After Winning Comrades, Camille Herron Focuses on Western States

On June 3, 2017, Camille Herron won South Africa’s Comrades Marathon—an 87-kilometer race on the country’s east coast between the towns of Durban and Pietermaritzburg—the first American woman to do so since Ann Trason in 1997. Herron, 35, of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, is a relative newcomer to the trail scene. But her running resume is extensive, including 20 career marathon wins and three Olympic Trials marathon qualifiers.

Her transition to trail running last year, she says, was a logical return to what had made her fall in love with running in the first place: cross country. “Trail running merges my love for natural terrain with my natural talent to run long and fast,” she says.

Her first ultra, a road 100K in 2015, was the 100K National Championships at the Mad City 100K in Madison, Wisconsin, which she won. Her first trail ultra, in 2016, was California’s uber-competitive Lake Sonoma 50, where she finished fourth female. In the last two years, Herron has logged wins at Washington’s White River 50, Virginia’s Ultra Race of Champions 100K and Tarawera 102K in New Zealand.

Her performance at Comrades was just the first of a two-part mission to become the first woman since Ann Trason to win both Comrades and Western States in the same year. A “nagging hamstring” injury has proved challenging, but, Herron says, “I feel very confident that I can pull off the Comrades-Western States double win.”

Trail Runner caught up with Herron to learn about her training and strategy for Comrades, race prep for Western and why she drinks beer during races.

 

Photo by Andre Harmse.

 

What was your strategy for Comrades, and did things play out as planned? 

I train by heart rate, to learn the right effort [to pace myself during a race]. For Comrades and Western States, that is between 75 and 80 percent of my maximum heart rate. I focus within myself on this effort. I was at 80 percent [of my peak] fitness, which I knew would be good enough to contend for the win [at Comrades].

 

 

How have you been training for your Comrades-Westerns double? 

I have been averaging over 100 miles per week for more than 10 years, on a variety of surfaces, speeds and terrain. This has given me the mental and physical strength to push through and transcend when things get hard [in a race]. I run twice a day every day, unless I’m tired. I listen to my body and rest when it needs to, especially after races, and then build back up.

 

 

What was your nutrition strategy for Comrades, and how will that change for Westerns? 

I’ve really dialed in my fueling and hydration, and [gotten better at] improvising or troubleshooting quickly. I fuel mostly with gels, water, sports drink and soda. Your gut can process a maximum of 60 to 95 grams of glucose and fructose per hour, so I aim for that amount.

I also like to drink a beer or two during races, specifically Rogue Dead Guy Ale. I figured this out by accident at the Ultra Race of Champions 100K [in 2016]. It seems to balance me out mentally and physically, and it makes me feel good! It’s a nice treat to look forward to. But my limit is two beers [per race].

 

 

What will you be doing now between Comrades and Westerns?

Recovering. In ultras the endocrine system takes a greater hit [than in sub-ultra racing]. I think of body recovery in terms of blood flow, growth factors and nutrients. The body likes to move frequently, eat, hydrate and sleep, so I’ll be doing the little things, like getting massages and using my Rapid Reboot compression boots.

I have a Masters [in Exercise and Sport Science] and I did my thesis on enhancing musculoskeletal recovery, which has proved helpful in my career running back to back marathons [and now with ultras, too].

 

Do you now prefer trails to road, and, if so, why? 

They are both awesome in their own ways. Road racing is much harder in terms of intensity and depletion. It’s also far more competitive. You have to have speed talent to be competitive on the roads. However, I like the beauty of trail running and the challenges of the technical terrain and logistics. The recovery is a lot quicker, too.

 

What is your proudest achievement as a runner? 

June 24th [the day of the 2017 Western States 100] is when I achieve my proudest achievement.

 

 

Joe Gray Four-Peats at the GoPro Mountain Games Spring Runoff 10K

On Sunday, Joe Gray cruised across the finish line of the 2017 GoPro Mountain Games Spring Runoff 10K in 46 minutes 47.6 seconds. It was his fourth-straight win at the race, which takes place on the steep trails of Colorado’s Vail Mountain.

Gray, who last week won the U.S. Mountain Running Championships at the Cranmore Mountain Run in New Hampshire, is one of the top mountain runners in the country. His history with the Mountain Games dates back to 2008, when he was “broke, fresh out of grad school.”

A friend secured him housing and convinced him to compete. It was his first-ever mountain 10K and he finished third. He would return to Vail several times over the next few years.

“I had a great time,” Gray says of his experience that first year. “I think when you have a good memory of a race, there’s more incentive to come back.”

However, his four-peat did not come easy—last year he raced U.S. Mountain Running teammate Andy Wacker, and this year he contended against Lake Sonoma 50 champ Sage Canaday, 2016 U.S. Mountain Running team member Matt Daniels and 2016 U.S. Skyrunning champion Morgan Elliot. But, Gray says, “This course plays to my strengths. The climbs are tough, and right away it weeds out the weak from the strong. From one minute in, it’s a race. It’s not about speed or tactics. It’s about guts.”

Gray maintained a comfortable lead throughout the race. Photo by Emily McIlroy

Indeed, the course gains 2,282 feet in 6.3 miles, with an average grade of just over 13 percent. The first climb comes within just a few hundred yards of the start.

From the gun, Gray maintained a comfortable lead on the rest of the field, and by the time he crossed the finish line he had gapped second-place finisher Canaday by over a minute.

First place women’s finisher Morgan Arritola finished eight minutes back from Gray, followed close behind by second place female Anna Mae Flynn.

“I like the stress of shorter distances,” says Gray. “I like being competitive. With sub-ultra distances, there are usually no lotteries, so you know that all the best guys will be on the line.”

That competitive edge has carried Gray to 10 consecutive World Mountain Running Championships. Last year he took home the individual gold (and the title of World Mountain Running Champion), and also brought Team U.S.A. to its first team gold medal. With last weekend’s race in New Hampshire, Gray earned himself a spot on the 2017 U.S. Mountain Running team—and a shot at vying for another gold at the world championships, which take place in Premana, Italy, this July.

“I’m focused,” Gray says. “Our team is strong [2016 Team U.S.A. veterans Brett Hales and Andy Wacker have also earned spots, as well as 2014 team member Patrick Smyth], and I think we will win a medal. We could even repeat as gold-medal winners.”

For the next month, Gray will focus his training on transitions between different types of terrain and, perhaps more importantly, on his mental game. “In a world championship, if you fold [mentally] for even five seconds, it gets ugly real fast,” he says. “You can’t let negative thoughts cloud your mind.”

For Gray, that means not allowing himself to get hung up on past failures—and, more importantly, not idolizing past successes.

“Never rest on what you have done,” he says. “Focus on what’s next. There’s always something bigger.”

 

Embracing Failure on the Trails

If you commit to being a lifelong runner, you are also committing to lots of failure.

You’ll fail workouts, you’ll fail races, you’ll get injured. Smart training can reduce adversity, but no amount of planning can eliminate it. Your long-term development ultimately depends on how you respond to failure.

Personally, I would need two hands, two feet and a few octopuses to count all of my running failures, most recently at the World Trail Running Championships on June 10 in Badia Prataglia, Italy. I was running well, near the front of the race, when my quads decided to leave Europe (a “quexit”). Unfortunately, the rest of my body didn’t get the itinerary.

The last 13 miles took me nearly four hours—more time than the entirety of any 50K I had run to date. Imagine a dumpster fire on wheels, and you’ll have a good idea what I must have looked like as I crawled up the climbs, beset by cramps. After an hour in the mile 25 aid station, I only finished because my wife Megan came by (she was also have a frustrating day) and said, simply, “You’re coming with me.”

I got up, cramped and then waddled off to the finish at my wife’s side.

As coaches and athletes, Megan and I have a lot of experience talking about failure (and dealing with it). It’s okay to feel down for a bit after a setback—that’s normal. But if you keep it in perspective, that setback can make you stronger. Here are three principles to internalize now to ensure you make the most out of your next failure.

 

1. Focus on the process and don’t get hung up on any one race.

Running training requires long-term commitment to the daily grind. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and a runner isn’t even built in 100. We ask all of our athletes to think of their running development as part of a three-year plan, which is generally how long it takes to get a good idea of running potential. If you zoom out to a three-year perspective, no single moment matters too much.

Think about where you were with running three years ago. Now think of the worst race you had in that span. It’s not all that tragic in retrospect, right? The same goes for your best race—it doesn’t define you either.

Zoom out your goals, and dial in the process. Over a three-year time horizon, no day or week or month is all that important. What matters is a long-term training strategy guided by a daily commitment to the grind.

 

2. Don’t judge yourself for your failures.

You aren’t your best race, you aren’t your worst race. In fact, you aren’t your race results at all.

At the World Championships last weekend, former Speedgoat 50K winner Hayden Hawks had a rough start. He went from top three to way back, just 10K into the race. Instead of getting down on himself and dropping out, he kept moving forward. Eventually, after 20K of difficulties, he regained his legs and bounded to the finish. While it wasn’t the race he wanted (he was a favorite to win), it was the race he had.

That night at the closing ceremonies, he led a dance with teams from France, Italy and Spain, clearly not wasting time on self judgment. Hawks has found his potential by refusing to flagellate himself for his failures. Like all runners, he has failed to reach his expectations plenty, but he keeps on grinding through the long-term process, adapting as needed but never getting too discouraged. And I bet after his next big win, he’ll be dancing with the same enthusiasm at the awards ceremony.

 

3. The biggest failures usually lead to the biggest successes

It’s cliché, but if you never fail, you haven’t set your sights high enough. There are countless examples of failure preceding incredible success, but my new favorite is from Mario Mendoza, who finished ninth at the World Champs last weekend, the top U.S. men’s finisher, leading the team to a bronze medal. Last year, at the same race, he went for a great day and suffered to a 124th place finish, forced to a walk for the final 12 miles. But Mendoza was undeterred. This year he rethought his approach to European mountain racing, learned from his mistakes and didn’t judge himself based on one rough day. That commitment to long-term process ultimately led Team U.S.A. to the podium.

So the next time you fail, try to smile, dance and stay committed. Do that, and there is no such thing as failure at all.

 

David Roche runs for HOKA One One and NATHAN, and works with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play.

Self Massage for Runners on the Road

“We seriously hate you now!” My legs screamed heated words from an overdose of vert (2,400 feet in a mile along a slickrock ridgeline). They quivered each time I stepped my right foot on the clutch.

Desperate for a quality sports massage, I drove from the canyons of Southeast Utah all the way to Boulder, Colorado. Once in the promised land, where a blue massage table lay waiting, my massage therapist Aaron Lange suggested something unheard of before digging into the knots in my tight calves: “Do you have a car buffer in the Jeep?”

I laughed. The Jeep is so encrusted in red desert dust and mud that it isn’t even yellow anymore.

“It can really help your recovery out on the road,” Aaron grinned as he pulled out the green contraption, plugged it in an outlet and brought it whirring toward my legs. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh, cry or run away. However, what seemed like a very bad idea actually sent my calves into a state of bliss.

First he used the buffer’s flat end to “warm up” my calves before tilting the buffer on it’s spinning edge to dig into the deeper adhesions and knots. I immediately offered to buy the buffer off him. (No, I still have not washed my Jeep.)

Living on the road teaches you to be creative, especially when you are posted up somewhere wild, hundreds of miles from the nearest sports massage. Whether you’re a dirtbag runner like me looking to multi-task and save room (and money), or a weekend warrior planning your next road trip, use these car maintenance tools to give your “wheels” a tune-up along the way.

 

Buff It Out

A simple car buffer can be purchased at Home Depot for about $25. However, the most important and challenging accessory to come by while travelling is an outlet to plug it in. As a result, the car buffer is also a great tool to make new friends at gas stations and McDonalds parking lots.

When your buffer is on and spinning, apply gentle pressure to the muscle belly of the area you are treating and lightly move it up and down to warm everything up. “This kick starts myofascial release and helps pump new blood flow into your leg muscles to help speed up the recovery process,” says Lange.

The feeling can take some getting used to, and you can make it as intense as you’d like. For the true masochists out there, tilt the buffer on its edge and apply pressure to the areas that are tighter or contain knots.

 

The author “scrapes” her IT bands with a windshield scraper. Photo courtesy Morgan Sjogren.

Scrape Your IT Bands

It may seem pointless to keep a windshield ice scraper in your car year-round unless you are hitting the high country (word is the Sierra snowpack will stick through summer). But windshield scrapers are also amazing for loosening up a tight iliotibial (IT) band.

Use the scraper as you would a typical hand-held massage tool, and rub it along the top, middle and bottom edge of those bands till they feel loose enough to dance up the trails again.

 

The author “rolls out” with a spare lug nut. Photo courtesy Morgan Sjogren.

The Lug Nut Wrench Gang

I have a dozen or so spare lug nuts and lug-nut wrenches rolling around in the back of the Jeep “just in case.” I have never used them for the Jeep, but I have used them to keep my feet healthy.

Unlike rolling my feet on a tennis ball, the nuts and wrenches provide a nice metal edge to really work tight areas. Their small size allows me to target each section of my foot—even my toes.

For prime recovery, especially during long road trips and/or heavy training blocks, be sure to put your legs through this routine at least once a day followed by some stretching.

Stretching

To lengthen tight calves, prop your toes against one of your car’s tires, leaving your heel on the ground. For a hamstring stretch, lift one foot onto the hood or the trunk, with the leg straight out in front of you.

And don’t be shy. Sure, people might stare as you pull over and take a car buffer to your quads. But your legs will be singing as you blaze down the highway towards the next trailhead.

 

Morgan Sjogren runs wild with words anywhere she can get to with her running shoes and a pen! Follow her adventures, writing and trail racing on Instagram  @running_bum_ and her blog: therunningbum.com.

WATCH: Running in Nepal with Mira Rai

Tyler Courville grew up on an Indian reservation in the United States. When he heard Mira Rai’s story – she grew up in a rural village in Nepal and spent several years as a child solider in the Maoist rebel army before earning her stripes on the international trail running scene –  he felt a sense of connection. He understood what it meant to reach beyond poverty and low expectations, to chase opportunity.

Tyler won a trip to go run with Mira Rai in her home country. This video documents their trip, and tells a little bit of both runners’ stories.

 

Related: Wild Running in Nepal’s New Mustang Mountain Trail Race

 

The Ultimate Cuban Trail-Running Tour

A few years ago, Sergi Pujalte began to dream of a stage race in the mountains of Cuba.

A Barcelona native, Pujalte had done adventure races in various parts of Spain. He had directed the Barcelona Marathon, and organized a 450K mountain-bike race in Cuba. He decided Cuba should have a multi-day trail run as well.

“We wanted to create a trail race in an exceptional environment where the runners could find beautiful landscapes, adventure and a good experience,” he says.

Only 90 miles from Florida, Cuba has long been difficult for Americans to visit. But with the recent thaw in bilateral relations, things are changing—good news for history buffs, cigar aficionados, Hemingway fans and, of course, trail seekers.

Runners will be drawn to the mountainous jungles, bursting with tropical trees and flowering plants. But it’s not as easy as throwing on a pair of aggressively lugged trail shoes and disappearing into the jungle.

Accessing certain trails requires special permission granted only to organized tours. Plus, it’s always tough to drop into a new area equipped only with a map and vague descriptions from the Internet, and find the trails most worth your time.

That’s where Pujalte’s race, Jungle Trail Run Cuba, comes in.

The five-stage, 140K race—occurring for the first time this November—handles the annoying logistical stuff. That way, you can focus on what you want to do anyway: Run in some rad places.

 

A Beautiful and Unique Jungle

Jungle Trail Run Cuba takes place in Topes de Collantes Natural Park and its surroundings, a spectacular backdrop for five days of running.

The park is nestled in central Cuba’s Escambray Mountains, a region of steep hillsides, lush river valleys and thick jungles with what Lonely Planet calls “the best network of hiking trails in Cuba.” There are banana trees, coffee plantations and a World Heritage site with buildings that date back centuries.

It’s also a place of thrilling biodiversity. Pujalte says Topes de Collantes contains “15 species of pine trees, 12 kinds of eucalyptus and more than 100 ornamental plants” that are constantly in bloom.

Jungle Trail Cuba makes full use of this natural beauty. Over multiple visits, Pujalte worked with local residents to find the best trails for runners to experience—resulting in 140 challenging and diverse kilometers.

Photo courtesy Jungle Trail Run Cuba.

Staging the Race

To many, “stage racing” conjures images of runners with 20-pound packs, GPSing their way through a trackless desert.

Jungle Trail Cuba offers a more supported experience, while introducing runners to wild terrain.

The race kicks off with an 8K loop that starts and ends near the quaint hotel where runners spend the first few days. A nighttime jaunt past a couple waterfalls on technical trails, this short stage is not to be underestimated.

The distance ramps up on day two with a 31K, point-to-point run that includes relics of the colonial past and ever-shifting vegetation as it weaves between northern and southern aspects.

The next day, runners embark on an epic, three-day tour. Day three’s 32K route goes over technical jungle trails, across a river and in and out of small settlements. It includes views of the long, snaking Hanabanilla Reservoir.

Runners end the day at an idyllic riverside campsite. It’s “perfect for a swim,” Pujalte says—and relaxation is recommended. The next day, stage four, is the race’s longest, at 43K—just over a marathon.

It’s also the most remote. Narrow singletrack follows a river “into the deep Cuban jungle,” as Pujalte says. The biggest climbs of the week face runners here, as they trace a meandering loop back to camp.

Not that day five is a picnic. Thirty-three kilometers of steep climbs and primitive, overgrown trails stand between runners and the finish.

Jungle Trail Cuba is a five-day tour of trails, landscapes and sights that would be hard to replicate on one’s own—perfect for ambitious eco-tourists or those looking for a challenging but doable first stage race.

As Pujalte says, “It’s a mix of adventure, emotion and challenge in the middle of a tropical Cuban jungle—a winning cocktail all lovers of trail running will enjoy.”

 

For a chance to win a free entry to the Jungle Trail Cuba Run, email marisa.tabares@rpm-mktg.es. Winners’ names will be selected in a raffle.

3 Epic Peak Linkups—And What They Say About Trail Running

Trail running is a bit of an athletic Rorschach test. Everyone has their own interpretation of the sport.

You can be a short-distance speedster or a 200-mile workhorse. You can specialize in vert or on flats. You can excel on technical terrain or on mellow dirt singletrack. You can do wacky multi-sport things.

You don’t even have to race.

While we rightly celebrate the Kaci Lickteigs and Jim Walmsleys of the world, other athletes make their names setting fastest known times (FKTs) on epic trails—or even creating innovative new routes for others to follow.

To that end, here are three epic peak linkups and why they matter to the sport.

 

1. Presidential Range Traverse (New Hampshire)

This famous route crosses the Presidential Range—part of New Hampshire’s White Mountains—and its seven summits named for U.S. chief executives. At least 18 miles long, the rugged route has some 8,500 feet of elevation gain—most of it steep and technical.

Its beauty matches its beastliness, with windswept ridgelines and expansive views. Just be prepared for the legendarily inclement weather.

Why you should care: To explore the history of the “Presi” Traverse, and the White Mountains more generally, is to peek into the early chapters of American trekking and trail running. As Robert Moor writes in On Trails, the first European settlers generally “regarded mountains as either a nuisance or a horror.” But by the mid-19th century, some—mostly well-to-do city folks—began to see mountains for their aesthetic and spiritual value.

Mount Washington—at 6,288 feet, the Northeast’s high point and the alleged “Home of the World’s Worst Weather”—was an early hub of mountain tourism. By the time of the Presi Range’s first known traverse, in 1882, a carriage road, a cog railway and various other trails led to the mountain’s summit, which housed two hotels and an observatory, among other structures.

One summer, three-quarters of a century later, a 19-year-old trail worker named Chris Goetze set a flurry of records that stood for several decades and inspired later mountain runners. As Doug Mayer, a New Hampshire local and TR contributing editor has written, “[I]n that one season in the White Mountains two generations ago, he laid down times so aggressive that, to this day, his name is uttered with reverence.”

It’s not certain, but it seems Goetze never put up a time on the Presi Traverse. The first modern FKT—a stout 4:46—supposedly came 10 years later, at the hands of two national-class Nordic skiers who ran it in their off season.

More recently, the FKT has gone back and forth between a trio of the Northeast’s best mountain runners, Ryan Welts, Jan Welford and Ben Nephew. Nephew holds the current record (4:34:36) by a scant 53 seconds. Kristina Folcik has the women’s FKT of 5:32.

 

Mt. Antero, one of Nolan’s 14. Photo by Greg Willis / Creative Commons 2.0.

2.Nolan’s 14 (Colorado)

In Colorado’s Sawatch Range, 14 14,000-foot peaks huddle in close proximity. This roughly 100-mile north-south line connects the sprawling gray peaks via big climbs and pounding descents—a total of 45,000 feet of elevation gain.

Off-trail movement is required. Scree chutes, boggy meadows, bewildering cairn-to-cairn travel in the dark await runners on this trek, which, by custom, carries a 60-hour cutoff.

Why you should care: In the early 1990s, an ultrarunner named Fred Vance reflected on the fact that the mountain races he was running rarely tagged actual summit. So, with his colleague Jim Nolan, he devised a way to link a string of 14ers in western Colorado.

Nolan’s 14, as it came to be called, has since achieved legendary status as one of mountain running’s ultimate tests.

It resisted completion until a full two years after the first attempt, in 1999. In all, fewer than 20 people have finished the route. Even Vance, its pioneer, never made it beyond halfway.

Epitomizing the adventuresome, DIY spirit of mountain running, Nolan’s is an open route, and many sections lack trails, so it falls to each runner to choose the most efficient line. Many athletes, adopting something of a climber’s ethos, view it as a months- or years-long “project” that entails scouting missions and multiple attempts.

A rich vein of ultrarunning lore marbles this challenge’s history. Various notable old-school mountain runners—including 20-time Hardrock finisher Blake Wood and zany-challenge impresario Matt Mahoney—were part of the early scene, and continue to dispense advice to the yearly trickle of aspirants.

While Nolan’s has seen many valiant efforts over the years, 2015 was particularly news making. That August, Anna Frost and Missy Gosney became the route’s first-ever female finishers—and sparked a debate over whether they had in fact finished at all, due to confusion over the true endpoint.

Then, in September, Andrew Hamilton bested the route’s 13-year-old speed record by over an hour, setting the new standard of 53 hours 39 minutes. Most impressive, Hamilton, unlike other finishers, ran it unsupported.

In September 2016, Meghan Hicks put up a new women’s FKT (and unambiguous finish) in 59:36.

The Sierra Nevada mountains. Photo by Steve Corey / Creative Commons 2.0.

3. Norman’s 13 (California)

Déjà vu? This route pays homage to Nolan’s 14, applying its summit-to-summit style to the highest peaks of the Sierra Nevada.

From a 14,000-foot view, the stats look about equal; Norman’s stretches roughly 85 to 90 miles, with between 40,000 and 50,000 feet of vert. But the routes differ substantially on the ground (as it were).

Norman’s consists of two clusters of 14ers, separated by a stretch of the high-altitude John Muir Trail. Unlike its quasi-namesake—which demands a willingness to bushwhack but no technical climbing skills—the California version entails low-fifth-class scrambling on jutting granite ridges.

Why you should care: Norman’s 13, to our knowledge, has never been done. It’s the brainchild of Andy Gohlich, an LA-area climber and runner who plans to take it on later this year.

Like Fred Vance, Gohlich saw a logical line in the mountains, and wondered why it wasn’t a thing. California has 15 14ers. One, Mount Shasta, is way up north near Oregon. Another, White Mountain, is off to the east by the Nevada state line.

But the other 13 are all grouped in the Sierra Nevada.

“I was shocked that no one had focused on just the Sierra 14ers,” Gohlich says.

The project, along with three others, recently won a $1,000 grant through a collaboration between Ultimate Direction, La Sportiva and GU. It’s a good thing, too. Gohlich—who is 26, lives in his van and works a few days a week as a photographer’s assistant—says he otherwise might not have been able to afford the requisite gear.

“It’s so bloody obvious and logical, staring us in the face all these years,” says the grant’s creator, Ultimate Direction VP (and fastest known time OG) Buzz Burrell. “This is FKT action at its best—it’s creative, opens more possibilities and establishes meaning.”

Gohlich, who discovered trail running three years ago, calls himself a “solid upper-midpacker.” But by establishing a new line that’s sure to attract future adventurers, he can earn a spot in the annals of the sport.

In other words, to push the boundaries in trail running, you don’t need to contend for a two-hour marathon. You don’t need to be unusually talented, or even particularly fast.

“I hope that by having the vision for this route and sharing it with others,” Gohlich wrote in his application for the grant, “I can somehow give back to the sports that have given me so much, inspiring others to combine climbing and running … and hopefully inspiring someone to come along someday and do it faster as well.”

Timothy Olson’s Return to Competition

The parallels between Timothy Olson and a modern-day, trail-running Jesus go well beyond his long flowing hair and sinewy, tan body.

Olson rose to glory early in his running career, around 30 years old, and developed a substantial following with his racing and mindfulness teachings. Then he all but disappeared from the scene. His racing declined dramatically due to overtraining.

Recently, though, at 33-years old, he’s had an ultra-racing resurrection. On April 26th, he handily won the Penyagolosa Trails 116K ultramarathon, his first ultra win since 2013.

In short, Timothy Allen Olson is back from the dead.

 

Rise

Olson, of Amherst, Wisconsin, rose to elite ultraunning status quickly—and unexpectedly. He hadn’t run in college, didn’t do well in high school and spent much of his younger years lost and aimless. “I was a nobody,” he says.

Then he moved to Oregon and fell in love with the mountains. He met and worked with professional runners Hal Koerner and Erik Skaggs and began running and training with them. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could work hard and have success. I was kind of a bum for a few years,” he says. “So I decided to go hard.”

In 2012, after only two years of serious running, Olson won Western States 100 Endurance Run and set the record that remains to this day—14 hours 46 minutes. That same year, he won the Bandera 50K, Waldo 100K and took 2nd in the Lake Sonoma 50 Miler.

“It was a whirlwind,” he says. “I went from having a massage practice and working at a running store, just trying to make a living and pay the bills, to a sponsorship with The North Face.”

Mindfulness and meditation have become vital parts of Olson’s routine. Photo by Krista Olson.

Fall

After winning Western States again the following year, in 2013, Olson went on to place 4th at the Ultra-Trail Du Mont-Blanc (UTMB).

Then, it started to hit the fan.

While running Hardrock in 2014, Olson couldn’t get his body to run downhill toward the 45-mile mark. “I was miserable, vomiting; lungs just wrecked, laying on the ground,” he says. Then, later that year, he DNFd for the first time in his career at the UTMB. “After that, my body was just pretty toast and not accepting any training without feeling super tired,” he says. “I realized I needed to take a step back.”

Olson’s mindfulness practice has always been a core part of his training and when his body started to decline, it took on an even bigger role, both as a way of coping and as a way of balancing his life more. He scaled back his mileage and settled in for the long ride of recovery. “When you have challenges in your life it’s not going to change over night,” he says. “When you’re racing ultra distances, it really takes a lot out of your body.”

He started going to the gym for strength training and reduced from 160-mile weeks to 50 or 80. He started enjoying varied activities, like scrambling around the flatirons near his new home in Boulder, Colorado or just playing with his kids (Tristan, four, and Kai, one).

Olson was still racing, of course, just less. He accepted that he might never get back to the elite level. He developed his Run Mindful Retreats business with his wife, Krista, and enjoyed traveling with his family and hosting mindfulness retreats.

However… he wasn’t going down without a fight. “I knew I might never get back to that [elite] level, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t going to give my best effort,” he says. “You only live this life once; I’m going to experience it for all it’s worth.”

 

Resurrection

Slowly, Olson’s body recovered. Within the last year he’s been able to ramp back up to 100-mile weeks. When he toed the line of the Penyagalosa Trails 116K, part of Spain’s Ultra Cup, he was feeling fresh and energized. He thought he might actually have a chance to win, if he listened to his body. His only real goal was to finish feeling good.

Olson hovered around 10th place for the first 40K. He knew the lead pack was competitive and was particularly aware of Didrik Hermansen, a Norwegian who placed second at Western States in 2016. “My mantra for the race was presence and patience,” says Olson. “I wanted to make sure I was feeling okay, that I was paying attention in each moment.”

Then, things started clicking. His easy pace at the start (still a smoking 31 miles in 4.5 hours) prepared him to kick it into gear for the second half. “I started firing on all cylinders,” he says.

Olson knew there was a hefty climb leading up to the 70K aid station and, with everything going smoothly, he started passing people. By the time he reached 80K, he had passed Hermansen for the lead and managed a sizeable gap right away. “I didn’t expect to be in the lead there,” he says of the 80K aid station. “I try to stay positive, but racing has been really hard the last few years. It was a really good feeling to be back to where I know I can be.”

At the end of the Penyagolosa, Olson was back in a familiar place. “You go from hunting to being hunted,” he says. “I hadn’t been in that situation in a while so it felt really good.”

He was satisfied with his win, but was happier just to share the paella, wine and panoramic view with his family.

Despite his recent increase in mileage—and the win—Olson is being careful not to let old habits creep back up.

“I’m prioritizing good blocks of training and focusing on strengthening,” he says. He is also focusing on quality mileage versus high-quantity mileage.

His approach is obviously working.

If Olson does well in one more race within Spain’s Ultra Cup, which is part of the Ultra World Tour, he’ll win it.

But Olson’s version of success has changed over the years. When he started, his ego was in charge. He wanted to prove that he was a bum no longer. Now, he evaluates success based on “what I’m putting into the world and leaving behind. If I never win a race again, I could care less.”

Olson hopes to run some Ultra Trail World Tour races in the next year, specifically Diagonale des Fous in October. For 2018, he has his sights set on UTMB. For now, Olson’s happy to travel with his family and continue “introducing mindfulness to runners, hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.”

Related: Film Trailer, Timothy Olson and the Hardrock 100

 

Get Stronger On Hills (Even if You Live Somewhere Flat)

In Dante’s trail-running Inferno, the fifth circle would probably be an extended, sustained climb at 10-percent grade. When you are first starting out on trails, any hill can seem like a fiery and punishing place. But, with smart training, climbing can be heaven. Best of all: you don’t need to live in the mountains to become a strong climber.

When I qualified for the U.S. Mountain Running Team in 2014, I lived in Washington D.C., where the biggest hill was a few hundred feet. Unfortunately, the qualifying race ascended a few thousand feet. To overcome my vertical deficiency, I talked to every mountain runner I could to get some tips. Here eight lessons about becoming a better climber, no matter where you live.

 

1. Do functional leg strength.

Running is not always enough, especially if you don’t have mountains in your backyard. Strength training in moderation can support movement patterns that you use on climbs, increasing strength and power output. The key is to keep the movements functional and specialized for running, rather than impersonating someone in a Gold’s Gym tank top on Venice Beach.

Most of my athletes do the “5 Minute Mountain Legs” routine, where all you need are some stairs and a tolerance for pain. That circuit, done two or three days a week after hard workouts, can make mountains feel like molehills. Lots of other leg-strengthening exercises work as well— just make sure that any weighted movements are done at the direction of a specialist. Bodyweight should be plenty for building climbing strength, especially if you do one-legged exercises like the step-ups in the 5 Minute Mountain Legs routine.

 

2. Improve your running economy on uphills.

Running economy—the amount of energy it takes to run a given pace—is the key to developing your running talent whether you are racing on flats or in the mountains. I like to break climbing-specific running economy down into horizontal velocity and vertical velocity.

Even on a steep 15-percent grade, most movement is horizontal, so flat running economy is still the most important variable. That’s why a blazing fast track runner from the flatlands can excel in a mountain race with minimal training. To improve flat running economy, run as many miles as you can, and do short, fast strides that provide a go-fast stimulus for neuromuscular and biomechanical adaptations.

However, vertical velocity still plays a big role. So later on, after you have worked on optimizing your running economy for at least a few weeks, work on the vertical vector by doing some hill intervals between 30 seconds and three minutes, focusing on maintaining good form while running fast. If where you live is totally flat, you can do these on a bridge or a treadmill.

Megan Roche exhibits perfect forward lean on the way up to the summit of California’s Mount Diablo at the Mount Diablo Half Marathon. Photo by Bree Lambert Sanders.

3. Lean forward.

Hills are jerks. If left to their own devices, they’ll partner with their friend gravity to roll you back down to where you started. Running upright will make their job easier. Instead, lean forward into the hill, with your center of gravity tilted forward from the ankle. Slowly fall forward, letting each footfall stop you. A mental key that works for my athletes is to mimic the grade you are running. So if you are running a gradual four-percent grade, lean forward four percent—almost imperceptible. Meanwhile, if you are going up a ski slope, you should be as far forward as you can.

 

4. Use short, relaxed strides.

Climbing is strenuous because of the constant tension required to maintain power output while fighting gravity. To reduce exertion, try to stay totally relaxed, taking short, almost delicate strides. Experiment by running with a heart rate monitor on the same long uphill (or treadmill uphill) a few times over the course of a week. Practice relaxing—keeping your arms loose and your stride quiet—and watch the heart rate drop. Even one heart beat per minute counts!

 

Related: Inclination for Speed, run uphill like the pros.

 

5. Run (or hike) by effort, not pace.

Even the best climbers are pretty darn slow on hills. The key is to get comfortable being slower, focusing on keeping a steady effort over the course of a climb or a race. In general, unless a race is half marathon or shorter, you shouldn’t exceed lactate threshold (an effort you could sustain for about an hour). If you do exceed LT, it’s difficult to recover and finish with full strength, unless you are highly trained. So think about the climbing effort you could sustain for an hour—pretty slow, right? For many runners, this will require a good amount of power hiking, which can be a major tool for sustainable climbing.

Whatever you do, don’t let your effort level mirror the elevation profile. Go slower on (harder) ups and faster on the (easier) downs.

 

 

6. Don’t over-emphasize vert in training.

Climbing is slow. So if you climb too much, you’ll get slower.

Remember, the horizontal vector is still predominant for all but the steepest grades. If you run slow ups all the time, your running economy will suffer. And it requires a massive aerobic engine and crushingly strong legs to overcome poor running economy. It’s okay to run hills a lot, but keep many of your runs on faster terrain, and don’t worry if you can’t get into the mountains often. My perfect-world rule for athletes is that we train on fast terrain during the week, and on hilly trails on the weekend.

 

7. Do practice movement patterns on hills on a treadmill.

While you don’t need to climb a ton to be a great climber, your body does need to be adapted to the unique biomechanical demands of climbing, like the forward lean and calf muscle stress. If you live in the hills, do your weekly long run with lots of climbing. If you live in the flats, do repeats up the steepest climb you can find during your long run, or run extended treadmill climbs every week or two to practice form (4 x 15 minutes at 10-percent grade with five minutes flat in between is my go-to flatlander workout).

 

8. Keep your eyes down.

I asked my co-coach Megan what other tips we should give for good climbing. Her answer was simple: “Don’t look up.”

The longest journey begins with a single step, and the tallest mountain is climbed one step at a time. Put one foot in front of the other and don’t despair. Relentless forward (and vertical) progress can take you to some incredible places.

 

David Roche runs for HOKA One One and NATHAN, and works with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play.

When Choosing Trail Shoes, Comfort Matters

“I need to return these shoes. They give me bowel movements.” Seconds earlier the older woman wearing a necklace of real animal bones had walked confidently into the running store where I worked, with a shoe box in hand—always a clear sign of an impending return. Despite the absurdity of her claim (and outfit), I could not argue against the fact that if a pair of running shoes is so utterly uncomfortable they send you running to the bathroom, it is not the right pair for you.

During my two-year tenure working at a specialty running store—a right of passage for every true running bum—I hustled to help people find their dream running shoes.

Ironically it was during this time that I suffered my first significant running injury: the ominous plantar fasciitis. I tried everything to cure it—10 minute breaks to ice my foot, rolling my arch on a tennis ball while I rang up customers, sliding every rigid insole into my shoes and going through stability shoes like toilet paper on race day. Nothing worked. In fact, it continued to get worse.

One day I decided to try on every shoe in the store. Call me Cinderella, but I knew my Prince Charming was living upon the shelves piled high with boxes. As I slid my pain-ridden arch into a pair of white and red Nikes, which I had never even considered before, everything changed. They were really comfortable, and my foot instantly felt a little bit better. Within a few days my foot felt much better and I was back to my normal mileage.

I had always encouraged customers to pick the shoes that felt the most comfortable. What I didn’t realize at the time was that this method is actually supported by science. Dr. Benno Nigg, a research scientist at the University of Calgary who studies biomechanics, footwear and running injuries, found through his study of running insoles, “that comfort is important in [preventing] all movement related injuries to the lower extremities.”

A shoe fitting at a specialty running store typically involves an assessment of the runner’s pronation patterns (the amount one’s foot rolls inward upon impact, thought to cause injuries preventable through proper shoes), choosing the shoe that best neutralizes each runner’s foot strike.

The author gets fitted at a specialty running store. Photo courtesy Morgan Sjogren.

A typical running shoe selection include stability shoes (designed for runners whose feet roll inwards), neutral (recommended for runner’s with a natural amount of pronation) and cushioned (for those who want a softer ride or have feet that supinate, rolling outward upon impact).

Nigg proposes, “that the previous paradigms of cushioning and pronation should be replaced with the two new paradigms of preferred movement path [i.e. natural foot strike] and comfort.” Essentially this theory wipes out the static categories of stability, cushion and neutral shoes as methods to control foot strike. Instead, Nigg proposes letting your feet strike how they want to, putting each runner blindfolded in the driver’s seat, asking: what feels good to you?

Bottom line: There is a science to finding your trail running sole mate—and it begins with trusting your gut.

Comfort is a fairly vague and arbitrary word, though. Trail runner Jamie Mieras, DPM, breaks down what to think about. “The key comfort measures are the stability or flexibility of the shoe and the roominess and fit of the fabric upper at the forefoot, heel and midfoot,” she says. “Also consider whether the shape of the shoe feels like it supports your most efficient or innate movement. Comfort in this sense is a measure of whether your foot feels like it has enough support [and motion] in the right areas to act as your landing platform and springboard as you lope along the trail.”

Still looking to find the shoe that hugs your feet just right every time you lace them up? The shoe that serenades you with the sweet sound of its lugs against the single track? The shoe that never lets you down through multiple training cycles?

Well there isn’t a Tinder app for shoes yet, so get into your local running specialty store armed with these tips, and start playing the field until you find that one that just feels right.

 

Tips for Finding the Right Trail Running Shoe

1. Trust the experts (and your gut)

Darius Bastani, an employee at Movin Shoes Encinitas in California, with over a decade of experience in the running industry, advises runners to go to a specialty running store but not to overthink anything. “Listen to the person fitting you,” he says.

Although one time during my own running store tenure I did accidentally ask a man in the store to take off his pants instead of his shoes (he didn’t), so use your own best judgment. Most importantly, ask yourself, “Does it feel good?’”

 

2. Play The Field

When you go to a specialty running store, ask to try on multiple pairs of shoes, preferably across different brands and shoe categories (stability, neutral, minimalist, maximalist). With so many design theories to choose from, what you find the most comfortable might surprise you.

Keep an open mind and don’t limit your options based on what you think you will like. “Buy a shoe that feels great to run in for long periods,” says Mieras. “Don’t buy a pair that seems to make one area ache, puts your foot in an awkward position, or makes your feet feel tired. Also, don’t purchase shoes based on marketing gimmicks, or promises to cure ailments. For pains that persist, grab your most-worn pair and head to your local foot and ankle specialist.”

 

3. Test Drive

Many stores have treadmills, and it’s always a good idea to try a shoe out before committing. Some stores have regular wear-test nights sponsored by local reps in order to allow you to try shoes without purchasing them. Be ready to answer questions about past injury history and training goals, and a sales person should be able to steer you in the right direction.

 

4. Narrow It Down

When you know, you know. But if you find yourself with two contenders, run around wearing one of each shoe on your feet. Ideally you will select the shoe that you notice least and that feels like it’s already a part of your foot.

 

Morgan Sjogren runs wild with words anywhere she can get to with her running shoes and a pen! Follow her adventures, writing and trail racing on Instagram  @running_bum_ and her blog: therunningbum.com.