Elevating Your Run Experience

New Year’s resolutions are not my thing.  I’ve made them over the years, but like most people, they are long forgotten after two weeks.  Resolutions like losing weight, lead to failure when there’s no specific plan to go along with the goal.  Instead of making a specific plan as to how I might change my diet or set up an exercise program to meet those goals, they’ve all ended miserably.  So I’ve long since given up on making resolutions.

At the beginning of the year, I was listening to an Ultra Stories podcast with Sherpa John Lacroix and found myself incredibly challenged.  It wasn’t about setting a resolution, but taking a whole new look at the year 2019 from a totally different perspective.  I’m a runner, and more specifically an ultra distance runner.  Over the last five years, most of my goals have focused on races I’d like to run or distances I’d like to complete.  As a runner, it would be very easy for me to focus my whole life on running, and it can become all-consuming.  It can be a very selfish and narcissistic sport where you draw a lot of attention to yourself and your accomplishments, while spending a lot of hours doing it.  But running isn’t my whole identity or how I define myself.  I’m so much more than that.

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Listening to Sherpa John pose a couple of questions caused me to think a little harder and dive into it a little deeper.  He got my attention with the question:  Would you still run if there was no Strava to see what you’ve done and no likes on social media?  That’s easy for me! Absolutely!  I love the woods, the trails, and the freedom of being outdoors and exploring the mountains. For me, racing brings the extra challenge of a course and being able to do a long run with support along the way.  Finishing a difficult race leaves me with a huge sense of accomplishment of being able to work through issues and keep my focus on the journey to the end.

The more I thought about this question, I began to think about the role of social media.  We post about our races and accomplishments on social media, sharing pictures and looking for responses.  For some people, no run seems complete if they don’t post it to Facebook or Instagram.  Am I one of those people?  Could I be a little too addicted to following every race, elite athletes and others on social media?  The answer is probably going to sting a little bit.  In running, we sometimes say we had to dig deep.  We might need to dig a little deep here, too.

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Before Sherpa John finished chewing me up and spitting me out, so to speak, he offered up a challenge to his listeners.  Okay, you’ve got me listening, let’s hear this challenge:  List 3 ways you can elevate your running experience in 2019 that have nothing to do with the following:  time, distance, elevation, race, external validation or how many licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie pop!  Then create a challenge for yourself that will help you obtain your goals.  Wow, you might need to re-read that and let it sink in for a while.   So as I accepted the challenge John put in front of me, it wasn’t hard to come up with a list of things I’d like to focus on in 2019.

  1. 1. Focus on stretching and rolling to avoid injury, putting myself in a better place for running long-term. I’m going to be 55 years-old in a few months, and it’s often the accomplishments of the Grand Masters-level runners that inspire me more than anything.  Seeing the video of 70 year-old Gunhild Swanson’s epic finish at Western States in 2015 inspired me to be running for years to come.  I realized I could be in the sport for more than just a few years.  In order to do that, I’m finding I need to take care of my body and be very intentional about it.  I’m going to challenge myself to stretch and roll several times each week, especially following races or long runs
  2. Plan an adventure run with friends this year, not just a race. I’ve run the Grand Canyon R2R2R and I count that experience as one of my favorite things I’ve done as an ultra runner. Being an ultra runner gives me the ability to see things that I may never be able to see any other way.  My legs have allowed me to experience incredible views.  So I’d like to plan an adventure that is not a race.  There are so many trails I’ve never run on, mountains I’ve never climbed, and views I haven’t seen.  I want to enjoy the beauty of creation and embrace the experience by enjoying it with friends, all without the pressure of a race.  My challenge is to pick that adventure, plan it, and do it.
  3. Volunteer more. Not just at races, but also do trail maintenance work.  I value our trails and the freedom we have to use them to run and hike.  I want to make every effort to give back.  I’d like to learn how to be an advocate for saving our trails, and learn how to preserve and care for them.  I’m challenging myself to take a class to be certified in trail maintenance work and to volunteer more at races.  For every race I run, I will volunteer at another race.
  4. Help others more. Ultra running sometimes takes many people to help you to complete your goals.  It’s a community that helps one another.  I love the friends I’ve made and the time I share with them on the trails.  I enjoy pacers in my races, not because I can’t finish without their help but because I truly enjoy being with them, and enjoy the conversation and experience.  I want to spend more time helping others by crewing, pacing or just encouraging them.  I want to focus on others so I can share things I’ve learned and help someone else in some small way.  I’m challenging myself to seek out people that might be in need of crew or pacing help.
  5. Run more without a watch. Focus more on just finding my happy place on the trails and in the mountains, not caring about the distance or elevation, or uploading it to an app or spreadsheet.  Spend some time off the social media grid, so to speak.  I’m a numbers person, to some degree, and am always looking to see my distance or time.  I’m going to challenge myself that once a week I will run without my watch.  No Strava upload (sorry coach) and no data.  Crickets.  Off the grid at least once a week.

While that may have seemed like an easy list to compile, it’s going to be quite challenging to do.  Essentially I want to focus more on others and less on myself.  I want to enjoy the trails and give back what I can.  I don’t want to be just different, I want to make a difference.  It’s a tough challenge, Sherpa John, but I accept your challenge.  I hope others will join in, as well.  Dig deep.

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Looking Back and Looking Ahead to 2019

 

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I started this blog, along with my Trail Running 100 Facebook page, shortly after I finished my first ultramarathon. Somehow, I knew I was on a journey to run a 100-miler one day, but I had no idea what that would look like. How would I train, how would I find the time, and how would my body be able to handle it all? So I decided to start this blog and share exactly what it would be like and what I would learn along the way, because, I assure you, I knew absolutely nothing about what I was getting myself into. I thought if a married, working mom of 3 who didn’t start running until age 48 (and a middle-of-the-pack runner, at best) could go for big dreams and make them happen, then I could possibly inspire others along the way.

I wanted to be authentic and share the good with the bad. I’ve shared more than one DNF and I’m sure there will be more. I’ve tried to share what works and what doesn’t work for me. I’ve been blessed to have had excellent coaching along my journey – coaches who have kept me from running myself into the ground, taught me balance and how to recover well. I’ve been lucky not to have experienced any major injuries, although when I was first running road races, I had IT Band issues, but that was before my ultrarunning days. I’ve dealt with stomach issues and chaffing, along with an assortment of other issues like blisters and bonking – the things all ultrarunners will experience sooner or later.

Since my first ultramarathon in June 2014, I’ve been on an epic ride. I’ve run in some beautiful places, and races, such as The Georgia Death Race (twice), Cruel Jewel, Habanero, Pinhoti, Grand Canyon R2R2R, Zion, Badger Mountain, Vermont, Yeti 100, and this year got to experience UTMB. My favorite part of ultrarunning is the community of friends I’ve met and made along the way – the people who “get” me and my kind of crazy. I’ve found that some of my favorite experiences have been when I’ve crewed and paced others as they chased their dreams and goals. I’ve found that while ultrarunning is a solo sport, it’s often a whole community that gets each of us to a finish line. This community includes the volunteers along the course, the race directors, the people who crew for us, those who pace us, and even family and co-workers who hold things together while we are out doing our thing.

2018 has been a big year for me! I tried to plan my year in advance, but when I got drawn in the UTMB lottery, those plans quickly changed. As I look ahead to 2019 and the long list of races I’d like to run, it doesn’t seem so easy to make those race decisions. For me, I feel running three 100 milers in a year is about my maximum. Let’s be honest, this isn’t an inexpensive sport and that is a huge limiting factor. Time away from home and work is another limitation. I’m 54 years old and I figure I will only be able to run so many 100 milers on this journey. Many of the races on my list are far away and have lotteries, so they are much harder to plan. Many of my top picks fall in the same time window, forcing me to choose one over another.

Here’s the other thing I want to share as we enter the new year, because I want to share the whole journey and not just the good stuff – not just the successes but the tough stuff and things that make me step back and reevaluate. After UTMB, I started having an “issue.” It’s not an injury, and I don’t have any pain, or it didn’t start that way. While I was recovering right after the race, I noticed my big toes were tingly and numb. At first, I thought they were swollen and I could feel them rubbing together, but I realized that wasn’t it. I finally did what all good runners do, and Googled it. I found that the foot has lots of nerves, and tight shoes could be the cause. I wasn’t in any pain, and it wasn’t a problem to run, but it was annoying and continued to get worse. I was sure it would work itself out over time and I didn’t tell my coach for quite a while. I even ran another 100 miler with no problems. It was a few weeks after that, when it progressed to sciatic pain down my hamstrings and calves during hill climbs, I decided that I really needed to find a solution to this issue. With guidance from my coach, help from a Chiropractor along with a trainer, and after some awesome massages, I’ve had some improvement. I still have numbness in one of my toes but I’m making progress. I’m focused on building a strong core, which I failed to do during my UTMB training.

So again, here I am looking ahead at 2019! My goal is to be a smarter and more consistent runner, building a strong body that will allow me to be active for many years to come. I already have goals for 2020, along with a list of races I’d love to run in the coming years, including some international races, now that I got a taste of running overseas. I never want to take running for granted. It’s a gift and a blessing. So far, the lottery gods have not been with me in lining up my 2019 schedule, but there are so many great races to look forward to and experiences to have along the way. May 2019 surprise us all!

 

Two Women! Two Challenges! One Goal!

YS6-21The Day we met “in the woods”!

Two Women – The bond between Cherie and Trena began when they literally met “in the woods!”, while running a trail marathon in 2014. Since then, the two have shared many miles, stories, and goals during their weekly runs. Cherie has played the role of motivator in her support of Trena, as well as many others looking to benefit from all-types of running. Cherie’s kindness and support for others consistently goes above and beyond.

Two-Challenges – When the two met, Cherie was on a journey to run a marathon in all 50 states, but now faces the most significant challenge of her life; having been diagnosed with a form of Kidney Cancer. She is now on the other side of surgery and faces six months of chemotherapy. Everyone knows someone who’s been through this difficult process. While Cherie and those around her face her next mountain head-on, Trena will be training for one of the world’s most challenging foot races. She is one of 2,500 runners chosen to run in the 105-mile Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB), a race that crosses portions of the French, Italian, and Swiss Alps over 46 consecutive hours. This race is an experience of a life-time and Trena is hard at work preparing for the August 31st race date. She has dedicated all of her training miles and her UTMB race to Cherie, and her battle with cancer.

One Goal – As destiny would have it, shortly after Cherie finishes her journey through six months of Chemo, Trena hopes to be crossing the finish line of UTMB for her.  I kindly ask that you consider dedicating your miles, positive thoughts, and prayers to Cherie and her family during this difficult time. Be sure to check back for updates on their progress as these two women, with two challenges, reach one goalsuccess!

UPDATE

Strength

On July 18th, 2018 Cherie finished her last Chemo Treatment and “rang the bell”!  It was a long and sometimes difficult journey for her, but she says the support of her family and friends are what saw her through it all.  STRENGTH doesn’t come from what you can do, strength comes from overcoming the things you thought you couldn’t!

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On September 2nd, 2018 Trena completed the UTMB race in Chamonix, France after 45 hrs and 52 minutes.  It’s considered the toughest trail race in the world!  It was during a very low point in the race, when Trena came into an aid station around mile 58 that a video cued up from the MARC running group.  Trena saw Cherie in the video and knew she couldn’t quit.  Just as Cherie had not quit, no matter how hard things were, quitting just was not an option.  Both had learned that STRENGTH doesn’t come from what you can do, strength comes from overcoming the things you thought you couldn’t!

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Two Woman!  Two Challenges!  One Goal!  Success!

 

FROM COUCH TO COACH TO SUCCESS

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Most of us are just average everyday amateur runners.  We all have a unique story about how we began running.  Most of them probably include putting on a pair of shoes and just heading out the door for a run.  We’ve had very little training, if any, and just fell into the activity.  The vast majority of us will never be anything more than just an amateur runner with simple goals of finishing races and maybe picking up an age-group award here and there along the way.  A few of us may have come from a high school track or cross-county background, have a trainer in a gym or do CrossFit, but aside from that have no experience with a coach.

KNOW YOUR GOALS

There are many reasons a coach might prove to be helpful, and lately it seems many either have a coach or are talking about hiring one.  When is the right time to consider hiring a personal coach for yourself and how do you know if it’s right for you?  Maybe you are just getting started in running and looking for guidance and help in avoiding newbie mistakes that can lead to injury and burnout.  You might be at a place in your running where you have plateaued and feel like you could get more out of yourself.  You believe you have the potential to do more and need help from someone with more experience to guide and push you a little.  You may just want a coach to help you with a specific race or upcoming event, and you’re looking for a training plan to get you to that finish line. Top-level athletes might be looking for that extra edge and close contact with a coach to propel you to the top of the podium.  Having an extra set of eyes on your running schedule, your workouts, your nutrition, and even your recovery days could be just what a runner needs.

So you think you might like to hire a coach, but where do you start?  How do we find the “perfect” coach that’s a fit for you?  A coach that offers you the right amount of hands-on help and will work well with  your running ability and schedule.  A coach that works with middle or back of the pack runners, not just elites.  You will probably need a coach who has a lot of experience with the type of events for which you are training.  A good 5k coach may not be the coach that’s going to help you cross the finish line of a tough mountain 50k race or Ironman event.  You also want someone who cares and believes in you, as you build a strong relationship of trust with them.  If we are going to invest money, time, and hard work into our training, we want to believe in our coach’s ability and we want them to believe in us.

KNOW YOUR COACHING OPTIONS

Unless you are in search of a coach who works with you one-on-one and supervises your workouts, coaching is usually done “virtually.” They often don’t live in the same area, and you likely have not even met them in person.  Virtual coaches use your GPS running watch or app to look at your data, as well as regular communication with you to see how you’re feeling and how your workouts are going.

You will have to do some homework to find a coach that feels right and will be a good fit.  Start by asking friends what type of experience they are having with their coach.   A quick google search will help you research coaches online.  Coaches are constantly interviewed on podcasts.  Listen and see if you believe they would be a good fit for you.  There are a variety of coaching options depending on the level of involvement you want from your coach.  Are you looking for weekly updates with your training schedule or do you want a coach who is available anytime to talk on the phone?  Do you need help with nutrition and want your coach involved in this aspect of your training?  Are you recovering from an injury, or have been injury-prone and are looking to avoid this in the future?  Are you interested not in a serious training plan, but rather have someone look over how you are currently doing things and make simple adjustments or suggestions?  These are some of the questions to consider when looking for a coach.

Begin by making a list of what you want from a coach.  What are your goals and what are you looking for in hiring a coach?  What is your goal race? Do you have access to a gym where you can do additional workouts your coach might suggest?  Be ready to share your recent race experiences and recent PR’s so they have an idea of your current fitness level.

KNOW YOUR LIMITS

Take a look at things happening in your life outside of running that might be factors in your training schedule and share them. If you have a high stress job, work long hours, have an unusual schedule or have difficult family situations, these can all be important factors for a prospective coach to understand. How much time can you spend devoted to running during the week? These are likely to be some of the questions a coach will ask when you begin to interview with them. Be realistic, not idealistic, about your time.  You want to share honestly and begin to build a rapport.  It’s also a good idea to think about what you are willing to pay for a coach.  Prices can vary greatly, with more involvement from your coach costing more money.

INTERVIEW COACHES

Those are some things we might want to think about and be prepared to answer before talking with a coach.  But what about the things WE should be asking a coach?  Our goal is to find a qualified coach, but also one with specific experience with the type of races you are running. What is their background as a coach, and even as a personal athlete?  What kind of success stories do they have with athletes similar to yourself?  How do they structure training? How would they describe their coaching philosophy? Some coaches might emphasize high mileage, while others believe in more moderate mileage weeks mixed with tempo runs, core workouts, and more.  Understanding their philosophy and how it aligns with your thinking and training might give you an idea of whether or not you can work well with them.

WORKING WITH YOUR COACH

Is it worthwhile to hire a coach for just one race or period of time?  Can a coach truly make a difference in this scenario?  My personal experience with hiring and using a coach is that the longer I work with them, the more they are able to help me improve, push myself, and go beyond my own expectations.  Hiring a coach to cross a specific finish line might be successful, but you are barely getting to know each other if you’re working together for just a few short months.  It often takes longer for a coach to learn what really motives and drives their athletes forward so they can better understand how to help them reach their personal goals.  Often a long term relationship with a coach will have more success and be a more rewarding experience.

TRUST YOUR COACH

Coaches aren’t miracle workers, and we need to make sure our expectations are in line with our abilities.  A coach can’t get you from the couch to a marathon in 4 weeks.  We must also be willing to follow their training plan.  Put in the work, communicate with them honestly about how you feel, and share your workout data.  If not, why do we have a coach?  They want to be a successful coach for you, just as you want to be successful in your running.

Coaches can encourage and guide you, but we must have the motivation and desire to improve.  That desire is often what leads us to consider hiring a coach in the first place.  They can give you a plan, but you have to trust them and follow the plan.  A coach might not be able to motivate a runner, but sometimes the boost of confidence from a coach that believes in you can be all it takes to set an athlete on fire.

 

 

 

Taper Madness

I picked my “A” race at the beginning of the year, I trained for it during the past 6 months, and now it’s Taper Time.  Runners who train for a long distance race understand what tapering is all about, but for many it’s the hardest part of their training.  It’s the dreaded taper – those last few weeks leading up to the big race.  After months of high mileage running, long workouts, hill repeats, speed work and tough schedules, it all comes to a screeching halt.

We are anxious about our upcoming race, and all of the sudden it feels like we are letting things slip through our fingers.  You often hear complaints during the taper about gaining weight or being afraid of losing the fitness they have worked so hard to achieve.  Mastering the final few weeks before the race is trickier than it seems.

Tapering before a race has many benefits for our body as well as our mind.  It allows our muscles a chance to repair, as well as increase its glycogen.  Another benefit is reducing the risk of overtraining.  After months of hard work, we want to show up on race day with legs that are fresh and rested, not tired and heavy.

A balanced taper should consider important elements like duration, weekly mileage, and key workouts.  The duration of your taper can vary but the end goal is to arrive at the race well-rested and feeling strong.  Some runners may taper for two or three weeks while others may find that a 10-day taper works better for them.  The taper is important not just for our body to recover but for our minds to rest.  We need time to focus on our race and make sure we have everything in order; our nutrition, gear, shoes, crew, and pacers.  Look over your travel details, the course description, aid stations, drop bag points, and packing your gear.  Taking care of these details during the taper will allow your mind to rest and relax in the last few days before the race.

CUTTING BACK

Most all tapers will have a reduction in weekly mileage.  How much we reduce our mileage may depend on how hard our training has been and how we feel going into the taper period.  If you have a coach, they will plan the taper according to your overall training schedule.  Otherwise, it’s common to reduce your mileage by around 20% a week starting about two to three weeks out from the race.  You should experiment with what works best for you.  While we reduce our mileage we may still include some key workouts such as hill repeats, intervals, or other specific runs.  We want to maintain our fitness but keep our legs feeling loose as well as getting some rest.

So how can we make the dreaded taper time be more exciting for the runner?  The fact that our long-awaited race is quickly approaching brings its own level of excitement.  But this may also be a good time to experience a little extra pampering.  Getting a massage or a pedicure can be a treat and also work out some of the knots.  This might also be a good time to catch up with friends or family members you haven’t seen during your busy training season.  Just relaxing or enjoying a good distraction like a movie or book can take your mind off the taper.  Life is often hard to balance, and this could be the time to put a little more balance back into it.

The race will be here in no time and the taper will quickly be a thing of the past, but it could be the very thing that kicks off your race with your body feeling ready and strong.

Published September 2017

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It’s  a Jungle Out There

Most of you reading this didn’t know me before I was a runner.  Of course why would you?  I am a pretty boring urban house wife raising 3 kids and living the quiet life.    Many probably don’t know that one of the things I really enjoyed was working in my yard.  I prided myself on having the showcase of the neighborhood and many neighbors even came by to stroll through my yard and see what I was working on.  I had little mini garden areas that all had names to them. My husband is a fire fighter and I have a section with that theme called my Hero Garden.  One of my side yards I had named after my neighbors son next door who had passed away a few years earlier.  I knew she could see the garden from her window and thought it would bring some sort of peace or comfort to her.  She used to come over and visit it on occasion.

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All this was before I started running.  I’ve spent very little time in my yard since then.  I have a landscaping service who mows my lawn and I’ve just let nature take over the rest.  My neighbor probably hasn’t seen the likes of her sons garden in years!  Yikes.  That’s pretty sad.  Probably one of the reason I love trail running so much is I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors.  It’s been my happy place for years and I especially love to stop and smell the roses.

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I had spent the spring and early summer this year training for Vermont 100.  With all the long runs I was putting in, there was no time to turn to the yard.  It would have to wait for some occasion to be cleaned up.  A few weeks before Vermont, one of my girls came by the house to visit. While she was over she asked my husband, “What’s with the Jumanji Jungle?”  Ok she wasn’t exaggerating, it had become a jungle.  I promised as soon as Vermont was over, I’d try to tame the jungle!  Haha

Two weeks post Vermont and I’ve only scratched the surface.  I’ve been stung by yellow jackets, bitten by a million tiny ants, eaten up by mosquitoes and am covered with poison ivy from head to toe.  While I’m enjoying unearthing my secret little gardens that have been hidden away, I’m very anxious to head back to the trails where I’m safe to just run free and enjoy nature!  But then again, check in with me in two weeks after H9 50 miler!  I may find new peace and comfort in my own little jungle!

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Get Your Mojo Back

Sometimes, too much running can deplete your energy and motivation. But there are simple ways to regain your groove

One of the things that I keep hearing about and have started to dread is losing my motivation to run, or mojo, as many call it.  Late last spring, after completing two difficult races, my closest running friends lost their running mojo.  They no longer had any real desire to go for a long run, or run at all and I was looking ahead to a race for the autumn that I was hoping to complete.  With them out for the count, I hired a coach to keep me motivated and hold me accountable to my own running plans and goals.  All of that soon got me thinking about just how do you get your groove back once you’ve lost it and, better yet, how do you avoid the pitfalls of losing it to begin with.

So with a little help from my friends, and talking to some other ultra runners who had also struggled with getting their mojo back, I began to come to some conclusions of my own.  It seemed that many had lost their motivation due to over training and having a strict training schedule leading up to an event, leaving them tired and burned out.  We need to look at our training plan carefully, setting realistic goals and expectations, and allowing ourselves a break in our schedule if we are feeling tired.  Missing one run isn’t going to have a major effect on our training. While it can be very time consuming, we need to find a way to have some balance.

Some of us might fall into the trap of simply running too many races; all our friends are doing a race and we don’t want to miss out.  Running races can be fun, but it’s also hard.  We need time between races for our bodies to recover, rest and even relax.  Not allowing ourselves a break can lead to fatigue and burnout.  We’ll quickly lose the joy and not know why.

WHEN IN DOUBT, VOLUNTEER

When you don’t feel liking running yourself, or don’t have a goal of your own, you can help others out with theirs.  Volunteering at races, crewing or pacing other runners can be good ways to get you excited about a race or goal again.  Finding that next race, setting a new goal or challenge can also be a great way to get that excitement back.  Just being an ultra runner usually means you have a lot of motivation and drive, and if it’s not a race that gets you excited, it might be an adventure run.  You can plan a run like the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim, do a bucket list-type challenge or sign up for a run in another country.  There is always something cooler or more awesome out there for the ultra runner to explore and get excited about.

It seems important to allow yourself, your body as well as your mind a chance to have a break.  Don’t pressure yourself or try to fight your loss of mojo, but allow for a period of down time to pass. There’s no time table to getting back to it, and rushing it might lead to injury or depression. You can stay physically active by hiking, biking or some other form of cross training, to at least keep up some fitness level and not set yourself back to square one when you do feel ready to hit the trails again.

Whether you are trying to keep from losing your motivation or get it back, it’s helpful to have a training buddy.  Find group runs or friends who can help hold you accountable and to encourage you on your journey.  Often what we need is to just stop and “smell the roses,” to take in the views and appreciate the great outdoors.  If you aren’t happiest in the woods, ultra running might not be your sport.  Just getting on the trail can sometimes help you find that spark again.

Published July 2017

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