Tales of trails: The road to a 50-mile race is paved with (nothing)
Editor: This terrific post is from guest contributor Kelly, who used to run with us Skortaholics before moving on to much, much bluer, and larger, skies and the trails out West. Thanks Kelly! We miss you!
On Sunday I ran 12 miles. Respectable, right? I’d say so, considering I ran 30 miles up and down a mountain on Saturday… but we’ll get to that.
The transition to trails.
As a former road runner writing about trail running for a bunch of what I presume to be road runners, perhaps I should begin by establishing my running credentials. I started casually running with the Bluegrass Runners in 2009 when I was training for my first marathon, the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati. Everything about marathon training appealed to me… but mostly my color-coded training calendar and the bottomless bowls of ice cream. I qualified for Boston during my first two marathons and ran Boston as my third. I took a quasi-hiatus from marathon training to do a half distance triathlon and a full distance triathlon , then ran my fourth and final road marathon in Denver in 2014. At this point, road running had frankly lost some of its charm. I found that I wasn’t really improving, marathons tended to be painful (worthwhile in their own weird way, sure, but still painful), and I was over the big-city, commercialized events; I wanted scenery and nature.
Trail running had always intimidated me. I remember seeing the rare trail runner at the Nature Center in Cincinnati while hiking and thinking “Oh I could never do that, too many roots and rocks to trip over! You can’t teach clumsy.” I wanted to be more connected with nature than city running would allow though, so I gave trail running a try when I lived in California. Unfortunately, I was alone and my already shaky enthusiasm was tempered by signs at the trailhead warning of impending doom in the form of mountain lions, rattlesnakes, and stinging insect nests along the trail. Trail running wasn’t entirely necessary for the triathlon training anyway, so I put it on the back burner.
When in Rome and such.
Enter Colorado. Upon leaving my job in California, the opportunity to move to Colorado presented itself. The mountains and trails were some of the top motivators for moving here, and I figured this was the time to really give trail running a go! Immediately after moving to Denver, I found a trail running group on meetup.com and started running with them almost every week. To make a long story short, this running group became a group of incredibly close friends – I had finally found a group to rival the awesomeness of the Bluegrass Runners!
These folks are my kindred spirits and it’s been incredibly fun to enjoy the trails (and post-run mimosas, hot cocoa + peppermint Schnapps, craft beers…) with them. We have some super crazy folks who do 100- and even 200-milers, but I have settled for the more modest and attainable goal of simply finishing a 50-mile race this July in Leadville, CO. Ok, technically it’s only 46.2 miles, but it’s called the “Silver Rush 50 Run,” so whatever. Maybe I’ll be feeling good that day and run an extra 3.8 miles just for kicks. Riiiight.
So how does one train for a 50 miler?
Well, this is my first one and I’m no expert. I’m making this up as I go along! I looked at a few training plans on the internet and merged them into one that I felt suited my needs and went for it. I still run on roads throughout the week because I live in the city, but hit the trails on the weekends for double long runs (a long run Saturday and a shorter, but still long run on Sunday). Doesn’t always work out that way, but that’s the goal. One of the things I absolutely love about trail running versus road running is that my runs are no longer something I need to check off my crazy To-Do list for the weekend. I’m not waking up in the pre-dawn hours to squeeze in a long run just so I can get on with the rest of my day. My trail run is the highlight, the focus, the main event of my day. Sometimes I come home from a long run, put the dog in the car, and go right back out again because I just can’t get enough. A few weekends ago, I ended up doing my first 30-mile run simply because I was having such a great time and didn’t feel like turning around at mile 12 like I had planned.
Even with all the miles I’m logging right now, I’ve finally established a training regimen (ok, “lifestyle” might be more fitting) that incorporates all the other activities that I love to do. I now view cross-training as an opportunity to actively work on non-running strength instead of “that easy day at the gym where I do the elliptical instead of the treadmill.” Just typing that makes me cringe! Last week I came close to my perfect training week (brief disclaimer, I have neither kids nor husband) – 50 miles of road-biking (total), an hour of yoga, two weight-training sessions, 20 minutes on the rowing machine, a 2,500-yard swim workout, a few hours at the climbing wall, and 60 miles of running (including a fun 30-mile run my friends dubbed “The Triple Bergen,” which entails running up and down a mountain with 2000 feet of elevation gain… three times). Do I hit all of these workouts every week? No, but I do my best and I come a heck of a lot closer than a lot of people seem to think possible.
Energy begets energy, and I love every minute of it. It’s that simple.
I’ve tried to incorporate a few trail races with shorter distances into my training, with mixed success. In February I attempted my first 50k at the Headless Horsetooth 50k, which took place in the break between two winter storms. Unfortunately I wasn’t quite done running when storm number two made its gusty appearance. The wind was fierce, blowing the snow over the trail such that we were punching through 12 inches of snow with every step and the exposure on the hilltops delivered bone-chilling cold. With less than four miles to go, a park ranger pulled us off the course and closed the trails. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to more temperate weather in Leadville in July (knock on wood)!
The Ragnar Trail Zion relay race back in April was not much of an improvement over the Headless Horsetooth debacle. For you Kentucky folks who may be unfamiliar with Ragnar Trail races, think Bourbon Chase but with only 4-8 people, ~115 miles, no vans, and less pavement. Anyway, the race basically got rained out; a few brave teams ventured to run on the muddy trails, but most of us realized that the potential for injury and unavoidable damage to the trails just wasn’t worth it. Fortunately, I ran 19 miles on the course plus my first loop of the race before the cancellation, so I still got my training in (along with a lot of confused looks as I kept passing through the transition area).
The Ragnar Trail Snowmass relay race was definitely the most rewarding race this year (though I do not recommend trying new shoes at a race). Running in the mountains outside of Aspen in the spring was so beautiful, even with the intermittent rain I just couldn’t get enough of the snowy peaks in the distance and the wildflowers along the route. I ran this race last year too and it was fun to see how much my trail running has improved since then. Not to brag or anything, but our ultra team this year got 1st in the mixed gender division and 2nd overall!!
As an added bonus, we stopped at Maroon Bells on the way home for a stunningly gorgeous little hike. It’s hard not to be a little head-over-heels about Colorado and trail running after all that!
I won’t try to convince you that running trails is the best thing ever and you should never run roads again.
I will say though, that even with the constant worry about the conditions/wildlife/falling/getting lost, trail running offers an opportunity and yearning for exploration that I’ve never experienced while training on the roads. In spring of 2015 alone, I ran in five National Parks across three states and I’m itching to tackle a few more. For me, running is no longer limited to a few routes close to home that I run every week to check numbers off my training plan.
Judging from the ebb and flow of my previous obsessions, my love affair with trail running won’t last forever and that’s fine. Maybe it will only last until that 46.2-mile marker, and then I can jump to my next adventure with the strength and energy I’ve accumulated these past few months! Either way, happy trails 🙂