Terrain Diversity

[Editor’s Note: This month’s Trail Sisters column is ‘penned’ by Gina Lucrezi.]

Diversity is a word we use to describe the U.S.’s culture. And this concept extends beyond our country’s boundaries, too. Thanks to easy means of travel and the internet, the whole world is now a ‘melting pot.’

Like our culture, our terrain and climate is also varied. For example, we have the ability to train in the high-altitude, desert climate of the Rockies, or the warm, humid air and rooty terrain of the South. Each region of the country–and the world beyond–has its own unique feel and characteristics. When preparing for a race, these attributes either come in handy or make race day more difficult.

I reached out to my phenomenal (and fast) female friends to pick their brains on what thoughts they had regarding their hometown turf, its cruxes and benefits.

I’ve had a chance to spend a couple of years in New England, but Vermont native Aliza Lapierre has been exploring that region her entire life. When asked what was the hardest/worst part of training in the Northeast, Aliza’s response automatically made me feel the need to put on extra layers and make a cup of hot tea.

Says Aliza, “There are two factors that make training in the Northeast difficult for me, the first being the cold/harsh winters and the other being the terrain. In addition to the freezing temperatures, the amount of snow that we get necessitates that most of my training is done on the roads. Dealing with frozen body parts, frozen water, and cars makes for a lot of arduous miles. On the other hand, once the trails do open up there are a lot of technical sections that are rocky, rooty, and have steep, long climbs without switchbacks. This type of trail definitely makes me tougher, but doesn’t help prepare me for the buffed-out singletrack and doubletrack that many of the races on the West Coast contain.”

I don’t normally think of myself as a softie unless I’ve crushed an entire pizza (ha!), but I’m not sure I would have the willpower to tough out a New England winter. Eek!

When I asked Nikki Kimball of Montana the same question about the Rockies region, her response was reflective of Aliza’s thoughts.

“Most of our trails, though stunningly beautiful, lack the slippery, rocky, root-strewn sections common to the East Coast and much of Europe. When I lived in Vermont, and later in upstate New York, I was a very good technical runner,” explained Nikki. “After years in Montana, my skills have waned. I would like to see much more technical options for trail running and racing here.”

In the South, Liza Howard of Texas states, “It’s difficult to train for the classic ultra mountain races in the land of flat or small hills. You can simulate long uphills on a treadmill (fun!), but long downhills are hard to come by and hard to simulate.

I found it very interesting that Aliza, Nikki, and Liza all addressed the lack of what their region was missing as the crux. I see a simple solution: a house swap halfway through the year to equal out their strengths and weaknesses!

Next I asked the ladies what they enjoyed most about their stomping grounds. I was curious to hear about the benefits, and essentially why they chose home, as home.

Emily Harrison, a Virginia native, left the East in favor of the West, specifically Arizona. “In Flagstaff specifically, there is so much variety available in day-to-day running. You can summit Humphreys Peak, go to the red rocks of Sedona, stay to lower trails in town, or even get in a long road run,” says Emily. “When we roadtrip around the West, we are always able to find places to run and many of them are pretty amazing in terms of the scenery. There are still so many places I have yet to explore that are hidden off the beaten path.”

Born and raised in Michigan, Stephanie Howe has traded the Upper Midwest for the Northwest running hotspot of Bend, Oregon. Stephanie states, “It’s beautiful and diverse. I don’t know another place where you can go from the coast to rainforest to mountains to high desert all within a couple-hour drive. I love that about the Northwest.” And it isn’t always about the actual terrain or trails. Stephanie adds, “Also, the culture surrounding running is pretty cool, especially in Oregon. Eugene is Track Town USA and Bend has more [Western States] silver belt buckles than any other town I know of. Everyone I know is a runner to some extent or is at least interested in the sport. I mean, how could you not be with events like the Pre Classic? It’s just part of being an Oregonian. I know some of the high-school cross-country teams have more kids on the team than the football teams! It’s really a cool vibe surrounding running, from 100 meters up to 100 miles.”

Like Emily and Steph, I’ve also traded in my roots (literally) from Pennsylvania to Colorado. While pursuing my goals in ultra mountain running, I find that living in altitude is a bonus, as well as having a plethora of large mountains to run and climb. For me, I cannot imagine a better place to live.

My final question to the ladies was what would they suggest an out-of-state or region runners focus on when racing in a new region.

Southern bell, Amber Reece-Young from North Carolina suggests that everyone check the weather forecast as well as the typical conditions on race day. For the South, heat can be a killer for people who are not used to it. “The hardest part about racing and training in the South is beating the humidity and heat, especially the summer. You have to be creative on ways to keep cool and hydrated, and train before the sun rises or after it sets in the hottest parts of the year.”

As a coach, Emily Harrison suggests picking a race that is feasible for the runner to train for in terms of what terrain they have available at home, and how much time they can devote to properly preparing. “Once you’ve picked your race, do as much research as you can regarding the race course (terrain, altitude, elevation gain/loss, weather, etc.). Blogs, videos, and talking to runners who have run the race are all great places to start. After you’ve gathered all your information, you can then ensure you are doing the most race-specific training possible.”

No matter where you live, there is always going to be something special and unique about your stomping grounds. There will also always be something you wish was different or that you had. Thanks to diversity, we will always be curious about exploring new territories, and at the same time, harnessing and perfecting the playgrounds that are right out our front door. If we all shared the same training platform, it sure would make for one boring sport… and it would eliminate the need to do epic training and racing travels!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What is the crux of your home trail turf? What makes training on your home terrain most unique, challenging, and rewarding?
  • What is the most challenging-for-you terrain out there? When you travel to train and race, what terrain features do you find the most difficult?
  • What kind of terrain have you not yet tried running on?
Trail Sisters

is a group of three women, each with unique opinions, ideas, and attitudes toward all things trail and ultrarunning. Pam Smith is a mom, physician, and lover of running who lives in Oregon. Liza Howard is a mom and 100-mile specialist from Texas. Gina Lucrezi is a Colorado-based short-distance speedster exploring the realms of ultrarunning.

There is one comment

  1. northacrosseurope

    Talking of diversity… I was lucky enough to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado last week, where the terrain underfoot over several runs included river crossings, bullet ice, deep snow, gnarly technical trails, gravel roads, perfect single track, pine-needle softened forest floors, a boulder field, a veritable swamp down in a willow thicket, open grasslands, cactus-peppered flats, and – of course – the tallest sand dunes in North America.

    Now that was variety!

Post Your Thoughts