Truth be told, my family has indulged my love of running - and before that triathlon. Sure, they read my blogs, crewed me (thanks Max and Lynne!) and generally cheered me on. But no one has deliberately dipped their toes into the weird and mysterious territory of trail or ultra running. Until now (drum roll).
A couple of months ago, my niece Izzy (
whom I previously wrote about here), messaged me photos of her new Hoka Mafate trail shoes. That is odd, I thought, not realizing that Izzy had taken a wholesale dive into my world. Well it is actually her world because she lives in Hong Kong - which is a LOT hotter and more humid than the  coastal rain forests of BC. But, like BC, there are 100s of kilometres of trails in Hong Kong and a vibrant trail community. 
Now Izzy is 24 so she will rapidly out do my most meagre accomplishments in this realm, especially when she moves back to BC next year and realizes that all her heat training has made her superwoman in the relative cool of the forest. But I have been at this game longer and I wanted to let her know what I have learned over the past several (well maybe 4) decades of endurance sport. 

Hard earned lessons from 40 years of endurance training (oh, I feel old just writing that)

  1. Nothing prepares you better for the vicissitudes of life than suffering on a long run where everything goes wrong. Your water runs out, you are nauseous, you need to go in the woods (a lot), and you still have a long way to go. I cannot tell you how many days like that there have been. But having run through them, you just feel more equanimity in the face of other life disasters when they arrive. Because they will.
  2. There is something about running (and cycling) that tricks your biochemistry into making you feel like it is all going to be okay. In fact, it is okay. And I really really love you, and dogface, and catface and everyone in my life. Seriously, I remember watching Pete Jacob after he finally won the Ironman world championship. He poured out his love on NBC live coverage. And it is real. Running, especially long, hard distances puts you directly in touch with your love … at the finish line. 
  3. There is a real high that you can only get from running but don’t chase it too hard because your adrenals will tank. I have had several months-long periods of utter and complete fatigue, where I could barely drag myself around the block. Always because I pushed too hard in the pursuit of running and endurance. 
  4. Running highs trick you into potential adrenal fatigue. It goes like this: you finish a race or a new, longer distance and you feel so great. Even though you are supposed to take a week off (say after an ultra), you decide you are totally fine. In fact, you feel recovered. But you ain’t. Your great feeling is come from over stimulated adrenals. Take that week off.
  5. There is a saying that it is better to be 20% under trained for a race than 2% over trained. That saying is true!
  6. Do not waste time thinking about when you were faster or lighter or more anything than you are right now. Just accept yourself as you are today and work from there. I am still learning this one.
  7. The best training tip I ever received was to run 90% of your runs at a heart rate of 180-your age. For Izzy that is 156. For me it is, well, lower. This advice was first given by Phil Maffetone and actually the formula allows you to fiddle slightly with that heart rate. But essentially it works. New runners will always tell you that they are special snowflakes and the formula doesn’t work for them. Generally not true, they are just running harder than their fitness allows. 
  8. That other 10% of your volume should include strides and tempo. 
  9. Don’t run with the fast dogs. Run in your MAF heart rate zone (see above). If you want to work harder, do more miles. That is the basis of building a BIG aerobic base.
  10. Your aerobic base takes a long time to build but it will eventually let you run 100 kilometres or more without every raising your heart rate or making you out of breath. Which is amazing and wonderful and one of the most powerful feelings in the world.
  11. Some people will warn you about how dangerous running is for your knees. Don’t listen to them. If I had $5 for every time someone told me “you are not 29 anymore, ya know,” I would have about $100.
  12. Lots of websites will convince you that you can burn fat over long distances in the mountains. It is true, you do burn some fat, but you also need plenty of carbs. I spent 10 years on a low carbohydrate diet bonking all the way. Try and consume 150 to 200 calories per hour of running. 
  13. Eat breakfast before you start, even if only a banana. Actually for anything over 45 minutes, eat more than that. Try pumpkin loaf :)
  14. Bananas have lots of potassium. You need them.
  15. You will probably feel better in the first half of your cycle than the second half. It has to do with hormones. 
  16. Menopause does help with that but not worth the trade off re: fascial stiffness and loss of speed and strength!
  17. Don’t over race. The first time I attempted the Whistler Alpine Meadows 110 km, I dropped at 60ish km. That was my 7th race that season. Sure there were other urgent reasons to drop (I forgot to stash my nutrition in my drop bag etc) but the real reason is that I just lost my race mojo.
  18. Sleep more than you think you need to. When I training for a big race, I often sleep 9-10 hours per night. Nothing will help your running more than sleep. Nothing.
  19. Take twice as long to go from 0 km on a single run to 10 km as you do from 10 km to 20 km. IOW, build your base slowly. Makes your foundation stronger. The hard part is that this rule applies every time you take time off for injury, burn out or illness.
  20. CBD is great for minor aches and pains as well as that wired feeling you get when you pushed too hard too soon. Try NOT to take Ibuprofen. Bad for kidneys and liver and actually slows tissued healing. Inflammation is part of the healing process.
  21. Running long makes your engine burn hotter. But keep it stoked. One of our local road coaches says that you should consume as many calories before and just after your runs as you burn during it. IOW, if you do a run that consumes 1000 calories, then your pre-run snack and post run meal should total 1000 calories. Think of a fire, you can keep it barely going with a tiny bit of fuel with a low light but you can also stoke the flame with more fuel and make it burn hot. Often we hold back on the calories, thinking we will lose weight. But you actually burn more overall calories with a hotter engine.
  22. Obviously this advice does not hold true for long days in the mountains or ultras. You cannot sit down and eat 7500 calories after your run. But you can keep your engine hot by eating enough.
  23. Your watch calorie counter is dead wrong. It is more right for younger people as their heart rates are higher but the algorithm never properly accounts for elevation. I remember running 26 km with 1700 m of elevation gain and my Garmin thought I had burned 1250 calories over those 5 hours. I probably burned double.
  24. Your maximum heart rate while running will drop approximately 1 beat per year. So when you are 60, your MAF will be around 120-125. Just account for that. But your heart’s ability to push more volume with each beat will increase so there is some compensation.
  25. Running in the heat is slower and harder. When you come back from Hong Kong, you will feel amazing in the wet cool of BC. Hot humid running does actually help create greater blood volume which also helps at elevation.
  26. Music is the best way to motivate yourself in the second half of a race/long run. Save the music until then.
  27. Keep your phone and watch in airplane mode when running (e.g. turn off bluetooth and wifi). You don’t need that extra EMF nor the notifications. Be present.
  28. When you feel your heart beat in your ears (just as you are falling asleep), that is a sign that you are slightly over trained. Dial it back to let the recovery take effect. There will be times when you are intentionally pushing the gas a little hard - in the lead up to a big event - so you will still have to get out there and do a back to back B2B or whatever. But silently take note and schedule some easy days.
  29. Use poles on big mountain climbs. They are godsends.
  30. Take you hands out of the pole straps when you are running downhill or over flat technical terrain…. you don’t need to sprain your wrist if you fall.
  31. Keep running for the next 50 years. You will have lots of ups and downs but overall your life will be richer and your heart and lungs will be stronger. 
  32. You rock Izzy!

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