By Sophie Speidel
A Trail Runner’s Companion Review
Back in January, our local trail running store, Crozet Running, partnered with the Charlottesville Area Trail Runners to provide a 16-week 50K training program for first time ultrarunners. CR’s John Andersen designed the training plan, and we kicked off the training cycle with over 50 folks crammed into Crozet Running on a cold winter evening to hear about the weekly runs and the monthly speakers planned for the upcoming months. As one of the program organizers, I brought along a few “must have” books to share with the group: Run Fast, Eat Slow by Shalane Flanagan and Elise Kopecky; Hit Reset: Yoga For Athletes by Erin Taylor; and Running Your First Ultra by Krissy Moehl. All three books have provided me with fantastic, sensible and delicious recipes, helpful yoga poses for strength and recovery, and new workouts to keep my training interesting. And, the fact that four strong, positive female role models wrote them is a huge plus!
And now another dynamic female role model has written a new trail running resource that I am adding to my list of “must-have’s:” A Trail Runner’s Companion, written by Sarah Lavender Smith, a coach and ultrarunner. The attention to detail, along with beautiful photos and an easy-to-read format, reminds me of running all day in the mountains with your BFFs and sharing valuable trail experiences gleaned over time, trial, and error.
Sarah, a writer for Trail Runner Magazine and a frequent cohost on UltraRunnerPodcast.com, has managed to cover everything and anything having to do with trail and ultra running in an accessible format: training strategies reflecting best practices, race day planning, gear selection, fueling and hydration, upcoming goal races, and helpful strength workouts. How is it different from other trail running books that I’ve read? Sarah also includes the intangibles of our trail running culture — how training for and finishing a 50k can enhance a growth mindset, so one can be more agile in dealing with conflict and adversity in work and relationships; a deeper look at the inclusive culture of trail running that encourages service and trail stewardship; and (my favorite), how to avoid being “That Person”– a list of etiquette Do’s and Don’ts and a few unwritten rules of the trail.
Each chapter in A Trail Runner’s Companion starts with a personal story and an objective which gives it a focus and a lesson. The chapter on trail safety particularly hit home with me as an adventurous mom who often doesn’t tell my family where I’m running (but will now!). Sarah writes about the time she and her husband were running in Argentina while traveling with their young children. Mistakes were made, lessons were learned, and Sarah debriefs the experience in a way that is no-nonsense, honest, and sensible.
Likewise, the chapter on choosing races and planning a race season gives the reader an outline of a typical 70-mile week of training, along with plenty of caveats. Sarah is not a believer in “cookie cutter” training plans, so she provides a broad-brush philosophy sprinkled with specific workouts that folks can adapt to their fitness and lifestyle.
This past March, I had the opportunity to run in the Marin Headlands with Sarah and her pal Clare Abram. The hours flew by as we talked about our families, kids, the ultra scene, training, and upcoming race plans while running in a spectacular setting…basically we were living the Trail Sisters Instagram dream! That day in Marin, with its comfortable banter, storytelling, extreme weather (including snow flurries and hail!) and the sharing of years of experiences between us, is what Sarah captures so well throughout A Trail Runner’s Companion. I wish the book had been available for our 50K training program runners as they prepped for the unbearably hot Promise Land 50K in April– the section on dealing with heat would have been required reading, along with everything else. You can bet it will be going forward!
Her many years of running, racing, and coaching clearly inform this comprehensive and impressive labor of love. The detailed checklists are logical and helpful, and the depth of research is impressive. Trail runners of all abilities and experience will want it not only as a go-to resource, but also for a glimpse into the life and experiences of a gifted runner, coach, and chronicler of our sport.