Written over 25 years ago by Danelle Ballengee, a former ATRA board member and race director of the Moab Trail Marathon , an ATRA member event and host of the USATF Trail Marathon Championships.
Those chirping birds you hear in the morning aren’t your neighbors’ car alarms. Nope. Instead they’re a reminder that spring is in the air! As the snow rapidly melts away, the trails are preparing themselves for you (and me) to get outside and get in shape for summer. Yes, it’s time to come out of winter hibernation, go for a trail run and see what is outside and beyond our front door.
There are many benefits of endurance training – improved health, weight control, mental well-being, the opportunity to explore the world and more – but, the big question is, “Where do I start and what should I do?” A lot of people give up quickly, or have problems sticking with an exercise program day after day. Endurance training like trail running requires persistence and should be fun and enjoyable. The following is a list of some of our favorite excuses for not exercising or for quitting, and responses from the “coach.”
[Excuse] The last time I tried getting in shape I ran 20 miles on trails and couldn’t event walk the next day. I give up.
[Coach] Whoa! Slow down buddy! Remember that the human body – like the engine of a car – needs fine tuning before it can perform optimally. Don’t expect too much from yourself the first few times out. Take time to progress at an optimum pace. Build up your speed and distance progressively and remember that rest and recovery days are just as important as your workout days.
[Excuse] I can’t event make it around the block without nearly dying. I give up.
[Coach] No! Don’t give up! Be patient. Nothing’s wrong with going slow. You will get faster and be able to go further with time. Perfection won’t happen overnight. You need to set up a trail running training program that allows you to build up a little more endurance and speed each week. After some training time you will be able to make it around the block 100 times. Even if your parents gave you really bad athletic genes and you only get a little bit faster and go a little bit further, you will still feel the positive benefits of exercise by trying. You don’t have to be a star athlete to enjoy the benefits of endurance training.
[Excuse] I get bored doing the same loop again and again. I don’t see how you can go out and ride or run for so long without getting bored.
[Coach] Excuse me! Boredom is waiting in the postal line, or at a stoplight. Even the StairMaster or watching a sitcom can be boring. Exercise outside can be one of the most exciting and exhilarating activities, and that’s aside from the numerous health benefits. It’s a beautiful world we live in with so much to explore and encounter. Trail running will allow you to get out there and check out the best of what is available in your area, or beyond.
[Excuse] What’s the point if I will never be the best?
[Coach] Trail running is a vehicle for lifestyle change and personal challenge, not just being number one or being faster than someone else. The health benefits alone are the biggest reason to get active. Many people find that other life pursuits such as their job or family relationships are enhanced by participating in endurance sports.
[Excuse] I don’t want to exercise by myself, and my partner always leaves me in the dust.
[Coach] There are a lot of people out there that are your same ability. You could join a group, or find a trainer or coach that will help you build your confidence and endurance as well as be a companion. Once you build your confidence, you may actually enjoy doing some of your workouts alone as this can be time to “escape” and do your own thing.
[Excuse] I don’t have the time for trail running. I work four jobs, have three kids, plus housework!
[Coach] If this is the case, I wouldn’t try to be a professional athlete, but you can still run trails. Some of the busiest people I know still find time to exercise. They find that the exercise helps with other aspects of their life. Time management is an important skill. It’s not easy. In fact, it is harder than running or cycling, but you can find time for exercise. Turn off the TV, put down the iPad, and head out the door. Exercise during a portion of your lunch break, early in the morning, or late at night (wear reflective apparel and a headlamp if it is dark, or will become dark). Push the kids in a stroller, or walk/run while they ride their tricycle. While the kids are at soccer practice or in after-school activities, do your own workout. Get your partner involved. There are so many options!
[Excuse] I’ve got bad knees, bad ankles, or other bad parts.
[Coach] For many of you who do have “bad parts,” you may have to choose your second or third favorite activity instead of what you’d really like to be doing. Lots of people with “bad parts” find cycling, or swimming enjoyable and pain-free. Sometimes these “bad parts” can be just weak, tight, or imbalanced muscles, ligaments, or tendons. Starting off with a strength and stretching program might be the solution. Easing into an activity rather than going full-bore might be another solution. Trail runs can actually be a great way to prevent and cure “bad parts.” I recommend seeing a doctor, physical therapist or trainer before starting any exercise program and get a second or third opinion if you are advised to stop exercising.
[Excuse] I’m too old.
[Coach] Never! Sure, you may slow down a bit and you may not be as fast as you were in your heyday, but you’re never too old to run trails. In fact, the older you get the more important exercise is. Exercise makes you feel young at heart (and lungs, muscles, etc.) I know many older athletes who are going for masters’ and senior records and are more competitive and driven than the young pros. This doesn’t mean you need to be breaking records, but you should set your own personal goals and get out there and exercise. Show those young’uns how tough you are. Don’t be embarrassed because you are not the fastest. We respect anyone who is out exercising whatever age, whatever pace. And so you see, trail running is for everyone (well…nearly everyone). You don’t have to be the best, or the fastest to enjoy the benefits. Most of today’s endurance athletes have taken on the theory of Pheidippides. They exercise for personal quests rather than personal bests.
In summary, the two things that everyone needs to get started and adhere to a trail running exercise program are: 1) set goals; 2) work with a coach, trainer, or equally fit friend.
Goals should be attainable – not too lofty, not too easy. You should set both short term and long term goals. These should include a specific training program that you can stick with. Goals should be adaptable to changes in your life. For those with a competitive side, or event those interested in a good personal challenge, trail races provide a great motivating goal to work towards.
PRO TIP: Are you ready to race? Check out our calendar of over 2500 trail races.
A coach or trainer provides an education and helps you to progress according to your needs and abilities. A good coach or trainer has a degree in a fitness-related field, has personal exercise experience as well as coaching or training experience, is certified by one of the fitness organizations (ACE, ASCM, etc.), and can relate to your personality. Trainers and coaches can help by adding variety and balance to your workouts. They will motivate you to stick with your program and help with injury prevention.
PRO TIP: Are you ready to get a coach or attend a running camp? Check out our national directory of over 75 coaches and 130 trail running camps.