Get better by imitating the best

  • This was printed in April of 2015 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 100th installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

Running can be a very independent and individual activity — no two people run exactly

the same way — but generally, it is important to observe and mimic people who are good

at something to get better at it.

I am trying to learn to run like the elites by watching them. I’ve learned how to run trails

by observing some of the best trail runners I know.

I learned from my Nevada friend Ashlee Mickelberry when to walk and when to run

during an ultramarathon. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact grade of incline at which it is

advisable to walk instead of run up a hill — you just know it when you feel it.

I learned the feeling of that incline by staying at Ashlee’s heels for 12 miles during the

San Joaquin Running Trail 50 miler in November. Sometimes the change in incline was

so sudden, we found ourselves walking just four strides, running about eight, and then

walking two, just so that we wouldn’t overtax certain muscles.

I learned to leap off of boulders, instead of slowing down and navigating around them,

from Fresno State geology student and wicked fast runner Trent Sherman. All it takes is

confidence that you’re going to land your leap.

I learned how to take very short quick steps from Madera ultramarathoner Oswaldo

Lopez and his good friend, Visalia ultramarathoner Armando Figueroa. When the trail

gets technical, it’s better to shorten one’s stride and take very quick steps to navigate

around loose rocks — it beats rolling an ankle.

I learned from all of these runners to always keep one’s eyes on the trail. It’s easy to

remember: “look up, fall down.” The views from secluded, single-track trails are often

gorgeous, but the best trail runners don’t fall because they stop before taking a look at the


All of these people, and more, taught me things without realizing that they did. They

didn’t have to tell me how to run an ultra, they just set the example and I followed suit.

It applies to running just as it applies to anything else in life. If you want to be good at

something, you have to seek out people who are good at that thing and watch them and

learn from them. Some things can’t be explained in a book.

On Saturday I am going to employ all of these trail running tactics as I run the Miwok

100K trail race in the Bay Area, beginning in Stinson Beach.

Madera runner Audrey Crow will be running the 62-mile race also, along with our friends

Mark Utman of Fresno, and Bobby Kearney of Clovis. We are the only four Valley

runners participating in the event, which is a qualifier for the Western States 100 — the

“Boston Marathon of ultrarunning.”

Wish us luck!


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