Running Bears Ears

This article originally appeared in the September issue of Trail Runner magazine.

On an eight-degree February morning, as snow flurries began to fall, I loaded up my pack and readied myself for a full day of mountain running and exploring in Bears Ears National Monument. The general forecast did not call for a storm that day, but then again, the Cedar Mesa plateau, resting at 7,000-feet elevation, is too remote to be included on any specific weather reports.

When I finally began my steep, winding climb toward Bears Ears pass, up a Jeep road coated in feet of hardpacked snow, a blizzard had developed and strong winds slapped me in the face. While the pass sits smack between the actual “Bears Ears”—the 8,929- and 9,058-foot peaks for which the monument is named—I could no longer see the red-sandstone-capped buttes. My lungs burned, my toes froze and my mood felt bleak as if as if the Bears Ears ceased to exist at all—a dark thought that felt too close for comfort at this moment in history.

I had set out for Bears Ears spurred by a sense of urgency due to recent government threats to rescind or shrink the protected status of 27 United States national monuments. The newest monument in the line-up, Bears Ears is a huge swath of public land 75 miles south of Moab, Utah, and bordering the more-well-known Canyonlands National Park, but without the amenities, mapped trails, campgrounds and visitor’s centers.

For the next several months, living out of my Jeep, I was able to readily access and run through the region’s remote desert canyons, mountains, imposing sandstone towers and pristine ancient artifacts, ranging in elevation from 3,700 to 11,300 feet.

Way back in 1943, western historian David Lavender described the area in his book One Man’s West as “a million and a quarter acres of staggering desolation between the San Juan and Colorado rivers, a vast triangle of land that even today is not completely mapped.”

Indeed, while the area has been mapped and roads have been built, it remains one of the last truly wild areas in the West, one that offers both a respite from civilization and a lifetime’s worth of running in untrammeled backcountry.


Photo by Morgan Sjogren.


Why Does It Matter?

In December 2016, former President Barrack Obama designated Bears Ears National Monument to be managed jointly by the Bureau of Land Management and National Forest Service. The move protected 1.35-million acres of wilderness.

“Rising from the center of the southeastern Utah landscape and visible from every direction are twin buttes so distinctive that in each of the native languages of the region their name is the same ‘Bears Ears,’” said Obama in his designation speech. “For hundreds of generations, native peoples lived in the surrounding deep sandstone canyons, desert mesas and meadow mountaintops, which constitute one of the densest and most significant cultural landscapes in the United States. Abundant rock art, ancient cliff dwellings, ceremonial sites and countless other artifacts provide an extraordinary archaeological and cultural record that is important to us all, but most notably the land is profoundly sacred to many Native American tribes.”

In fact Bears Ears continues to be used by over 20 regional tribes, including the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni and Ute Indian Tribe (comprising the Bear’s Ears Tribal Coalition), for tribal rituals, hunting and gathering of medicinal herbs and firewood.

In April 2017, President Donald Trump passed an executive order for the Interior Department to review the status of the Bears Ears for 45 days. As of June, the proposed action looks to drastically shrink and alter the boundaries within the area of protection. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke suggests that a final decision be reached once the department reviews the status of 26 other monuments that have been created since 1996, sometime in late August.

Related: No Free Lunch, Trail Running and the Public Lands Debate

Public-lands advocates contend the ultimate objective is to open up Bears Ears for the modern-day ritual of gathering fossil fuels and other valuable minerals buried beneath the soil. Trump’s actions have sparked a public outcry especially amongst the outdoor industry, which accounts for $887 billion in consumer spending annually and 7.6 million American jobs (according to the 2017 Outdoor Industry Association), and stands to be drastically affected in reduced public access to wilderness areas.

As a result, the Outdoor Retailer tradeshow, the premier bi-annual gathering for the entire outdoor industry (bringing in over 20,000 people and $45 million in revenue to Salt Lake City) has decided to pull its event from the state to protest the actions of the Utah government, which leans heavily toward rescinding or shrinking the monument. The decision came after several large brands, including Patagonia and Arc’Teryx, announced that they would boycott the event due to the Utah government’s current stance on Bears Ears, public lands and the environment.

Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard, shared in an op-ed for the brand, “Governor Herbert (of Utah) … should show the outdoor industry he wants our business—and that he supports thousands of his constituents of all political persuasions who work in jobs supported by recreation on public lands. We love Utah, but Patagonia’s choice to return for future shows will depend on the Governor’s actions.”


A Different Kind of Trail Running

While the Bears Ears area is not known for its trail running (yet), Amanda Podmore, the assistant director at the non-profit Friends of Cedar Mesa is excited about the potential. “Trail running is a great fit for the Bears Ears National Monument, because you can experience a vast, diverse terrain of canyons, mesa tops and valleys with a low-impact activity,” she says. “Like other visitors, you have the opportunity to respectfully visit its abundance of rock art, cliff dwellings and other historic sites.”

Surprisingly, there are few established trails, giving curious and adventurous runners a blank canvas to chart new territory. If you’re looking for Strava stats, FKTs and easily marked routes with signage, then Bears Ears may not be for you—this is a wild place.

To create my running routes, I gleaned beta the old-fashioned way, by word of mouth—with a Navajo jewelry maker, the owner of a trading post in nearby Bluff, Utah, a mountain-bike adventurer, an archaeologist and fellow trail runner Luke Nelson (who completed a massive 150-mile loop in Bears Ears this spring). While everyone gave me incredible leads for locations to begin my runs, the magic theme of Bears Ears seemed to be in the unique challenges of being able to safely handle the area’s convoluted terrain and often-extreme climate.

Photo by Morgan Sjogren.

Danger and difficult access is the most limiting factor for trail running in Bears Ears, according to archaeologist R.E. Burillo, whom I met at a coffee shop. “The iconic cliff dwellings of the Bears Ears area were intentionally built high up in the deep narrow cliffs,” he says, “for difficult access and defense to protect their food sources during a period of climate change and overpopulation.”

How does this translate for runners looking to tour Bears Ears on foot? Be prepared to encounter rock scrambling, technical down climbs, dead ends and harsh weather (including deadly flash flooding) on any given visit. Says Nelson, “Do your homework before you go. Look up well-known backpacking routes. There are lifetimes of 25-mile day routes to explore.”

The variety of trails, climates, wildlife and elevation ranges in Bears Ears is mind blowing. Cedar Mesa is perhaps the most varied and intricate region of all, with terrain ranging from deep canyons like Grand Gulch, filled with ancient artifacts, to the dramatic 80-mile-long, slickrock Comb Ridge that juts along the edge of the mesa.

The Bears Ears are perched atop Cedar Mesa’s high point and intersect with the mountainous Elk Ridge, which contains the Dark Canyon wilderness—a portal to Bears Ears’ most remote, primitive and technical canyon landscapes. The 11,000-foot Abajo Mountains are visible from nearly every vantage point and are lined with aspen groves, and offer views of the sandstone cliffs and desert towers of nearby Indian Creek.

Discovering Bears Ears

In early May, I headed into the rugged backcountry of the Dark Canyon Wilderness. The singletrack trail descended quickly from 8,000 to 5,000 feet along a flowing stream shaded by pine and aspen trees that hid the red-sandstone canyon walls until I reached the canyon floor. Once in Woodenshoe Canyon, the sun exposure gave way to a dramatic temperature rise—one of the more unique features of Bears Ears are its plethora of micro-climate zones, which is a point of caution for runners. I focused my gaze on dancing over the rocky terrain and hopping over washes  flowing from a wet spring.

I only occasionally scanned the high canyon walls, and through a small opening in the trees, I spotted a cliff dwelling—walls of artfully crafted sandstone bricks built directly into the rock walls—with windows and wooden beams still intact. I diverted my route from the trail and scrambled up slickrock ledges to pay homage to this portal into the past. Looking through the home’s ancient brick window, I soaked in the lush canyon, blue skies, magnitude, sacredness and beauty of Bears Ears.

Another day, I circumnavigated the iconic North Six Shooter—a 350-foot Wingate-Sandstone butte resembling an upward-pointing revolver atop a huge talus cone—in Indian Creek. On other runs, I crossed barren dry washes on 90-degree days, slogged over sand dunes that filled my shoes with fine red silt, did steep hill repeats up and down the slickrock ridges of Comb Wash with Luke Nelson, ran through box canyons lined with stunning arches, pranced through the aspen groves at 10,000 feet in the Abajo mountains and encountered deer in lush green meadows still scattered with late-spring snow.

Eventually, on a warm, sunny Easter morning I returned to Bears Ears Pass for a redemption run. The six-mile, 2000-foot climb started in a canyon full of high-desert shrubs before ascending through dense piñon-juniper forests. Once between the two buttes I was swept away in panoramic views of deep and winding whitewashed canyons in Natural Bridges National Monument, Monument Valley’s iconic red-rock formations, Comb Ridge, the nearby aspen-covered Abajo Mountains and the more distant La Sal Mountains and La Plata Mountains. Behind me laid the vast pine-covered region of Elk Ridge and Dark Canyon Wilderness. My mind dreamed up endless new-route ideas and adventures, before I turned around and ran back down the mountain.

Photo by Morgan Sjogren.

Trailhead: Bears Ears National Monument, Utah

Bears Ears Beta:

For information, permits and local beta, visit the Kane Gulch Ranger Station (managed by BLM) in southwestern Utah along Highway 261, near Natural Bridges National Monument. Essential topo-map zones include the Cedar Mesa/Grand Gulch, Manti-La Sal Forest and Canyonlands-Needles District.

Know Before You Go:

Bears Ears is primitive. There are no services in the region, no cell reception and water is scarce. Check the weather and know your game plan ahead of time. Arrive prepared with extra water, emergency gear and a full gas tank. Stop in Blanding, Utah, on the east side of the monument, to
fuel up and carbo-load with
a smothered burrito at
Pop’s Burritos.

Respect the Land:

Amanda Podmore of Friends of Cedar Mesa suggests that trail runners consider removing packs so they do not accidently brush against walls and sensitive areas when approaching a cultural site, and to not run or walk too close to the base of structures to avoid eroding the foundation. And leave all artifacts in place.

When to Run:

Spring and fall are the ideal seasons. Locals profess that the high country (including the Bears Ears) is notorious for snow as late as May or June (but summer temperatures can be scorching). Flash floods are always a serious concern, especially in the canyons. Keep an eye on weather, and with any wilderness trail run be prepared to adjust your plans for the conditions.

Recommended runs

Bears Ears

To run the Bears Ears Pass (and beyond), take County Road 263 out of Blanding to Highway 95 until you see the sign to go right for Bears Ears. Park at a pullout and prepare to climb and grind—the views will be worth it!

North Six Shooter

The iconic North Sixth Shooter Peak in the Indian Creek region (known for its world-class rock climbing) is a delight to stare up at as you log miles. For a flat, easy eight-mile out-and-back, take State Route 211 to the Jeep road for Davis/Lavender Canyon, which leads to the base of the tower. You may extend the run to include the tower’s climbing approach from the south end of the feature, which involves negotiating talus and scree fields, for dramatic views of the Indian Creek and the Canyonlands Needles District.

Mule Canyon

From County Road 263, take Texas Flat Road past the parking lot and look for the small trailhead sign on the left. The House On Fire Ruin is only one mile in from the trailhead, but the Mule Canyon’s singletrack trail continues along the creek for a possible nine-mile out-and-back run. Keep your eyes open for more ancient sites. Get to The House on Fire by mid-morning to experience the ideal lighting for its roof to truly look ablaze

9 Fall Trail-Running Shoes, Reviewed

Finding the right pair of trail-running shoes is like finding love: when you know, you know. But the search can be disheartening. You’ve tried out a few pairs yourself. You’ve asked friends for recommendations. After a while, you’ve begun to doubt whether you’ll ever find a perfect fit.

This fall, there are a handful of new trail-running shoes that are sure to give many runners that “a-ha” moment—whether you’re looking for a shoe that hits a sweet spot between minimalism and maximalism, or simply one that tempers the right amount of cushion and protection in a lightweight package.


fall trail running shoes 2017

Hoka one one Speedgoat 2 (Editor’s Choice)

Price: $140
Weight: 9.8 oz
Drop: 4mm

The Speedgoat 2 is an altogether different shoe from its first-generation predecessor, and one perfectly befitting its name: equal parts lightweight and rugged. The shoe has been updated with a wider last and toebox, Vibram Megagrip outsole and double-layer mesh upper that is at once breathable and protective.

Compared with the Challenger ATR 3, the Speedgoat 2 features a slightly higher stack (max of 32mm, as opposed to 29mm in the Challengers) and an overall softer midsole. Yet, thanks to the wider outsole, the shoe has a more stable feel. Don’t confuse stability with bulk, though. This is a fast shoe, one that shines equally on long, slow runs and short, speedy ones. The outsole is superb on everything from slop to rocks, and the effective mid-foot overlays keep your foot feeling nimble on technical terrain.

Fit: True to size, with a wider last than other current HOKA models, like the Challenger and the Mafate.

Bottom Line: This is a one-quiver shoe, for an all-out 10K or a 100-miler.

“The Speedgoat 2 is unequivocally one of the best ultramarathon-capable shoes on the market. Although I have opted to rely on it for ultra-distance events, its lightweight package and speedy profile also make it a viable choice for shorter distances.” —Linh Shark, Colorado Springs, CO


fall trail running shoes 2017

Inov-8 TrailRoc 285

Price: $150
Weight: 10.0 oz
Drop: 8mm

The TrailRoc 285 shines on rocky, technical terrain. Compared with other models in the Inov-8 line, the TrailRoc 285 is slightly wider, particularly in the toebox. The flexible, low-profile midsole allows for a high degree of ground feel, while sticky medium-depth lugs—and a mid-foot rock plate—provide stability and confidence on hardpacked surfaces.

Aside from the shoe’s supreme performance on rock, testers were most impressed with the lightweight, breathable upper, which is strategically padded in the tongue and heel, but remains airy and quick-drying, thanks to sections of exposed mesh in the toe and along the sides of the midfoot. A hardy toe bumper offers protection without compromising forefoot breathability.

Fit: Some testers felt the RocLite 285 fit true to size. Others felt it to be a half-size small.

Bottom line: Great on hardpack and OK in mud. Suitable for long distances, for those who are used to a minimally cushioned shoe

“When it came to scrambling, my feet felt secure and stuck to the rocky terrain with incomparable precision.” —Kahlil Gonzalez, Elmsford, NY

Related: When Choosing Trail Shoes, Comfort Matters



fall trail running shoes 2017

Salomon Sense Ride

Price: $120
Weight: 9.7 oz
Drop: 8mm

Like Goldilocks’ three bowls of porridge, Salomon has found a shoe that is the best of two worlds: not too much cushion, not too little, but, as one tester noted, “just the right amount.” With a max stack of 27mm, the Sense Ride is just enough shoe to keep you protected and comfortable, a nice middle-ground to the less-cushioned Sense Pro and the highly cushioned Sense Pro Max. The midsole is relatively soft and flexible, with a rock plate that provides plenty of protection.

An upper of single-layer, breathable, durable mesh and strategic—not overbearing—midfoot overlays keep this shoe feeling light and nimble. The outsole is really where this shoe shines. Though low-profile, the lugs are sticky, which makes for a confident ride on rocky, technical terrain.

Bottom line: Runners who like minimalist shoes will find this a suitable option for ultra distances. Runners who like maximalist shoes will like this shoe for mid-distance or short runs. There’s something here for every type of runner.

Fit: True to size. Some testers found that it was shaped on the long, though this did not affect fit.

“The Salomon Sense Ride is not an extremely light shoe, but it isn’t built up any more than absolutely necessary to provide some solid protection on tough and gnarly trails.” —Forrest Tracy, St. Paul, MN



fall trail running shoes 2017

Dynafit Alpine Pro

Price: $159
Weight: 10.6 oz
Drop: 8mm

The Alpine Pro is a burly mountain runner, with cushion and protection for the long haul. However, burly doesn’t necessarily mean clunky: the shoe is nicely rockered, stiff in the back yet soft and flexible up front. This effect comes, presumably, from the dual-density EVA midsole, which features a denser compound in the heel and a softer one in the forefoot. The end result: a responsive ride that maintains ground feel through the toes. The midsole is also equipped with a rock plate. The outsole is moderately lugged and sticky. Testers loved it on everything from rock to pea-sized gravel and Pacific-Northwest mud.

While the stable, smooth ride was what testers loved about this shoe, the upper is what stands out most at first glance. It features heavy midfoot overlays and a patch of tight mesh that covers most of the laces, doubling as a lace keeper and debris guard. Some testers noted that the shoe took a long time to dry out after getting wet.

Fit: Runs a half size to full size small.

Bottom line: A great all-arounder for people who like a well-cushioned shoe with a traditional drop that is stiff—but not too stiff.

“The cushioning in the sole is ample and provides more support than any trail shoe I’ve ever worn.” —Deby Kumasaka, Edmonds, WA


fall trail running shoes 2017

ON Cloudventure Peak

Price: $150
Weight: 9.2 oz
Drop: 6mm

The Cloudventure Peak is a stripped-down, lightweight version of On’s first trail-running shoe, the Cloudventure. The barely there midsole is stiff and highly responsive, with a noticeably smooth transition through the gait cycle, while the CloudTec outsole—a series of raised pods that bulge away from the body of the shoe to absorb impact—help offset the lack of midsole cushion. The pods are textured with triangular and rectangular lugs, which testers said gripped surprisingly well on loose, slick and hardpacked surfaces.

The main differences between the Cloudventure Peak and the Cloudventure are in the outsole (a denser outsole rubber is located only around the edge of the shoe and at the toe and heel) and the upper, which is a thin, lightweight, stretchy material, much like what you might find on a soft-shell jacket. Testers praised the shoe’s moccasin fit and perforated, wraparound tongue.

Fit: True to size.

Bottom line: This is a minimally cushioned and minimally protective shoe, ideal for short-and-fast runs, though runners with more conditioned feet may feel comfortable taking it out for longer missions.

“These shoes have a distinctive, bouncy feel. I felt right away that they were built to go fast and light.” —Forrest Tracy, St. Paul, MN


fall trail running shoes 2017

361 Ortega

Price: $120
Weight: 10.7 oz
Drop: 9.5mm

On the spectrum of trail shoes, the Ortega hits a middle ground. It is adequately cushioned, but not maximally so; stiff—but not so stiff as to be unforgiving; protective and supportive, but not heavy. Several testers compared its narrow fit, agile feel and stiff, low-to-the-ground midsole to a racing flat. All were surprised at how much traction the wide, shallow lugs offered. Though the outsole is, as one tester described, “mild-mannered,” it affords confidence on all types of dry, hardpacked and rocky terrain. The lugs’ low profile meant that they also transitioned comfortably to road and gravel paths.

Aside from traction, the shoe’s biggest appeal is its out-of-box comfort, thanks to ample cushioning around the ankle and Achilles and on the tongue. The thick padding—combined with a water resistant upper—makes for a dry, protected ride in stormy or cold conditions, but does not drain or breathe well.

Fit: Narrow, but true to size.

Bottom line: This is a versatile all-arounder that excels on dry, hardpacked surfaces but suffices in all but the most sloppy, technical conditions.

“[The Ortegas] have enough of all the key elements—cushioning, agility, protection, lateral support, grip, breathability, overall comfort—to excel in most weather conditions and on most types of terrain, with the exception of mud or highly technical terrain.” —Yitka Winn, Seattle, WA


Altra Timp

Price: $130
Weight: 10.7 oz
Drop: 0mm

Runners who like uncompromised ground feel but also want a lot of cushion will gravitate towards the Altra Timp. This new model has a stack height of 29mm, placing it between Altra’s Lone Peak and Olympus models. Without a rock plate, though, it feels like less “shoe” underfoot (and, consequently, more ground feel) than both of those models.

The Timp is one of the widest shoes in the Altra line, but, thanks to a beveled outsole, which tapers at its junction with the upper, the shoe is remarkably stable—more so than most other Altra shoes—with a no-slip fit that is snug in the heel and roomy in the toebox. The outsole is nearly identical to that of the Superior, and several testers remarked that the beefy lugs provided plenty of protection in the absence of a rock plate.

Fit: Wide for an Altra, but true to size.

Bottom line: A middle-cushion, long-distance trail shoe that provides both ground feel and protection.

“The 29mm stack height is the perfect buffer for just about anything, and the platform’s slight curve rolls into a super-smooth transition.” —Lauren Arnold, Polson, MT


fall trail running shoes 2017

Brooks Pure Grit 6

Price: $120
Weight: 9.6 oz
Drop: 4mm

The Pure Grit 6 is, perhaps, the sleekest of all its predecessors. The shoe retains the same flexible, moderately cushioned midsole that toes a healthy balance between decent energy return and decent ground feel. The outsole features the same hexagonal lug pattern, which provides reliable grip in all conditions.

The biggest change is in the upper, which is now made of a more tightly woven mesh, and overlaid with a series of flexible rubber dots, rather than the thicker overlay that was used to provide structure and support on previous generations of the Pure Grit. The result is a more comfortable, breathable, sock-like fit.

Fit: True to size.

Bottom line: This is a good shoe for people looking to transition to minimalism, or minimalists looking for something with a bit more cushion and protection. Good in all conditions and terrain.

“This is the most comfortable and flexible upper of the season. I can’t imagine what would make this shoe more comfortable.” Lou Brenner, Polson, MT


fall trail running shoes 2017

Icebug Acceleritas 5

Price: $123
Weight: 6.2 oz
Drop: 4mm

The Acceleritas 5 is all about maximal tread and minimal everything else. With no rock plate and a virtually nonexistent midsole, this shoe is the lightest, and perhaps also the most aggressive, that we tested. It fits narrow—what some testers called a performance fit and other, wide-footed testers called too tight—and is extremely flexible. The upper is thin and breathable, with no supportive overlays (though a strip of thin rubber at the base offers some water protection and added durability), which means it drains quickly.

The shoe’s biggest selling point is its tread. The deep, tapered, rectangular lugs reminded several testers of cleats. They perform exceptionally on snow, mud and steep, grassy slopes and the lack of midsole cushioning provides good ground feel.

Fit: About a half-size small, and narrow.

Bottom line: This is a specialized shoe, ideal on snow, mud and steeps.

“These Icebugs are the ballet pointe shoes of trail running: highly functional and narrowly specialized. Just as pointe shoes are a barely there system to hold a rigid toebox in place, the Acceleritas 5s are a minimal system to give one’s foot an outsole. And what an outsole it is.” Kari Fraser, Boulder, CO

How To Run Steep Downhills

Learning how to run downhill is like learning how to dance. When you start, you are like a pimpled seventh grader hoping not to make a fool out of yourself. Over time, though, you can learn to bust a move with the best of them.

Just like dancing, downhill running requires you to commit, relax and get your mind out of the way. Any trail runner can learn what to do, if you let yourself.

Downhills are not that complicated, but they take practice. Good downhill running starts with three general rules, which you can use to gain comfort on any terrain.

1. Take short strides

On downhills, runners tend to use gravity and open up their stride, bounding over the trail with heavy footfalls. That is a bad approach for two reasons.

First, a longer stride gives you fewer opportunities to course-correct as you go. Each footfall that lands in front of your body is a risk, because a larger percentage of your weight is supported by that footfall. Step wrong with a loping stride, and you’ll probably taste dirt before you have a chance to say, “Oh fudge.”

With short strides, each step involves less impact force and thus gives you a chance to adjust on the fly. Step badly, and you might already be on to the next step. Sometimes, the best downhillers are really just the best controlled stumblers, able to misstep and recover constantly without any issues.

Second, long downhill strides increase eccentric muscle contractions, which can lead to soreness later. Eccentric contractions are the controlled lengthening of muscle under tension. Imagine your leg extended in front of you. As you land, your knee will bend, causing eccentric contractions and associated muscle damage.

Shorter strides will still cause some eccentric contractions, but since the muscles aren’t under as much load with each stride, the next-day soreness will be less pronounced.

2. Practice appropriate posture

Essentially, you want to keep your feet under your center of gravity, rather than leaning too far forward or backward. Lean forward excessively and your momentum will increase, limiting your ability to adjust to the terrain as it comes. Lean back, and your leg will land in front of your mass, causing eccentric muscle contractions and problems from over-striding.

Instead, try to keep your shoulders, hips and ankles aligned at impact, using the hips and knees as key indicators of proper form. Run tall through the hips, and avoid “sitting down” in your stride. Because of forward momentum, maintaining upright posture through the hips may actually feel like leaning forward a few degrees.

At the same time, focus on a relaxed knee drive, lifting your feet from the knee, rather than kicking back. That will help you avoid kicking rocks and will contribute to a quick, soft stride.

3. Relax and let it flow

People sometimes describe good downhill running as making love to the trail. Others treat downhill running like a job interview.

The informal downhiller jumps over rocks, lets his/her arms go above his/her head when that seems to help and doesn’t worry about a misstep or bad line. The formal downhiller stiffly views each rock as an obstacle and each steep section as a competitor.

If you relax and flow, you’ll run downhills faster because you are not putting on the brakes unnecessarily, but instead letting gravity do the work. This practice can be learned over time, like anything in life.

If you consider yourself a bad downhill runner, let that thought slip away. Anyone can become an expert downhill runner if you work at it and avoid self-judgment. After all, gravity is a constant for all of us. Make it a constant companion, rather than a constant enemy.


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

Running the Stone Cat 50 Miler

After running the Boston Marathon “on a lark” in 2001, Greg Shea swore he would never run anything longer than 10K again.

“Then I met Nick,” he says.

Nick Lunger is a longtime trail runner. Shea began accompanying him on trail runs. Marathons turned quickly to 50Ks.

Last year, Shea saw a video of the infamous Miller-Hawks showdown at the 2016 The North Face 50 Mile Championships, shot by Jamil Coury, Michael Carson and Billy Yang.

“I had never seen a trail-running piece remotely like it before,” Shea says.

Shea, who works as a documentary producer for Boston’s WGBH, was immediately inspired to create his own running film.

The result is this 28-minute video documenting Lunger’s attempt to finish his first 50-mile race, at Massachusetts’ Stone Cat 50 Miler. The video follows Lunger through pre-race excitement, extreme lows and, ultimately, a satisfying finish well under his goal time.

“I just might find myself attempting [Stone Cat] next year,” Shea says. “Hopefully with a smile on my face … and a camera in my hand.”

Watch more of Shea’s films on his youtube channel here.


Half Light Half Dark: Circumnavigating Peru’s Cordillera Huayhuash

Cumbia rattles from Teo’s tape deck through dusty speakers while a strawberry-shaped air freshener swings from the rear-view mirror like a pendulum, all softening the terrifying mountainscape ahead. Our driver, the Sultan of Swerve, bobs and weaves around backhoes and speed bumps that only encourage him to speed up. Teo grips the wheel, his forearms pork-chop thick and rippling with experience. He’s lived here in Huaraz, Peru, for much of his life. After attending university in Lima, he preferred mountain air to urban backwaters. Teo shares stories of his daughter, and a wife much less, but this much he knows: These Andes are home.

Willie McBride and Brian Donnelly crouch in the backseat as we pummel south toward Llamac, an unmapped village nestled into the Cordillera Huayhuash. For the past three days we’d acclimatized in Huaraz, an anarchic feast without recipe—electrical wire-tangle, gangs of stray dogs, cinder block and brown brick—all ringed by Andean massifs. The word Andes pulls from the indigenous anti, or “high crest,” a spine that composes the longest mountain range in the world: 4,500 miles north-to-south and 500 miles wide, through seven countries.

The Huayhuash (“why-wash”) is a sub-range whose remoteness and scant infrastructure keeps most people away. But these mountains are Edenic, a bouquet of alpine drama only 30 miles in diameter but flaring of limestone, shale and sandstone up over 21,000 feet, all furrowed below into multiverses of erosion. Encircling this cluster is an 80-mile path, a circumnavigation boasting over 25,000 vertical feet of climbing, typically backpacked in two weeks.

We were attempting to fastpack the route in three days.

Fastpacking: a half-bred term combining the speed of running with the multi-day component of backpacking. Tiny packs, running shoes, trekking poles that double as tent poles and cut-your-toothbrush-in-half weight sensitivity to minimize heft and maximize mileage. The plan to fastpack this Peruvian route began a decade earlier.

Driving to Llamac. Photo by Brian Donnelly.






In 2009, Willie had traveled to the Andes on a climbing trip and learned about the Huayhuash, but hadn’t the skill, the time or the partners to consider running around it. Until now. I met Willie, now 34 years old, while living in Portland, Oregon, through the trail-running community, and we fused like hot wax. He was offbeat and eccentric, a wild-eyed artist with an owl tattoo wrapped around his torso and a sardonic wit that often left me keeled over in laughter. He also had a beautiful girlfriend, Sonya Montenegro, whose equally striking sister had just moved to town, yet another reason to befriend Willie.

Brian’s friendship also came by way of trails—dirt has a knack for matchmaking—our paths adjoining one rain-pelted morning in 2011 along the Ruckel Creek Trail, one of the Columbia River Gorge’s steepest. His rocket pace dragged me several thousand vertical feet to the top without teasing a sweat, confirming him as a reliable partner for ambitious outings, of which there were many since.

Back in the car, Teo discusses climate change. He points east to the mountains: Cordillera Blanca, White Mountains, named for their reliable glaciation and snowpack. Teo explains that no glaciers will exist here in 20 years, that they’ll no longer be able to sustain their namesake. “Cordillera Blanca? Without ice, we’ll have to start calling them Cordillera Negra—The Black Mountains—Montenegro!”

Llamac burrows into canyon country, its earthen homes lining streets recently paved. Arriving at a storefront, we meet Benigna, a middle-aged woman who offers beds for the evening. Her braid tails long behind her and she speaks in whisper, a voice requiring you to listen. Purple corncobs hang from rafters aside laundered blankets still wafting of detergent. Someone stirs dinner with a ladle, clink-clanking the sides of a metal pot. After we settle into our rooms and then return to bowls of salty chicken sopa, a flash of golden-red the size of a fox quickly enters through the doorway and disappears under the table.

“Se llama Moti,” Benigna says. Peering under the tablecloth I find a small dog lobbying for scraps. His eyes appear lined in mascara, a black contrasting with his cream-dipped tail and paws. “Moti,” she repeats. “Medio blanco, medio negro.” Half light, half dark.

“He will come with you as guide.” We’re about to embark on the most demanding effort of our lives: consecutive 17-hour mountain marathons above 14,000 feet with only glorified daypacks. I don’t see a dog; I see a liability. Benigna appears gentle with the prospect, as if this happens all the time. She changes course. “Llamac’s biggest festival of the year starts in three days. Hurry back and you’ll make the first evening of celebration. Oh, and make sure Moti doesn’t die. Seguro?” Willie and Brian look at each other and frown.

“You gonna carry the pup on your shoulders if he can’t make it?” Brian asks

Moti, the dog. Photo by Brian Donnelly.

us, half-joking, half-serious. I cringe, shake my head and return to slurping broth. Who’s going to carry me out if I can’t make it, I think to myself. We carry our dinner’s warmth upstairs to three lofted rooms, austere and cold but armed with heavy alpaca blankets that suffocate my entire body as I crawl into bed. 

“You ready for this, boys?” Willie’s question lobs across thin walls that separate us. His question makes me shiver, while Brian is already snoring. He’s a father of two, I think. Bastard can fall sleep anywhere.

“You know it,” I lie.


At 4:30 a.m., Moti weaves between light and dark, between streetlight orb and pre-dawn, following us to a trail that precipitates upward 3,000 vertical feet without foreplay. Morning reveals the surroundings: striated rock clawing into cleft and grotto, geologic poetics versed in deep time—deep for us, not for rock. Reaching the first 14,500-foot pass, the Huayhuash meets us, a humbling theater of mountains so opulent and vast and arresting in its honesty, a place self-willed, dictator to her own climate, her own rivers and gorges and glaciers. From this vantage the entire 80-mile circuit unfolds before us with errant symmetry. Brian, Willie and I drop our bags and share one of Earth’s most majestic backdrops. Moti weaves between our feet.

Such circumnavigations are never quite as round as they appear in the imagination. The route we follow is indeed circular but its honest shape resembles a kidney bean, or the perimeter of Spain, Peru’s colonizer. On a map this circuit fibrillates: it fastens to valley bottoms to get you far and fast until crinkling into switchback, where you cross over vertical passes into new drainages. This is the Circumnavigation Creed: linear in feel, spiked with equal parts bliss and suffering, but always cyclical.

The decision to go around a mountain demands an investigation of every dip and saddle, every tiptoed traverse over landslide, snowfield and river. It’s not enough just to follow a ridgeline to the summit. Circumnavigating enlists you to a litany of challenge, the rewards of which mirror some ecological whole: washouts and ridges, canyons and caves—all exposing the honest expression of place, and, in turn, carving honesty into the pilgrim that paws along its path.

Related: Darcy Piceu Sets Support FKT On Peru’s Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit

When Brian Donnelly hurts, you worry.

After 14 hours of movement, we reach the base of our day’s final pass, 15,500-foot Cacanapunta. Brian thumps atop a boulder, pale-faced. We are worn to nubs, short of breath and well behind today’s goal, having scaled three passes but ill attuned for the elevation. Over six feet tall and 44 years old with boyish looks, Brian hides his credentials well. In 2015, he became the fastest human to cover the Oregon Pacific Crest Trail—453 miles in a week, an average of 63 miles a day, unsupported and alone. He’d raced several ultramarathons, during one of which he fell and cracked a rib. Holding his flank, Brian limped wheezing for three more hours to finish second. A father of two girls, Stanford-educated and a master fiddle player, the man possesses a legendary grit.

So when Brian Donnelly hurts, you worry.

To meet Benigna’s challenge, we need to crest Cacanapunta before sundown. I dig into food reserves and find a puck of amaranto, tasteless as chalk, and chase it with iodine-treated water that’s already making the inside of my mouth peel. Unsettled weather at the pass doesn’t act on its threat of snowstorm and we stumble up and over, finding camp on the other side by headlamp, next to an abandoned shepherd’s hut. Wind fights any attempts to claim shelter, one canvas sheet propped by a single pole—pitiful for three men, three packs and a dog. Moti limps into my sleeping bag to find warmth in its down. I follow his lead. 

Photo by Brian Donnelly.


“He’s not gonna make it,” Willie says.

4:15 a.m. 13,450 feet. Eighteen degrees. We’d veered off route to strike camp, so returning on course meant fording a roaring creek—manageable for us but a deathtrap for Moti. The dog paces on the embankment, marooned and whining. Brian hasn’t fumbled five words since we’d camped and I wonder how his body feels this morning; mine is a 10-car pileup. But this dog is coming with us. He’d endured yesterday without complaint, 15 hours over three rarified passes, and we can’t leave him now.

That’s when we decide to perform the infamous Huayhuash Dog Toss.

Brian and I have already crossed so Willie assumes the role of pitcher, and I of catcher. He scoops up Moti and approaches the water’s edge. A failed toss will mean a wet, potentially dead dog disappearing into downstream darkness. Moti squirms in full understanding of what’s about to happen. I rub my bare hands together to combat frostbite and prepare for what feels like the most important catch of my life. Heels burrow into the sand while Brian holds my jacket from behind so I can lean out into the raging creek, arms outstretched.

Three. Two. One. 

Willie heaves the dog and, for a moment, Moti hangs in midair, suspended like a cartoon: flying dog awash in the light of three headlamps, bushy tail, subtle grin. He lands in my arms and I feel like I just delivered a newborn. Brian clamps my jacket tight. We’ve caught him, our canine guide showing us around his local contours. I deliver Moti to dry ground and he struts away, wagging in embarrassment.


The day unveils an alpine dream as we traipse along a necklace of turquoise

lakes into the heart of the Huayhuash: Yerupaja (21,768 feet), Siula Grande (20,814 feet). This inner sanctum erupts with sounds of calving glaciers and tumbling moraine slide, all fastened to the largest group of 19,000-foot-plus peaks outside the Himalaya. I fumble with my own childhood fixations on mountaintops and begin to understand that there must be places on this planet where humans simply don’t belong. Spindrift curls off of jagged Siula Grande, and I’m certain this was one of those places.

Suila Grande is considered one of the most dangerous peaks on the planet, a summit crowned infamous by Joe Simpson and Simon Yates 30 years prior after attempting a first ascent of the mountain’s West Face. What transpired on their descent remains one of the most harrowing alpine survival tales of all time, documented in the 2003 movie Touching the Void.

But despite this mountaineering lore, danger in the Huayhuash isn’t relegated to summits. In the 1980s the region became a stronghold for the Sendero Luminoso, or “Shining Path,” a militant group of Communist vanguards guided by visions of a worldwide proletariat revolution. After one backpacker was murdered along this circuit, Peru’s government closed the range for several years. In 2002, a 29-year-old software developer from California embarked on the circuit with his Peruvian girlfriend, reassuring his mother that he’d check in once they returned in two weeks. That message never came. Their bodies were found weeks later, decomposing in a tent buried in stones after being robbed and murdered by Huayllapa youth.

Huayllapa is coming up in a mile, and these memories of bloodshed surface as I see two shadows behind a boulder ahead. I pat my chest pocket for my knife, but getting closer the figures reveal themselves: two boys in ball caps, shy and skittish. One twirls dead grass between his fingers while the other splashes in a creek as we pass. Moti never flinches.

Huayllapa is the only other village along the 80-mile circuit. Vegetable fields terrace alongside the path and one man spots us while tilling his field. He rolls an official green vest across his bare chest and tightropes along a stone partition to collect entrance fees. Two older men surface, too, button-down shirts and formal hats. Teo had warned us of mafia-style interrogations here and these men fit the part.

“Tres dias?” a man says after hearing of our journey. “Con burros?”

“Burros, no,” Willie responds. “Somos burros.” We’re the donkeys.

Their faces crinkle. Still no laughs. “El perro es tu burro,” says the man, pointing to Moti who rests in the shade of agave. All day he’d been rejecting food, vomiting back whatever we offered. He’d heaved across rivers, convulsed above 14,000 feet and run over 65 miles in two days. But perhaps such comforts didn’t define this creature. Perhaps mapped into his tangerine-sized brain was a jagged landscape he loved and called home.

Night falls and with it our attempts to reach Llamac fade, too. Earlier we decided to follow a lesser-marked trail to short circuit our route by several miles, to return to Llamac’s festivities by nightfall. The trail looked perfect on the map but as we started down, the wind leapt, the sun disappeared and the more we followed, the more faint the trail became.

Then we lost it entirely.

Dark now. Headlamps. Nerves building. Without a path we fan out in search of a way down. Game trails braid the basalt shelf but every time we follow a lead it drops off into cliff, into precipitous black, into thorns the size of 16-gauge framing nails.

“See anything over there?” Willie says from afar as he scuffles through brush, swearing under his breath. Brian has drawn silent, his tall frame hooking on every branch.

“No,” I respond. “Not unless you’ve got some rope to rappel.” No one finds my joke funny, not even me. We are running out of options, out of energy, out of patience. Finally, Moti hops along a dangerous cliff and slides down a chute, swallowed up by darkness. We follow his lead, again, and it funnels us safely out onto riverbed below.

After three days and 80 miles, we had progressed but it’s too late and we’re pulped to our pithy cores. Hallucinations regale my vision as hundreds of golf-ball-sized spiders spectate along the trail, their eyes catching fire with our headlamps. Visuals of Peruvian spider predation make our decision for us: we must stop.

After setting up camp I lie flat on my back along a river’s edge, below stars so close they appear blue. An explosion pops from the other side of the mountain. Fireworks. Llamac’s festivities are heating up. We made it so close but had reached our psychophysical limits. I drift off to sleep defeated, fetid with grime and praying no fire-eyed spiders sneak into my sleeping bag. Sounds of celebration continue all night from Llamac, Moti’s home, the finish.

Photo by Brian Donnelly.

Geometric light cuts through nearby peaks at sunrise to splay golden rods in every direction. We ascend the final pass in silence only to meet more fireworks, more chem trails clawing through morning sky. We finally reach Llamac and share a long embrace of accomplishment and exhaustion. Moti pumps his legs toward home as if it were the first day of his life. I kneel down to catch the pup but he tears past and leaps through the doorway, into the courtyard where we found him.

Benigna greets us with a meal of chicarron: deep-fried pork belly, pickled red-onion relish and piles of hominy. The festival is still going so we stumble to the plaza.

Two bands stand at opposite sides of the pavilion and several women dance to traditional folk. In the middle two men enact a sword-wielding battle. One is dressed in a black suit and hat rimmed with a garland of flowers. His dark-red fabric symbolizes the color of Spain, of colonialism. The elder dresses in lighter colors: pink, indigenous hues to represent pre-Incan civilization. Half light, half dark: composing some ecological whole—day and night, challenge and triumph, success and defeat. The circle grows.

More stomping, more dancing, louder now until finally the performance breaks and the whole village ruptures into feverish dance. Someone shoves me toward a Peruvian elder. She gets up, takes my hand and sweeps me into motion. I recognize that someone as Teo, our driver, the Sultan of Swerve.

“Mira!” he says. “Let me show you how to dance. Gotta use those hips.” Teo demonstrates the correct way to swerve in these mountains, while my elder dance partner laughs and widens her groove. Peruvian hips move just fine; it’s mine that are stiff and awkward. I could blame it on the Huayhuash, or on being American. But I don’t. I widen my groove. 

The drumming, the dancing, the circling continues.


Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru

Seasons The optimal time to fastpack the Cordillera Huayhuash is May through early September. This is the cold, dry season, and it’s when locals visit the mountains. Nights can be frigid, but you’re missing the rainy season, which can reduce visibility. However, because of the high elevation, be prepared for all types of conditions.

Getting there The gateway city to the Huayhuash is via Huaraz, an eight-hour bus ride from Lima. Most guesthouses in Lima can recommend bus carriers (we enjoyed Cruz del Sur). Peru’s long-distance bus system is safe, clean and comfortable, with various tiers of comfort offered (first-class, second-class, etc.).

In Huaraz you can buy or rent all the gear and provisions you’ll need, plus it’s a great place to acclimatize. From Huaraz it’s a six-to-seven-hour drive south to Llamac, where most Huayhuash treks begin. Hire a private driver to take you all the way or take a shared bus to Chiquian and find a ride from there.

Food, Coffee and Beer. Be ready to sample some of the world’s finest culinary treats in Peru. Don’t miss ordering a plate of lomo saltado (South American beef stir-fry) or squid ceviche in Lima’s Miraflores neighborhood. For drinks, be sure and sip on some rich, local Arabica coffee in the morning and finish your adventure with a craft ale (or three) from one of Peru’s incredible microbreweries.

Nicholas Triolo is a writer, filmmaker, activist and ultrarunner living in Missoula, Montana. Read more at The Jasmine Dialogues.

2018 Winter Warrior Race Series Kicks Off

The 2018 Trail Runner Winter Warrior Race Series is a point-based series of trail races across North America. You are automatically entered and earn points when you finish a 2018 Winter Warrior race. (Click here for a complete list of races.)

* December 1, 2017 through February 28, 2018.
* Four prize categories: 10K, Half Marathon, Marathon, Ultra

Sign up for (and complete) as many races as possible in as many different parts of the country as possible, to vie for the coveted grand prize: entry into the 2018 TransRockies stage race.

First races on the calendar:

The Last Chance 50K (South Caroline) and Redbird Crest 100 (Kentucky) take place on December 2. The following weekend, The Circus 10K (Texas) and Marfa La Pradera 10K and marathon (Texas) are on the books. Complete list of races here.

*Equal representation of race distances in three regions of North America: East, Central and Western
*Earn a point per mile for every race you complete (additional points are awarded for top finishes). Runners who accumulate the most points will win prize packages from our sponsors.

Nail Your Post-Race Recovery

Chances are you have a horror story to tell about post-race recovery. It could be from your own experience, from a friend, or even an urban legend about the ultrarunner that couldn’t sleep for eight days. The unifying plot point is that recovery didn’t go as planned, and bad things ensued.

“Bad things” is intentionally vague and mysterious, like any good horror-story monster. However, pre- and post-race blood testing allows us to peek under the bed and see what lurks.

Based on tests taken by several athletes I coach, here are two main systemic consequences of hard races, and tips for how to make sure they don’t derail your progress.


Hormone variations

Stress plays a large role in how the body modulates hormone production. Sometimes, that stress can be mental, like a looming work deadline. Other times, it can be physical, like a long race or lack of sleep. Either way, stress is stress, and it can wreak havoc on hormones.

After the Boston Marathon, Inside Tracker’s Jonathan Levitt chronicled a 700-point drop in testosterone levels. For him, that was more than a 50-percent decrease. Women can experience variation in sex hormones as well. Some variation is part of a natural cycle, but you cannot be too careful. When hormones get out of whack, everything can feel “off,” from worse sleep to reduced energy.

Additionally, the stress hormone cortisol often skyrockets after a tough race. At its worst, chronically elevated cortisol can contribute to the numerous maladies broadly characterized as overtraining syndrome (OTS). Anecdotally, OTS seems to come on most often after multiple hard races without complete recovery.


Muscle damage and inflammation

When muscles are damaged, your body releases creatine kinase. The normal level is 22 to 198 units per liter. I have seen levels in the four figures after a trail race with downhills, which involve lots of eccentric muscle contractions and, thus, high levels of muscle damage.

If you are seeing a doctor after a race, make sure he or she knows that you just raced, otherwise (s)he may panic at your blood-test results.

After a race, you may also experience full-body inflammation, which can be measured by C-reactive protein. After he ran Boston, Levitt’s levels rose over 400 percent. The body is damaged and inflamed, like a full-body sprained ankle.

Countless other systemic variables not covered here can get thrown off as well, including those related to the thyroid. And they don’t recover over night. After a particularly hard effort, the body can seem to play catch-up for up to a couple weeks, even with complete rest. In addition, risk of musculo-skeletal injuries can be higher after a hard effort.

While lots can go wrong, there is no hard-and-fast timeline for everyone to follow in order to properly recover. Blood tests indicate that every athlete responds to race stress differently. One athlete might even respond to the same stress in entirely new ways. Here are some guidelines to begin developing your recovery plan.


1. Consider one day of complete rest for every 10 miles raced

I first heard this piece of conventional ultramarathon wisdom from Pam Smith, a long-time ultra champ. Top coach Joe Uhan adds that if a race has more than 150 feet of vertical gain per mile, you may want to take one day off for every 10K raced. The theory is that inflammation and stress take time to fully resolve, and it’s not always easy to tell when it’s okay to start running again. Because any amount of running could exacerbate the issues, it’s better to be overly cautious.

When developing your rest guideline, round up. By this logic, a marathon requires at least three days off entirely and a half marathon two days off; a 100-miler would require a week and a half off. However, this is just an estimation—experienced athletes often find they need more (and sometimes less) rest, especially for longer ultras.

For example, after winning the 2017 Western States 100 on June 24, Cat Bradley did not run until July 11. Instead, she did some light biking, hiking and swimming to stay sane and keep her blood flowing. Cat had an amazing season thereafter, culminating in the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim FKT. When in doubt, err on the side of more rest.

2. Wait to jump into training until you are 100-percent healthy and craving it

The problem with post-race recovery is that it’s not always easy to see the damage. If you turn your ankle, you can wait until the bruising goes away. But if your hormone profile is off, there are rarely telltale signs to look for.

To combat the mystery of systemic inflammation and burnout, pay close attention to how your body feels in everyday life. Changes in sleep, mood, sex drive and almost anything else can be a sign of some lingering need for physical or mental recovery. At the same time, if you are dealing with a musculo-skeletal injury, wait to run until it feels good again. The body is vulnerable after a race, and rushing back for some short-term running joy can negatively impact long-term running potential.

Instead of training, take a page from Bradley’s book: hike, swim or do nothing at all—whatever, you want while staying below aerobic threshold, which limits stress.

3. Eat like a pro

Here, “pro” does not mean professional runner, but professional eater. While you never want to be a glutton, the body will be looking for lots of fuel to aid the rebuilding process, and it’s important you don’t restrict. In general, high quantities of protein are best for muscle rebuilding, but don’t neglect lots of fat and carbs too. Basically, all food is good food at this stage.

After finishing fourth at her debut 50 miler at The North Face 50 Mile Championships last week, Megan Roche found herself waking up famished. The night after the race, she ate most of a pizza at 4 a.m. A few nights later, it was a tub of yogurt and cereal. By four days later, she felt as good as new.

Related: The Nutrition Secret of the Pros

Let your hunger guide you, and don’t worry about getting a bit squishy after a long race. If you’re racing shorter distances, focus on eating well, but perhaps without the overnight pizza. Proper fueling and hydration will help reduce inflammation and muscle damage, in addition to stabilizing hormones.

4. Come back easily

After the period of complete rest, the athletes I coach come back with easy, slow runs, which help reduce lingering inflammation and avoid overloading bones and joints. After ultras, they’ll usually do 20 to 40 minutes slow for a week before progressing farther. After shorter races, they might just do a day or two easy and slow. Practice a reverse taper, building back gradually and cautiously.


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

Four Winter Foods to Boost Running Performance

There are so many things to love about the holidays: family time, snowy running and the best food of the entire year. But for some, the six weeks of indulgence between Thanksgiving and New Years can cause apprehension. You may have goal races on your mind. Or, maybe you’ve resolved to start the New Year with a renewed emphasis on nutrition and healthy fueling.

If you do it right, you can come out of the holidays stronger than you went in. Put these four holiday classics onto your plate to make sure 2018 is a fast and healthy year.

Foods to boost running performance
Photo by Ruth Hartnup / Creative Commons 2.0

Pumpkin and winter squash

As if we needed any justification for that extra slice of pie. Pumpkins and squash, like other orange veggies, contain beta carotene, an essential catalyst for Vitamin A production.

Both beta carotene and Vitamin A play important physiological roles. Beta carotene helps your body fight the free radicals—unstable, particularly reactive atoms that can damage DNA and cells. Your body produces more free radicals when you exercise hard, because they emerge when you put your body through oxidative stress. But certain antioxidants, like beta carotene, stabilize free radicals, helping to protect you from things like the flu and even certain cancers.

Beta carotene also helps your body produce Vitamin A, which helps maintain skin, teeth and soft tissue. Vitamin A is one of the few vitamins the body can synthesize on its own. So, whole-food sources of its components—including beta carotene—are more physiologically effective than pure Vitamin-A supplements.

Eat it: Peel and slice pumpkin or any yellow squash and roast with olive oil and your favorite spices. Mash into a spread for sandwiches or add pieces to a grain salad with wheat berries, balsamic vinegar and toasted walnuts.

Foods to boost running performance
Photo by Liz West / Creative Commons 2.0


These tangy little berries may be relegated to a minor role on your Thanksgiving table, but they pack a powerful phytochemical punch. Tiny nutrients called anthocynanins and flavonols usually develop as the berries ripen (concentration depends on the amount of light and heat they’re exposed to).

Collectively called phytochemicals, this category of nutrients helps fight muscle inflammation. Additionally, research published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information has shown that they “exhibit strong physiological activities against infections, cancers, allergies and viruses.” All that means cranberries may help you ward off that winter cold or flu .

The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry evaluated the total amount of phytochemicals in cranberry products and found that fresh berries topped the list, followed by 100-percent juice and dried berries. You don’t have to eat or drink your cranberries right after your run, but getting them in whatever form you like best will provide an extra immune boost.

Related: Three DIY Energy-Food Recipes for Runners

Eat it: Sprinkle dried berries on a salad, bake them into oatmeal cookies in place of raisins or add fresh berries to your favorite muffin recipe. For the easiest cranberry sauce, combine a bag of frozen berries with one cup each water and sugar and cook until the berries burst.

Foods to boost running performance
Photo by Steve Johnson / Creative Commons 2.0


Turkey is one of the leanest of all meats. It provides all the protein benefits with far fewer saturated fats than typical red meat. It is also an excellent source of two underrated nutrients: niacin and zinc.

Zinc, which is also in dairy, legumes and whole grains, is essential for immune-system function. It helps build cells, heal abrasions and promote blood clotting when you get a cut.

Niacin, which is a B vitamin, helps facilitate efficient metabolism of everything from carbohydrates to fat. Additionally, a study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition showed that B-vitamin deficiencies “may impair both aerobic and anaerobic exercise performance, but supplementation has not been shown to enhance performance in well-nourished individuals.”

Eat it: Cook your Thanksgiving leftovers into a warming soup with chicken broth, veggies and wild rice. Use ground turkey in place of beef in tacos, sloppy joes or burgers.

Foods to boost running performance
Photo by Yoshi Nagasaki / Creative Commons 2.0


They might be the easiest way to boost your energy this winter. They’re a great source of quercetin, a little-studied micronutrient that may help increase physical endurance. In a study by the EAS Academy, quercetin had a “a caffeine-like psychostimulant effect, which may enhance mental and physical performance.”

Another helpful nutrient in pears is epicatechin. Also found in cocoa powder, epicatechin is a member of the flavonol family. It helps boost vascular performance and regulate the constriction and relaxation of arteries. These  benefits may also extend to brain blood flow and cognitive function.

Eat it: Don’t peel pears, as the skin is where all the good stuff is. Halve them lengthwise, cut out the core and sprinkle with brown sugar before roasting for an easy dessert. Or, slice them and use them in place of pineapple in an upside down cake. Fresh pears are at their peak in midwinter. Enjoy them out-of-hand while you can.


Your complete guide to trail running, from technique to fueling to gear.