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BECOME A TRAIL HERO
You’ve done it. You went from your first running steps to consistent running, mixing easy runs and workouts, loving the process of running development (at least most of the time). Now, there’s nothing you can’t do, whether it’s a 5K in your local park or the Hardrock 100. There are just a few things to remember as you evolve over the coming decades.
1. Uphills are important; downhills are indispensable.
From a base of fitness, you can tackle almost any trail. Uphills are a product of general running ability for the most part, so maximizing your speed and strength will make you stronger on climbs even if you train mostly flat. Downhills, meanwhile, involve eccentric muscle contractions that can only be prepped for by simulating those muscle contractions in training (you’ll likely get delayed-onset soreness the first time). If you aren’t ready, you might get Jell-O-legs after downhills, which makes finishing a run or race with steep downhills nearly impossible.
During your long runs, after you build up consistency, run downhills with purpose to prepare for the specific demands of eccentric muscle contractions.
2. Terrain matters, but not too much.
From a physiological standpoint, running is running, whether it’s on a life-affirming trail or soul-sucking road. Trails involve more agility, dexterity and resilience; roads require more metronomic efficiency.
To improve those trail-specific traits, run trails as often as you can. However, keep most of your structured, faster workouts on fast terrain (like smooth trails or dirt roads) to work on your running economy.
3. Injuries are inevitable; stay motivated.
Most runners have two things in common: a closet full of multi-colored shoes and a brain full of injury stories. Do everything you can to stay healthy, including resting at the first sign of any type of pain. But even with all precautions, you’ll have some injuries, especially as you start out and your body adapts.
To be prepared, think of “runner” as just one part of your identity. No matter your speed, pace, or even whether you have run in the last year, you’re a runner. That way, if you’re sidelined for a bit, your long-term resolve doesn’t change. Running is part of who you are now; embrace that, and nothing can stop you.
4. Zoom out and think long term.
Running is not an instant-gratification sport (unless you’re talking about post-run cookies). Be patient and make decisions that optimize long-term outcomes, or you’ll go crazy wondering why Rome hasn’t been built before bedtime.
Zoomed out, a lot of the little things gain clarity. No single day matters too much. Be patient as you evolve. Put in the time. Most importantly: believe in yourself.
Tips from a New Runner
Alyssa Schmidt went from 0 lifetime miles to the finish line of a 100K in just over a year, by prioritizing a training approach focused on consistency. Here are her three main tips:
1. Let yourself slow down.
“The first two miles or so of every run, I feel like a newborn fawn. My legs have no idea how to work, things feel so unnatural and it’s almost as if I’ve never run a day in my life.” Schmidt overcomes those first-mile feelings by taking it easy, emphasizing consistency over speed.
“Nourish your body with good food and make time for your warm-up routine, foam rolling and whatever other things work for you.”
3.Give yourself grace.
Schmidt wrote this down and put it on her fridge, a constant reminder to be patient with her journey. “Realize that you may not hit every mile every time, and that’s OK,” she says. “Training is a process, not a test. We are constantly growing and pushing and sometimes we don’t take the time to realize how far we have come, because we are so focused on where we are going.”
Other articles in this series:
From Zero to Trail Hero: Part 4
From Zero to Trail Hero: Part 3
From Zero to Trail Hero: Part 2
From Zero to Trail Hero: Part 1
This is the final of a five-part series and originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of Trail Runner Magazine.
—David Roche partners with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play