For all my loyal readers: This will be my final post on this platform. I have migrated both of my blogs to my website, so it is easier for me to keep you all updated on my races and my coaching tips all from one place. I hope you’ll continue to follow me on runlongrunstrong.com, and thank you so much for all your continued support.
Today was a really tough run for me. Not because it was 30 miles (it was 7). Not because it was a mountain run (it’s pretty flat here in Groton). And not because it was hot and humid (its barely 32*F and cloudy). It was tough because my mind told me it was going to be.
In true New England fashion, Mother Nature had decided to wait until March to start dumping snow in our region. Between last night and this morning we got the highest snowfall of the season, and I grumbled my discontent as I tried to figure out how I was going to get my training run in. I finally decided to go with the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” program and just run the trails in the snow.
Everything conspired against me from the start – or so my brain told me. I hadn’t planned on running alone but I had no choice because my best trail buddy is injured and all my other training partners either live too far away or had other plans. Then I had arrived at the trail head thinking that no one else would be stupid enough to be out in this crap. Ha!! Dozens of footprints (both human and dog), and a ton of fat bike tire and cross country ski tracks had turned the trails into a sloppy mess. And what I thought would be a light fluffy snow turned out to be wet and slushy. Ugh. I had a crappy mental outlook right from the get-go.
The first mile wasn’t too bad, but then the shit hit the fan. Slipping around in the slick footing sapped my energy and made me even crankier. I tried to make the best of it, running when I could and walking when I had to. I slogged through another mile, repeatedly saying to myself how hard this was and how shitty I felt, and how I could have possibly thought this was a good idea.
I thought back to yesterday, and the conversation I had with a fellow runner (and podcast host – hint, hint). We discussed how many people try to take the “hard” out of running and racing, looking for flat courses to PR on and expecting full-on gourmet smorgasbords and heaters at aid stations. His comment of “if you’re looking for easy, you’re in the wrong fucking sport” echoed in my head. Remembering that trail running is not easy helped get me through another mile before the shitstorm in my head took over again.
I had been in a foul mood for quite some time when I looked up – and there it was. My favorite part of this trail. The fire road climbs though the trees and then all of a sudden you’re at the top of the bluff, the sea rolling out in front of you. Today the addition of the sunlight struggling at the edge of the storm clouds took my breath away. I remembered how blessed I was to have this wild place to run in, and I used this feeling to push me onward.
A few minutes later my energy flagged – again, and I sunk into my crankiness – again. My mind was filling up with snarky remarks about how dumb I’d been to come out here when I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy run, and how I should have just stuck to the road instead of being an idiot. It never fails to amaze me how hard we are on ourselves when a decision we’ve made doesn’t meet with our expectations. I, especially, have never been good about rolling with the punches and it was clear by my running inner diatribe that I still hadn’t mastered this skill.
A quick glance up ahead alerted me to the presence of a hiker, and I moved over to the side of the trail and gave him a half-hearted wave. As we passed I heard him say “keep it up!!” Did he somehow know I was struggling, I wondered? Or was he just being kind? Then I realized it didn’t matter why he said it. The encouragement from this random stranger was just what I needed to propel me down the trail. And it lasted all of about 10 minutes before exhaustion ground me down once more.
About a half mile later the trail opened up on one side, bordered by the waters of Mumford Cove. Most of the time I’d had my head down, trudging forward as best I could, but something drew my gaze over towards the water. I watched as a seagull glided silently, just above the water’s surface and landed at a spot down the beach. I stopped as he grabbed himself a snack and contentedly munched away, watching me watching him. I was again filled with the sense of being incredibly lucky to be able to enjoy this place, even though I was suffering through this run. The deep feeling of gratitude got me though another mile.
I slowly became aware of how each time my mental energy (and let’s face it – my physical energy) started to lag, something would happen to lift me back up. And even though the moments of respite were brief, they were there – and I was managing to get the miles done. I was mulling all of this over when suddenly sentences started to link together in my mind. I remembered a runner/writer friend of mine telling me that he composed entire books in his brain while out running, and I spent the last two miles of my run mentally writing this blog post.
I arrived back at my car, totally spent. I knew I had made this run much harder than it had to be, just by starting off in a negative frame of mind. While I could have found peace and wonder by enjoying my favorite place, instead I punished myself by repeatedly drowning in disappointment at the difficulty of the run.
The lesson to be learned here is twofold. One, your mind is a powerful tool. Program it properly and it can help you reach goals you never thought possible. Give in to negative, cranky thoughts and guess what – you’ll have a negative, cranky experience. This really hit home for me today as I watched myself vacillate between the physical highs and lows based on my mental programming.
The second lesson is quite possibly more important and can be summed up in one of my favorite movie quotes. In “A League of Their Own”, Tom Hanks’ character remarked “Of course it’s hard. It’s supposed to be hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it. Hard is what makes it great.”
Now get out there and run!!
~ Coach Faith
Whether you’re looking for something to listen to, read, or watch, I think you’ll find lots of information and inspiration in the list below. Let me know which ones move you!!
Trail Running Women
A great podcast for women, by women. You’ll hear women trail runners talking about everything from running while pregnant, to eating disorders, to overcoming incredible obstacles. Badassery abounds in this “ask me anything” format, and Hilary brings out the absolute best in her guests. Be sure to listen in – you might be surprised at who you’ll hear!!
The Strength Running Podcast
Information on training and discussions with world-class athletes. A great addition for anyone who wants to improve their running (and let’s face it – that’s all of us!). Listen to your idols talk about their experiences, get tips from elite coaches, and get inspired by all the guests of this podcast series.
Ultra Stories Podcast
Human Potential Running Series (“Sherpa” John Lacroix)
No one tells it like it is like Sherpa John. He’s opinionated, sometimes foul-mouthed, and about as real as it gets. His episodes range from recaps of the races that he directs, to interviewing the runners who attend his “Stories Ultra”, to hearing about what it’s like to run with mental illness. His podcasts encapsulate the true spirit of the ultrarunning community and are as funny as they are informative. Go for a run with Sherpa John and get some fuel for your soul.
Dr. Stacy Sims
“Women are not small men.” This is the basis of Dr. Sims’ research, and the premise that this book is founded on. An overwhelming number of women train and eat like men, thinking this will make them stronger, faster, and healthier. This could not be further from the truth! This book outlines proper nutrition and training strategies specifically for women at every stage of life and is packed with information to help women be the best athletes they can be. ROAR should be a part of every woman’s library if she wants the best advice for a lifetime of health and fitness.
Fast After Fifty
Let’s face it – none of us wants to admit that time keeps marching forward and robbing us of our health and fitness. Current research shows that this doesn’t have to happen! Joe Friel’s advice on training for athletes over 50 gives hope to mature athletes and shows us how to stay strong and healthy for our entire lives. Just as women should not train and eat like men, mature runners have different needs than our younger counterparts and we should treat our bodies as such. This book has contributions from from many experts who show us that age is just a number.
Training Essentials of Ultrarunning
When I picked up this book last year, I never imagined it would become such a focal point of training for my third VT100k. The principles Jason uses for both mental and physical training are based in science and are easy to implement into your own training program. From goal-setting for your season to planning your pacing and nutrition for race day, this book covers it all. I highly recommend it for any serious ultrarunner, whether they are completing their first 50K or going for a 100 mile PR.
In his latest book, Alex Hutchinson combines stories with cutting-edge research to tease out the limits of human endurance. Are limits physiological? Or are they psychological? Or mental? Or emotional? This complicated relationship is explored in depth and is supplemented by incredible stories of successful (and unsuccessful) feats of endurance, ranging from Roald Amundsen’s race to the South Pole to the Nike 2 hour project. The book is an entertaining as well as inspiring and informative read, and is regarded as one of the best books on endurance ever written.
Let Your Mind Run
Deena Kastor shares with us the inner workings of the mind of an elite athlete and lets us in on the secrets that helped propel her to the top of US women’s marathoning. The book recounts her life from her attempts at a young age to find an outlet for her athletic energy, to her almost burnout from the pressure of winning as a college track and cross country star, to her position as a top-ranked masters runner. Deena teaches us to think about our running and our lives, and how we can improve both by employing visualization, positivity, and gratitude. A great read and the perfect addition to any runner’s library.
Gratitude in Motion
Colleen Kelly Alexander
This one has been an absolute favorite of mine. Colleen sustained life-threatening injuries in a cycling accident involving a distracted driver, but didn’t let that dampen her spirit. With hard work, mental toughness, and the love of her husband, she made it through a mind-boggling number of surgeries to emerge as one of the most amazing pillars of strength I have ever encountered. This book is her memoir and chronicles her journey from a shy girl from the Florida coast to a powerful advocate for cycling safety and spokesperson for the American Red Cross. A must-read for anyone who needs a little inspiration in his or her life.
Unbreakable: The Western States Endurance Run
This movie provides a glimpse into the oldest and one of the most prestigious ultra marathons in the US. It follows four top runners (Hal Koerner, Anton Krupicka, Killian Jornet, and Geoff Roes) as they battle to traverse the hot canyons, steep ascents, and brutal downhills of the Western States Trail and be the first to cross the historic finish line at the Placer High School track.
This moving documentary surrounds the bombings at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon and the amazing resilience of the city of Boston and the athletes from around the world that come to compete at this race, intertwined with the rich history of the race and the legendary runners who have made their marks on Boylston Street. If you’ve never run a marathon, this film will make you want to register for one.
Nikki Kimball is a driving force for women’s equality in sports. In this film Nikki sets out to break the FKT (fastest known time) on the 273 mile Long Trail in Vermont, and not only did she want to set the record for women, she wanted to break the men’s record, proving that women can stand on equal ground with men. Throughout her quest Nikki had to face difficult terrain, uncooperative weather, and physical challenges while maintaining forward progress. Her tremendous determination to complete the trail will leave you wanting to take the journey yourself.
Inspired to Ride
Inspired to Ride chronicles the inaugural Trans Am bike race. Follow cyclists on their journey of 4233 miles through ten states, from the Pacific coast to Virginia, and be inspired by their incredible determination to be the first to complete the cross-country race. Throughout the movie you’ll learn the riders’ stories, and you’ll cheer at the triumphs and cry with those that fall short of the mark. Even if you don’t ride, this is a must-see film for anyone who wants to watch a bunch of crazy people go after an extraordinary goal.
Do you believe in miracles? You will after you watch the true story of Herb Brooks and the 1980 US Olympic hockey team. Herb took a bunch of mismatched and rivalling hockey players and turned them into the best team in the world, all while teaching them to believe in themselves and each other. Watching the US team triumph over the heavily-favored Soviet team will leave you feeling like anything is possible, as long as you believe.
This movie is one recounting of the life and career of Steve Prefontaine, one of the most influential and legendary amateur runners that ever lived. From his modest start in a middle class household in Coos Bay, Oregon to his defeat of almost every top track runner in the world, Pre held fast to his views on running and racing and always held himself to the highest standards. “A race is a work of art” was how Pre felt, and this film sets out to show how his gritty demeanor and single-mindedness on the track indeed made each of his races a masterpiece.
(reprinted from Run Long ~ Run Strong Endurance Coaching Facebook page)
Cold weather running can be a challenge for most of us. We drag out all our tights, gloves, and hats and assemble them all into what can only be described as a refugee center for the Arctic. We check weather forecasts and try to plan our wardrobe according to what Mother Nature is throwing at us today. And then we are left with an amount of laundry that looks like it came from a family of ten. Now that winter seems to have descended on New England, it seemed appropriate to address the things we should and shouldn’t do as we head out the door.Most of us struggle with what to wear when the temperature dips. Should you layer up or go for the heaviest pair of tights and pair that with that awesome new sub-zero jacket that you just got? Mittens or gloves? Or should you just bail on the whole thing and hit the treadmill (gasp)? I asked a few friends if they wouldn’t mind sharing their tried and true tips and their go-to gear for when they want to get some miles in when the weather isn’t cooperating.
Chantelle Robitaille, coach and outdoor enthusiast, says, “Running in the cold doesn’t have to be miserable. Coming from northern Canada, I learned from a young age that there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad preparation.” She likes to layer up, adding that “if you plan it right, when you head outside you will feel a bit chilled, but you will warm up fast.” I’m all about the layers myself. Not only do layers trap air between them (which helps to insulate you), you can remove gear as you warm up and stuff in into your pack. You can’t do that if you wear just one shirt and a heavy jacket.
You also might want to consider a change of clothes when you are out for a long run in the cold. Once you start sweating it is very easy to get chilled if you need to slow down to negotiate a technical section of trail, or you are doing loops and are stopping to refuel and refill your hydration vest or bottles. “During a long run if it’s possible, I change shirts and whatever else I can to stay fresh. It makes a huge mental difference to throw on a clean, dry shirt or shorts after several hours on the trail, so I try to pack extras when I can,” says friend and fellow ultra runner Mike Crutchley.
Making sure the feet stay warm is a must, as the extremities are the most likely to suffer from frostbite or frost nip. “For socks, I’m pretty loyal to the Swiftwick Wool Line. They have all different ankle heights, which make them versatile in the running wardrobe depending on what type of terrain you’re running on or what type of footwear you’re reaching for that day,” says race director extraordinaire and fellow trail runner Jason Paganelli. Chantelle warns to “never double up on socks! A good pair of merino wool socks should do the trick here. Just make sure they go above the ankle and feel good in your shoes.” She recommends Smartwool, Darn Tough, or Voormi, and Mike echos the Smartwool endorsement.
I don’t know about you, but if my hands are cold then the rest of my body feels chilled. Lucky for us, there are many options for keeping those fingers warm and toasty even in sub-zero temperatures. “On your hands, this comes down to personal preference – but mittens will always keep you warmer than gloves,” says Chantelle. Brooks makes a great cold-weather mitten, as does Saucony and Nike. According to Chantelle, you can also try the lobster-claw style cycling mittens from Pearl Izumi or Craft. Whatever you choose make sure to bring a another pair of your favorite gloves or mittens with you, just in case you get wet or start to sweat. Cold, wet fingers are very susceptible to frostbite and that’s the last thing we need when we are out enjoying winter trails.
Finally, we need to keep our heads warm. A person loses 7-10% of their body heat through his or her head and while this may not sound like much, when the temperatures are below freezing, that heat loss can deplete a person enough to allow hypothermia to begin. This is especially important for those with less, um, insulation on their noggins, so I turned to my follically challenged friends to help me with this one. “I own a lot of hats! Beanies, skullcaps, ball caps, trucker hats, etc…I pack them all and for any occasion,” says Mike. Jason had a lot of advice for less-than-hirsute heads: “For me personally, being comfortable in the cold is always about maintaining the balance between staying warm and staying light. I hate to run with too much bulk, even in the winter, and that includes on my head. Luckily, the whole bald thing helps keep the weight down,” he says. One of Jason’s go-to toppers is his Smartwool Merino 150 Beanie (a super lightweight beanie made with a merino wool blend). He then added, “If I’m running at a lower intensity, or I know the weather is going to be on the colder side, I’ll reach for my Craft Race Hat. They sell these locally at Spark Bike Run Sports, and offer a TON of warmth.” Mike also says he changes his hats often, as this helps reduce the heat loss and keeps him comfortable over many miles.
Chantelle advises to use a buff as a versatile option for keeping the neck, chin, and ears extra warm. “You can cover up your neck, face and head with it, or just use it around your neck, or as a headband,” she says. These come in different weights, and fleece-lined ones are great for when the frost is really on the pumpkin. It also helps to cover your nose and mouth to ease your breathing when it’s really cold, and buffs make this easy to do. Chantelle added that “balaclavas also have their time and place- don’t worry about how it looks- people will think you are weird for running in the cold anyway!”
Finally, for those who suffer with Reynaud’s or a similar disorder, be extra sure to choose the correct socks and gloves/mittens for the temperature and bring changes of both, and hand warmers in the mittens or shoes go a long way towards keeping the hands and feet from getting too cold. Plan to have a place to warm up mid-run, or break your runs into two segments to reduce your exposure. And Chantelle says to eliminate the coffee before your run and opt for non-caffeinated beverages, as caffeine is a vasoconstrictor and may make keeping your extremities warm a real challenge.
There’s no reason to relegate yourself to the treadmill for the winter months, as long as you plan your route properly, stay hydrated and well-fueled, and choose the right clothing. So grab the mittens, the fleece-lined tights, and that silly looking balaclava and go exploring. Chantelle’s last piece of advice? “Have fun out there! Winter is a great time of year to see your favourite trails in a new light.”
Chantelle Robitaille is a coach at Carmichael Training Systems and holds a master of science degree in high altitude exercise physiology. Jason Paganelli, president of True North Running Company, is an avid road and trail runner and is the race director of many road and ultra events in the RI/MA area. Mike Crutchley has run numerous ultras and trail marathons and is a trusted trail partner of many years. I thank them all for their advice and recommendations for this article.
For my first entry in this blog, I decided to reprint an entry from my confessionsofarunnergirl.wordpress.com. It seemed appropriate in launching this blog and certainly fits in with the subtitle “musings of an ultra marathon coach”. The following is a glimpse into what led me to be a runner, chase my dream race, and eventually want to share my love of running with others and help them go after their own dream races.
Follow your dreams and you’ll never look back
(reprinted from a previous blog entry)
When I started running in 2011, I did it because I wanted to run a benefit 5k for my hometown tornado relief fund. Back then, I hadn’t thought that it would eventually lead me to a new career path. Since that day I’ve learned to expect the unexpected and just go with it. I’ve discovered that despite what others may think, I can still achieve my dreams – even if they seem far-fetched.
I followed the usual path from 5ks to half marathons to marathons. I got slightly faster but not as fast as I wanted to get, and since I came to running late in life I figured I was experiencing the point of diminishing returns phenomenon. At some point in the 5k to half marathon transition I discovered trail running. Trail running fulfilled my sense of adventure and got me off the roads and into the woods. I continued my road racing while getting stronger on the trails (after a couple of falls resulting in a wrist fracture followed by an ankle fracture) and after a few road marathons, I began dreaming of an ultra.
Over the course of the next few years, I participated in many 50ks (some self-supported training runs), several 50 milers, three 100ks (one with a 97 minute PR!!) and my first hundred miler in 2017. I still do road races, but my love lies with ultras. I may not be faster, but I can grind down into a low gear and just keep on trucking. I like the challenge of the trail, and I love pushing my body to limits I never thought I could. I’ve had to tackle unique problems because of my age and my lack of a lifetime of running experiences, and I can relate to others facing similar issues. I love figuring out how best to approach a training plan with an eye towards the mature runner (I hate the word older because it has a negative connotation for me).
I’ve ridden horses practically all my life. It was my passion for many years, exploring several different disciplines and finally settling on endurance racing. Its a lot like ultra running, only you have to worry about 6 legs instead of 2, and two living, breathing beings instead of one. It taught me to multi-task under stress, focus on nutrition and pacing (for the both of us), and to be almost anally organized. I had a tack box that went with me to every race and was only unpacked to clean everything and then repack it to be ready for the next adventure. My ultra gear is no different. I can just about do nothing but pack some clothes and food and throw my drop box in the car and go. It takes a lot of the pressure off, knowing that everything is always ready to go…and I encourage my athletes to do the same thing.
I’ve been incredibly blessed to meet and run with some amazing athletes. While I was in college I worked part time at a run specialty store originally owned by a local running legend, and it opened a lot of pathways for me. I’ve been encouraged by Deena Kastor, inspired by Colleen Alexander, and coached by Amby Burfoot. I’ve run races alongside Jeff Galloway and in the footsteps of Bill Rodgers, and I’ve shared trails with Hal Koerner and Amy Rusiecki. Nothing like learning from the best.
I like to stay involved in the running community, and give back when I can. I serve as a guide for Achilles CT, I have fundraised for Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports, I belong to the Shenipsit Striders (a local running club), I am a member of the USATF, I have led pace groups for local races, and I am an brand ambassador for Skratch Labs and UltrAspire. I also volunteer at several ultras each year, enjoying the camaraderie and watching others live out their dream races. I firmly believe in the old adage, “you reap what you sow,” and I apply that to my coaching as well as to my own experiences in my running life.
I’m a scientist by training. I earned my associate’s degree in liberal arts and sciences from Manchester Community College in 2010, my bachelor’s degree in marine science from the University of Connecticut at Avery Point in 2013, and my master’s degree in oceanography from UCONN in 2015. I guess you could say I love to learn, and I have a very analytical mind. I like facts and figures, and I like the data to back them up. So when it came time to choose a coaching certification program, I searched for one that was steeped in scientific data and had lots of peer-reviewed references to back up the training philosophy. I found United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy, and it was a perfect fit. The course was totally online, I could study at my own pace, and it had hundreds of references throughout the text to scientific articles that I could access and read for myself (luckily I still have my sign-in credentials from UCONN).
I’m looking forward to a lifetime of helping runners reach goals they never thought possible. If you are interested in learning more, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will spend about an hour together on the phone discussing your experience and your goals, and then I’ll create a personalized plan just for you. As a client, you can expect that I will be checking your data daily, and we will have weekly conversations to discuss your progress and any changes that might need to be made in your plan. If you need any more convincing, please check out the testimonials below and then drop me a line. #runlongrunstrong
“Faith Strafach has been my coach throughout the running season of 2018. In June, I had unexpected surgery and needed a plan to ensure I could fulfill my goal of returning to ultra racing in the fall. During that time, she prepared structured and graduating workouts, slowly increasing in mileage, while adding challenging speed work and tempo workouts. She has proven herself to be a generous and giving leader who trains her athletes hard and encourages them to do their best. She listened to my needs, reviewed my data frequently, and altered my schedule when necessary to ensure the program was tailored for me and my progress. Her strategy encompasses a unique balance between coaching, mentoring, informing and challenging that has helped me immensely in getting back into racing shape.
She teaches discipline, hard work and dedication to her athletes. If you are looking for a passionate coach and are ready to do the work, I highly recommend Faith to achieve your goals and make your dreams a reality.” ~ Laura B., ultra runner
“Faith has served a guide for Achilles athletes since April 2015. She combines her passion for and vast experience with running, and pays it forward to individuals with a variety of medical conditions and disabilities. Whether they are just starting out, or have to modify their walking/running, Faith helps them set goals and provides support during their workouts/training runs. On race day, Faith motivates, paces, and crosses the finish line side-by-side with her assigned athlete. It’s hard to tell who is smiling more when the finisher medal is distributed. Achilles is lucky to have Faith sharing her love of running, and giving of her time and talents in the service of others.” Erin Spaulding, President Achilles International-Connecticut
“Faith is so very encouraging and enjoyable to spend time with that you might not realize what great running knowledge she possesses, until you find yourself accomplishing running goals you had only dreamed about. I recommend her coaching to any runner, from beginner to ultra distance runner.” ~ Neal B., runner
“If you are looking for a running coach who will motivate, inspire, and become part of your life you found her. Faith is all of this and more. As Faith learns about your abilities, and limitations, she uses this information to help motivate and push you to become a better athlete. She is brutally honest (I love this). She gets out and runs with you. She learns your style and helps you with your pacing, breathing, hydration, or whatever else you need to reach your goals. If want a coach that understands running, has a passion for the sport, knows about different terrains, ability levels, and how to fuel the body look no further. You found her. Trust me, Faith is the coach for you.” ~ Adam F., physically challenged ultra runner
Thanks for joining me!
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton