Multi-hour adventure running is becoming more popular.
What makes a run an epic run depends upon your perspective. A half marathon or a marathon may be the outside edge of some runner’s comfort zones. For others, it could be running an ultra-distance event (generally considered longer than a marathon), but for others still, it’s not about a race, it’s about the adventure.
Multi-hour runs, new routes, beautiful places and attempting fastest known times (FKT) are becoming popular for those who seek the trail less traveled. Guillaume Arthus, a 23-year old Frenchman, is currently traveling around the U.S. to run in 26 national parks in 50 days. Mike Ehredt, 53, of Hope, Idaho, ran across the country, twice, to honor fallen U.S. soldiers. And Boulder, Colo., ultrarunner Darcy Piceu, 39, who has been running and winning ultra-distance events for more than a decade, has a renewed focus on exploring places that inspire her.
Epic runs don’t often draw much recognition, unless some kind of record is broken. Instead, they’re often passion projects that offer huge personal satisfaction that comes from the thrill of the journey. In reality, much of the hard work comes in the planning stages. Trail races, even those with minimal support, usually at least have buckets or hoses to refill water carriers. Medical support, enthusiastic volunteers, a predetermined route, finisher medals and course markings have all become the norm.
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But for these kinds of multi-hour, long-distance adventures, you have to plan for all of those details (minus the finisher’s medal), plus train and run. There are more and more runners adding spirit- and body-testing quests to their calendars all the time, but for veteran ultrarunners who do epic training runs or races almost every weekend, it still requires time and preparation.
“There are moments where I think to myself, ‘Do I really want to do all of this?’” Piceu says of the planning stages of a long-distance FKT attempt. In 2013 she and Krissy Moehl together set a new FKT for the Wonderland Trail in Washington, circumnavigating the 93-mile route around Mt. Rainier in 22 hours, 22 minutes and 45 seconds. She’s made FKT attempts running the Grand Canyon and and this year plans on running the 210-mile John Muir Trail in California.
Arthus decided upon his national parks journey when thinking about places he would like to visit after he finished earning his graduate degree and before he returned to France. If that doesn’t sound daunting, think what it would be like to go to France and tackle a similar undertaking.
Ehredt’s philosophy to be all-in everyday helped him become a two-time, top-150 finisher at the Marathon des Sables, a grueling desert run in Morocco. For his two cross-country runs, he averaged a marathon a day for eight months. His secret is to, “never open the door of doubt because you’ll never get it shut.”
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Even though it may be crazy to consider, you know you’re curious about setting off on a long trail run. And just in case you find the perfect place, here are Piceu’s eight pointers for planning an epic adventure:
1) Decide where you want to go. “For me, it’s all about what trails I really want to see, what’s enjoyable and what adventure I want to have next,” she says. “The John Muir Trail is about going back to my roots and having an adventure.”
2) Do your homework. “Read, research, study, talk to people and pour over maps.” Piceu says. If you cannot pre-run the route, read everything you can about it and study topographical maps,” she adds.
3) Make sure you’re amply fit. “I usually race myself into shape—whether I’m training for a big race or a big adventure, it’s all the same,” Piceu says. “This year all of my long runs have actually been races.”
4) Have a strong support network. From meeting at points along the route with food and gear, to being cheerleaders to listening to you review checklist after checklist, having people to lean on is important.
5) Organize your gear. Hydration and fuel are key on epic adventure runs. Think about what you’ll eat, what you’ll drink, how and where to purify water and how much necessary gear you’ll have to carry, Piceu says. Test all of it, train with it in a pack and make sure it works for you.
6) Be safe. An FKT attempt or trail adventure doesn’t have the same safety systems in place as a race, meaning you are responsible for own safety. Be prepared, know the route and tell someone else your route and schedule. Carrying a tracking device of some sort, and also a cell phone as a back-up option.
7) Follow a plan. If you are going for an FKT, know there is a process for doing so. Where you start and finish are key, not simply for logistics, but also for establishing a record, as is documentation. The website Fastest Known Time is a great resource.
8) Remain upbeat. “The best lesson I learned about long miles on the trail is to have a positive attitude,” Piceu says. “If I’m in a bad place, I ask myself, ‘How is this helping me right now?’ I usually realize it isn’t.”