Trail Running is 90% Mental

Some people may make the case that a person must be mental to go running out in the middle of the woods, but that’s not actually what this post is about. Rather, I am simply making an argument that a successful trail run, especially a long trail run, is mostly about mental fortitude and attitude.

Case in point, I am currently training for my first ultra run; a 50k run in the Germantown Metro Park that will consist of four 7.75 mile loops around the park. Last week for my long run, I set out to do two loops in that park. Basically, I wanted to know what I was in store for. I’m not a big fan of surprises come race day. So, I set out and drove the hour and a half to see the park for myself. My first impression was that there were far more hills than I expected. About four miles into my first loop, the elevation started adding up. I instantly got down on myself and the negative talk began. Perhaps you’ve been there. “You can’t do this. You’ll never be able to complete four loops. You’re not a real runner. You have no business trying to do this.”

I hate to admit this, but the negative voice I hear in my head at times is my own. I have a tendency to focus on the negative when it comes to myself. Perhaps it comes from years of fighting obesity, but I am able to quickly forget how far I’ve come. I forget that I am not the man I used to be. I can do it quite easily. Long story short – I did not complete two loops during my first encounter with Germantown. I hit my limit after just one loop.

I walked away feeling defeated, discouraged, and embarrassed.

Today was a different story. I completed two loops in their entirety. Yeah, it was tough. I even got attacked by a swarm of bees at one point. But I overcame the bees and the hills. What had changed in a week? I’m still basically the same runner I was last week. The handful of training runs I competed over the last seven days didn’t make me twice as capable as I was. I’m still not fast or naturally gifted. The one thing that did change, however, was my mental state.

I went into today’s run accepting that it was going to be tough. I began the run in prayer. I asked God to give me strength, to protect myself and my companions from injury, and to protect me from myself. My negative self talk has the potential to cause some damage and I had no desire to go down that road today. I confessed that to God, asked for His forgiveness, and put my trust in Him.

I then spent the entire first loop focusing on staying positive. It helped that my wife stayed positive as well. Despite some aches and pains from a foot surgery she is recovering from, she stayed more or less in a good mood. That helped – a lot. I am convinced that surrounding yourself with positive people is the most basic way to stay positive yourself. Basically, I just tried to enjoy that first loop. I focused on the blessing of being on a trail with my wife and our son. I slammed my Tailwind to stay hydrated and walked the big hills with no apologies – I had bigger fish to fry.

The second loop started after a changed shirt and a PB&J sandwich – calm down, it was was sugar free jelly, natural peanut butter, and low carb wheat bread! Both Stef and Zach opted out of this loop, which left me on my own. The aftershokz went on and my running playlist was engaged. My running music is comprised of loads of positive, upbeat praise and worship music. Casting Crowns, P.O.D., Skillet, and Toby Mac. Before long, I found myself singing out loud; much to the chagrin of the various hikers I passed. I find it impossible to focus on negative things when I’m praising God.

This strategy worked well. The second loop seemed to be flying by. That is until mile 11. As a rounded a corner I saw a dog harness, cell phone, and various articles of clothing strewn about the trail, which is weird, but my brain didn’t even get a chance to process it before I was attacked by a swarm of bees. Before I knew what was happening, I had probably been stung about a dozen times. Eventually, I realized all the stuff on the trail belonged to another runner and his dog who had been attacked as well. The dog had accidentally stumbled into a hive and upset the bees. This was at about the same point the hills began.

Everything post bee attack was tough. Real tough.

My heart rate skyrocketed and I had some breathing issues. Fortunately, the inhaler I carry on my trail runs helped some. The hills were made tougher with the pain of the stings, but I had to take moment and thank God it hadn’t been worse. I also prayed for the dog, because she seemed to take more stings than the rest of us. The bee incident did manage to shorten my planned 19 mile run to just under 15, but on a positive note, I managed to complete two full loops.

The only change was my mindset an my attitude.

God’s Word tells us to to think about “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable … excellent or praiseworthy” Philippians 4:8. I’ve learned the mind is the most powerful weapon a trail runner has. Sure … it would be nice to have the endurance and lungs of Jim Walmsley, but let’s face it, that’s never going to happen. Through dedication and hard work, I may be able to slightly improve my running performance … but nothing will have a more dramatic impact on my running than an improved attitude!

My advice for trail runners, regardless of their skill level?

1. Stay positive! Don’t allow negative thoughts to get a foothold.

2. Focus on those things lovely about being on a trail! There are plenty of people who wish they could enjoy a train run, but for whatever reasons can’t. You are blessed!

3. Begin each run in prayer and praise God frequently throughout your run. You are never alone in the woods!

4. Finally, prepare yourself mentally before the trail gets tough. Spend time in God’s Word and in prayer during the week before your long run. Don’t wait for hills to talk with God … know that the hills are coming, and talk to Him in preparation!

I’m a work in progress, but this lesson is going to stick with me.

Running Shoe Review: Brooks Adrenaline ’21

When I first began running a few years age, I instantly fell in love with Hoka OneOne shoes. Hoka and I were a match made in heaven and it was love at first sight. I was heavier than most runners, pushing the scales at nearly 300 lbs at the time, and Hokas featured a thick, padded cushioning sole. It didn’t take long for my “shoe guy” to hook me up with some Hokas in an attempt to lesson the beating my knees and joints were taking. I loved them so much I named my German Shepherd Hoka. I still love them … but, alas, it was time for a change.

I was introduced to my new shoes when I had a gait analysis at my favorite running store. The salesmen recommended them because my analysis indicated I had an over pronation that “came and went”. The salesmen indicated that the Brooks Adrenaline had unique guide rails that would offer just the right amount of stability to help correct my over pronation. I was a little skeptical as the Brooks offered a greater slope than I was used to with my Hokas, but out of desperation, I bought them anyway.

Enter Brooks Adrenaline GTS 21.

Having lost a significant amount of weight since I took up running, my body composition has changed somewhat. I weigh under 200 lbs for the first time in 26 years or so and have more lean body mass. My running has changed as well. I’m only “pretty” slow as opposed to “really” slow. A twelve minute mile is cooking for me; and all that slow running is tough on the body. Recently, even with my beloved Hoka’s, I’ve developed a bit of an IT band issue. Searing pain that begins in my hip and radiates down to my knee on long runs. The pain normally doesn’t hit me until I’m ten miles or so into a long run, but when it hits, it hits hard. The pain is bad enough to degrade my already clumsy running gait and will hurt for a little while after the run is over. With a goal of working my way up to a 50k distance, this painful issue on long runs has become quite an obstacle.

I’ve got about 30 miles in the Brooks Adrenaline shoes so far and wanted to offer my initial thoughts. These shoes are great! While I would like to say they instantly cured my IT band issues, that isn’t the case. However, I have really enjoyed running in the Adrenalines so far. The Brooks Adrenaline GTS shoes offer a good mix of stability and feel. While my feet are supported and stable, I can still feel the terrain underfoot. This combination of stability and feel gives me a certain level of confidence when running. In my short time in the Brooks, I’ve tried them on the road and on the trail, and enjoyed each experience. These shoes are responsive and stable, which is an experience I didn’t get with my Hokas. Because of that responsiveness, I’m actually able to feel what my foot and toes are doing as I roll through my gait – and I think this may be key in making the necessary adjustments to correct my over pronation.

These shoes are excellent … just don’t expect me to change the name of my dog.

Mini Book Review of “The Ultramarathon Guide: A Simple Approach to Running Your First Ultramarathon” by Michael D’Aulerio

I grabbed this book off of Amazon because I am a runner with budding aspirations to complete an ultramarathon. This book by Michael D’Aulerio is a great primer for such events. It is separated into chapters with each containing practical and useful information. D’Aulerio offers tips on topics such as what to bring to an ultra, how to stay motivated, and how to fuel and hydrate. It is a helpful read that I can see referring to from time to time as I continue to grow as a runner. I highly recommend it for any novice runner who is contemplating an ultra.

Mini Book Review of “Running to Leadville” by Brian Burk.

This book is very similar to author Brian Burk’s other book ‘Unfinished’. Like its counterpart, there are many grammatical errors. So much so that I felt I should lead with that in this review as it could deter some people. I will say this, however, it is a good book. Burk’s very strong at describing the ultra runs that are featured in his stories. In this case, that’s the Leadville 100. If you are even mildly interested in long distance trail runs, you’ll enjoy this book. Like ‘Unfinished’, there is a huge plot development, however, it occurs earlier in the story and doesn’t come off as an interruption to the plot. If you are choosing between the two titles, pick this one.

Mini Book Review of “Reborn on the Run” by Catra Corbett

Reborn on the Run by Catra Corbett

This book depicts the incredible journey of a meth addict turned ultra runner. The feats that author Catra Corbett accomplishes on the trail, are incredible. Reading her story helped encourage me that I can recover from my days as a Type 2 diabetic. In comparison, my mountains aren’t nearly as big as hers. Unfortunately, there are enough typos and errors in this book that it detracted, at least for me, from the amazing story. I’m glad I read it, however, and I am now a fan of Cards Corbett.

Mini Book Review of ‘Down Size: 12 Truths for Turning Pants-Splitting Frustration into Pants-Fitting Success’ by Ted Spiker

I really enjoy Ted Spiker’s writing style and have gained a great deal from his articles and blog posts over the years. I purchased this book by and large because of his name recognition and, while I don’t regret it, I wasn’t exactly blown away either. Spiker is a famous big guy runner who has been open and honest with his battles regarding his weight over the years. That same honesty is present in this book which is greatly appreciated. He speaks as one who “gets it” and is far more relatable to me than most running authors. He has seemingly put the hardest of his struggles behind him and this book is about getting over that hump. Spiker shares his tips that, by and large, speak to the mental side of weight loss and fitness. He avoids the nuts and bolts that some authors might dive into by not not sharing the specifics of his diet or fitness routine. It made for an enjoyable read, I’m just not sure how much of it I would actually apply to my own struggles … or even how much of it I will remember six months from now.

My Goal to #Run50

Yesterday I turned 49 years old. I feel blessed to have done so. I once had a doctor tell me I would be lucky to turn 30 if I didn’t get my diet and obesity under control. I was a young man then with a newborn baby. Since that time, I have lost significant amounts of weight and unfortunately gained significant amounts on multiple occasions. Most recently, I’ve dropped in excess of 100 lbs and maintained it, for the most part, for the last two years. I could still lose some more weight, but I have managed to get off my diabetes and blood pressure meds. For that, I am grateful, because I recognize it as pure grace. There are plenty of people out there in similar situations who are losing their battles with obesity and diabetes. They would give anything to trade places with me and go for a run; even at my slow speed.

Even so, I live in fear of failing. Of giving up. I fear I will gain my weight back and sacrifice my health and new found fitness for food and gluttony.

My mind is constantly working out this tension. The desire to become more healthy and conquer my weight issues verses my desire to indulge in pizza, chips, and snacks. As such, I have formulated a plan to keep me inspired over the next year. A plan to run a 50k at 50 years old. My plan to #Run50.

My longest distance thus far has been a 20k ran through the hills of Hocking Hills State Park in Logan, Ohio. It’s a run that I will be repeating in September. It almost beat me last year. I bonked after mile 9 and struggled to finish … so I recognize I have a long way to go if I want to run a 50k. My goal is to structure my next year of training to enable me to run a 50k ultra at 50 years of age. In doing so, I’m going to do my best to lose as close to 50 more pounds as I can.

I want to do this for me. I want to do this for those who can’t do it. I want to do this to honor God who has blessed me with life. I hope you’ll follow along and help me accomplish my goal.