Three-time XTERRA Trail Run World Champ Joe Gray will be trading in his lugs for a pair of racing flats next weekend as he takes on the 122nd Boston Marathon. The 2016 World Mountain Running Champ will be gunning for an Olympic Trials qualifying time before he jumps back onto the trails to get ready for the 2018 World Mountain Running Championship and the 2018 XTERRA Trail Run World Championship. We recently caught up with Gray to talk about the state of distance running in the US, how to transition from roads to trails, and why he owns so many pairs of shoes.
Q. Many road runners are afraid they will get injured if they run off-road. What’s your advice to someone who wants to transition from the roads to the trails?
A. You can get injured on both roads and trails. Both have risks. The main tip I preach is not to go into trail running with the attitude that you are an expert on day one. The best way to avoid injury is to stay inside your comfort zone and enjoy the experience. If you are smart and progress to more and more technical trails then you will reap the benefits of the adventure and utilize and stimulate new muscles in a unique way that will make you stronger, more efficient, and faster.
Q. How do you balance training for trail races and road races?
A. All year I spend time on both roads and trails. I enjoy mixing things up - it may not be the best way to prepare specifically for one versus another but I feel if you enjoy the training that you will benefit more in the long term.
Q. What are the key differences between training on trails compared to roads?
A. Most of the differences have to do with time and pace. Trails are typically slower due to terrain challenges and undulation. The biggest benefit one could give him or herself is learning how to train by effort rather than time to avoid faltering and running inefficiently in the late stages of tough trail races. Time is important on the roads, but effort is everything on the trails.
Q. How do you shift your mindset from training with a watch to training by effort?
A. It just takes time and patience and willingness. You need to spend hours on the trails learning your limits and then testing them to determine what effort is needed to succeed and win. This also depends on the type of course you will be running on. The beauty of the trails is that you don’t need technology. You get to run on heart and enjoy the process.
Q. What is the state of men’s mountain and trail running in the US right now?
A. I think we are on a rise. There are many great opportunities to run fast across the globe. Athletes are traveling to chase times so competition is improving by a large scale. We are getting many different types of athletes coming from various backgrounds into the sport of trail and mountain as well, which bodes well for the diversity and future of the sport.
As far as the USA team, as of now I'm charted to represent Team USA at the NACAC Championships/USATF Mountain Running Championships on July 8th at Loon Mountain and I can say we have a strong team! I have the record for most wins and consecutive wins of the NACAC Championships and many of my teammates have experience racing globally so overall, if we don't come away with Team Gold or Silver, I'd say we had a bad day. I’m excited to be running with athletes like Mike Popejoy, Joe Simmons, and XTERRA veteran, Andy Wacker.
Q. What do you look for in a trail running shoe?
A. It seriously depends on the course I’m running on. I think every trail runner should have four to five different shoes for training and the same number for racing as courses can vary greatly. Some courses are muddy, some are rocky, and each type necessitates a different type of shoe. Some courses may even mix between mud and rock like the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship course at Kualoa Ranch, where you need a hybrid type shoe that has great traction for slick mud and protection on the forefoot for sharp stones. Once I see a course, then I decide on the shoe.
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