The best running coaches understand the demands of running. They intuit what each athlete can handle physically, mentally, and emotionally. They hold us accountable but also support us. All this makes the work of training and racing easier and helps us discover the best version of ourselves.
I’ve been lucky to work with top-notch coaches throughout my running journey. Each one has offered essential insights for different phases of my career—and life! Here are four that are helpful reminders for every runner, young or experienced alike.
Tip: Look at the big picture
In high school, I was intense and perfectionistic. This exacting nature helped me become the fastest high school distance runner in the nation, but gone unchecked, it was debilitating. My coach recognized this and would repeat often, “Remember the big picture.” In particular, he referred to my dream of running professionally after college. He wanted me to realize that a running career can last a lifetime. I felt only as good as my last race or interval session, but he knew that gracefully accepting the ups and downs of training was necessary for longevity.
The “big picture” expression gained new meaning during a life-changing event outside of running. My mother had cancer throughout high school, and she died two weeks after graduation. I started to realize coaches need to address their runners’ mental and emotional experiences, not just the physical.
Tip: Let injuries heal
In my first year running collegiately at the University of Oregon, I started off with a psoas injury. I was eager to get back and prove myself, and kept hammering—but to no avail, as I was injured throughout the year. Coach Tom Heinonen would say “Don’t pull up your carrots before they’re ready. You can’t put them back!” He knew injuries required time to heal. He didn’t want me testing my ability to run while I was still in pain—good advice!
Tip: Focus your mind
As a pro runner after college, I struggled with depression and negative thoughts. Yes, I believed I could fly to new PRs. But there were days when I could hardly spread my wings to get off the ground. In my hometown of Boulder, Colo., I went searching for a sign and literally bumped into Steve Jones, former world record holder in the marathon, next to a clothing rack in the Boulder Running Company. He ended up helping me reach my goal of making the U.S. team headed to the World Championships in the 5k.
“You’ve got to learn to compartmentalize,” he’d say. Ahead of my qualifying race at the US Track and Field Championships, he said, “At some point before the race, you’ve got to decide you will make the team.” In the holding area 20 minutes before the start, I repeated the mantra “I am top 3,” and I didn’t stop saying it to myself until I crossed the line in third place.
Tip: Celebrate your wins
As I neared 40—the age runners qualify as master’s—I kept competing, but sought more balance. I wanted to honor my whole self, not just the athlete in me, and sought the guidance of Margo Jennings, who coached Olympians Maria Mutola and Dame Kelly Holmes, with a keen approach of training the mind, body, and emotions. Her coaching made me realize what coaching truly is: the sacred honor of helping an individual realize their full potential as a human.
“The most valuable thing a coach can give an athlete is helping to shape their character by keeping them grounded in the present and focused on the experiences, lessons and reflections of each day—what they learned, what they are grateful for, and what they have given back to others. [And] always reminding the athlete that their daily journey, rather than the final outcome of the future, is most important,” she says. Her methods helped me realize that not once during my thirty years of running had I ever really celebrated a victory. The next time I raced and won, I threw my hands into the air, with a smile. It felt really good.
Celebrating myself was a powerful gesture that signaled a shift toward embracing the joy of every step—a message I have embraced as I have the honor of coaching many youth and adults alike.
Melody Fairchild is a running coach, director of Boulder Mountain Warriors Youth Run Club, founder of The Melody Fairchild Girls Running Camp, and master’s athlete in Boulder, Colorado. Her first book, GIRLS RUNNING (VeloPress), co-authored with Elizabeth Carey, is forthcoming. Elizabeth Carey is a freelance writer and running coach based in Seattle, Washington.
We re-post this article occasionally because screw shoes are always a great answer to winter running!
As the weather gets cold and the snow begins to fall adventurers are beginning to look for ways to continue getting out on their favorite trails while remaining safe. One of the most dangerous aspects of winter training is the ice on the trails. Whether you live in the mountains, plains, suburbs, or city you can run into icy conditions. A simple way to deal with this danger is to create screw shoes. Screw shoes are made by taking a pair of old running shoes and drilling 1/8 inch sheet metal screws into the lugs. Be sure to drill them into the lugs! It is easiest if you use an electric drill with a magnetic hexagonal bit. By screwing the screws into the shoes, this will allow the screw heads to bite into the ice in order to give traction.
The million dollar question is; how do I arrange them on the soles of the shoes in order to maximize traction. Many people have ideas on where to place the screws but it is important to keep in mind that a foot strike is a very personal thing. As you get ready to place your screws try to imagine slipping on the ice going uphill and downhill. Where and when will I slip, where do I want the traction? Runners will use anywhere from 10-20 screws with most people placing them in a circular shape on the forefoot and another circle on the heel of the shoe.
It’s getting near midnight–cutoff time–when we see the headlamp around the corner.
The runners amongst us who have already finished the stage for the day—and who have bonded with the med staff and aid station workers to become a singularly odd family unit over the preceding days—sit up in our camp chairs, the home-cooked chicken parmesan on our plates (some of us on our third or fourth helping) for the moment forgotten. We are caked in dirt and sweat, our tech shirts rigid with 4 days of accreted salt; it is too kind by half to say we smell just horrid. ‘Runners’, also, a hundred miles into the race, is perhaps no longer the best descriptor for us; we have instead become survivors: of lightning storms, of sweltering heat and the raging Colorado river, of a ‘rose garden’ in which no rose grows—only jagged boulders doing their best to snap a misplaced ankle. Someone said something about near-misses with both quicksand and cows, but we do not know if they are serious. Given what we have been through, it is not impossible.
“Here she comes!” someone cries out, waving wildly out at that single light bouncing in the otherwise void-like desert expanse.
We are too elated for the moment to feel our exhaustion. Instantly we’re up. Everyone. Howard the chef bangs on a cooking pot with a chef’s knife. The other nine runners limp slowly to the stage’s finish line, cheerful zombies. Reid, the race director, starts smacking a trailer with a mallet. Soon a chorus of cowbells joins in. I swear the darkness is a little brighter from everyone’s smile.The joy and excitement builds and the 20 people assembled here in the middle of the desert blackness explode in jubilation as Laurie Miller—a 64-year old who read about this race 15 years ago, vowing to do it before she ‘got too old’— crosses the finish line, done for the day. Hugs and tears flow.
Four days ago, most of these people did not know each other; tonight, in the howling winds, we are family. This is Desert RATS.
There’s a long stretch of lonesome highway as you drive west beyond Fruita, Colorado. Nothing but dirt, pinyon shrubs, and hills for miles and miles in every direction. It’s something straight out of the old western movies: a forsaken, sweltering landscape uninhabitable to all but the most resilient. The sun-hammered expanse seemingly infinite. Yet if you drive by in mid-June, look closely, you may see them. You may see the Desert RATS—a community of runners, support crew, and medical workers making their way, one step at a time, on their 140 mile journey on the Kokopelli Trail from Fruita to Moab.
“I’m here to make you suffer,” Gemini Adventures Race Director Reid Delman says during orientation, with more than a little glee. ”But I’m also here with a crew to give you the best possible chance to reach that finish line.” It’s the night before the race and the nervousness is palpable. In a world of Barkley documentaries, Hardrock 100 lotteries, and Western States qualifiers, the Desert RATS stage race is a breath of fresh air. It’s still a gem amongst the growing sport of ultra running, one of the only stage races to be found in the United States.
A stage race consists of running a variety of distances over a number of days. Each night you get into camp, plop into camping chairs and bask in the recollection of the day’s adventures with your fellow racers. It soon becomes apparent camaraderie is the real lifeblood of the race; moreso than finishing times, even for the most competitive amongst us. By the first night we are already meshing, by the third night the trail has forged a family.
“It’s like summer camp, but with more chafing and blisters.” someone proclaims when Corey Soules, one of the paramedics, asks a few days into the race to hear why all the racers and crew have found themselves huddled around a picnic table in the midst of a beautiful campsite by the Dewey Bridge. The discussion is lively and reasons are vast.To push beyond self doubt and to discover what actually is possible. To process life events, tragedies, joys. To experience the solitary nature of the desert. To explore areas unknown and discover “what’s around that corner.” To enjoy a community of like-minded people and be reminded of the goodness of humanity. To simply camp, get messy, bathe in rivers, smell of campfire smoke and body odor and forestall, if only for a week, the monotony of every day life. No doubt, it’s a singular mixture of all of these reasons. One thing is for certain: it takes a certain type to commit to a week of hell. Choose you adjective: adventurous, intrepid, idiotic, strange.
Amongst us is an Italian who’s flown 33 hours to be here in the middle of Utah; an extremely charismatic gentleman with a suspicious resemblance to Macho Man Randy Savage, a middle school teacher, an anesthesiologist, a rolfer, a truck driver, a high school principal and a Hollywood screenwriter…..“You run hard each day so you can get to the finish line and see these people you’ve grown to love.” Explains Phil Pinti, a second year RAT . “The people you share this adventure with and the legends that grow through the years make this race the best event in the country.”
It’s the final night in the desert. With the day’s stage completed, the group has spent the late afternoon huddled under the mess tent, warming their feet over a tiny citronella candle as an unseasonably chilly rainstorm hits the camp. The weather has literally brought everyone closer than ever before: our collective stink is forgotten or at least forgiven. We embrace the crappy weather with humor and inside jokes found through shared experiences. Around nine o’clock everyone settles into their tents for what will prove to be a wild night : a few hours later a windstorm hits camp and both racers and crew rush over to help a fellow RAT whose tent’s been upended by the 50mph winds. No questions, no hesitation, just people there for people, irrespective of the fact that the rain is coming in sideways.
Flash forward to Day 6: the marathon day, the last 7 miles of which descend toward the finish line in Moab. Culture shock as we re-enter society: ATVs, pick-up trucks and tourists zoom past us on that final leg of gravel road as we grind toward completion, all of them unaware just what these dirt-bagged desert souls that pass them have been up to for the last week—the zeniths of enlightenment, the nadirs of pain, but always, everywhere in between, the unfailing camaraderie.
The finish line is full of hugs, champagne, beer and pure unfiltered joy as the racers come in one by one. Morgan Hall is greeted by his family and is flanked by his kids as he crosses the line. Phil Pinti, as penance for being the most outwardly macho of the bunch, has been “awarded” the big rock on the out-and-back on Porcupine Ridge (a section at the end of which runners must retrieve a pre-numbered rock from a bowl and return it to the next aid station as proof the leg was completed), and has opted to carry the 5-pound stone in his right hand the remaining nine miles, holding it above his head as he proudly crosses the finish line. The stories are endless, each racers’ adventures unique and inspiring. Kayla Howell finished strong despite a wonky stomach early in the week that refused to hold onto its food as well as a persistent battle with a knee injury. Ulla Westermann — back for a third time after DNFing two her previous times— found redemption and completed the course.
Aforementioned Laurie Miller had this race on her bucket list ever since reading an article in Trailrunner Magazine fifteen years ago. Industriously prepared for the race over the preceding 8 months, but it was the culmination of her 15-year dream that made her finish an exquisite emotional event for the entire group. The heartfelt cheers shaking the Slickrock parking lot in Moab quickly morphed into proud, tearful embraces.
Why we come to Desert RATS and what the experience teaches us is of course at the end of the day a deeply personal thing, and for that reason difficult to put succinctly down in words. On one level it’s easy to say that it’s unique in a way that stays with you for the rest of your life, and equally easy to say that it changes you. But the truth is, there are not many things in the world that affect you and effect change as intensely as a week with the RATS does. It’s a curious, potent elixir that has so many components, all of which contribute to its magic: the camaraderie, the stark, raw-boned immersion in nature, the vistas, and perhaps most importantly, the hardships and elation one experiences when they are alone in the wilds, with no distractions or work-around. It is there, in the end where you hear and understand yourself at the most primal level.
The goal was to find a beautiful trail in the rugged state of Alaska. This is my fourth time visiting Alaska and one of the things I have found is that they don’t have many trails there. There’s so much backcountry and open land that the choices are usually take a road or go cross country. With a bit of google searching I found an amazing trail, Resurrection Pass. Just south of Anchorage, this trail is 38 miles of single track that runs from Cooper Landing to Hope.
The plan was to make it a really fun and challenging two day ride. Ride from Cooper Landing to Hope the first day, then spend the night in Hope and ride back the next day. Our trip didn’t go as planned due to a random injury but we did see 15 miles and it was incredible up to that point!
My tips are to be sure to reserve a place in Hope early in the season because there are only three places to stay and they do fill up during peak season. It’s best to get groceries before Cooper Landing for the start. In Hope, groceries are hard to come by but there are restaurants and usually live music at night and we had a great time there. The trails can be extremely overgrown and if you go in the heat of the summer you may have to push your bike through the thick brush. Be sure to bring a bear bell and make noise as you push your way through, you don’t want to surprise a bear. This one is a true adventure.
Summiting a 14,000 foot peak is no small feat. To us natives, bagging a “14er” as we call them is a right of passage; many of us seeking to one day summit all 54 of these majestic Colorado peaks. Weekend warriors and veterans alike tend to set the goal of hiking at least one of these Goliaths a year however, many tend to overlook the most important part of preparing for the summit: training!
I am a firm believer in being physically ready to take on any adventure I choose to endeavor and a 14er is no exception. Besides the obvious strain of oxygen deprivation, the body must overcome a variety of obstacles to stand on top of that peak: rocky technical terrain, loose scree fields, full body scrambles, slippery ice and snow, uneven footing, and quad burning descents. Take time to do at least several training hikes to make sure your body is up to the task so that you can conquer that 14er with energy, enthusiasm and reach the parking lot pain (and injury) free!
Here are several of my favorite “training hikes” in the front range:
Chief Mountain Idaho Springs This is a short yet sweet hike where you will gain over 1000 feet in just 1.5 miles (3 miles RT). The trail is easy to follow, breaks tree line and leads right to a rocky alpine summit where we will take in spectacular panoramic views. The summit is close to 12,000 feet which will give you the experience of exertion at high altitude and the perfect opportunity to see how your body responds prior to attempting your 14er summit.
The Manitou Incline Colorado Springs If you haven’t done the incline yet, this is a definite Colorado bucket list item. This old cog railway turned into a hikers delight (or nightmare depending on how you see it) is a great place to train your lungs and legs for the demand of hiking a 14,000 foot peak. And oh yeah, if you are scared of heights, this hike is sure to cure you of that fear. You will gain over 2000 feet in less than a mile on this hellish vertical staircase up a mountain side. When you reach the top, take the trail down the backside of the mountain. It is initially pretty steep with lots of loose gravel, perfect for practicing for the scree sections you will encounter on your 14er. This trail connects with the Barr trail which will bring you back down to the parking lot where you started (3 total miles down).
Mount Sniktau Loveland How better to train for a 14er than knocking a 13er off your list? Don’t expect too much a warm up on this one, you’ll be starting your trip at an elevation at 12,000ft and in less than 2 miles you will gain over 1300 feet. As you climb above treelike, take in the spectacular views of Grays and Torreys (14ers) as well as many of the local ski areas. At this altitude there is not much vegetation besides the high alpine ground cover, delicate small flowers with the chance to capture a glimpse of a resident marmot or pika.
Mount Morrison Morrison, CO There is probably not a better local trail to practice hiking on super steep, technical terrain than Mount Morrison. This hike rivals the incline in elevation gain over distance, you will gain almost 2000 feet in 1.7 miles with the max grade hitting a whopping 62% (average grade 22%). At some point on your 14er summit, you will encounter scree fields and terrain so steep and rocky you will need to use your upper body to literally scramble up the mountain. Mount Morrison presents an opportunity to practice the skills needed to get up and down these steep scree sections safely.
Green Mountain Boulder
The Green Mountain hike in Boulder Colorado includes diverse terrain, breathtaking views and is physically challenging. You will gain over 2500 feet in this 5.5 mile round trip hike. From the trailhead lot at Gregory Canyon, take the Gregory Canyon trail to the Saddle Rock trail. Then connect with the E.M. Greenman trail to the Green Mountain Summit. Plan on lots of steep climbing with many man made stone steps and water-bars and even a ladder to climb up! Take in the views and some time for water and a snack because you still have a long ways down! Take the Green Mountain Westridge trail to the Ranger trail all the way back to the trailhead lot. This hike is best saved towards the end of your training season after you’ve had some shorter, less taxing excursions under your belt.
Check out this post with some great details about the hike including parking tips, stats and more pictures (we recommend doing the hike in the reverse direction that this post does).
This isn’t a hike but walking up and down the stairs at Red Rocks amphitheatre is great training for a 14er summit. Most people think getting to the top of the peak is the greatest physical feat but it is coming down where you are at the greatest risk for injury (ankle sprains, knee injuries and bad falls). Where uphill hiking tests your lungs and muscular endurance, downhill hiking tests your structural system and balance. Stairs are a great way to work on enhancing these systems in a controlled environment.
Park at the trading post and walk up the Trading Post road until you reach a staircase on your right that leads up to the amphitheatre. Take this staircase all the way to the top and then back down again. Repeat for 60-90 minutes. Add a couple of laps up the bleachers to work on larger steps/greater range of motion and down the larger rock steps on the sides.
Check out our new program which entails a 6 week training plan (strength and cardio workouts you complete on your own), guided group training hikes and clinic on what to wear, pack, etc and a guided summit of Mount Quandary now HERE.Share and follow!