Karina Ray, All-Terrain Runner and Licensed Counselor
Photography by: Nick Hernandez
Happy Spring to my dear Appalachian Gear Company Herd! As I write this, while wearing my Watauga Blue Crew, I’m imagining that you are all experiencing the year-round thermoregulation of your performance alpaca garments in shoulder season conditions. Personally, I fell deeper in love with AGC’s All-Paca with each new season and the various conditions in which I used it. The comfort of AGC’s garments contributed to my ongoing quest for health in 2020, as I hope it did in yours. Which 2021 goals are you looking forward to achieving in your alpaca gear? Are you training, maintaining, recovering, or not training at this time?
Currently, I’ve been busy in my own gear room getting ready for a return to consistent training, now that a degree of post-pandemic normality is returning in work and school routines. 2020 was a discombobulating year for me and many others. I’ve decided to share several “doorways” I use to begin again if I’ve had anything more than a two-week break in my training. These are all methods I’ve employed at some point in order to re-enter my athletic routine to return to the levels of all-terrain running, fastpacking, peakbagging, or climbing that I desire. Before outlining the physical ways I facilitate consistent training, or the “doorways” as I call them, I will tell you the mindset that I embrace because the mind is also an athlete, after all.
When studying mental toughness for a workshop I designed for ultrarunners, I stumbled upon a study the FBI conducted on the topic. The takeaway I was left with was the impact of relaxation and visualization on high level performance. Prior to beginning training again, try to reconnect with the playful spirit within that led to your outdoor passion in the first place. Each morning I visualize myself at the high point of my mountain running career (so far) to tether to the sense of freedom and power that it gave me. Every time I envision it, I am reminded of how possible it is to work hard and realize dreams never imagined before. One step started my journey to that dream, so I remember that beginning again doesn’t need to be complex.
With one quick Google search, you could find a hundred articles on how to train for a 5K or how to condition, so I’m not going to waste time giving the blow by blow on how many minutes per week or how many miles per training session will lead to a solid running base. Instead I offer the doorways that always properly get me back to a consistent daily practice of training myself to reach my objectives. The three doorways are: Dress Rehearsal, Kenyan warm-up, and 10k for 10 days. I suggest anyone can use the first two safely, but the third is for experienced runners/hikers with an endurance resume.
Make training as easy as possible however you can in terms of getting geared up to go. Whether one’s sport requires a lot or gear (or not), one of the challenges of getting back out again is making sure gear is accessible and functionally appropriate for the season and training intensity. Alpaca is ever-present and appropriate, but I have to check gaiters, shoes, socks, hydration bottles, gloves, packs, and safety equipment. This Dress Rehearsal feels more like a party because I put music on and celebrate that I get to train again. I consider it a gift to be able to perform these endeavors of the spirit via our physical being. I don’t typically count this as a training day, but end up getting in mileage, which switches on the reward mechanism for me. The Dress Rehearsal at minimum becomes a chance to see which alpaca weight hoodie I need, and at best has turned into a 10-mile run.
Being a true endurance nerd, I enjoy reading about the methods of athletes all over the world. Becoming more efficient has been a goal of mine since I was a middle school track sprinter, and the Kenyan runners are known for efficient form and training. In my late 20s, I read about one warm-up method that I have adopted and refer to as the Kenyan warm-up. It has become what I use on all surfaces, including when I start on a trail that heads straight uphill, as most do. This method is simple. For eight minutes I run (or hike if the pitch is over 13 degrees) as slowly as I can possibly go and still be running/moving. I like to sing Janis Joplin’s “Me & Bobby McGee” to the wildlife as I do this, because if I’m not going slow enough there is no way I can belt the chorus. I only go as fast as my slowest part can go. This is a self-compassionate way to begin, because the first mile feels like trash to even the most elite athletes. Let the first mile, or around 8 minutes, be an easy oxygen rich meditation that feels ok versus an effort that is breathless and rushed. Warm-up is a doorway to an injury-free training session. The warm-up pace might feel so nice that it is kept for each early session, and that is a wonderful way to be certain of not over-reaching early in training.
10k for 10 days
For advanced athletes with a past in high-mileage training, try running a 10K per day for 10 days in zone 1. I had this challenge put to me once, and I failed miserably the first time. I used heart rate technology as a guide for training zones, and was on the short road to overtraining until I did this “zone 1” challenge. I discovered that I wasn’t running as easy as needed on easy days and was cheating myself out of recovery. Ten days of running in zone 1 (the pace you could run/hike forever without feeling winded) always solidly propels me into a training discipline groove for chasing down my biggest objective. This doorway is best used after a short break when time is a concern, and I recommend getting clearance from a sports medical professional first.
Now go experiment with these tips and enjoy your training! Feel free to pick my brain if you have challenges. I love helping people keep moving, take the best care of themselves, set new objectives, and get out into natural spaces where we belong. Thanks for following me, and thank you for inspiring me!
*Please note that I am not a medical professional or certified coach, but am a former collegiate athlete, experienced all-terrain athlete, and licensed mental health counselor.