By Aaron Burrick
In the months leading up to my first ultramarathon, training often felt like riding a roller coaster. Some weeks were steady and strong, while others felt slow, stressful, and disappointing. I struggled to find consistency in my busy schedule and high expectations. But, as time passed, I found ways to build a steady, healthy running practice. The following strategies improved not only my weekly mileage, but my entire outlook on how running fit with the rest of my life.
As a new trail runner, it can be easy to feel intimidated by other athletes’ training volumes. But remember: one hundred, fifty, and even twenty mile weeks aren’t built overnight. No single number can capture the commitment and routine required to lace up day after day. As you start your running journey, consistency matters more than total mileage or time on feet. Find an achievable and fun starting point, and dial it up from there. Maybe try twenty minutes a day, three days per week. Or find a run club for some mid-week motivation. If you’re extra pressed for time, try running to work on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings over the summer. Whatever you choose, keep your schedule achievable and finish feeling excited to get back after it tomorrow.
After passing through the initial stage of “why have I chosen a hobby that gives me blisters,” many runners want to increase their training load. And when we’re focused on doing more, it can be easy to forget that rest and recovery are two of the most important contributors to consistent, healthy running. Rest days allow our bodies to rebuild and rejuvenate. They replenish our energy stores, and give us time to embrace other aspects of our identities. New runners can sometimes be susceptible to labeling food, naps, and Netflix as something “earned” after a good run. But all of these, from Hawaiian pizza to the latest David Attenborough series, are essential for prolonged and happy running. As you build your practice on the trails, never forget or underestimate the value of recovery.
Stretching and strength
During my first marathon training block, I often joked that “most of running is lying on the ground.” As my apartment filled with different rollers and resistance bands, I began to notice the benefits that came from more stretching and routine strength work. I slept better if I loosened up before bed. Aches and pains disappeared as I toughened up muscles that, prior to running, I didn’t know existed. On days where I warmed up, the miles felt, and were, faster than on the days when I started cold. Basic strength work, which many runners don’t incorporate until after they’ve been injured, doesn’t have to be fancy either. Body-weight squats, a whole bunch of lunges, and balancing on one foot can make all of us more resilient runners. As you build your running routine, make time for the floor. Find yourself a foam roller, and believe that small habits can make a major difference over time.
Find your people
Trail running can, at times, be an isolating sport. While many of us love the solitude of the trails, we also crave the connection and support required for a sustainable future of movement in the outdoors. With this in mind, it is essential for newer runners to find people who understand their experiences. Local running groups, the neighborhood shoe store, and weekend trailheads are all places to connect without being asked about when your knees will give out. Many running brands also offer community through ambassador programs that connect over Facebook and Instagram. Social connection helps us feel seen, and sane, in our commitment to steady and consistent running. Trail friends can support us when we’re feeling low, inspire us when we’re unsure of ourselves, and remind us that we aren’t alone in our running goals.
Almost every runner, from first-timer to international competitor, has been or will become injured. While many injuries can be prevented with rest and maintenance, it’s healthy for new runners to view these temporary roadblocks not as signs of failure or incompetence, but as byproducts of pushing our potential. They’re also learning experiences that highlight imbalances in our bodies or errors in our planning. As we develop more consistent running, it can be helpful to create an “injury plan” that keeps us feeling positive even if we’re taken off the trails. To start, we can find a physical therapist in the area who specializes in working with runners. We can take an inventory of not only other sports, but other interests we can embrace during time away from running. We can ask ourselves: If I can’t run, how else can I manage stress and practice self-care? With the right preparation and mindset, injuries can be seen as only slight detours on the broader road, or trail, of progress.
Trail running can redefine one’s sense of adventure. Multi-day trips and all-day efforts will always be exciting, but there’s something unique about discovering a new trail in your own backyard. Building a healthy, consistent running practice provides almost daily opportunities for this type of exploration and adventure. Regular running can empower us to return home with renewed energy and curiosity, and an adventurous spirit that lasts far longer than any single run.
--Aaron is a trail runner, writer, and therapist living in Bend, Oregon. Follow along with him on Instagram and learn more about Aaron here: www.aaronburrick.com