If you haven’t already read a lot of articles I’ve written at this site, you might not know, but I have this thing about creating mindgames that make ultra-running, and other endurance exercises like long stair climbs up the side of a mountain, easier.
Since I’ve recently been running longer distances – my mind has been churning out these new running techniques that help athletes push harder and faster. Today, I don’t know how it came about really, but I came up with a new way to look at trail running that makes it even more fun than it was before.
I write about surfing the trail below, or you can just scroll down to the bottom of this page and see the video I did about it right after it happened. The video is probably easier to understand.
I was running up my favorite mountain here in Krabi, Thailand… well, wait, truthfully? It’s my only mountain around here to run up unless I want to run up a paved road in a remote park where I was accosted by a Thai guy grabbing my genitals as he rode by on a motorbike. But, that’s a different story. I will tell that one, but let me get back to this.
I wasn’t feeling well for the first five minutes. It’s a slow climb over the first part and still, I just wasn’t into it. I’ve been ill for the past couple of weeks, so I figured OK, no problem, I just won’t run as much today. I definitely didn’t feel like pushing up the 500-meter high climb, but I didn’t feel horrible yet.
Then I got dizzy. Bummer. So, I slowed down even more and guessed I’d hit the peak in about 50 minutes. I figured no worries, I’d just aim for that time because there was no way I’d be running anything like my usual 36 minutes.
Though my head wasn’t right, my legs were not weak and my breathing wasn’t bad, I was just dizzy and felt out of it mentally a bit. I decided to do what ultra-runner recluse Micah True suggested in the “Born to Run” book I read a couple of years ago. Here’s the quote…
“Don’t fight the trail. Take what it gives you … Think easy, light, smooth and fast. You start with easy because if that’s all you get, that’s not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don’t give a sh*t how high the hill is or how far you’ve got to go. When you’ve practiced that so long that you forget you’re practicing, you work on making it smooooooth. You won’t have to worry about the last one — you get those three, and you’ll be fast.”
It’s brilliant. I’ve used this technique many times over the years and I have had some great results. Micah was obviously someone who was in his head quite a bit. He lived alone in some remote part of Mexico for years before anyone found him. I sometimes wonder what other mindgames he used to help himself go further and faster. Unfortunately, we’ll never know because he passed away in April of 2012.
So this morning as I ran, I began focusing on running easy, light, and smooth. As I do, I notice the usual, just like he claimed – I get faster without feeling like I’m expending more energy or effort to do so. In this case, I wasn’t well and yet I was still able to go much faster than I had hoped to. What happened was, the dizziness abated and I was able to really focus on easy, light, and smooth (ELS).
After just a few minutes of this, my breathing became even better. My legs had strength and power in reserve. Finally, my dizziness went away and my mind cleared up. I was excited about the positive changes, and yet I was just enjoying a nice climb up the trail and decided not to push it.
Then, after maybe ten minutes, this idea popped into my head as I was running ELS that was odd, but I let it germinate there until it grew into a full-blown mindgame. I began to imagine that I was surfing up the mountain on a surfboard. I didn’t have an actual board, but the feeling was the same as when I surfed in Hawaii. I surfed and bodyboarded for a couple of thousand hours in the amazing waves around the Hawaiian Islands years ago. It’s my favorite physical thing to do.
Anyway, maybe I was missing my wave-riding days and my mind just churned this up. I began looking at the dirt trail as a liquid wave. I picked my line and ran as ESL as possible, which made me feel like climbing the mountain wasn’t even difficult. The mind is such an amazing thing. When focused on some game that takes it away from monitoring the pain of the body during a hard effort, the effort becomes considerably less difficult. Sometimes it goes away entirely.
So I was surfing UP the mountain. I know, it sounds odd, right? I think it is better to watch the video below so you can understand more clearly how I went about it. I probably explained it better there than I could explain it in words here now, ten hours after the fact.
If you’re still reading, I’ll tell you one more twist on the whole thing. After I ran like I was surfing for a while, and about one kilometer from the top of the hill, I added another element to the game. I pictured that I was riding a virtual surfboard about eight feet long.
The result was that it made me run even more smoothly. Why? Because I had to think more and plan my footsteps to move me in a smoother line. You know an eight-foot surfboard cannot turn sharply, so I could only curve long turns. That meant I had to plan it out more so I could carve a smoother line.
The whole experience of surfing up the rainforest trail was pretty phenomenal. I love when these ideas just pop into my head.
At the top of the trail, I shot that video that I put below. Then I was eager to try surfing down the mountain! I figured it would be so smooth and really feel even better than it did surfing up.
Though I felt good, I still didn’t want to push hard on the way down. I just wanted to go ESL and surf the trail gently, enjoying the experience more than anything. So as I started out I imagined I was on a board carving my way down the technical path.
I didn’t really go over how technical this trail is. It’s very technical. On a scale of 10, I’d give it an 8. It’s ridiculously full of roots and rocks. So, while coming down I found it harder to get into a good rhythm, but I did notice that I was going smoother than I ever had before. I pushed a little bit. I cranked it up another notch even. I was going as fast as I could and still maintaining my smooth flow as I surfed down the trail.
As a result of using this really efficient style of running, at the bottom, I wasn’t all that surprised to find out I had crushed my previous fastest known time (FKT) on the descent by over a minute. As I considered that, it became more astonishing because I honestly wasn’t really running very fast. I wasn’t pushing that hard. I was going about 80% of maximum effort.
Try trail surfing and let me know what you think. I know this is the third time I’ve said it, but, watch the video below to get a better idea what exactly the technique I used was. Feel free to change it as you like, the way I did it might not be the way you do it. Experiment with it. I think it’s a powerful technique. At least it’s a good starting point you can use to create some game of your own that works for you.
I’d love to hear from you if you try it – feel free to share positive or negative experiences.
Best of Life to You!
[Cool trail surfing photo at top by Justin Jensen at Flickr]