I don't typically opt to run a Thanksgiving race. Part of it is that my “season” usually ends around Thanksgiving and I take a one week break to recharge before slowly getting back to full mileage in preparation for spring. The other part comes from a logistical standpoint. I usually spend time driving to family events on Thanksgiving day, and on the Wednesday before I typically host a Thanksgiving party at my apartment where 25 people are crammed in eating too much food and drinking too much beer. This time around I got 4.5 hours of sleep.
This year I had other variables that made racing more challenging; I worked nearly 40 hours in the 3 days leading up to Thanksgiving and I have a whole group of athletes who are running races, so I was constantly texting/calling/emailing them. I have some business opportunities that I'm weighing as well. The truth is, these are all good “problems” to have. I love coaching, I really enjoy my job and I'm quite interested in business opportunities - they just all happened at the same time and that didn't create the ideal scenario for success in a race.
I decided to race anyway as chances to race before my peak race aren't as plentiful as other times of the year. The winter in the frigid Midwest can make quality races tough to come by. I don’t regret the decision, but it could have had some negative impacts on my performance.
I went out with the lead pack, which died off after the one mile mark on rocky and hilly terrain. The eventual winner and I came through the 2 mile mark at 12:02, seconds clear of anybody in a chase pack. We were also ahead of course record pace. Midway through mile three, the slowest mile for most runners in this race, the eventual winner dropped me quite easily. I also slipped and fell on a wooden bridge on the portion of the mountain bike course that was tough to run on, but it did not impact the outcome of the race in anyway. (I was just outclassed)
At about Mile 4.5 I was back to clocking low 6 minute mile pace over hilly terrain that was littered with loose rocks and tree roots. Near mile 5, there was a long downhill section and I could see the first place runner. I couldn't believe I made up that much ground! I ran out of space to catch him, but I was excited about the distance I made up on him in the final two miles and also how well I handled the big climbs and downhills. I think the ability to run downhill well can separate the leaders from the mid-packers and it's really important to develop that skill for anyone looking to improve as a runner. My plan is working and that's the bottom line regardless of the result.
On the ride home I really wasn't happy with the outcome of the race. It could have been how tired I was, how hungry I was or how stressed I was, but I wasn't happy. I don't like losing. I'm fiercely competitive, but at the end of the day is 2nd place overall, and losing to an excellent runner really that bad? The point of racing/running/training is to learn and improve. It may sound cliché, but I learned much more from that defeat than I would have learned from winning.
In every facet of life there are peaks and valleys. The valleys suck, but they make the peaks seem so much higher. Sometimes trusting the process is hard, sometimes it hurts, and sometimes you just don't want to do it. But if you trust the process and embrace the grind you'll come out stronger following every experience. Experiences - good or bad, are the stimulus for growth. Adversity is a catalyst for self improvement. Embrace those things because one day they'll make you invincible. I learned a lot, I was sad and happy and now I'm focused on the future. I drowned my sorrows with a 15 mile run at 6:30 avg pace today. Whether you win, lose, or drop out - whether you accomplish your goals or not, you have to bounce right back and have a short memory if you want to have a bright future.
My race stats so far in 2017:
8 races, 7 overall wins and a second place overall
(2 course records)
Upcoming races in 2018 and goal times in parenthesis: More will be added later.
Yankee Springs 25k*
Hellcat 50k* (3:30, CR)
Seamus O'possum 30k* (1:50)
Rock CF Half Marathon (1:11)
Short's Brewery 5k (15:30)
Burning River 50M*
*Denotes trail race
() = goals if applicable
Below I interview elite road/trail runner, Matt Daniels, in his final days before The Northface 50 Mile Trail Race. He was one of the first people I met when I moved to Boulder Colorado. Matt is an extremely talented runner, but he's an even better person. He recently left the high altitude training mecca of Boulder for the opportunity to live and train in Hawaii. I can't wait to see how he does this weekend as he toes the line with some of the best ultrarunners in the world!
MB: So Matt, What are your PRs in each distance? How’d you get into running?
Mile:3:59, 5k:13:50, Half Marathon:63:43, Marathon:2:28, 50K:3:32
MD: I found my way into running through a couple of different ways. In the second grade we were all signing up for events to do for field day in PE class and I didn't have an event that I was interested in. So my PE teacher told me "you should sign up for the distance run. You have long legs and I bet you would be great!" So there I was doing the distance run. I won..and proceeded to sign up for it every year until I could join the cross-country team in Jr. High. I also decided to sign up for Summer track when I was 11 years old. I ran the mile for the first time on a HOT summer day in Texas and ran 5:03 lapping everyone. I can remember I old man grabbing my arm after the race and telling me "son you should drop whatever other sports you play and focus on this running..you have a future". That sealed the deal for me and then I began to train. My best friend Daniel LaCava and I ate, slept, and breathed running all through high school under the eye of his dad as a coach. That is when it really started to take off for me.
MB: When we were running up to Mt. Sanitas back in June you had an interesting story about your background. While you were recruited by many major schools, you ended up facing some adversity. Can you elaborate on that? Do you think it made you a better or stronger runner?
MD: Let me start off by saying I believe that anyone who gives everything into a sport, or hobby, or relationship for that matter is going to go through some adversity. Adversity sucks, but without it there is no real progression to success. I did go through a few bouts of adversity early on in my running career and still continue to go through some today! Right out of High school I went to the University of Oklahoma. I absolutely hated my time there. Looking back I'm not so sure it was running related, as much as it was me being eighteen years old and not wanting to be in school anymore. So I left and bounced around a few states sleeping on couches and enjoying life a little before I wised up and joined the U.S. Navy. I quit running in 2008 and continued my streak of smoking cigarettes and drinking way to much beer while going from port to port seeing the world. I went through some really rough times while enlisted (a story a lot of my close friends and family knows) but ended up with an honorable discharge in December of 2010. It was the darkest of times in my life and what else to do than to start running again. So it began my Journey to run at Adams State University and an unbelievable collegiate career.
MB: What has been your biggest accomplishment in running?
MD: While I have had a lot of big personal accomplishments in my running career I believe the biggest was the National championship teams I was a part of while at Adams State. There is no better feeling than being part of a collective unit with one purpose. It's amazing how when a team all has there mind set on the same outcome you can damn near accomplish anything you want to, and a few of our National titles went just that way.
MB: What has been your most disappointing moment in running? How did you bounce back?
MD: I have two that sting equally. My first one would be the 2016 Olympic Trials Marathon. I was in sub 2:15 shape and had an absolute bomb and ran 2:28. Secondly was this year at the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships in Premana, Italy. I was very fit and confident going into the race but got sick during my travel and it lead to a very poor race performance. I believe our entire women's team beat me. I was stoked to have been on such an amazing team though as we still ended up getting the silver medal!
Both of these races stung and I spent 24 hours contemplating quitting, but usually in a few days I recover and start to think about how much I enjoy the process the get where I have gotten and immediately want to began training again for the next big race!
MB: You recently moved to Hawaii with your fiance. How has training there been compared to Boulder? How has the move and cultural change been to adjust to?
MD: Oh my where to start....This could be a long write up but I will try to keep it short.
The move to Hawaii has been an experience of a lifetime, and that's what it is all about for my fiance and I. I definitely prefer training in Boulder but I must say It has been nice being at sea level. It is hot and humid EVERY day, I'm pretty limited on where I have to run(without driving far), and It is nearly impossible to find soft surface that isn't sand or lava rock. With all that being said the running community(which is small but super awesome) has been great! Never have i met so many welcoming people. Without the running community here I would have been on a plane faster than you could snap your fingers and be back in Boulder.
The cultural change is a little different. More laid back and slow, so the adjustment wasn't so bad. The hardest thing is just getting use to no change in weather and the lack of places for me to go run. I wont be in Hawaii forever but for now we are enjoying our time here experiencing a whole new way of life.
MB: So you’re coaching a little bit here and there, correct? Is email, Facebook, Instagram a good place for people who are potentially interested to reach out?
MD: Yes I have a few Athletes that I coach. I feel so lucky to have had a whole slew of great mentors and coaches throughout my career and I couldn't imagine not passing that along to other runners. I am pretty easy to get a hold of email, facebook, twitter, or instagram all work.
email@example.com, instagram and twitter handle are @mattdaniels480.
MB: We all lack motivation at times, it’s a normal part of training. I know you helped me through a phase where I was feeling pretty burnt out. Does that ever happen to you? If so, what tactics do you use to reinvigorate yourself?
MD: Yes, you are right it happens! Everyone is different with there reason of being so. For me I have been unmotivated and burned out for multiple different reasons. Sometimes it's an easy fix: large pizza, beer, and a good movie. Sometimes it requires the athlete to take a step back from training and look at the bigger picture, and sometimes believe it or not you can just train right on through it and be fine a week or two later. For me when I am feeling unmotivated or burnt out I take a day off and spend it doing something that is going to take my mind away from the sport. It is super important to always remind yourself that you are putting your body through a lot. You can't expect a car to perform and run well for 20-30 years if you keep the engine hot and running all the time. It's important for the coach and athlete to communicate during this time though and decide if its time for a day off or time for a hard workout to boost the confidence.
MB: So, after a tough US Olympic marathon trials in the blazing heat and a tough few races to follow, your seemed to really kill it at your last 50k. What went right for you? How, if at all, was your training different? Tell us about the race!
MD: Thanks! Yes it was a relief to know I can run well at the longer distances. Since moving to Hawaii I have started working with my friend Kenyon Neuman and we have mapped out a pretty solid plan to try and tackle this ultra game. The preparation for the 50k did not go perfect but I did get in enough good quality sessions to have me heading to Oregon confident. I spent more time practicing fueling and did a few longer runs than normal but other than that training did not change a whole lot. We stuck to what has worked well for me in the past.
If we are being honest, not much really went right for me in the race! Bend, Oregon was dealing with a lot of smoke from the wildfires and that caused a TON of issues with my breathing the whole weekend. With horrible breathing and a very messed up stomach it took me 12 miles before I felt right. I got to a technical downhill section ( which usually isn't my strong point) and decided to say to hell with it and just let the legs go. Somewhere around mile 18 we started to do a lot of climbing again and I felt like myself. Once I hit 20 miles I just shut the brain off and tried to enjoy the beautiful scenery and trail, this allowed me to really start rolling. Before I knew it the race was over and I had won by 18 minutes! I learned with these ultra races you are going to go through a lot of good and bad patches in a matter of a few hours. It's important to just roll with it when its good and keep a positive mind when it's not. I highly recommend the flagline 50k for anyone looking to do there first ultra. It was a great experience and the staff was amazing.
MB: So now you have The North Face 50 mile race just a week away. How are you feeling in preparation for that race? Do you have a goal in mind?
MD: Training for TNF50 has been great. I have been able to have some real quality long runs and practice my fueling better than every. With this being my first 50 mile race I honestly don't know what to expect finish wise. My main goal is to get to 40 miles feeling good and in the hunt for some money. At this point in my career a good showing at this race could mean everything in terms of notoriety and sponsorships.
MB: What are your plans after The North Face?
MD: After TNF50 I will take a much needed break. I plan on sticking to trail and ultrarunning as my main focus, but I do want to attempt to break 4 minutes in the mile again this spring. I enjoy sprinting around a track just as much as i enjoy powering up the side of a mountain!
MB: Maybe some brief advice for a beginner runner?
MD: Absolutely! Patience...be excited and hungry for success but also know it takes a lot of time.
When I first started running a coach of mine told me to always keep it fun and only do it for yourself. Running at the end of the day is a selfish sport. That's fine everyone deserves to have something in there life that they strive for themselves. If you cant have this one thing that you enjoy doing for yourself then what is the point? Whether you do it for showmanship, or to overcome innerdemons, or you just simply love to move fast through the streets and trails always enjoy it. Thanks Mark! Happy Running
How spending less time on the trail made me a better trail runner:
Many people ask me how they can get faster on the trails. When I tell them to get on the track or the road every now and then, they look at me like I'm crazy. I used to think it was crazy too!
When I first started trail running, I was salivating over the idea of less structure in my training . I thought the rigors and oddly ritualistic repetition required of competitive road racing would take a back seat and I would spend my hours running around in the forest, up mountains and through canyons without a care in the world. After a few weeks I realized that structure was a necessity. In fact, structure was a means for improvement, not a prison sentence.
I thought that just running on the trails would be enough. I thought things would naturally flow and fall into place. I thought if I ran more, I'd get faster. At a basic level it's true - the more you run, the faster you get. Trail running and ultrarunning has largely been this way for years. Times are different for trail and ultrarunning now. More elite runners are entering immediately following college and others are making the transition in their prime and that makes it dramatically different from years past. There's just way more speed in the sport. As money continues to flow into it, you can bet it will get even faster, too.
You need to have experience running on trails to some degree but running economy, lactate threshold and VO2max play such an important role in speed development it wouldn’t be wise to neglect them. It's evident that the faster runners are the best runners regardless of the surface that the race is on. Yes, there are exceptions, but in general speed is king.
Adding Speed work, pick-ups, turnovers and strides and barefoot strides to my arsenal has vastly improved my running economy and my speed. Prior to adding those elements, my usual training would consist of obnoxiously slow easy runs, a half-assed speed or vo2 max session and a long run. My paces would change rarely, if ever. I underestimated the benefits of an improved running form, improved speed and overall economy.
Adding these elements made me faster on the road and trail:
Lactate Threshold Workouts
Using the above training components has dramatically improved my fitness on the roads and trails alike. The structure has improved my training, my resistance to injury and has helped me be more confident when I arrive at the starting line. A typical week for me looks like this: (This is just a sample, my training varies weekly)
8 miles EZ
PM - Gym
10 miles w/ Pick ups
10 miles w/
VO2max or LT workout
PM - 5 miles easy
PM - Gym
8 miles easy w/
My start into distance running has be unconventional to say the least. I’ve always had a strong prowess for athletics. For as long as I can remember fitness and sports have played a prominent role in my life. Early on in life, football was my passion. I’d ride my bike to practice, get beat up for two hours, ride home and play football in the street until dark with my friends. Early on in my high school career I developed a love for soccer. I’d go on to be pretty good, earning accolades and ultimately several scholarship offers. After a successful college soccer stint where I served as team captain, I was lucky enough to play post-collegiate soccer before trading my soccer cleats for running shoes in December of 2015.
It was actually in college that the thought of running competitively would cross my mind for the first time. I had a few history courses and one of my professors, Tony Baracco, was a former elite runner and the coach of the program at our school, which was a top XC program at that time. He inspired me to want to do better in regards to everything that I pursued. He also advised me on several issues and proved to be a real mentor to me. He tried to convince me to run for the school, but I was apprehensive and indecisive. I have to credit him with being a catalyst for me in regards to running. I've since lost contact with him, but I'll never forget his kindness and help in a time of need.
Throughout my whole athletic career I’ve had many great triumphs and failures. Like so many others, I’ve had incredible highs and lows. I know with certainty that my own self-doubt and unhealthy behavioral habits limited the success I had in my prior athletic endeavors. In truth, I’m still searching for the perfect amount of self confidence and still working to sharpen my emotional resilience, but I’ve gone to great lengths to grow mentally during my journey.
Anxiety and subsequent issues related to my anxiety have provided many challenges for me in day to day life and athletics alike. From an early age I displayed many classic symptoms of anxiety, which I ignored and that lead me on a collision course with the inevitable. At 20 years old I crashed. The effort to balance a full-time job, academic success and a very intensive athletic career with the demands of coping with anxiety proved to be too much. I was lost and ashamed. I didn’t know who to turn to for help. My family and friends did every single thing they could to help improve the condition. Because of the stigma around mental health issues, I was reluctant and embarrassed to reach out for help. One day I met my therapist Jim, who would provide me with invaluable tools in my fight against anxiety and depression. Getting treatment, extensive research and absorbing knowledge ultimately helped me improve. There are days when I still struggle, but now there are many more good days in between them.
Prior to committing completely to running, I dabbled in physique and bodybuilding competitions. It became apparent that it wasn't the appropriate hobby for me at that time. I'm very passionate, so it's easy for me to get enthralled in whatever I'm doing. I've always had a lean and stocky muscular build and I loved working out, so it seems like a match made in heaven. However self doubt and insecurities caused me to focus on every minor flaw in my physique. The intense dieting caused me to form an eating disorder and damaged my metabolism. I ultimately decided it was best to part ways with the competitive side of fitness.
Running and weight training helped me cope with anxiety and depression, without those two outlets I have no idea what my life would be like, but it wouldn’t be a pretty sight. After years of running for fun with absolutely no structure or desire to race, I decided to shift my focus towards running competitively in December of 2015. I'd been a student of the sport for years at that point because of friends, mentors and interests but I never took the leap. After 90 days of training I ran my first 5k. It took me 19 minutes and 24 seconds to cover that 5 kilometer race. I was underwhelmed to say the least.
I was disappointed and I thought I wasn’t cut out for running. Because of my newly-developed coping skills I was able to silence the negative noise in my head. I’m lucky I did, and didn’t give up, because over the last two years I’ve dropped my 5k PR from 19:24 to 16:15. (I’m currently faster, and will lower that time later this fall) I’ve won the overall title at my last 6 races including a huge course record at Seamus O’possum 10 mile trail race and a quick 51:00 15k on a windy course in front of my family and friends.
Because of running, I'm stronger than ever mentally and physically. I've learned to believe in myself. Running has taught me patience and resilience. Running has allowed me to explore places I never would have before. Running has taken me to places all around the country. More important than any of that - running has put me in contact with people I wouldn't have otherwise met, and they've had a major positive impact on my life. I don't know where I'd be if it weren't for all of these miles that I've logged.
I’m uncertain as to what the future holds, but I have ambitious goals in running, I also look forward to pursuing other areas of fitness and competition and I’m looking to continue improvement in my career path. More than anything, I look forward to continuing to raise awareness about mental health and partnering with various mental health charities is such a great outlet for that. Mile by mile I plan to keep growing, keep learning and keep grinding.
I only briefly touch on my struggle with mental health in the writing above, but it's had a profound impact on my life in both negative and positive ways. I'm always interested in hearing from others who have or are battling mental health issues. Please do not hesitate reach out to me for any reason.
I’d like to thank my family, friends, teammates, teachers, mentors and acquaintances for all of their support, kindness and patience. I'm really driven by all of your support and belief, and I'm hoping for a huge spring in regards to racing. More importantly, I'm hoping to make a positive impact on people in all walks of life. So if I never win another race, but I leave a lasting impact on those I interact with - then I'd consider my mission to be a huge success. Check out the slideshow below.