Athletes are inspirational. It doesn't matter what kind of athlete - runner, swimmer, gymnast, cheerleader, basketball player - you name it! The time and dedication it takes to develop skills in any sport is significant, which is exactly why athletes should be applauded. But, as someone who fancies herself a "dabbler" when it comes to sport (I like helping myself to a veritable buffet of activities), I can't help but wonder, 1) How do dedicated athletes continue honing their focus for their sport, and 2) How do they continue pushing themselves to improve, even after years of execution?
Since so many women turn to jogging or running as a first foray into sport as an adult, I decided to get some running, trail running and jogging tips from Elinor Fish, a 20 year veteran of competitive running. Not only was Elinor a collegiate track and cross country competitor, but after college she took up trail and ultra running. She's competed in everything from an 800 meter sprint on the track to a 100 mile run on a trail. It's not just her personal running experience that makes her a great resource, though. Elinor has been teaching running clinics since 1998 and currently hosts an annual women's running retreat that combines instructional how-tos with lifestyle tips for making running an integral part of day-to-day life. When I hooked up with Elinor to pick her brain on all-things-running, she was ready to spill her guts on everything from how to keep running interesting to tips on taking your run from the street to the trail. Read on to learn more!
Staying jazzed for the run
GirlsGoneSporty (GGS): What is it about running that resonates so deeply with you?
Elinor Fish (EF): For me it used to be about the competition. I enjoyed racing for the challenge and workout, but now that I'm juggling a full-time career and family, running has such a deeper purpose. It’s the best method of stress relief. And, I'm so passionate about the beautiful places it takes me: local trails or exotic locations on the other end of the world. Going to beautiful places, getting that chance to be in my own head, focusing on my breath and the rhythm of my footsteps - it's calm and so meditative. I've always loved the idea of meditation, but sitting still is almost impossible for me and running allows me to achieve the same meditative state - it gets me centered as I focus on my own mind, my own body and my own breath. It's grounding. It allows me to step away from the craziness of everyday life and refocus. This side of running has actually become as much a part of my retreats as the competitive side of running. Personally, right now I'm less concerned about getting faster or better; I'm much more focused on the spiritual and stress-relieving side of things. Not that it will always be that way, but right now that’s my focus.
GGS: How do you keep pushing yourself - essentially, how do you keep running from becoming stale?
EF: One of the greatest things about running is there’s always a different kind of challenge. You can do a straight 10k on a road, and try to improve your speed... you can try a race that involves obstacles, like jumping over fire... you can do longer races, you can switch to trail running, and so forth. Changing your pattern and trying different kinds of events is a great way to keep you psyched for running.
The other thing I suggest is to do travel running. My recent trip to Spain is the perfect example - I spent five days running in this gorgeous region, running from village to village. It became this primal thing. Running was our mode of transportation. Instead of driving around, I was running around and building up a great appetite. The thing is, you don’t have to go overseas to enjoy travel running - just go somewhere new. If traveling isn’t feasible, try running with a friend or with someone you don’t normally run with and go run a new route together. When things start getting stale, hooking up with a buddy and changing your pace helps mix things up. It's different, you'll experience new conversations and the camaraderie can help get you motivated. Plus, she may like a route you’ve never done before, helping you find new places to run.
Turning running into an adventure
GGS: You've been running all over the world, largely in a trail running capacity. Where are your favorite running destinations and why?
EF: Oh man, there are so many! For starters, I love the Canadian Rockies. I lived in Banff for seven years where the trails are incredible and there are lots of easy-to-find maps and guidebooks to help you map out your route. The trails are also really well marked which makes the running great for travelers.
Patagonia is another phenomenal region. I did a running tour there in the Torres del Paine National Park, which is in the Andes Mountains at the very southern end of Chile. You can do this multi-day running tour where you run from hut to hut, just carrying the bare essentials - small packs with just a day’s supplies. And because the distances aren’t really that long or hard, you don’t have to be an ultra runner to enjoy the tour.
Costa Brava in Spain is one of my new favorite areas. All these trails run along the ocean; footpaths that have been there for who knows how long! The Pyrenees Mountains are right there as well, offering fantastic trails going through them.
Finally, if you're not ready to travel overseas, the Colorado Rockies and the Marin Headlands near San Francisco, California are both great areas to explore. I live in the Roaring Fork Valley region of Colorado, surrounded by wilderness areas with excellent trails going all through pristine country land. The Colorado Trail also runs near here, offering almost 500 miles of trails covering wilderness areas, lakes and mountain ranges between Denver and Durango. Really, it's a trail runner's paradise! The trails in California on the Marin Headlands are gorgeous, easy to access from the city and a lot of fun to run on. You can opt for rolling hills or more gentle trails, depending on your preference. Plus, you're near San Francisco, which is a great tourist destination.
GGS: As the founder of Run Wild Retreats, you provide running retreats and instruction for women who love to run. Right now the main retreat is in Colorado - do you want to expand your retreats to other destinations?
EF: Oh man, I have a whole list! The longer-term plans for Run Wild Retreats are to offer group trips to Costa Brava, the Canadian Rockies, possibly to Machu Picchu and Costa Rica, and the Italian Dolomite Mountains. I know people in all those areas, so the plan is to partner up with local operators who would take care of all the on-ground details to make group trips in all these different destinations possible.
Tips and tricks to improve your running
GGS: How do you see women benefiting from run coaching?
EF: One of the things I see the most in the women who come to our retreats is the increased confidence they develop in their own abilities. We talk about everything from proper training to fitting running into a busy schedule, and by the end of the weekend it’s amazing - most of the women discover that they possess a lot more ability than they thought they did! We design runs to start easy at the beginning of the weekend, and by the last day we schedule a run that’s much more ambitious than most participants thought they were capable. But, by the time we finish that last run, the women feel so proud of what they’ve accomplished!
GGS: When coaching women on running, what are some of the most common mistakes you see?
EF: One thing that I see a lot and that we talk about at our retreats is stride length - specifically, how much ground are you covering? People tend to over-stride. It's important to learn how to shorten it up. A shorter stride helps you maintain your center of gravity and stay more balanced, more agile and responsive to obstacles that are on the ground. You can move more quickly, hop over logs, hop from rock to rock and respond effectively to undulating ground. Shortening your stride doesn’t mean you’re slowing down. You actually have to increase your step cadence so you can maintain your preferred speed. When running on the road, the goal is to hit 180 steps per minute, which will ultimately help your trail running when you take it to the trails.
Fueling is also really important and something we discuss at length during our retreats – what to eat before a run, how to stay hydrated during a run and the best things to eat after a run to help with recovery.
GGS: Many women start running on roads and treadmills, but trail running is very different. What should women be aware of when transitioning from road to trail?
EF: If you’re really not used to trails, the first few times out you may get some soreness in your lower legs. Your ankles and knees have to get used to running on an uneven surface. When you run on the road, your foot almost always lands in the same position, but when you run on trails, your foot tends to land in a different position with every footstrike because of the varying lay of the land. It's these undulating surfaces and differing foot mechanics that can initially leave your ankles, shins and calves feeling sore. Luckily, this goes away pretty quickly as your muscles and joints adapt to your new routine.
To learn more about Elinor Fish and Run Wild Retreats, be sure to check out her website. You can also stay up-to-date on the latest news by following Elinor on Twitter and liking the Run Wild Retreats page on Facebook.
Some of GirlsGoneSporty running faves
- Banjees Wrist Wallets
- Brooks EZ T LS Run Happy
- Vasque Velocity 2.0
- Nuun Active Hydration
- Clean Bottle's The Runner
- GU Energy Gels
Header image credit: Lululemon athletica, http://www.flickr.com/photos/lululemonathletica/3594006172/in/set-72157619129669497/