Since starting Choose Mountains in January of 2015, I’ve acquired some amazing ambassadors that have been just killing it, trail running all over the place. I have the opportunity and gratitude watch the baddassery that they bring to whatever space they're in, whether it’s running 58 miles to make it to Chipotle by closing hours of 10pm….or dancing their way up multiple 14ers. I get to see humble Stuke run 30 miles combining multiple peaks in the dark hours of the night before heading off to his 9-5 day at work. They just have a stoke for what they do while having that huge living-my-best-life-smile on their faces. So here at Choose Mountains we receive a lot of questions wanting advice on how to start trail running. I chose to take some of these questions (20, to be exact) to a few of my ambassadors and fellow inspirations when it comes to running. But first.......
Lets Meet the Crew:
1. What are your tips for running uphill?
Ellie: Just walk! A good power hike gets the job done 🙂 it's also usually more efficient and even faster.
Benjamin: For me, and I assume a lot of middle of the pack runners, the answer is power hiking! The first thing you have to do is get comfortable with the idea of slowing down to a hike. That was the hard part for me. I felt if I wasn’t running, I was failing. When I got a coach and was INSTRUCTED to hike the uphills, I was amazed! Even the elites will hike some of the uphills. You exert less energy with less turnover to go the same speed or distance. Also, trekking poles. LOVE them!
Kim: You should learn where it becomes more efficient to power hike uphill. I can power hike up the steep stuff faster thank I can run. It saves energy. Hill repeats help build strength. There's lots of you tube videos on how to do them.
2. What are your tips for running downhill if you normally have bad knees?
Benjamin: My last 100k was an ass kicker. The first 50k had over 9000 feet of climbing and descending. I was running with a friend of mine who has done over 100 ultras in his career. I am relatively new to the sport and needed to have my reins pulled in to keep me from blowing out my quads in the first half. Mark mentioned to me to focus on landing more on the forefoot and make sure the calves take the brunt of the pressure of the stride. The calves are much more fortified and can help sustain the quads, and in turn the knees, for later in the race and my career.
Kim: Shorten your stride and lean into the trail. Let yourself go, don't fight it.
3. what's The best way to fuel for a long run? are the supplies you should bring with you for long runs different than the 10 essentials for a hike?
Ellie: The best way to fuel is to bring calories that you enjoy. I usually bring a summit treat (pop tarts, chocolate, gummies) and a few bars. You definitely always wanna have more calories than you plan on eating.
Benjamin: This answer might be the one you hear the most. Fuel is very personal. It is what works for you and what works for me may not work for you. The 10 essentials are much different than what you need for an ultra. The 10 essentials are there for emergencies of survival and should always be in your pack. The fuel for a long run goes way beyond that. Bank on at least consuming two hundred or more calories per hour depending on how your body works. The way you consume those calories is up to you, be it liquid, gels, or solid foods. Practice with all of them to find what works for you then STICK WITH IT!!! Don’t change a week before the race because an article you read sounded interesting or made sense to you. The last thing you want to do is change your fueling style and have it be the part of your long run or race that upends your day. And as far as water goes, drink when you are thirsty. That is the best advice I can give. My last race was a hot one. I tried to drain my two twenty ounce bottles between aid stations to be safe.
Kim: Naturally you will start off bringing more than you need, then you will hate carrying it all, and you'll go minimal. One thing I always carry is a back country supply first aid kit. They make a trail runner first aid (it's very small) and has everything I need in it. This comes in handy when you fall because you let yourself go running downhill ( : As well, I always carry an extra pair of socks.
4. What kind of shoes do I need to get?
Michele: Everyone is going to be different for their trail running requirements. Think about your strengths and weaknesses during a regular run and apply that to what kind of shoe you'll need. I personally like a light weight shoe that still has lots of traction, because I like to go fast but am also a klutz (Salomon Speedcross are my go to for running on technical terrain. Salomon Sense Pro 2 is my fave for softer less technical PNW type terrain). I always highly suggest going to a running shoe store to get fitted for a good running shoe. This will be the most expensive thing you'll need for running but it's the MOST important. Most running stores have the option for if the shoe doesn't work out after running on it for a few runs, you can bring it back for an exchange for a better fit.
Benjamin: Like food, get the shoe that feels and fits best for you. Also, keep in mind the terrain you will be running on. Besides that, it is one of the most personal decisions you can make. Find what works and go with it! No one shoe is best and what works for one may not work for you.
Kim: That is a loaded question. It took me a fully year to find that the Saucony Xodus fits my foot like a glove, or sock, or pillow. You have to put the time in to find the right shoe for yourself. It's huge for injury prevention.
5. Is there a strategy to tackling the hike topographically? Do I go harder in these spots vs. these spots or is it pacing the same speed the whole time?
Benjamin: That is up to you and your training. For me, if it is flat, rolling or downhill, I am running in some way shape or form. The slight ups, I will jog with a steady turnover and the steep climbs, I take my time, but I don’t stop. Just keep going and think to yourself, what goes up must come down!!
Kim: You won't really know the first time you run something. The more you get to know the trail the more you'll push and pull in different spots. I normally run with how I feel at the time.
6. What is your diet?
Ellie: I'm vegan, but I run on a strict eat anything you want diet. Ask any of my friends and they'll tell you that I pretty much live if snack foods (oh popcorn 😍). Calories are calories, right? Just as long as you're eating ENOUGH! I would recommend at least trying to throw some greens and protein in there, though 🙂
Benjamin: For me, I eat what I want. When my body wants something it tells me. I don’t deny it, or myself, anything. I tried a strict diet during a training cycle and found no significant difference in performance. Mind you, I am not eating fast food or processed foods all the time, I eat a ton of veggies, occasionally some meat and a ton of pizza!
Kim: I have been a vegan for 6 years. I eat a lot of greens.
7. Good trails to train on?
Benjamin: Make sure your long runs mimic the race terrain as much as possible.
Kim: I haven't met a trail I don't like.
8. How do you not slip while running down loose dirt paths?
Ellie: You do... and you embrace it. Controlled falling is a thing, and if you act like you know where your feet are going, hopefully it won't look like out of control flailing. But I'd be lying if I said that I didn't eat it on a regular basis.
Michele: I always make sure to look at a few feet ahead of me on the ground to anticipate what kind of obstacles I'm doing to have to get around. Downhill tip is to lean back a little to help your weight give a little balance. Uphill tip is to lean forward so that you are using the whole power of your body to get uphill (I personally will lean my hands against my thighs on harder climbs for extra power hiking leverage).
Benjamin: I don’t have much practice with trails like that, but I did run down the South Sister in Oregon and from the summit, the first two miles down are just scree-filled trails. All I did was strap in to my shoes and let gravity do it’s work. On the technique side, the only thing I focused on was making sure my strides were short and the contact my feet had on the ground was minimal. Quick turnover to keep my balance and let the sliding happen. The biggest mistake you could make was trying to control the uncontrollable.
Kim: I do slip. All. The. Time.
9. What's a good snack or energy source?
Stuke: PB Snickers are my current favorite to get a bit of an energy bump. But honestly, there are so many options out there for you. I find it best to not overthink it. Most foods are going to work as fuel. My biggest challenge is my lack of appetite while out there so I try to pack things that I can nibble on every thirty minutes or an hour. If all else fails I will turn to gels for a kickstart as they are quick and easy.
Benjamin: I can’t live without GU Salted Caramel, Tailwind or power logs! Power logs are the creation of a gentleman names Faron. I was sleeping the Orcas 50k with him and around mile twenty-two I was bonking. I hadn’t eaten much and was feeling out of it. Faron whips out a Tupperware container and inside was pure calorie-filled gold. Pepperoni sticks, cheese, mustard, and pickles ,wrapped in a flour tortilla. Not only was it a life saver, but delicious as well!!
Sawna: Some go to snacks I love are a tortilla spread with half almond butter, half fig preserve sprinkles with hemp seed, and maybe a little bit of honey. It's sweet, full of good fats, carbs and protein! Another easy go to are pecan stuffed dates or steamed sweet potatoes!
Kim: I like Bearded Brothers Bars and Welchs fruit snacks.
10. I don't wear a pack when I run but see most of you using the hydration vest system. Should I get one too? And which one do you like best?
Michele: Yes! I don't know what I would do without my hydration vest. Trail running requires a lot more work than road running and you will also be out there a lot longer for a 10 mile trail run vs 10 mile road run. So always having available water is VERY important. It will feel a little weird at first but once you realize how nice it is to have all these pockets to put your phone, keys, food and always have water, you'll love it. I personally love Nathan hydration packs. I currently use the Nathan Vaporshadow but would also suggest checking out the Nathan Vapor Howe which is less bulky but has lots of storage.
Benjamin: The elites don’t use them for the most part due to the fact that the time between aid for them is so short. I wear one for a few reasons. The first being I hate to have things in my hand when I run. The second is I can carry everything I need and not worry about drop bags or aid stations having what I WANT. I have a method to my fueling and I like to make sure it’s available when I want or need it. I love the Ultimate direction PB Ultra Vest. It hold enough for long adventures but feels light enough for 50k races….plus it has an awesome system to store trekking poles up front for easy accessibility.
Kim: I love my Ultimate Direction vest. I have Anton's model but they make women specific. I have had this vest for 3 years. Quality.
11. What do I pack to bring with me? I usually pack all the essentials and then some, but they don't fit in running packs!
Stuke: This is so dependent on your route, weather, terrain that it is hard for me to give a generic answer. On trails that are close to the city and havelot of traffic, I will pack water, some food, phone, an extra layer or two and a headlamp and that is about it. The risks are lower. On something where I am going solo and there is going to be more technical terrain involved and I don’t have cell coverage, the list gets much longer and I will turn to a running pack that is 15-20 liters. From my experience, I started packing too much, took notes on what I used, didn’t use and started trimming from there. What I also do is stop mid-run and think to myself, “What would happen if I was injured right now in this spot? Do I have what I need to get through the process of either making it back or being able to call for help?”. If the answer is no, make note of what you don’t have and include it next time.
Sawna: I usually pack all the essentials and then some, but they don't fit in running packs! My go to essentials are a wind breaker/rain shell, chapstick, extra snacks, a life straw and my phone!
Kim: There's only one way to find what works for you, trial and error. I can make a lot fit in my UD running vest. I climb 14ers and 13ers all summer long with it. The material is stretchy.
12. Do you have any suggestions on acclimating to running in a higher elevation? I'm moving to Denver on Monday and everyone is saying I'm going struggle a little trying to run or exercise there at first. It would be interesting to hear if they have any suggestions on getting used to that environment change.
Michele: I just moved to Denver in September and my best suggestion for this is to just know that your normal pace is going to feel really hard to maintain here at first. You will almost feel like you are starting over. Don't get discouraged or be too hard on yourself though and know that it will just take a few months before you start to feel normal again.
Kim: Time. It's the only way. Took me 3 months to stop having bloody noses when I moved from New York to Denver. And it takes me even longer when I go up high. Every one is different though. You may acclimate right away. It's partially genetic.
13. How do you prevent severe GI problems for 15mi+ distance?
Stuke: Honestly, I don’t have much of a problem with this but I do always carry Pepto in pill form just in case and I found that works.
Sawna: Hydration and consuming enough calories is key. Mix a little bit of salt in your snacks(I add some pink Himalayan to my dates) if it's hot out. Snack every hour but don't over indulge.
Kim: Let me know if you figure this one out. My stomach sucks.
14. What's your favorite pair of shorts/tights?
Ellie: It's science, the shorter the inseam, the faster you run. So duh... my shortest shorts.
Benjamin: Easy answer. The North Face Better Than Naked 5” Split Short. Great storage and extremely comfortable and light.
Kim: I love my pins to kill leggings and under armor shorts.
15. Do you fuel differently for an ultra/trail than you do for say a half/full road marathon? What are some of your go to "fuel" snacks.
Stuke: When I did road running of that distance I usually had a gel or two stashed in my shorts and that was it. When running ultra distances on the trails, I still use gels but supplement that with real food. Bean burritos, taquitos, PB&J’s, quesadillas are all food that I have turned to. Also see #9 answer.
Benjamin: The only difference for me is I add in real food for ultra distances. My body needs more than just sugars or carbs to be out there for a long time.
Sawna: Definitely different fuel methods. During a marathon I run at a hard effort the entire time, maybe consuming a gel or two(fast energy fueling). During a ultra/trail you are pacing yourself to go farther and a less intense effort. I strive to stick to A Whole Foods energy source to get me energized and truly enjoy the hours spent on the trails.
Kim: I try to eat real food the more miles I tack on. I am still figuring out my nutrition but salted potatoes and rice and avocado wraps are awesome.
16. Do you have any favorite mental methods / team methods to push past walls/fatigue?
Michele: Smile through the pain. Seriously. If you start to feel a low or start hurting, and you smile or laugh, it will help change your mental attitude. And EAT! More often then not, if you are hitting a wall or fatigue it's because you need food and/or water! It's really easy to forget about fueling when you're running but it's necessary to keep yourself moving.
Benjamin: Mine is easy. In a race, find someone around you that is in the same boat and suffer together. The miles to the next aid station (and usually after that aid station you will feel better because you will eat and drink a lot) will go fast as the two or more of you talk about your feelings and how you think you got there.
Kim: I repeat to myself, "eventually it has to end" and "the only way through is through." Suffering is always temporary.
17. What's your favorite app to use to track your runs and why?
Stuke: Strava without a doubt. I’m not competitive but I enjoy the interface the most and it’s easy to see what others are up to and draw inspiration from them. It’s like the Facebook of running. Also you can get the basic app for free on your phone or use a GPS watch if you have one.
Benjamin: My suunto ambit peak is all I need
Sawna: I use the Strava app. It keeps me accountable for my runs and even reminds me of accomplishments made. It collects all runners/cyclist together and makes your activity a more social event.
Kim: Strava. It is free and works without service.
18. What's one item you cannot live without for your runs?
Stuke: Shoes and don’t forget your car keys. ;)
Benjamin: I can’t live without my trekking poles. For the longest time I didn’t understand the need for them until I tried them. They helped my climbing tremendously.
Kim: My legs.
Sawna: Chapstick! No matter the weather, my lips get dry, I will run back if I have forgotten it! Also a camera... to take photos of my ultra happy trail running pup Juniper!
19. How do Kim and Ellie look like they're having so much fun on their runs?
Ellie: I guess I'm obligated to answer this. Well. I think the more you awkwardly dance during a run, the more fun you'll have. That's a direct correlation. And try not to take yourself seriously. Neither of us run to be fast, or to train, or to beat Strava stats. We just love to be outside. Also, it's fun to suffer, guys!!
Kim: We are ( :
20. What is your mental state? What are you thinking? Are you thinking? How and where do you direct your thoughts?
Stuke: I struggled a bit early on, especially road running in over thinking things. The mental training was far more challenging than the physical training. The key is to just be. Don’t think about the destination, each step is the destination. Be completely engaged in the present moment. Let everything flow to you. It’s a state of being that can be hard to explain so I recommend a book, “Running with the Mind of Meditation” by Sakyong Mipham to getyou on your way. A passage from that book explains it well:
“On a crisp, fresh morning in the Scottish Highlands, I had planned a ten-mile run. Both Jon Pratt and I were training a lot that winter, and we were both in good shape. Our run had a delightful and magical quality. My mind was very clear, and I remained completely present, noticing every rock on the trail and even the dew glistening on the pine needles. Every gust of wind invigorated and refreshed me. Even the clear echoes of our feet hitting the trail brought me back to the moment. As we inhaled and exhaled, the vapors created a mist. I felt connected to the sky and the earth.”