I’m a cyclist. I ride my bike. On the road or on the dirt, it’s what I do; it’s who I am. It’s about 80% of my identity (the other 20% is the making and consumption of guacamole).
Oh sure. I’ve tried other sports. Like, racquetball. Or roller blading. Or pole vaulting. Or competitive eating. (Yes, really, for three out of four of these.)
Or, when absolutely necessary, I’ve run. And by “necessary,” I mean “when training for a triathlon I’ve somehow been hoodwinked into registering for” or “when trying to impress a girl.”
Well, The Hammer knows me too well (now) to be impressed by my efforts at keeping up, so I must be training for a triathlon. Or two. Or possibly three. (I blame The Hammer for this; she’s taking the “Athlete Ambassador for WBR” thing pretty darned seriously.)
And so I’ve been trying to run. And expecting to — as usual — deeply resent every moment of it.
But a weird thing has happened. I’m…enjoying running. On trails, at least.
And I think I know why.
Meet the Altra Olympus
I’ve been a fan of Altra footwear for a couple years. Their big wide toe box and zero-drop foot profile just feels right on my feet in a way that no other shoe ever has.
And so I’ve collected a few pair:
From top left: Altra Three-Sum, Altra Instinct, Altra Olympus, Altra Lone Peak, Altra Instinct Everyday
But while these shoes fit great, they haven’t really changed my life or anything…well, except maybe the Everydays — which are my absolute favorite shoes for whenever I’m forced to wear pants.
But what makes them really different is the massive amount of cushioning the shoe has, while still being really light.
Now, I like these plenty just for the fact that they make me about 1.5” taller — when you’re 5’7”, that makes an important difference.
But all that cushioning serves an incredible purpose — it softens the pounding I take when running. And not by just a little bit, either. Running on these is like running with a pair of pillows strapped to your feet (but much less awkward).
In practical terms, the first time I ran with these, I noticed that when I hit the three-mile mark in the trail run — which is where I usually start hurting and just wish I could quit — I still felt fine. And so I told The Hammer that I’d stay with her for another mile or so.
I wound up running on trail six miles that day. And, extremely importantly, the next day I wasn’t completely disabled. My ankles were OK. My knees were OK. My hips were OK.
A few days later, we went running again. It was raining out, so we went on the road this time. My plan was to stay with The Hammer for the first four miles of the run, then head home while she did another four.
Instead, I ran with her for the whole eight miles. And again, was OK the next day.
Since then, I’ve gone out running with The Hammer a couple times a week — mostly trail, because I don’t think I’ll ever really enjoy running on the road — and I’m fine.
In fact, I’m better than fine. I’m great. As it turns out, I like trail running. It’s like mountain biking for when you don’t have enough time for a ride (an hour of mountain biking is hardly enough time to get warmed up; an hour of trail running is a good solid workout).
And I have to give most of the credit to the Altra Olympus. It’s been like going from a fully-rigid mountain bike to full suspension. For me, it’s made all the difference in the world; for the first time since we met, I’m able to go out with The Hammer and enjoy participating in one of the sports she loves.
I kid you not: I love these shoes. Love love love them.
So a couple of days ago, I went out running with Heath Thurston of Altra, and asked him about these magical, magical shoes. Watch this very professionally-made video yourself, then gather your family around and watch it again.
That was a masterpiece, as I think you’ll agree.
A Foolish Plan
As I ran with The Hammer, successfully — and even happily — completing trail runs of eight or more miles, I began to wonder: what if I signed up for a race? Not a marathon. Nooooo. And not even a regular half-marathon. But how about a trail half-marathon?
As it turns out, there’s one coming up, and it’s close to where I live:
Even better, the trails are familiar to me — they’re the same trails I learned to mountain bike on twentyish years ago.
I started researching the race and found that the course record is held by Vic Johnson (1:39:37.7), who was my relay teammate in the Utah Half last year:
Vic’s the one in the middle.
Obviously, I wouldn’t be going after that time. I’d be looking more to complete than compete. Still, I liked the idea. Which felt weird: me, liking the idea of doing a running race.
I brought the idea up to The Hammer. “You want to run a half-marathon?” she asked, not even bothering to try to conceal her incredulity.
“Well, I’m liking the whole trail running thing,” I said, also not bothering to conceal the incredulity in my voice.
“It is a week after the Ogden Marathon,” The Hammer mused, “So I’ll be in as good of running shape as I’m going to be for the season.”
And the very next day, she went and pre-ran the course, just to see what it was like.
The race course starts at the green dot and then goes around in a counterclockwise figure 8.
“I love it,” The Hammer said. And so the next day, she took me out to pre-run the course with her, during which each of the following happened, in this order:
- We stopped and talked with Survivor champion Tyson Apostol.
- I punched a mountain biker in the kidneys as he went by. He stopped and turned around — really mad — and then recognized that I’m a famous and beloved blogger, at which point he had to pretend my prank was funny.
- We saw two bighorn sheep, just twenty feet or so from the trail:
And, more importantly than any of this: I survived. In fact, we did it in 2:36:45. Which may not sound too impressive, until you take the elevation profile into account:
That’s 2223 feet of climbing.
Oh, Let’s Do That Again
So I started talking with The Swimmer about this race, trying to persuade her that she should try doing it too. And so last Saturday, while The Hammer was out running the Ogden Marathon, The Swimmer and I went and pre-ran the Timp Trail half marathon course together.
Here’s a selfie of us at mile 10. We’re smiling because we know it’s pretty much all downhill from where we were:
And here’s The Swimmer at the iconic “Pile of Rocks” in the meadow on the Frank trail network. From there, it’s just two miles to go.
We finished just about the same time The Hammer finished her marathon in Ogden, where she took third in her age group with a 3:30:
So yeah. Next week, the three of us are going to do a trail half marathon together.
Well, maybe not together. Because The Hammer’s still trying to decide whether to do the full marathon or the half. And I expect to go out hard and then bonk and have everyone laugh at me as they run by.
But here’s the thing: until I got these shoes — the Altra Olympus — I would never ever have considered doing this kind of event, much less been the instigator.
I’m still a cyclist. That’s my thing, and it always will be.
These shoes have, no joke, completely changed my outlook on trail running. And it’s nice to have a second sport. Especially one I can do when I don’t have a lot of time (which happens a lot right now), the gear for which fits into a carry-on bag.