If I’m completely honest with myself (and you), the past few months of running have been a struggle.

With all the exciting things going on in my life right now – *cough* baby on the way *cough* – and travel seemingly every weekend, structured training and races took a back seat.

And you know what? I think that’s OK.

We all go through phases in life of varying motivation levels. Sometimes we’re excited to train and race, and other times just getting out the door is a complete struggle.

This year the uninspired phase came for me after Thunder Rock, but for most people, the common season of training struggle is winter.

And the dreaded dark, cold, damp days of winter are coming.

After a summer of long miles and race goals, your body and mind start to crave a break from running. Add travel, holidays, and cold to the mix, and most of us fall out of our running routines and out of shape.

But, of course, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Today I share my strategy for getting through difficult months when training feels like a chore, and coming out the other side primed and ready to jump back in.

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

  • My training slump. What gives?
  • The type of training to maintain throughout winter
  • Why you should try something different
  • The one training strategy I always recommend
  • Running in the cold

Listen to the episode here:

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This podcast is supported by Health IQ, a life insurance company that celebrates the health conscious.  Visit healthiq.com/trailtalk to learn more & get a free quote, or check out their life insurance FAQ page to get your questions answered.

Links from the show:

I love running hats.

They keep the sweat out of my eyes, the sun off my face, and mean I don’t have to worry about bedhead (a real problem, you know).

Hats have become a staple piece of running gear, so it seemed only natural to design my own for Rock Creek Runner. A stylish, functional, badass running hat that I’d want to wear.

It turns out some of you liked the idea, and now there are a few hundred RCR hats roaming the trails.

Here’s Eric, Greg, and Mallory, all sporting different RCR hats in the wild:

hat-compelation

Don’t they just look like they’re crushing it?

And this is Dave on the summit of Mt. Whitney, where he chose to rock his RCR hat while proposing to his fiancé!

dave

Congrats, you two!

Those shots all feature the old technical trucker hats. And while I love them, I knew it was time for something better.

A hat that’s more functional, stylish, and all around badass. So I teamed back up with the good folks at BOCO Gear, and …

Allow me to introduce three brand new running hats:

After taking all three out for a test run, I think the mesh is my new favorite (but they’re all pretty darn great).

The new hats are designed specifically for the needs of runners, with lightweight, durable, moisture wicking materials.

Learn more about the features of each individual hat by clicking the links above.

bear-designFree Black Bear Bumper Sticker (Limited Time Offer)

Order before next Monday, October 24th, and you’ll not only be one of the first to receive the hat, but also the limited edition Black Bear Bumper Sticker. It features the new bear design you’ll recognize from the mesh hat.

And if you pick one up, don’t forget to tag me or send a photo of you in it. I’d love to feature your adventure (and awesome style) on the blog.

I hope you like them as much as I do!

The 6:30 AM meet up feels early after such a long week and last night’s beer choices.

It’s still dark, but with an hour’s drive to the trailhead and uncertainty as to the length of today’s run, Griffin and I both know the early start is necessary. Hot coffee and bagel in hand, we load up the car and head towards the Parkway.

I love driving the Blue Ridge Parkway at dawn. There’s no one around except for the occasional adventurer just as groggy and excited as us, and the energy oozing from the dark mountains glows with anticipation for the day ahead.

sun2

Today’s route is simple. We’ll start on the Mount Mitchell summit and traverse the Black Mountain Crest ridge to Celo Knob before returning the way we came.

If my map reading is correct, it’ll be around 17 miles for the day with 5,000 feet of climbing, but we don’t really know.

Unexpected Quiet on the Trail

By the time Griffin and I organize our packs and set off down the trail, the sun has risen well above the horizon.

It’s a crisp, beautiful morning, with the forecast promising clouds in a few hours. Perfect for keeping the heat at bay.

As with most runs together, we start out chatty — me asking about the farm and him baby preparations. We talk families, adventures, and about the mountains we’re climbing.

“I don’t approve of all this here poopy paper litter’n our trees,” Griffin jokes, in his tough “Big Tom” Wilson voice, complete with a deep southern drawl.

Big Tom was a legendary mountain guide from the 1800s, and is thought to have known these mountains better than anyone else at the time. He’s now the namesake to a mountain with a surprising amount of toilet paper in the bushes. We’d go on to joke (rant) about that “poopy paper” in a variety of accents throughout the day.

But after a while, we fall into a rhythm. Some running, a little hiking. Close enough to hear the others footsteps but far enough apart to feel independent.

crest2

I always forget how infrequently I’m in true quiet.

Even with near daily trail runs, the hum of a highway or buzz of a town is often within earshot.

But today, on top of the highest ridgeline in the eastern United States, it’s perfectly quiet.

No wind. No people. Just two sets of footsteps and the occasional small animal shuffling through the leaves.

I’m reminded of the first time I experienced complete darkness. As a kid I thought my basement was dark until my dad took me into my first cave. He led me through the narrow passageways — deep underground — until we reached a large room. Then, he asked me to shut off my headlamp.

Pitch-black.

My other senses perked up. I noticed smells I didn’t before, and the tiny drips of water in the background, once blocked out, suddenly caught my attention.

The same thing happens in quiet.

I so rarely experience it, my mind immediately reacts. I become relaxed and clear headed.

And as I take a second to pause — squarely in the middle of the trail — I’m overcome with peace.

crest3b

Constant Noise of Life

Each morning as I heat our water kettle for coffee, I turn on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Immediately our small kitchen fills with news of the upcoming election or the most recent tragedy.

Tales of a country divided, and a politician pushing and agenda of fear.

Firsthand accounts of innocent people being shot, and bad people with get out of jail free cards because they can afford the right lawyer.

The latest celebrity gossip. The latest storm to devastate a community.

My head floods with information, heartbreak, and noise. It begins to focus on to-do lists and the work I should tackle first.

And that’s where I stay. That’s where most of us stay throughout the day. Every day. In the noise.

Then we run. We meditate. We practice yoga. And we search for those rare moments of true quiet.

Moments we can hang on to — even write about weeks later — until the quiet of the trail brings us peace once again.

 

Last week we heard Paul Gwynn Garrity’s transition from never running to training for the Table Rock 50K, his first ultramarathon.

If you haven’t listened to that one, start here.

This week I’ve asked Paul back on to recap his race. To share what went right, what went wrong, and what he’d do differently next time.

Like any first ultramarathon, his race had it’s moments, and we’ll hear the lessons he learned throughout the process.

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

  • The simple mistake Paul avoided
  • Sticking to a race and nutrition plan
  • The moment things turned sour
  • Why running an ultra is like playing a board game

Listen to the episode here:

Click here to download the file.

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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.

Less than two years ago — at a family Christmas gathering — I was approached by my cousin’s husband Paul.

“I want to run a half marathon,” he said.

It was music to my ears. I responded with the usual questions … How much are you running now? Have you trained for races in the past?

He wasn’t. He hadn’t.

But I could tell he was serious about chasing this goal.

Since that conversation, Paul hit the half marathon goal, ran a sub-four hour marathon, and is now just days away from attempting his first ultramarathon — the Table Rock 50K.

In less than two years Paul went from barely being able to run a mile to training for an ultramarathon.

Here’s a shot I snagged of him while out exploring the Table Rock course a few weeks ago:

paul-table-rock-nc

Today’s episode of Trail Talk is different.

Instead of my standard quick tip, I’ve asked Paul to share his transformation to becoming a runner, and the lessons, struggles, and achievements that came along the way.

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

  • Why health and longevity is an important motivator
  • Becoming a runner … when you never liked running
  • Paul’s accountability struggle
  • Training for your first ultramarathon (and learning to love trails)
  • Perfecting your mid-run fueling strategy

Listen to the episode here:

Click here to download the file.

Or subscribe and download on:

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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.

Have you ever been 60% into something before realizing you’re completely under-prepared for the situation?

Yeah, that was me at last week’s Steep Canyon Ranger 50K Relay. Yet again, the course kicked my ass.

For the past two years I’ve toed the line at Steep Canyon — last year for the full 50K and this year with friends Mike and Drew for a three-person relay.

Both times I’ve been stupidly surprised by what came next.

My inadequacies could stem from the fact that this isn’t just a race, it’s a festival, with music, Oskar Blues beer (we all know I’m easily distracted by fermented liquids), and a completely relaxed, joyous atmosphere.

Or it could be because one of the co-race directors — Pete Ripmaster — is a good running buddy, and just being around him makes it feel more like a fun adventure than a race.

Or possibly because of the unusual start time of 10:00 am (noon for me this year, since I was leg three of the relay), which lends itself well to throwing a few back the night before, but not so well to my tested pre-race routine.

Or maybe because the three-loop course is deceptively demanding. It’s almost entirely runnable — consisting primarily of buffed out mountain bike tracks — but damn if it doesn’t have a few long climbs.

But if I’m being honest with myself (and you), I can’t blame my race struggles on everything that makes this event so awesome. And it is awesome.

The weaknesses that haunt my Steep Canyon experiences are mine and mine alone, and the late summer race is primed for exposing them.

Today, instead of hiding from or ignoring my weaknesses as I so often do, I’m going to share what this race exposed, and what I plan to do about it.

So that when I return next year — which I most certainly will — I may finally get around the course without regrets.

3 Weaknesses … Exposed

steep-canyon2

Several weeks ago, ahead of my 4-week vertical gain challenge, I shared that exploring and embracing our weaknesses was the only way to make real gains.

You know the saying, you’re only as strong as your weakest link.

The exciting and fun 11-mile Steep Canyon loop — especially during the heat of the day — has a way of exposing plenty of mine.

(If this were a video, a big red EXPOSED stamp would slam down on the screen. Pretend that is happening.)

Weakness 1: Lack of Ability to Adapt My Pre-Race Plan … Exposed

For the past several years I’ve tested and nearly perfected a pre-race routine I can count on.

Everything from what I eat (toast with almond butter an hour and half before, banana 45 minutes later), to what I drink (coffee, water, and fruit juice if I have it), to when I poop (I’ll spare you those details). It’s a routine that works well for me.

But when I move away from a typical race start time, my ability to adapt that plan is terrible. This was one of my missteps at last year’s Steep Canyon, and I made it again this year.

My leg of the three-person relay was to start at noon, but my day started around 5:30 am when I got up early to work. After the first wave started, I helped out by shuttling volunteers to aid stations and delivering supplies, stuffing my face with snacks the entire time.

One mile in, a side-cramp developed that lasted most of the race. It was an instant reminder that I should have been paying more attention.

How I’m going to improve:

Convert my typical pre-race routine into something that’s adaptable for all times of the day. And most importantly, practice.

Weakness 2: Lack of Ability to Pace an 11-Mile Trail Race … Exposed

Pace a mountain 100-miler? Sure, I can do that.

Pace a 11-mile trail race? Yeah … about that.

During the month of July I spent a lot of time hiking up mountains and very little time running hard. In August I spent a lot of time on the beach and very little time running hard.

It’s been awhile since I spent any real time running with any sort of intensity.

So when right off the line I took off at a high effort — hoping to maintain that pace through the entire loop — my body couldn’t compute. Five miles in, just as I crested the highest point of the race, it became clear that I had pushed far too hard from the beginning.

My lack of ability to pace a hilly trail course became obvious.

How I’m going to improve:

I’ll get back into regular weekly speed workouts, including intervals, tempo runs, and long run workouts, and use medium and longer runs for even effort testing.

Weakness 3: Lack of Ability to Handle the Heat … Exposed

In the past, I’ve felt confident running in the heat. I dealt with it at both the Black Mountain Monster and Thunder Rock (before the rain), and my hydration and cooling strategies have worked well enough.

But this summer I avoided the heat as much as possible, waking up early for sunrise runs before the warmth settled into the mountains.

That lack of mid-day heat training became took it’s toll as I panted my way up to the mile-7 aid station, arms stretched, begging for cold water to dump on my head.

How I’m going to improve:

Next summer I’ll take the heat more seriously, training during the hottest times of the day when I need to, and adapting my body to embrace the sun. That may mean days of uncomfortable training miles, but if that’s what it takes, game on.

Motivation to Take Action

Once again the Steep Canyon 50K and Relay was a total blast — I love what they’re doing with this race, and had fun joining a relay time.

But fighting through unnecessary difficulties never feels good.

Instead of getting discouraged like I did last year, I’m using that negative energy as fuel for the fire. Fuel to take action, improve, and come back stronger.

Acknowledging weaknesses is only half the battle. You must act on those weaknesses and over time, make them your strengths.

 

Header photo credit.

When you leave the comfort of the streets, sidewalks, or treadmill for dirt, there’s an undeniable element of uncertainty.

Everything feels more primitive in the woods — more raw and exposed.

And in many ways it is:

  • Weather conditions can be extreme
  • You’re often more secluded on a trail
  • There are additional obstacles (rocks, roots, rivers, mountains)
  • Wildlife …

So it’s no surprise that many road runners get hung up on the idea that they need new — or different — gear to run on trails.

Meet Stan, The Road Runner

A few weeks ago I met a guy who said he was a runner. Let’s call him Stan.

Stan shared stories from a recent half marathon, and I mentioned that I enjoy trail running.

Stan – “Oh cool! I keep meaning to try that, but I don’t have the right gear.”

Me – “Sure you do!”

Stan – “Nah, I need new shoes and one of those packs before I head out into the woods.”

Stan got so hung up on this idea that he needed trail specific gear that he wasn’t willing to give trail running a try.

VIDEO: The Trail Running Gear You Actually Need

So I did what all good bloggers do after a conversation like that, and recorded a video about it.

It’s my response to Stan, and my way of squashing any fears (excuses?) you may have about trail running gear.

In it, I discuss the gear you actually need as a trail runner, the two pieces of gear I recommend picking up first, and the nice-to-haves that I swear by.

Watch it here:

Gear from the Video

The following REI links are affiliate links, which means I’ll earn a small percentage of any sales at no cost to you.

Trail Shoes: Altra Lone Peaks 3.0

Handhelds: Amphipod Hydraform Ergo-Lite Handheld

GPS Watch: Suunto Ambit 3 Peak

Headlamp: Petzl Tikka XP Headlamp

Vest: Ultimate Direction SJ Race Vest 3.0

Maps: National Geographic Trail Maps

Throughout Season 4 of Trail Talk we’ve focused on becoming a speedier runner. We’ve looked at training faster and moving through aid stations with race speed.

Today we finally talk about running faster. More specifically, finishing with speed and strength.

A strong ultramarathon finish requires smart running, pacing, and nutrition throughout the entire race, not just the end, and training specifically for tired legs and an overworked mind.

Both of which I discuss in today’s episode:

Want to run with me next week?

Next week I’m headed back to the Steep Canyon 50K and Hullabaloo festival, only this time as part of a relay team (which I’m majorly pumped for).

I hope you’ll join me for running, beer, and live music. It’s going be a blast. Learn more here.

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

  • What does it take to finish strong?
  • My #1 piece of advice before an ultramarathon
  • Early and often … my nutrition strategy
  • Running workouts for a faster finish

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.

Last month, while feeling a lack of motivation and training direction, I set a personal running challenge:

Four weeks, 40,000 feet of elevation gain.

The plan was to ditch all concern for distance or time, and focus solely on the vertical gain metric.

Why vertical gain? Because that’s where I saw my weaknesses.

And focus on my weaknesses I did.

What a Vertical Gain Focus Taught Me About Training

I rounded out the four week challenge last Saturday, a day early and with 40,591 feet of combing. On paper, everything looks like a success.

The breakdown went as follows:

  • Week 1: 10,313
  • Week 2: 12,188
  • Week 3: 9,265
  • Week 4: 8,825

Weeks three and four were lower than the first two mostly due to a five day trip to the beach where I didn’t run at all.

But what you can’t see from those numbers is that I experienced countless highs and lows over the course of the challenge (no pun intended). Some runs I’ll never forget — with beautiful sunrises and fantastic company — but others caused doubt, disappointment in myself, and a complete loss of motivation.

My goal was to become a better mountain runner, and while I do think this surge of vertical gain improved certain skills, it also shed light on more weaknesses.

Both mental and physical.

Today I’d like to share some of the lessons I learned from the challenge:

1) Hiking is everything.

What I didn’t anticipate about this challenge was how much it would encourage steep over long. Without an endless supply of time, I found myself resorting to the biggest bang for my buck on nearly every run.

Three of my most frequented routes included between 700 and 1,500 feet of climbing within the first mile, and when I say climbing, I mean steep, technical huffing and puffing.

Speed hiking my way up a climb has never been a strength, and this challenge forced me into a frustrated hike almost daily.

For trail or ultra runners running anywhere near the mountains, hiking skills are just as important as anything else, and the best way to improve is to get out and do it, over and over.

So while I dreaded those hikes, they did serve a purpose and I’m glad to have logged them.

The Sunday morning High Top scramble. Nothing better. 192/366 #trailrunning #gooutsideandplay #embracethespace

A photo posted by Doug H (@rockcreekrunner) on

2) A challenge will keep you going.

In the announcement post, I shared how challenges have shaped many of my successes both in and out of running shoes. The power of the challenge became never more clear than 18 days in, just before we left for vacation.

I was exhausted of basing every run around elevation. My ankles and quads ached, and all I wanted was to move quickly. Trail, road, treadmill, it didn’t matter as long as I didn’t have to get in much vert.

But I kept at it. In part not to disappoint you and myself, but mostly because I felt like I had to.

Nothing horrible would have happened had I failed at this challenge, but failing didn’t feel like an option. I set my mind to something and had to follow through.

That’s the power of truly committing yourself to something, and to building accountability, a plan, and taking action.

3) Mornings are best spent on a mountain summit.

Never in my life have I been an early morning runner. Even when working a traditional job, I’d always choose a post-work run over setting the alarm an hour earlier.

With heat, humidity, and a busy schedule these past several weeks, early morning runs felt like the only option, and hot damn am I glad they were …

… The morning air is crisp and fresh.

… It sets the day up for productivity and focus.

… It’s quiet. Just you and the trees (and the bears).

… A mountain-top sunrise is spectacular.

Seriously, look at these sunrises:

I’m officially a convert.

4) Mileage isn’t everything.

What’s probably the most significant lesson from this challenge is the confirmation that mileage isn’t everything.

As runners we get so caught up in distance — a need to log a certain number of daily or weekly miles — that we can lose sight of other metrics that may fit our needs more. Things like:

The list goes on.

Distance is — and always should be — one of the main metrics runners use for training and progressing … but it isn’t everything.

You should evaluate your training to look at what metrics will serve you best. Chances are it’s a combo, with time being good for long runs, vertical gain for hill days, and distance for easy miles as an example (that isn’t always the case, so you have to come up with it on your own).

Even switching it up week by week may be a good idea.

The bottom line is that vertical gain was the perfect metric for what I desired, and I’ll be using that and other metrics when designing my training in the future.

Now to Put it to Use

Most people take on training challenges with something bigger in mind at the other end — jump-starting a training cycle, for example.

Throughout the four weeks I spent a lot of time thinking about what was next for me, and how I could put this work to good use. I felt a pressure to turn what I was doing into something bigger.

But I came up empty.

Sometimes a challenge is a challenge, just for the sake of putting yourself out there and trying something new. To improve we must constantly push ourselves outside our comfort zones, experimenting with different techniques and testing new theories.

As the saying goes,

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

As much as I wish I could give this challenge bigger meaning and immediately put it to use, maybe the lessons from doing something different is all I need.

Aid stations are your lifeline during an ultramarathon. They’re where you restock, refuel, and rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit.

But if you’re not careful, they can also be a major time suck.

In today’s episode I discuss how to be move through aid stations efficiently for a speedier ultramarathon finish.

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

  • An update on my 4-week challenge. Did I make it?
  • Why aid stations draw you in (and make you want to sit down)
  • The down side of a crew
  • My three rules for aid station efficiency

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.