Since the beginning of December when I began crawling out of my offseason time, one of the things that Hillary and I added to my program was a mid-week hike. 4 hours, on the trails, just walk in the mountains. This came about for a variety of reasons. As I have worked with Hillary now for 7 years (Can you believe I’m now the age she was when she took me as an athlete?? This is WILD to me!) we sometimes can collaborate on my training. I actually hesitated to even write this blog, because I don’t want people (aka my athletes!) thinking that now their training plans are open for collaboration 🙂 This has been a LONG time in the making, and collaboration may not even be the right word. As Hillary has been known to say, she is not “a vote”, she is “THE vote” – and at the end of the day, whatever she would want me to do, goes. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally weigh in, and with ultras on the horizon, back in December we had a pow-wow about what would get me ready for those. I came to her with a pretty experienced ultra running background, but the balance between using that, and keeping me prime for Ironman, is a delicate one. This type of meeting of the minds between us is one of the things I like most about working with Hillary!
I really felt that a day with a long hike would go a long way for getting me ready for the ultras I had coming up. Rather than try to do this with a weighted pack and risk over-doing it, we opted for a simple hike after a hard treadmill class and a shakeout swim that I’d do beforehand. I had been doing plenty of trail running in the last few years, but not like I used to. When I came to Hillary, I was a trail runner – not a triathlete. And while I love so much about the transformation that has taken place, there was a part of me that was lost in it. And that was the ability to just walk in the woods. I had always felt at home in the mountains, and over the last few years, I lost the comfort they brought when I’d be alone in the woods. Instead, it was like going back to high school – things are familiar, yet awkward. You know where everything is, but you feel a little lost.
And while so much of ultra running comes down to strength and fitness, I do believe there is another element at play there. I feel that those who are truly comfortable on the trails gain a sense of the sport that many others do not. It’s raw and it’s hard to describe, but when you spend a lot of time walking, or running, in the woods, you become a different kind of runner. You don’t live by your garmin….instead you simply start to *feel* the miles passing by – sometimes god awfully slow – with your steps in the dirt instead of looking for the tenths to pass with your footsteps beating on pavement. It’s a different rhythm, and one that happens over time. The comfort and knack for that rhythm can come and go – feeling the beat of the trails is a skill, no doubt. I wanted to get that back. And, after a couple solid weekend pace runs the last few weeks, I’m feeling really good that we did get that back. It only took walking over 70 miles in the mountains 😉
Aside from that, there was certainly another mental aspect I liked about the hikes. I often see people who do social media “detoxes” over a day, a week, or a month. I’ve tried that and to be honest, it doesn’t work for me. For one, I find a lot of good on social media these days. I’ve worked really hard over the year to make my followers (and those I follow), my feeds, etc, positive people and things that inspire me and keep me happy. Of course, I use it to get a lot of news – and that often isn’t positive. But, that’s life. And with the balance I’ve crafted, I’m actually quite happy on the internet these days, which is great. But I still enjoy a break from staring at the screen (and so do my eyes), and so my hikes are a no-phone zone. Generally I don’t get service anyway, so it’s super easy to do. I carry it in case of emergency (in the off chance I fall off the mountain in a Verizon service area), but I keep it silent, and out of reach except for the occasional picture. And guess what? I haven’t missed anything of importance in that time away!
I do get some questions about safety, and to tell you the truth, I feel safer when I am hiking than in many cities these days! But, I do admit that having Ramona helps with that A TON! So, go adopt a protective pup 🙂 She also provides great conversation on the trail: Never interrupts! I also carry a pocket knife, plenty of food and water to last well beyond the planned time (for both human and dog), a LifeStraw, and a headlamp. If I’m somewhere I’m not super familiar with, I will also bring a hard copy of a map (not just rely on my phone). This is probably overdoing it for where I am hiking, but hey, I’d rather be prepared than make it on the news for looking dumb and under prepared!
With less than a month to go until the first 40 miler on tap, I am looking forward to a brief recovery week from running and hiking with lots of bike miles — I’ll be coaching at Hillary & Maik’s Tucson camp and let me tell you – that sun can’t come soon enough!!