Thoughts On Trail Running As A Non-Athlete

People who don’t run – or who have never run – often struggle with believing me when I say that I am not a natural athlete. “You ran 68 miles in one day. You’re an athlete.” And yes, I’ll agree that now I am, but it’s not NATURAL and it’s DEFINITELY not the “athlete” anyone is picturing in their head. I earned my athleticism as an adult and it’s clumsy and awkward and slow and…did I mention awkward? My form is textbook TERRIBLE. I was told once that I “over-pronate the SHIT out of my right foot” and I hunch terribly. My form has gotten better over the years (in the beginning my husband told me once my form made him HURT) but I am PROOF that ANYONE (without physical limitations) can become a runner.

If my Dad were alive right now he would stand up and shout to the world, “TRUST ME. SHE WAS TERRIBLE. THIS IS NOT NATURAL FOR HER.” I had times in both soccer and basketball when I scored for the wrong team because I mixed up the goals. And the basketball time? WAS IN MIDDLE SCHOOL. It wasn’t a cute 5-year old thing, it was an embarrassing tween thing. I also tripped running across the finish line trying NOT to come in LAST at a track meet. Everyone in the crowd groaned simultaneously, YET I STILL HEARD MY DAD THE LOUDEST.

The only reason I played sports at all was A) playing for leagues where everyone played or B) playing in high school where we didn’t have enough people to be too picky. I even got put on a co-ed soccer team in middle school SOLELY based on the school I came from. They didn’t say that, but I’m 100% certain it was true because it was a new program bringing two Catholic Junior High schools together and only 3 of us came from the other school and I’m convinced they put me on the team because of that, as several players from the bigger school were MUCH BETTER and didn’t make it.

So, yeah. I WAS TERRIBLE. Not an athlete.

But the other thing I have to convince people is that I firmly believe trail running is better for non-runners than road running. They look at Trail Running as NEXT LEVEL running but – to me? It’s so much better than road running, and in many ways…easier.

Let me make start by making one thing abundantly clear: I have everything working against me when it comes to trail running. I am a TERRIBLE klutz with DIAGNOSABLE weak ankles. I was born with my feet pointing off center and had to wear special shoes to pull them together. This made my ankles rubber and I even had a trick I did in high school where I could point them backwards. LITERALLY. I’m not talking about “far off center” I’m talking about BACKWARDS. It made my Dad CRAZY.

So, WAY CRAZY WEAK ANKLES + WAY CRAZY KLUTZ and I still stand by that trail running is better for me as a not-natural-runner. Let me tell you why.

I walk the uphills. Everyone who knows me knows that’s my method. And sometimes my definition of “uphill” loosens as the miles wear on. But here’s the thing, if you’re on the road and you take a walk break? It feels weird. People do walk/run intervals and if you’re not officially doing intervals, then you feel like you ARE and if you ARE doing intervals you feel like you’re less of a runner than people who DON’T. There’s a huge psychological factor to walking/running when you’re on the road.

But on the trail? Nope. Because there are some hills/climbs that EVERYONE walks. Walking while running trails is just a given. Everyone does it. And you know what? You’re still “hiking” then and that’s still a badass activity. It’s all mental, I take a walk beak on the road and I feel like I’m cheating. On the trails? Just a walk break. Everyone does it.

So if you like taking walk breaks? (Which I do.) Then trail running is GREAT. There’s always an uphill nearby to give you a walk break. Also, I’ve learned that since I started walking the hills, I’m actually stronger/faster on the flats because I know walk breaks are coming. This means I still have gotten faster some years! Even with the constant walking! (I will admit: I also walk STRONG.)

Running on the soft surface is SO much easier on your legs. I say this often: If I do a 20-mile long run on the road? The next day I’m in all sorts of pain. But on the trails? I can actually get up and do it again. I’m struggling right now because I don’t have time to do trail runs on Saturdays as it’s our “overlap” season and Donnie is running too. So, I’m doing long road runs on Saturdays and then trails Sundays and it’s HARD. It’s so much easier if it’s trails first because I don’t need as much recovery time as I’ve not been pounding my poor joints on concrete for hours.

I have fallen while road running. I just want to put that out there. I’m not immune to falling on flat surfaces, so obviously I was worried about trails. And for good reason, I can list like 5 people right now who have broken bones running trails. I often point them out as I’m running, like a map to the stars…but with broken bones.

BUT! Here’s a few factors to consider that make it less terrifying.

1) I’m slow so the falling is not as forceful. I often have time to catch myself because I’m not going full-speed. Now, last year I had a bad fall WALKING, so it doesn’t always work. BUT, I’ve had TONS of near-misses where I’ve caught myself on my way down, something faster people can’t always do.

2) I’m a klutz so I’m good at falling. Even when I’ve hit the ground, I usually hit in a “smart” way because I’ve had a long history of falling – WITH STYLE! I often fall, but roll somehow in the right way so it’s my hands that hit first…in a way that catches me before something more fragile hits. I just seem to always walk away from a fall knowing if I hadn’t landed in the EXACT right way, I might have been in trouble.

So, when you fall (everyone does) it’s often not as bad as you think it’s going to be.

Also? I roll my ankles at least once a mile and I was counseled early on to just KEEP MOVING. It hurst like hell when you do it and it’s scary, but I was told, “Walk it off, or run if you can.” If it still hurts 1/2 mile later? You might have actually hurt yourself. But rolling ankles is like stubbing your toe, it hurst like HELL at first (I’ve cried before) but often it doesn’t hurt if you keep moving. I’ve rolled my ankles hundreds of times, some times to the point of tears, and I’ve only had ONE time where I ended up running in a brace the rest of the season. It’s one of those things that feels TERRIBLE and you panic and think, “I’m never running again!” but you’d be surprised how quickly the pain dissipates. (It does tend to make your ankle weaker though, so you might roll it again on the run a few more times.)

I know that’s silly, but if you’re not a natural adrenaline junky or athlete you don’t get that “I AM A BADASS!” feeling often. But if you finish a run covered in dirt or mud? You just look at yourself and think DAMN. I’m a badass! and it feels great. Even if it’s just 3 miles! If it’s 3 muddy miles where maybe you had to even jump over a tree once? You can’t help but bask in pride over your own awesomeness. Even if you fall! Once you get over the embarrassment (EVERYONE falls, even the winners) you realize you now have a war story. You can take pictures of your busted up knee. You are an even BIGGER BADASS now! I have so many falling stories now I could write a book. And they all make me feel pretty badass, even the walking one.

This is the part I talk about the most. My token speech: “The only thing you can think about when running trails is where to put your foot so that you don’t die. You can’t worry about dinner or bills or rotten kids or work.” And that is 100% true. But it’s more than that. I went running by myself on the trails yesterday and it was an “easy” trail so I wasn’t so worried about where to put my foot, yet I still felt the same effect. I wasn’t worrying about anything I had been worrying about driving up the mountain. And I realized why. When you are surrounded by nothing but nature, there are no Stress Triggers. You don’t see the grocery store and work on your shopping list in your head. You don’t see that person’s perfect lawn and remember you have to mow yours. You don’t pass the daycare and remember you still haven’t found a sitter for that event this weekend. There are no Stress Triggers in the woods.

And in opposition? There are soooo many Relaxation Triggers. Yesterday I heard woodpeckers, saw an armadillo, caught the sun rays shining through the slowly yellowing leaves. So many things that trigger thoughts of peace and relaxation. It was EXACTLY what I needed yesterday. It was soul-charging.


I just worry that people think that what I do is something they couldn’t do and I just want everyone to get the joy out of running through the woods that I do. I think that’s why I take my No Runner Left Behind trail running group so seriously. I just want people to have their lives changed like I did when my Coach Linda took me on my first trail run in 2011.

The mountains are calling.


One day at a time.

I’m dressed to go for a run. On a weekday.

This is normally not a big deal but several things the last couple of weeks have stood in my way of this previously habitual task. Back pain. Exhaustion. Headaches. Exhaustion. Poison Ivy. Exhaustion. Apathy.

None of those things are consequential and so there’s been no drama to my falling off of the wagon. No injury I need to recover from which has people asking me, “How long until you’re back?” No illness keeping me in bed with a fever which I can blame. No concrete and valid reason other than, “I’m kinda tired and sometimes my back really hurts.”

But mostly it’s apathy.

Once I accepted there’s no way I’ll be able to do 100 miles at my race in September and still maintain my needed sleep pattern (a pattern I saw proof that I needed at this experimental race), I’ve had very little drive to run. I kinda don’t care about running. Which sucks because running really is therapeutic and once you stop caring about the thing that was a source of therapy, you kinda notice.

So! I’m dressed and ready to head out this morning. I don’t have a lot of time so I’m going to try to squeeze in at least 4 miles. I ran on Saturday and was barely able to do 6 at a snail’s pace. It evidently does not take long for conditioning to disappear. I know it also comes back fast but only if you stick to it and I’m not sure I have the motivation to do that.

But I have the motivation today. One day at a time, right?


A Back-Of-The-Pack Runner’s Notes On Ultra Running

I find it frustrating that running tips/advice/race reports are so often from people who are natural athletes or fast runners. People who casually reference 12-minute milers like that’s the slowest you can be. (Trust me fast people, YOU CAN BE MUCH SLOWER.) People like my husband who could not understand that I stopped to sing along with Hamilton when a friend was playing it at his spectating point on my race. “Wait. You stopped? TO SING?” Of course I did. Don’t you know me?

So, these are notes from someone like me…who stops and sings when she hears her favorite song.

There is only 5 miles between a marathon and 50K yet some people who are more than happy to do a marathon, have NO desire to do a 50K. There’s only 5 miles! Most 50Ks are on trails and so that is sometimes a deterrent. To me a 12-hour race is even easier than a 50K because the finish-line comes to you! And most of the time (because the point is to get as many miles in the time limit as possible) they’re on flat, soft, 1-mile’ish loops. I’m here to point out all of the amazing things you’re missing out on at these types of races so that if you make the marathon leap, maybe you’ll make the next one. I promise I won’t push you any farther than that. I just learned this weekend I’m not cut out for races in the nighttime. But I’m certain if you can do a marathon, you can do a 50K or a 12-hour race. No problem.

  • Trail running is not how you picture it. You don’t just jump into running your road-pace on stretches of trails littered with roots and rocks. I rarely hit my slowest road pace anywhere, and most often if I do it’s because it’s a section of trail I know so well I could map it out with my eyes closed. Picture hiking + jogging when you picture someone like me trail running. If it’s technical and I don’t know it? I’m barely jogging. If it’s an uphill? I’m walking. Almost always. It saves my legs for the distance if I walk the uphills. I do get to the point where I can kill some treacherous downhills, but only on MY mountain where I know where almost every rock is. You don’t have to do that. I don’t on a lot of races. If you can hike tough trails and run a marathon? You can trail run.
  • Falling isn’t as bad as you think it is. It sucks, don’t get me wrong. But out of the 50+ falls I’ve had only 2 were bad enough where I was worried I was injured. And I was not injured! I think partly because since I run slower I fall easier, but also I’m a klutz so I think my instincts are good when I fall.
  • KEEP GOING AFTER YOU ROLL YOUR ANKLE. I’m so glad someone told me this early on. I roll my ankles constantly, like an average of once every 5 miles probably. And sometimes it hurts so bad it brings tears to my eyes, but I keep moving and somehow that keeps the blood flowing and as long as no damage is done, the pain subsides. I rolled my ankle “bad” once and wore a brace for the rest of the season but it didn’t stop me, so it obviously wasn’t that bad. It just made my ankle weak so I wanted extra support from a brace.
  • Once you get past the marathon distance and into timed races or 50Ks or more, you have epic food selection. I’ve done marathons where I maybe get some chips or some oranges but at 50Ks or timed races there is often PIZZA and maybe DONUTS. I did a race once where they had those chocolate drizzle rice crispy treats and I nearly DIED it was so heavenly.
  • You are also more likely to find aid stations or runners stocked with a medicine cabinet. Excederin? Pepto? Immodium? Yes. Yes. and Yes. If you need something? Ask around. Chances are an aid station has it or someone running near you does and if you’re a back-of-the-packer like me? Go ahead and ask. (I don’t recommend asking the guys up front, they don’t carry much with them.)
  • You get to know fast runners at timed races. I love that about a good 12-hour race, you are constantly getting passed by people you would never see otherwise and it gives you the feeling of camaraderie and it feels great to be on the same page (although no where near the same mile) as a fast runner.
  • Everyone gets silly. I don’t know about the front of the pack people, but in the back? We all lose our minds as we get closer to the finish and it’s fantastic. You’re walking a lot more, just trying to survive, so you get goofy and it’s like being drunk without actually drinking. It’s great.
  • Fast and Slow is not reflective in body type. You’ll see someone 50lbs heavier but loads faster and someone 20lbs lighter and loads slower. If you don’t have a typical runner body, you’ll be amazed by how many people with your body are out there. Ultras aren’t usually about speed, they’re about endurance, so people aren’t stressing out so much about being lean as they would be if they were trying to hold 6-minute miles for 3 hours.
  • There’s often (always?) beer. Sometimes it’s secret beer due to regulations of the location of the race, but if you keep your eyes and ears open you will often find that people have beers at the finish line (sometimes the race is sponsored by a beer WHICH IS THE BEST) or sometimes you’ll do a timed run and find that people are drinking beers DURING THE RACE and that’s when you’ll think, “Yes. I found my people.”
  • Ultra runners are just fun. I feel like the start lines and finish lines of an ultra are usually so much more lighthearted. Everyone recognizes the “crazy” factor in what they’re doing and it makes even the most serious of person a bit goofy. They’re also encouraging. They’ll share tips. The start line of a road marathon often feels tense, but of an ultra? At least at the ones I do? There’s a lot more laughing than I would expect. “WE CRAZY!” type of comments and laughter.

I’m trying to get out of my 100-miler because I learned my limits this weekend, but I still believe if I can run a 50K or a 12-hour race? Anyone who can do a marathon can. The only thing that makes it easier for me than it might be for you is I have this epic community around me. I’d like to think there’s one hidden in your town too, but I don’t know. Some days I feel like we have something unique and special here, but at the race in TN this weekend there seemed to be a “regular” crowd of people who looked just as fun and supportive as our group is. So maybe there’s one where you are too, you just have to find them.


Lessons Learned During A Stage Race

This is my third year doing the Grand Viduta Stage Race and I have learned some lessons and have some take-aways, y’all. Sit back and soak up the elite-runner knowledge.

HA! I made myself laugh at that one. Sit back and soak up the knowledge of a crazy girl who talked about boob chafing for 3 days.

  • You never know what kind of aid you will love with all of your heart until you get to the aid station. Last year my friends who rarely drank coke found themselves drinking it at every aid station. For me last year it was Powerbars. This year? Pretzels. I am NOT a pretzel person. Unless it’s a Combo you will never see me eat a pretzel by itself but this year? I COULD NOT GET ENOUGH. The very last aid station on the very last day did not have any and I might have cried.
  • Surviving the same 3-day trail race with someone can help you surmount any past social faux pas. Whether you thought someone was in their 50s who was actually in their 30s, or if you called someone by the wrong name, or if you called someone’s dog by the wrong name…you will still be besties by the time the 3 days is over. Just knowing you fought the same war and survived eliminates all past awkwardness. This is a treasure for someone like me who does embarrasses herself regularly.
  • I will offer strangers drugs at some point. The first year it was a guy who had rolled his ankle and was going to quit. “I HAVE DRUGS!” I always say. Because I do. I carry ibuprofen, Tylenol, and Excedrin with me. This year I offered them a guy who was just trying to survive past day 3 after an injury. “ARE YOU SURE?” I emphatically said when he declined. I am the back-woods drug pusher, I DO NOT TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER.
  • I am best friends with all aid station workers. Without fail, every year, every day, every aid station, I show up and want to just bond with the clean people on the other side of the table. They’re like mystical humans and they’re offering me food and sodas and water and I just profess my love and appreciation like some sort of stalker ex-girlfriend. My group always points out, though, that we are aware of the difference between us and the racers at the beginning who probably don’t even stop. We stop, we chat, we take pictures, and we hang out. WE ARE NOT IN A HURRY, NEW BEST FRIENDS WITH THE PRETZELS!
  • I will break my No Sending Facebook Friend Requests after every Grand Viduta weekend. I set the rule in place because I’m obnoxious on Facebook. I post a million times a day, everything from Harry Potter memes to Trans Advocacy articles. I am a LOT to take on Facebook so it makes me feel better knowing that I did not push that on anyone. But if we survive Grand Viduta together? I’m probably going to send you a friend request. If you didn’t push me off a mountain by day 3? You can handle me on Facebook.
  • There’s always things to learn about your friends. I made new friends this weekend, but I also learned new things about old friends. Like engagement stories, or favorite music, or the fact that we know the same church camp songs. (“I am a C! I am a C-H! I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N!”) There’s never a shortage of conversation topics and since you’ve lost your mind, there are no taboo subjects. “I poop at the same time, every day!” Might be something I said 14 times over the last 3 Vidutas. Would I ever even talk about my regularity to my family? HELL NO. But someone running 3 days with me through the woods? You’d better believe you’re going to know all about my digestive health by the time we cross the final finish line.
  • You can never love your trail running friends enough. I end every year feeling so blessed to be a part of this amazing community. These people are my family. I love seeing their beautiful faces and cheering them on and laughing with them, and maybe sometimes crying with them. I want to greet them all with hugs every day but I don’t because that’s weird and I’m just now getting them to look past the fact that I forgot their name that time at packet pickup. But I love them, and every year after this wonderful weekend, I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.



A For A Different Kind Of Therapy…(SHOT!)

11182720_10153748071728496_3882568604493266364_oToday is the start of THE third as well as MY third Grand Viduta Stage Race. My friends Chelsea and Colleen have also both done it every year and our goal is to be the first (maybe only if our plan to knock out the other contenders works) (just kidding) to the 10-year jacket. And if there is NOT a 10-year jacket we will make them ourselves. WE LOVE THIS RACE, is what I’m saying.

Three days of running all over our mountain. Huntsville has more than one mountain, but this one (Monte Sano) has two different groups managing areas – the state park and the land trust – so there’s the biggest collection of trails and therefore the mountain we run on the most. Most of these trails we know mostly in ONE direction (because of how they are run for whatever race we are training for) but this race does a great job of making us go the OTHER direction on most of them. Running the opposite direction on a road doesn’t disorient you but running the opposite direction on the trail? You’ll be like, “WHERE IN THE HELL AM I?” because everything looks different.

It’s also currently very green and everything also looks different for that reason. Of course, this is also why this will be my last long trail run until October. I don’t like the green stuff. It usually contains poison ivy (of which I’m highly allergic) and snakes (of which I’m deathly afraid if they’re poisonous). This is like the party at the end of the school year, the last time we’ll all be together in one place until Fall.

Because it’s three exhausting days, I have opted to always just try to have fun and not stress about PRs or time goals. It’s nice to have a group because you can kinda hold each other up when one of you is feeling down and – luckily – we tend to alternate those moments. Until the last day when we’re all just delirious and tired and taking selfies with Powerbars at the aid stations. It’s so fun.

I was telling Colleen Wednesday night, this weekend I have two cups. One representing my physical energy and one representing my emotional energy. This weekend as I drain the one representing my physical energy, I’ll be refilling the one representing my emotional energy. Three mornings in a row of seeing the faces of some of my favorite people first thing, running through the woods with my friends, soaking up the energy of Spring and playing in the mud.

See you on the other side!