David Roche—co-author (along with his wife, Megan, a physician) of 2018’s The Happy Runner: Love the Process, Get Faster, Run Longer—on how to achieve the physical and mental state of flow (or transcendence, if you want to get philosophical about things).

Prepare the Temple:
The physical impact of running can be substantial, so ready yourself for the rigors of the trail. Start with short off-road runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays (10 to 15 minutes); stretch to longer outings on Saturdays and Sundays; and rest on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Perform Rituals:
Runners’ bodies are machines that must be maintained. Employ a foam roller (the firmest you can find) on your legs and lower back for 10 minutes once you get home from a run. For strength training, Roche recommends his Three-Minute Mountain Legs routine two to four times a week: 20 to 50 single-leg rear lunges followed by 30 to 100 single-leg step-ups.

Go to the Mountaintop:
After three to four weeks of consistent running, it’s time for hill strides. Simply run an incline at a fast clip for 10 to 30 seconds and then run easily (or walk) for a minute or two. The training technique prevents your progress from stagnating and, as you conquer more and more workouts, convinces your brain that you—yes, you—are a boss runner.

Achieve Nirvana:
Roche describes flow as “when your normal level of consciousness isn’t the one driving your actions. It requires lots of effort at first, then none at all, and it’s definitely the pot of gold waiting at the end of the rainbow for any runner, not just professionals.” This byproduct of proper training sounds difficult—even unobtainable—but trust us: You’ll know it when you feel it.

Failure Is an Option

Zoë Rom—Carbondale ultrarunner and the host of Trail Runner magazine’s DNF (race parlance for “did not finish”) podcast, in which interview confessionals teach listeners how to learn from letdowns—on facing failure.

“I ran the Leadville Trail 100 and DNFed at mile 86. It was not a cute DNF. I was struggling to maintain consciousness. It had been a struggle to eat. I was hypothermic. I was just sitting, struggling to cry, on the side of the trail, watching like 100 people run past me while I was waiting for search and rescue. It stings because you’re embarrassed.

I really thought that by finishing a 100-mile race, I would finally see myself as a trail runner or an ultrarunner and I would be welcomed into some amazing club. Finally, my value as an athlete would be apparent and obvious. It became super clear that that was not going to happen.

What’s so weird is that it was definitely one of the best days of my life. I was surrounded by friends and family, some who came out from Arkansas. After I got pulled out of an ambulance and cleared to go home, we all got pizza for breakfast. I’ve never felt so loved. It hit home for me that the reason people are there for you isn’t because you’re a runner or because you’re good at something or because of some exterior result. People love you because you’re worthy of love. It just sucks that I had to freeze my butt off at 10,000 feet to figure it out.”

Why They Run

“I like to run because I can and because running is hard. It’s taught me that I really can overcome some of the hardest obstacles of my life. As a mom, as a woman, as a wife, I can get through anything.” Lindsley Kump, founder of Womxn Who Move, a Colorado-based Instagram community

“With the onslaught of technological advances and our shortening attention spans, running is the one part of my day I can always rely on as being restorative, rejuvenating, meditative, and, a lot of times, social. It makes me feel alive.”
Clare Gallagher, Boulder-based pro and winner of the 2016 Leadville Trail 100 Run and 2019 Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run

“I love to explore. Running is the perfect sport for that. I can see a peak off in the distance and my feet can get me there. I’m able to live out my dreams of finding out where trails go and let my curiosity lead the adventure.” Joseph Gray, Colorado Springs–based pro, World Trail Running Championships winner, and founder of Project Inspire Diversity, which provides gear to young runners of color

“My ‘why I run’ has changed through different periods of my life. In my 20s, it was about what my body was capable of. That need and drive to find out my limits isn’t the same. At this point, it’s about the curiosity of what’s out there and making it a social activity.” Gina Lucrezi, founder of Colorado-based Trail Sisters, an online and in-person community that will host the inaugural Trail Sisters Women’s Trail Half Marathon in Buena Vista on September 11

Sarah Banks
Sarah Banks
Sarah produces, photographs and researches the photography in the print edition of 5280. In addition, she photographs and writes for 5280.com.
Spencer Campbell
Spencer Campbell
Spencer Campbell writes features and edits service packages.