Sunday, September 20, 2009

Running and Love

(This post is long but if I've ever posted anything on this blog that's worth your time this might be it):

For most of this year I've been noticing a change in the relation between my life, my training, and my racing. It's been a very slow change that's been hard for me to understand but I think I'm finally starting to process it and put it together into real, concrete thoughts. Having the race I did at Wasatch (i.e. a performance which shocked and confused me with how fast I ran) has helped a lot with forcing me to look for some of these things which I've been able to feel for awhile now, but have been unable, until now, to put a finger on. Basically my performance at Wastach, and to a lesser degree at Crow Pass in July has forced me to confront the question, why am I running so much faster now than I was just 6 months or a year ago?

It's easy to attribute it to the fact that I'm quite new to racing ultras and that I'm just learning the ropes and still on the steep section of the bell curve. I think there is some truth to that, but I really don't think that's all of it.

Things changed for me a lot after my Miwok disaster in May. I was planning to run either Western States or Hardrock this summer. With my DNF at Miwok I no longer had the option of running Western States, but for some reason my focus didn't ever concentrate itself on Hardrock. After Miwok I took some time off from running altogether and when my mind drifted back around I found that I didn't have any desire to "train" for my next "big race." Instead I just wanted to run. I wanted to run when I felt like it, where I felt like it, with almost no specificity toward preparing myself for my next race. I decided to flow with this mentality for awhile and kind of assumed that shortly I'd come back around to my usual pattern of training to prepare myself for my next race.

We had one of the most perfect summer's imaginable in Juneau this year (weather wise), and instead of my mind coming back toward more specific training, it just kept wandering more and more.

This was June. I decided I didn't really have the focus to do Hardrock so when my spot on the waitlist came up I quietly declined, and to some extent wondered whether I would ever seriously race again. And yet day after day, week after week, I was having more fun running than I ever had. I stopped planning runs more than a few hours in advance, unless I was trying to coordinate something with others. I would get out of work and decide where I wanted to run based on the weather at the time and how I felt at the time. I stopped running on roads altogether. I started climbing up to mountain ridges almost everyday. And I began to run almost everyday with other people that I had previously only run with once in awhile. By mid summer I began to notice this trend of finishing runs, sometimes as often as 4 or 5 days a week in which I felt like I had just done one of my favorite training runs ever.

The time came to race Crow Pass and I had all kinds of doubts about whether my body was anywhere near being physically ready to run as fast as I knew I'd need to win that race. I hadn't afterall done any kind of speed work since April! And then I ran Crow Pass, still convinced that it might be my last serious race ever, and shattered the course record in a race that has been around for almost 30 years. What the hell? That was a bit confusing, but I figured it was an exception, that I just happened to have a really good day, and was aided hugely by having another runner work with me and push me to such a fast time.

After recovering from Crow Pass I decided I was definitely going to run Wasatch and I began to convince myself that maybe I could stay with this approach of having my running be about my training, not about my racing. Instead of training for a specific race and tailoring my training for that race, I realized that for a few months I had been training for me, for love, for happiness, to share my experiences in the mountains with friends, and because it had become my favorite thing to do. No longer was the racing the focal point of my running, but rather the racing was becoming just an expression of me and who I am.

Instead of 5 or 6 of my weekly runs feeling like dutiful training, with one or two really fun runs a week, the scales had turned completely. Suddenly almost every run I did left me thinking, "wow, that was one of my favorite runs ever." I think 90% or more of "my favorite runs ever" occurred in June, July, August, and September of this year!

Going into Wasatch I still had some serious doubts as to whether this kind of general, passionate, heartfelt, but completely unscientific style of training could really get the job done on race day. Obviously my performance in Wasatch did away with these doubts and I've spent most of the past week trying to figure out why this has worked so well.

In a post earlier this year (Ironically, less than one week after Miwok) titled "Why I Run," I talked about being so into running because it was something that was 100% me, and what I got out of running (from a performance standpoint) was entirely up to what I put into. It's shocking to me how far off base this seems to me now, only 4 months later.

As I came to really love my training runs more and more this summer I found myself wanting to share these runs with others. For my entire running career I have been a solo runner. Until this year well over 95% of the running I did was by myself and that was the way I liked it. I always equated running with others with making it impossible for me to do exactly the run, at exactly the pace that I wanted to do. Even when I wanted people to run with me in the past, I was unwilling to deviate much from my training schedule so I ended up running solo because no one wanted to go to the track with me and run 30 quarter mile repeats, or spend their entire Saturday afternoon plugging along on the slushy shoulder of the road for 30+ miles. Now though I am willing to be entirely flexible in my training and this makes it really easy to find people to run with because I can work around their interests.

And so, for the first time in my life, I really began to share my running with others. The snowball effect that occurred was subtle at first, but eventually it became too obvious to ignore. The love I had found for training; for being in the mountains; and for life in general became contagious and almost everyone that I was running with was enjoying their running as much or more than ever:

My roommate had hardly ever run in his life until this year and after a summer of running up in the mountains a few days a week he ended up coming down to Utah and crewing/pacing almost 30 miles of the Wasatch race.

My most reliable training partner this year has been a guy who has lived in Juneau for 50 years. At age 70 I'm pretty sure he spent more time up on mountain ridges above town this summer than he ever has in his life.

My friend who I ran with a bit in the spring, before she moved away from Juneau, is now running more than she ever has in her life, and when I talk to her about her running she has more excitement about it and dedication to it than I would have ever imagined her having.

Another friend of mine who I only ran with a few times before she moved away from Juneau last month has such an obvious mindset to be good at ultras. The first run we ever did together I told her we might be out for as long as 3 hours. When we ended up being out for 7 (the last 3 of which were after dark with no lights and blazing our own trail through thick underbrush) I figured I'd never hear from her again. Instead she calls me regularly to chat about the crazy runs she's been doing since she left Juneau. I know she has put in at least three 30+ mile days in the past month and before that she had never run further than a marathon.

My friend who I ran with once or twice a week in preparation for Crow Pass got himself into the best shape of his life leading up to that race and took 20 minutes off his time from last year, more than twice as much time as I took off from my Crow Pass previous best time.

My ex-girlfriend has never been a runner. Dating me for 8 years probably made her even less likely to run since I made running seem so specific, laborious, and anything but fun. After we split up this spring though she ended up spending the second half of her summer doing several mountain runs around Juneau. I don't claim any credit for influencing her to do this but I do hope that we get to run together in the mountains sometime in the future, something that neither one of us would have ever wanted to do together until now (and maybe she still wouldn't want to) that we actually have an interest in running for some of the same reasons.

I ran a few times this summer with some of Juneau's high school runners. When I was in high school 70 minutes was a "long" run. These kids however would go up into the mountains with me on 3-5 hour runs and love every minute of it. I would have died from doing that when I was that age.

Then there's my friend who refuses to go running with me (I'm still holding out hope that she'll come around eventually), and I don't really think that I've influenced her running in any significant way, but she became so interested in and so supportive of my running as being an extension of who I am that almost continually throughout Wasatch I could feel her running with me. And when it got late and I was really tired I actually had halucinations a few times that she was sitting on the side of the trail.

Anyway, so I know some people who run, and I ran with some of them this summer, and we had fun doing it. Big deal. That's how I would have seen it even just a month ago. I realize now though that this is a big deal. As I ran with these people more and more it forced me to deviate almost entirely from any kind of specific training. And all the while I've become significantly faster than ever before. The only way that I can explain this is that I'm not alone in my running anymore, and that simply having a pure and genuine love for the running that I do on a day to day basis has made me faster than any track workouts or tempo runs ever have. I have influenced people around me with my running more this year than ever before, and their love for their running, their love for themselves, and thier love for me has come back to me ten fold, and made me even that much stronger, happier, and ultimately faster. For the first time in my life I have opened myself up to the idea of letting others influence my running and the result has been an undeniable positive effect.

At the end of the day I very much still ackowledge that it takes a serious amount of "training" to run Wasatch in 18.5 hours or Crow Pass in under 3 hours, but it's been a shocking, and very comforting revelation to realize that, with being more willing to accept the help of others that this "training" can be so much more fun than I ever imagined. And that by having fun doing it, and coming to love the process of it more than ever, and coming to love myself and the people around me more than ever, that I am now faster than ever. I also think it's worth noting that my shockingly fast times in Crow Pass and Wasatch both included other runners (Eric Strabel and Karl Meltzer respectively) pushing me with record shattering performances of their own. In the same way that I have learned to open up my "training" to being influenced by other people in my life, I think it's only fitting that it was with the "aid" of other racers that I was able to run as fast as I did in these races.

I also ackowledge that this idea applies less and less as you talk about racing shorter and shorter distances, but for something as long as 50 or 100 miles I'm convinced that the most important thing to have in your arsenal is a genuine love for your running and a willingness to share this love with others and to let them share their love with you. If you have this everything else you need can fall into place naturally.

I know this might sound like a lot of emotional, sappy, hippy bull shit but I would challenge anyone to give it a try and see what you find out. Throw away your training schedule, find a mountain and run up it. The next day find another mountain and run up it. Once you fall in love with doing that share this love with others. It can be that simple. At least it has been for me.


Anonymous said...

Geoff: As one of a group of 40+ endurance folks that are trying to take it up a notch - your blog & insights are inspirational indeed. Thanks much for sharing. Patrick

Julie said...

Thanks for an awesome post! I had a similar experience after running in high school and cross country. I gave up on track workouts and now only run in mountains. We (the group I run with) run whatever we want on any given day. The mountains take care of my training for me as long as I show up. :) Its a good way to "accidentally" set course records I think...not knowing how fast you are getting without the track or even are free to run as fast as you can. I enjoyed your insights very much!

Derrick said...

Nothing wrong with a little emotional, sappy, hippy bullshit from time to time! :)

Interesting post. I have found a similar situation in the past as well.

Just wondering in your situation if it's a case where you are now going into your day in, day out training a little more rested and recovered from each run? I'm curious to hear if you think that you might have overtrained maybe a touch in the past?...intensity or volume. I'm not saying that you did, but I'm just wondering your thoughts? Nothing like a good group run to keep the pace under control.

Regardless, it's great to see your love of the sport shine through and that you've obviously gotten rewarded big time. Keep doing what you're doing!

Anonymous said...

This is aligned with why I love running so much. When I golf, I hit maybe 5 out of 100 good shots around. That means when I golf, only 5% of the time I'm happy.

When I run, mountain bike, ski, or paddle, I find 90% of the time I walk away saying it was the best run of my life, just because I got out there and let the trail/river take care of the rest.

Bryon Powell said...

While it might sound hypocritical coming from someone who coach ultrarunners, I completely agree. Fun is an important part of running well. This summer I had no training plan to speak of. I roamed around the North American intermountain west going from trailhead to trailhead, friend to friend, and event to event. I may not have smashed any well-established course records this summer, but I did manage what is clearly my best 100 miler to date with a sub-20 hour finish at Leadville.

Anyway, keep having fun and keep tearing it up!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting reading your post and one of your ex-girlfriend's most recent posts. You both indicate that the other probably doesn't want to have anything to do with the other. Hmmm, you're both up there in the mountains, having fun and thinking about the other. Sounds like a reunion is in the cards...

Anonymous said...

I've run some 5ks over the past two years, but never taken it more seriously than a fun run. I found your blog through a link on's running site, and since reading your race reports I've been really inspired to increase my distance and run just for the sake of running.

Anonymous said...

Now just apply that same thing to love and life, and you're all set.

Anonymous said...

Great blog Geoff!!

I am a huge rollerblader and really understand where you are coming from with this.

In order for me to become the best rollerblader that I can I need to just step back and have fun and not worry what my competetitors are doing.

It is all about enjoying the ride and feeling the wind in my hair. By doing this I know I will eventually win a trophy to put on my night stand.


Michael Alfred said...

I was just thinking today as I got out of the shower that my best performances this year were in races that were supposed to be tune up races. I did not meet my goals in my target races but I exceeded them in races I wasn't planning on running well. Go figure. I too have stopped training for specific races and have just focused on spending more time running on rocky trails in the mountains. Great stuff.

Unknown said...


Reading your post makes a person want to go on a run with you, not because you ran fast times in some races this year, but because of this fabulous attitude and take on things.

For the first time in my life I have this wish that I lived up in Juneau.

You're on the right track.

Take care, and good luck to you in the future. Thanks for sharing what you did.

Geoff said...

i think there might be a bit of truth to your question about maybe over training in the past. my total training time was higher this summer than ever, but because such a large percentage of my running included long stretches of hiking up steep mountains my overall mileage (and perhaps the overall impact on my body) was about 20-25% less than usual. i think i only put in one or two weeks all summer over 100 miles (although i stopped paying attention to my mileage to the point where i eventually had no idea how much i was doing. i was still keeping track of it all on my attackpoint training log so at some point i'll have to go back and look closer at it to see what i was actually doing mileage wise) whereas in the past i'd try to be over 100 for pretty much each of the last 6 or 8 weeks leading up to something like wasatch.

for most of june these constant climbs up into the mountains were leaving me pretty tired out day in and day out but eventually my body just came around and i felt fresh and recovered almost everyday by the end of the summer.

Unknown said...

Lovely. Echoes how things have been for me here, too. Onwards. More mountains, more love.

Betsy Fischer said...

Beautifully written, Geoff. You and your Juneau running friends were definitely an inspiration to me this summer. More than once I hiked up into the mountains based on a report from your blog on a ridge run you had just done. And I also have a list for next summer thanks in part to you. Sounds like you're on a good path and look forward to seeing you on the ski trails this winter. Come see us for some lightweight waxless track skis for those hard-to-wax-for days, ok?

Anonymous said...

Great post - just wanted to add my thanks for sharing your thoughts. It is great that you are using your talent to help to inspire others. Your attitude towards running and life is spot-on!

Paul Charteris said...

Great stuff Geoff. Emotional, sappy, hippy bull shit is always welcome. As one that never runs with a watch, GPS or any knowledge of distance, I can totally relate. When you try to quantify things too much you end up focusing on performance and that takes away the pure enjoyment. Bryon is a good example, the dude just ran and camped the entire summer, decided to enter Leadville at the very last minute (with self-doubts) and unleashed a helluva run.

Well done on Wasatch too!

Cheers, Paul Charteris

Unknown said...

I want to go for a run...

Zyzzyx said...

Odd bit of circumstances for me here... Got to this post from your ex-GFs blog; as a cyclist I've enjoyed reading her writings.

But recently I've bought some Vibram Fivefingers 'shoes', and have started running this last week. I haven't gone out for a 'run' in twenty years (high school).

And ya know, the couple (very short) runs I've done this last week... have been very nice!

worm said...

great post. i've never "trained" for an event and yet have enjoyed every race i've run. i think you're right in that when you love what you're doing, it won't be work and it will translate into better performance. this is true in almost every area of our lives. i've run crow pass with you twice now, but i push from the back of the pack, not pull from the front...

boyd7 said...

congrats on A awesome victory at Wasatch!!!!! I am hoping for A parallel experience in A way. I have almost always been A lone trainer too. I do not enter many races these days. I have one this weekend, the first since February. But I have been running the last year with my friend who had 40% of his left lung removed because of cancer. Like you, I have enjoyed running more by sharing, but My long runs have been more like hikes! I ran hard the last two weeks to prep. Here's hopin!

Anonymous said...

Being a newby to running...this was the first year I "trained"...every race I ran as a race, I didn't do accordingly. Every race I ran for training run, was no pressure and I met my alloted times!

I need to run each race as a training run! That takes the pressure off!!

Why do I run? Because it's fun & I can!

Krissy said...

You've nailed it on the head man. I just found your blog and this is my favorite post. It is so not about the training schedule. Thanks for putting down your thoughts and congrats on another kick butt run at Bear - incredible!

Dan said...


Your right on with all of this. Your love of running/life/mountains has been contagious and brought lasting joy to my life. Another gift of the Douglas ridges, eh?


bigRahn said...

Powerful words, my friend, very powerful.

PowerGoat said...

Disappearing up a mountain and into yourself.

Awesome, and very well written.

Librarian on the Run said...

Hi, Geoff. I came across your blog by following a link about "a really inspiring explanation of why we run". The post definitely was inspiring. I live far from Alaska, and far below the height of any of the mountains you run, but I still have similar feelings about running - I just can't explain them as well as you did in this post. Thanks for sharing.

Dave Mount said...

Just wanted to add my thanks to everyone else's, Geoff. This is really inspiring. It came my way as I was already in the process of abandoning my running log, learning to run barefoot, and joining a trail running group here in Portland, Oregon - all things that are bringing joy to my running. Your post makes me feel like I'm on the right track, and I've shared it with my new running friends. Cheers!

pathfinder said...

Hi Geoff,

I really enjoyed your post and it is funny I have been thinking similar thoughts lately as my training has not gone as planned. There is a lot of good advice here.

Anonymous said...

Hey Geoff, great write up, thanks for posting it! I recently read the book BODE (Miller) Go Fast. Be Good. Have Fun. Although he trains for ski racing, his approach is similar to what you state. He makes having fun a higher priority over specific ski training, because if he is happy, he will ski at his best. William


This makes perfect sense and the same thing happens in this book as well:

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDoguall