Who misses these guys?
As an ultramarathoner, I am totally bound by my PreRace foot care routine. Having suffered from blisters, lost toe nails and dealt with hot spots… I have certainly learned the hardway when it comes to the meticulous pre-race preparation of my feet.
As an obstacle course racer, my hands don’t look much different from my feet. And I’ve found a similar strategy works.
1. About a week out, be extra careful not to wear shoes that will potentially rub or do anything else that might jeopardize the condition of your feet. Do the same with your hands. If they feel hot or sore, wear gloves. Also avoid anything that chews them up like hard ropes or sticky bars.
2. Trim nails and moisturize a few days out. You don’t want soft slickly moisturized feet going into a long race, but you especially don’t want soft slickly moisturized hands going into an obstacle race. If you need to apply moisturizer or oil (or sunscreen!) try to use gloves or wash it off but good. It makes you look like a totally creep-o but that’s better than looking like a total chump-o doing burpees at the monkey bars with suave hands.
3. Shave callases off. After I cut my toenails, I take one a callus razor and carefully shave all the calluses on my feet off. I do the same on my hands… and I haven’t torn a callus off post-shave since.
I like to do this after a hot bath when my skin is soft. I wouldn’t suggest doing this one the first time right before a race though. Try it a few times in training to make sure you’ve got it right.
As with feet you have to find something that works well for you and stick with it. You can probably finish a race with chewed down hands but you don’t have to!
I’d love to hear your tips – please comment below.
After racing pretty hard yesterday, I wasn’t sure how things would go today.
I got ahead of Claude, Spartan World Champion x2 and Olympic biathlete, on the first climb by running as much as I could – and by narrowly escaping a heart attack.
She took back the lead heading down the other side of the mountain, but the terrain was neither steep nor technical, so I was able to stay with her. I saw her cross the balance beam to slack line combo I had failed twice to this point. Instead of slowing and carefully balancing, I took my husband’s advice and ran for the bell with all I had and thumped it with a triumphant “donk”.
Then I danced. Then I kept running.
I set up and launched my spear as I always do. But something different happened.
It went in.
The only two obstacles I’ve failed on this course behind me. Might this be my first race without penalty burpees?
After the hand hold traverse to long monkey bar combo, the course ran through the crowd of spectators before the big cargo and another big climb.
The crowd was absolutely thundering.
And the announcer said I was in first place.
Whoah. Really? Where’s Claude?
I had no idea she missed the bell on the end of the slack line and was 30 burpees back.
The crawl uphill was horrendous on the open wounds on my knees and hand from the fall yesterday but I managed to get through it.
I swore a bit but not nearly as much as I did when I landed that spear. And I pretty much always swear. I’m from Alberta.
I managed to hold Claude off up the final climb by running as much as I could. She was coming into the atlas carry (carry large stone, 5 burpees, carry back) as I was heading back down the mountain.
It didn’t take her long to overtake me on the technical and steep downhill section under the chair lift into the finish area. That lady flies on the gnarly decents.
But man, who cares… that was the best race ever.
Well I missed the spear AND balance again… just as I did last week.
The good news is that I was actually with the mighty Queen of Sparta, Claude Godbout, until the slack line. Which is crazy awesome. I fell to third, and fought back to second by hauling ass up and down the mountain. After a good fall on some rocks coming into the final cluster of obstacles, third place was hot on my heals.
She was starting her short sandbag carry when I was coming in.
I knew I had enough time to get through everything carefully – but any burpees would cost me. I was sure happy when I got to that fire jump.
A chance to stand beside Claude on the podium is pretty friggin awesome!
AND… I learned some good stuff today.
Be prepared for EVERYTHING. I was dying in the heat last week and wished like crazy I had my hydration vest. This week I needed to run out for some emergency resort-priced arm warmers the night before. Thankfully I packed tights… but I ended up needing to change back to my shorts… so I glad I packed them too. You seriously never know what the weather will do when you race in the mountains. Have everything you might need.
Save your hands. Keep them as dry and clean as possible, but also keep them warm. I knew there wasn’t any water on course so I wore thin cotton gloves between obstacles to block the icy wind. I’d take them off just before rolling into an obstacle and stuff them in my shorts. The side. Stuff them in the side.
Obstacles get harder. The edges were all clean and crisp when I ran in the first wave out last weekend. Not so today… many fell from the traverse wall and wood block traverse. In fact, the finger ledge was totally missing on one of the holds.
Work hard on those hills. I didn’t work nearly as hard as I could have on the hills last weekend. Rest your lungs on the downhill and rest your legs at the finish if you’re going for time.
But never rest your brain. I went to shove my sunglasses into my shorts on the steep rocky bit coming into the rig and the last string of obstacles – and plowed into the ground hard. It stung… and I had to have a good long, curse filled pep talk with myself to get back up.
If you attach your chip to your laces, put in on the foot you don’t step onto for the rope climb. Trying to climb a rope with the hand I just tore the skin off sucked enough but getting the rope caught on my chip extra sucked.
My experience this past weekend reminds me of a Brazilian proverb…
“If we dream alone, it’s only a dream. If we dream together, it’s the beginning of reality.”
Even the owners of the bed and breakfast felt like long time family. Our already late flight was delayed a couple hours in Toronto. We ended up missing the cut off for checking in but were welcomed with late night tour of the property any how.
The all female Canadian OCR group, known as the Mudd Queens were equally as welcoming come race day.
I hardly turned a corner out there without someone cheering me on.
All the warm reception was especially nice given the language barrier. I should have paid more attention in grade school.
But I didn’t.
The typical Spartan PreRace pep speach was pretty friggin awesome in French and ended with a booming charge!
The course was more than reminiscent of the infamous Killington.
I didn’t bring any water and carried only a single gel. The last Super I did took me 1:06. This one took me more than double that.
It was also smoking hot and humid. Thinking I was doing a short race, I didn’t bring my hydration pack. There were four water stations, I stopped at one. I started drooling over the mud puddles underfoot. That’s how you know you’re really thirsty 😉
The carries and lifts were comedically light but the gnarly terrain more than made up for them. It was one of those courses where you couldn’t find your running stride for more than a few steps. The rest of the time was a battle with gravity.
By end of day, so much like in Killington, exhausted bodies lined the trail up the mountain.
A lady whizzed past me into second place as I was doing my “trente” spear miss burpees. And I had 30 more to do after missing the slack line. When I paused to get my balance, a volunteer shrieked and I came off. Darn it.
My favourite set of obstacles were the line of wood blocks you traverse down using only hands to some super long monkey bars. And my favourite volunteer was the Mudd Queen who guided me through it.
The next major obstacle was the infamous Platinum Rig. I came off on the Tarzan Swings in Montana the week before so I was itching to conquer it. Rings, low monkey bars, step in rings, trapeze, ring, bell. I made my way across to the trapeze where some poor dude was swinging helplessly and without enough momentum to get the bell. After he came down, I used the foot in the ring to generate a big swing, added a kip. I got the ring my hand and bell with my foot.
Watching the open division later, I saw all kinds of techniques. Some worked: the majority of people who got it skipped the last ring and just kicked the bell from the trapeze. Some didn’t work: the much greater majority of people kipped with their knees or tried to generate a swing with pull-ups.
On the final climb up the mountain, I got too comfy in third place and neglected to open up the gap between Faye, who was in fourth. Oddly, her boyfriend was right in front of me and we both went off course. As we were swinging back to the flagging I saw Faye starting her decent. She enthusiastically urged me on and was gone in a flurry of legs.
It was a steep and uncomfortable decent in. And when the fire jump and finish line came into view I realized that my reserve tank was still full.
In road racing it’s so easy to leave it all on the course. Less so for me in OCR. It’ll take some more races yet to figure it. Especially when you’re racing the top athletes in the sport these days.
Next time Faye is behind me I’ll be pushing a lot harder. Even if I know she’ll be kind as she over takes. And so we dream together. As rivals and teammates.
People out east have continued to amaze us. Another runner high fived me on my jog the other day. A group of daycare workers cheered, “Allez!” as I traversed vertical bars in a playground. The folks from Come and Train bootcamp had me out crawling on Mont Royal.
I’ve had a great time so far and I can’t wait to cap it off by leaving it all out on the course this weekend. Every last ounce.
Plus it was weird not being covered head-to-toe in so many cuts and bruises that people ask me if I’m “ok” at ballet pick up.
Yes sir, it’s been too long since my last shower game of mud or blood.
Saturday’s Beast was over 14 miles and designed by the notorious and slightly evil Norm Koch.
There were lots of steep climbs and decents, plenty of running through brush, and more than a few vault obstacles. Enough to make me wonder why my belly hurt on the outside later that evening.
And I had a rough start.
I missed the first real obstacle and as such, did my 30 burpees and spent the rest of the race trying to catch up.
It was one of those crazy sets of up and down monkey bars with the fat tubes. But it seemed the rungs were really far apart. Many of the elites made it (but many didn’t). I heard they closed it down for the later open heats since few were making it across. Anyway, it sucked failing something so early on in my first race of the year!
Thankfully I did pretty well otherwise. The new zig-zag traverse wall was fun and the American style über heavy herc hoist was rewarding to conquer.
I also missed the rousing running game of what’s under this brush: Mud? Water? Rocks? Flat ground? Nothing? You never know!
Had this been a short course I would have lost by a mile. Thankfully I was able to run down the lead pack. I never did catch the front runner track star, Faye, who was eternally “5 minutes ahead” as per every person I passed.
I missed the spear throw and the rig (rings to pole traverse to tarzan ropes) and yet managed to hold onto second place.
I was exhausted off the start from a baby that never sleeps more than a couple hours and a bunch of all night partiers in a hotel room on route.
I felt more challenged then I wanted to and vowed to, above all, have fun in the Sprint the next day.
I slowed down and sped up when I wanted to. I still missed the same three obstacles but my spear stuck long enough for the crowd to cheer and I made it to the tarzan ropes before hitting the dirt.
I came seventh and I was somewhere on the mountain still when Rose and Amelia jumped the fire.
But… I had fun and finished with a huge smile. It was a win.
Speaking of Rose and Amelia, they waited at the finish to watch us mortals come through. Amelia even gave me a cup of water and wished me a happy Mother’s Day. It’s a small gesture but it went straight to my heart. This lady is physically inhuman, dominating in every distance… and yet profoundly sincere, humble and thoughtful on the inside.
Just another reminder about why I love this sport.
People, both on and off the trail, are always floored that I take both my girls (1 and 4 years) on the Grouse Grind. It’s a 2.9k hike up some rugged stairs below a tramway. You gain more than 3,000 feet.
But doing this hike regularly has prepared me to take the girls on all sorts of wonderful hikes like the Grand Canyon and around Arches National Park.
I’d like to share some things that I’ve learned along the way.
1.) Being a mama mule is hard work.
Kids are heavy. They need constant attention. You can’t simply zone out in the pain cave and keeping plodding through.
I never push myself so hard that I’m running into the red zone. In fact, I’m usually singing or telling stories… which in a way, makes hiking far more enjoyable.
That being said, start with short easy loops (even just around your neighbourhood) and work your way up. You’ll learn how you, your children and your equipment responds.
2.) Be extra prepared.
I’ve learned from mistakes and from my husband. Boy Scouts have it right. Be prepared for anything (weather, poop explosions, injury, etc.) You’ll need to be fitter to carry the extra stuff so see point #1.
Also, hike with another person and carry the ten essentials, have bear spray accessible in bear country and know how to safely use it, hike well traveled and well marked paths, etc.
Safety is, of course, that much more important when you’re taking little people out.
3.) Snacks save the day.
You’ll be burning more fuel carrying kids around and by spending more time out there. Plus, your kids will probably eat and drink ten times what they normally do.
I always pack what I think I’ll need, times three. And I always have a special snack that they don’t otherwise get like fruit bars.
4.) Games and songs pass the time.
We pick up games along the way or make them up as we go. Some of our favourites are “eye spy”, “the alphabet game”, and “going on a picnic”.
Some of our greatest conversations happen out on the trail, and we sing a lot of songs. Hiking gives us plenty of “off line” time to connect and enjoy nature. Which is probably why my four-year-old still asks me to take her.
5.) Slow down.
I can do the Grind in less than forty minutes but it usually takes about an hour and a half with the girls strapped to me. It took over three hours for my daughter to walk the whole way up.
I remind myself it’s all about the adventure and spending time in the great outdoors. That’s something I want them to remember as happy times so I better model it!
* I use two ergo carriers when carrying both children: the baby on the front and my older daughter on the back. Whatever carrier you use, make sure there are no buckles or plastic bits sticking into the other child. It’s also very important that you are comfortable so adjust and stop as needed. While I don’t recommend carrying two children, these are important considerations.
** Also worth noting is that I try to stick to tramways since I don’t like hiking down with both girls. Too much risk of falling.
Let me preface this by admitting that I am generally terrible at everything.
Thank the heavens for long distance running.
It’s the only way I could ever call myself an athlete. My husband and I once saw a shirt that read, “All grit no talent,” and we both looked at me in lock step.
I once met an Olympic sprinter who waived her accomplishments off as simply born talent. She wanted to know how we did it. The long distance runners that is. Gritting it out is just how we do.
A friend asked me at a party a couple days ago what exactly goes through my mind when I’m racing… and how it is that I am able to endure so much unpleasantness mentally and physically. I think it comes down to few things.
My childhood was awesome but it wasn’t easy. I was born in Northern Alberta. And yeah… that is a dog sled. It was miserably dark and inconceivably cold all winter. We didn’t have Gortex or “high loft” down. I had whatever jacket my sisters wore out five years ago – and maybe whatever Zellers boots were on sale. I had frostbite so often I thought that’s just what skin felt like when you came back inside. And if we whined, we got kicked back out. So we didn’t.
I got into horses and worked on farms and ranches for years. I even lived in a barn for a while. I woke up early, I mucked stalls and lifted heavy stuff all the time. Because I had to. No sense thinking about it. It just had to be done. So I did it. After years shovelling and lifting I got into training horses. I learned patience and probably the true meaning of grit. Eventually the horse does what you want it to – but it takes time – and usually a lot of getting bucked off. And it takes even more getting back on.
I definitely feel that my background shaped who I was when I finally started running in my 20s. Maybe even more than growing up an athlete would have. But what goes through my mind to keep me going…?
Here are the top ten things:
1. How do you want to remember this?
As was famously quoted of Muhammad Ali, “Suffer now and live the rest of your life a champion.” You’re going to finish it anyway, so why do it half-assed? In fact, I sometimes make myself a deal that this can be my last race if I do it well. And then I sign up for another one. Every. Damn. Time.
2. I leaked some torque on that last step.
More often than not when I’m chasing down a PB or willing my little slow twitch muscles to go fast I am focused inwardly, taking score of each step.
Did I tense anything unnecessarily? Did I achieve full hip extension? How long was my foot on the ground? Did my arm swing straight back? That sort of thing.
3. I love this.
I stay positive as much as possible and when I’m feeling yucky I remind myself that I am the one who signed up to be here and wanted to challenge myself. That I love both the good days and the bad days because it’s all part of this sport.
4. This is not easy.
Sometimes I poke fun at myself for thinking, “Wow, this ultra marathon is hard!” Yeah. Yeah, it is. And then I move on. Usually back to #3.
5. Go get ’em.
I sometimes start playing a cat and mouse game if I’m getting bored. Even just changing up the pace by adding a quick pick-up helps.
6. Swing those arms.
As you tire your cadence (speed of foot strike) slows dramatically. I focus on light quick arm swings to get my feet going. You also start slamming the ground, so I pretend I’m running through the forest at night which gives me slightly quicker, lighter, higher steps.
7. Wow, that feels great.
Sometimes changing my mood requires little more than removing a pair of gloves or sunglasses. i then reinforce it by telling myself how great it feels to have the cold breeze on my hands. It’s not quite like starting the race anew but it’s rejuvenating if your tell yourself it is.
8. This is why you’re out here.
This one connects to #3. Embrace the suck. Most people are incapable of pushing themselves to that level of discomfort. But runners know it’s going to be a bit unpleasant and maybe even a little painful… and we’re cool with that. It’s why we strap that bib on.
9. Feeling good. Easy day.
After embracing the suck I usually cycle it back around to feeling easy. I focus on the little things like how comfortable my shirt is or how light my legs feel. I acknowledge the big things like rain as not being too hot and hilly courses as a chance to break up my stride. Basically, I just try to spin everything into a positive. It’s good practice for life!
10. I’m doing so well.
I don’t even let myself get disappointed with a bad race out on course. I acknowledge who I am ahead of or behind. I applaud myself for fighting through a tough day and getting stronger physically and mentally. i find a way to be happy with my effort. I try to do this post race too… but it’s definitely harder.
So – it’s your turn now. What goes through your head to make you keep on running?
I heard this race drew a more competitive field than the one I did a month ago, so I was surprised when we all huddled around an imaginary start line without timing chips in a parking lot near Sassamat Lake for an unannounced count down from ten. They had no megaphone, so they replied on two people to shout in unison. You have got to love trail running.
News in the bathroom pre-race was that the course was longer – and that BC Hydro was in the area blowing stuff up. A small group of ladies were fretting over cut-off times.
The first bit was pretty easy, undulating beside the lake, with occasional breath taking views of the fog rising off the water. After a sharp right, I realized that the terrain was changing. From “a hearty climb” like the BCMC to “steeper yet” like the Grind to “hands and knees” like the top of the Lions.
After arriving at the peak rather hastily, the trail quickly dropped back down.
I am not a technical downhill runner on the best of days, but having torn my rotator cuff last week, bombing down a rocky rooty mountain was not working. My wildly flailing arm and any big steps would send a jolt of pain up one side of my body and through my arm. Trying to steady it was almost impossible so I stuffed it into my pack, tourniquet style, and slowly made my way down. Running where I could move softly, walking where I could stay in control.
This is going to be a long day.
My solution, which was so brilliant to me at the time, was short lived. My arm started to go numb and my shoulder started to cramp. And after falling and going down with a thump unable to free my arm, I started grabbing onto the bottom of my shorts and pumping my hand on the flats and climbs which felt better and took my mind off the ache.
Every now and again the pain would almost become unbearable. And then it would fade.
Isn’t that ultra-running though.
I was thankful the rest of the course was, although monstrously hilly, not nearly as technical. I was able to run most of it without too many zingers. After having resigned to walking the rest of the downhills, I was delighted to be able to put some ground underneath myself on the drops. I was seriously starting to miss my two girls and hoping they weren’t giving grandma a hard time. Whoever said absence makes that heart grow fonder was right. I’d let them eat bananas on the couch right about now.
When I run these races, I usually don’t carry my own fuel. I love dreaming about what might be at the next aid station: oreos? peanut m&ms? boiled potatoes? ketchup chips?
Sadly but honestly, it keeps me going. When you’re out there, life becomes so simple. Keep going. Keep moving. Pick up your feet. Little indulgences like oreos go a long way. And I think that in many ways, that’s why we do it: to strip our lives down to it’s main essence of big struggles and little rewards.
At some point though, I was no longer excited about oreos. I was still elated every time I emerged from the trees into the full sun and caught a glimpse of it’s ray shining on the water below. But oreos were not enough. Plodding through the darkness of the trees, I hoped BC Hydro might just explode me. Not to hurt me forever, but give me a solid excuse to stop running.
Alas, no bombs. Just more miles.
My watch died after 20k, so I spent the last 30 only knowing I was somewhere between 30 and 50 kilometres. I passed someone and noticed a GPS on his wrist. He was from the States… but informed me we had 9 miles to go. Just less than 14k. Awesome.
I ran about 5k to the next aid station and was informed that we were almost at kilometre 36. Just over 14k to go. Awesome.
On the trek down to the aid station, we passed all the lead runners. I was probably 15 minutes off the lead pack of girls and they were flying. The leader looked like she was running 400m. On the way up, I got to cheer for all the people coming into the station.
It’s funny, some are still just as sparky and enthusiastic as they were when they stepped out of their car in the morning. Others just make whatever grumpy noise happens out of their mouth, head down, trudging on. Presumably hoping that BC Hydro will end their misery.
And you get every type of person. From gorgeous women dressed in fashionable high-end athletic gear to those older men who have have done hundreds of ultra-marthons and yet can tell you about each of them in detail.
You know the guys: slightly crazy hair, well-worn bandana and gaiters, ultra-marathon shirt from the glory days, Running Room water bottle holder. Stuff that still works. Stuff that has always worked.
One road marathoner that I ran with for a few steps quipped about how it was possible for his hamstrings to literally feel like they were going to tear in half so early in the race. “Is that normal?” – “Sadly, yes.”
After dropping back down for what felt like an eternity – and the final aid station (several oreos later) – the last grunt uphill began.
Looking up the mountain, you would see a sparse line of skinny colourfully-dressed people, weaving back and forth, willing their little legs to defy gravity enough to haul them up this one last hill. Their resolution flickering in and out to prevent total desperation from taking over. People who have learned to stay positive through necessity. People who do.
And then the final drop. It seemed to go on forever, until finally you hit the tip of the lake and can see the beach at which this madness started. You can hear the finish line from the bottom of a long set of stairs on the water.
You don’t hear music. There’s no announcer. But the race director says your name, looks you in the eye and shakes your hand as you cross the line. She hands you a draw string back with the race’s logo on it.
I jumped right into the car to pick my girls up. For me, there’s nothing at the finish line that beats that.
Yesterday afternoon we had our first official obstacle course training camp.
John and I have been coaching OCR since 2012 – but in a weekly class format – so we were excited to be able to offer it in a more condensed way. AND in one of the best Crossfit boxes in Canada, Crossfit New West.
We could not have asked for a better group of enthusiastic and determined people… and got everyone from first timers to those who had completed the World’s Toughest Mudder and UltraBeast.
Yet, everyone had something to work on.
We ALL have obstacles that challenge us.
It’s funny. I think of myself as someone who is generally terrible at everything. Especially anything new.
I saw in their eyes what I have felt in mine. At times, insurmountable challenge – at times, staggering accomplishment.
After I had Seren (AKA the baby), I had lost so much grip and arm strength that I couldn’t even hold myself up on the monkey bars, never mind traverse them. I wondered if I should bother trying to get it back.
The other end of the monkey bars was too far literally and metaphorically for someone who couldn’t make it to the next rung.
Fall, fall, fall, fall. Try again, and again, and again. And again.
I had also gained weight, which made running hard. But I kept on picking my feet up and moving forward.
For the first few years in this sport I could not make it two steps across the balance beam. I couldn’t help but wonder how falling repeatedly off the beam was making me any better staying on it.
Walls were always too high to grab and I couldn’t coordinate using the toe kicks.
Things slowly, imperceptibly, started to get easier. And I started doing harder things. In my head, I’m still the same person who can’t hold themselves up on the monkey bars. In fact, more often than not I am surprised by the things consistent training has allowed me to do.
I wanted to put down the top three things I did to get from puttering along and repeatedly falling off a pull-up bar to standing on a podium with super heroes.
1.) Hang every day. EVERY day. Just hanging for as long as you can is a good start. But it’s boring as hell. I have always been a big fan of mixing things up: holding onto one or two towels, changing grip, bending my arms, hanging for different durations. I started back just hanging as much as a could every time I passed by my pull-up bar with no baby in my arms and I tried to make my forearms numb 5 days a week.
2.) Run, hike, walk and loco-mote. Here it is: running sucks when you start out. But it gets SO much better. Just keep doing it and one day you’ll get it. If you lost it, good for you, you’ll have way more faith because you know it’s still there inside you. If you ask me, you cannot spend too much time moving – just switch up the mode so as to not overtrain. Every little bit, like taking the stairs or walking your groceries home, helps.
3.) Play. Go try a new fitness class, take aerial gymnastics, buy a pass to a bouldering gym, chase your kids around the park. Just get moving and get out of your comfort zone. You’ll be ready for anything life throws at you… or obstacle course racing.
Most of all, be patient and trust in the process. It’s cliche but it’s true. Believe.
For April and May I’m going to be launching different challenges on my Yo Mama So Fit Facebook Page to get you ready for anything this summer throws at you.
They won’t take much out of your day but hopefully they’ll make all the difference in terms of what you can do with it,
Sometimes the going just ain’t easy.
And you know for certain it’s going to be one of those, “dig deep just to keep moving” kinda days when you’re checking your GPS one kilometer in.
But these are great days to have. You don’t build resilience on the days you glide along effortlessly. You build it by gritting out the miles and learning to hang on even when you want to let go. Especially when you want to let go.
By kilometer 24 I thought about bailing at a single loop. I had amassed some pretty great excuses in the last 23 km.
Another 25km seemed daunting. Undoable.
But another step was possible. And another ten after that.
And so it continued.
The second grind up Old Buck was tough. On the first round, Sammy was coming down whooping and high fiving every runner on the path.
Transitioning from power hiking to running and back was natural. But my legs and spirit were tired on that next go.
The steep and rocky decent back down Neds was also proportionally more difficult on round two.
My mind kept wandering to the next episode of my newest television obsession. I kept having to remind myself that I’d probably be eating through a straw while I watched it if I didn’t hold it together.
Popcorn is not easy to eat through a straw. And I really like popcorn.
Wake up gosh darn you. Focus.
My body finally started to chug into motion about 5 hours in. The last few kilometers were breezy and a good reminder about why I love running.
Hey this is running business is fun.
I just wish we could snap our fingers and find our groove. Or maybe I don’t.
If the going was always easy, I’d never feel the joy of making it out the other side a stronger person.
Today I felt that joy.
If you’re like me, you started running on good-old flat, predictable roads. Sometimes there are cracks, other times grassy traverses… maybe even puddles – or the worst, black ice.
But there are no rocks. There are no boulders. And there are few surprises.
In fact, the hardest part about going from road to trail for most of us is constantly adjusting our stride.
If you’re also like me (in that you’re old) you might remember those old school pedometers that required you to set your stride length. It would then count how many steps you took in your run and do some simple multiplication to figure out how far you went.
That worked well enough on roads – but hit the trails and your distance calculation would be way off.
As a general rule you want to keep your strides short, compact and quick. That being said, you’ll need to be able to go between those tight little strides to bound over things: big rocks, roots, tree trunks, streams, dogs, etc.
You might think I’m kidding with the dog comment.
1. Flats and Gradual Slopes
Stay tall and relaxed with your head up. You want to look a few feet ahead: not at your feet. As the adage says, your body will go where your eyes lead… and that includes down.
You want quick, light, even and relaxed steps just as you would on the road. If there are rocks or roots on the path, pick your knees up a bit higher than you think you need to. But keep the effort as relaxed as possible.
You’re going to need to lean into the hill a bit… but in doing so, stay tall and long through your torso. Don’t collapse at your hips or hunch. You need to keep your chest proud to get adequate air and you need to extend your hips to get full firing of your glutes (aka butt). Your butt is what gets you up the hill, so use it.
Again, take quick light steps. Think about floating up the hill, driving the elbows back and the knees up with a relaxed effort. If it’s a short steep and you have some momentum, you may want to bound up. That’s fine as long as the effort to get up is minimal.
If your heels can touch down, I say let them. You might get to a hill so steep that you end up on your toes. Which is fine… and a great calf workout.
Lastly, if it’s so steep that you could walk faster, or if it’s a long run – power hike. Go ahead and use your hands on your knees too if you feel like it.
If it is a shorter more intense effort though, think about cresting the hills and getting your pace back quickly. You’ll settle back in.
You love it – or you hate it. Maybe both. Maybe even both at once.
This is certainly the area I have to work the hardest on… let’s put it the nice way… not being the risky type.
I like to think about a waterfall running down the mountain, or a cyclist riding downhill. No impact, just flow.
Just as on flats, your feet should stay under you and your stride should stay circular. You also need to find the right amount of lean into the hill… lean too far into it and you’ll feel unbalanced, too far back and you’ll end up jamming your feet down ahead of your body.
You also want to look ahead and pick the line flow with the least resistance – – and run it with the quickest, lightest steps you’ve got.
Eventually you’ll end up stepping on something slippery or unstable. If your feet are moving quickly and you’re balanced, you’ll likely just bounce off and keep going.
If the hill is steep, I like to swing my arms about to counterbalance. If it’s gradual, I try to kick my legs up and back (toward my butt) as I do on the road.
Lastly, like anything, it’s mostly just a matter of getting out there and getting used to it. So get runnin’.