Find inspiration in pushing your limits outside of racing, chasing FKTs or other mountain objectives...
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For many runners, having a race on the horizon is a major motivator to get (and stay) in running shape. Whether you’ve signed up for a 5k, a half marathon, or your first ultra, it’s an incentive to get out the door on a cold or wet day, or push yourself up that next climb. But it’s not always realistic to have a race on the calendar. Time, money, injury, burnout—all kinds of real-life factors come into play, and sometimes runners need to find other ways to push their limits.
Fortunately, this phenomenon is fairly universal among runners. Here's what La Sportiva athletes Kelly Halpin, Anton Krupicka, and Leor Pantilat had to say on how they stay at the top of their game, even when they’re not racing.
Odds are, when you’re on a training schedule, you’re running some of the same few runs every week. But it can be really positive for your mental game to mix it up and explore new trails, whether they’re in your backyard or somewhere totally new.
Kelly Halpin running in the Tetons, Wy. Photo: Fred Marmsater
"I live next to Grand Teton National Park," says climber and runner Kelly Halpin, who has a slew of top ten race finishes under her belt, “[it’s] the perfect training ground for both races and adventure runs. There is hardly ever reason NOT to go out and run during the short summer season.”
For two-time Leadville 100 winner Anton Krupicka, simply moving through the mountains is the motivation he needs. "I love the movement, I love the refinement of skills and processes, I love building fitness," explains the Boulder-based athlete. “In nearly any form, this simple act—be it running, climbing, skiing, or biking—has always been intrinsically motivating for me.”
A race looming on the horizon isn’t the only way to get yourself out of bed in the morning. "I’m a new breed of mountain runner!" says Bay Area attorney Leor Pantilat, who holds several course records and is hard at work cataloguing waterfalls as part of his Big Sur Waterfall Project. “My last race was several years ago and now I focus on FKT (fastest known time) attempts and adventures ranging from waterfall discoveries to high alpine link-ups in the Sierra Nevada.”
Leor Pantilat Running in the Sierra Nevada. Photo: Leor Pantilat
Halpin agrees, and in fact, flips the racing-as-motivation idea on its head. "I actually approach racing with the idea that the races are training ground for adventure runs, not the other way around," she explains. “At the end of the day, my heart is in exploring wild and remote places.”
Setting non-organized races, FKT attempt or not, can be just as motivating as signing up for a race. If you’re someone who thrives when there’s a tangible goal at the end of a training cycle, break out some maps and see what piques your interest. What about hiking or running to the 10 highest points within 50 miles of your house, or planning a multi-sport objective, like approaching by bike, then running to the summit of a high point in your area?
Halpin is a master at planning big, creative trips to stay at the top of her game. In 2017, she ran the 80-plus mile, mostly off-trail Wind River High Route with Ryan Burke. The route includes more than 20,000 feet of vertical gain, which meant carrying super-light packs, minimal bivy gear, and enough food for three or four days. The finished in 63 hours, and this year, she’s training for several similar mountain traverses.
Leor pausing to take in the views en route to the summit of Mt. Harrington. Photo: Joey Cassidy
Pantilat, too, has been mixing it up to keep things interesting. In addition to his waterfall project, he’s set records on long-distance traverses like the John Muir Trail and the Sierra High Route.
A few summers ago, Halpin and Burke did an extended version of "The Picnic," a mountain triathlon that’s a twist on the traditional event: three miles of swimming, 60 miles of biking, and a climb of the Grand Teton. She and Burke had already done The Picnic, so they tacked on the Middle and South Tetons to make it more challenging.
"To prep for the long day, I did a lot of weighted running, swimming, and, of course, a few runs up and down some of the peaks," Halpin recalls, pointing out that the toughest part of that outing was not getting overwhelmed by all the challenges that lay ahead. “Ryan and I finished what we named the Triple Teton Triathlon in 20 hours and had a blast the entire time,” she says.
Anton Krupicka running in the Tetons, WY. Photo: Fred Marmsater
Krupicka diversifies his physical activity based on the season, incorporating biking, climbing, and skiing into his routine. He regularly takes on long bike tours, including a bikepacking trip in 2017 from his apartment in Boulder to his childhood home in Nebraska. He rode 1,100 miles in a week. "I fell in love with riding my bike at a steady pace all day in a self-sufficient manner," he says of that trip, “It definitely opened my eyes to a lot of other potential goals on the bike.” In addition to biking, he uses skiing as a means to accomplish long multi-peak link-ups and ended this year's season with a 28-hour attempt at traversing Colorado's Gore Range.
In running, as in most other aspects of life, things don’t always go as planned. If you’re able to be flexible and learn something from failed endeavors, though, they aren’t really failures.
In 2017, Krupicka planned to scout both the Teton Grand Traverse and the Cirque of the Towers Traverse, each in a single push. "I failed at both," he says. “I guess the takeaway was that you don’t always accomplish your goals.” His big bike trip came later that season, so it’s certainly not a matter of failing altogether.
For Halpin, it’s about the journey. "The stronger I train, the farther my legs will carry me," she says. Pantilat is in the same boat and has even steered clear of racing the last few years. These days, he says, he stays motivated “by following my heart and doing the types of adventures I want to do.”
Preview Photo: © Fred Marmsater