“Should I go with long sleeves or short? New shoes or old?”

“Oh no… Did I print off my pace chart?”

The fear … It’s crippling.

After hundreds of miles and months of preparation, the big dance is just hours away. And you can’t sleep.

What you hoped to be a restful night, has turned into hours of squirming with anxious energy.

If this sounds like you, I’m here to say that you’re not alone. Almost every runner will admit to having at least some degree of anxiety the days and hours before a race.

It’s only natural when you’ve poured your all into something as big as a race goal.

But, as I’m sure you’ve witnessed first-hand, anxiety can negatively affect your run by:

  1. Leaving you tired and low on energy,
  2. Making it difficult to stick to a nutrition/hydration plan,
  3. Causing you to irrationally change gear or race plans,
  4. Overwhelming you with negative or discouraged thoughts before the run even begins.

Makes me depressed just writing about it, so let’s quickly move on to the good news:

Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean pre-race anxiety can’t be managed or prevented.

And so here I list the tactics I use to manage pre-race jitters. Everyone’s different, so adapt my rules to manage your own.
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I’m finishing up lunch on Friday, the first full day of the Runner’s World Half and Festival, with a small group of bloggers invited to attend the weekend of events.

This meal in particular has everyone excited. Not for the food — though the vegan avocado pasta is delicious — but for the special guest.

Just as dessert plates are push aside, Deena Kastor stands up to greet the 15 or so people in the room, and informs us she isn’t prepared to actually speak.

“No problem,” I think to myself. “Just tell us war stories from your bronze medal run in the 2004 Olympic Marathon. Or how you became the only American woman to break 2:20 in the marathon. Of even better, about your Chicago Marathon race just one week prior, when you ran a 2:27 and set the U.S. master record!”

Any one of those stories would have the entire room engaged and excited.

But talking about your accomplishments is easy, and Deena has something else on her mind.

Mistakes. And negativity.

She begins by talking about times she went out too fast, a nightmare most runners know far too well, and races where side cramps hit her like a ton of bricks. Then she shares her thought process when it comes to dealing with those potentially race busting problems.

There stands Deena, one of the most accomplished American marathoners of all time, addressing a room of eager bloggers not about big wins or training hard, but about her mistakes, negative thoughts, and the mental side of running.


Flipping Negatives into Positives

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We’ve all been there…

About to register for a race, pumped on running, and ready to kick ass and take names.

Suddenly you realize you haven’t run consistently in over 4 months, and begin second guessing yourself as your training plan suddenly looks daunting.

“Who cares,” you accidentally proclaim aloud at your desk, “let’s do this thing!” And with the click of a button, you’ve registered for a race.

It’s only a few days before you realize you’re nowhere near ready for an aggressive training plan.

You need to start by laying your foundation.

Understanding Base Training

Base training, foundational training, whatever you want to call it, these words get thrown around all the time.

While it’s not always exciting — base training is slow, repetitive, and often uninspired — it’s important.

Establishing an aerobic mileage base is essential to staying healthy and strong throughout your training.

But what does “aerobic mileage base” actually mean?

Put simply, base mileage is the foundation you build before training for a particular race. You wouldn’t build a house on sand, and you shouldn’t start an intense training plan without a strong foundation.

It’s your opportunity to build endurance and strength. It’s your starting point before transitioning into race specific training.

And the stronger the starting point, the easier it will be to transition into that training plan.

Without a strong base, you risk injury, and have to fight harder to gain the speed and endurance you’re craving.
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I’m not afraid to admit when I screw up, and this summer, I screwed up.

But first, let’s talk about playing guitar. Yes, the guitar.

Back in college, I decided I wanted to learn how to play the guitar. It’s hard to say what the true motivation was — looking cool, being creative, impressing women — but I was determined to learn.

So what did I do?

I got a guitar, sat alone in my dorm room, taught myself 4 chords, and tried to find every song I could that used only those 4 chords. Amazingly, that worked for awhile.

But about a month later, after strumming G, C, D, and E on repeat, I got bored. The songs began to sound the same, and progress came to a halt.

Other than picking it up now and again, that pretty much ended my guitar playing career.

Looking back, I know exactly where I went wrong:

  • I only played by myself, and had no accountability or excitement from other musicians
  • I took the short cut, learning the easiest 4 chords, and never pushed myself beyond that
  • I tried to self-teach, even though I knew nothing about guitars and little about music
  • I allowed myself to get uninspired and bored

If I could talk to my 18 year old self, I would tell him that approach is all wrong, and will end up making him look silly, not cool. I’d also tell him to cut his hair, but that’s a story for another day…


The Wrong Approach to Training

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Earlier this week we talked about the great injury myth plaguing the running world, and I made a case for constant injury prevention care. I even shared how smart running has kept me injury free for the past 5 years.

That’s right, injuries don’t have to be part of your running and training.

What I didn’t say is that the work you put in to injury prevention not only helps you stay healthy, it also makes you stronger and faster.

And who doesn’t want to run faster?

Since it’s injury prevention week on Rock Creek Runner, and running faster is always at the top of people’s list, I decided to call up one of the smartest and fastest runners I know: Jason Fitzgerald of Strength Running.

The dude’s a beast on the road and trail, having run a blazing fast 2:39 marathon, but that’s not the reason I called him up.

Instead, we talk about injuries and injury prevention, and how as a coach he’s helped runners of all levels get stronger and faster by following certain injury prevention principles.

And I’d like to share that 30+ minute conversation with you today.

Here’s what we talk about in today’s interview:

  • Injury prevention explained (finally)
  • What does it mean to sandwich your workouts?
  • Core work for faster running
  • How to shape your training to stay injury free
  • Why you need low mileage weeks, even in the heat of training
  • Cross-training for runners
  • Does trail running help prevent injuries?
  • Dealing with your lingering running injury
  • Jason’s #1 tip for staying healthy

Interview with Jason Fitzgerald

Listen to the full interview here:
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We’ve all heard it:

75% of runners get injured each year.

Let’s think about that … 3 out of 4 runners get injured each year.

It’s an incredible statistic. Blows me away every time I really think about it.

That means more people get injured running than they do playing football, rugby, and even hockey. Now it’s important to note that a shin splint is a lot less life threatening than a concussion, but even the smallest running injury can bust up the best training cycles.

A devastating reality to 3/4s of our community.

Injuries have become so common that they’re written off as just a part of being a runner.

Crazy, right?

Can you imagine if a home builder said there was no need to worry about fire prevention because fires are just a part of living in a home?

Or if your doctor said to eat whatever you want, because disease and heart problems are just a part of life?

You’d throw your arms up in the air in outrage.

But that’s what we’re told all the time:

Injuries are just another hurtle in your training, and you can deal with them when they arrive. Exactly why the shoe and running industry makes a boat load of money off products that help you recover from injuries, instead of helping you prevent them.

Because injuries have become such a problem for runners — I know, because it was one of your biggest frustrations in a recent survey –I’ve decided to dedicate an entire week at Rock Creek Runner to injury prevention. And we’re going to kick things off by tackling the biggest injury myth of them all.

You’ve Been Lied to This Whole Time

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Last week I got a tweet from a listener with what I thought was a simple question:

“What was your biggest ultramarathon mistake, and what did you learn from it?”

Thinking it would make for a good topic for Trail Talk, I sat down to decide what my biggest mistake had been. As it turns out, I’ve had many ultra-sized ultramarathon mistakes, and it was impossible to just pick one.

So in today’s episode, I’m sharing not just 1, but 6 of my biggest race day mistakes, what I learned from them, and most importantly, how you can avoid making those mistakes yourself.

Listen to the episode here:

Or subscribe and download on:

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Questions you want answered on the next episode?
Call and leave a message at (302) 648-7245, that’s 302-64-TRAIL — I won’t answer, I promise.

Links from the show:

You know the feeling.

That achy pain in your feet and ankles the morning after a big trail run. It feels like they just returned from battle.

It’s a sign that you’ve done something fun, but it’s also a cry for help.

Feet and ankles are at the core of everything you do as a runner. They’re your primary tool out on the battlefield.

You protect them with good shoes. You nurture them when they need care. But what are you doing to make them strong and sturdy enough to withstand the trials of the trail?

Running exercises tend to focus on the upper legs and core. Rightfully so, since strength in those areas give you power and prevent injuries. Today we’re going to branch out — or down — and put our energy into strengthening the feet and ankles. Because if they fail, all that quad or glute work means nothing.

Why Foot Strength Matters for You

It’s no secret that trail running presents several new challenges road runners never consider.
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There’s an old Kenny Rogers song you may know called “The Gambler.”

It’s a catchy tune about a man who meets an old gambler. That gambler, who I picture as a tired, weathered, and wise cowboy, can’t help but share some advice. The advice (and chorus) go something like this:

You’ve got to know when to hold’em. Know when to fold’em. Know when to walk away, and when know when to run.

Before you think I’ve lost it, of course this song is about life — maybe gambling, in a more literal sense — and not ultrarunning. But as I think back on my experience during last week’s Steep Canyon 50k, that tune keeps playing on repeat through my head.

The Sad Truth About My Race

I’ve read, and written, enough boring race reports to know this race isn’t suited for a play-by-play, so I’m going to keep the report part brief.

Here it goes:

I came in on race day under trained and under prepared. After weeks of travel, my long runs were non-existent and my mind in all the wrong places. I set aside the expectations of a good race, and took an approach to “just have fun.”

But here’s the thing: It’s really hard to have fun for 31 miles when you’re under trained and under prepared. Smiles, flowing trails, and eccentric ultra chatter will only take you so far. At some point you’re going to find yourself crawling up a hill, with several hours of running still left to tackle.

In many ways, I did a few things right. I had no stomach issues, stayed hydrated despite of the heat, and felt great about my gear choices.

But in one key area, I went wrong. All wrong.
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steep-canyonThis post went live around 8:30 Thursday morning, less than 4 hours before my next ultramarathon, the Steep Canyon 50k in Brevard, North Carolina.

Little about this race is conventional:

  • It starts and ends at Oskar Blues Brewery‘s REEB Ranch
  • It’s held on a Thursday, to kick off a 4-day music festival
  • The start time is set for noon, so all runners end while the music is jamm’n
  • It’s a loops course, 3 x 10+ mile loops

The odd timing throws off my taper period, nutrition, and frankly, my mental state. But the event is bound to be a blast, and the uniqueness of the music festival, brewery, and timing, will only make this race that much more of an adventure.

Unfortunately, my training has been just as unconventional:

  • Due to traveling nearly every weekend for the past 5 weeks, long runs are all out of wack
  • Weddings, birthdays, river floats, and travel meant I wasn’t eating or sleeping well, and drinking a few too many beers

Training has been less than ideal. Take this past Saturday, for example, when I spent more time getting dressed for a wedding, than I did running. It ain’t easy looking this good:

But here we are, a few hours before the start, and I’m loading up the car to head to the start.

Letting Go of Expectations

When I registered for this race, I intended to take training seriously and see what I could do on this course. I ran the route several times, and focused a course specific training plan for this hilly — yet very runnable — route.

Slowly life started getting in the way, I had to make adjustments to my training. Eventually, though, I completely lost focus on that initial drive.

Spiraling me into a deep running funk.

All of which means I’ve had to reevaluate my expectations. Let go of the idea that this will be a dream race, and set new goals.

So what are my new goals? To have fun, reinvigorate my training, and enjoy a day out on the trail. With Katie out volunteering on the course, and lots of friends running as well, having fun sounds a lot more manageable.

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve held on tightly to expectations I knew I couldn’t fulfill, I’ve been down and discouraged.

By letting go, and just appreciating the adventure for what it is, I’m feeling a lot better about the experience.

A good reminder that sometimes you have to let go in order to move forward.

How I Prepare for a 50k Ultramarathon

Yesterday I released the 20th episode of Trail Talk! Thank you for all the support and kind words about the podcast over the past several months.
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