A group of runners make their way along a highly technical section of the Juneau Ridge.

A group of runners make their way along a highly technical section of the Juneau Ridge.

Alaskan runners adapting to terrain

  • Sunday, September 20, 2015 1:11am
  • Sports

You may not know it, but simply by living, running, and/or hiking here in Juneau, you are likely well-adapted to moving efficiently over technical terrain.

I have spent a lot of time in the past decade running in locations all over the world and with people from all over the world. Through running camps that I direct, I’ve even had the unique experience of logging dozens of hours on trails here in Juneau with people from nearly every corner of the planet: The Lower 48, Canada, South Africa, Europe, Singapore, New Zealand, Chile, El Salvador and many more.

One thing I’ve noticed from these experiences is that Juneau runners (and Alaskans in general) tend to be more adept at running steep, highly technical trails than people I’ve run with from most other locations. Certainly this isn’t always the case, but as an average it certainly seems to play out time and time again. Alaskan runners seem to have some kind of inexplicable advantage when it comes to technical trail running.

Certainly a lot of this has to do with home-field advantage. It may be simply that we are adept at running the trails here in Juneau, but put us on a trail somewhere else in the world and we will struggle to find our comfort level. I think this is true to some degree, but I also know that I have run with other Alaskans in lots of places Outside. They seem to always run well if the terrain is highly technical.

I think what this boils down to, more than anything, is that the terrain we run on in Alaska is simply a lot more steep, rugged, remote and technical than the vast majority of the terrain that most people run on in other parts of the country (and the world).

This isn’t to say that there aren’t people all over the world running on this type of terrain, but if we talk about averages, the average trail here is significantly more technically advanced than the average trail in 99 places out of 100.

None of this is to imply that we runners in Alaska are somehow better than other runners, but simply that we tend to be very well adapted to the particular dynamics that are featured in our daily runs. Put any of us Alaskans in 90-degree heat on endless miles of flat, smooth terrain and we will almost always struggle to find the comfort and ease we do when we are running in the rain up the side of a mountain on an impossibly muddy trail.

The question then becomes what can we do with this information? The answer unfortunately is not a whole heck of a lot. We can, however, use our ability on technical trails to help build our confidence as runners. This might not sound like much, but fortunately confidence is one of the most important factors in being a strong runner. In many cases if you think you can run fast, smooth and efficient, you likely can.

You might not feel like you are a good trail runner, but if you run the trails here in Juneau with any regularity, odds are you are a lot more capable than you might think. I would encourage everyone to use this to their advantage.

Confidence is elusive in that it’s not something you can easily fake, but if you are willing to take my word for it you might be able to use your proficiency as a technical trail runner to build your overall confidence a little bit at a time.

Whether it’s Treadwell Ditch, Dan Moller, East or West Glacier, Sheep Creek, Salmon Creek, Mount Roberts, Mount Juneau, Perseverance, DuPont, Spaulding Meadow, Montana Creek, Point Bridget, or any of the other dozens of trails in the Juneau area — if you regularly run any of these you are probably a much stronger technical trail runner than you might be aware of. If you can use this strength to build your confidence, you will be able to take large steps toward being a stronger runner. Not just on the type of technical terrain that is so prominent locally, but also in other areas that are not featured as prominently here in Alaska.

• Geoff Roes lives and runs trails in Juneau. He has run more than 40 mountain, ultra, and trail running races all over the world — winning the majority of them. He is the founder and director of the Juneau based Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camp. He can be reached at grroes@yahoo.com and more of his insights can be found on his personal website www.akrunning.blogspot.com. He is also a regular contributor at www.irunfar.com. “Running Wild” will appear in the Juneau Empire every other Friday.

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