculous. Allow me to explain.

Some endurance feats make sense. Adventures like:

These outings serve a purpose (or as much as any run could), and while most non-ultrarunners still don’t understand why we would want to do it, at least they can understand the appeal of discovering how fast you can travel the length of the Appalachian Trail, or cover 100 miles.

But increasingly, I’m reading about endurance feats that make even the ultra-endurance lover in me question their purpose. Sure they might be incredible accomplishments, but what are they trying to prove?

Here are a few of my favorite examples:

  • The Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim Sextuple – Taking the popular rim-to-rim-to-rim run, and doing it three times.
  • The Badwater Quad – Running the Badwater ultramarathon course there and back, twice, for a total of 584 miles to raise awareness of global water issues (great cause, of course).
  • Running Around the World – The circumnavigation of the world. This would fall under the first category of running a natural distance, but let’s be real, you can’t run around the world. And it takes nearly two years to do it…so that just doesn’t qualify.

And now, the newest and most ridiculous one of all, running from Florida to Bermuda in a bubble.

The Balance Between Adventure and Ridiculous

I think it’s important to note that ultrarunning has always been a place for quirky events and runners. We crave the extremes and thrive off our unusual customs. That’s not what we’re talking about today.

Because I’m all for adventure. And I’m all about finding new ways to push myself and the sport of ultrarunning to new limits.

But when I read about these attempts, I have to wonder, are they actually hurting the sport?

Running across the grand canyon six times might make for a nice headline, but what is it saying to the average runner looking to venture into ultrarunning?

And how does it translate when I tell my non-running friends that I just signed up for another 100 miler?

Do they just assume I’m running a nonsensical distance as well? Do they think that they’ll soon hear about me being rescued in a floating bubble?

Do they consider ultra-distance running a joke?

These attempts are dangerous, costly, and appear to be run more for the great headline than anything else.

That’s why I get embarrassed when I read articles like the one about Reza. Because the vast majority of us aren’t out there trying to make headlines or scheming up a trip just because it’s the most outlandish thing we can think of.

We’re training hard, challenging our minds, and testing what the human body is made of through races and adventures that just make sense.

That’s what gets us running in the morning and keeps us running through the night when the doubt creeps in.

Call for Comments: Do you think these adventures are hurting the sport or a good aspect of ultra-endurance running?

running-partner

So you think you’re a good running partner? We’ll see about that…

Lots of runners, including myself, run alone more frequently than they run with others. But a running partner or group can be one of the most effective training tools to keep you on track and pushing hard, and a great way to keep up motivation.

For many runners, having a partner is a must if they want to be successful.

And for the other runners, it’s still extremely valuable to swap training ideas and accountability.

I recently joined up with a weekly running group in my new hometown of Black Mountain, NC. This will be the first regular group of running partners I’ve been apart of since the Rock Creek Runners group in DC.

Even after just a few weeks of training runs with them, I’ve already gotten to know more runners in the community, and have been pushed with new training practices I wasn’t familiar with.

But most of all, it’s been a lot of fun.

If you currently don’t have a running partner, or aren’t a part of a training group, go out and find one. Ask around at local running stores (chances are they have one themselves), check on meetup.com and rrca.org, or find a specialty group in your area (like the brand new No Meat Athlete groups).

And when you do have a partner, make sure you’re taking proper care of that relationship. Here are my rules for being a good running partner.

6 Steps to Being a Good Running Partner

1) Be consistent

To be a great running partner, you need to actually show up. And be consistent about showing up.

That means scheduling regular runs with your partner or group and sticking to them.

Being consistent gives you the chance to get to know the other runners as runners (even if you hang out with them outside of runs regularly), so that you can understand their needs and goals.

It also establishes regular accountability, and provides the opportunity to check in with each other’s training.

When the Rock Creek Runners group first started out in DC, we were super inconsistent (my fault!), and while we always had a good time, it was hard to take advantage of what everyone in the group had to offer because we hardly knew each other.

Don’t make that same mistake.

2) Offer (and receive) words of encouragement

Being a good running partner means being a good friend.

Throughout the run, especially if your partner is struggling, support them. Offer words of encouragement and keep the energy positive.

When you’re struggling, don’t isolate yourself, but instead let your partner or the group encourage you.

For the most part running is a solo sport. Having a partner adds a team dynamic, and a good team carries each other along when they need to.

3) Push your partner

When I run by myself, I know what paces and workouts I’m comfortable with.

Part of what makes running with others so beneficial is that it often removes that level of comfort. All of a sudden, you have match the pace of someone else, even if your tired or a little sore.

And workouts that might not be a part of your regular routine could be suggested by your partner.

Push your partner and let them push you outside of that comfortable area, and I can almost guarantee you’ll notice positive changes when you’re left running alone.

4) Chat when you can, and don’t when you shouldn’t

Probably the number 1 reason people like going to running groups or running with a partner is the social aspect.

It’s fun, distracting, and removes that layer of loneliness many people feel running solo.

So chatting with your partner is usually a good thing. Talk about training, racing, life, and work.

Just don’t talk their ear off. If a runner’s struggling, they usually want a little quiet.

5) Help each other on race day

Running partners aren’t just good for training. They’re also helpful on race day.

Not only are you, as a running partner, uniquely in the know about where they are about their training, you’re also someone they feel comfortable suffering around. Get out there on race day to cheer them on.

Trail and ultra runners often have the opportunity to crew or pace their partners. If someone asks you, do it. There’s nothing like someone running by your side deep into an ultra that already knows you as a runner.

And you just might need the favor returned some day yourself.

6) Get to know what they want

Most importantly, a good running partner knows their partner well. I don’t necessarily mean all their life details, I mean how they are as a runner:

  • Do they like to chat or run in silence?
  • What are they’re strengths and weaknesses?
  • Do they like tough love or gentle encouragement?

These are they types of things you want to know about your partner. And you want them to know about you.

How Not to be A Good Partner

1) Don’t make it a competition

A little friendly competition to get stronger is one thing, trying to impress the other or show your partner up is another.

If you want to be invited back, put your ego aside and don’t make training runs a competition when they shouldn’t be.

It’s tempting, I know. I’ve been known to do it myself. But this isn’t the time to see who’s got the bigger…shoes.

2) Don’t be rude

Don’t stand your partner up. Don’t talk back. Don’t get angry with them when you aren’t feeling good.

Don’t be rude.

This takes us back to offering words of encouragement.

Are You A Good Running Partner?

So what do you think? Are you a good running partner?

Even though I’ve run 95% of my runs over the past year alone, some of my favorite memories are ones when I ran with other people. Whether they were group runs, epic adventures, or just causal runs with a friend.

It’s just as rewarding to be a running partner as it is to have one. So go out and be one.

Just make sure you’re a good one.

Call for comments: Do you have a regular running partner or group that you like? What makes them so good?

burning-out

This post was written as part of Trail Runner Magazine’s Blog Symposium. This month’s topic is, “How can trail runners avoid burnout?”.

It happens every year. Most often, this time of year, as the leaves start to fall and the days grow shorter.

The excitement of summer training and races has now faded, and many of us are lacing up our shoes with lower motivation and little drive.

It’s called burnout.

And every runner deals with it at some point.

It leaves us feeling desperate and depressed, longing for the thrill and energy we once felt for this sport that we love.

No one wants to feel burnt out on something they are passionate about, but when it does happen, you realize that it’s impossible to keep that passion burning bright when all it wants to do is extinguish.

So when you do start to feel burnt out, it’s only natural to ask yourself, “Self, what can I do to avoid burnout?”

And there are plenty of good tools and strategies, I and many others, have used to stay motivated when we’re desperate. Strategies like:

  • Mixing up your routine and discovering new routes,
  • Focusing on base fitness and working to improve that base,
  • Joining a new running group full of energy and excitement,
  • Or, Going after a big PR or new distance goal that gets you excited.

There are no shortage of these tactics that help delay burnout, but that’s all that they’re going to do.

Delay it.

In my opinion, burnout shouldn’t be viewed as this terrible thing we need to avoid, but instead as a badge of honor. Proof that we’ve been working hard and pushing our limits. Proof that we’ve left everything out on the trail.

Proof that we have more to prove.

Burnout As A Natural Occurrence

Think about it. Aside from work and family, there probably isn’t much you do consistently throughout the entire year.

We go through natural cycles:

  • As the weather changes, so do our eating habits.
  • As the months progress, so do the sports we follow and watch on TV.
  • Music tastes and bands that excite us continue to develop over time.
  • Beer that you loved in January might be overlooked come August.

And after months of intense training and racing, and hours spent studying course maps, designing routes, and suffering on the foam roller, it’s only natural for us to want a break.

To need a break.

If we consistently push at our highest level, progress will ultimately come to a halt, and we’ll begin to hate whatever it is we’re pushing so hard to achieve.

Burnout As A Badge of Honor

The most burnt out I’ve ever felt were the days following this year’s Massanutten Mountain 100. I didn’t all of a sudden hate the sport, in fact it was the exact opposite, but still the thought of putting on my shoes and hitting the trail made me nauseous.

Burnout, especially if it’s from something you love like trail running, means you’ve given it your all. It means you’ve spent hours and hours running in uncomfortable conditions and pushing your body.

It probably means you’ve had to make hard choices and sacrifices when it comes to work, family, and play.

It also means you’ve succeeded.

Because if it was always easy and fun, you wouldn’t ever get that burnout feeling. And doing it wouldn’t make you feel nauseous.

So be proud of yourself. This is part of the experience.

Don’t believe me?

Even the greats need time off. Kilian Jornet only runs half the year, focusing on ski mountaineering the second half. And after winning 8 gold medals at the 2008 Olympics, Michael Phelps took significant time off before training for London because he, “had to find the passion again.”

By not fighting burnout, but embracing it, we increase the likelihood of building back that flame.

Don’t be ashamed of the burnout. Be proud of the work you put in that got you there.

I took a full month off running after the MMT100. I needed it. But when I hit the trails for the first time after that break, I was like a kid in a candy shop. Eyes wide open, legs pushing hard. That day I found the passion again, and never wanted to quit.

So You’re Burnt Out, Now Pull Yourself Together

Even after all this. After claiming that burnout is not only natural, but something you should be proud of, I’m going to get real.

Pull yourself together! You’re a runner. A trail runner. And trail runners are tough.

Burning out is not an excuse to quit. Nor is it a reason to get lazy.

So take this time, and instead of forgetting about running all together, use the burnout to your advantage.

  • Take up a new sport like cycling, swimming, or something else that keeps you in shape.
  • Take care of your body so that it heals properly and prepares for next season.
  • Eat well.
  • Rest the mind.

At some point, hopefully before it’s time to really start training for next season, your burnout will end, and you’ll find that passion once again.

And when that day comes, you’ll be happy you weren’t lazy and aren’t forced to start from scratch.

Until then, embrace it. Wear your burnout proudly.

To learn more about Trail Runner Magazine’s Blog Symposium, visit there website here. 

trail-runner-cheat-sheet

Over the past few years I’ve been paying attention (and no, not just to which company has the coolest trail shoes or best tasting beer).

I’ve been paying attention to the questions and frustrations runners share with me every day via email, and on Twitter and Facebook.

And as I work through those questions each morning, I keep noticing something that probably shouldn’t surprise me as much as it does.

It turns out most runners ask very similar questions. Questions like:

  • How can I adjust my training plan to fit my busy schedule?
  • How should I pace a trail race or ultramarathon on technical terrain?
  • How can I get through a long training cycle without another injury?
  • How do I start running again after an extended break?

And so many more.

These types of questions were coming up so frequently that I knew I had to put together something that addresses these issues. And I knew I had to offer it for free as a thank you for reading Rock Creek Runner.

TRCS-questions-300So today I’m crazy excited to announce that I have just released The Trail Runner’s Cheat Sheet.

The Cheat Sheet is a 10-part guide answering, in detail, the top 10 questions I hear from runners just like you.

We’re talking thousands of words, packed full of useful information and insight, delivered as an easy to process guide.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced runner, this straight forward guide will help you train stronger and run injury free.

Each and every part of this guide addresses another common runner question or frustration, and does so with the trail and ultra runner in mind.

Click here to learn more about the new guide, and to get Part-1 sent to your inbox today.

The best part? This cheat sheet isn’t going to get you in trouble. It’s just going to make you a better runner.

Sign up today today for The Trail Runner’s Cheat Sheet.

See you on the trails,

Doug

ready-for-ultra

A lot of runners find the ultramarathon distance appealing. Especially if they are already running trails or are marathon finishers now itching for a new challenge.

But ultras can be tough. And committing to your first is scary.

After all, how do you even know if you’re ready to tackle such a distance and challenge?

It’s a great question. One probably every ultrarunner asked him or herself before running their first ultra.

So today I’ve put together a little tool I think will help you answer that question.

Here’s how it works:

Below you’ll find a list of 31 possible ways to know if you’re ready to run an ultramarathon. Work your way through the list to see which apply to you and which do not. If just one applies to you, then I think you’re ready.

Hope it helps…

Are You Ready to Run an Ultramarathon?

1) If losing a toe nail feels as natural as getting your hair cut, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

2) If you’ve run a marathon, and are itching for a little more, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

3) If you don’t mind being alone in the woods for hours at a time, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

4) If you can eat an entire sandwich in the middle of your long run, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

5) If you’re OK calling a hike/run combo a run, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

6) If you don’t mind people calling you crazy every time you say what you’re training for, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

7) If going to a dark place is part of what you’re after, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

8) If blisters don’t scare you, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

9) If you don’t mind running slow, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

10) If the thought of running in some of the worst conditions imaginable is appealing to you, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

11) If you have a beard, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

12) If you’re ready to see exactly what you’re made of, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

13) If you think you might have a friend that’s willing to run through the night with you and still call you their friend, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

14) If traveling further is more important than traveling faster, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

15)If you don’t mind starting a race before the sun comes up, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

16) If eating 10 energy gels over the course of a few hours actually sounds kind of good, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

17) If you’d prefer 10 miles on the trails over 3 miles on the road, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

18) If wearing clown shoes, or at least running next to someone wearing clown shoes (like me, for example), doesn’t bother you, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

19) If when looking for a route online you focus on multi-day backpacking routes instead of day-hikes, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

20) If you don’t mind pooping in the woods, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

21) If taking pills filled with salt seems logical, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

22) If swapping stories and beers with your fellow runners in the finish-line area sounds like fun, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

23) If trekking poles seem like a reasonable thing to carry on a run, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

24) If running through the night doesn’t make you scared of monsters, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

25) If you know who Kilian Jornet is, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

26) If the thought of running further than most people can drive without taking a pit-stop appeals to you, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

27) If you don’t mind “hitting the wall” multiple times in a single race, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

28) If you’re willing to call Coke a sports drink, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

29) If you’re willing to read a list this long, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

30) If you’re ready for a life changing experience, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

And finally….

31) If you want to run an ultramarathon, then you’re ready to run an ultramarathon.

How to Get Started

logo-sign-2If you want it, then you’re ready.

I’m a firm believer that anyone who wants to can run an ultramarathon, they just need to know how and where to start.

I so very clearly remember how terrified I was to register for my first 50k. Anything beyond 26.2 seemed like this foreign place few wanted to visit…and even fewer survived.

But in reality, that’s not the case. Trail and ultrarunning is the fastest growing sub-group of runners, and for good reason: Ultrarunning will change your life.

It most certainly did mine.

So what are you waiting for? Check out the Trail Runner’s System here. Through video, audio, and expert interviews, the Trail Runner’s System is designed to help you transition to trails and ultras from where you are now. Regardless of ability.

jublo-dust-review

I’ve never been much of a sunglasses guy while running.

In fact, I always found them quite irritating and distracting, as they would either slip down my nose and threaten to fall off, or the lenses would steam up.

And let’s face it, when I’m thinking about essential running gear (shoes, clothes, water), sunglasses don’t really come to mind.

So when Julbo approached me to test out their glasses, I was a little skeptical. But hey, I see sunglasses (often Julbo, actually) on many of the pros, so there must be something I’m missing, right?

I took them up on the offer in order to find out for myself.

Note: Before we get too far into this review, it’s important to note that while the glasses were provided by Julbo, the company has no say or sway over what I say in this review, and they have not approved or reviewed the article before posting. So if they were complete rubbish, I would absolutely tell you. Fortunately, they weren’t. SPOILER! Drat.

First Impressions

When the Julbo Dust ($99-170) sunglasses arrived in the mail and I opened them up, I had to laugh. “Bright blue?” I said to myself and snapped a selfie to send to my wife.

I’m not usually one to wear bright colors, especially on my face, so I knew she’d appreciate my new shades.

That day as I headed out for an hour trail run near my house, I decided to give them a first test. Immediately I noticed two things:

  1. They don’t bounce at all.
  2. I can barely feel them on my head.

First impression of their functionality was a great one. They were so light and the lenses so crisp that I barely knew I was wearing anything at all.

We were off to a good start.

The Look

The first morning of my recent running trip to Colorado, the guys and I were staggering around the trailhead parking lot in a 6 am daze, slowly getting our gear together for 7 hours on the trail.

We gathered our food, layers, bottles, and everything else we thought necessary for a day in the mountains. That’s when I pulled out the Julbos, and as I put them on my head, they caught David’s eye.

“Damn, you just took it up a notch!”

That about sums up the way I feel about the Julbo Dust sunglasses. About all Julbo glasses in general, actually.

Their edgy look, sleek lines, and funky colors take it up a notch.

Like I said earlier, I probably wouldn’t have picked the blue on my own, maybe opting for black instead, but now that I’ve been wearing them, I’m really starting to dig the vibrant tone. The color is fun, and makes me want to step it up a notch.

The Lenses

It’s worth talking about the lenses, because they are something special. Here’s what Julbo’s website says about the Zebra lenses:

The Zebra® photochromic lens darkens or lightens depending on the light’s intensity. It can change from a light transmission rate of 42% to just 7%! Its anti-fog coating, directly integrated via laser, guarantees maximum efficiency and long life. Zebra® is recommended for mountain biking, trail biking, running, climbing, skiing, riding and other outdoor sports.

Let me explain what that really means:

  • It does mean that the adjustable lens blocks out harmful rays and glares, and lightens enough to where you don’t notice it when you don’t need the extra shade.
  • It doesn’t mean that you’ll be like my friends in middle school, who when they had adjustable lenses and went inside, it took 10 minutes before they could see anything.
  • It does mean that they don’t fog up, even when it’s humid and wet.
  • It doesn’t mean they’ll make you faster. You may look like a pro, but you probably still aren’t. I had to learn that one the hard way.
  • It does mean that the view through the lenses is crystal clear, and doesn’t hinder your depth perception when running on technical trail.

Now, I do want to bring up one issue I had towards the beginning. If I wore the glasses tight up against my face, the top frame would touch my brow. After sweating for awhile, I noticed that sweat would build up and start to drip down the lens.

After a little adjusting of how I wore the glasses, I was able to prevent this from happening, but when it does happen, it can be hard to see where you’re going until you’re willing to stop and wipe your glasses.

jublo-review-2The Fit

As I said at the beginning of this review, I’ve been very impressed with the fit.

There is virtually no bounce, and I don’t ever worry about them falling off my head.

When going through darker, tree-shaded areas, or earlier in the morning, I tend to wear them on top of my head, either on top of my hat or tucked into my Buff. In both places, I haven’t had to worry about them falling off once.

They stretch well, stay snug around my head, and don’t pinch my nose. Everything I look for in a fit.

I will repeat here, however, that I was having the issue of the top rim touching my eyebrows and causing sweat to drop down the lenses. Like I said earlier, a quick adjustment of how I was wearing them, and that issue has since been resolved.

Overall Thoughts

DCIM100GOPROAs you’ve probably gathered, overall I really like the Julbo Dust, and I have no doubt that Julbo puts out some of the best performance sunglasses on the market. The Dust are no exception.

  1. They make me look like a badass.
  2. They fit well on my face.
  3. The lenses are crisp and don’t hinder my depth perception.
  4. And for the first time ever, I feel comfortable wearing sunglasses while running.

Am I a total sunglasses convert?

No, not really. I’ve found myself leaving them in the car at times. But that’s more because sometimes I like running as gear free as possible than it is because I don’t like them.

I’d recommend the Julbo Dust to any runner looking for a pair of sunglasses.

Event Announcement (Plus Race Discount Code)

rwhalf-logo-altra-2Just a heads up, I’ll be joining a group of bloggers, including No Meat Athlete, Fit Bottomed Girl, Skinny Runner, and many others at this year’s Runner’s World Half Marathon and Festival in Bethlehem, PA on October 18th and 19th.

The festival includes a 5k and 10k on Saturday, and a half marathon on Sunday. I’ll probably be running all three, and would love for you guys to join in on the fun.

If you’re interested in joining, you can register here, and use the following codes for a 10% discount:

  • 5k: blogRockCreekRunner5K
  • 10k: blogRockCreekRunner10K
  • Half: blogRockCreekRunnerHalf
  • 5 & Dime: blogRockCreekRunner5&10
  • Hat Trick: blogRockCreekRunnerHat

If you’re planning to run, let me know! I’d love to see you there.

running-coloradoLast week I set out with two friends, Skylar and David, for an epic weekend of running in the mountains of Colorado.

This was to be the second annual running weekend with these two, after last year we ran/fastpacked the 102 mile length of Shenandoah National Park in 3 days. We were looking for a trip just as trilling as the last, so with Skylar’s recent move to Denver, Colorodo seemed like the perfect place for us to plan a few days in the mountains.

Leading up to this trip I was nervous. Nervous about the mileage we’d be piling up over the course of three days, nervous about the new terrain and back country, but most of all nervous about the altitude.

I’ve been above 12,000 ft a few times, but never with the intention to exercise, and certainly never when trying to log 20+ miles for three days straight. The last time I was that high, 20+ miles in one day would have seemed absolutely insane. My how things can change in just a few short years…

But facing nerves (and vulnerabilities) is what these types of ultrarunning adventures are all about, so I did my best to train the legs, and just hoped for the best when it came to the altitude.

Over the course of the three days we covered three distinct trails. Here’s a brief summery, with Strava data, of those days:

  • Day 1: 22 Miles in the Flat Top Mountains, located in the Northwest portion of the state. The stunning views and gorgeous lakes resembled more of what I’d expect to see in Utah than Colorado.
  • Day 2: 17 Miles from Silverton to Vail over the Red Buffalo Pass. Bad weather meant lots of rain, hail, and high winds once we got over 10,000 feet. We were joined by another friend, Joseph, for this run, and we all had a blast suffering through the cold together. Even made it off the trail in time to catch TJ win the US Pro Challenge time trails leg in Vail.
  • Day 3: The complete 28 mile Four Pass Loop outside Aspen. The most beautiful and difficult run of the weekend, featuring roughly 10,000 feet of elevation gain, all between 9,500 and 13,000 feet. Note: If you’re looking at the Stava data, my watch died before we made it back to our car.

The three days of running were filled with major highs and lows.

We all suffered, a lot. But none of us ever lost site of how glad we were to be a part of such an amazing adventure.

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Through that suffering, I learned a lot about myself and about running, and I’d like to share four of the biggest lessons with you today.

4 Things East Coast Trail Runners Can Learn From Running the High Country

1) Climbing Legs Are Important

East coast trails are known to be technical and hilly. My home trails in Western North Carolina are often very steep, and it’s rare to find an extended flat section.

But our climbs are often short. In part, I’d assume, because our mountains are shorter (but no less beautiful!).

On these trails in Colorado, I found climb after climb lasting 2, 3, 4 miles at a time. Often raising multiple thousands of feet in the process through very steep sections.

Even though I like to think that I’m a decent climber on my home trails, rarely am I faced with extended climbs like what I found that weekend, which led me to a few conclusions:

  1. When climbing consistently for miles at a time, technique and form are more important than ever. Even when you’re tired and feel like flopping or crawling up the hill would be a better option.
  2. For two of the three days, I carried and used wizard sticks trekking poles during all major climbs. I had practiced with the poles a few times before leaving for the trip, and found them very useful on the uphill. Not so much on anything else.
  3. I typically advise runners to avoid drinking and eating when climbing as to not disrupt their breath, but on these particularly long climbs, I found it to be the perfect place to catch up on calories and liquids. Especially since climbs often lead to major descents, also probably not the best time to be stuffing your face.

This entire experience was the ultimate reminder of the importance of course specific training.

2) Everything is More Important at Altitude

As any trail runner already knows, nutrition, weather, and hydration are all important during a big trail run. Get behind on your nutrition, or face unexpected weather, and even the best runs can go south quickly.

I learned the hard way that these are even more important when running above 9,000 feet.

With the dry air, intense sun, and lack of oxygen, altitude causes enough issues on its own. On day one I suffered through headaches and dizziness.

On day two we faced intense rain and hail, leaving us all chilled to the bone and fighting desperately to get down off the pass before something bad happened.

And on day three, after only about 3 hours of running, for many miles I wasn’t able to consume any food due to an upset stomach.

For hours I suffered along with low energy, fighting my way up each climb. It came to a point on the 3rd pass where I had to force myself to take 10 steps before allowing myself to rest, no longer than 10 seconds at a time.

It was the kind of darkness ultrarunners fear the most. It’s also the darkness we sign up for.

Altitude makes everything more difficult and extreme, and proper preparations that much more crucial.

At the same time, I also learned that altitude isn’t everything. I started the weekend scared of what would happen to me above a certain altitude, and while I did suffer and fight, it didn’t stop me from pressing forward and only added to the adventure.

3) Trail Running is Trail Running

East Coast trail runners often dream of trail running life out West.

  • The massive mountains,
  • The rugged terrain,
  • And the famous community of runners.

After all, all runners live like Anton Krupicka out there, right?

For me, those dreams come with a dollop of fear. Fear of the unknown and of the wild.

But what I kept coming back to over those miles in some of the more remote places I had ever been in America, was that trail running is just trail running, no matter where you are.

There will always be uphills and downhills, and concerns about footing.

You’re strengths will continue to shine and the trail will continue to expose your weaknesses.

Falling still hurts, and cresting a ridge still sends chills down your back.

Other runners will continue to look at you with excitement, because they know you’re on just as beautiful a journey as they are.

It doesn’t matter where you’re running.

What matters is your attitude and your spirit’s connection with the trail.

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4) Good Running Partners Make All the Difference

We were about 20 miles into the Four Pass Loop (day three), and I had been suffering through a low patch for about 15 of those 20 miles.

I was tired and defeated, and had been running alone for much of the past few hours, unable to keep up with David and Skylar who were moving better than I was.

Throughout the weekend we had been running mostly together, but if someone would pull ahead, they would stop and wait every 5 or so miles in order to keep close in case something happened. On this day, with major stomach issues and lack of energy, I kept falling back even after they would wait for me to catch up.

After a long stretch by myself, I turned the corner of the trail to find a stream crossing and my two running partners waiting for me on the other side.

Immediately I started laughing. I don’t really know why, but the laughter filled me with a joy I hadn’t felt all day. I was so glad to see them it brought a few tears to my eyes. Which I quickly hid from them, of course…

They didn’t have anything I needed, or any particular cure for my lack of energy, but knowing they were out there with me was just the thing to lift my spirits.

A good running partner has your back when you’re feeling low, and hugs you in celebration when you make it up a big climb. They fist bump you as you pass, and leave arrows in the dirt at a questionable fork in the trail.

And they’re just as excited to swap stories over beers in the hot tub once you get back to house.

We all three remarked about how thankful we were to have friends who want to plan weekends like this and whose running abilities are as compatible as ours are.

No matter where you’re running, or how far you’re going, having a friend or partner to share the miles and stories with will bring joy to even the lowest of low points.

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