At the 2019 US Trail Running Conference, there were discussions about how both “young” and “old” populations are underrepresented in the sport of trail running. To have broad age representation in trail running, the specific needs of these groups should be considered. Many young runners don’t know trail running exists and are encouraged to pursue opportunities in the more popular disciplines of track or cross country running. Many aging runners face barriers in registering for trail races because they would struggle to meet race cut-off times. These are just some of the obstacles younger and older runners face to become a part of the trail running community. In the interview below, trail runners Tayte Pollmann, 23, and Ian Maddieson, 77, provide insights into what it’s like to be a “young” and “old” trail runner and how we can better represent these populations in our sport.
Tayte Pollmann, 23, is a project associate, a.k.a. “Trail Trotter” for the American Trail Running Association (ATRA) and professional runner for Nike Trail Running.
Ian Maddieson, 77, is an Adjunct Research Professor for the Department of Linguistics at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, Adjunct Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, and avid trail runner who has completed over 100 ultras in his running career. Maddieson is one of only 35 people to have completed the historic Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run ten times in under 24 hours.
What is the best thing about being a younger trail runner?
TAYTE: The best thing about being a younger runner is the myriad options available in trail running. There are so many different types of races and distances from which I can choose. It’s exciting to train for something I’ve never done before. Although I’ve participated in many different types of trail races, there’s still so much I have yet to experience I’d like to do a trail half, VK (Vertical Kilometer), and perhaps one day… a 100-miler.
What is the best thing about being an older trail runner?
MADDIESON: Experience (assuming that you’ve been running as you have aged, not starting as an older runner). The more you have learned about how your body reacts to stresses, the more you understand appropriate pacing, the more you know what eating and drinking strategies work, and so on, the more you can extract from any given set of conditions. Another positive you enjoy as an older runner is aging. Whenever you move up to a new age-group, you’re no longer competing against people five years younger. The older you get the more difference this makes.
What is the worst thing about being a younger trail runner?
TAYTE: The worst thing about being a younger runner is not having enough experience to know how to race and train properly. I’ve made mistakes with my training that have led to injuries and I have raced when I shouldn’t have. Having 10 to 20 more years of running experience would help me avoid injuries and know how to listen better to my body.
What is the worst thing about being an older trail runner?
MADDIESON: Perhaps the worst thing about being an older runner is facing up to the greater risk of injury and illness that comes with age. Rocky trails become — instead of a joyful challenge — a trip hazard. Training and racing are more likely to be interrupted by some failing body part.
What kind of races do you love most?
TAYTE: I love races at high elevations with plenty of long, steep climbs. Ridges and snow fields are some of my favorite terrain types.
MADDIESON: Trail runs with runnable surface and great views. These are simply the most fun. Oh…and having great support is a huge plus.
What is your best memory from a trail run? Worst memory?
TAYTE: I have several best memories, but one would certainly be on the long climb around mile fifteen during the 2015 Moab Trail Marathon. I surged up the climb with seemingly endless energy. I remember thinking to myself, “I’d be ok if this climb never stops!” The climb did stop around 2 miles later, but I’ll never forget how amazing this run felt!
My worst memory would be attempting to run the 2017 Pikes Peak Marathon with an undiagnosed foot injury. Three days before the race, I felt a pain in my right foot. I told myself it was nothing and that it would feel better during the race. It didn’t. I hobbled along for 6 hours willing myself through that race for no reason other than I wanted to finish (or that I didn’t want to lodge a DNF).
MADDIESON: I think my best memory would be my first time at Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run in 1982. This was my first 100-miler and I had little idea what to expect. I had checked out the course (as far as we could follow it), with a couple of good running friends in the fall of the year before over three days, but to try and do it in one day was an unknown. I was so pleased and surprised that I did so well and finished strong. I had a relay of pacers over the last 40 miles and ran away from two of them, not through their own fault. One tripped and dropped his flashlight on ‘ball-bearing hill’ and never caught up (this was long before LED headlamps), the other was blocked from passing on a narrow single-track by an opinionated fellow runner who didn’t think pacers should be allowed. So I ended up running solo most of the last 20 miles.
My worst memory is probably the first time I had to accept an involuntary DNF at a 100 mile race. This was at the Vermont 100 mile in 2012. I had such pain in my feet and other parts of the body that I just did not think I could continue and dropped at about 76 miles. I cried a lot on the drive back to where my wife and I were staying.
If you’re going to run with someone, who would it be?
TAYTE: I most often run alone, but I have plenty of friends and family I enjoy running with. I really enjoy running with my girlfriend, so I’m looking forward to doing that when I’m fully healthy.
MADDIESON: Nowadays, because I am so slow, I do not usually run with anyone. My great running partner of many years, Russell Schuh, passed away a couple of years ago. If I could revive him, that’s who I’d like to be running with.
Do you wish you were faster?
TAYTE: Definitely. Although chasing new personal bests is not the most important thing about being a runner, I love getting faster. One of the greatest parts about training is pushing yourself to new limits and running times you never could have realized before you put in the work. If I stay healthy and train smart, I feel like I could still achieve new personal bests in every distance from 800 meters to 50K… and beyond.
MADDIESON: Of course I wish I was faster, but there are limits to what I can do to change that. Most runners find that there is a slow decline in their speed from their 40’s to their 60’s. Around the age of 70, there is a precipitous decline. At this point it becomes a question of how to manage the decline and to see if it is possible to slow down the rate of slowing down. I now do a lot of walking and biking to complement the running I do. These activities can help maintain aerobic condition and muscle strength.
What are the most important things you need to have when going for a run?
TAYTE: Motivation, health and mountains
MADDIESON: Good shoes, appropriate clothing, and motivation!
What is something you wish you could change about your running career?
TAYTE: I wish I’d prioritized long-term, over short-term racing goals. There’s been many times in my running career where I’ve tried to prepare for a race in a short amount of time and had to rush my training. I would push my weekly mileage too quickly, overtrain, run through injuries, and even if I did ok at the race, my body would eventually break down from training in this unsustainable way. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way several times and I hope not to make this mistake again!
MADDIESON: I wish I had signed up for the UTMB when it was in its early years. By the time I did sign up for it in 2012 I had lost too much of my mountain running skills to be able to finish it within the time limits.
How do you imagine your running in the future? Next year? 10 years from now?
TAYTE: I’d like to think that next year I’ll be running at my best again. After having my left achilles’ tendon operated on last December, there have been some doubts as to whether I will ever return to the level of running that I’m used to. However, I’m still optimistic that I will recover and make this return in 2020. As for 10 years from now, who knows! With 10 more years of running experience I may be running longer distances, chasing after world mountain running titles and running faster than ever!
MADDIESON: Next year I hope to finish a 100-mile race within the standard published time limits. I’m entered in two (so far) and hope I can still do this. In ten years, I wonder what I will be able to do. I’m 77 now and there are not many runners in their upper 80s that are still doing the longer trail runs. I’d love to be one of them a decade from now (but I might be dead by then!).
What advice would you give to older runners?
TAYTE: Don’t stop chasing big goals. Set goals to win your age group at competitive races, organize a hiking/running adventure in the mountains, train with runners who push you, and keep finding ways to push your limits. It’s a great feeling to approach and overcome these limits and age doesn’t have to stop you. Perhaps these big goals aren’t are grand as when you were younger and able to do more physically, but that shouldn’t stop you from getting creative and running at the best of your abilities.
What advice would you give to younger runners?
MADDIESON: Learn patience. On longer races the most common mistake of younger runners is to go out too fast.The ideal is to start out at the pace you can sustain all the way; this will bring you the fastest overall time.
How can more younger runners get involved in trail running?
TAYTE: The best way to get more younger runners involved in trail running is to educate them about the opportunities that exist for them within the sport. There aren’t many middle, high school or college aged runners who know trail running exists as a running discipline. I’d suggest younger runners research shorter distance trail races in ATRA’s online trail race calendar, attend the National HS Trail Championships, sign up for Max King Trail Running Camps, and apply for the various US Teams that compete internationally in trail racing. Read my article to find out more about these opportunities.
How can more older runners get involved in trail running?
MADDIESON: Some older runners may be concerned about potential dangers in trail runs. Among things that could be done would be to encourage better trail signage so the fear of getting lost is reduced. This is something that is done much better in France or Germany than in the US. Also, American race directors often have undue anxiety about the risk of poles injuring other runners. Experience in Europe shows that this is a minimal concern. Older runners benefit most from using poles.
It would help if races allowed their use routinely. One of the biggest obstacles to older runners taking part in the classic longer trail runs is the difficulty of meeting the time cut-offs along the way. Typically, endurance and being able to go the distance is not the problem; the required pace to meet cut-offs is the issue. One alternative that is open to older runners are the timed events, such as 24-hour, 48 hour or 6-day events. Since the only issue is to go as far as your can in the time window there are no intermediate time cut-offs. However these events typically take place on rather boring short loops lacking appeal for trail runners.
There are a few events that specifically favor older runners. I would single out the Grandmaster Ultras which limits participants to those over 50 and allows a very generous finish time, and the Race for the Ages in which the time limit is a function of the age of the participant. The older you are the longer time you have to go as far as you can. Some races also allow an early start option (e.g. Run, Rabbit, Run and Pumpkin Holler 100’s) which may not be limited to older runners but is particularly useful to them.