The Larger Picture

There have been some incredibly inspiring race performances throughout the world of trail running in the past couple months. Almost too many to name. From early June on through this past weekend it seems like there has been an eye opening performance in at least one race every weekend. It’s been really exciting seeing so many people, in most cases people I am friends with, getting after it and running so many fast times. Two weekends from now will likely not be an exception. That is to say, don’t forget to tune into the Speedgoat 50k next Saturday. There are some folks running this one that could make for a really special race.

As much as these performances have caught my eye and inspired me, I have not felt any regret to not be a part of the action this summer. I love racing. I think I have a lot more racing left in me, but it has been so refreshing to watch things unfold from a distance, and not have another big race always right around the corner. I’ve known for most of the past year that I physically needed a break from racing, but I wasn’t aware until actually taking a break how much I needed it mentally. Not so much that I need a break from the racing, but that I need the space to run the way that I have been able to with no race in my distant future.

When I decided in May not to run Hardrock this summer I wasn’t quite sure what that would mean for my next few months of running. Would I take the summer off from any kind of consistent running? Would I go back to a more structured approach in hopes of building my fitness back up that way? I truly had no idea what path my summer of running would take, only that I would take it one day at a time and see where that took me.

Two months later and it has taken me to a place very different than I have ever been before. I haven’t been doing any more mileage than normal, but the time that I have been spending out in remote locations in the mountains has been significantly greater than ever before. I have done at least two dozen 4+ hour mountain runs in the past 7 weeks, including no fewer than eight runs over 8 hours. I have found the time and energy to do this many long runs by doing little to no running between these runs. I have almost completely stopped doing runs less than 3 hours. I have never really been able to “train” like this as it’s almost certainly not the best way to get your body in shape to race fast, but with no race in my immediate future I have found this to be an amazingly satisfying way to get out each day. I am running more hours than I ever have in my life, but because I’m taking a day off every 3rd or 4th day it hasn’t felt like too much on my body or my mind. In fact it’s been the opposite. I’ve felt most of this summer like I can’t get enough. I find myself finishing long runs instantly anxious for the next one. In the past, I think this mindset has quickly led to fatigue from overtraining, but when you’re not really training for anything I guess it’s hard to over train.

Throughout all of this I think I have built up a fitness base that I haven’t really had in a couple years, or ever. I wouldn’t say that I have been feeling great this whole time. I don’t think it would be possible to feel great doing as much vertical and as many long days as I’ve been doing. But I do feel like I am building up an incredible platform to spring from at the end of the summer, or whenever I decide to do so. It might be that I choose to keep building this base for several months to come, but when I do decide to narrow things back down to a more fine tuned approach, it’ll be interesting to see how my body responds. I could see my body telling me at that point that it just doesn’t want to run that way again so soon, but more likely I could see my body telling my mind that it’s ready to run faster than it ever has before.

This is a terribly exciting crossroads for me, because the way I see it is that I pretty much win either way. Either I get to continue doing these great mountain exploration runs several days a week, or I get to coax my body back into a refined condition in which it can move really far, at a really fast pace through the mountains. Either one sounds really fun to me.

In a sense, I think this break from having a race in my near future has given me the space to run in a way that takes much more of the larger picture into account. When you don’t have a date in the near future that you are aiming toward tying to be able to run as fast as possible, it’s a lot easier to relax and run in a way that might have you running faster and stronger several months, or maybe even years into the future. I have no idea what my running future will hold, but I feel very certain that one or two years from now I will look to this summer of running as a huge building block for where I am at that point. It’s hard to imagine anything less than that.

You may have read this far wondering why I am even writing about all of this. I guess to some degree I am wondering this myself. It is kind of just what came out when I sat down to write a piece about my current state of running. As the words came out I figured this was probably one of those pieces that only I would ever read, that it really didn’t hold a lot of relevance to anyone other than myself. As I thought more about it though, I saw that there might be a few very key things for runners of all levels to learn in here. I know I learned some things in writing it.

There are 14 comments

  1. Rider

    "When a jazz musician comes wailing out of the gate, spinning riffs and complex runs, fellow musicians will appreciatively murmur: "Cat's been shedding!" Alternately, when a player's ego outmatches his technique, his peers may suggest he spend more time in the woodshed. Woodshedding is the nuts-and-bolts part of jazz, the place where you work out the techniques that form the foundation of your improvisational ability.

    The term woodshedding in jazz means more than just practicing. It is a recognition of the need to sequester oneself and dig into the hard mechanics of the music before you can come back and play with a group in public. There's something philosophical, almost religious, about the term. The musical treasures of jazz are not easily accessed. You have to dig deep into yourself, discipline yourself, become focused on the music and your instrument, before you can unlock the treasure chest."

    -Paul Klemperer

  2. Seamus Foy

    Great article Geoff! As much as many fans of the sport would have loved to see you in the big races, you probably made the best choice for yourself and your running longevity by taking this approach. Good luck!

  3. marco

    Geoff,

    as a middle of the pack runner what I take away from your writing is that building a strong base is the first step in endurance running. without the strong base you can't augment it with speed, witout a strong base one will be more prone to injury and lastly wihtout as strong base you cannot improve as a runner. I always find myself rushing my training and I have paid the price, mentally and physically. I like your writing because it gives my an insight into how someone at your level actually gets to that point. and I'm not talking only about the mechanics of the training but more specifically your logic behind it.

    Thanks for the insightful article.

    Marco

  4. Jason

    Great piece… many many of us would love to be able to do 4-8 hour mountain runs even once a month, let alone several times a week. Most of us are literally trapped in structured training regimes because we simply don't have the time to do what you're able to do. A 1+30 trail run at intensity is much more than most of the rest of the population gets to do though… so we're all lucky!

    Take the gifts you have (ability, motivation, location, and time) and do your best with them, whatever that 'best' means to you at this time.

  5. thomas redeker

    Hi Geoff,

    it seems that you are getting in a shape to push the limits in the future, i hope so. For me, you are one of the most motivating trail runner in the world, i hope to hear from you in the future, in form of the kind of writing above and in form of setting new records in mountain races.

    Take care

    thomas

  6. Matt P

    Sounds like you are having a ridiculous amount of fun…which is what it's all about. And at the same time not stressing your body/mind out too much. Endurance pioneer Phil Maffetone is absolutely correct – the body and mind hate too much stress. It invariably breaks down if you give it too much stress over a long period of time. I am absolutely convinced you are doing the right thing. In fact you are very smart to have dialed it back and responded to what your body was telling you. My guess is your age/maturity was a big factor in the wise decision to "return to your roots" so to speak.

  7. Tony Mollica

    Sounds like you are in a great place Geoff, and it sounds like you are happy! I wish you the best of luck, and look forward to see what you will do in the future! Have fun and stay healthy!

  8. Ultrawolf

    Great article, as usual Geoff !

    As you´re saying, it´s not about the racing, it´s about the fun and love of running. Sometimes it gets lost when doing the miles only with the next race in mind. Much better if we don´t call it "training" which often sounds like "work" but simply running. Races are only the icing on the cake :-)

    Have fun !

  9. Nemocamino

    Geoff,

    I complety agree with u, take a break from racing help u to rediscover the real pleasure of running and try new training.

    Take care

  10. Martin

    Hey Geoff,

    great insight. Can you write something up about your 100 miler strategy? You seem to have that consistent discipline of pacing conservatively at the start and then catching up the eladers at the end.

    Would be great to read your thoughts on race strategy.

  11. el

    I love your approach to trail running Geoff. Getting back to the basics of enjoying running in the mountains. Enjoy the change of pace and I look forward to some great runs in the future.

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