Preparing for the XTERRA Trail Run Nationals - Q&A with Sarah Breevoort
Sarah Breevoort has experienced previous success at an XTERRA Trail Run - she won the XTERRA Richmond Trail Run 21K race in 2011. Now, she wants to test her skills out west on a national scale.
Breevoort will enter the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship for the first time this year. The prestigious race is scheduled for September 23 at the Snowbasin Resort near Ogden, Utah, and more than 500 runners from around the country are expected to enter.
Fortunately for Breevoort, she has a boyfriend who resides in Utah. During a recent trip to visit him this summer, Breevoort had a chance to practice on the race course for the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship.
She recently took some time to answer some questions about her experience for XTERRA Trail Mix.
Q: What was the weather like on the day you ran the course?
Sarah: Hit the trail around 10 am. The weather was absolutely gorgeous - probably mid 70s and not a cloud in the sky. From where we parked to start the run, it was a clear view of the sweeping pine forests and rolling mountains that surround Snowbasin Resort - a truly amazing place. Very beautiful and pristine - quite a treat for those not accustomed to the grandeur of the West!
Q: What were your first impressions of the course?
Sarah: First, the drive up to Snowbasin was absolutely beautiful. What a great way to build the suspense and anticipation of the trails! You're winding up the mountains, and you can look out for miles and see snow-capped peaks and rolling pine forests. As we climbed up towards the resort, the anticipation of the trails that would take me deeper into that beautiful wilderness just made me giddy with anticipation.
The start of the course was a nice surprise - a rather steep climb on fire road towards the wooded trails. I thought that was a challenging way to start the race, but I understand that it will be a good way to thin out the field before hitting the rather technical and rocky single track that winds through the woods for the first five to six miles. This section is beautiful and a lot of fun - wooded trails that roll along without much significant climbing. You can really build up some speed here. The trail opens up in sections and offers sweeping vistas of the mountains as you skirt the edge of the mountain. This was by far my favorite section - not too technical, amazing views, fast and soft wooded trails.
On this section it's easy to get carried away - either going too fast or getting lost in the views of blue skies above you and rolling mountains below you. However, it would pay to be patient here and diligent - there are many rocky sections that will require careful attention and quick feet. Also, as we soon learned, it definitely pays to be patient for the first half of the race. The ease of this section is deceptive.
The real race begins once you've looped back to the resort. After descending towards the resort, you'll start climbing up a steep fire road that takes you to the start of the second loop of this course. Here you'll enter the forest and begin climbing up towards Needles Peak. This is where the course gets challenging. There is very little respite for your legs and your lungs as you begin the climb to the summit. Again, the course opens up and offers amazing views as you inch your way to the top. Near the summit it flattens out and offers a short rest as you weave your way through a field of wild flowers and prance over the rocky trail. Here the view is one of the best - a full panorama of Snowbasin from one of the highest points in the area.
My boyfriend and I stopped here to take pictures, it was so amazing. I would say that the view from that spot made the entire climb that preceded it worth it, and was the highlight of the course. From there it's a short push to the very top from which you immediately begin the steep descents.
Q: Much of the talk after last year's race was of the ups-and-downs of the course. What did you think of all the climbs and descents?
Sarah: Oh, I can believe that there was a lot of talk about the ups and downs! Except for perhaps a few miles within the first half of the course, very little of this race will be flat. However, I believe that most trail runners aren't opposed to a climb or two, and probably seek them out.
While there are a lot of ups and downs in this race (it starts with an uphill climb, after all!), I believe almost anyone who is comfortable running trails can do this course. The first half of the course is just the right amount of short ups and downs that allows you to pick up great speed and your momentum will easily carry you along these rollers. Running this section is a lot of fun and really the challenge will be to not get too carried away and to conserve your legs and your energy for the second half of the race.
The climb to Needles Peak is indeed challenging and will require a slow and steady effort. The altitude will also have an impact on those not acclimated. Yet, if you take your time and relax you can make your way to the top. Here is a great place to pick off other runners who might have gone out too fast in the first half of the race and now find themselves struggling on the climbs.
The descent from Needles Peak is challenging for two reasons. First, it's practically three miles of straight descent, which will really put some significant strain on your quads as you keep yourself from falling forward. Also, this might be a good race to invest in a pair of well-fitted trail shoes - you will be jamming your toes into the toebox of your shoes frequently here. Second, this section of trail is tight and weaves in and out of the forest and the many roots, rocks, and switchbacks here demands full attention to the trail and a good sense of body awareness to keep you upright.
Q: How did the altitude of Utah affect you, if at all?
Sarah: I believe the altitude had a little bit of an effect on me, especially on the Needles Peak section that climbs up to 7,300 feet. Here in Virginia, many of our trails are closer to 4000 feet, so that is a significant difference. I would be lying if I said I wasn't concerned about the altitude. However, I'm hoping that by having good fitness coming into the race and practicing a lot of hill climbs and descents here in Virginia that the altitude won't impact me as much.
It takes more than two weeks to acclimate to altitude, so unless you have generous vacation time (and I don't) you won't have the opportunity to get acclimated before the race. The best thing to do is to adequately train for the specific demands of this course (long climbs and descents, rocky and technical single track, short and steep fire roads) and to have a solid base of fitness. Another thing is to not arrive in Utah too soon before the race. Several days of running at altitude before the race will only lead to fatigue and negatively impact your race performance. If you want to have your best race the best thing you can do is to show up just two days before -- fit, well rested, and hydrated. You can always experience Utah by extending your trip after the race, not before.
Q: How did the travel from Virginia to Utah affect you, if at all?
Sarah: The travel from Virginia to Utah is not as bad as the reverse. I found the two-hour time change to be relatively negligible and did not experience any jet lag. The trick, at least for me, is to be rested before traveling and to adjust my meals and sleep schedule to the new time zone as soon as I arrive. I plan on arriving in Utah two days before the race, getting a good dinner and night's rest two nights before and spending the day before the race off my feet and hydrating well.
Q: What type of training advice would you recommend to other fellow runners traveling to Utah for this race?
Sarah: I believe that most people with access to trails can adequately prepare for this course. Below are my recommendations and what I'm doing in order to prepare for this race.
- Make at least half of your weekly mileage on trails - this is really the only way to gain body awareness and familiarity with navigating over rocky and rooty terrain. Also, trails keep you happy and help prevent injuries - why wouldn't you want to spend more time on them?
- Make your weekly long run on the trail. Running 21 kilometers on trail is definitely not the same thing as 21K on the road. Your body needs to be prepared for the special demands of being on the trail for more than two hours. Not only are you going to be on your feet longer than you would for a road 21K race, but you will be taxing different muscles as well. Another often overlooked aspect is the mental component. Unless you train up to it, your mind is not going to be ready to be so fully engaged for so long. The trail demands much more constant attention and awareness than the road - this will be fatiguing for those not used to running on the trail for at least 1.5 hours.
- Practice running long steady inclines and maintaining a constant effort. This will build strong legs, and teach you what this pace feels like that will allow you to reach the top with enough energy to get you back down.
- Practice descending - both short and long. Long descents will strength your quads and tendons so that your legs will be more ready for the challenges of this course on race day. Short descents will teach you how to run with fast feet and to correctly carry your weight over your feet so that you are moving smoothly downhill and not breaking your momentum or falling on your face.
- Above all else - just have fun out there! Racing on the trail is so different than racing on the road. Trails force a varied pace, offer more stimulation and enjoyment, and ask us to race more against ourselves and our competitors than against the clock. If this is your first time (or you are a relative newbie), just relax and soak in the experience of the trail and the community that supports trail running.
Sarah Breevoort is a member of the Ragged Mountain Racing Team, which is a post-collegiate elite development running team in Charlottesville, VA She also trains with the Charlottesville Area Trail Runners and is in the Medical Scientist Training Program at the University of Virginia. She won the XTERRA Richmond Trail Run 21K in 2011, and placed second in 2010 and 2009.