The thing about mountain and ultra runners is that we really are the mutts of the running world. But I mean that in a good way. Not only do we race on a wide variety of terrain but we also come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. There isn’t one exclusive set of skills that translates well onto the mountains. It takes a complicated mix of endurance, strength, agility and toughness (just to name a few). In fact, most of us have athletic backgrounds that include a lot more than a simple history of racing on the roads.
I’m sure most of you have competed against someone who has a totally different sporting background than yourself. Yet there you are, side by side, probably for miles on end. Evenly matched, but each of you having a unique skill set.
The gymnast, the hockey player, the go-kart guy and the runner
There are obviously a few other sports that also require a huge aerobic engine and thus directly translate to mountain running. The obvious examples being road running, mountain biking, road cycling, cross-country skiing, ski-mountaineering… you get the idea. But what about the tiny woman, who was a gymnast until aged 14, that kicked your ass in that recent Vertical Km race, or the ex-hockey player, with legs like tree-trunks, who flew past you on that steep decent, or the guy, who also races go-karts, that has reactions faster than a cat when running technical sections? Like I was saying… one can take a wide variety of skills and still cobble together a strong mountain / ultra runner.
Using myself for example, I have previous in swimming, martial arts, triathlon, road running, mountain biking (downhill and cross-country), BMX racing… and probably a few others that I’ve conveniently forgotten. It may not be obvious, but I’ve definitely translated several bike racing skills over to being a mountain runner. The speed and consequences involved in both downhill-mountain biking and BMX racing are significantly greater than those in running. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you can’t hurt yourself as a runner pelting down a mountain… you absolutely can, and I’ve done it, but my hospital visit and broken bone count is heavily weighted to those crashes involving a bike. Learning the biking skills necessary at such high speeds means technical trail running comes a lot easier to me. I like to think I run with less fear and have faster reactions, thanks in large to the time I’ve spent on my downhill and BMX bikes.
The only runner in the bunch who used to race BMX!
Ultimately I think variety is what makes a runner, and a person in general, strong and durable. Not just physically but mentally too. Having a wide variety of experiences to draw on, especially when things get tough, is such a valuable asset. Plus, you’re less likely to fall into the trap of confusing what you do with who you are…
Ok, enough beating around the bush… so where am I going with this? Well, on the weekend of November 7/8, I’ll be in Rio de Janeiro to run a trail / mountain race AND race my BMX! My friend, runner Gary Robbins, has (once again) put together a Canadian team to take part in Rocky Man. Gary is more than qualified to run the trail race himself but is choosing not to in order to better coordinate and mange the team. Gary is also friends with many fast Canadian mountain runners and so he has an ample pool to choose a substitute from… BUT I’m probably the only runner in the bunch that also used to race BMX!
Team Canada looks like this:
Anne-Marie Madden (women’s road marathon)
Greg Day (mountain bike)
Andrew Logreco (surfing)
Keegan Sauder (skateboard park)
Gary Robbins (manager, team events)
and myself, (men’s trail / mountain run and the BMX race)
Full contact and aggressive maneuvering – welcome to BMX racing
For those who don’t really know much about BMX, let me explain it a bit. I know that it looks like we zip around a fun track on these small kids’ bikes and yes, as with most sports, the top athletes make it look easy. The truth, however, is pretty much the opposite. Not only does it require a very specific (anaerobic) energy system, the skills needed to smoothly get through a lap take years to build. Oh yeah, and add into the mix that BMX is pretty much a full contact event!
Unlike other cycling disciplines, contact and aggressive maneuvering are part of the game. I realize that we are somewhat de-sensitized to ‘extreme’ sports, given that you can turn on the TV at any time and see someone back-flipping in an FMX (freestyle motocross) contest but trust me, racing on the Rio 2016 Olympic track is going to be scary! Don’t believe me? Take a look at the video below.
I guess the moral of the story is to never hide who you are or where you’ve came from. You just never know… that time you spent at summer camp learning croquet may turn out to be your winning ticket!