Written by: Maria Camargo
When I first realized I loved running, I vowed to never ruin it by registering for a race. I believed so purely that running was therapeutic for me and that registering for a race would add stress to a purely positive part of my day in the form of a rigid plan, workouts, pace, etc. If you’ve read my writing before, you know that strong yet naive declaration didn’t last. I have since raced 10Ks, 5Ks, half marathons, a 20 miler and even a 50k. But even though I enjoy the atmosphere and energy around a race, I don’t pack my schedule full of races because I love running as a form of adventure. In the running world it can often feel like we work with coaches and follow training plans solely to lead up to races, but there’s a promising alternative where that time and those miles can be used to cash in a different reward. I recently worked with my coach, Jess Schnier, to train for a 20 mile traverse of the Enchantments in Leavenworth, Washington. There was no time goal, no race. The only outcome I hoped for was to complete the whole 20 mile traverse feeling strong and avoiding injury with my best friends, preferably before the sun went down. This specific wilderness area is permitted and landing a coveted permit for backpacking is next to impossible. However, anyone is allowed to day hike the area, making the 20 mile trip popular amongst day trippers and trail runners. I figured it would be a perfect goal to do it as a run - less gear, less food, less time on my feet. More time to take in the beautiful scenery.
The fitness that comes with consistent and intentional training opens up a bank of opportunities for new adventures. Suddenly, you can move faster and lighter for longer, and what once maybe felt like a daunting day hike can now be an exciting long run to take in the beautiful views. For my Enchantments adventure, the benefits came in many different ways.
Fueling - I had worked closely with Jess to dial in my fueling for my 50k, and was able to utilize that knowledge to fuel effectively and efficiently so we could keep moving on the Enchantments traverse. It can be daunting to know how much food to bring for a 20 mile day, but once you build that confidence for races it translates seamlessly into adventure days.
Pacing - We had no specific time goal going into the day, we just knew we wanted to finish while the sun was still out. We implemented strategies from race day, to fast hike the uphills and use that time to eat and fuel.
Layering - After 6 months of training for the 50k, I had trained in every weather possible weather condition and had dialed in my layering system. I was able to use this information to go into the run confident about my clothing decisions while staying light.
Overall Endurance - Obviously this takes the cake for benefits! I didn’t have to have 50k level fitness to do this run, but obviously it helped. Being out there deep in the mountains, my greatest joy was being able to focus on the beautiful nature with my friends and not worrying about how I felt physically because I knew I was in shape to complete this traverse.
Although you don’t have to run races as fast as you can, the term “race” usually comes with a conscious or subconscious pressure of speed or max effort. It’s easy to get caught up in that energy whether it’s through training (especially if you’re on Strava) or on race day surrounded by crowds. Planning and training for an adventure day can give you that same motivation and discipline leading up to a specific event without the stress and pressure of a race. It doesn’t even have to be a big mountain effort. This adventure can look like running a route for a race you didn’t get into, like running all five boroughs of NYC like the NYC marathon does. It can be a well known trail or effort like the Enchantments Traverse, or it can be something completely different. TThat is the inherent magic of approaching training and running like this - it can be whatever you want to be tailored to wherever you live and whatever your means are. Having this balance of official races and adventure efforts has allowed me to maintain a strong fitness base while having a variety of experiences to look forward to. Being able to change my mindset on what I’m training for keeps my mind fresh, and allows me to enjoy different experiences with different people in my life. This approach to running has been so fulfilling and it has been nice to work with a coach open to coaching me for something like the Enchantments Traverse. A coach who wants to learn about what it entails and adjusts my training to best fit my goal is so beneficial and is a strong reason for why you do not have to be a podium level athlete or FKT setter to work with a coach.