Cheering runners atop Hope Pass.

So You Want to Run a Stage Race?

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It was a cool, clear August morning in Buena Vista, Colorado–home to the start line of the much-fabled TransRockies Run–a 6 day, 200 kilometer jaunt through the rugged Colorado Rockies. A few hundred runners were anxiously filing into the start chute for the sold-out 2015 event. For many of these runners, the race is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure and this moment represented the culmination of months–even years–of dedicated training. A tactile electricity filled the crisp mountain air. Go time.

For me, the event would profoundly change the course of my life in ways that would take me years to fully comprehend, all while solidifying the multi-day run as something of a minor obsession.

The multi-day requires mastery of endurance on a slightly different scale than other events. Some are designed to maximize suffering, while others aim to provide luxurious comfort to participants. Either way, it takes a special kind of person to invest countless hours of training, vacation time, and financial resources into days of consecutive marathon-distance runs, often hundreds or thousands of miles from civilization.

Consequently, there’s a distinct subculture of stage racing in trail running, its members racking up dozens of finishes in the harshest of environments. Think blistering-hot deserts, suffocatingly humid jungles, and oxygen-depleted mountain tops. The motivation of these athletes is no different than in any other endurance endeavor–some are seeking answers, some are testing their physical and mental limits, and others finding enlightenment in the suffering. Occasionally, its far less complex, as elite Saudi Arabian runner Mo Foustok explained to me during the 2015 Atacama Crossing in Chile’s Atacama desert: “It’s just how I travel and get to see the world”.

What all of these folks share, however, is a collective of wisdom, gleaned from countless hours of not only running, but also training, planning, traveling, eating, drinking, failing. And in the true spirit of trail running, this knowledge is passed on to anyone willing to ask and listen keenly.

If you’re thinking about pulling the trigger on your first stage-day race, here are a few tips that will help you get to the finish line, hopefully relatively unscathed and with your feet intact.

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Duncan Ridge Trail

How to Be a Better Trail Running Parasite

Marc Peruzzi’s article attacking trail runners and hikers last month on Outside Online has understandably grated some nerves in trail running circles. A link to the article shows up in running-related Facebook groups on an almost hourly basis, and a plethora of “open-letter” style responses are popping up (much like this one). And despite Peruzzi’s claims to the contrary, that’s exactly the type of reaction that clickbait articles like his are designed to elicit. In the era of BuzzFeed and the highly unfortunate, yet ever impending death of print journalism, well, it’s easy to cave in to such tactics.

But–and bear with me here, runners–you shouldn’t be angry with Marc. Despite a litany of unsupported assertions, a healthy dose of elitist condescension, and a marked lack of offering any sort of constructive solution, the man has a point. His heart is in the right place. All trail users–including cyclists–could do a better job of working to preserve the places that we so dearly love. For me, my local trails are sacred, like a second home, and I feel invested in their care. And I care for them, even if it is on my own time. Could I do better? Absolutely I could. We all could, maybe even Marc himself. Does that make us parasites? I guess that depends on who you ask…

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Me standing on the Imagine mural in Central Park.

Finding True Purpose Through Running

Pablo Picasso once observed, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” In all fairness, there’s some debate about who actually said this, but the notion of Pablo sipping tea, hands stained with paint, waxing prophetic in Castellano feels romantic to me, so we’re going with that.

In any event, I’ve been thinking about purpose a lot lately.

Twenty eighteen was unquestionably the single most challenging orbit of my entire forty-three years. And it’s got some serious competition: emergency dental surgery when I was 2 years old; a 1985 cycling accident that nearly took my right arm and required two excruciating surgeries to fix; a massive overdose in 2007 that killed me for just over 3 minutes and left me in a coma, followed-up by a divorce in 2008 that sent me spiraling back into several more months of powdery, self-destructive depression. The list is longer than I care to admit.

The concept of bone fida true purpose didn’t exist in my universe until another round of addiction landed me back in the hospital–twice–and finally in-patient rehab in early 2018. Despite my deep affinity for learning, it’s apparently not always my strong suit.

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Laz coaxes runners at the start of the 2018 Barkley Fall Classic.

Hacking Motivation

A race director friend told me that the average ultra-distance trail runner stays in the sport for about four years. I’m not exactly sure where that number came from, but it seems reasonable. Injury, burn out, family commitment, work, loss of interest–we’re all at risk of losing that spark that helps push us to the finish.

For me, an injury last year spawned a cascade of events that completely destroyed my motivation, not just for running, but for life in general. It was a dark time, and it took more than a year for me to crawl back out of the hole that I’d dug for myself. I lost everything in the process, including my self-respect. I was totally defeated.

Breaking from stagnation has been one of the most difficult challenges I’ve had to tackle. That experience led me to start researching the science behind motivation. There’s quite a bit of psychology at work here, but the good news is that once you understand it, you can start stacking the deck in your favor.

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