ARE YOU OBSESSING ABOUT KILOMETERS?
Perhaps you’re already a seasoned trail runner, in that case cast your mind back. Remember your beginnings, your first outing, that fateful day you joined the trail running world. That’s right, cast your mind back to your first thoughts when you joined this community of nature lovers: “Later, when I’m big, I too will conquer one of the legendary running trails”. And what was this legendary trail? Most likely, you were thinking of a hefty piece, the kind of race that clocks up three figures in terms of kilometres, and even more so in terms of elevation. In other words, a challenge that scares the living daylights out of you, one you absolutely want to try, because everybody else seems to be doing it.
But when you think about it, do we really need to take on these races in order to be considered legitimate members of the trail-running brotherhood? Is it absolutely necessary to stack up kilometres in order to be a trail runner? Do kilometres add value to you? These questions may well have gone through your mind already, especially if you’ve felt some kind of pressure to increase your racing kilometres, and therefore your training kilometres. “That’s just the way it is”, they say: But you know, it’s that kind of pressure that in ‘ordinary’ life pushes you to stand in line in an orderly fashion, as it were.
In trail running, the exponential increase in distance seems to be a logical step: “That’s the way it goes”. But have you ever asked yourself whether that logic really makes sense to you? And more importantly, whether there might be another line of reasoning to follow? What do kilometres really mean to you? We have five tips to help you reconsider that obsession with racking up kilometres!
1. QUIT OBSESSING OVER HOW MANY KILOMETRES YOU'RE RACKING UP
To start with, it’s important for you to realise that you didn’t originate this obsession. It’s a kind of underlying theme in the trail running world; in a way, it’s part of the collective imagination. The truth is, people who aren’t in the trail running world view us a certain way and we feel like we’ve got to live up to their expectations, whatever it takes. For instance, many think that trail runners are a bunch of crazy people who run day and night in the mud, the cold, and the snow. Well, with such a reputation, how can we bring ourselves to cast off the myth that’s been created about us? It’s so flattering to be viewed as a warrior that we’ll do anything… Well, it’s true that we are warriors. We’re not pure fantasy, since we actually do exist.. And as real, thinking beings, very much alive, we are also capable of telling the world that the image it has created about us is wrong. We like to run in nature, that’s true enough. But that doesn’t mean we necessarily have to judge the value of a challenge by its outrageous number of kilometres and live by that ONLY (even though this might be disappointing for some people). Let’s also not forget that we have nothing to prove to anybody, except ourselves, and let’s not put kilometres on a pedestal and forget to take pleasure in the present moment, or we’ll lose the very essence of trail running, or running in general. Let’s not be blinded by distance: Wandering leads nowhere; to find the way, you have to listen to your desires. So what is it that really gives you pleasure?
2. SET YOUR PRIORITIES AND DON'T SCATTER YOUR EFFORTS TOO MUCH IN YOUR RUNNING PROGRAMME
Do you run a lot, lot, lot and feel like you’re making progress? That’s absolutely normal. And logically, since racking up kilometres is a way to move your game forwards, and you don’t want to go backwards, you can’t imagine the number of kilometres going down? That’s also normal. So why, you might ask us, should you even for a moment consider reducing the number of kilometres you cover when training?
First of all, you should realise that doing fewer kilometres in training does not entail you won’t be able to do more later. And training, for very good reasons, is by nature cyclical. In other words, phases of intense training are followed by rest phases. Indeed, keeping up a high intensity of training and constantly increasing that intensity will lead you to progress only up to a certain point. Once you reached that stage of progression, your body needs a rest. If you deny it that rest, you’ll succumb to over-training and all the hindrances that go with it: injuries induced by fatigue, loss of motivation, and loss of pleasure.
Of course, if you’re preparing for a 30-kilometre race, going out every Sunday for a 30-kilometres outing will be beneficial since this repeated exertion will allow your body and mind to assimilate the number of kilometres and the duration of the exertion that they’ll be performing on the race. But rest assured that if you’re planning to do a 180-kilometre ultra, you won’t have to do 180-kilometre-long training sessions. Such a distance (or an approximate one) should be spread out over a week of training or tackled over the course of a “crash weekend”. The idea of the “crash weekend” is to familiarise yourself with the number of kilometres, duration of effort, and elevation gain that you’ll be tackling during the race. In short, you’ve got the point: To devote yourself to racking up kilometres all year long is not a sustainable approach. On the other hand, when you’re preparing for a race, these kilometres do count and you can happily give them your all… as long as you make sure you don’t overdo it! It’s all about getting the dose just right, that’s the secret if you want to keep improving over the long term.
3. WHO SAID TRAIL RUNNING MEANT RACKING UP KILOMETRES?
First of all, there’s your freedom, which is enough of a reason in itself and cannot be called into question. Because whatever path you choose in trail running, your freedom to choose the distance you want to run won’t ever threaten the choices other people make (as long as you don’t make them feel that their choice – to go for long distance or not – is wrong). Not wanting/being able to run 50, 100, or 200 kilometres doesn’t take anything away from your merit as a trail runner, just as running 200 kilometres doesn’t make a trail runner any better than another trail runner who chooses to stay under the 50-kilometre mark.
Then, based on the principle that ultra distance is the ultimate goal, imagine coming to the end of such a race without having bothered to wonder what comes next. Indeed, what next? Have you completed the trail ‘game’? Is there nothing left to see? Is it finished for good? Now, we’re not trying to put you off the idea of trying your hand at long-distance trail running (and in fact we have nothing at all against it), we just think that before jumping in the deep end, it’s crucial to understand why you’re doing it. If you don’t figure out exactly what you want to get out of it, there’s a good chance you won’t reach your goal. For instance, if your motivation is to be able to shout from the rooftops, “I’ve done 150 kilometres”and not, for example, “I’ve had the chance to discover a facet of myself that I’d certainly never have been able to explore in another situation”, then it’s very possible that you’ll give up at the first obstacle you meet.
In short trail running is not all about racking up kilometres, it’s about pleasure; and if, for you, pleasure means x kilometres, then go ahead and please yourself!
4. THE IMPORTANCE OF CONSIDERING PROGRESS OVER AND ABOVE AN INCREASE IN KILOMETRES
We all know what a powerful motivator progress is: A source of satisfaction and pleasure, it’s good for the ego and for morale! The good news is there are many avenues for achieving progress; it’s not a straight narrow lane restricted to “I managed to run 10 more kilometres than last week”.
Progress is also being able to say, “I managed to run this trail faster than I’ve ever done it before”. In such a case, there’s no doubt it means you’ve improved your MAS (Maximum Aerobic Speed), the running speed at which you oxygen consumption is at its peak and a pace that you can keep up for 3 to 7 minutes.
But just progress is not all about kilometre increase, it’s also not restricted to speed parameters. Progress can also be measured by the pleasure you experience during your exertions.. Because to love running and not get bored while you’re doing it is always a good sign, and above all, it’s a very useful quality for a trail runner!
There’s also your capacity to set off for a run with more ease, to put your running shoes on with a smile on your face, and not shrink back when it’s raining: There again, your progress lies in your grasp of how the first few cold drops of rain are nothing compared to the pleasure of your outing.
Mental progress also represents considerable improvement that should absolutely be taken into account! I’m talking about your capacity to not give up, to not let outside elements bring you down or let negative thoughts get the better of you.
And finally, another area where you can achieve progress is in how you manage your recovery, your exertions, and your food supplies (while we’re on the subject, why not take a look at our article, Hydration and nutrition: 5 tips to prepare for your trail run)… Things that you learn over time and once you’ve got them down, you find that they can in themselves entirely change course of a race.
To sum up, progress is a multifaceted thing. What draws all the aspects of progress together? Getting to know yourself better so that you can better understand your body, your resources, and the exertions you can and WANT to achieve.
5. ARE KILOMETRES A GOAL IN THEMSELVES?
What do kilometres bring you? Have you truly and honestly asked yourself the question? Are kilometres a goal in themselves? Do you feel that racking up kilometre after kilometre, in ever greater numbers, will bring you the ultimate satisfaction?
No doubt you’ll answer, “of course not, there’s more to it than that” without actually being able to put your finger on it. The following words are therefore aimed at getting you to put some serious thought into what kilometres actually mean to you. If you like there to be a lot of them, always a lot of them, and more and more of them, what’s your reason? If, on the other hand, you like fewer kilometres and you’re embarrassed to confess it, perhaps it’s time for you to make peace with yourself, because nobody likes to hear you say, “Who, me? I’m just a small-time player, I only join into the little events”.
Dare to ask yourself these questions. Are kilometres a source of inner peace for you, capable of taking you into a deep meditative state as they go by, or conductors of a pleasant feeling of satisfaction?
And now, since we’re on the subject of kilometres, it’s about time to ask yourself what motivates circadian trail runners. You know, those who are into 24-hour races. Well, you’d better not go and tell them all they’re interested in is racking up kilometres. Of course, in the end, that’s what goes on paper, but behind the paper there are men and women seeking to give their all and surpass themselves.. Races measured in kilometres give access to overall management of exertions: circadian runners only stop when they decide to, and set off in the same fashion. On the track and on the trails, just like in life, nothing is ever set in stone. You can always take up the game or start again, and the champions on the first rounds are not necessarily those that reach the finish line. Humility wobbles from one pair of legs to the next and shakes up certainties: Why keep running? Because. We each have our own answer.
For those who are still not entirely convinced, here’s the clincher: Kilometres bring you much more than likes, as long as you know why you’re racking them up.