5 local Phoenix trails for beginner trail runners

When I first started trying to learn how to trail run I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t seek out much information and didn’t know very many others that were beginner trail runners to join forces with. I was trying to run up the sides of mountains at a road pace, feeling so discouraged as I ran out of breath and tripped over myself and all the rocks that make up Phoenix area trails. Let’s just say, those are what NOT to do when you’re just starting out! Starting out, it is so much easier (and you will be happier) to start on smooth trails so you can gain confidence and add in technicality as you get more comfortable and your body adapts.

Cloudy views of Browns Ranch in Phoenix, AZ

My top 5 local Phoenix trails for beginner trail runners are:

  • Brown’s Ranch: Brown’s Ranch trailhead offers a wide variety of routes you can create on flat, nearly rock-less trails. This area is ideal for building up miles as you get more and more comfortable running on the trails. The short loop linked here is a nice launching point that you can continue to add upon as you tack on the distance. The perimeter loop is 14 miles with minimal elevation gain that means it is ideal for growing into long distances with low technicality.
  • Phoenix Mountain Preserve: The PMP is one of my favorite areas to explore in, partially because it is close to where I live but also because there is so much variety in this preserve. Starting from the 40th street trailhead you can head out of the parking lot to the west you will follow smooth, well maintained and nearly rock-less trails. Many of these trails are unmarked and leisurely weave around the preserve where you can gain confidence in your form and footing. While you’re gaining your bearings in the preserve you can always look for the lights in the parking lot as a guiding benchmark of where you are! The preserve offers so many different trails with various ranges of technical difficulty which means as you get more confident in your footing and stronger as a runner, you can always find a trail that will help you level up whether that is for distance or elevation gain or technical trails.
Wild Women Running ladies trail running in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve
  • Phoenix Sonoran Desert Preserve Union Peak Loop : The Phoenix Sonoran Preserve offers many different flat, maintained trails to choose from. The Union Peak Loop is a great option for beginners, especially because it is a looped route. To me, loops are always nice since you’re consistently seeing new things as you go.
  • Papago Park Big Butte Loop: A unique little trail system in the middle of the Tempe area, Papago park offers fun flat trails surrounding the Papago Buttes. This red dirt and rock area is fun to play around in as it looks different than anything else in the area without a ton of technicality. If you want to add on a little more difficulty, you can scramble up the buttes and follow trails that take you up into them.
  • South Mountain Desert Classic Trail: Starting from the Pima trailhead the Desert Classic trail skirts to the left of the parking lot on well-groomed trail with small, rolling hills. With low technicality it’s a great starter trail that you can build off of distance wise while also having the option to link to additional trails with more difficulty and variation. This trail is exposed with minimal shade so prepare with a hat, sunscreen, electrolytes and water if running in warm weather!
Wild Women Running ladies celebrating Halloween trail running at Papago Park

Do you have a favorite trail you like to explore locally here in the Phoenix area? Share in the comments!

I am a woman who trail runs and camps alone: thoughts on safety and doing things solo

After sharing that I camped and trail ran solo for nearly 2 months alone in Colorado I got many questions from fellow women about how I did it while feeling safe. Was I scared? Did I bring weapons? How did I get over fears of being stranded or attacked or worse?

Trail running in Silverton, Colorado alone

To be honest, ever since I can remember I was okay doing things by myself. If I wanted to go try something I would go do it, whether I had company or not. When I began to hike frequently I didn’t have many friends who were interested in it (I had not expanded my friend circles yet) so when I delved into longer treks and tougher terrain, the pool of people who were interested were even smaller. I leaned on my drive to experience new things and my love of the outdoors being a place for clearing my mind and grounding me to get myself out the door, alone.

Now, this drive does not diminish the chance that something may happen to me or that I will feel discomfort and unease if I come across someone alone. From being followed, stared at, having sexually inappropriate comments made, unsolicited invitations, gestures or behaviors towards us, women are made to feel unsafe and at risk while out recreating far too often. This is a reality we women face and when your stomach gets a little knotted and your heart starts to beat a little faster — we have to be very in tune with our intuition and gut feelings on if something feels safe or not. What I will say is that I have always felt more safe on the trail than running alone through the city at night, I think that says something in and of itself. Nights on the trails feel sometimes eerie but calming where nights running on streets may have be checking over my shoulder or avoiding bridges and heavily shaded areas.

View of Ice Lakes trail and Ice Lakes near Silverton, Colorado

With the recent murders of Sarmistha Sen and Sydney Sutherland, safety is at the front of many women’s minds and we are again reminded that our abilities to go out and move without fearing what may happen to us is fragile. In 2016, Mollie Tibbets was murdered while out running, which lead to Runner’s World Magazine doing their first ever survey that focused on harassment experienced by US women who run.

According to BBC, “The 2017 survey revealed that 43% of women experienced harassment while running – with the number rising to 58% for women under 30. Just 4% of men reported the same. The poll also found 30% of women said they had been followed by a harasser on foot, by car or bike. And the vast majority of women said these fears led them to change their habits – to run only during the day, to change their routes, to carry pepper spray or – in the case of 1% of women – to carry a loaded gun.”

There is also a history of victim blaming that appears around women out running alone. There are many questions of, “should she have been out by herself?” or “maybe she shouldn’t have taken that route” or “was her outfit suggestive?” — it is alarming and upsetting that women are not able to run freely, wherever they want to and wearing whatever feels comfortable to them without these decisions being brought up as reasons they may be targeted or attacked. Women should never have to be afraid of being targeted or attacked.

Karen Somers thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail solo at the age of 26 in 1998 and shared that she felt was more in danger driving to the trailhead than at any point while walking through the woods. As Men’s Journal shared, “While one in four college women report surviving rape or attempted rape, only three percent of men say the same. However, between 62 percent and 84 percent of survivors knew their attacker, making it more likely a woman will be raped by a hiking partner than a stranger.”

Sunrise from the trails near Phoenix Sonoran Preserve in Phoenix, Arizona

Instead of us asking, “is it safe?” or “should I go out by myself?” the true question is, “what can I do to feel safe and comfortable and be prepared when I do go out alone?” I have compiled several ideas on how to stay alert and safe as well as some things I personally do to feel confident doing outdoor activities by myself.

  1. Stay aware of your surroundings — if you’re camping or hiking/ trail running in a new area, do research (google, ask in outdoor communities online, etc) on the trails, dispersed camping areas or campsites offered in the area. If you are new to camping or recreating outdoors alone, choose sites or trails that are a little more trafficked and less remote to build up your confidence and feelings of comfort. Look to see how close other campsites are to yours, will there be others near by? Do you have cell service? How close are you to a town or others?
  2. Let someone know where you are going — loop a family member, significant other or friend in on where you plan to camp or adventure. Let them know how long you think you may be gone and be sure to carry your phone or a device someone could track you with. Strava also offers safety features that allow others to see where you are via GPS.
  3. Carrying something that makes you feel safe — it may be pepper spray, a small knife, a sharp-edged ring or carrying your key in between your knuckles, keychains that also work as brass knuckles or even running with your dog for an extra pair of eyes.
  4. Switch up your routine — running the same routes every day at the same time can make it easier for someone to track or follow your movements. Switching up your routes or when you go and not sharing your routes on apps or online at all or until you’re finished is important to keeping you safe.
  5. Lights are your friend — whether you carry a flashlight (can also opt as a safety tool for protection if needed) or wearing a headlamp or lighted vest, staying bright if you’re trail running, hiking or running in the dark gives you an advantage.
  6. Reconsider wearing baggy clothes — baggy clothing can be easier to grab ahold of. It is also worth considering wearing bright clothing and reflective fabrics that are easy to see in the dark.
  7. Stay aware of others that are around you — stay alert to who is in your near vicinity to the best of your ability and pay attention to body language, eye contact and stances. Understanding what aggressive body language looks like can be extremely crucial.
  8. Self defense classes — set yourself up with the knowledge and moves to protect yourself if it is needed. Take a self defense or Muay Thai class to learn basic moves that can de-escalate and protect you in a time of need.
  9. Ditch the headphones — I wear only one headphone or none at all, volume is never maxed out and allows me to hear my surroundings and stay on top of what is happening around me whether that is alertness to other humans or animals or weather.
  10. Do NOT feel bad for feeling unsafe — as one of my favorite true crime podcasts says, “Stay Sexy Don’t Get Murdered” and “Fuck Politeness”. If you feel uncomfortable and your intuition is ringing an alarm — trust it. Don’t feel bad for running/ hiking faster away from an area, removing yourself from the situation, saying no, calling a friend, etc. If it is your safety at risk — do whatever you need to do to get yourself into an environment that doesn’t feel dangerous.
Camping near Flagstaff and Sedona, Arizona at sunset

Here are some online self defense courses to consider

Here are some self defense gear options to take while out running / hiking

My biggest check in with myself is to never let the “what ifs” rule my life. I love adventuring, sleeping under the stars, trail running on amazing trails and I don’t want to let fear of what could happen stop me from experiencing beautiful places. I do stay mindful, alert and implement some of these tactics so that I feel prepared and educated on how to take care of myself to the best of my ability.

Ultra Training during 2020: Burnout

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girl running up mountain in Tucson, AZ

At the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I still felt hopeful and fresh. I had been working through a training block for a race that was supposed to happen in March and while some things were being cancelled, I was optimistic. When that race was cancelled, it was okay. I’m an adventure runner at heart and didn’t mind not having the race, so long as I could continue going out and exploring on my own. Instead of that race, I participated in Aravaipa Strong, a 10-day race where you could pick your distance and proceeds went towards the COVID-19 fund.

Initially, I had signed up for the marathon and as the week approached, I could already tell my energy wasn’t where it should be for a race. I wasn’t overly excited and didn’t feel motivated. My anxiety had already begun to build — seemingly low level, but looking back, it was already impacting my sleep and recovery. I’d already put a halt on group runs for Wild Women Running and had been running alone more often than not. I was feeling the impacts of living alone and feeling isolated frequently by choosing to play it safe and not come in to contact with others, hardly seeing any friends and not having a roommate. I wound up running 100 miles over 7 days — a 40+ mile jump for me from my usual 45-50 mile week. I had felt strong during the entirety of the week and reflecting on it, I was running on the highs of doing something new that I’d never achieved before that kept my anxious mind at bay. I am able to zone in and work when I have a goal in my sights, even when everything else feels heavy and draining. After, I rolled right in to nearly 40 mile weeks and immediately began to feel the effects of high effort without time off.

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sunset in Phoenix, AZ over Dreamy Draw Recreational Park

I’m still pretty new to ultra-running and trail in general, my first race (a 25k) in 2018. As I navigated my body feeling absolutely exhausted, the tension surrounding every day with the pandemic, anxiety creeping in frequently, working from home in my small space and starting to experience the key symptoms of burn out… I was digging myself a hole. According to burnout researcher Christina Maslach, Ph.D. in this Forbes article the symptoms have been broken down into three main categories:

  • Physical and emotional exhaustion.
  • Cynicism and detachment.
  • Lack of feeling impactful or accomplished.

Instead of taking some down time after a big effort, I continued to train and push as my energy dwindled, my emotional and physical exhaustion rose and my exertion felt incredibly high. The Arizona desert was beginning to heat up and soon, even before sunrise we were hitting 80+ degrees. No more midday enjoyable runs or relaxed mornings rolling out of bed and just going whenever felt right. I pushed for several 50-mile weeks and dropped back down again. My sleep was lacking, I wasn’t fueling enough to make up for everything I’d been expending and the recovery was not there. My desire to wake up at 4:30am was absent and when I was running, I was counting down the miles until I was finished. The joy was washing away. I was punching above my weight while I looked around thinking, others are doing this and MORE, why can’t I keep going? Why don’t I feel good to train hard? I should be THRIVING with all this time to train…right? 

My last straw came when I would try doing simple 6-8 mile runs with no leg turnover. I hadn’t felt fresh or strong since before the 10-day race. It had been nearly a month and a  half of feeling depleted. I woke up on a Sunday morning after camping near the Grand Canyon and felt a boulder on my chest.  I had consistently not been sleeping well and it showed, my whole body trembling and fatigued. I told my friend I didn’t think I could run the canyon. I worried, for the first time ever, if my legs would be able to get me out of the Canyon if I ran in to it. I didn’t feel confident.

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girl at Grand Canyon National Park

I put on my shoes, eating a cookie for breakfast and told her we should go. I should move and hopefully, set these feelings free as I went. And of course, as the miles passed and the canyon opened up beneath us, I was able to feel through the heavy and the heartache. I found moments of joy and goodness that felt light and pure, like this here. We laughed and talked and my self doubt of not being able to make it faded into the distance.

With everything in the world feeling heavy, uncertain and stressful I knew I had been absorbing that in my day to day. Add in a break up, being home so much and the confusion of how to handle these situations in the “right or wrong way” and I had hit my limit. Since then, I decided to back off any set plans and every day, ask my body “what do you need today?” It is rest? Is it a bike ride or lifting weights or yoga or a run? Instead of being fixated on training during this time with so much uncertainty, I decided to cut myself some slack and acknowledge just how much the weight of everything has impacted me and my ability to train…my desire to train.

My shift has come from being gentle with myself and realizing that there is no right way to be active and staying well. As long as I’m moving and taking care of my body, this is the season I’m in. I opted out of the race I planned to do for August and have embraced that my broken heart and my exhausted body need more time to come back in full force. I’m competitive, I’m driven and I have never backed down from a challenge or training block. This time it just didn’t feel right to keep digging and digging. All of this I share to say, listen to your body when it tells you it needs time, even if others don’t see it or it isn’t what is on your plan. I wanted to be one of the athletes that turned solely to the trails to cope and would log tons of miles during these times to decompress, but that hasn’t turned out to me right for me. These are situations we have never faced before and we are all going to experience, process and be impacted by it all differently. If it has lead to you feeling less focused, energized, motivated, etc — that is a very real and common reaction to trauma, anxiety and stress. Be gentle. Races and training will always be there, our health and overall wellbeing is far more important.

Building up my trail running endurance…how do I get there?

So you’ve started running. You’re enjoying the trails, the way getting outside feels and the fitness it is giving you. But what about when you want to start going from 2 to 4 to 10 to 20 miles? How do you build up your endurance?

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Image by Paul Nelson from Black Canyon Ultras

Maybe you’re looking for a magic bullet to get you there but the biggest key to strengthening your stamina is….

  1. Consistency. If you are consistent, you will see results. When you are training on a schedule, it teaches your body to adapt to the amount of work you’re putting in. If you’re only running once or twice a week, your body may not adapt as quickly as if you are running 4-5 times a week, even easy runs that aren’t demanding or stressing your body. The Run Experience gives a great example of building up your stamina: “if you’re running three times a week for 20 minutes, increase the amount of time you run and the number of times you run every week incrementally.For the first week, add one run (for a total of four runs) and add five minutes to each run. On week #2, add another five minutes to each run. You’ll be running for 40 minutes four times a week. For the third week, add five more minutes to each run, for 45 minutes of running four times per week. On week #5, add another run so you’re running 45 minutes five times per week. For the sixth week, bump up one of your runs to 60 minutes, and keep the others at 45.”In very little time, you’ve been able to go from 30 minutes to an hour of running without having to stop or needing frequent breaks.
  2. Slow Down. Yes. Slow your pace…slower….even slower. One of the hardest things to do, in my opinion, is strip the ego and get humble with yourself and the idea of needing to be “really fast” right off the bat. To endure for long periods of time and to be able to run for hours…you have to slow your pace to get faster. Does that sound silly? Maybe, but it works. Time on your feet is incredibly important for endurance and the only way that will happen is by lowering your fatigue in earlier miles to allow you the fitness to go further. The ability to run farther is based on the foundation of “easy running”. A great way to start practicing this is focusing on your heart rate. You want to build up your aerobic fitness, meaning you can run farther without raising your heart rate. When your heart rate rises, it taxes the body and slows down recovery when it is done repeatedly for long distances. If you’re running and breathing heavily, you need to slow down your pace. You should be able to hold a conversation as you’re running and maintain that — that is an easy effort pace and a great place to start as you build up your stamina.
  3. Build up slowly. Don’t try to jump from 3 miles to 16 in a few days span, allow your body to patiently adapt to the stress and changes you are putting on it while upping your distance slowly. Upping your distance gradually also lessens the likelihood of getting injured, as your muscles, joints and ligaments tackle entirely new territory. RunnersWorld expresses, “We like a program that adds 1 mile a week to your weekend long run, for example: 5 miles, 6 miles, 7 miles. Every 4th week, reduce mileage by skipping the long run. Rest and recover. The next week, start building again, 1 mile at a time: 8 miles, 9 miles, etc.”

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    Image by Melissa Pozniak
  4. Say Hello to Tempo. What is a tempo run? The Run Experience shares, “it is a sustained effort run that builds up your body’s ability to run faster for longer periods of time. Typically you would find a pace that you can maintain for at least 20 minutes, but ideally for a 45-60 minute period of time. So, you want to be fast, but not all-out sprinting. If you think about it in terms of effort, on a scale or 1-10 with 1 being walking slowly, you’d look for a pace that feels like a 6-8 effort.” Runs like this, logically, will lead to your endurance pace feeling easier and much more manageable for longer periods of time.
  5. Cross-training. HIIT, Plyos, Elliptical training, swimming laps, biking or spinning  are all great additions to your endurance-building plan. There is a chance that, outside of these being great cardiovascular workouts, these bursts of high intensity moves can help running at a slower pace feel easier mentally, simply because it does not require the same intensity.
  6. Weights are your friends. I will say it and say it again, being strong and lifting weights is important for trail and ultra-running. For your body to hold up over long periods of time you need to have a strong core, back, glutes, hamstrings, quads….everything. If you’re pushing uphill and your lower back starts to ache over time…it may be a sign you need to incorporate more core work. To start upping your stamina, you should prepare your body for the toll it will be taking as well. Start focusing on training your body for the mountains and hit the gym, I promise it will pay off.
  7. Pay attention to your nutrition.  How much you’re eating (and what) is very very important as you begin upping your distances and endurance. You have to make sure you’re eating enough. Running torches a lot of calories, but if you’re not replacing those calories while you’re running you will hit bonk-ville. And if you don’t nourish and replenish your body properly after your runs, you will feel fatigued and experience diminished efforts during your runs. Need somewhere to start? Check out this article by MapMyRun and this one by REI.
  8. Get a running buddy or two or five. Find some pals that are committed to the long distances with you. Strip yourself of the excuses and start to voice, write down and share your goals. Tell your buddies, “I’m going to run for 1.5 hours on Saturday and I want to be able to talk to you the whole time with ease, do you want to come?”, then 2 hours, etc. — be specific about your goals and have others come to share in the miles so that the time passes with more ease!

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    Image by Melissa Pozniak

I want to grow as a trail runner… how do I do it?

When I first started trail running so much was unknown: proper form, proper fueling, gear, navigating terrain and how different trails connected. Even coming from an avid hiking background, I’d still find myself getting nervous that if I took a trail I hadn’t taken before, maybe I wouldn’t know how to get myself back. Or even worse, what if I get injured and I’d have to hobble my way out somehow. Beginner Bri was a different girl. I didn’t have a base to jump off of, I just started going out, trying to run trails like I was on a track. I’d try to sprint up mountains having to stop not even half a mile in because my heart rate was so high. I didn’t have a blueprint on running trails and I had no background in the sport.IMG_6703

Over the course of six months I’d find myself without a headlamp in the dark, not eating enough and bonking hard during training runs, pushing my pace too hard and not being able to run a consistent pace for an entire run, not bringing the proper layering to stay warm/cool enough, changing out so many pairs of socks I can’t even count trying to prevent blisters. I went out on trails I wasn’t prepared for, with lots of climbing and lots of technical terrain that I hobbled down awkwardly, not knowing how to navigate. I’d trip. I’d roll ankles. I’d get lost and have to backtrack miles here and there, exhausted. I’d cuss out loud. But I kept showing up. Why share this? I needed to learn. I needed to gain experience on these trails. I needed to get beat up and spit back out, learning what worked and what didn’t for me.

After a near death experience, I found my “why”. I found my true spark for this sport and started doing bigger and bigger adventures, sometimes with others, but also many times alone. I wanted to get out there and meet the scared, anxious, worried parts of myself that told me “you can’t do this”. I wanted to prove that voice wrong at every turn. I wanted to go out there and become someone that I was proud of, someone I felt was brave. Confident. Resilient. I needed to feel unstoppable and strong again. So, Beginner Bri would go out for 3, 4, 5 hour adventures. Sometimes I knew where I was going, sometimes I didn’t. I always overpacked with extra water and extra snacks, never knowing what I was getting myself into. I’d come back covered in scratches and cuts, my hat and clothes lined with salt from sweating and feeling…. exhilarated. That is when I knew I wasn’t so beginner anymore.

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Where five miles felt nearly impossible to grasp, it began to become my staple distance. Right before my first race, a 25k with 4500 ft of gain, I ran my first twelve mile run flat out. I’d never done that before, I felt alive. Accomplished. I wanted more. When I completed Sky Peaks that following weekend, I cried. Overcome with the feeling of doing something hard. Doing something I thought was out of my league. That is when I realized so many things I thought were out of my reach…were totally within grasp if I worked for them. I knew they wouldn’t be handed to me, but if I was consistent. Patient. Dedicated. I could do them all.

I started looking at routes and experiences that terrified me and told myself to throw myself into them and see what happened anyways. I ran the Grand Canyon: solo and with others, so many times. The first time I felt like I was going to break apart from the pride and awe I felt that I was Doing this thing. Something I could have never wrapped my brain around previously, and here I was, huffing and puffing and dragging my lead legs up the switchbacks, back to the rim. Over and over and over again. I started going to different national parks, run-venturing. I signed up for my first ultra: scared out of my mind. I tried talking myself out of it multiple times and yet, I showed up at the starting line and my body moved the way it had become accustomed to. Moving through happiness, moving through discomfort, moving through joy and pain and boredom and elation.

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What do I think made all the difference in being able to go from a beginner that couldn’t complete a mile, to someone who strives to someday run over 100 miles? To run epic distances in epic places? I had people that always said “yes” to the long runs. I had people that were always just a little bit better than me: faster, stronger, more comfortable on different terrain, with more experience that I could chase through deserts and mountains and everywhere in between. I wasn’t afraid to reach out to others for advice, support and to run with those that would humble the f*ck out of me. I wanted to put myself into situations where I struggled and felt uncomfortable, repeatedly, so that I would grow and become a tougher version of myself. I wanted to meet the raw parts of me that pushed me to incredible heights.

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You may be thinking: how do I do this for myself? Where do I start? How do I know where I’m at or how close I am to “leveling up”? After thinking on this subject a lot, asking for insight from an all women’s trail running group and talking with my good friend Allie: we came up with an outline.

Since the beginning of Wild Women Running, we have nurtured the beginner trail runner first and foremost. Wanting to inspire the love for the trails in others while also building ladies’ confidence to get out there and do something new, hard and challenging has been at the front of the mission. With almost a year under our belt as a community, the question of how we bring beginner runners to intermediate levels (if they want it) begins to pop up. How do we let WWR grow with these gals, instead of being a bouncing off point?

*All of these opinions are focused on the general drive, not constant effort as every level needs recovery and easy runs as well as what is reflected here

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The first thing I found to be important was defining what a trail run starting out, for a beginner, looks like. What do these runs look like? What does this runner embody? Where can they expand?

  • What do these runs look like? Beginner runs first start off with nearly flat terrain. These runs are anywhere from 2-5 miles long depending on the endurance and comfort of these runners. Within WWR, these runs have many breaks so that all runners can congregate and no one is left behind. These runs do not have a large amount of elevation gain and are truly to plant the seed of trail running being an amazing activity to take on.
  • What does this runner embody? This runner is fresh to the trails, which could mean their very first time or they are a few months in but still getting comfortable on the trails while not feeling fully comfortable running alone yet. This runner may still be worried about following trail signs or cairns, the weather, water crossings, tripping, and all the what-ifs. This runner isn’t fully comfortable with technical terrain yet but may be getting curious about starting to incorporate more of it into their runs. This runner may be running 2-8+ miles but it may not feel easy yet and striving towards double digit runs may seem far off or intimidating. This runner may feel out of their league and get nervous to join in with fears of being too slow, that they can’t keep up and struggle with doubting their own abilities. This runner is looking for a lot of content on starting out and how to get better in the sport, what gear to use, what trails to try out…they are openly consuming information. This runner may just be dipping their toes into trail running and hasn’t tapped into what is out there (races, cool routes, traveling to run in different states and countries, etc.) While setting goals for a race or big route may not be their priority, it may just be a seed getting planted at all!  
  • Where can they expand? Starting to lengthen their running distances little by little, while also trying to go further without pausing or stopping to break. This runner can begin to work in more challenging terrain and elevation gain so that they are getting more comfortable running downhill and pushing themselves on the uphills. They can begin to test out different kinds of workouts: hills, intervals, endurance long runs, low heart rate runs, etc. They can start considering working out to strengthen their muscles for running specifically while also finding their “why” of wanting to trail run. This runner can transition into longer, stronger runs in a short amount of time if that is their true goal and they put the effort in! 

What is an example of a beginner trail run? Trail 100 from the Phoenix Mountain Preserve or the Browns Ranch trail system as they are both relatively flat with no technical terrain to navigate.

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The next phase, the Adventure Runner, appears when you want to start feeling out a longer distance. This runner may want to start hitting double digits without pushing other efforts. This runner has gained  more self confidence on the trails to face new challenges. These runs will be gaining comfortability on the feet for longer than 1 to 1.5 hours and will introduce these runners to learning about proper fueling during longer efforts and how to pace in a way that allows you to keep going. Maybe a race or cool trail has caught your interest and you want to get yourself to a space where you can get to the finish line or complete the route with a smile on your face. This runner wants adventure runs that wouldn’t necessarily be appropriate for a first trail run (due to distance, remoteness, endurance or difficulty) but there aren’t specific physical goals around effort level. This runner will welcome breaks and isn’t focused solely on pushing a tough pace or more intense effort. This level is more about the adventure and/or camaraderie than training or pushing physical limits. This runner is focused on building a base while having fun and may not have a piqued interest in goal-oriented workouts (like hill repeats, strides, etc).  Within WWR, these runs are typically offered on the weekends although we do try to offer an intro to intermediate trail run for any that may want more climbing and practice running downhill.

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So, what’s next? This is where we say hello to the limit testers. What do they look like? What does this runner embody? Where can they expand? 

  • What do these runs look like?  As you grow from the adventure runner to possibly wanting to test your limits your runs will include more variety with climbing steep grades and rolling terrain. These runs will also include diverse terrains that are more technical to navigate. This runner is comfortable wanting to go out and sweat all over the place, pushing your pace or climbing or distance — this runner has a gauge for personal bests and wants to start emptying the tank during runs. In this space, it may feel strange to ask others to accompany on these kinds of efforts, especially when you don’t know them. These runs are built on Type 2 fun where you are pushing hard and getting uncomfortable, often. Maybe you can’t keep up with those you are with but you are there to figure that out. This runner is focused less on solely adventure and camaraderie and more about finding personal limits and pushing each other while sharing the experience leads to camaraderie and “bonding through suffering”. These runs are typically being taken on by those that have been running for several months to years and are passionate about the trails and sport of running. These people want to advance their techniques, skills and challenge themselves in new ways.
  • What does this runner embody? A spirit of wanting to push beyond their current capabilities and discover what they are truly capable of. This runner wants to begin tackling double digit runs (into marathon and ultra distance as well) and may be considering trail races or ultra races. This runner loves the trails and is beginning to get comfortable on varying terrain and types of trail, wanting to see even more with their own two feet. These runners want to graze the edges of possibility and see if they can push past their own limits whether that is including more intense pace, more hills, more mountain running, etc. This runner is creating goals and may feel nervous to speak them out loud. This runner will start considering 15-26+ miles in a day, possibly unsupported and what it will feel like to complete this kind of mileage mentally and physically. This runner is wanting to meet the uncomfortable and difficult challenges and push through them. This runner welcomes the “pain cave” because they know it will make them a stronger, braver, inspired person. This runner may even begin considering a coach and training plans for structure and even further guidance on how to perform and grow.
  • Where can they expand? Starting to push their distance while also decreasing the amounts of breaks throughout the duration of their efforts. They will begin considering back to back efforts or two efforts in a day to experience running on fatigued legs. This runner will start including even more climbing in their long days and shorter days to push their efforts. This runner will constantly refer back to their “why” when they are exerting a lot of effort so that they can keep going, drawing from within. They will want to connect with other runners that are at their level or beyond, that will inspire them to push even harder and do more than what they may feel capable of doing themselves. Distances and certain events that used to seem impossible will start to be the kinds of things this runner will entertain and they will seem doable with the right focus and training. 

What is an example of an intermediate trail run? Two Bit Loop, North Mountain + Shaw Butte Loop or running 6+ miles out and back on trail 100 (making it a 12+ mile route with climbing). These routes can all be considered intermediate to advanced depending on how hard you push yourself and what your intentions are on these days! 

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Whether you consider yourself a beginner that is wanting to move towards intermediate, or an intermediate runner wanting to continue pushing your personal bests, there are key things that support achieving those goals:

  1. Accountability and supportive community. It may sound cliche but it really does take a village. No matter if this is a daily text asking if you’ve hit your goal, running buddies that help you log the miles or a set day every week that you meet to run with others, a community that encourages you is very important. 
  2. Prioritizing. When your goals are strong and you want something enough (whether that is a race, to hit a set distance, etc) you will start prioritizing the training and efforts needed to complete that goal. I write my goals on my bathroom mirror so that I see them every. single. day. Multiple times. I use the Strava feature where I put in my weekly goals so that I visually see what I am aiming for and can watch that distance widdle down as I go. I am a very visual person and these little extras help me stay focused, reminding me WHY I’m prioritizing what I am. 
  3. Consistency. No matter if that is running a set amount every week as a base minimum or putting in similar effort every week, the more consistent you are, the easier it will be to see your growth come to life. If you want to run further, consistently build up your mileage in increments. If you want to get faster, consistently mix in hill and interval runs in your weekly schedule. The more you stick to the kinds of workouts that will help you advance, the quicker you will see the results coming to light. 
  4. Asking for partnership. This may be the toughest one. We see others we are inspired by, that we aspire to be more like and that are levels up from us. We want to reach out and ask to connect but it is scary to do so. Do. It. Foster a connection between the person that is inspiring you so that they can mentor you into your potential! The best way to get better is to go out with those that are stronger, more experienced, faster (whatever!) than ourselves. Having a rabbit to chase isn’t a bad thing, it winds up leading to you leveling up and getting better in the process. Not only do you gain a strong training partner, but you also may find a new friendship. Don’t be afraid to directly state your goals, telling others exactly what your goal is during a run and that you want to push hard and aim for an exact pace, distance, outdoing a previous PR or goal. Get comfortable asking for others to join you in these specific goal-oriented runs so that you can gain support and partnership within these efforts. These longer, tougher runs are hard to do alone, make the bold move of asking for what you need and want! 

Doing the tough stuff. It’s easy for us to look at others and want to get to that level…without trying to actually get to that level. Getting to our goals means…doing the work, there is no easy way to success or growth. You’ve got to go out and run the extra mile that feels like you want to lie down in the middle of the trail and cry. You’ve got to go climb the extra 50 feet that feel like you are going straight up and not even moving anymore. You’ve got to do the really early morning or late afternoon run that nearly doesn’t fit into your schedule or cuts your sleep a little bit short when your bed feels cozier than lacing up the runners. You’ve got to practice the time on feet when your muscles are yelling that they want to quit right this moment. You’ve got to try to do that last 200 meters just a little bit faster than the time before. No one else can hand us our dreams but ourselves and they are ours for the taking!

Do you want to grow? Do you want to go from 3 to 5 to 10 to 15 to 30+ miles? Whatever it looks like to you….that goal…..go into it bravely. Try things. Fail. Learn. Bite off a bit more than you can chew (in a way that feels safe to you) and then strive to move your benchmark every single time. Find supportive, strong community that will move the needle with you and hold you to your goals. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the people that inspire you and ask for a run, some pointers, etc. Make sure your circle reflects your effort and amazingness back to you: surround yourself with those that shine encouragement and acknowledgement down on you…and watch your goals get closer. So close you can touch them. And then reach them.

 

 

*Special thanks to Allie for helping me concept these outlines, edit and reorganize this post to something cohesive and tangible!

 

Find WWR on IG here: Wild Women Running

Find ME here: Bri S.

First 24-Hour Race Report

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A few months ago, Nicole Ostrom asked me to join her on a 2 person 24-hour relay team for Across The Years: Decade Edition where we would switch off running every hour from 9am Saturday to 9am on Sunday. This isn’t the kind of race I think I’d of ever signed up for on my own as it includes everything I like to avoid: flat, short looped course and pavement. Growing up, I was a gymnast. Ten years of repetitive pounding on my ankles, wrists and knees led me to avoid road running, or anything similar, like the plague. But, when Nicole asked me to join her I decided to say yes. Because I was scared to try something like this. I was scared to get uncomfortable. And isn’t that the most important thing? Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable? We signed up. I told myself I’d learn so much about my body and my mental strength out there, to have zero expectations, have fun and that it would be perfect training for other races I have my eye on in the next several months.

I didn’t train on road, packed gravel or any terrain similar to Camelback Ranch, I truly had no clue what I was getting myself in to. Asking Nicole every week to give me a list of what I needed, what to expect and what to bring with me. Even the idea of a looped course was new to me. This was my first attempt at anything over six hours, a timed format, a looped format and flat racing. Talk about being out of my own league.

After work on Friday I met Nicole at the race (a 10-day event where others were already over 400+ miles!) where both of our boyfriends were competing in the Last Person Standing race. An insane show of athleticism that should have its OWN blog post to showcase it. It was nice getting the lay of the land, seeing “Main Street ATY” where the main aid station, medical tent, warming tents, cots and everyone’s tents for sleeping were set up — aka home base. It made the race a little easier to grasp even with only seeing a tiny portion of the course.

The next morning, I arrived with my suitcase full of every kind of clothing: tank tops for warm daytime miles, multiple sports bras to trade out so I wasn’t wet, lots of socks, two pairs of shoes, long tights for the night, puffy jackets, a vest, hats and gloves for when the temps hit the thirties. There was a chance for any kind of weather and your body responding in different ways and being overly prepared is better than not having enough at this kind of race, where you can easily go off course and access whatever you need. At 9am I lined up along with other members of relay teams to be sent off on our first lap. We were cheered off and there I was, seconds into my first timed race and I was going to be running for 11 more hours if everything panned out.

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Tracing the course around the 1.04 mile loop I got to experience pavement and packed gravel with sections that were exposed and hot and others that were very shaded, wrapping around a pond. I was able to run alongside George, a November Project participant I had run with a few weeks prior, sharing stories and allowing the first hour to pass very quickly. Nicole and I soon traded off for her first hour and I immediately dove into stretching and using the theragun to keep my muscles loose. I was trying to be preventative, praying it would keep me from locking up early on. My second hour I pushed my pace, feeling fast and strong with my music playing. But my third hour showed me that I had made a mistake, at roughly 15+ miles my right IT band began to tug and yell with every step. My knee was irritated and so, I began a run / power walk combo. My first challenge. Accepting I wasn’t running the entire thing and to say walking was okay. I was able to maintain that strategy for 8 more hours.

Running has taught me to never feel like I’m in control, that I can’t be. That preparedness means being flexible and adaptable. Previously, something like pain in my knees and having to walk would have crushed my perfectionist spirit. It wouldn’t launched me into a negative headspace that spiraled for hours, especially on a looped course. I would’ve ruminated on my inability to live up to expectations in my head. Instead, I re-worked my plan, told myself it was unrealistic I could’ve run the whole thing and had my first timed race go smoothly! I kept my music high and my spirits stayed lifted through every hour exchange.

I changed my shoes on my fourth hour, ran one sun-filled sports bra mile that actually felt hot and enjoyed the warmth on my skin, knowing the sunset was coming early and soon I would hit the miles that worried me the most — cold miles where I could still get sweaty and then freeze. I struggle to warm up after I start shivering and it was the thing that scared me the most about this kind of race. Not late night miles or chafing or my muscles and joints aching — but getting so cold I couldn’t overcome it. I had also hoped when we switched directions (going counter-clockwise instead of clockwise or vice versa) would have helped my knee pain, but it continued to tug and express discomfort even after having one of Nicole’s friend elbow my IT band as well as trying to switch up my gait and even run sideways: basketball shuffle style.

Last night around 8:30pm, I PR’d by reaching my longest distance to date (33 miles). I came into the main ATY checkpoint, getting to ring the green bell signaling I’d achieved a new feat. It was perfect timing as a group of my friends had arrived to cheer Nicole and I on. I can’t express how much life it gives you to see smiling faces that love you and bring brand new energy into your day. After running for 5 hours already, they completely refreshed me, celebrating my PR achievement with me by drinking white claws and laughing around a mini heater.

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Simone went out for guest laps with me, helping me through my sixth hour and getting me to 39 miles. It was at this point, still feeling mentally strong, happy and fit enough to keep going that I knew I really wanted to hit the goal that scared me: 50 miles. I knew it was achievable and within reach if I’d continue to get myself out there in the cold each time. It also scared me to realize I could hit this goal that felt so far away from me. When I had started running and raced my first 25k in October of 2018 I couldn’t wrap my brain around 30 miles, definitely not 50. When I achieved 30 miles in May of 2019, I still looked at 50 as this unattainable, crazy distance. And here I was, so close to it.

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As I said goodbye to my sweet friends, I went out for another round of miles, now completely dark and my breath visible in the lights. I put in my headphones and turned on a murder podcast (this IS how I roll). I let my mind focus on the story line as I kept rotating: run, power walk, run, power walk. Over and over until I was at 46 miles. I got back to the tent, shoved my toes close to the heater and decided to get something to eat. The aid station had made vegan mac n cheese and I made a hot cup of tea to warm my hands before heading out for my final four miles. It was roughly 1am at this point and the cold was ominous to continue going out into.

I sat putting off going back out for nearly 45 minutes. But there I was, stuffing hand warmers into my gloves and zipping my coat all the way up to my chin. It was time to finish this goal and make it a reality for the first time. As I began to power walk out for my 47th mile, my shins were sore and my muscles were completely cold. Running was not an option on these laps, so I power walked as hard as I could. I completed my 50 miles at roughly 3am, looping the course with others out there trying to achieve their own goals. Pushing past their own mental barriers, their own physical obstacles, all together mile after mile. Loop after loop. the same footprints over and over. It’s a special experience being out there alongside so many others doing incredible distances, striding beside many of them reminded me I could do this for another hour if they could be out here for hours longer than I had been. Days longer even.

To some in this realm fifty miles is a small number but to me, it was an unattainable amount that absolutely terrified me to consider striving for. But here we are. Only 5 days into the new year. It truly shows that we are capable of ANYTHING and everything we put our minds, will and grit towards. I didn’t continue to push after that, even though we had six more hours to accrue more mileage. I was satisfied and so proud to hit such a big milestone and decided to spare my knees.

I’d of never attempted this without Nicole’s encouragement, the kind and supportive messages, texts and reminders and the breath of fresh air that came from my friends showing up to cheer us on in the cold night.

Do weight lifting and trail running go together?

Before I really turned to the outdoors with hiking and trail running, I was invested in bodybuilding and Crossfit. While both of those seasons of my life were important for their own reasons, I see a vast difference in how I view and use my body now versus then.

When I was more focused on weight lifting, I was really focused on the aesthetics of my body, instead of what it can actually do. While Crossfit upped my endurance and I got in good shape, I still wasn’t utilizing it to become a truly fit and apt person (some do, don’t get me wrong, but I liked the results physically over the things it could allow me to do). Now, I see how weight lifting can compliment my goals as an athlete. It is a vehicle to help me balance out and strengthen muscle groups so that my body functions more efficiently, quickly and stronger over time. When I started taking running seriously I still wanted to balance working out, yoga, and doing other things that bring me joy. I didn’t feel like I could get the hang of what would benefit me as a runner in the gym and what I could be doing to help me get stronger at my new passion. So I started researching.

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If you’re trying to figure out how to balance out lifting and running, I am still working on it. What I can say is: you should do both. Cross-training is really important for becoming a strong, well-rounded athlete and also helps you to stay injury-free. If you consider what you’re doing on the trails, you’ll realize just how many muscles you’re actually working. The act of trail running demands different muscle usage along with uneven, varied terrain with a lot of ups and downs, which means you’re using different sources of power all the time. Consider just the aspect of running downhill: “Effective downhill running requires superior strength of the posterior chain (muscles of the backside of the body) and proper femoral control (the alignment of the femur in the hip),” says Dr. A.J. Gregg, a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at HYPO2 High Performance Sports Center in Flagstaff, Arizona. How do you get posterior chain strength? Lifting some weight.

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Did you know there is never a time when both feet are on the ground at the same time when you’re running? Runner’s World states, “Each time you land, one leg absorbs multiple times your body weight at impact so focusing on single-leg strength and stability can add up to big performance gains and injury prevention.” Their great guide for several exercises to incorporate here.

I do a lot of body weight workouts: pushups, pull ups, planks and sit ups, TRX rows and dips as well as weighted upright rows, cable pull downs and so. many. variations. of lunges. Squats, glute bridges and bands have become my best friend.

Some really useful exercises I focus on are:

1. Bulgarian Split Squats (from Runners World): “Start standing facing away from a bench or chair. Place the top of your right toes on the bench or chair with slight bend in right knee. Place hands on hips for balance. Bend left knee to lower right knee to floor. Press through left heel to return to starting position. Repeat for 10 reps then repeat on other leg. Complete 3 sets. Work toward 3 sets to fatigue (when you can’t do any more reps).”

Why: Split squats build the single-leg strength needed to propel you forward through the trails. They also challenge your balance and help build your smaller, stabilizing muscles that often get overlooked.

2. Overhead Squat (from Runners World): “Start holding the resistance band with both hands, feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing slightly out, and raise arms up overhead, elbows locked. Hinge at the hips to send butt back to squat down as low as you can, encouraging gluteal contraction, and keeping your back as straight as possible. If you can’t do a full squat at first, hold on to something stationary at shoulder height. Start by doing three sets of 10 with arms extended, then work up to doing three sets of 10 with your arms overhead.”

Why: You need a lot of power—through a large range of motion—to run fast and efficient on the trail. This is especially true when the terrain heads uphill or is very technical, requiring maximum agility. The overhead squat is a time-tested exercise requiring full-body range of motion. It takes some practice to get it right, but there is no better exercise to encourage maximal gluteal and hamstring activation. You will gain strength and neuromuscular power you could never hope to achieve on a squat machine or with a typical half-depth standing squat.

3. Step-Ups (from MotivRunning): “Using a box or bench at a gym, or a picnic table or park bench, start with both feet on the ground. Step up with one foot, keeping the knee and ankle in alignment, and your hips square (picture keeping a level waistband). Step up onto the box and back down. Repeat with the opposite foot, and continue alternating feet. Build up to maintaining good form under fatigue. Do all reps on one leg before switching to the other.”

Why: Step-ups teach you how to drive one leg at a time to improve running power. They also help build knee, ankle and hip stability, and help strengthen glutes and the whole posterior chain—which is important, Warner says, because runners are generally quad-dominant. These can be done on a box at a gym, on a park bench or even off the edge of a patio deck—with or without dumbbells or kettlebells in each hand.

4. Single-Leg Good Mornings (from MotivRunning): “Stand with knees slightly bent and arms at your sides. Lift one foot slightly off the ground. Keeping your knee aligned over your ankle and your hips square, reach forward as if picking up a tennis ball or barbell off the ground (it’s OK if you don’t reach down that far; hinge forward only as far as you can keep a flat back). Concentrate on stabilizing your spine and maintaining a flat back through the movement and not collapsing your chest as you bend at the waist. Return to standing. Repeat on that same leg.”

Why: Like step-ups, Good Mornings work the postural chain to counter runners’ quad dominance. They work hamstrings and glutes like deadlifts, but don’t require weights. Single-Leg Good Mornings build ankle, knee and hip strength as well, which can help ward off ankle sprains. And maintaining postural integrity while doing this exercise helps reinforce good posture while running, which is critical to being able to breathe deeply.

5. Around The World Toe Taps (from MotivRunning): “Stand with feet hip-width apart, legs slightly bent. Lift one foot slightly off the ground, and reach it forward (picture the 12 o’clock position on a clock face), tapping your toe lightly to the ground. Move that same foot out to the side (3 o’clock), tapping your toe. Move the foot/leg to the back (6 o’clock), tap your toe to the ground. Move the foot/leg behind your standing leg and to the side (9 o’clock), tap your toe to the ground.”

Why: Trail runners need strong—and mobile—hips. This exercise creates hip stability through a variety of positions and also works ankle stability. Plus, it challenges balance and forces strength and awareness through different planes (forward, back, side and side). Since running is moving in one direction, this can help diversify your awareness in different planes.

6. Alternating Side Planks (and any other plank variation!)

Why: Protecting against adductor injury, maintaining posture under fatigue, and improving upper body strength. This exercise also helps knee stability, which is essential for running effortlessly down technical descents. (Running Magazine Canada)

7. Glute Bridges: “Lie on your back with your knees bent and firmly on the ground. Lift at the waist so your body forms a straight line from the knees to the shoulders, and place the weight on your feet and shoulders. Straighten one leg for 10 seconds before switching to the other. Make sure there is no weight on your neck.”

8. Clam Shells (from Healthline):Lie on your side, with legs stacked and knees bent at a 45-degree angle. Rest your head on your lower arm, and use your top arm to steady your frame. Be sure that your hipbones are stacked on top of one another, as there is a tendency for the top hip to rock backward. Engage your abdominals by pulling your belly button in, as this will help to stabilize your spine and pelvis. Keeping your feet touching, raise your upper knee as high as you can without shifting your hips or pelvis. Don’t move your lower leg off the floor. Pause, and then return your upper leg to the starting position on the ground. Do 20 reps on each side.”

Why: Not only is it incredible for strengthening the hips, glutes, and pelvis, but the clamshell can also help to prevent injury and ease lower back tension.

Do you have a favorite exercise you incorporate into your routine for running? Share in the comments, I’d love to hear them!

Still don’t believe me that trail running is the creme de la creme of fitness?! Read this awesome article by Core Running that focuses on just how good the trails are for us!

How Running Went From a Weapon to a Helping Hand

I’ll just come out and say it: my relationship with food and fitness was not always healthy. This topic is one I haven’t addressed as much as other things I have tackled. It is harder for me to go back to these years and reflect on just how lost and hurting this version of me was. How I masked all of that with things many couldn’t see on the outside. All of this to say, if you are struggling with the way you look or the ways you feel not good enough. If you feel like you have to make up for living a fulfilling life, eating delicious foods or to look a certain way by exercising, this is for you. Because there can be a healing and a light at the end of that tunnel.

In college, I battled an eating disorder many couldn’t see. Restricting what I ate to only extremely bland, “healthy” foods before struggling with binging and purging. I spent two full years hiding it from close friends and family with extreme guilt, shame, loneliness and fear. I had different aspects of my life that felt were out of control, situations from my past that were eating away at my self confidence and ideas of self worth that led me to the things I felt I could control: my weight and my food.

During those two years, when I would ultimately cave and eat the things I was telling myself I couldn’t have, I’d use running as the weapon to erase the “damage” I’d done. I would spend an hour or two on the treadmill to make those calories disappear. Instead of loving my body, I wanted to shrink it. I wanted to disappear and that said a whole lot about my mental state at the time than the activities I partook in to “fix” my issues.

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Running 6-10 miles a day became the norm in the depths of my internal struggles and while I craved to be thin and beautiful (read: accepted), looking back, even when I was thin…I was never happy (learn more on exercise addiction here). I wish I could hug that girl up there and tell her just how good it would get and just how much healing she would find.

When I graduated and moved out here to Arizona, I struggled so much: away from every friend I had, away from every family member and in a place I had never even visited before moving to, with a job that made me completely miserable. To gain control of the fear, sadness and dissatisfaction I felt, I found another way to grasp control: doing fitness competitions. Prepping for shows allowed me to again, control my food (hello, orthorexia) and the way I looked without having to address what I was really struggling with. I could remove foods and look at it as a good thing instead of how I was depriving myself. Prepping for fitness competitions didn’t require a ton of running and during this time, I realized my attachment to it was coming from a negative place and began to hate it all together. I had never enjoyed the treadmill or the track and it further reminded me of things I’d done to my body that I wasn’t proud of. I worked in sprints when I had to for my programming but that was as far as it went. Running, in my mind, was torture. It was used to hurt, not benefit.

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I ditched fitness competitions after a year of extreme prepping and ultimately, messing with my hormones and feeling no joy in my day to day. I dug into self work and started healing those parts of me that were really wounded and broken. I didn’t need to be small, I didn’t need to fit societal standards, I didn’t need to be beautiful. I needed to be free. I needed to be happy. I needed to be healed. I also really needed to be become strong enough to face (and speak!) my own truths…. and to ask for help.

A year and a half ago, when I laced up trail runners for the first time, I had anxiety. Would this become an issue? Would it be like it was before? Would I begin to hate my body again? It wasn’t the same. I struggled with my abilities and was frustrated with my lack of excellence. I wanted to be good at this, right from the start, just like I had picked up many other sports. Trail running humbled me, forced me to slow down and do a whole lot of deep thinking. And a year ago, when I had a near death experience, trail running became my source of healing.

Everything shifted for me. Instead of using it to punish myself, running became my salvation. Instead of struggling to have control over everything in my life, running began to teach me to let go. To embrace. That nature and the trails can’t be controlled, and therefore, I had to go with the flow. I could look at the weather and it would say clear and sunny but then find myself stuck under a tree in hail and rain, my only option to laugh it off. I began to grow in those areas of question marks where I used to struggle with fear and releasing the reins. I began to thrive in those moments of unknown instead of trying to fit everything into those snug, safe boxes. I began to shed the idea of what beauty and perfection was and began to see that my wild-ness, my wrecked nails, my unkempt hair and dirt-covered legs were perfectly enough for me. The dimpled skin, the few extra pounds and allowing myself to eat the things I wanted to nourish my body up these mountains instead of stifling it into a waif-ish frame became powerful. Look how strong. Not how small.

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It began to teach me that I am mentally and physically strong and that I am resilient and brave. It reminded my body that I can trust it, it showed me my PTSD triggers and how to overcome them while running. Instead of using those miles to erase shame and guilt, I was pushing out miles to face hardship and learn how to endure. Instead of using running to break my body down, it was helping me become tougher, to take pride in my body, to feel it work hard and to praise it for its efforts. Running became my teacher and healer, it taught me how to love my body again and how to appreciate everything it does for me. It taught me how able-bodied I am and brought me so in tune with nature that I can’t imagine diminishing the thing that allows me to experience it all ever again.

It takes a lot for me to share this slice of my story, but I know how much opening up those conversations can do. I know how much our weight, our looks, our sense of self love can effect us. I know how hard it can be. I have struggled to get to this person and I have fought to meet her. The trails and the outdoors have gently shaped me and aggressively encouraged me to grow and I am so grateful to look back at 2012 me up there and say, “we did it, sister, we made it out, and we are healthy”.

 

 

My First Ultra: Race Recap

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This was the first race I went in to feeling calm, zen-like and like I’d done everything I could do to prepare. My first ultra: a 50k. My first effort to run over a marathon. My first experience racing at night. Of course I wouldn’t to hit such a monumental moment by adding the challenge of running deep into the night onto the docket. But there we were, picking up our bibs, laughing with friends and family that had come to send us off, lining up in the corral waiting for the send off. 7pm came and it began…. we ran through the Start line and began the adventure of being able to say I was an “ultra”-runner. Not just a trail runner. 

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The single track was smooth, pristine and rolling. Our conversations were effortless, laughing as we discussed Game of Thrones and the finale…how the four of us each claimed our own throne. We watched the moon begin to rise under a thin blanket of clouds…just wispy enough to make it hard to see without a headlamp.

Runners from the shorter races began to pass us, the leaders of the packs sprinting by, breathing heavily, sweating and working as we moved at an easier pace, our breathing wasn’t labored. It was a completely different feeling to not be pushing and to remember at only 8 miles in, we had hours to go.

When we hit the remote aid station, everyone rejoiced over orange slices, dates and gummy worms as the sky began to clear and the moon shone overhead. We snapped off our headlamps and ran in the dark, holding conversations with other runners we came across as we listened to their stories: finishing 100ks, pacing loved ones…everyone had so much to share, everyone has a story.

The second, shorter loop had a climb that we could see in the distance as we approached. All the headlamps dotting the side like twinkle lights, we could see the different runners spaced out on the ascent. What looked like it would be challenging wound up being really enjoyable as it gradually skirted the hill and dropped back over to meet the big loop. Dirt was flying up into our faces as other runners passed us by, heading into the finish line of their 15k and 25k distances with determination, I wanted to speed up with them! I wanted to feel that push! Again, I had to remember we were only 15.5 miles in to a 32 mile race. Patience was everything, ego had no room here. 

Heading out again into the night, we were facing our second long loop and this time there was no light-hearted conversation, no funny jokes, no laughing. This time all of us were still, in our own minds, in our own zones. Battling our inner dialogues, our bodies, this effort. No one can prepare you for what you face when you challenge your mind and body in this way. No guide can describe the rollercoaster of emotions, the feelings, the doubts, the re-ignition…the depths you meet to keep pushing.

I felt it coming, the sharp itch in my throat that meant tears. I was 21 miles in and I’d pushed the last 5 a little too hard. “I can’t maintain this pace… I know you guys want to go faster and I’m holding you back”. My chest was burning, it was nearly 11:30pm and the mind was becoming a heavy presence. Taking shots of Gatorade I could feel a toenail that was detaching and a blister between my second and big toe that felt… alarmingly large. I tried to ignore them, nothing that can be done about them now. .

We left the aid station as @scott.edward1 reminded me we could slow down, we didn’t need to go faster, he didn’t want to and he only wanted us to finish. My nose began to sting and I felt a few tears well up, I was trying my best and my mind was trying to say my best wasn’t enough. But it was. We slowed our pace as my stomach ached, no longer wanting solid foods or gels.

Scott came up, running beside me massaging my neck, encouraging me as I let out a few frustrated tears. He held my hand in the dark with the big full moon over us and all the insects chattering. My mind started to calm and we ran into our final aid station with him reminding me I am strong the whole way.

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We went out for our last loop, me thinking “6 miles… I do this every Thursday morning. This is nothing now.” I put one headphone in and “Happy Song” by Bring Me The Horizon came on. The playlist I’d crafted a month earlier knew I needed that heavy guitar, the angst…and it worked. My legs sped up, my breathing stayed steady and I pushed before meeting up with Mikey on the backside descent of the hill we’d had to climb. For the last 3 miles we sprinted with what we had left and told each other there was no stopping, we were pushing through that finish line. My body tried to resist, but my mind stayed firm. So we did. And when we did, when we hit that finish line, tears came again because I didn’t reach this goal alone: it took every kind word, every cheer, every bit of support for me to get there.

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Gear used:

Racing tank + shorts: Janji Apparel

Shoes: Hoka One One SpeedGoat

Pack: Nathan FireBreaker 6L

Headlamp: BioLite

Chafing Cream: Squirrel’s Nut Butter (Vegan)

Gels: Spring Energy

Salt Tabs: SaltStick Fastchews

Recovery Aid: Runners High Herbals

I just want to start upping my mileage…how do I get there?

 

56528989_10156916317180619_4536699449967116288_o While some desire speed most, others are more interested in learning how to put in longer and longer distances. That is what my goal is and if you’re anything like me, sometimes wrapping your head around some of these bigger distances seems nearly impossible. 

My first race was in October of 2018, the Sky Peaks 25k in Flagstaff which equals out to roughly 16 miles. A week before that I had never run over 10 miles. A week before. While there are some who are naturally gifted, some who have been in the running game since high school or have built up their long distance endurance with hiking, others of us really have to work to pursue those miles. For me, adding on mileage has never felt “easy” or “simple”. I feel those added miles and it took me nearly six months of running 5-6 mile chunks before I felt confident enough to pursue double digits. It took one person to believe in me and tell me I could do it while running that 10 miles along side me, pacing me, to convince me I was capable. Once I hit that 10 miles, my confidence rose so much I felt like I could conquer any distance with the right mindset. 

So, how do you start inching up your mileage?

Slow Pace: while you may be able to do 3-5 miles at a faster pace, as you add on you want to slow your pace down. When you slow your pace down you aren’t stressing your body out which means you can run further and further without over-exerting. Your beginning pace should be aerobic and allow you to hold conversations easily without feeling out of breath. If you’re feeling good it means it is easier to pick up your pace at the end of the run and finish stronger instead of going out full force and bonking a few miles in.

Flatter Trails: Instead of focusing on elevation gain and a lot of vertical, as you are adding mileage you should focus on trying to stay low and focus on just that: distance. Working in runs focused solely on climbing or speed is also necessary, but allowing your long runs to be just that: long, is really helpful and your body will appreciate it!

Mid-Run Fueling: when you start upping your mileage you need to become much more mindful of your caloric intake during your runs. By rule of thumb you should be taking in 200-300 calories/ hour. As REI.com states, “the exact number of calories depends on several factors, including the length and intensity of your run and your body type: A larger person will likely need more calories per hour than a smaller person. Likewise, someone doing a very strenuous run will need more calories per hour than someone doing a short, easy run.” You will learn what foods your body is able to handle as you begin adding on mileage as well as what it feels like to “bonk”. If you are starting to feel fatigued, clumsy or emotional: it’s time to sip more water and eat something!

Positive Self-Talk: If you go out saying “I can’t hit 10 miles” you probably wont. Our mental self-talk is so important and it is crucial when you’re going further and further. If you can tell yourself, “I am going to be out here for two hours,” you are more likely to be successful. You’ve already prepared yourself for how long you’ll be running and any walls you face within your run, you can talk yourself through. You can break your runs down into 30 minutes segments or by mileage: 2-2-2-2-2 =10. Sometimes giving yourself benchmarks is what it takes, even if that is just telling yourself to get to the next cactus or trail post. Telling yourself you can do this, even if you are having a hard time believing it is so important – even outloud! Give yourself those words of encouragement loud and proud.

Training Partners: nearly everything is better together and that is no different when it comes to long runs. When you’re uppingyour mileage it is so helpful to have friends out there along side you, cheering you on, helping you through the discomfort and the walls you may hit along the way. It is also helpful to have a “rabbit” — someone who is a bit ahead of you so that you have someone to follow after if you’re going through a tough patch. Being able to feed off of other peoples energy can be extremely valuable because lets face it, when you start passing that 5 mile mark, things can be a struggle. Muscles hurt, things chafe, your mind can really fight what you’re doing and having support through those moments is a game-changer. However, getting to the point where you can support yourself in these long runs is important too — getting to know yourself and in your own mind is super valuable if you consider racing or want to pursue hitting trails solo, you’ll know how to tackle your blocks internally and your confidence in your own abilities will continue to grow. 

Weekly Goals: say hello to my favorite feature on strava. Setting goals allows me to hold myself accountable by setting weekly mileage goals or time goals. If I plug in that I am aiming for 30 miles during the week, it will subtract the distance I do each day, letting me know how close I am to hitting that goal by the end of the week. It lights a fire within me to reach it without any other outside influence. I also really enjoy going out for time-focused runs as those are great for getting your body adjusted to being  up and moving for that long. Your feet need to adjust to taking that kind of pounding for hours too! The more time you spend running, the stronger and more prepared your body (and mind) will become.

Two-A-Days: Sometimes breaking things down into smaller chunks is the way to go, as trailrunnermag.com states, “as your volume climbs, it’s more difficult mentally and physically to get all of your running done at once. So use the time you have—run in the morning, then again at lunch or after work. Even better: run commute to work in the morning and evening. Many professional runners throughout history have run twice a day for many reasons, including somewhat controversial ones like optimizing natural hormone production. But stripped down to their essence, double runs allow you to add more stress without the injury risk that consistent longer runs entail.

I’ve always been on the more cautious side as I’ve upped my mileage, preferring to take it little by little instead of large jumps in distance to protect myself from injury or overworking muscles that aren’t used to so much volume. Playing it conservatively, in my opinion, means I will be healthier and able to do this for longer! It may seem tough to follow your own pace and listen to your body instead of doing (or wanting to do) what everyone else seems to be doing around you, but I promise, if you listen, your body will tell you what it is ready for. There is a difference between discomfort and pain as well. One is temporary as you are in the moment, the other is telling you, “hey this is an injury”. Being able to determine what your body is telling you is extremely important as you start adding on. “Is your body dehydrated? Heat-exhausted? Just sore? Is something really wrong?” Your mind will always try to stop you before your body will and knowing what you can safely and healthily push through and what you need to stop for is key. Adding on 2-3 miles at a time, I think, is a great goal. You may find that that is too much and you need more time or that you can add a little more volume. It also really just depends on the day and how strong you feel! Allow yourself to be just where you are and you will find: this sport has so much to show you about yourself and your capabilities!