From 5ks to Ultra-Distances: My personal journey to endurance races

Before 2018 I didn’t even know trail running existed. What I did know was running on treadmills, tracks and roads — all of which I loathed and didn’t enjoy at all. I can recall running one color run in college and running up to 6 miles on the treadmill and that was the totality of my running expertise. When I started dating someone who trail ran I was mind blown that people willingly and happily ran up and down mountains for hours and hours at a time. Sometimes in questionable weather, sometimes without sleeping, sometimes with their bodies being pushed to the limit. My mind further imploded when I realized people ran trails for longer than 26.2 miles. Longer than 30 miles. Longer than 100 miles. When I heard about the Barkley Marathon for the first time, I became enamored with the gritty, eccentric feel of it all and the kinds of people that were drawn to do this. Was I the kind of person that would be drawn to do these seemingly crazy things?

Turns out, I am potentially that kind of person. Are you?

2018 was a year my eyes were opened to an entirely new world where I ran further than a 5k, then a 10k on trails and then began to build up to my first trail race: Sky Peaks 25k. This race is at higher altitude and has 4500ft of elevation gain in 16 miles. The week leading up to the race was the first time I had ever run 12 miles straight through and I remember the emotions and pride I felt that my body was able to move for that long without stopping. I felt strong. Powerful. Resilient. I wanted to chase those feelings and continue to see what I was made of and that is what led me to ultra-distances.

Two girls at the finish line of Sky Peaks race put on by Aravaipa Running in Flagstaff, AZ

What IS an ultra-race? An ultramarathon (aka ultra, ultra-running or ultra-distance) is any race longer than the traditional marathon (26.2mi). There are different styles of ultra-races from those that cover specific routes or distances and also timed races where you are running for a set period of time that may go for 6/12/24 hours or multi-day events (mileage covered may vary).

According to Wikipedia, “ultrarunning can trace its origins with early documentation from Icelandic sagas[citation needed], or ancient Greece where the idea of the Marathon, and the Spartathlon comes from. The history of ultrarunners and walkers in the UK from the Victorian Era have also been documented. One of the first documented ultramarathons in North America was held in 1926, and at the time was part of the Central American Games. Tomas Zafiro and Leoncio San Miguel, both Tarahumara Indians, ran 100 km from Pachuca to Mexico City in 9 hours and 37 minutes.”

Humans have been achieving incredible feats with their own two feet for a long time and as of 2018, I wanted to join the ranks. From the 25k race I completed I began to toy around with the idea that I could become an ultra-runner. The thought of it was intimidating, knowing I don’t have a background in running and don’t have the base that many do when they grow up running. My build up to longer distances was gradual and took a lot of patience. I ran another 25k in December of that year: The McDowell Mountain Frenzy, which was a much flatter, faster course. It was an entirely different feel from Sky Peaks and I began to think about my strengths and weaknesses as a runner. I remember vividly popping a massive blister between my big and second toes, disgusted but also intrigued. My body was doing big things — it doesn’t take long for you to get hooked once you start trail running and see what you can do, not only do you start wanting to up your distances but you also pick up trail and ultra lingo and lifestyle quirks (hello 5am runs and early nights).

I downloaded my first 50k training plan for free online after Sky Peaks to get a feel for what training could possibly look like (and what it would ask of me). It didn’t have any workouts embedded in it (running hills or including strides) but it gave me structure to start building my base up week by week. I focused a lot on time on feet, getting comfortable with moving for hours on end which brought me to my first trail marathon, wanting to build up the confidence I felt like I would need to have to tackle a 50k.

Finish line photo by Brynna Valor at Black Canyon Ultras hosted by Aravaipa Running

The 50k distance is the intro distance for ultra-running with other popular distances being 50 miles, 100k and 100 mile races. The next thing to consider with ultra-running are the various lay outs of races you can come across:

A Point to Point Course

A point to point ultra race starts in one location and leads you somewhere completely different for the finish line, like Black Canyon Ultras (which I did this year pre-Covid). This is an “A to B” course, where you don’t repeat parts of the course and get to see different things along the entirety of the race.

An Out and Back Course

The out and back course has you run out for a specific amount of time and then retrace that route back to the finish line. It can be fun to see fellow runners as you head in opposite directions but also means you are repeating parts of the course (the good OR the not so enjoyable parts!)

The Looped Course

A looped course means you are repeating the same set route multiple times. This is a well-known structure for timed races but other races offer this lay out as well. This can be a great option to test your mental strength and you also get to see crew and aid stations in set places which can be a nice set up. Examples of this structure are Javelina 100 and Across the Years.

I picked Blood, Sweat and Beers in Nevada to be my first trail marathon and signed up with one of my best friends. This course has a looped section, is exposed and still very warm while you race it in March. For a new runner like me, it was a humble awakening to just how these longer distances can challenge you. I learned I couldn’t eat pb&j sandwiches as my stomach ached and cramped for the last 8 miles of the race and the heat still rocked me as I pushed on race day. I had a lot to learn about hydration, electrolytes and fueling properly for these kinds of efforts. So much of ultra-running is trial and error leading up to the big day.

After BSB, I signed up for my first 50k: Adrenaline Night Races. Doing my first ultra race in the dark felt intimidating but also intriguing. I signed up with my partner at the time and a couple of his friends, knowing I’d feel confident to go through with it if we were all together. Leading up to Adrenaline we ran many long distance days on the weekends and I tried to incorporate running in the dark to get used to navigating trails without as much light. My long runs would cap out around 20 miles (sometimes with back to back longer mileage days on the weekends), focusing on running on fatigued legs and mental endurance. I again used a free online training plan and trained myself, without seeking out a coach. Soon, May was there and I was heading into my first ultra-distance race.

Image from Blood, Sweat and Beers trail race

May is hot in the desert and it is still warm when the sun goes down. We started off under a full moon and paced slow from the get-go. I was in my head quite a bit and began to bonk (ultra lingo for hitting a wall/ starting to feel bad due to various reasons) around mile 18 and struggled with negative self talk. I was lucky to be running the race with people I’d known for so long and that knew the supportive things to say while I was in the head space I was in. My stomach flipped and I couldn’t eat for the remainder of the race, gels no longer sounded appetizing and fruit from the aid stations (tents along the race route offering snacks / drinks and aid) weren’t enough to undo the hole I’d dug myself into. This course was looped and on the last loop I gained a second wind. I put my headphones in and pushed….hard. I wound up getting 3rd female at that race, surprising myself and showing myself that you can go through so many things while you’re out there running and come out stronger.

Two girls trail running Rim to Rim in Grand Canyon National Park

After Adrenaline I took time off and focused on adventure running (my first love and usual go to, as races aren’t what light me up). I was able to achieve Rim to Rim and run long distance adventure days that stoked my passion for trails and conquering new things on my own two feet. Come December I was ready to tackle a new challenge: a timed race. I completed my first 50 miler at Across the Years, running on a looped course for 9 hours. Stopping between miles and starting back up was a new experience, as was running on such a short, flat course. My knees, IT bands and hips hurt in new ways on this course and challenged me physically to keep going when I was uncomfortable. ATY taught me to embrace where I was at and do what I could in the moment, maybe not running every step of, but surely I could keep moving. I’ve enjoyed pushing myself in different ways and seeing just what my body is capable of in different settings. My confidence continued to grow and build as well as the drive to do self-supported longer distances.

A group of trail runners and November Project members before starting Across the Years, a fixed-time race put on by Aravaipa Running

I’ve checked off a few more experiences since ATY and am consistently excited to challenge myself again in a new way through this crazy fun sport. When I look at my journey to running ultra-distances, sometimes self-support and on a whim, sometimes in a race setting — so much of it has been testing. Testing different types of foods and electrolytes, testing different styles of races and terrains and testing different styles of training plans leading up to races. Each person is unique with how they fuel, train and race which is why I always love seeing and learning what other’s do and how different we are! After having several ultras under my belt, I’m still learning. I will always be learning. I am still so new to this sport and the world around it. There are many big name and elite ultra-runners I have never heard of or are just learning about, races that I had no idea existed and education I come across daily. This sport takes time and there will always be more to learn and try and experience, which is part of the excitement of it all.

You’re a trail runner? Here’s why you should be cross-training, too.

Once you start trail running, it can be hard to want to do anything else. You begin to up your running miles, getting lots of sun and sweat and dirt and it feels good to move this way but you shouldn’t forget the benefits of doing other activities and exercises too.

Girl running Blue Lakes trail to Mt. Sneffels near Ouray, Colorado

I’ve found over this summer I have been much less motivated to run constantly. Instead of getting discouraged I’ve taken it as an opportunity to expand my training and do a variety of activities to keep me balanced and healthy, physically and mentally. I run when it feels good (averaging about 30 miles a week) and supplement with cycling, yoga and strength training. It has kept me fresh and has taken the pressure off to attain certain mileage, speeds or climbing if my body isn’t feeling truly up for it. So let’s get into the details:

What is cross-training? Cross-training can be high or low intensity activity that compliments your main sport. To become a faster, stronger runner, you want to consider adding in sports like swimming, cycling, hiking, skiing or walking to encourage building up endurance.

Trail running is primarily a unilateral motion, meaning our arms and legs are moving in a forward and backward motion repeatedly. To get stronger, more flexible and more dynamic it is crucial to incorporate unilateral exercises, like curtsy lunges and horizontal banded monster walks. Runners tend to be weaker laterally, so you’ll also want to do workouts that strengthen your hips and glutes (hello isolated movements!)

Not only is cross-training great for getting stronger, it also can help with injury prevention, correcting muscular imbalances and diminishing boredom and burnout from your main sport of choice. WebMD states, “One of the most common mistakes people make with exercise is repeating the same routine week after week. To continue to improve your fitness level and reap all the benefits of regular exercise, you need to keep your body guessing. Cross training does this for you.”

How often should you be cross-training and how do you fit it into your plan? RunKeeper explains, “Cross training should supplement running, not replace it (unless you are running too often to sustain without injury). Begin with how many days per week you can safely run, which may be in the range of 3-5 days per week. Schedule one day as a complete rest day and then fill in the remaining days with your preferred cross-training and strength training/supplemental workouts. Aim for 1-2 days of any of the above cross-training workouts per week and 2-3 days of strength training, yoga, Pilates, or other supplemental workouts. One of the best ways to fit in both is to spend 40-60 minutes at the gym on your cross-training days, with 20-30 minutes of cross-training and 15-20 minutes of strength training.”

I like to focus on cross-training for longevity in the sport of trail running and continuing to love the sport without burning out. What’s your favorite kind of cross-training?

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.

What I learned from living out of my car and altitude training for 2 months

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You can live out of a red carry-on sized suitcase for two months. I know this because I just did it and that tattered red suitcase became a makeshift table, computer stand for watching Netflix and even a laundry folding station. At the end of June I took a trip to southern Colorado with two of my closest friends to celebrate my birthday early and escape the desert valley heat. After the quick weekend getaway, I couldn’t get it out of my head to take off and work remotely while delving deeper into my own happiness the best way I know how: trail running in the mountains.

Many work situations have shifted and, as someone who works in digital media full-time, I was able to work remotely. I came back home after that weekend and thought of all the things I would need to go back to Colorado for a week or two. I got a new cooler, a portable charging block for my computer and gadgets, a camp chair and more endurance gels and snacks that I could imagine needing (I needed them all!)

I drove up the 8 hours in my Subaru Crosstrek, listening to multiple podcasts on the way and made the back of my car comfy. Standing at 5’3, the back of my Crosstrek is the ideal camping situation that I can make extra cozy. I layered two sleeping pads, several blankets, my sleeping bag and a comforter. I brought a down jacket, a windbreaker, a rain jacket, multiple pairs of shorts and leggings, socks, a sweatshirt, long sleeved tops and tanks, a pair of jeans and casual tops to go out in public looking nicely and even a swimsuit (hello hot springs and cold plunges!)

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I had to bring my laptop, set up a hotspot, an iPad and brought along several books and my journal. Camping in my car made finding spots to sleep easier than setting up my tent (which I also brought along). The small grocery store made it easy for me to restock on essentials: soy yogurt, protein bars, fruit, sparkling water (my addiction), rice and pasta, bread, almond butter and jelly, salad and plenty of beans and lentils. I brought my one burner cook stove as well as my jetboil to quickly make hot water for coffee and oats. My eating was simple and routine, but it worked so well for me.

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If I woke up early with the sun I would head out in the cool temps, sometimes in the 40s to start, and begin to climb up a trail or dirt road that would promise alpine lakes or waterfalls or beautiful mountain views. If I slept in a little longer, to the background symphony of ATV’s and jeep off roaders, I would head straight to the Coffee Bear to start my work day after brushing my hair and teeth and changing into clothes that I could go for a run in after I was done with my work day. Coffee in hand, I’d pass my work day and then seek out my next adventure. 

I took all of my camping gear as well: my light one person tent took up almost no room and for a week I set it up on a dispersed site while my friends were in town to celebrate my birthday with me! It was nice to switch up how I was sleeping and gave me versatility no matter where in the San Juan corridor I was. 

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girl near Clear Lake in Colorado

The San Juan mountains took my breath away two years ago for the first time but I’d never been able to spend longer than 3 or 4 days there to explore. With nothing but time, I’d pick any gulch or dirt road to explore, with every route gaining over 2k of elevation, easily. I got very good at power hiking and running downhills. With every hour spent out taking in the views of alpine flowers and sometimes being hailed and rained on, I found gratitude and joy that I hadn’t felt in the heat of Arizona lately. 

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alpine flowers in colorado

Living out of my car in a small mining town slowed everything down. It stripped away the hustle and bustle and I relished in the simplicity of work, running and eating (and repeating). I stopped stressing, my anxiety dropped and my mood increased. When I woke up and went to bed every day, I got to look out at beautiful, rugged mountains and spend hours adventure running with no other agenda than to be out in nature. I cooked simply, read more books, wrote more in my journal, snuck showers and released putting pressure on myself to hit certain miles or speeds. I solely focused on enjoying the moment. I wound up averaging 55+ mile weeks with over 14,000 feet of gain for weeks on end, just from being excited and having a desire to get outside. I was trail running and climbing mountain after mountain and had no end goal in sight. I wasn’t training for a race or trying to optimize my running in any certain way, I was simply recreating and moving for the fun of it. It had been quite a long time since I’d gone out just for the thrill of it without a training plan attached. 

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girl running in basin below Sunshine Peak in Lake City Colorado

I also learned that altitude training adjustment takes time and varies person to person. For me: it takes a lot out of me to do. I never fully felt like I was recovered even when I knew I was eating a lot, getting adequate sleep and using recovery tools (hello theraguns and snowmelt creek plunges). I wasn’t able to trail run consistently without feeling like I was overexerting, so I took the uphill efforts as a gift to get stronger in a different way with lots of power hiking. I will say, I felt better the entire time comparatively to how I feel when I am running in 100+ degree temps. My Coros watch told me almost every day that I was in “Recovery Mode” with my effort where my efforts are always much higher in Arizona summer weather. Clearly I respond more positively to cooler temps, thinner air and longer endurance climbs.

Some research suggests that altitude training and heat training are interchangeable and each of them benefits the other. This Outside Magazine article states, “One of the key determinants of endurance performance is how quickly you can ferry oxygen from your lungs to your muscles via your blood. Specifically, it’s the hemoglobin in your red blood cells that grabs the oxygen. Spend a few weeks at high altitude, where the air is thin, and your body responds by generating more hemoglobin. That’s why the vast majority of elite endurance athletes do altitude training.” I am not fully sure I felt stronger when I came back down to Arizona and began trail running in 107 degree heat again, but I will say that I felt stronger in altitude conditions than I ever had before.

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This Fleet Feet article shares, “Training in the heat does work slightly differently than altitude training, although the main outcome: increased oxygen delivery to the muscles remains the same. Training at higher elevations creates additional red blood cells, while training in the heat increases your blood plasma volume, which enhances circulation, oxygen delivery, and results in a higher VO2 max at a given effort level. Training in the heat will also increase your sweat rate, decrease your heart rate, and improve your running economy. The increases in strength and endurance resulting from your heat training should last for months if your training remains consistent. This is one big reason why people who have trained consistently in the summer heat often feel great when they start running fall races.” 

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group of trail running friends on top of Handies Peak in Colorado

When I came back to Arizona nearly three weeks ago I felt the impact of heat again as my heart rate rose rapidly and my breathing heaved on every run. My weekly mileage dropped back down around 30 miles but I began to increase my cross-training, getting out on my bike frequently each week. Then, over the past weekend, I celebrated my friend Annie’s birthday with her by running a #Pool2PoolUltra, running from her pool to mine until we didn’t want to continue on. After lower mileage training being able to go straight into running 28 miles felt like a stamp of success that recent training up high and in the heat has been paying off, even if it is harder to see in the moment.

When I was up in Colorado I was reminded how little I truly need to be happy, train consistently and to feel strong and good in my own skin. I want to bring that mentality in to every day life, even when I’m not in quarantine and lean in to my new found love of dirtbagging it on a whim. If you have a career that allows you to work remotely and travel, I highly recommend giving yourself the opportunity to try it and see how you feel.

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

Race Report: Black Canyon 60K

In August of 2019 I clicked “confirm” and signed up for the Black Canyon 60K. My first 60K and second ultra so far in my trail racing career. As someone with no running history or training (didn’t run in high school or collegiately) this race is intimidating, to say the least. The Black Canyon Ultra is a net downhill race as well as a Western States 100 qualifier (in the 100K distance). This means the BCT attracts many elite runners and the speedy runners who can fly on this style of course. I’d never call myself fast and I’m most certainly the kind of trail runner who loves big climbs and descents over anything else which meant I had just signed up for something that wasn’t in my wheel house. Gulp.

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From August to mid October I battled a strained hip flexor, going to PT and doing more yoga and stretching than I could imagine while being dry needled, electrode-d and scraped. It didn’t feel 100% but I decided to run Rim to Rim in the Grand Canyon in October where miraculously, I had no pain. My hip wasn’t tight, nothing hurt and I had this glimmer of hope that my training for Black Canyon may work after all. If I could do 7k of climbing out of the canyon, surely things were headed in the right direction. I began to up my mileage in December, achieving my first back to back weeks over 50 miles before hitting 50 miles at Across the Years at the beginning of January in 9 hours (leading to a 62 mile week). I used that volume to flow into my last three 50 mile weeks heading into a slight taper. I didn’t cut back intensely and just maintained into race week leading into yesterday morning.

The night before, I laid out all my nutrition and gear to have ready for the morning so I didn’t have to think twice. I have leaned heavily on bringing my own nutrition after a flipped stomach at Adrenaline in May where I couldn’t get myself to eat for over 15 miles. I brought Probar BOLT chews, fruit leather, date bites, SaltStick fastchews (orange) as well as filled my 60oz. bladder with SaltStick electrolytes, Elixalyte and carried Spring Energy Canaberry packets with me as well.

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The day began by heading to Rock Springs, parking cars and hopping on shuttles that would drive us to the top of our point-to-point race. Starting in Mayer, AZ at the high school, we started at 9am with a lap around the track before heading out, running through the Spring Valley township and out onto dirt roads for roughly 4 miles. My goal for the day was to race a very consistent and strong pace throughout, leading to the finish where I hoped I’d feel good enough to say I could’ve kept going. I started those road miles off very conservatively and it can be challenging to allow many runners to pass you without trying to speed up your pace to match. After heading onto the single track I got into a groove, recognizing the section from preview running it two months prior. The day was crystal clear and the weather was perfect. At our start Mayer was in the high 30’s, but as you run you drop down towards the Phoenix valley, towards the warmer weather. The single track weaves across open pastures and farmland with the Bradshaw mountains to the right, capped with snow from our cold front that moved in last week. Seeing the rolling hills backdropped with the expansive mountains always gives it such a “wow” factor, which wasn’t lost on the three men I paced with for the first 13 miles. The first two men I met, Eric and Dave were from New Mexico and Wisconsin respectively. They had never been to Arizona before and both had these amazed reactions to our scenery, making it that much more enjoyable for me to take in alongside them, through the eyes of first timers. We talked about races and where we were from, our jobs and this trail we were running. Heading onto a forest road, you take a sharp turn dropping into this incredible canyon as the trail winds along the center of the mountain you are enclosed in. Looking out to the left,  you see the vast hills open up showing you rolling hills down towards Black Canyon City. It’s like a painting the way the hills fold and roll alongside each other, like the earth making waves and this incredible trail cutting down into them.

Many gates are present on the BCT to keep cattle in their respective areas and as many opened and closed them, I was small enough to bend and fold in between the gate bars, continuing to move with relative ease. I passed through the first two aid stations without stopping after I’d made the decision to carry quite a bit of water, electrolyte water in a flexy bottle and foods I knew my body responded well to with me from the start. I was able to maintain pretty consistent miles as we hit our half marathon point and headed out through a section that winds you through your first taste of desert-scape with cacti and granite rock on the trail. You can’t hear or see the interstate alongside you to the left, making it mind-blowing to know traffic and the world is zooming by not so far away while this breathtaking trail and epic race are happening just on the other side. Making the way to Bumble Bee Ranch aid station you find yourself experiencing a beautiful downhill with grated rocky footing that has you bobbing and weaving down towards an open view of cacti and a small town below. Much of this section felt like a blur to me as I found myself in deep thoughts often, I’d dropped my pacing pals at the previous aid station and it was just me and my body, moving, passing others and getting into the zone. I was starting to feel the heat of the day pick up and knew at Bumble Bee I needed to start utilizing liquid calories (GU Roctane) and ice. I hit the road crossing and started heading into the ranch with two men when suddenly a loud burst of cheering and yelling could be heard. There were all of my friends, shouting and clapping and making a tunnel, waiting for me to come through. The two men next to me turned, “Why are you so popular?! Who are you?!” as I giggled, overjoyed seeing their smiling faces. Words can’t describe how powerful it can be to see loved ones when you’re out there exerting yourself and being in your own head for hours on end. I ran into the barn getting Roctane and stuffing ice down my bra and all over my face before Melissa offered me a chug of Lime white claw. Conventional at 20 miles during your race? No. Fun? Yes!

I headed out with two bean rolls in my hands and a smile on my face as I went on to cover the 5 miles of “unknown” trail to me on the course. These 5 miles were the only ones I hadn’t explored before the race and also held the climb leading to Gloriana Mine aid station. I knew I needed to be mindful not to bomb my legs out, which is very easy to do on this course. With all the beautiful downhills you can get easily swept up and start to fly, faster than you should before having to climb and handle rolling hills throughout the duration of the race. I power hiked the climb out of Bumble Bee and modestly ran the flats, tuning into my breathing and heart rate, checking my pace on my watch and staying confident that this method was the best for me. This section had gorgeous trail that skirted the side of a mountain with a road below, as many drivers slowly passed down beneath you are looking to the right and seeing the rugged-ness of the Bradshaws and the winding trail before you with runners moving alongside and up the trail in conga lines or lone runners pacing it out. This trail isn’t butter smooth, with rocky footing and terrain that can wear on your feet and ankles over time — it truly is a deceivingly challenging and demanding course. I had to play hop scotch with four bike-packers for nearly 6 miles, back and forth starting and stopping for one another as they moved towards Gloriana and through it around the same time as me.

When you hit mile 24, you pop up and see Gloriana come into view. I willed myself not to speed up just to reach the next aid station, wanting more ice and craving oranges. I also knew at this point, I had 13.4 miles to go and to me, 13 was something I could wrap my brain around. That was nothing in the grand scheme of things. It was happening, I was completing this ultra feeling beyond good. No stomach issues, no negative head spaces, just hours of taking in the scenery and practicing gratitude miles. Every 5 miles or so I would just start listing off all of the things in my life I was grateful for: my healthy body, the fact that I’d overcome injury, the fact that my stomach hadn’t turned on me, how I had amazing friends that spent nearly their entire day out on the course to see us and cheer for us, that my boyfriend had taken time away from chasing/filming all of the 100K leaders to come see me on course, and on and on it went. Every time it lifted my spirits so high and just kept me floating on the course. I hit the aid station, sucking down orange slices and refilling ice in my bra as everyone clapped and laughed. I doused my buff in water, wrapping it around my wrist to continue drenching my face, neck and quads. I started out of the aid station, leap frogging the bike-packers one more time before they were able to speed down the trail with less rocky and technical navigation areas. I was glad to continue moving with ease and to take on the last portion of the course that had brought me so much joy as I ran it a few weeks ago with friends. I kept replaying that day in my head, checking off the miles and memories as I went.

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Staying consistent had played in my favor as I’d moved up in the field and noticing that every single female runner I encountered was the same: we were all constantly cheering for one another, supporting one another and giving each other words of encouragement. This is one of the big reasons I adore this sport: out here, we want to see each other succeed and we want to uplift one another so that more women take chances on racing ultra distances. Supporting women to feel empowered and capable means we all go out and shine that light and hopefully inspire other women to think “maybe I can do that too”…..you CAN. I left every interaction with the ladies on this course feeling so proud to share the trails with them and inspired that we were all out here having our own experiences, facing whatever may come and still showing up for each other even in the smallest ways to say “keep going”. And keep going we did. From Gloriana you weave through cacti and shrub, running further down towards the Agua Fria river. You lace up and down, into and out of washes, leading to your first river crossing that is about ankle deep. The water felt amazing and I grabbed handfuls to splash over my face before climbing out and up switchbacks with my sweet friend Allie. Yesterday was her first ultra and she fought incredibly hard for her finish, seeing someone I admire and respect so much totally push with everything she had inspired me more than I can say. These days aren’t for the faint of heart and her grit was unstoppable. Rising up over the switchbacked ridge, you again weave through desert terrain with shrubs, cacti and nothing but green rolling hillscape before you. Being past the 30 mile mark brought new elation, I was only 7 miles from the finish and could feel my excitement building. My legs were feeling a bit fatigued and my body was tired, but a good tired, not ripped apart but knowing we were doing something big and taxing.

Again, I leaned on my gratitude miles and decided to put in one of my headphones, turning on my “Hype Mountain” playlist and letting the excitement fuel me. There’s a hill around mile 33-34 that looks so daunting and painful and as I came up on it, I reminded myself to use my strong power hiking background to make it as painless as possible, I got to the top and continued to trot on heading down to the big river crossing that was going to mark nearly the end of my day on the race course. The first river crossing was low enough to rock hop over while the second, shin deep, cooled me down as I quickly moved through it and back out onto the trail. From the climb out of the river bed you begin to quickly switchback up to the top and as I began my ascent I looked up seeing a train of 100K runners making their way up as well. The 100K runners go into the 60K finish and then proceed to turn around and go back out continuing south on the BCT. I could see that many of them had been working hard, pushing deep for their 100K efforts and it humbled me to know, soon I would be done and they were going on for 20 more miles. Once I reached the top and got past the gate, I knew I had 2 miles left. My music was pulsing and I was feeling good, weaving around the runners heading back out and knowing every step was taking me to the finish line. I reached the trailhead parking lot, ran onto the road and took a left, seeing my friend Annie cheering for me. I couldn’t believe I was there, finishing strong like I’d hoped and soon, crossing the finish line with all of my friends waiting there.

I was able to come in 38th OA (out of 287), 17th female and 8th in my age group!

If you want a challenging, gorgeous 60 or 100K race, I highly recommend Black Canyon, it’s a beast in and of itself but the views will keep you coming back for more!

 

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.

Favorite Trail Running Gear, Grub and Goods of 2019

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Reflecting on 2019 I ran many different trails on many different terrains in all different kinds of weather and formats. I wanted to highlight the gear, grub and goods that I found to be my “go-to’s” over the entire year!

Clothing Brands:

  1. Janji
    1. Runpaca SS shirt: Janji’s clothing is made so well. It is lightweight, comfy and versatile. You can wear this shirt from day to day, during your workouts or as on the go gear.
    2. W’s Horizon Long Bra: I wore this sports bra for EVERYTHING. I loved that I could layer it under tanks or shirts or wear it on its own without feeling extremely “showy” thanks to the long cut crop top style. It is extremely comfortable, stretchy so that I didn’t feel smushed in and I never struggled with chafing, even with the open keyhole feature on the back.
    3. Deviation Tight: These tights are bright and bold and not my usual style but I LOVE these tights. They are form-fitting, snug and don’t budge during runs or other sports (like rock climbing). They have a high waist (my favorite), are breathable and moisture-wicking which has been great during our Arizona rainy and cold winter weather.
    4. AFO Middle Short: These are my go-to shorts. I wear them constantly thanks to their comfort and free-feel while I’m running. I love the open-ness of the cut and the fun patterns you can get.
  2. On Running
    1.  Weather Jacket: This jacket is lightweight, easy to pack down and is very breathable. I’ve worn it as a windbreaker, to block out rain and hail and as a thin base layer to pack under a puffy jacket. This jacket is flexible, moves with your body and has cap-designed hood to keep the elements out during your adventures.
    2. 7/8 Tights:  These tights are comfy, seamless and move with you without causing chafing or struggling to pull them up at the waist constantly. I love the reflective elements in the fabric that make them shine and a pocket on the back that is big enough to hold a card and your phone, just in case.
  3. LuluLemon
    1. Hotty Hot Short: I’ve been rocking Lulu since I started and they still are some of my absolute favorite shorts to wear. They are short, comfortable and allow me to move really well.
    2. Free to Be bras: I have several different patterns of this same bra style because I like it so much. It’s supportive and lightweight along with being stylish. While style isn’t the first thing I look for on the trails, it definitely doesn’t hurt to like what you wear!
  4. Farm to Feet socks
    1. Trail specific high socks that don’t lead me to get blisters or hot spots. Done deal.
  5. Wrightsocks
    1. Wrightsocks double lined socks are ones I swear by. They saved my feet from blisters and feel like they are hardly there.

Shoes:

  1. Hoka One One Speedgoat 4 – The Speedgoat has been my favorite for nearly 2 years now, with the 4 becoming my go-to. I ran my first ultra and first 50 in these shoes, offering great support, grip and cushion for long efforts. From packed dirt to scrambling on peaks, I’ve loved these on every terrain!
  2. On Running Cloudventure  – The On Running Cloudventure is built for techie terrain with grippy, ridged soles that let you navigate with ease. They are light and breathable and made for a perfect pair for training on lots of jagged rock.

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Grub:

  1. SaltStick
    1. SaltStick offers chews and electrolytes that I swear by. During the summer, I use the chews a ton. They are easy to digest and taste sweet which makes it easy to want more! The electrolyte liquid drops have been a game changer as well, with no flavor, I add it to my water and have felt strong throughout the durations of my runs.
  2. Spring Energy gels – the only gels my body really likes and doesn’t go sour on. Thanks to the all-natural ingredients, these gels aren’t far off from what I typically consume in my diet, meaning my stomach doesn’t resist and my sugars don’t spike and crash.
  3. Trader Joe’s Fruit Buttons
    1. I’m obsessed with fruit leather now when I’m running and I love their version. They are easy to break off and eat on the go and the flavors are really tasty.
  4. CALM Magnesium supplement – I’m going to swear by this supplement forever. After feeling a bit lethargic after runs and like my energy was low, I started testing out CALM and have been sleeping better, feeling recovery time has lessened and my body feelings more energized than it did before.
  5. Mamma Chia Chia Seed Packs
    1. I love chia seeds. I love the energy they provide and how easy it is to suck them down on a run. Mamma Chia is my absolute favorite thanks to their flavor, consistency and variety (even offering prebiotic blends and energy blends)
  6. Trader Joe’s Date Bites
    1. The blueberry almond bites are like crack to me when I’m out on the trail. Easy for my stomach to process, gives me natural sugars and carbs and they are DELICIOUS.
  7. GU Roctane Energy Drink powder
    1. I recently started testing out GU Roctane and really like it. My stomach doesn’t love solid foods after roughly 20 miles and Roctane is turning out to be a great choice after that point so that I can continue gaining calories, carbs and vitamins
  8. NOKA packs
    1. Sweet potato / goji and blueberry beet are my two favorites to bring on adventures. The consistency of these packs are great, the packs themselves are dense and keep me fueled and the flavors are delicious!

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Gear:

  1. Nathan Sports VaporHowe 2.0: I switched from the FireBreaker 7L to this VaporHowe and have LOVED the transition. Not only is there more space for gear, snacks, water, etc but the fabric in and of itself is a huge game changer. I love the silky material that isn’t as aggressive on the skin as mesh if you’re running without a shirt, as well as how breathable the pack is. With tons of pockets and an internal water-resistant one near the chest it has made the perfect pack for all-weather without having to worry about damaging anything I want to bring along.
  2. Nathan Sports Handheld  – I had never tried a handheld bottle until this year and can easily say it has become one of my favorite things to use. Stuffing my phone and keys in the pocket and taking off without a second thought has been a nice transition. The pocket offers additional grip for your hand as I used the handheld bottle for my 24 hour relay and felt my hand begin to tire roughly 5 hours in. Using the pocket to tighten it around my hand meant I could loosen my grip and trust that I wouldn’t fling it out of my hand. Just an additional bonus to this product!
  3. Nathan Sports VaporHowe Waistpak – this waistpak allowed me to wean off of always wearing a pack and learn the freedom of running without things in my hands or on my chest! I started loving running more minimally, being able to having one water flexy bottle, space for light snacks and my keys/phone in the zip pocket!
  4. BioLite Headlamp: this little headlamp has been the best investment! It is tiny, doesn’t feel heavy or chunky on my head and is USB re-chargeable. If the light isn’t on full blast, it lasts for quite a long time (4 hours on full throttle, close to 8+ if dimmed).
  5. Runner’s High Herbals: Not necessarily gear but I’m gonna add it here because it has been so helpful to my running. I use their CBD infused balms to go on my achy joints and muscles (one that heats up and one that I use more as an herbal salve). Between the Some Like it Hot! and the SuperHerb, I find I have a topical salve for any need I may come across with recovery.
  6. Squirrel’s Nut Butter: The anti-chafe salve is life. I use it on my thighs and under my left arm (because I don’t chafe on the right…weird) and it is a LIFESAVER. Squirrel’s goes on smooth and doesn’t ball up with friction or get really greasy. It does get hard in cold weather which isn’t ideal, but is a small price to pay for a great product.

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.