How I Got Through The Toughest Training of my Life

It’s 7:30 a.m. on a Tuesday. I’m waiting for my checked bag to loop around the baggage claim. My body feels heavy and I suspect I have a sore throat.

I just traveled over 50 hours to the Azores, a small set of Portuguese Islands off the coast of Africa where I landed in a torrential rainfall. All I wanted was to curl up in a hotel bed, turn off the lights and take a long afternoon nap. But when the car pulled up to the tiny airport, the driver, a local race director, stuck his head out the window and said: “so are you ready to run?”

It was jarring but I quickly realized that I was ready. When my running career took off, Salomon Trail Running was my first choice for a shoe sponsor. When Salomon invited me to join their annual training camp for their highest performing athletes, I was IN. The camp was scheduled to run from Tuesday, April 2 to Sunday, April 8, followed by some work days at Salomon’s Design Center in Annecy, France.

We were scheduled to run over 150 miles and up 40,000 feet of elevation over the course of six days. Even if I did a fraction of the miles, it would still be my biggest training week since before my win at the 2017 Western States 100. Moreover, covering the miles with the best mountain runners in the world meant the pace would hot from the start.

Here are some lessons learned and reinforced from those days.

Food is Fuel

A long and successful career starts at the dinner table and you’ll only find results when you pack recovery snacks. I thought I’d learned that a long time ago but the training trip hammered the point home.

Once upon a time, when I was pursuing a career on the track instead of on the roads, a mentor told me that there was no such thing as overtraining, just under-eating. I’ve always taken that very seriously, stuffing my face with high-quality calories after training. But my snack bag pales in comparison to my teammates. My humble bag of protein powder and oat bars was put to shame when the rest of the team rolled out suitcases entirely dedicated to nutrition. On day two, when I ran out of my own snacks, I was grateful that every other athlete packed enough food to feed the entire island.

Balance

Around a decade ago, Marc Lauenstein was a world class orienteer, competing on the world stage and winning high profile races. To get those results and accolades, he trained ‘round the clock, sacrificing some of life’s joys to be the best in the world. He doesn’t regret a thing, but years after his orienteering peak the “training like it’s your job” lifestyle lost its appeal. Now a father, a husband and a dentist, Marc’s life has taken a complete 180. The crazy thing is, after making the transition to trail running with the attitude of a hobbyist, his results still compare with full-time athletes. Training and racing is no longer his priority but he still wins races on the world stage.

When I asked Marc how he balanced a full-time job and competing in races against younger and better-trained athletes, his answer was simple: balance. As a professional runner, his results carried a lot of weight. Today, a job and family to focus on, he’s able to race lighter. Ironically, sometimes the best performances come when you care the least

In 2017 I rocked my season and in 2018 my season rocked me. The more removed I am from a year of underperforming, the more I realize that my life lacked balance. I’m hoping to make that lesson count in 2019.

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