Techniques for Running Wild
from Willie McBride
Check out the video of an essential mental technique for running up hill.
When I started trail running, I felt an incredible sense of freedom being in wild places, away from the static of the human world. Trail running was my great escape and I wanted to keep it as pure as possible.
My tendency toward trying to figure things out on my own didn't always work well though with the myriad of challenges that trail running threw my way. I realize now, my reluctance to seek wisdom from others and embrace technique kept me from enjoying trail running as much as I do now.
I struggled with staying motivated and many times let my weak mental game derail my training for a big goal; I was bonking, frustrated with my inconsistent fueling; I launched into big uphills with force not finesse, unaware there was so much to be doing differently, and the worst part was I didn't want anyone telling me what to do.
In fact, I wanted the opposite: near total minimalism and disconnection from civilization, just me, maybe a little water and real food, running effortlessly through the woods like Daniel Day-Lewis in Last of the Mohicans, soundtrack pumping and all.
Oh how I slowly and painfully learned…
After many years of mishaps and misadventures, bonks and blown races I realized that I am not Daniel Day-Lewis, nor can I run through the mountains all day tirelessly like a deer. That said, I have gathered some wisdom over the past 13+ years as a trail runner and the past 6 years as coach/trainer and co-founder of Wy’east Wolfpack (with Yassine Diboun.) Here are a few points to consider during your trail journey:
1) Technique Matters-
I gradually embraced certain aspects of being a “runner” that I’d previously disdained; I realized that although I may prefer real trail food, sometimes a gel (or twelve) is absolutely necessary to avoid a painful, and potentially dangerous, crash. The brutal wisdom of chaffing taught me that people wear tight “spandex”-type clothing for very real reasons. There’s also a reason people hike hills and an answer to why practiced hikers routinely pass runners when it gets steep.
Technique is all this stuff: what you wear, what you eat, how you run and place your feet and move your body, how you plan and prepare. You can still seek the wild, and aim for minimalism and simplicity in your running; it’s just the littlest bit of attention to technique that can make the process a lot more enjoyable, and make you a more efficient.
2) The Mental Game is Real-
Another aspect of technique, and one of the utmost importance, is the mental game. From my very first steps on trail and in the mountains, I have been fascinated by the mental side of these athletic and outdoor pursuits. We can go so far on mental capacity alone, on the ability to 100% focus with pure mindfulness, to overcome sensations of pain, or to override negative emotions or anxiety in performance. Like what we eat, what we wear, or how we run on the trail, it is just as important to train how we think and perceive on the trail.
On the first day of our beginner trail running clinics here in Portland, Oregon we always start by talking about the importance of hiking in trail running and the need to “leave your ego at the trailhead.” That simple mantra, as well as many other exercises for mental training, are the fundamentals for a healthy relationship with a physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding sport.
3) Keep Learning-
I have learned to seek knowledge and wisdom from those around me to keep getting better at this sport. My friend and client Chef Gregory Gourdet has always blown me away by his tireless work ethic and his desire to forever improve his skills. Recently, he told me that he will be spending two weeks apprenticing at a #1 restaurant in Thailand. It inspired me to think that someone so accomplished would go and put himself in the opposite of his normal role: student instead of teacher, line cook instead of celebrity Top Chef. To me, that is someone who truly loves and cares about their craft.
No matter what level we’re at: as professionals, as trail runners, as humans, as friends, as family, we can strive to be a little better, to learn a little more, to listen instead of talk, to always keep learning.
If you want to benefit from techniques that my business partner, Yassine Diboun, and I have learned over many years of trail running, check out our Head for the Hills Online Course below.