This is my second 100-mile race and also my second year of running ultra distances. Due to unforeseen events, my first race of the year was cancelled, so Kettle Moraine became my first race for the 2015 running season. It was much anticipated, since the last time I found myself at the start line for a race was in October of 2014.
Race: Kettle Moraine 100 Mile Endurance Run
Organizers: Jason Dorgan and Tim Yanacheck
Location: La Grange, Wisconsin / Kettle Moraine State Park on the Ice Age National Scenic Trail (IAT)
Distance: 100 miles, with the course consisting of two different out-and-back sections
Elevation: 8,801 feet ascent/decent (100 mile) as listed on the race page; my GPS came in just under 10,000 feet
Terrain: 80-percent wooded terrain, with the rest meandering through prairie or marsh areas. Part of the course is a rollercoaster of hills featuring rocks and roots scattered about to various degrees. Other sections are gently rolling, with relatively smooth running surfaces and pine sections that give you a soft bed of pine needles to run on. Though the hills are not long and/or especially steep, they can take a tremendous toll on the quads. Difficulty: Intermediate.
Time Limit: 32 hours (100 mile)
Runner: Shalini Kovach
Pacers, Crew & Support: Nicole Correnti and Pat Graves
Nutrition (Approximately 2,200 Calories):
Goals & Training
I ran the 100K at Kettle Moraine last year and loved it! So, I had a certain comfort level of those 62 miles of the course. I’d heard some stories (good and bad) about the last 38 miles and was curious to find out for myself. Aside from the above, I wanted to beat my 100K time from last year and also wanted to knock down some time from my last 100-mile race, though I didn’t have an exact finish time in my head. Lastly, I wanted a ticket into Western States, and since Kettle Moraine is a qualifier, signing up was a no-brainer.
I totally over-trained for my last 100-miler, and heading into the race I had recurring overuse issues. By all means I wanted to avoid that this time around, so leading up to Kettle Moraine my peak training mileage was 85 miles a week, and thereafter I consistently maintained a weekly average of 62 to 65 miles. My longest training run was 38 miles, one month before the race, and then I followed a three-week taper.
Two things I incorporated into my training this year were hill repeats and power hiking. Although was a little inconsistent with hill repeats, I maintained an average weekly elevation gain of 5,500 to 6,200. Now, for some of you, that elevation gain is attainable in a day’s trot of 5 to 7 miles, but for flatlander standards that elevation gain required a lot of work. As for power hiking, I wanted to be able to maintain at least a steady pace of 15 minutes/mile on the terrain I was running. Why the concentration on power hiking? Quite simply because when shit breaks down and your primary goal becomes to get your rear to the finish line before cutoff, there’s nothing that’s going to save you like power hiking.
I was noticing some tightness in my left hip after my long runs but, nothing alarming, so I continued to train and see my massage therapist on a monthly basis to keep things fluid. I’m not a gym rat, so my cross training consisted of logging cycling miles on my roadie in between my runs, as and when I could find time.
I was surprisingly calm on race morning. There was never a doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t be able to finish. I was running the logistics in my head, and my race strategy really just consisted of picking up on the highs and running it out until I hit a low and then working my way through that until I hit a high again. It’s a vicious cycle, and you’re almost always guaranteed to get sucked into it. The key for me was not to let the lows tank my race and recognize those highs and use them to my advantage. Nagging at the back of my head was the question I’d been avoiding: What if your hip gave out? Doesn’t matter until it happens, so on I rolled.
I started the race with my running partner Tim L. We’d been training together for little over a year, and most training runs I’d just follow his lead with a twinge of jealousy because I wished I could run as gracefully as he does, tiptoeing and gliding over the single track. Along with a few others from STL, we trotted along and waited for the crowd to thin out; somewhere along the way, I lost Tim. I felt good; I was confident in my training and was in much better shape than I was when I last undertook a 100-mile race. After a pretty uneventful 15 miles, I hit Emma Carlin, stocked up on Hammer gels, added another Hammer bar to my pack, threw back some Coke and saw my crew. Pat gave me a wild “aaaawwwwoooo,” something we do in a group that I belong to, so we know that a Coyote Runner is on the trail or in sight.
On I rolled, ready to embrace the dreaded meadows towards Hwy 67. As I started to walk to across the road, I heard a familiar voice call out to me, “You doggin’ it?” That was all the boost I needed. It was Tim, and we paced the entire meadows all the way out to our next big drop bag, crew access aid station, Scuppernong, at 31.6 miles into the race. I refilled my bladder with some Heed and Perpetuem, threw down some Coke, ate some oranges and banana, and we were off again. I was booking it, yeah, hitting a sub-10 minute/mile. I’d lost Tim again as I continued to lope along, keeping a group of four runners ahead of me in sight. I heard some yelling behind me, but I was on a high and didn’t bother to stop. Then, a few minutes later, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see a young guy no more than 23 years old standing there.
The Guy: “Are you in the race?”
Me: “Umm, yeah.”
The Guy: “You’re going the wrong way. You had to make a left about half a mile back. Some guys called for you, but you kept running. Since you were still in sight, I figured I’d come after you.”
Me: “F**K! I was just following those runners ahead.”
We both turned to look — no runners were in sight. I cussed a few more times and then thanked the guy for coming out to get me.
I was about ¾-mile off course by the time we made it back to the turnaround. I paced with the guy for the next 2 miles or so, to the next aid station, and thanked him a million times for coming after me. As I continued to run, I picked up Tim somewhere along the way just in time to hit the freakin’ meadows again.
It was starting to get hot, and the sun was bearing down on us. We approached an aid station, threw ice into our packs and bottles, and I wrapped some in my bandana around my neck and wrapped a cool-off towel on my head with more ice in there. All I remember at that point was telling Tim I had to sit my ass down, so I did. Then I recall some conversation that went along like this:
Tim: “You look like Aunt Jemima with that wrap on your head.”
Me: “So?” As I stuffed my face with food.
Pat: “She probably doesn’t even know who Aunt Jemima is.”
Me: “I do too know who she is. It’s the syrup lady.”
We laughed so hard at that. Then it was off my rear and onto the trails with an affirming “aawwwooo” from Pat. Tim and I paced through the meadows once more on our way back to Bluff aid station. Somewhere along the way, Tim hit a high and took off. As I ran the next 2 miles to Bluff aid station, I felt a bit like I was going to bonk, 55.6 miles into the race. I pulled into the aid station and once again was greeted with an “aawwwooo!” Boy, was I glad to see Pat there. I sat down and needed to eat. I saw Tim refuel, and he turned to me and said he had to keep moving, so onwards he went. I called out that I’d catch up or see him at Nordic.
In reality, I didn’t think I was going to catch up to Tim, seeing as I was sitting down to gather myself and he was already on his way to Nordic. I ate quite a bit of food as I sat down at Bluff aid station, threw back some Coke, and as Pat helped me with my pack and pulled out my headlamp, all I remember saying to her was, “I’m not using this lamp. I have to run to Nordic while it’s still light out, I just do.” Pat’s reply was, “You need to slow down. You’re pushing your pace hard.”
Just like that, I was off again. I’m not sure what came over me, but I ran the entire 7 miles to Nordic. Much to my surprise, I caught up to Tim about 3 miles out of Nordic and as I ran past him I said, “Let’s go!” Tim just mumbled something as I continued to run.
At 63.2 miles — boom! — I was at Nordic in 14 hours and 41 minutes (without having to use my headlamp). I’d beaten my 100K time of 15 hours and 54 minutes. As I came across the finish line, I was greeted with lots of “aawwooos” from my crew and my pacer Nicole, who patiently waited for me as I swapped my shoes and socks, refilled my pack and ate some more food. Then, we headed out for the last out-and-back to the finish.
“Last stretch” was what my brain was telling me. I started to do the math in my head, thinking even at my worst I could wrap up this race in 25 to 26 hours. I felt I needed to push for it, as my left hip was feeling a bit wonky. I couldn’t let it tank my pace. Onward we went as I paced with Nicole, slow but steady. The night set in, and I remember stopping to look up at the sky through a clearing in the trees. It was blazing with stars. It was a gorgeous night to be out running, with a cool breeze and perfect temperature. I felt good despite 70 miles on my legs. Then, just like that, I hit a high and ran with it all the way out to Rice Lake. I remember looking over to see the moon reflected in the water as it shimmered; it truly was a breathtaking sight, and I was coherent enough to enjoy the view before my eyes.
I was 81.5 miles in when, you know, shit broke down. Yep, I remember it precisely because I knew then and there it would be a hard push to the finish — and that time goal I was hoping to nail was not going to happen. I stopped my GPS and just focused on keeping a steady pace. My left hip flexor was starting to lock up on me, and my quads were pretty much shot from all the up and down hills, which at first don’t appear too bad but later in the race come back to bite you in the rear. This was my “bad news never has good timing” moment. I told myself I couldn’t shut down mentally, I just couldn’t.
As we made our way back to the Hwy 12 aid station, I was 86.3 miles into the race. We stopped to eat and fuel. I dropped my pack and swapped it for a handheld, threw in some gels and a couple of Hammer Endurolyte Fizz tabs in my pocket. Nicole taped my left quad, as I was starting to feel a sharp pain in my hip down to my quad. “What time is it,” I asked. Not quite 5 a.m. someone replied. Doing the math again in my head, I still had a chance to beat my time for the last 100-mile race. Let’s go!
We power hiked between short bursts of runs, and repeat. I remember hitting every root and rock on the trail as we made our way back to the finish — my feet where on stupid mode. We came around the corner to the lake once again, and it was light out, the early hours of the morning. It was cloudy, and the sky threatened rain any minute. Nicole and I both looked over to the lake. She pointed out the two cranes that sat in the middle of the water on a small piece of land. While we ran by, they both took flight into the dawn, the fog and the trickling rain. It was raining. Gah!
We ran the next two hours in the rain, soaking wet, and we hit a few muddy spots as we made our way to Tamarack aid station. This was the last aid station before finish. “Five more miles to go,” I heard Nicole say to me. I dreaded those 5 miles, 5 miles of constant up and down and then up again, seemingly never-ending hills that I’d already run three times before. “I don’t want to do this,” I said. “Umm, yes you do,” said Nicole. I wanted so badly for her to feel sorry for me because I felt sorry for myself, but there was no time for mercy as Nicole kept edging me forward.
I can honestly tell you that I’ve never hit so many highs and lows as I did in the last 5 miles to the finish. I questioned everything from why I chose to run a 100-miler, to maybe ultra running just isn’t for me, to maybe my body is shot seeing as how something always breaks down (on my last 100-mile race it was my IT band and now my hip flexor. WTH!?!) I found myself standing at the bottom of a hill that I had no desire to climb. I was 3 miles out to the finish. Nicole was already at the top of the hill. I just stood there at the bottom and said, “I can’t climb up this shit anymore.” I was beginning to complain, getting really edgy and not enjoying it. I wished I had trekking poles to give me that little uphill push. Still no mercy from Nicole. All I heard as she continued forward was, “Don’t look at how far up you have to climb. Just look at one step ahead of you and get your ass up here.”
OK, simple enough. I made it up to the top of the hill. Now how the hell was I going to go down with a blow up hip flexor and completely shot quads? This was when things got interesting. We started to invent ways to go downhill: sideways shuffle failed, as it hurts my hips; zigzag the downhill, not a smooth move. Ah, let’s go downhill backwards! This helped, but I couldn’t see jack, and wiping out on your ass when you have 98 miles on your legs isn’t a good idea. So, back to forward progress. At this point, Pat met up with us, and I now had two pacers heckling me to the finish. I was annoyed with myself, and all I did was grumble and power hike to the finish. Done! 28:11:51 was my finish time.
My second hundy in the books! I did the best I could with what the day dealt me, and despite all the issues in the last 14 miles I managed to shave off 2 hours and 14 minutes from my last 100-mile finish time. I’m still grumbling over “could have” and “should have” as I write this. I’m not going to lie: I’m a little disappointed with my finish time, but I know what I need to change with my training to better tackle the hills. What’s done is done, and now it’s on to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon Stagecoach Line 100-Mile Ultra on September 26, 2015.
Author: Shalini Kovach is the founder and lead organizer of Terrain Trail Runners.
1. How far do you run?
Doink! Didn’t you hear me when I said the words ultra and runner? Sorry but 26.2 is only a warm up.
2. What pace do you run?
Oh good lord...pace!?! What is that? I just need to FINISH!
3. How many toes nails do you have?
I lost count after 10.
4. Ever heard of a car?
Gee, thanks, Einstein!
5. What do you do about bodily functions while running distance?
Take it on the GO!
6. You must really like running?
Umm…I accept that ultras are about suffering and perseverance.
7. How far is your 50k marathon?
You got me there.
8. How do you run a 100 miles?
How do you eat an elephant?
9. Do you run the whole thing?
Now you’re channeling your inner stupid.
10. Have you ever gotten lost?
Ah! Last but not the least…it ain’t a trail run if you didn’t get lost.
Author: Shalini Kovach is the lead organizer of Terrain Trail Runners.
“The question to ask right now is what’s really happening in Mexico? While they are at war, we come together to make peace here in the bottom of the Canyon.” – Micah True
Just three days ago I was in Mexico’s Copper Canyon, excited beyond belief to run in what is one of the world’s most fabled ultramarathons. Then a local police commander was allegedly kidnapped and two officers executed by a drug cartel, and as a result the race was cancelled due to safety concerns.
Now, as I sit here in the comfort of my home, I ponder multiple questions dealing with violence, community and self. But before I go any further in describing my experience from this past weekend, and the takeaways, there’s a thing or two you need to know about the reason I picked this race and write this blog.
I turn 40 in 2015, and a lot of thought went into choosing the races I hope to run this year. I first saw a write up about ultrarunning legend Micah True in my news feed in 2013. After having read it, I found myself increasingly obsessing with the race he founded. So, as my fourth decade on this planet came around, it made sense to sign up and go find out for myself what the fuss was all about. Caballo Blanco would be my first race of the season.
Once registered, I wouldn’t shut up about the race. Then, in the company of running friends, someone mentioned the book Born to Run. I don’t read, I said. I just don’t have the patience for it. This was the wrong answer, and in a matter of a week I was hooked up with an audio version of the book and told I needed to listen to it before heading to Caballo Blanco. Finally, in November of last year, I reluctantly gave it a listen. And…it all made sense! The joy of running, the fascination with pushing beyond boundaries, the spiritual connection with self, other runners and the world. I was more than certain of my decision to run the race than ever.
Fast forward to February 2015. At this point I’d connected with a few other runners who were signed up and headed to Copper Canyon. I can’t stress enough that if Caballo Blanco is on your radar you need to connect with other folks headed there. It took five months of logistics and fine-tuning the details before we were confident we could get there and back in the time frame we had (roughly five days). Did I say I was beyond ecstatic?
Leaving from St. Louis were Tim and I. We would meet Jason and David in Chihuahua, Mexico, and then commence with the long drive to Urique and Copper Canyon. This is no ordinary race; it’s a journey, and it’s what destination races are all about. So I thought, anyway, until my bags were packed and loaded into a van full of other runners.
If you haven’t been in a van full of people on the way to an adventure, you’re missing out. Stuck in with a bunch of male ultrarunners, I was the only girl, wedged between Carlos, Don and Francisco, who we’d also picked up. The dynamic was a little strange at first, but then Don started talking.
Intro to Don: As we would find out, he’s been running ultras for 35 years. This is one MOFO distance runner, and he has lived a very colorful life. I found myself wondering what it would be like to live as him for a day.
The drive out to Urique was gorgeous — so scenic and peaceful — but also treacherous, with unfinished back roads and very rocky terrain. Though a couple of us felt motion sick, conversation flowed inside the van. Suddenly, we were passed by a truckload of boys, no older than 15 or 16 years old, with guns in their hands. Cartel! They leisurely waved at us as they drove by. It was a little unnerving, but I was aware of this likelihood as I’d stepped off the plane in Mexico. Not once did it make me question my decision to be there.
Nine hours and multiple stops later, we finally arrived in Urique. My first impression was how remote it was. The entire town is a strip comprised of two or three miles, totally self-contained. There was something very raw and peaceful about it. Calm, untouched, beautiful! Our hotel room was nothing fancy. Actually, it was a welcome change from all the modernization and craziness that we surround ourselves with on a daily basis.
Ready to Run
On Friday morning Tim, David and I were up and out the door for a course preview, five miles out and five miles back. The sun was bearing down on us one mile into the hike, and I was hot. This course was no joke; it was going to be a tough race, not just the terrain but the temperature, lack of shade and all the other things factored into being in the canyon. I found myself reevaluating my strategy. I broke away from the boys and hiked for a bit with a couple on their third annual pilgrimage to Urique. They weren’t running this year but had driven from Colorado with their two kids, who were taking part in the kids’ race. The parents were both volunteering on race day and helping out with the various other projects.
Done with the hike, we made our way back into town and saw two pickup trucks with armed guards pull up as we arrived. They were searching for something or someone. I can’t speak for David and Tim, but I was pretty oblivious to the scene in front of us. We walked past the trucks and the somewhat anxious scene on the street and went to our rooms. We changed and connected with Carlos over lunch, then went on to explore the town some more.
By that evening, things were different in the town. It was somehow more alive, stirred from the slow, lazy slumber of the past 24 hours. I turned my head to see the strip swarming with the legendary Raramuri Runners, the local tribes people who take part in Caballo Blanco in order to receive maize, beans, rice, flour and seed corn for their families. It was surreal, lovely and daunting at the same time. Tim, David and I stood at the corner of the street, talking and taking it all in as things got real.
We hung out that evening after dinner and watched the movie “Run Free: The True Story of Caballo Blanco” in the town square. As the day came to an end, the enormity of where I was and what I was part of dawned on me. I wasn’t the only fool who had travelled to Urique to try to become a small thread in this amazing tapestry. I was surrounded by nearly 100 international runners from 23 countries, 260 Mexican nationals from outside Copper Canyon and more than 500 Raramuri runners — all connected as one in that moment. It was exhilarating. I was nervous yet excited to be a part of it, and also looking forward to taking on the 50 miles of challenging race course.
Saturday morning rolled around, and we were up and moving at 7 a.m. as the entire town buzzed in preparation for the kids’ run. Tim had put on the Superman costume costume he’d brought from home and was hanging with the locals, doing what Tim does best. Everyone was stopping to chat him up and take photos with him — and, yes, he was digging all the attention. It was such a great, simple, happy moment. David, Carlos and I hung around the sidelines, handing out candy as the kids ran past.
Later, as we made our way to grab lunch and head to packet pickup, there was some whispering on the street about security concerns and our race cutoff time being pushed up. Someone mentioned people being dragged out of town and shot. Huh?
As we sat at lunch, speculating, David suggested we find the race director and try to get some answers. We made it back to the town center and caught up with Josue, the RD, and were told that after a long discussion, they had in fact decided to cancel the race due the unrest, security concerns and the unwillingness to put the runners’ lives in danger. They were going to make the announcement at 4 p.m. in the town square, as everyone gathered for the evening’s festivities.
Come again? I wasn’t sure I’d heard him right. Security concerns? Had someone really been killed? No, this is all wrong. This can’t be happening. Surely we can still run. I mean, we’re all here. We came out to run.
Reacting to the News
After my initial reaction, and having had a little time (and a beer) to process the decision, I saw that the situation was much bigger than me. In fact, it was bigger than all the racers. As we sat discussing our exit strategy and trying not to panic, it occurred to me that I could leave, but the situation in Mexico would remain the same.
At that moment, the race being cancelled didn’t matter. This wasn’t about a race at all. What mattered was that we were in the here and now with people — athletes, organizers, parents, tibes people, townsfolk — all brought together and living a life touched by the joy of running.
As it appeared to be our last night together in Urique, since we would all be going home instead of running on Sunday morning, we agreed it was going to be a celebration. A few too many drinks later, we made it the town square. Though happy, I was still restless and terribly disappointed. It was like a perfect storm had hit home. We stood there, side by side, as the cultural festivities went on per schedule, knowing that the race was not happening. Then the official cancellation announcement came.
I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting, but the scene before my eyes was not one of disappointment, anger and shock but quite the contrary. Within minutes of the announcement being made, the vibe of the town center changed. It was like we were being swallowed in the comradery. People held up signs representing the part of the world they were from, singing and shouting; they hugged and held up the peace sign. Sure, there were some tears, but there were also comforting shoulders and smiles.
Words can’t do justice to how I felt at that moment. It was surreal. It was the right thing to do. Cancelling a race is never an easy decision, but this one was a much harder decision to make because it impacted not only the runners who had traveled from across the globe, but also the locals who count on the race for as part of their liveilhood.
But just like that, for me anyway, it made sense. This was meant to be. The race might be off, but the message of belonging to something bigger than yourself, the message of peace that Micah True had maintained, would never be cancelled. We weren’t there just to run a 50-mile race. This was bigger than us — this was bigger than everyone present — it was about being able to Run Free.
We packed up the van once more as we prepared to leave Urique on Sunday morning. The town continued the race with a modified course and mostly the locals running it. We left with a couple of other runners who had not been part of our original crew. Hello, Gerardo and the charming “Finn” (whose name is actually Mikko, unbeknownst to me for much of the day).
Another nine hours of driving in the van later we, arrived in Chihuahua. We spent the next day together, all of us running at a local park as our way of honoring Caballo Blanco and what the race stands for, what it meant to each one of us.
Now, as I write this, I’m not the same person I was when I left St. Louis. What I experienced has changed me not only as a runner but as an individual. I feel blessed to have met so many beautiful, complex and amazing runners. We created bonds that only running can bring.
I’ve never once questioned my decision to sign up for this race, and I’m not about to do so now. This will forever be an experience I will hold dear to my heart — the laughs, the bullshit and the love.
And, yes, I’ve already asked myself the question: Will I go back to run it in 2016?
If you’ve been closely reading this blog, I don’t need to answer that for you. You already know the answer is Yes Indeed!
Author: Shalini Kovach is the founder and lead organizer of Terrain Trail Runners.
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’m not a racer.” The words continued to ring in my head even after I excused myself from a group conversation with a few fellow runners.
What does that even mean? Was that an involuntary accusation by this person that the rest of us who pay to run in races have a problem? Simply because this person claims to have only ever paid for a handful of races, does that make them any different than the rest of us who pay for a few races over the course of a year? Did this person not just compete in a race a few weeks ago and recently sign up for another one?
Unable to come to a conclusion, I found myself pondering the question: Why Do We Race? Like most things in life, the decision to race is based on a far deeper and infinitely more complex reason than to simply suggest that we race for the purpose of competing and winning. For those of us who have adopted running as a way of life, running becomes a ritual that we do every day without question. No thought goes into this consistent activity; no wondering why we are running and what the point is. We quite simply become complacent to running.
When we sign up for a race, though, we are reminded of the once coveted innocence that motivated us to throw caution to the wind and believe in something greater than ourselves, something that held deeper meaning, something that at one time we deemed as irreplaceable. What is it that brought us to our feet countless times? Why did we pick up running in the first place?
In racing, not everyone competing is a winner. Let’s face it: If you’re not the first person to cross the finish line, you’re not a winner. Yet knowing the fact that we’re most likely not going to win, we go out and sign up for a race anyway. Because victory is not the reason we race. Neither is it to achieve superiority, and on most occasions, it isn’t even about beating our competitor.
Here are a few reasons why we race:
Set a personal record. At the end of each year, we sit down to set goals for the following year. We strive to improve not only by racing better but by picking races that take us out of our comfort zone. We push distance and push pace, and in doing so we compete against ourselves — current and past — to see if we can set a new personal best.
Win your age group. We all inevitably age and become slower. PRs become a thing of the past, but one must continue to challenge oneself; therefore, we race to compete with our peers. We push to see if we can place in our age group simply to satisfy that need to improve.
Comradery. Who can deny the social aspect of racing? Not every single reason for signing up for a race can be pinned to emphasize the need to compete. FOMO, also known as Fear of Missing Out, is a strong motivator. Missing out on meeting a new running friend. Getting together with old running buddies. Having an opportunity to hang out post-race and eat, drink, socialize, and celebrate the winners and all things racing.
Charity Race. All racing is not self-centered. We sign up for races to support a cause, support a friend and to raise funds. Who wouldn’t want to kill two birds with one stone? Feed your love of racing and support a needy cause while doing so — sign me up!
Escape. Racing allows homemakers, school teachers, mechanics, truck drivers, salesman, engineers and so forth the ability to suit up in running gear every race weekend and perform. There are no agents involved, no union restrictions, no contracts to worry about and no multimillion dollar deals to be adhered to. Racing is real life without a reset button. It’s one of those precious experiences that cannot be duplicated or imitated or falsified using gimmicks or unreal statements.
This is why we race. Running is a sport that encompasses all of life’s raw emotions — every unadulterated feeling, everything it means to be human can be found here — and racing brings them to a boil. The life lessons learned through running and racing cannot be found on the Internet, they cannot be found in an encyclopedia or a text book, they can only be found by lacing up and hitting the road.
The joys and pains of defeat. The graciousness of both winning and losing at the same time. To watch a runner, a mere mortal, push both the laws of physics and nature on a weekly basis is an art. If these words don’t give you goose bumps, if these reasons don’t get your heart pumping and make you want to sign-up for a race, then there can be only one explanation: You have assumed room temperature and have officially reached your warranty expiration.
Now go sign up for a race! See and feel for yourself what all the fuss is about!
Author: Shalini Kovach is the lead organizer of Terrain Trail Runners.
Our blog writers are members of Terrain Trail Runners, local athletes just like you, who want to share their love and knowledge of the sport.