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TrailRX: Water Crossings, Achieving Your Potential And Supporting An Injured Partner

How do you know when you've reached your potential? Should you take your shoes off for water crossings? How can you best support a partner who's injured?

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In our TrailRx column, we’ll attempt to answer your burning, embarrassing and thought-provoking trail running questions. Whether you’re looking for advice on gear, training or the best Oreo flavor (birthday cake) we’ll have a prescription for you.

How do you know if you’ve reached your full potential?

I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. The bad news is that you probably won’t know until it’s already happened. The good news: Fully embracing that ignorance will let you keep chasing your potential for years and years. 

Sure, someday you might look back on your Strava feed and be able to pinpoint your last PR or peak performance. To someone who’s only looking at the numbers, that might be your “potential”. But, your potential shouldn’t be about Strava feeds and exterior results. Your potential isn’t about numbers at all. Your potential is about living bravely and believing that your best self exists somewhere in the future. 

Someone who has long passed their 10k “potential” might be on the verge of a breakthrough 100-miler. Someone whose 100-mile racing days are long over might just be coming into their own as a coach or mentor to younger runners. Had that athlete given up when they reached their 5k “potential” they might have left decades of competition and community on the table. Defining your potential as your ability to achieve external success at any one thing might be what ends up limiting your true potential. 

RELATED: TrailRX: Toilet Paper, Power Hiking and Being Normal

Keep moving your potential goalposts in a way that feels exciting and fulfilling to you. While a runner can’t be in peak physical condition for their whole career, there is still so much room for growth and improvement. While something like your Vo2Max will likely peak relatively early in your career, your running economy, ability to navigate technical terrain and mental game will mature much later. 

Potential can be a story that we tell ourselves to keep ourselves from having to be courageous. If your potential is something that exists in the past or future, you don’t have to be as present and brave in the now. Thinking that the best you are capable of is some immutable, fixed point allows you to quit early. Stay engaged, keep fighting! Even if it makes you feel silly and vulnerable, living in the belief that your best days ahead of you will probably ensure that you have better days now. 

Water crossings: shoes on or off?

On. If you’re worried about getting your feet wet, trail running may not be the sport for you. Keeping your shoes on gives you extra traction on slippery creek floors and saves time on both sides. If your shoes aren’t draining, or your socks stay wet, it might be time to investigate new gear. I’ve found most shoes generally drain well enough (with the one exception being Gore-Tex shoes, which tend to dry slower and hold water in) and wool socks made for running, or trail running specifically, tend to dry quite well.

I used to have a very genuine fear of getting my feet wet and getting blisters, particularly during races. I would try to find a log, or rock hop across even the smallest creeks to keep my feet dry, until one time, a misplaced foot on a mossy log sent me crashing into a creek bed. Not only were my feet wet, but I was sitting waist-deep in snowmelt. My aversion to wet feet had cost me a perfectly good day of trail running, and an iPhone 6. Sometimes, trying to avoid all risks will inadvertently cause you to take bigger ones. Embrace wet feet. Body glide and quality socks are your friends.

RELATED: Chasing Your Trail-Running Potential Takes Many Years, So Keep Believing

My partner is injured, and we can’t trail run or hike the way we’re used to. Usually, exercise is a big way that we connect and spend time together. Any tips?

As we’ve printed in this magazine, few things are more certain than death, taxes and running injuries. Injury can be a scary, isolating experience. Not only is something you love – trail running -yanked out from under you, but it can take important things like connection and self-care with it. Kudos to you for wanting to be proactive in supporting your partner during injury. 

I turned to my occasionally injured, always insightful friend Amelia Boone for help on this one. 

“Ask your partner if they would prefer not to talk about running or racing or anything. It could be triggering for someone who’s injured to hear their partner talk at length about upcoming races,” says Amelia. “Your partner may not even want to talk about the injury at all, because it makes them depressed or angry. Ask how you can best help and respect boundaries set around that.”

Instead of using trail running and exercise as your primary mode of connection, find new non-athletic things to do for fun. It can help to find something that you’re both beginners at, to level the playing field. Try an art class, or test a fun new recipe together. 

RELATED: So You’re Injured. Now What?

Find something that you can do together consistently. Many of us are used to our running habits and rituals, and having those removed from the equation can open up a mental abyss. Instead of your normal Saturday long runs together, try a bike ride or a hike (if their injury allows). Sub in a morning walk to get coffee for a morning run. For the truly couch-bound, start a new TV show or book, or learn a new game together. Whatever you do, build ritual and consistency around it to make it feel more stable. 

“Avoid platitudes like ‘this will only make you stronger’ or ‘you’ll come back quickly,” says Amelia. Telling someone about their future devalues their feelings now, and minimizes what they’re experiencing. Try instead “This is really hard, and I’m sorry you have to go through this. You don’t have to go through this alone!” or “I’m sorry you have to be so brave. I’m here if you want to talk about it, or just watch 30 Rock for six hours.”

“Validate how they feel,” says Amelia. “Expect that they will go through all the stages of grief, in no particular order, often several times over. They may be moodier and that has nothing to do with you, so don’t take it personally.”

Letting your partner know you’re willing to be part of their support system, however imperfectly, goes a long way.

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