Photo Credit: Ken Etzel
T&T: What types of things have you brought over to trail running that you learned while running cross country, track, and road races?
JS: I have beef with the term trail running. Trail running is too broad of a term. It is an esoteric term and lacks specificity. To many people, being a trail runner is more of a perceived state of mind than it is about the type of running that they actually do. When someone tells me they are a trail runner, it is like they are telling me that their favorite color is green, or that their favorite wine is Rosé. While interesting, this label “trail runner” gives me no information in terms of what they do or how they train.
Look at the body of a 100 meter runner. Now consider the body of a 1500m runner. These are both “track” athletes, but obviously, these two athletes train differently. Very differently. A 1500m runner would never be expected to be competitive in a 100 meter race and vice versa. This is simply not a fair expectation. Yet people hold this expectation in “trail running.”
In many circles, a trail runner who runs well at the Chuckanut 50km race at sea level in Bellingham, is also expected to win the Hardrock 100 Mile Endurance run 4 months later in the San Juan mountains. This is a misconception in our sport. This is because the term “trail running” holds a lack of specificity.
Trail running encompasses mountain races, technical races, hot races, snowy races and races of distances ranging from 10km to 100 miles. You can train the body to do well in all of them, but you can’t have it all, or at least not all at once. Each season you need to choose what type of running you want to excel at, and then train specifically for that goal.
Long story short, running cross country, track and road races has taught me that specificity is key. It has taught me that athletes and coaches should commit to a specific goal, and then hunt down that goal with hyper focus, and to hell with all the rest. Sure, sometimes being in good shape for 100 miles will make you faster in other forms of running. But this is just the cherry on top. We need to love ourselves and respect our goals. We should never expect to be the best at everything all the time.
T&T: What do you think has kept you running and training for so many years now?
JS: I like to tease that ten years ago I lived and trained in a bubble of hot shot runners: Anton Krupicka, Kyle and Erik Skaggs and myself. From our little gang of up-and-comers, I’m the only one still running competitively and consistently,if at all.
I tell these boys that instead of being Boy Scouts, stressing over living a monastic life that they envisioned for a “serious athlete,” they should have instead stayed out drinking and partying with me throughout their twenties, sleeping in with hangovers and learning how to relax. Had they done this they wouldn’t have all run their bodies into the ground. This is of course not true but I like to rile them up and—like all good provocative statements–there is a kernel of truth in it.
The kernel is this: training is nothing without recovery. It literally doesn’t matter what you do in training, if your body doesn’t recover from that training. If you just pile workouts on top of each other, without letting your body rebuild itself after each workout, then you aren’t training. It might look like training. It might make for a sexy Instagram account, but it is nothing more than systematically sinking your own ship.
Workouts are not the most important part of training. Recovery is the most important part of training, and it comes in many forms. Sleep is a big one of those. Nutrition becomes more and more important the older you get. And sometimes the most important thing you can do for your training is to calm the fuck down and let loose have fun.
Stress kills. Cortisone, the stress hormone, kills. I try to stress the hell out of my body in my workouts, then I do my best to eliminate stress from my life in between workouts. Easier said than done, but it’s a good business model for longevity. And for a happy life.
T&T: What advice would you give to trail runners looking to improve their speed?
JS: Early in my career Deena Kastor (American record holder in the marathon: 2:19:36) gave me three pieces of advice.
- Drink two glasses of water every morning.
- Never buy store bought marshmallows. Make your own. It’s healthier, it impresses people helps you get laid (I might have fabricated that reason in my head over the years) and friends are more likely to have a bonfire with you.
- Do strides after every run.
For my answer to this question, I am recycling this advice. All are important, but number three should be adhered to religiously. I can’t stress the importance of strides for developing speed enough.
T&T As a coach are you reserved and laid back with your runners or a total hard ass?
JS: I’m not a drill sergeant. If someone is taking the time to be coached, I give them the benefit of the doubt that they are giving their best.
If an athlete is not fulfilling their commitments to their training program, I consider this a failure on my part as a coach. If an athlete can’t finish a workout, or doesn’t have the motivation to get out the door, it is rarely because they are lazy. We must take a step away and look at why. Notice I didn’t say a step backward.
Fatigue is not a sign of failure. Long term fatigue is a sign of failure–and apathy is a sign of being overwhelmed by the workload without seeing results–but total body fatigue, in many phases of training, is a necessary step that happens right before big leaps forward in fitness. Not every day is going to feel fresh and easy, like you’re floating through an Olympic final. If it did, none of us would need coaches.
It’s my job as a coach to help you not freak out when you are tired and the workload feels difficult. It’s my job to help you learn the phases of training, and to help you get excited about the how the body is responding to each phase. The body is a machine. It’s fun to watch it work and recover and work and recover and get stronger and stronger.So no, I’m not a hard ass. But I’m going to challenge my athletes, and they are going to work hard, albeit in a controlled and fun environment. Because getting faster and fitter is work, but it is fun work.
T&T: Anything else you like to add?
JS: Train hard and be nice. It’s the best advice I’ve received.
T&T: If you are interested in the possibility of working with Jenn as your coach or with any of the other Trails and Tarmac staff get in touch here by filling out the questionnaire. Or you can send an email with your contact info and a little bit about you and your running to firstname.lastname@example.org