It's my constant need for checking my pace, and judging myself if I wasn't "maintaining my pace." As a running coach, I always teach how it's important to listen to your body, and on long runs, it's not about pace, but rather completing the distance, especially for beginners. This, I believe, is where the gap between road running and trail running lies. In the self-inflicted judgement.
As humans, we are always striving to be better. With respect to running, that means: go faster, go farther, whether or not you're running on the road or on a trail. Essentially, we want to be better versions of what we are today, tomorrow. So, in the running world, those two things (faster & farther) are our compass from which to judge. As I quickly learned, once entering the trail running arena, was that the amount of judgement involved was so much less than that of road running. I think this is one of the reasons I fell in love with trail running. I judge myself way too much and way too often on my own, so anything that helps me to judge myself less, is a good thing.
In my most recent running goal/challenge of running the Lake Tahoe Triple Marathon last year (3 marathons in 3 days around Lake Tahoe), my training was not about running faster. I solely focused on running farther and more often. The simple fact of disregarding my pace took off a huge burden that I had placed upon my own shoulders. I simply learned to enjoy running, slow and steady, without the pressure of going faster or beating my time. My goal was not to run the Triple Marathon with PR times, but simply just to finish. Of course on the last day, I did want to go as fast as I could to get it all over with!
While I was training for the Tahoe Triple, I made a few trips up to the Lake in order to do a few training runs at elevation. I did my elevation training on some trails (Tahoe does not lack good trail running at all!) What I noticed was that I could run forever! Suddenly running 15-20 miles wasn't a huge "chore." It became an adventure, and something I actually looked forward to. Rarely does one wake up and "look forward" to a 20 mile training run on the roads (at least I never did). This was the confirmation that I needed to put more of my time and effort this year into entering the world of trail running, and take one step out of the road running world.
Trail Running Rookie Mistake: My first trail race was the Blood, Sweat, and Beers trail run in Auburn, CA. This was about 6 or so years ago. It was "just 10 miles" so how hard could it be? I was trained up for running full marathons, so I signed up for this race and figured "how hard could it be?"
Those who have trained with me in my 5 Weeks to 5k, or Marathon Training Programs know how much I LOVE running hills. So, trail running would seem like the perfect fit. My goal is always to run up hills, no matter how slow I go. Think: "short, quick, tall, fall," for those who've taken my running clinic. Since this was my first trail race, I didn't really know what to expect. I thought I should be able to keep my regular road pace, because I was still in the mindset of "going faster and farther." How could going slower help me become a better runner? or rather, to enjoy running in a completely different fashion? Well, I completely powered through that 10 mile race (with little enjoyment), because I had to finish in my "time goal." It was a race, not just a run. Goal: Get from point A to point B as fast as possible. I couldn't even tell you what the trail or scenery really looked like. It was nice to cross that finish line, but, I think I had missed the point. As I mentioned, I powered through it. I did not enjoy it. I had "road running mentality" because that was all I knew at the time. My eyes hadn't been opened to the "trail running mentality" yet.
Trail Running Ego Blow: A couple of years ago I was in Alaska for my friend Mandy's wedding. Two days before the wedding was a 3 mile uphill-only trail run called the Bird Ridge Trail Run. How hard could this be? It's just 3 miles... straight up... non-stop. 3400' vertical elevation. I started off by keeping up with the pack, and as always, I tried to maintain my "jog" up the trail even while everyone else was walking (faster than me, of course). It lasted just a few short minutes before I had to stop and join them... and then stop and catch my breath... and then fight my way up the mountain to not be last. I had totally overestimated my trail running ability! I did make it to the top in about 2 hours. 3 miles in 2 hours! yikes! I ended up being 2nd to last up the mountain out of about 100+ runners. Talk about ego blow! I thought I was a pretty good runner before then! Coming down the mountain (not part of the race) was one of the hardest things I'd ever done. My legs were jello, on fire, and wobbly. The race crew had already taken down the finish line at the top, and were zipping on down the mountain with an effortless flow. I tried to keep them in sight, as all I could think was that I'd be the last one on the mountain, and eaten by a bear. I cried a little, not going to lie. I also couldn't walk for days. BUT IT WAS AWESOME! I needed this experience to teach me that it's not about being first or last in the trail race or how long the trail is. It's about exploring new territory, and achieving summits that are extraordinary. Pushing beyond personal boundaries that include more than how fast and how far. Plus, this 3 mile trail race was on the equivalent of as challenging as any of my previous marathons had been.
So, to wrap up my story, not sure I even have a point to this blog post, but my eyes have been opened to an entirely new world of running. It's not that I will forever eliminate road running from my life, in fact, I can't wait to run my next full marathon, but this world of trail running really has helped me to find more adventure, and less judgement/pressure in my life. I've coached marathon runners for 12+ years now for dozens of road races. But this year will be different. This year my hope and goal is to share my love of trail running with you guys. This year, my marathon training program will be for a trail race, in hopes of showing the "typical road runner" what it's like to focus on the adventure of running, and not the speed. What happens to runners when the pressure and judgement gets taken away? Do we start enjoying it again?
Come join me in our 2016 trail running half marathon training program! We begin on March 19th in Vacaville, CA for the Lynch Canyon Trail Half Marathon on June 4th! Click here for all the training details. I challenge you to try something new. Let's go explore and have an adventure together!
Abby Malmstrom M.S. is an exercise physiologist, certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, wellness coach, and "real food" nutritionist. Her life as an active duty military spouse takes her all over the world, allowing her to influence, teach, and connect with folks in communities she never even dreamed of reaching. Life's an adventure, so stay tuned for the ride! It's time to "Eat Well, Move Well, Think Well, Be Well."