NAIL THE TRAILS #1: Set Distant, Attainable Goals

How to achieve your trail running goals in ten significant steps.

(continued from Introduction)


New Year is a perfect time to set one’s resolutions for the coming running year, especially as the majority of trail races take place in the late spring through to the late autumn, at least in the northern hemisphere. Having time to build up to one’s goals is far preferable to my 2003 NYC Marathon experience, when the New York Road Runners Club came up with additional bibs very late in the day, offered them to people like me who had run the previous year but were not otherwise entered, and I foolishly snapped one up. Without sufficient training, I hit the wall early, and hard. That marathon experience – only my second – was thoroughly miserable. Short termism is ultimately for losers. My advice? Plan for the long run – literally.

What made that 2003 NYC experience worse was thinking that just because I had run my first marathon in under four hours, I’d somehow shave forty minutes off that time and qualify for Boston within a year or two. Boy was I naïve – and stupid too, as I continued striving for that entirely unrealistic goal through my third, fourth and even my fifth marathons, on all of which I hit the wall and had to walk it in, even as my finish times became incrementally faster.


Crossing the finish line on my first Escarpment Trail Run, July 30 2006 in just under 4:30. The goal for 2017 was to break 4:00 for the first time.

I was a little smarter when, upon moving to the Catskills, I took up trail running. When I broke 4:30 on my first Escarpment in 2006 – which you can read about here – I determined that one day I would break four hours, but knew instinctively that it would take several years to get there. Similarly, as my new running friends in the Catskills puffed my ego and urged me to run genuine ultras of 50 miles and up, I could only respond that I lacked the time for the necessary training at that stage in my life. For now those goals were unattainable; they would have to wait.

Entering 2017, with a year of world travel behind me, I had a clear vision of what I wanted to achieve while I still lived in the Catskills. Firstly, I set my sights on the 54-mile Manitou’s Revenge, the Catskills’ sole ultra marathon, which had launched in 2013; it would my first 50+ miler. Although an exceptionally difficult course, I knew much of it already, given that it is in my “backyard,” and that I had run the second half of the race twice already as part of a relay team. Determining merely to finish within the allotted 24-hour cut-off time, I saw this goal as being thoroughly attainable, albeit that it would involve a lot of hard work.

The elevation profile for Manitou’s Revenge. Just a few hills!

My second goal for 2017 was to finally break that four-hour mark on the 30k Escarpment Trail Run, having come within five minutes of it in 2015. I was two years older now and presumably slower with it, though not necessarily the wrong side of 50 for a race that would depend on strategy and experience as much as on youthful pace. Was my goal attainable? To be honest, I didn’t know. But I knew that 2017 was probably going to provide my best ever opportunity to nail it. I could only promise to give it my everything.

To help me achieve these two main goals, I then did something I had never done before in all my years of running… Which I will get into in Tip #2.


The elevation profile for the Escarpment Trail (the “wall of Manitou”) looks almost easy by comparison. It is not. (Runners go from r-l.)


Continue to Tip #2: Consider a Coach.


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September 2021