The best trail runners always make it look effortless. Long, graceful strides, relaxed shoulders, and a quiet center can make the most difficult courses look like a piece of cake. That’s why it’s so great to talk to down to earth XTERRA trail runners like Patrick Stover, who can keep it real.
“I love my downhills,” admits Stover. “That’s where I like to open up and gain time. The uphills? I’m trying to work on that.”
Like many of us, Stover balances a full-time job, an active social life, and training. Currently, he works a 2 – 10pm shift at the Four Seasons Hotel on the Big Island of Hawaii and trains 70-80 miles a week. After work, he heads home and wakes up at 7:30.
“I have coffee and head out on my run.”
Walk if you must
At the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship half-marathon Stover placed seventh overall in 1:32:40. With such a fast time, it might be surprising that he walked some of the course.
“The first 10K, I felt really good. I could tell I was running too hard, but I didn’t want to slow down,” said Stover. “I decided I would just keep going until I couldn’t hang in any longer.”
That point came at mile eight as he was heading up the hill.
“Going up the hill, it just caught up with me,” said Stover, “And I thought, you know what, I’m not even going to attempt to run up that. I’m just going to powerwalk up.”
Stover explained that sometimes, running up a steep hill can be counterproductive because we hunch over and tense up. When that happens, it’s better to relax, open the chest, and power walk with a relaxed and open arm swing. As a result, breathing will be easier, more oxygen will get to the muscles, and a relaxed cadence will allow muscles to recover and will help you conserve energy.
“It’s normal to try to run the whole race,” explained Stover, “But sometimes you can get up a hill even faster if you are relaxed and walking strong.”
Hands on thighs
“The other thing I learned is to put hands on thighs to conserve energy and power up,” said Stover.
Stover credits these tips to spending time with endurance athletes who taught him to place his hands on his thighs as he makes the steep climbs. This technique is borrowed from mountain runners and climbers who walk with poles to create efficiency. In the absence of poles, placing your hands on your thighs pushes down on these muscles and gives you extra power to push down into the ground and propel forward. If you can lean your upper body forward as well, you can get even more oxygen into your lungs.
Stover often trains with XTERRA trail runner Bree Wee.
“I learned from Bree that sometimes you just have to go for it,” said Stover. “To be honest, I like to go slow and steady and take my time, but sometimes you just have to push it, get your arms pumping, and move. You can’t race and be comfortable.”
While it’s important to conserve energy in a longer race like an XTERRA 21K, Stover says that it’s equally important to test yourself and run efficiently when you can. This means to land on your forefoot, keep your shoulders low and relaxed, look up, and imagine that someone is propelling you upward from your low back. This combination of being quick and relaxed can help you gain speed without sacrificing efficiency.
Proper form and efficiency is always important in a race, but Stover also reminds us that the best way to run fast is to run happy.
“The best thing about any race is that it’s a new adventure. While I want to run smart and run fast, my whole focus is always to enjoy it. It’s always beautiful out on the trails.”