If you're training for a long race, at some point, the time and miles start to really get to you. It feels like work. It stops being fun. This is where a lot of people just stop. But there are ways to bust through the slump.
Lets acknowledge the main way people address this issue. You get up in the morning, you put your shoes on, and you get your miles. Doesn't matter if you want to. Doesn't matter if it isn't fun. You get the job done. This takes a mental toughness that a lot of people just can't quite get into. And the longer the race, the longer the training miles, the tougher this gets. If this describes you, you are really awesome. And a lot of people try that. They get up. They put the time in. And they burn out.
There are lots of solutions to this problem. We'll go over a few of my favorite.
Go Somewhere New
I don't care if it's a new part of town, a new trail, or a new state. A change of scenery can bring a whole new light to your training. In my case, my family went on vacation, and I packed my running shoes. I found new trails in Connecticut, I ran somewhat familiar areas on the Maine/New Hampshire border, and I went on a big run through the Presidential Range in NH in the form of the Presidential Traverse. All of this gave me something new to explore, something new to see, and a challenge I had read about and thought I might never be able to accomplish.
The trails in CT were a blast. I had seen some pictures of a state park not far from my in-laws place. So I woke up at dawn, crept out of the house to avoid waking anyone, and drove the 15 minutes to the park. These trails were incredible! Lots of rolling hills. Lots of short, steep climbs. Lots of technical rocks. It was everything i was looking for.
The roads on the ME/NH border I have run before. But I only get to run here about a week every year. So it was nice to get back out and explore the area around the lake and do some speed work.
And the presidential traverse... Well, that was simply incredible. The trails were every bit as rugged and steep as I had been told. I did not anticipate the world above treeline to be so majestic. Maybe it's just the difference between the dense forested areas below and the wide open views above the tree line, but it felt almost as if I were in another dimension.
Go. Find someplace new. Explore. It's good for you.
(Photo credit Matt Rutledge. All copyrights reserved.)
Find Some New Running Friends
I'm not saying there's anything wrong with your old running friends. I'm sure they're still awesome. I'm just saying adding a new person now and then can bring in some new energy. And if you really want to mix it up, offer to pace someone for a race, or help out a race director scout and mark a course. I've had the opportunity to do all of that this month (often in combination), and I don't regret a single minute. Running friends add smiles to your miles. This one is pretty simple. Be social. Meet people. Share the experience.
(Photo credit James B. Valdez. Used with permission. No copyright claimed or implied.)
Do Something New
OK. This is where I might need to branch off into a whole new blog entry. But here it is. Find something completely new. Maybe it's a color run. Maybe it's a bubble run, or a black light run, or a beer mile, or a naked mile... For me, it was a burro race.
As of May 29, 2012, pack burro racing is the official summer herritage sport in Colorado. (The winter sport is skiing.) Well, my training plan called for 30 miles at altitude. On a Wednesday, a guy at work sent an email about the burro race on Sunday. Turns out, that was 29 miles at altitude. So I gave it a shot. Did you know you can rent a race burro?
This is Thumper. Thuper likes hugs, being scratched between the ears, thistles, and yellow flowers.
(Photo credit Matt Rutledge. All copyright reserved.)
Knowing my solo times for efforts around that distance on similar terrain and with similar altitude gain, I went into the event rather optimistic. There weren't many signed up for the long course, and I figured if I were to finish just ahead of the middle of the herd, I might be into some prize money. Boy was I mistaken.
The biggest thing about burro racing is that it is a team sport - you and the burro are the team. If one of you has a different outlook on the objectives for the day, someone is going to be very disapointed. And in my case, Thumper (the burro) decided he was in charge and he would set the pace. What this means is I wound up pulling Thumper over 20 miles. I'm going to save the details for a race report. It really justifies its own write up. But here's a teaser.
(Photo credit Jennifer Mewes. Used with permission. No copyright claimed or implied.)
But I got my miles, and I had a blast. The finish line smile isn't just a fake for the camera. The day was a hoot. And that's the point. Get out. Find something new. Relax and smile. It makes the running easier.
And that's it. Three ways to keep the training fun. You might not have a vacation planned. You might have to work to find some people. You might not have a burro race nearby. But with a little creativity finding someplace new, finding some new people, and finding something new to do shouldn't be too hard.
On long runs year round, and on most runs in the summer heat I carry some sort of water, electrolyte drink, and food. I've used waist packs, handhelds, vests, bottle bands, and nearly every style of product you can imagine. I have had success with all of them, and a few failures.
Why a handheld? This one was a tough decision. I have been using a hydration vest all summer. It was my 50 mile race that made me think about something else. First, by the end of the run, my back felt pretty beat up, and had a few raw spots. Second, there was a section of the run where I could have dropped the vest and picked up a handheld or two and then picked things up again after about 10k of running. Only I didn't have anything to carry at the time. Additionally, for some reason I have been falling a lot this year. I was thinking the handhelds might give some cusion for my palms. And, for the really long training runs in the heat, I can use my vest and the handhelds.
I haven't had the handhelds long, but by the time you read this I will have put in about 100 miles with them. This will be everything from 4-5 mile jaunts through 20-30 mile long runs. This is enough to give me a good idea how things will perform in the heat.
Initial inspection shows the same Orange Mud quality that you may have heard about elsewhere. Top notch materials. Top quality stitching. And there are a few design aspects that caught me a bit off guard - in a happy way. The first thing I did was stick my hand in it. The crew at Orange Mud spent some time thinking this one through. The strap is wider than most I have seen, and there is a flap of material that comes over the top of the hand to help distribute load. And it all comes together to produce a really comfortable fit on your hand with a full bottle, a half full bottle, and an empty bottle. The handhelds I've used in the past felt really good with a full or empty bottle. But so far, nothing has felt good with half a bottle sloshing around. I think it's the strap and the material over the top of the hand that make it fit so well.
That black patch on the front is two pockets. Two. Made with a stretchy material. So, of course I did what any child would do. I played a little game of "what fits in the pocket?" And the answer is - a whole lot! The bigger pocket in back will hold most phones. (If you're using one of the new big ones, you're still out of luck.) Between the two pockets, you can hold several hours worth of food. I dug out a pair of my light gloves and stashed those in there. That made it hard to hold a gel as well, but I got it all in. And the best part of the whole thing? There's one of those little key hooks! I love those key hooks. They really should be on everything. As a bonus, the seams for the pockets fit my hand perfectly. I can hold the water bottle like a quarterback holds a football - finger tips on the seams.
Another little detail that pleased me greatly is the bottom strap that holds the bottle. This is a piece of nice reflective material. The bottom seems like an odd spot at first, but it works. If you're striding well, it will provide a flash both in front, and behind you. If you're dragging and your arms are low, it will flash behind you. And if you're drinking, it clearly flashes right in front of your face.
The bulk of the handheld is some sort of really high quality nylon. It is naturally stiff enough to hold it's shape. It holds bottles just tight enough that they don't flop, but you can still pull them out without too much issue. The mouth of the bottle opening has no real reinforcement and no real closure or cinch. And I'm not sure it needs it. It can be a bit of a struggle to get the bottle back in, but nothing too terrible. If I can manage it after 20 miles with cold, clammy hands, it's workable. (Cold in July? It is if you're above 10,000 feet!)
Can it really be that good? Well, mostly yes. The only criticism I have for the product is actually the bottle it comes with. This is a pretty standard sized 22oz Purist bottle from Specialized. (Same basic bottle as the RunJunkEes bottle) And I'm not a big fan of the spout. It's difficult to pull open, and difficult to tell if it's open when giving it just a quick glance. This is not the same spout used on the RunJunkEes bottles. But it works just fine.
And that's it. That's my criticism. The spout on the 3rd party bottle could be improved.
Without meaning to, today I gave the handhelds the ultimate test. I took a digger. We won't get into why I fell, but I'm not badly injured. It's just skin. It'll heal. Holding two handhelds did exactly what I was hoping - my palms are in great shape. Not long after my fall, I had a chance to stop at a stop light for a major intersection and take a close look at myself and my gear. After about 100 miles and one fall, there is one little scuff with a few frayed nylon threads where the bottle in my left hand slid in the dirt under the weight of my body and moving at a fairly good clip. And it looks as if both handhelds now have a couple stitches that might be a bit loose or popped. I've seen new products in stores that looked worse than these things do after 100 miles of use and a good fall. Of course the new ones don't have dirt and mud on them.
Like many of my fellow RunJunkEes, when I heard Dan was partnering with Orange Mud to make a bag, I was excited. Orange Mud has a reputation for quality, and that always gets me looking forward to the UPS truck.
OK. It's another laptop bag. Big deal. Except, this one is a bit different. First, the internal material is orange. I cannot explain how many hours of my life I have spent digging through laptop bags with black interiors looking for small black items. The orange eliminates that 100%.
I gave the bag a very close look inspecting the quality. I don't remember the last time I saw stitching of this nature. There wasn't a single lose thread out of the box.
So what fits in it? Lots of stuff. I live off one of two laptops - the one for my day job, and the one for all the fun stuff. I started with the laptop for fun stuff. This is an HP Pavilion E115NR. It's a bit on the smaller side with only an 11.6" display - and a few stickers. :-) This thing fit in the sleeve as if it were designed to go there. And there was still room for all sorts of stuff. I was able to fit in my iPad, a folder of papers, the latest copy of Ultrarunning Magazine... This bag seems to follow the old adage "A place for everything and everything in its place." There was a pocket for the power supply, a few spots for pens, and the top pouch on the shoulder is the perfect size for a couple cell phones; even some of the bigger ones, but probably not the biggest.
The other laptop I use is a larger HP model. It did not fit in the sleeve. But it did still fit in the bag and the rest of the pockets and features still worked. No sweat.
The fit of the bag on my body took some getting used to. But that's because I have become accustomed to this older, somewhat floppy laptop bag. And the design is just completely different than this Orange Mud bag. Once I got the strap the length I liked, the bag just sits on my body. There's some movement, but no swinging like a traditional laptop bag. And the wide straps and messenger design do a great job of spreading out the load across enough of your body to be comfortable.
On the front of the pack there are a few "tacti-cool" loops, and one plastic D ring. The plastic ring is the perfect size for a small carabiner holding a water bottle. I'm not sure what I would use the other loops for, but I'm sure when the time comes I'm going to be glad they are there.
I look forward to seeing how this bag performs long term.
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