The race was the Howard Aslinger 12/24-hour race, and it was going to be my son Logan’s first ultra event. His longest run previous to this was just over 10 miles, but his goal was a marathon.
The day started off chilly, and we walked and ran together for almost 5 miles before I left him to go run a few laps of my own. The day gradually warmed, and the sun was bright and beautiful. Logan kept on the .98-mile paved loop independently. He ate and drank and socialized with the other runners.
He took a break at 10 miles and changed shoes and had some donuts. We walked more laps, talked about almost everything and laughed about silly stuff. The mantra was left, right, hop, repeat. Hopping is not easy. But it’s funny to see Mommy try.
We hung out for several more laps, watching the amazing performances going on by the Sri Chinmoy racing team. Their team was amazing in crewing and care of their runners.
Logan kept on going. He was patient and cheerful even after the aches and pains began. I caught up with him on a lap just in time to see him eat slice number two of pizza. He ate well all day, and seeing him carrying his water bottle was awesome. He ate and drank and kept moving.
As the marathon distance approached, his legs hurt, but he was determined. He even found company near his age and chatted about the secrets of Mind Craft as I ran some.
The marathon came and went with a kind announcement from the race director, Bryan Kelpe, as he passed by. Logan took a small break, as his feet and legs ached. He came out and walked another lap with me as the race was nearing the end. He joined me for the out-and-backs and we chatted about how concrete makes the miles tough.
At the finish we ate cake and celebrated with all the other runners. This race is more than just a race. It’s a gathering of friends and family. Bryan and Kim Kelpe put on a wonderful event. The volunteers are dedicated and so kind. Having this time with Logan was a blessing and truly inspiring.
In the end ran 27.55 miles, and in his own words, “It was hard, but that’s what makes it fun.”
Author: Laura Range lives in Oakville, Mo. Ultrarunner, mom and defender of the universe.
Whether you’re a race-hardened veteran or new to trail running, there is always the choice to log your miles solo or with others. Our schedules probably naturally pull us in one direction or the other, but we’ll go over some of the pros and cons of each to shed some light on which option may benefit different aspects of training. Since the trail and ultra community is all about just that, the community, we’ll start with the pros and cons of running with a group.
To quote Woody Allen, “80 percent of life is just showing up.” Group runs hold us accountable. It’s far more difficult to talk yourself out of a run if you’ve got a great group of people relying on you to show up. Even if it’s just one other person that you don’t want to let down, you’re far more likely to show up for your run.
We all know how daunting the thought of a long run alone can be. Knowing you’ve got at least one other person committed makes the hours of running ahead of you far more achievable, and even enjoyable. If you have a large group, and the free time, make the best of it. Turn a long trail run into a cookout afterwards. Everyone brings some food and beer to contribute. Not only do you have your post-run meal, you’ve got yourselves a party!
Running with a group is a great way to push your limits, too. The only way to run faster is to run faster. We’ve all had those runs where we fall into the same comfortable pace, but with a group there are runners of all paces, and there is almost always someone faster than you. The same way we get caught up on race day running faster than we should, during a group run you’ll end up trying to stay with the front runners without even a moment’s consideration. Sure, we may not be able to hold that pace the entire outing, but every time you go out faster, you’re conditioning your body to handle the harder effort. Eventually you become that faster runner that people are trying to stay with.
And you won’t run just faster, but further! It's easy to talk yourself into a few more miles if you’re having a great time and everyone is going a little farther as well. When I first started running, anything beyond three miles was the stuff of fiction. I showed up to one weeknight group run, and the usual route was six miles. It took some time, but every week I pushed myself a little further until I could go the full distance. If someone else can do it, then so can you. The same mentality can carry you all the way to the ultra distances.
Do you know all there is to know about running? Yeah, me either, but there is a wealth of knowledge out in the trail community, and almost all the runners I know are more than happy to share their passion for trail running, their trials and errors with fueling and hydration, great race stories, and even some lessons on trail etiquette. The only way you’re going to learn any of this is to get out and be a part of that community.
While all of the previous sounds fine and good, there are definitely times when it’s beneficial to go it alone. Maybe you prefer to run solo, and you know it, and just use a social group run to break the funk? Perhaps the only time you get a run in is with the group, and you need some encouragement to tackle some solo miles? Maybe the only time you have to squeeze in a run is at 4:30 a.m. from your front door? Whatever the case, here are reasons to go it alone.
Some of us choose to take our trail running to an actual organized event. Whether you call it racing, or just paying for aid stations, that’s up to you, but if you have a set event in mind to measure yourself against, there are some days you have to put in some focused work. Whether it’s an easy run on a recovery day, hill repeats, or a hard tempo run, you can’t always get the most out of those days if you are keeping up with or waiting around for others. Sometimes your pace has to be your own.
Nothing builds mental toughness like a long run by yourself. When you hit that dark spot, whether it’s mental or physical, the only person that is going to keep you putting one foot in front of the other is you. The more you can confront that in training, the more prepared you’ll be on race day.
In the end, there are probably far more benefits to meeting up with other trail runners when the opportunity presents itself, but solo runs do have their place. If you’re disciplined enough, you can even reap the benefits of both at once. Use the group to hold you accountable so you show up, but maintain your own pace or workout for your training needs.
Sometimes it’s motivation enough just knowing someone else is out their on the trail. And if you’re new to trail running, and all of your runs have been done solo, be sure and introduce yourself to the other runners on the trail. You’ll hardly find a more welcoming family than the trail and ultra community.
Author: Denzil Jennings is a member of Terrain Trail Runners living in Edwardsville, Ill.
I mean, really, who gets to have this much fun as an adult?
Sure, everybody likes a solo run. Hit play, tune out the surroundings, wave to fellow runners…if you feel like it. Or blow past them quickly enough that you don’t even have to acknowledge anyone else is out there with you at all. Just me and my mountain or dirt road or four-lane highway. Solo run, I got love for ya. But, there’s a need for that running camaraderie, that pack mentality. To be able to hit a rock wrong and warn the person behind you instead of feeling like an idiot when you look around to check that no one saw.
Group run. Just saying, it invokes the anticipation and thrill of stretching your legs, feeling out your leader, playing your roll within the tribe. Stretching it out in the beginning, talking about the latest conquests, hitting those first (often uncomfortable) steps as a unit, warming it up, pulling out the stops, helping each other along the way, racing to the end, and finally a finish of delirious contentment. Runners know how to tap into that childlike bewilderment and that untethered push, where we don't feel pain or limitation or obligation.
Group run. Your chance to feel whole.
When I think, “Let me sing to you the song of my people,” I hear grunts, run steps, slipping gravel, rustling leaves. I schedule these runs for myself as much as anyone else. Some runs are on challenging singletrack trails, some on winding dirt-packed forest floor, a few along rail-to-trail and once a month, through town. I cherish the opportunity to have access to invite “my people.”
Turnout is typically between eight and 16, and the consensus is always that “this was the best time ever.” It doesn’t matter if we have a fall along the way or gear failure or sore muscles or a run-in with a wild beast. Always, the sense of tribe is the end result. Your filter is removed when you push yourself physically, and what you’re left with is honesty. “This is as fast as I go.” “This is as far as I go.” “I’m going to throw up.” The people I run with probably have better insight as to who I am and what I can take at the core than members of my own family.
A group run is a thing of stress and worry for me a few days or hours beforehand. Not only do I feel jacked up by the whole process, I simultaneously feel tired and anxious and kind of like I’d rather do something else. Weird stuff. Within the first few seconds of hopping into the car, I decompress and feel that everything is right with the world. I leave the stresses of home behind and realize THOSE were the weights that made me think the run was a problem. I sometimes have to crack a window just to keep sweat at bay. I crank up the stereo and think over whatever gear I might need to pull out of my ever-ready run bag, a fixture in the trunk, when I arrive. As I drive closer, the music is turned down, and I find supreme focus.
My dedication to these runs never ACTUALLY waivers, but it’s very much just a piece of a clustered life. When I schedule, prepare and even struggle getting my shoulders through the teeny-tiny openings of a sports bra (you know what I’m talking about), these are all just more “means to my ends.” The kids’ voices never stop, the need to have everything prepared for myself AND for abandoning the household, those are all weights that I get the opportunity to run out from under for that hour or two.
Group run. Where you shed the preconceived notion of individual and find your place amongst a mass. I think a lot of people race for this very reason. That united feeling of fatigue and exhilaration is unlike anything you can experience otherwise. So, group run. Go find your people. On a whim, albeit a strong one, I found my people at a trailhead in a strange place just before dark. I wasn’t sure if I’d even be able to keep up. It has changed my adult life. I never had this kind of fun at a bar or home watching TV or even vacationing. Group runs give me “self recharge” and primal recognition to my part in the whole.
If you don’t run, start. If you do run, group run. At least once a month.
Author: Meghan McCarrick lives in Washington, Mo., eats copious amounts of kale and runs 30 to 50 miles a week, usually with her dog, Magpie.