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Trail Running with Eric Carter

The snow is melting and the flowers are budding. All signs are currently pointing to a seasonal transition, and with this mind we have shifted our focus from sliding on snow to tramping along trails. Traditionally our trails have been well worn by hikers, but this September we will be hosting a Trail Running adventure, based out of McGillivray Pass Lodge and planned and run by professional endurance coach, Eric Carter. He will be joined by  ACMG guide, Christine Feleki, and pro photographer Guy Fattal, on this  trip curated for trail running enthusiasts.

Many of us skiers and snowboarders pack our running shoes away during the winter, and come spring, it almost seems like our bodies have forgotten how to run. So in preparation for a healthy and successful season on the trails,  we picked Eric’s brain for tips on how to successfully kick start (or restart) your running this summer. Alongside being a member of the the US National Mountaineering Ski Team (with 25 + career World Cup starts in ski randonee racing under his belt),  Eric also runs his own coaching business RidgeLine Athletics. To top it all off he has a BSc in Exercise Physiology, a Masters in Environmental Physiology and a PhD Endurance Performance at Altitude. Read on below for some priceless training advice.

 How many times a week should I run when starting out?

Most of these questions depend a lot on where you’re starting from. If you were absolutely sedentary, like coming back from a long-term injury or period of inactivity, switching between 3 minutes of easy walking and 3 minutes of brisk walking or jogging for 15-25 minutes total, three times per week would be a great place to start. If you’re already fairly fit, playing tennis regularly or cycling, starting with 20 minutes of very easy running, three times per week is totally reasonable.

Is it better to do more frequent, shorter sessions or less frequent, longer distance sessions?

I definitely push people towards more frequent sessions. Better to move every day for a short period of time than try to pack it into one session that leaves you crushed. It’s still important however to have at least one rest day per week. Constant pounding from running every day, especially for a new runner, is a quick way to injury.


Is there an optimal heart rate zone that I should stick to when training?

For an athlete just starting, it’s easiest to focus on breathing rather than heart rate. Runs should be at a conversational pace, meaning you can tell a minutes-long story without having to stop and gasp for breath. If you can breath through your nose, you’re perfect. That might mean you need to slow down. It might even mean you need to walk! By going slower, you’re building your aerobic base that will help your endurance in the long run (pun intended).

What should I do to warm up before a run?

Five to ten minutes of walking is a great warm-up but as long as you’re not sprinting out the door, just ease into the run and your warm-up is done!

 Are there any mental techniques you use to push yourself to run for longer?

Almost every runner is motivated for different reasons. Some run to accomplish goals, some run to get away from distractions. Personally, I am highly intrinsically motivated by the reward of the spectacular places my runs take me to. I’ll admit to extrinsic motivations of peer approval in my success and the occasional (or frequent) donut post-run. As long as I let the former motivations dominate, it’s often quite easy to keep going.

If you have set yourself a distance or time goal for your daily run, are there any instances when you should abandon this? I.e. signs that you should stop?

Daily training goals should always be loose. A single workout very rarely makes you a better runner but it can absolutely cause an injury. Being too rigid in training is an easy way to become sidelined. I find the first few minutes of a run to often be the hardest part. I always try my hardest to get out the door and run for a minimum of 15 minutes. After that, I’m almost always feeling way better and glad that I got out the door. Occasionally though, I still feel down after those first 15 minutes and that’s when I give myself permission to call it and head home. The success isn’t completing the workout, but trying!

Best ways to recover after a training run?

On the couch! Get in a mix of carbohydrates and protein within 30 minutes and then relax. Sleep is the most often overlooked component of training. If you’re regularly missing out on sleep, you’re not getting the most out of your training.

 Should I be doing strength work alongside running? If so, what should I focus on?

Absolutely. Running is very repetitive so a general strength program will help increase range of motion and balance out the muscles that are neglected in training. A running specific program is great but if you’re having trouble finding the right one, look for a general powerlifting gym and jump on their program. You’ll be humbled by the lifters but learn a ton about how your muscles work.

Any other common training mistakes that you notice runners making?

By far the majority of my job as a running coach is spent holding my athletes back. Very rarely is an athlete under-motivated. The problem is always trying to do too much, too quickly. Give yourself the time to recover between training sessions (and races) and keep in mind that the sport is a lifelong one if you do it right!


For more info and to sign up for Eric’s Mountain Running dream trip, head to RidgeLine Dream Trips. You can also find more training tips at RidgeLine Athletics, and follow along with Eric’s adventures via his Instagram account: @skiericcarter