NAIL THE TRAILS #5: Listen To Your Heart

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

(Continued from Tip #4: Stop and Smell The Roses)

This could be taken literally, as in, study your heart monitor and respond accordingly. But one friend who was doing just alongside me on the Cat’s Tail Trail Marathon ended up dropping back and getting to the finish line twenty minutes behind me. So, when I say listen to your heart, what I really mean is:

  • Physically, be aware when you’re pushing too hard and back off accordingly. Conversely, know when you’re not pushing hard enough, and be ready to step it up. It’s a delicate balance for which different courses require different paces. Go out too strong on something like the 54-mile Manitou’s Revenge and you will have a long day in hell. Go up Windham High Peak too easy at the start of the 30k Escarpment Trail Run and you may never regain those lost minutes. As a rule of thumb, for a long day in the park (e.g. Manitou’s), I like to keep myself just on the friendly side of pain; for a hard fast course like the Escarpment (and down), I see no choice but to run on the knife-edge of intensity the whole way through.
  • Emotionally, let your body tell you what it wants to achieve. Earlier in 2017, my eyes on qualifying for the Boston Marathon again, I signed up for the Mohawk Hudson Marathon, in Albany in early October. But after Manitou’s in June and the Escarpment Trail Run at the end of July, I was exhausted. I took two-three weeks off anything but short maintenance runs, and as late August rolled around, I went to the UK, where I preferred the woods to the London traffic and socializing seemed more important than speed work. With the road marathon looming, I asked my coach for advice, and he put a 16-miler on my London weekend schedule, saying that if I could cover the last 4-5 miles at marathon pace I’d be good to compete. Somewhere between body weariness and limited time, I topped out at ten miles, and realized that putting in the necessary speed work for a Boston Qualifier time was not going to be possible in the few weeks we had left. More importantly, my heart was not in it: what I really wanted to do was to collect the set of long Catskills races and run the Cat’s Tail, a Trail Marathon that would be a slower pace, with more variety of terrain, and for which, with the other races behind me, I felt I was already well trained. I let the road marathon go, reluctantly eating the cost. The way I justified it is that I still have ten months to secure a BQ for 2019, whereas there is but one Cat’s Tail a year. I listened to my heart – and my whole being is happy that I did.



Listening to my heart on the mid-section Cat’s Tail Trail Marathon, October 14 – six days after originally scheduled to run the Mohawk Hudson Marathon. Photo by the great people at Mountain Peak Fitness.

Continue to Part 6: Feel the Pain!

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May 2021