First Look: Casio PRO TREK WSD-F20 Smart Outdoor Watch

Casio PRO TREK WSD-F20 Smart Outdoor Watch

MSRP: $500

First Glance

At first look, the PRO TREK is a good “all-arounder,” providing a variety of functions and the unique ability to download apps from Google Play and Android OS.

It is immediately clear that this product is intended as a smartwatch/GPS watch hybrid. The size profile is nearly the same as a comparable watch on the market yet it is a bit heavier. 

 

Fit

The PRO TREK offers a comfortable wrist band that does not dig into the skin and is long enough to fit snugly on top of a puffy or directly on the skin. It can also be flipped easily to the palm-side of the wrist and will stay there comfortably. 

 

User friendly/intuitive

Though Strava loads directly and easily, users may want to keep the manual nearby as this watch takes some time to become acquainted with. For those who want to turn it on and go, the PRO TREK might not be the best fit.

 

Function

The PRO TREK is an excellent option for those who want a watch that they can run with, and then use as a smartwatch when they get back into town. The user can receive texts and talk to Google. The PRO TREK is best formatted for Android phones; some functionality will be lost in iOS. 

Favorite Attributes

  • Full color map and clean screen design.
  • Charges quickly.
  • Access to Google Play Store so one can download various apps to improve functionality (i.e. Strava).
  • The Tool button easily and intuitively relays useful information like altitude and  compass direction.
  • Can easily read the screen in UV protected sunglasses in both locked mode and active mode. 

 

Drawbacks

  • Battery dies quickly using third-party apps like Stava.
  • There is no clear way to gather data from their Activity Tracker app from the watch to a phone or database.
  • Easy to accidentally switch watch faces, draining battery.
  • Many apps are geared toward smartwatch functionality instead of a dedicated distance running-specific GPS watch.
  • This is an Android-specific watch.

First Look is Trail Runner‘s new online feature highlighting top trail-running gear. Our pro testers provide their informed first impressions on the latest shoes, hydration options, technology, apparel, fastpacking gear and more.

Karl Meltzer Runs Over the Hill and Straight to the Podium, Again

On Saturday, February 10th, in the Franklin Mountains outside of El Paso, Texas, not only did Meltzer win the Lone Star 100 Mile, he set the new course record at 23:38:18. Not to mention that it was his 40th 100-mile-race victory.

After 18 consecutive years of winning ultramarathons, Meltzer, now 50 , holds the world record for most 100-mile wins in a calendar year (six in 2006) and for number of overall 100-mile wins. He also has the honor of the most wins at Colorado’s notoriously rugged Hardrock 100 (five), followed by Kilian Jornet (four).

Meltzer specializes in the 100-mile distance, but his successes cover a broader spectrum. In 2010, he became the first person to run the Red Bull Human Express: the full 2,064 miles of the original Pony Express Trail, from Sacramento, California, to St. Joseph, Missouri. It took him 40 days.

However, 40 days of running wasn’t quite enough for the Speedgoat, so in September of 2016 he set out to break the speed record for the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail. He set a new record of 45 days 22 hours 38 minutes—until Joe McConaughy set the new record in September 2017.    

The Lone Star 100 course consists of a 33.7-mile loop, over technical and rocky terrain, repeated three times. “It’s not California singletrack,” says Meltzer, laughing. “You have to expect to kick rocks and stumble and crash. I crashed really hard in this race, and it wasn’t pretty.”

He attributes the win to his mental strength and strategy. “I broke (the course) down into three pieces,” he explains. “First loop is a warm-up, second loop you just get through it and third loop you try to survive the run.”

During the “just-get-through-it” lap, Meltzer’s stride became noticeably slower. “No shit,” he says, laughing. “I’m 56 miles into this thing! That’s part of it.”

Meltzer’s sense of humor is one that stuck with 2014 Western States champion and 2017 Bandera 100K winner Stephanie Howe Violett, 34, of Bend, Oregon.

“I will never forget when I passed him during my first 100-mile race [Western States 2014],” says Violett. “He said something like, ‘See, 100 miles isn’t that far.’ I was like, ‘Right …’ He taught me to not take it too seriously!”

“I’ve done so many 100-milers, almost 80 now,” says Meltzer. “It’s hard, but it doesn’t intimidate me. I slept perfectly fine the night before.”

Meltzer did not just survive the race—he crushed it. “How much can I slow down in one year?” He asks. Not very much, apparently. “I’ve been telling myself that for 15 years. I’m only one year older,” he says. “What the hell.”

Trail Runner caught up with Meltzer during his recovery to glean some wisdom and lessons from the master runner.    

 

Has turning 50 inspired you to set any new goals?

My goal this year is to run the fastest time for someone over 50 at Western States. That record has been hanging for 29 years. I thought the Appalachian Trail record would cap my career, but that’s been broken now, so I guess it’s not the cap. I gotta do something else.

 

You have been winning 100-mile races for 18 years straight. How have you been able to stay in the top ranks for so many years?

I enjoy doing it; that’s why I do it. It’s not just because I want to win. I like being out there. I like the struggles, and that’s why I’m still doing well. I know I’m 50 years old, and the guys I’m competing with now are 25. I could be their father, which is scary to think about. But it’s a matter of being mentally in the game.

 

What key advice do you have to offer younger runners?

You don’t have to run really fast to be a good hundred “mile-ist.” You have to be a good strategist, you have to know what you’re doing, you have to listen to your body and keep yourself in check. You can look at all these gadgets and numbers, but I’m more of a feel guy. 

Respect the distance. A hundred miles is not that far. I’ve always said that. But I never said it was easy. Everybody can do it; it’s just a matter of how badly you want it.

 

What is your insight on the process of aging as a runner?

I never overdo my mileage. I only do between 55 and 65 miles per week. People ask me, “How can you run 100-milers with so few miles per week?” Well, that’s longevity for you.

When you are older, you can’t recover as fast. Just like respecting the distance, I have to respect that I’m 50 and can’t do six 100-milers like I used to do, at even 40. I am picking my races a little more selectively right now. I space them out so that I can recover. I really make sure I have time to taper.

Pushing at age 50 is doable. I’m just trying to push boundaries and prove that it can be done. I hope it inspires people to not give up. You only live once, so it seems pretty stupid to just sit on the couch.

I just try to eat reasonably well, listen to my body and respect the fact that I’m going to get slower. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t have fun.  

 

When Meltzer isn’t smoking 25-year-olds in 100-milers, he offers coaching services, organizes the Speedgoat 50K and plays golf—“the greatest recovery activity ever.”

2018 Moab Red Hot Kicks Off Race Season

Keeping It Real

We file into a community center in downtown Moab on the evening of February 17, 2018, shortly after the final runners had completed the Red Hot 55K and 33K. The room is simple, with Christmas lights haphazardly tacked to the walls and the sweet smell of home-cooked food and IPAs wafting throughout. People are stinky; hair is disheveled; smiles are big. This is why we love this sport. Even after a record-breaking day and stacked fields, everyone is happy to throw on a jacket and head to the community center. No showers needed.

Athletes and spectators are gathering for a presentation by Joe Grant on his latest unsupported and epic feat—an all human-powered, self-supported, 31-day linkup of Colorado’s 54 14ers. Joe’s message is simple yet universal. He speaks of being humble, of being vulnerable, of pushing forward despite being unsure of himself. “No great personal transformation can happen without a little struggle,” he says to nods in the room.

Cat Bradley Does It Again

Earlier in the day, Cat Bradley, champion of the 2017 Western States and FKT holder of the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim, was apprehensive. “I was more nervous than I’d been in a long time,” she said. “I hadn’t toed the line with other women [since 2017 Western States].”

Bradley, 26, of Boulder, Colorado, had been road training for the Surf City Marathon in Huntington Beach, California (though she didn’t wind up running it), and was happy to be back in the dirt. “I like doing road workouts but there’s a big difference between training for a road race and a trail race.”

Not arriving to the start line of the 55K until five minutes before the gun, Bradley was feeling anxious and knew she needeed to go out hard. The Moab Red Hot caters to fast runners and she was keenly aware of her competition. “I’d heard [Emily Hawgood] was super fast so I wanted to make a decisive move. So I bolted,” she said. She had a healthy lead until mile nine, when she got lost while looking down, trying to open a gel. After about 10 minutes, a kind group of runners went off course to find her, hearing her yells.

Hawgood was in the pack of runners and lit Bradley’s fire. “That was important,” she said, “because it made it a race.” Even though she was out of trail practice, she kept telling herself it would be over soon and she went for it.

Bradley broke away around mile 22 and finished in first place at 4:54:40.

Planning to run Western States again this year, Bradley is most excited about the feeling surrounding the event. “It’s really like a festival,” she said. “You see people you don’t get to see that often. That camaraderie—it’s really unique and special.”

Marathons to Moab

Men’s 55K champion Anthony Costales was lonely on the course. Hailing from a marathon background, he’s new to trail racing. Costales qualified for the 2016 Olympic Trials in the marathon; his marathon PR is 2:13:12. Nervous about the meandering route, he studied the splits from a friend’s Strava from a prior year and wrote them on his arm the morning of the race. “That way, I could be like, ‘Mile 12, get ready,’ and when the hill came I was like, ‘OK, it’s battle time.'”

Costales, 29, originally from Salt Lake City, Utah, made short order of the competition and utilized his road training for the road sections of the course. He didn’t stop at aid stations and only had company a couple times when friends on an ATV found him along the course. “It was pretty lonely out there,” he said. Costales set a new record for the 55K course at 3:37:06.

To train for the trail race, Costales went to a bark-chip manicured trail at a local park in Park City to do workouts and longer runs. “Out there [on the trail], you’re constantly using stabilizer muscles. It was crazy; I’d be at a 6:30 pace going uphill totally struggling and then a 5:30 pace going down, just feeling like I was floating.”

The blend of road and trail seems to be working for Costales. “With road, it’s like a metronome. You keep doing the same thing over and over. Trails have a lot more variation. Even if you’re in a rough spot, you know it’s going to change.”

The track may be next for Costales because he hopes to break 14 minutes for the 5K and feels his chance is now or never. He’s been a conference 5K champion four times and his PR 14:02. “I want to give it one more shot,” he said. Costales has more trail runs lined up for the future as well. “I’m still mixing it up on the road and trail,” he said. “But I have more trail stuff online right now.”

The Buzz

Buzz Burrell, the 66-year old trail running legend from Boulder, Colorado, sums up the whole day nicely. “Super fast this year!” he said, noting the two new course records (the other was the 33K champion, Tyler McCandless, who beat the course record by 11 minutes, coming in at 1:56:21). Of the 33K (which doesn’t have as much road on the course as the 55K), he said, “It cranks up on the Gold Bar Rim and runs up and down spectacular slickrock before dropping back down the Poison Spider trail. It is truly world class; there’s nothing like it.”

Asked about his take on Joe Grant’s message at his post-race presentation on his 14ers linkup? “Everyone appreciates Joe’s sensitive and self aware take on what we do, which may appear to outsiders as just stupidly arduous and pointless physical undertakings.”

 

Four New Training Ideas to Up Your Trail Running

At dinner this weekend (at a hip salad joint), my friend (a machine-learning expert) talked about a conceptual framework for thinking about decisions: exploration versus exploitation. Just add the term “synergy,” and that would be the most California sentence ever written. But the principle is important to think about, because it could help you shift your training paradigm to disrupt the running space.

First, some definitions. “Machine learning” is how computers can understand tasks without being explicitly programmed for them (think recommendation algorithms on Netflix that seem to know you a bit too well). “Reinforcement learning” is a subset of machine learning inspired by behavioral psychology that addresses how actions maximize cumulative rewards. “Exploration” is trying new things, branching out into uncharted territory. “Exploitation” relies on current knowledge to do the same thing that gives some incremental gain. For the full California experience, a “hip salad joint” is where you pay $13 for a bowl of greens, nuts and dried fruit.

What on earth am I talking about? Example time! Imagine an artificial intelligence human program that is trying to learn to walk from scratch. It first finds that by falling on its back, it can do a crab-slide across the virtual room. Score one for the crabman. The crabman could exploit its knowledge—crab-walking around the room like a boss. Or, it could move into uncharted territory in a quest for a more efficient approach. Eventually, it might use exploration to find bipedal locomotion, running circles around the exploiting crab. However, the exploit approach may have accumulated more rewards at first, so its still on its back, wondering why its getting passed now.

Okay, that probably butchered the machine-learning principles. If that’s the case, please forgive me, because I may have a kombucha hangover (brewed with synergy and deep, loving sighs). But all-too-often in running training, it’s easier to be the crab shuffling on the floor than to explore new approaches that could lead to breakthroughs. So if you have stagnated with running, consider exploring these four training ideas to maximize your cumulative running rewards.

Set up a framework for long-term consistency

The total number of runs an athlete does over time is among the most important variables for predicting performance. Consistency is essential because it reinforces neuromuscular, biomechanical and aerobic adaptations that make running easier by reducing the amount of energy it takes to go a given pace (thus, improving running economy). Sometimes, runners focus so much on volume or long runs that they lose sight of frequency, and that could be leaving some big gains on the table.

Work up to running four to six days a week prior to worrying too much about overall volume and intensity. Four or five days works well for runners that are in their first couple years of training, injury prone or over 50. Six days works well for most others. A run doesn’t have to be long, either. Even 20 minutes is plenty, and everyone can spare 20 minutes. You can even say you are going to the “bathroom” and run around the office block during your extra-productive “bathroom” break (just say you went to Chipotle earlier in the day and no one will ask questions).

Consistency requires health, so never run through injuries. But you may find that running more often counter-intuitively makes you less injury prone, letting you explore what your body can do. The body adapts to consistent stimuli, so give it the prod it needs.

Learn to run fast

Imagine a kid playing tag on the playground. What do you see? Probably an effortless, natural form, flowing at a fast pace.

Now imagine a 35-year old runner doing intervals. What do you see? Probably not the same smooth stride, but a herky-jerky, forced effort.

The difference between the fast kid and the forced adult may have to do with running economy. The adult began smooth and effortless, exploring speed, but over time got farther away from running smoothly, with relaxed form, making fast look easy. Essentially, they exploited what they had, rather than developing it further. Bad habits compound so that a few decades later, what was once play is now a chore.

That is why I recommend doing short, relaxed strides (on hills or flats) one to three times a week during runs. Usually, that means 15 to 30 seconds of faster running with one to two minutes of easy running recovery, focused on going the quickest they can without straining. For most, the pace ends up being what they could race for a mile or so—a bit farther for very fit athletes, a bit shorter for less experienced athletes. Those little strides can make a big difference, improving neuromuscular and biomechanical variables essential for running faster for longer. And, at the very least, exploring faster running gives adults some much-needed recess time.

Learn to run slow

As you develop as a runner, it’s easy to fall into lots of same-pace running. But training needs to be polarized to let your body adapt.

The key is to make sure your easy pace is truly easy for your body. At the simplest, you can use the talk test. Can you rap like André 3000 (or Lafayette’s verses from Hamilton) while running easy? Then you got it right. In lieu of Hamilton rap-alongs, you can use a heart rate monitor to calibrate easy pace. Or, you can approximate “easy” using the general guideline of capping it at a good bit slower than marathon effort.

Keeping easy truly easy will let you run more consistently and gradually increase volume (through the “Trial of Miles” approach), which will enhance aerobic adaptations. Plus, you’ll be able to make fast running more efficient, improving running economy and letting your human machine learn to run faster. Finally, you’ll be prepared for 18th century rap battles that could happen at any moment.

Do smart workouts

The goal is not to run hard, it’s to run fast (or to put out more power if on hills). To make fast feel easier, you need to make sure your workouts aren’t so difficult that your form collapses and each interval ends up being a mini-race.

A good general rule is that you should never “go to the well” in a workout without a really good reason. What that means in practice is that each interval should feel sustainable and smooth, like you could keep going at that effort for a bit longer.

For most athletes, it’s helpful to start from the ground up, doing strides before incorporating short intervals, then doing longer tempos. No matter how you do it, the main key is to set yourself up for success by doing workouts that you know you can execute efficiently to build on next time, rather than emphasizing the hard aspect and tearing yourself down.

Michele Dillon is an apt example of all these training (and machine learning) principles put into practice. In October 2017, she was a strong runner, but was leaving some gains on the table by focusing primarily on single-effort trail runs, exploiting the fitness she had. So she shifted to exploring new approaches. She emphasized consistency, running more often, with some runs way shorter than before. She did her first strides and short intervals, breaking out of the emphasis on long hill grinds in the mountains around her home in Boulder, Colorado. Finally, she increased her overall volume after building her body from the ground up. By February 2018, she had set PRs at every distance from the mile to the half marathon in the context of these training runs.

This season, you can make yourself a better machine. Take it to the next level by exploring what you could become, rather than exploiting what you already are.

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

 

FIRST LOOK: Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra

Winter is still upon us and here at Trail Runner, we’re eyeing the new Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra to get on the snowy trails this weekend. This is our First Look at this burly winter-running accessory.

Trail Crampon Ultra

Made of ultra high-strength stainless steel for durability and weight reduction, the new Trail Crampon Ultra brings the Trail Crampon’s legacy of superb traction performance to those needing to travel faster and lighter. 18 spikes offer aggressive traction on any icy surface and distribute pressure to withstand wear. Welded chains easily endure repeated torque, foot strikes and abuse on ice and snow.  Double-sided chains keep a tight grip on shoes to prevent any shifting of the traction device.  A larger heel plate gives secure traction and ultra stability for descents and trail-running.  Finally, the Trail Crampon Ultra has a Velcro strap that fastens over the top of the foot increasing the stability of the traction system and offering an insanely secure fit.

MSRP $69.99

A Slick Finish at the 2018 Tarawera Ultra

Through mud, sweat and possible concussions, four Americans ran (or slid) onto the podium at this year’s Tarawera 102K Ultra on New Zealand’s North Island.

The Tarawera 102K Ultra was the second race in the Ultra-Trail World Tour, making it New Zealand’s most prestigious race and attracting elite athletes internationally. In past editions, the course has been lauded as runnable and scenic, but this year brought new challenges on all fronts.

Organizers expanded and changed the event, adding a 100 Mile Endurance Run, and— for the first time since the race’s creation in 2009— reversing the direction of the 102K course. This move, according to returning competitor and 2015 men’s champion Dylan Bowman, significantly ramped up the difficulty from past years by placing the more hilly and technical terrain in the latter half of the race while also increasing the amount of climbing by 246 meters.

The course reversal was nominal in comparison to the havoc wreaked by a tropical storm that saturated the course with mud and continued to waterlog the runners throughout much of the race. Trail conditions slowed competitors through the already technical second half of the course as they were forced to negotiate slippery, exposed roots and slick mud.

“At the beginning when it was cold and wet and raining. I thought, ‘well, at least it’s not snow,’” said Kelly Wolf, 23, of Telluride, Colorado, on iRunFar.com. “Then, about the middle of the race as I was tromping through mud and slipping and sliding all over the place, I thought, ‘I wish I was back in Telluride and just running in snow.’”

Photo by Kurt Matthews

Despite the conditions, the women’s race went well for both Wolf and second-place finisher Amanda Basham, 28, of Logan, Utah. Wolf quickly took the lead with two-time Tarawera champion Ruby Muir, 27, from Napier, New Zealand, and maintained her place unchallenged after Muir dropped back before the 41K aid station. Wolf crossed the finish line at 10 hours 8 minutes, and Basham reeled in second place nine minutes later.

In the men’s race, 2015 Tarawera champion Dylan Bowman, 31, of Mill Valley, California, took off fast with Cody Reed, 26, of Flagstaff, Arizona, New Zealander Sam McCutcheon, 29, and Australian Vlad Shatrov, 39. The pack blasted through the initial flat section together until around the 26K mark, where Bowman, Reed and Shatrov shook McCutcheon by about a minute. The trio stayed together for an additional 25K, where unrelenting trail conditions on the already challenging hill climb after Okataina aid station (58K) finally caused the pack to break up as Shatrov fell behind and Bowman took the lead. “The first half of the race was pretty tame,” says Bowman, “but the second half was pretty extreme.”  

Bowman’s strength lies in hill climbing at the end of his races, which played to his advantage on this particular course. “The big climb came after 35 miles of running, and for me that’s where I excel,” says Bowman. “I knew that was going to be my opportunity to get some separation.” He was right, but the conditions took a toll on all of the runners. “I fell probably five times,” he admits. “I’m sure everybody took a couple of face plants.”

Other runners did, in fact, end up eating some mud. During that section, Reed was grinding up the slick trail, head down, when “a tree leaned over the trail, reached out, and slammed into my head,” Reed says.

He went down, “face flat, on my belly, lying in the mud, slightly dazed and thinking, ‘Maybe if I have a concussion, I can drop out and make the pain of running this race go away.’” Taking a moment on the ground, he discovered a chipped tooth, but no injury serious enough to justify a DNF.

“I got up, said to myself, ‘must get to aid station,’ and started running again. It had woken me up a bit as well, which was great,” Reed says, “but I recommend caffeine or cold water to the face rather than bashing your head into a tree.” Recovered, he maintained his place, only losing a few minutes on Bowman.

After changing into fresh shoes at the Blue Lake aid station (81K), Reed caught a second wind and was able to close the gap to nine minutes behind Bowman, finishing strong at 8 hours 36 minutes.  

 

2018 Tarawera 102K Ultra results:

Women

  1. Kelly Wolf (USA) — 10:08:45
  2. Amanda Basham (USA) — 10:17:38
  3. Erika Lori (AU)— 10:53:20

 

Men

  1. Dylan Bowman (USA) — 8:27:41
  2. Cody Reed (USA) — 8:36:34
  3. Sam McCutcheon (AU) — 8:45:16

How to Run 100 Miles

In the outdoors world, Denver-based author and blogger Brendan Leonard, 39, of Denver, Colorado, has forged a unique and laugh-out-loud-funny path. His most recent book, 60 Meters to Anywhere, is Leonard’s poignant recounting of a tumultuous transition to adulthood. Recently Leonard, creator of the popular twice-weekly “Semi-Rad” blog, has been delving into film-making as well, with his cultural and outdoor-themed films, Ace and the Desert Dog, Chocolate Spokes and The Time Travelers

His new film, How to Run 100 Miles, follows Leonard and a friend as they agree to race the Run Rabbit Run 100-miler, a 102.9-mile race in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Leonard and his friend wanted a tough race for their first 100-miler, and wanted to run together. The Run Rabbit Run, a relatively young 100-miler with 20,000 feet of elevation gain throughout the course, looked challenging enough.

Leonard and his companion train hard for the race and then … well, you’ll just have to watch The film was released Tuesday, and is available to view here.

We assigned Run Amok columnist Doug Mayer to interview Brendan Leonard about the film. Here’s what went down.

 

Why this idea for a film?

My friend Jayson (Simes, 38, also of Denver) and I worked our way into ultrarunning over the past two and a half years. We signed up for our first 100-mile race in January, a year ago. I’ve always wanted to tell Jayson’s story because he’s fought through so much adversity in life (dyslexia, broken home, poverty, homelessness, bullying) with relentless positivity. I thought a 100-mile race would be the perfect narrative thread since it’s such a great illustration of his life philosophy, which is basically: persist until you succeed.

 

Let’s get psychoanalytical. Why do you like challenges?

I don’t know any other way to stay fit besides signing up for something I’m terrified of, so I have to train for it. Or, maybe I feel like if you’re not consistently challenging yourself, you’re not growing and evolving.

 

Jayson’s high-school guidance counselor told him that, “College isn’t really for people like you.” After Run Rabbit Run, is ultra-racing for people like you?

I’m not fast at these things, but after the Run Rabbit Run, my friend Brody Leven pointed out that I had zero injuries aside from one blister on my pinky toe, and that might be a sign that I’m “made for these things” (his words, not mine). I’m not competitive at all, but I would like to improve on this tendency to get exhausted after about 80 percent of any race and then basically phone it in from there. I’d like to push myself more during those final sections.

 

You said you don’t even like running. Is that really true?

I prefer sitting down and eating pizza, but running is more fulfilling and better for you. I definitely don’t like it, but I like having done it. I think if I were to be honest, I like running about 10 percent of the time I’m doing it. And I’m happier on the days I do run, but not usually while running.

 

You must really hate running now.

It’s complicated. But, yes, in the past two years, I have hated running more frequently than any other time in my life, because I have run more miles than any other time in my life.

 

You logged 1,200 miles training for Run Rabbit Run. What surprised you in that process?

I guess that nothing broke down. I had so much pain and inflammation during training that I thought for sure I’d injure myself before the race started, but nothing serious happened.

 

What about the filmmaking? That’s a huge project, too—its own ultra, in a way. What surprises did you have in the making of How to Run 100 Miles?

Making the film ended up being more emotionally exhausting than the race. I started shooting footage of us training, and interviews with Jayson, in February 2017, and didn’t finish until January 2018. We had something like 40 hours of footage total, and chopping that down and organizing it into a 28-minute film is a maddening process, especially when it’s your friend’s story and you want to get it absolutely right. Also, I’m on screen a lot, and watching yourself on film is like that thing where you hear your voice recorded and you hate the sound of it, but it’s way worse when it’s your face.

 

What would you like to say to Fred Abramowitz, the race director Run Rabbit Run? Remember, Trail Runner is a family web site.

The race organizers were awesome. I don’t know if I’ll ever fully understand the work that goes into putting on an event that a third of the entrants don’t finish. There’s a scene at the finish line in the film where Jayson completely breaks down after gritting it out with a painful injury for 29+ miles that I’ve watched at least 30 times by now, and every time, I watch Fred Abramowitz’s face because it really captures the soul of the event in so many ways.

 

You interview Meghan Hicks, one of the really thoughtful voices in trail running these days. She says, “Commit to seeing those grievances through.” You saw them through. And there were some serious ones along the way. But which grievance would you most like to punch in the face?

I’m just going to say that I need to figure out a way to prevent chafing of one male body part next time, and you can probably guess what it is. It’s just, you know, at Mile 90, I’m going, “Really? That too?” It seemed a bit much.

 

Spoiler alert: During the race, you develop the concept of a potato-chip-flavored electrolyte drink. I assume you’ve come to your senses.

I absolutely still love the idea. If anyone from Kettle Chips is reading this, I’d love to chat about a sponsorship. I eat the shit out of those things during long runs.

 

You point out that Jayson’s whole life has been based on not quitting. Neither of you guys quit. And it looked ugly out there at times. Congratulations.

Thanks. If there’s one thing we’re good at, it’s making things ugly.

Doug Mayer lives in Chamonix, France, and manages Run the Alps. He hopes one day to do the French voiceover for Brendan Leonard in How to Run 100 Miles.

 

Can Running Harm Your Relationship?

My friend and I were nearly three hours into a Saturday-morning run through the redwoods in the Oakland hills. We’re both in our 40s, both have two kids and both have spouses who woke up alone sometime after we left our houses in the pre-dawn hours to run.

My friend also happens to be a guy and attractive. We share a mutual admiration for one another as runners, and I didn’t want our feelings toward each other to escalate. I’m conscious of maintaining boundaries with friends because, a decade earlier, I became inappropriately entangled with another married runner, and I vowed never to repeat a mistake that nearly cost me my marriage.

Alone in the wilderness over miles of singletrack, he and I talked enthusiastically about training and the nuances of ultramarathon preparation. Gossip about so-and-so’s Strava data gave way to debating the contents of drop bags and the elevation profiles of different race courses—topics that would have made our spouses’ eyes glaze over.

“Why is it,” I asked him, “that the races I’m dying to do are out of state in late August and early September? I can’t get away when the kids are transitioning back to school.”

“I know,” he commiserated, “it sucks!”

Suddenly he stopped abruptly, looked at his watch and dropped an F-bomb. He had to turn back and get home to his wife, he said, because “if I don’t, she’ll bitch me out again.”

His voice had an edge of hostility that alarmed and saddened me. How would his wife feel, I wondered, knowing her husband spoke about her critically while he was running with someone else’s wife?

Their marriage is in trouble, I thought to myself. Then, with a twinge of guilt, I realized that I was testing the limits of my husband’s patience and trust once again. Is mine, too?

I considered asking my friend about what was going on between him and his wife, but I’ve learned the hard way how that kind of talk between running partners can lead to a bonding that some psychologists call an “emotional affair”—a connection in which you want to share details with the other runner that you don’t want to share with your partner.

So instead, I encouraged my friend to go back. “We ran a good amount,” I said. “I want to get home to Morgan, anyway. We have fun stuff planned this afternoon.”

Then we went our separate ways.

My friend and I are hardly alone in struggling to balance a passion for trail running, and for running-related friendships, with a commitment to our loved ones. Often, conflict arises when one partner’s casual interest in trail running develops into a much greater commitment, and the other partner doesn’t participate much in the sport and only grudgingly tolerates it.

“When somebody marries an Olympic athlete, they kind of know what to expect,” says Heidi Berrin Shonkoff, a couples therapist in Berkeley, California. When one partner’s participation escalates, though, “the sport can grow into something that the other partner didn’t necessarily sign on for. They both have to work together to make the relationship work.”

 

Accept the Relationship Challenge

I married Morgan, my high-school boyfriend, in 1990, and we have a teenage daughter and son. As we approach our 25th anniversary, our relationship feels rock solid and more loving than ever. We’re even having fun planning trips to a couple of trail races where he wants to volunteer and explore the area.

But my running has been a chronic sore spot between us over the years. My time and energy spent on the trails and away from him periodically leads to resentment and a loss of intimacy.

“I loved it when you only ran 20 or 25 miles a week and trained for one marathon a year,” Morgan told me once. “I wish you could go back to that level.”

“I wish you could appreciate how hard I train and how important it is to me,” I replied.

Joshua Landvatter, a 30-year-old trail runner from Salt Lake City, Utah, articulated the painful tradeoff facing many dedicated trail runners when he posted the following question to the Trail And Ultra Running (TAUR) page on Facebook: “Anyone have to choose between a relationship and running too much? It is a very uncomfortable place to be put in.”

His query elicited dozens of comments in just two days. Many in the discussion thread expressed that running should be the priority: “Never compromise on your passion,” said one.

Added another, “I am now happily single and spend most of my free time running; he was always jealous of all the time I would spend on the trails. He just didn’t get it.”

Others encouraged balance—“There is such a thing as running too much”; “Relationships are give-and-take. There are plenty of times I don’t get my run in because my family needs me.”

If you love both your partner and your running, it behooves you to spot running-related red flags in your relationship and work with your partner to mediate the conflict (see sidebar on third page). Otherwise, you could be running toward a breakup or stuck in the rut of an unsatisfying relationship.

Interviews with runners, their significant others and therapists reveal four main areas that couples need to address when running becomes a source of conflict or symptomatic of other problems in the relationship: time, sex, social relationships, and imbalances.

 

1. Make Time

Landvatter said he posted the query on Facebook because “my girlfriend had just given me the ultimatum of choosing either her or running. She was furious that I was not spending my time with her and that I would rather run for hours. … What she originally admired about me”—being a runner—“now had the opposite effect.”

He explained that his girlfriend is a runner, too, who occasionally races half-marathons. As a full-time worker and mother of a young child, however, she didn’t have as much time to run as he did.

“She felt as if she wasn’t a priority in my life … but I wasn’t willing to put my running aspirations on hold in order to meet someone else’s emotional needs,” says Landvatter. Using the analogy of putting on your own oxygen mask before assisting someone else when an airplane loses cabin pressure, he adds, “Running is the oxygen mask in my life that allows me to be healthy and happy.”

A few weeks later, however, he says he realized, “I needed to learn how to flexibly manage both my recreational and personal life. Just like a rewarding view at the top of a mountain, a relationship takes work and effort.”

Now he’s waking up extra early to fit in running and also running on his work breaks, so he and his girlfriend have more time together. He’s also making more effort to include her in his races, so she feels like a part of his support team.

“I feel both worlds are becoming more balanced, and I’m reaping the happiness of them both for now,” he says.

Carefully negotiating and scheduling time together and time for running is key. Therapist Jim Bowen works with many couples in Denver and Boulder who entered therapy because one partner’s commitment to an endurance sport led to estrangement and conflict between them. During sessions, he says, “I’ve had to literally ask the athlete to pull out his training schedule to see if he’d modify it” to schedule more time together as a couple.

The next step, Bowen adds, is to be fully present with your partner when you are together. That means that couples should turn off their devices, get off Facebook and tune into one another, nurturing good conversation about something other than running. “Don’t make everything about you and your sport,” he says.

Rusty Speidel, 54, who lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his ultrarunning wife, Sophie, says his wife’s focus on running even when she was with him was in some ways harder to take than her time away on the trails.

“She’d run all day, then pick up Ultrarunning or Trail Runner and read until she fell asleep,” says Rusty Speidel. “The first year, when she was training for MMT [Massanutten Mountain Trail 100], there were 18 straight weekends like that. I started to wonder what was wrong with me. When I asked for some balance, I got serious pushback. … We finally agreed that when she was home, she had to be present and put the running away. It only partially worked.”

Sophie, 52, doesn’t disagree. In hindsight, she realizes, “I ran long in the mountains almost every weekend, because I thought that was how I needed to train appropriately for a 100. I now see that I totally overtrained.”

What changed? They both met each other halfway and rekindled an emotional connection. “We had some necessary and hard conversations in those early years, and I had to adjust my training and expectations,” says Sophie. “Also, I made a pact with myself that if my kids’ sports or school schedules conflicted with a race or run, I would bail on the run. Now I only race if everyone involved is good with it. Interestingly, as a result of this more relaxed approach, I’ve managed to run PRs in the past three years.”

Rusty changed, too. He took time to get involved at one of her races and consequently became more supportive when he witnessed Sophie’s effort.

“When we went to Western States together, I finally saw the sport for the awesome adventure it is,” says Rusty. “By mile 90 I was hooked. When she finished that race, I was a truly proud hubby and have remained so. But the early training was rough. As the non-running spouse, I would say that the runner must make time to be present—emotionally as well as physically—or there’s going to be trouble.”

 

2. Have Sex

Several trail runners have told me privately that they find it difficult to spend a half hour with their partner in bed, finding pleasure with each other, even though they have no problem running for four or more hours on a Saturday morning. Why?

It’s a combination of factors that, of course, varies with each couple: You’re tired. You worked up a sweat and got your endorphins from running. You have a dozen things on your to-do list and kids who need attention when you get home. What’s more, your partner may feel annoyed toward you, because you’ve been gone for hours on a run. And, perhaps you’re not feeling much attraction because you compare your partner’s softer, rounder body to your fitter runner friends. You both begin to view each other critically.

Sex, if it happens, devolves into an obligatory and infrequent quickie. Couples slip into a platonic dry spell, where they live together but rarely connect physically or emotionally, except when feelings erupt during fights.

Melissa Johnson*, 34, races several ultras annually and runs 50 to 125 miles weekly. She and her husband of eight years used to argue about her running, and she says he would give her “the silent treatment.” Their different bedtimes—she goes to bed a couple of hours earlier than he to wake up early and run—exacerbated their estrangement.

“We would be stuck in a ‘I’m-not-speaking-to-you’ day or week,” she says. “When we were intimate, it was great, which would lead to a good week, but inevitably something would come up and we would slip back into no sex for weeks again. Rather than saying, ‘Hey, I really missed you all week, can we just have a night alone?’ he would get angry and put down my interests and friends,” she says.

“Because I feel so passionate about running and volunteering at races, it really stung at my core when he put down these things,” adds Johnson. “I would be so hurt I wouldn’t want to spend time with him.”

Therapists say the best way out of this anger and alienation is to make a date—and a commitment—to literally touch one another, reconnecting physically and empathetically, even if neither of you feels like it.

To do this, it may help to think of sex as analogous to your training. Just as you get out and run even when you don’t feel like it—and almost always are glad you did—you can think of sex as something you should do even when you’re not excited for it, having faith that it will feel good once you’re warmed up.

Bowen counsels his clients who are endurance athletes to think of sex as cross training and bring their physicality and desire to exhaust themselves into the bedroom. He teaches them to use breathing exercises and other methods to become fully attuned to one another and more passionate in bed.

Similar to the adage “never judge a run by the first mile,” never judge sex by those first minutes. Give yourself time to warm up with talking and massaging.

Often, sex with a longtime partner and co-parent is a decision, not necessarily a drive, says Shonkoff. You make the decision to get in bed with your partner because it’s important for the relationship. If you wait for the drive—the anticipatory feeling you had in your 20s or in the first year of your relationship—then sex will be infrequent. But once you cross over the threshold, sex can be as arousing as ever.

Besides enjoying sex and reaping a more satisfying relationship, becoming intimate again has the added benefit of making your partner more supportive of your time spent running.  “If a non-running partner feels their partner  is engaged emotionally and sexually, they will be way more tolerant of all the things involved with running,” says Shonkoff.

 

3. Manage Friendships

Johnson used to feel uncomfortable hanging out with her husband’s non-runner friends, because she felt they negatively judged her for abstaining from alcohol when she had a long training run the next morning. “Often his friends don’t even meet before 9 p.m., which is my bedtime,” she says.

Then she joined a running group and began going out with her runner friends for social gatherings. “Finding a group of others who liked to talk about races, running and nutrition finally made me feel like I belonged,” she says. “But this of course made my husband feel left out.”

Their relationship deteriorated as they grew more distant from one another, and her husband became increasingly jealous of the time she spent running and with her friends.

“Looking back on that year and a half, I regret all that time we lost not communicating better,” she says. “Therapy helped me realize that what felt like perfectly acceptable behavior with friends—early morning runs, Facebook chatting at night—felt like traitorous acts to him. He also had to remember that I’m a good and trustworthy person, and that I’m out there because I love running and want to feel safety in numbers.”

When one partner begins to feel excluded or resentful because of the other partner’s involvement with running, the problem is not long-distance running per se, says Shonkoff. Rather, it’s the challenge of introducing third players in general. These “thirds” can be any person or task, such as a co-worker, a computer or smart phone, a work project or a sport—or even one’s children and friends.

A healthy, full life includes people and activities outside the primary partnership, she says, but “the problem arises when a partner has an overly intense or exclusive relationship with one of those people or things, and the other partner becomes marginalized. Both partners have to be absolutely committed to each other’s well being. If they’re regularly putting running, television, work, other relationships or anything else before their primary partnership, the relationship will be threatened.”

Transparency—that is, being open and honest with your partner about your plans and interactions with friends—is key to maintain trust and nurture support. If you find yourself hiding the fact that you registered for another trail race, for example, or you made plans with runner friends and sent them texts or emails that you don’t want your partner to know about, then you could be on a slippery slope toward poor communication, dishonesty and infidelity in your relationship.

Ironically, Shonkoff adds, when the commitment is securely in place, then both partners actually feel more freedom to pursue important interests and spend time with other people.

Melissa Murphy Thompson of Chicago, a dedicated runner and clinical social worker who counsels couples, is married to a musician, and they have three sons. Her running and his music no longer cause problems between them because they make time together and reconnect.

Thompson says it’s important that both people in a partnership have something they’re individually passionate about. “We are different and should enjoy our differences,” she says.

Says her husband, Jeffrey, “The wonderful thing that has happened is that I can understand how important training and racing are to her, because she is just as interested in how a new song or a new venue went for me.”

 

4. Find Balance

Someone who makes little time to be with a spouse or significant other, but spends as much free time as possible running, “most likely is running away from something,” says Thompson.  “We need to look at what running may be providing that’s missing in the relationship.”

If your trail running tends to feel escapist or begins to play an outsized role in your life, it’s time to ask yourself what you might be avoiding and to seek more satisfaction in other realms of your life, say therapists like Bowen.

“People get so identified with their athletics, but they’re so much more than their performance or heart rate or the length of their run,” says Bowen. He encourages the athletes he counsels to broaden their scope of interests and deepen their connections with family and friends so they can find additional ways to experience pleasure and relief, “instead of believing you are totally dependent on exercise to calm and feel good about yourself.”

Says Sophie Speidel, “I definitely see my early years in ultras as an escape from the grind of work, parenting and marriage. … I got a lot of affirmation about myself as an athlete, and this felt really good to my ego.”

She still runs 50-milers and 100Ks, and she loves her time on the trail with her mountain-running group, “but I no longer feel that running ultras defines me, nor do I escape to the trail to deal with life’s struggles. I turn to Rusty instead of turning away.”

Rusty, who’s pursuing his own hobbies of music and cycling, went from struggling to understand his wife’s ultrarunning to being her biggest fan. “We’ve learned to make the most of the time we have to pursue these hobbies, and then to bring the experiences home to enrich our days,” he says, “and we’ve learned to be more present when we are together.”

 

Red Flags In Your Relationship

If any of these situations sound familiar, you and your partner should talk openly and empathetically about the issue. Consider seeking counseling if you can’t resolve the conflict.

1. Your partner thinks you run too much.

2. Your partner feels you care more about running than about being together.

3. Physical contact with your partner is becoming less frequent, and you’d rather run or sleep more than have sex.

4. You share details about your life with your runner friends that you feel you can’t or don’t want to share with your partner.

5. When you make plans for long training runs or you register for races, you downplay or hide those plans from your partner rather than express your enthusiasm about them.

6. Running is the main thing in life that you find satisfying.

 

Sarah Lavender Smith is a Bay Area runner and contributing editor at Trail Runner who blogs at TheRunnersTrip.com. This article originally appeared in our June 2015 issue.