Champion Runner Shares Trail Knowledge, Advice

Bryon Powell and Meghan Hicks running a trail in Moab, Utah. Credit Kirsten Kortebein

Bryon Powell and Meghan Hicks running a trail in Moab, Utah. Credit Kirsten
Kortebein


Meghan Hicks has been a runner since she was 14, focusing on road races early on. At the same time, Hicks credits her parents for taking her to “wild places” and her brother for playing with her endlessly in the woods when they were younger.

About 10 years ago, she combined her loves of running and the outdoors by exploring the sport of trail running. In 2013, she won the Marathon des Sables in Morocco, the world’s oldest and largest expedition trail-running race.

Now, as Hicks prepares to run the Hardrock 100 trail race, she and partner Bryon Powell have put their love of the outdoors, trail knowledge and passion for the sport into a 226-page book, “Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running.”

Champion runner shares trail knowledge, advice

Where-the-Road-Ends
The book is a readable resource guide, broken down by various topics. It is written in such a way that it will suit beginners through intermediate trail runners with progressively more technical information for advanced runners. Hicks and Powell address everything from gear to nutrition to safety and much more.

Hicks, who is also the senior editor at irunfar.com, provided me a copy of the book, which I read (almost all of it) before we talked about her background, the book and more. Here are excerpts from the interview:

Question: Take me back to the beginning. How did the concept for this book start?

Answer: It all started with the publisher (Human Kinetics). I got an email one day from someone at the publisher who said, “I read your column at the magazine (Marathon and Beyond, which has since folded) all the time. And we’re interested in publishing our first trail-running book. We’d be interested in talking with you about authorship.” The publisher gave us the idea of having it be a fun, how-to guidebook but let us have free reign in terms of creating the content for it.

Question: What did you personally want to accomplish with the book?


Answer: That’s a really great question. Nobody has asked that yet. I find myself most inspired by being on trails. I get a reputation for being a person who wants to be in big, wild landscapes. Trail running is a means to the end of just moving your body. I really like to run wherever. But when I am on trails it’s the natural setting that I am surrounded by and inspired by, and I guess the biggest inspiration is to be the conveyor for other people to have that experience.

Question: Who is the intended audience, and why did you focus on that group?


Answer: The intended audience is a pretty big spectrum. Beginner trail runners and intermediate trail runners. People who are road runners and want to come over to trail running. People who were doing other sports — like mountain biking, backpacking — and wanted to try trail running. People who have athletic backgrounds and want to try trail running. Trail runners and ultra runners who already have some experience but want to diversify. Those are all the people we wrote the book for. We formatted each topic with the basics so that someone who doesn’t have experience can feel comfortable, then as the chapters go on and the book goes on, someone with intermediate experience can go to a topic that they want to learn more about can get more in-depth information.

Question: Was it difficult to write to such a broad audience?


Answer: It was a fair challenge to write it that way. It was intended to be read either front-to-back, or for the person who could pick it up and open to a section they are interested in and read that section without feeling like they were missing out.

Question: Tell me about how you developed your love of running on trails.


Answer: I ran and played tennis in high school. In college, I followed tennis because I was better at that sport. After that, I started working in a national park in Texas called Big Bend National Park. I was raised spending quite a bit of time outdoors, backpacking and hiking, so it was easy for me to enjoy Big Bend. Actually, I had no idea that the sport of trail running existed when I lived down there. On my days off from work, I would go hiking with my friends during the day and then put on my running clothes and go for a road run at night. I had a friend there who asked me if I wanted to join her for a run on trails. It seemed pretty peculiar at first. But after I started, I was hooked. Why, wasn’t I doing this before? After that, I moved to and worked at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. And there’s a fairly robust trail running community up there and I got connected to them. I did a couple of trail races and the rest is history. It’s a slippery slope (laughs).


Question: So if there are road runners but they aren’t sure whether they want to take on trails, what would you say to them?


Answer: If they haven’t tried but they want to, just give it a shot. There are all kinds of trail races out there. You can try a trail race that is known as being burly, or technical, or steep, or long. There also are trail races that take place at neighborhood parks or trails. Or a state park that may be just outside your city. Those races won’t be the hardest or the longest. There is a full spectrum of trail races. I would recommend someone give it a shot. Running is running. You can do it on a trail, too.

Question: I have one minor quibble in the book – the part where it says road shoes can handle trails. One of my first trail races occurred after a rainy overnight. I was slipping and sliding all over the place. Talk to me a little bit about that part of the book and your advice.


Answer: In some muddy or snowy conditions you encounter in trail running, there are no shoes that are going to help you. Even the best-loved shoes that are made for mud might get the lugs stuck with mud in some conditions. I’m not sure the conditions of your race, but there are conditions that no shoe will do well in. I guess the point of us writing that section was to not discourage people from trail running based on access to gear. That’s one of the more beautiful things I find about our sport. You don’t need a back seat or trunk full of gear or put thousands of dollars into it like bicycling or triathlon. You can literally put on a pair of shoes that you garden in and go for a run.

Question: Even though the book is really comprehensive, there must be something that – on second glance – you wish that was included or highlighted more. What would that be?


Answer: That’s a great question. The introduction to the book is a first-person narrative of an experience that I had with a friend in Colorado a couple of years ago. Taking trail running to that ground level, the most basic level, how it looks and feels to be a trail runner is the easiest way to tell someone about trail running. The book is technical and instructional. If I had my druthers, I would include more stories on the feeling of trail running, not necessarily by me but maybe another trail runner. That said the publisher, Human Kinetics, is renowned for their more mechanical and science-based approaches to sport.

Question: What races are on your bucket list?

Answer: I am about to run Hardrock 100 in Colorado. Full disclosure: I have done it before, last year. But they alternate the course direction every year. The Hardrock 100 is a dream course for me because it goes through a beautiful mountain range in Colorado called the San Juan Mountains. Being able to say that I am a finisher of both directions is a big dream of mine. It’s a difficult race, not everyone who starts finishes it. I just got back from the Western States 100. That’s an iconic race and has historical value as our first 100-mile trail race in America. I’ve been working at that race for eight years, and someday I would like to run it myself. Another race is in Montana. It’s called the Bridger Ridge Run, it’s a 20-mile run of a mountain range north of Bozeman. It’s an incredibly aesthetic line. The atmosphere of the race is incredible. The feel of it is at the core of what trail running is about.


Question: Do you have plans for other running or fitness related books?


Answer: None! I have no plans.

Question: Where can people purchase a copy?

Answer: Thanks for asking. IRunFar is the website that Bryon and I operate. You can find out more about the book and purchase it there. You can also find it at the bigger book stores like Barnes & Noble and the smaller book stores, too. And of course, Amazon.

Question: Anything that I didn’t ask that you would like to address?

Answer: Trail running is a sport for anybody. It has a reputation — from the things you read online about ultras — for being gnarly. Like for instance, three Hardrocks ago the story that went through mainstream sources was the runner who was struck by lightning during the race. What it gets out there are the most extreme, crazy parts of our sport. But that should not scare off the people who want to try trail running in more benign conditions. Trail running is anything off pavement. Like your local high school cross-country course — that’s trail running. Any neighborhood parks, or single-track trails that go off the bike path — that’s trail running. Everything from that to standing on a beautiful mountain pass in Montana. Many people will be drawn to the difficult challenges but others should know that there are a full spectrum of opportunities in the sport.

Speed drill

  • Name: Meghan Hicks
    Hometown: I was born in Seneca Falls, New York, but call Moab, Utah home now.
  • Number of years running: Since age 14, so 23 years.
  • How many miles a week do you typically run: I’d say a year’s weekly average is about 50 miles per week. When working really hard onsite at a race for iRunFar, sometimes it’s only 10 miles per week. When training hard for a long ultra, it’s 90 to 100 miles per week.
  • Point of pride: When someone contacts me to say that, in some way, I inspired them to trail run and enjoy time outside.
  • Favorite race distance: Ooh, that’s a tough one! Among the longer distances, I’d say 50k because it’s long enough that you feel like you’ve earned putting your feet up and relaxing afterward but it’s short enough that you only need a few days recovery. Among shorter distances, I’d say a half marathon. Half-marathon pace is a pace my body seems to enjoy.
  • Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Nothing special before a regular run — except water! If I’m heading out for a long run in the morning, I try to eat eggs and toast or eggs and potatoes about an hour before.
  • Favorite or inspirational song to run to: I rarely listen to music when I run.  
  • Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: I cycle through them the little mantras I repeat to myself on long and difficult training runs and races, but they all seem to have a similar theme of calmness. The one I am using with my Hardrock 100 Mile training, in preparation for the race in two weeks, is “gentle flow.” I’m trying to channel quiet, gentle footfalls on the steep downhills and going uphill at an efforted but still peaceful pace. I’m aiming for physical and mental efficiency and ease, and trying to use that mantra to do that.
  • Where can other runners connect or follow you: Professionally, I’m at iRunFar.com, @iRunFar on Twitter, and https://www.facebook.com/iRunFar/ on Facebook. Personally, you can find me at MeghanMHicks.com, @MeghanHicks on Twitter, and @MeghanMHicks on Instagram.
Meghan M. Hicks in Moab - Credit Bryon Powell

Meghan M. Hicks in Moab – Credit Bryon Powell

One Response to Champion Runner Shares Trail Knowledge, Advice

  1. Trevor Spencer July 10, 2016 at 7:56 pm #

    Thanks for the story. iRunFar is a top notch website for all things ultramarathon!

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