Lara Hamilton | Peaking – The most important aspects of my training as a mountain and trail runner
Perseverance – persistence in doing something despite the difficulty or delay in achieving success (Oxford Languages Definition). Perseverance is a great strength of character to develop as an athlete. No one succeeds without failing, so persistence is crucial. This is especially true in long distance running, where you are constantly testing your physical and emotional limits.
I think I always knew that one day I would focus on trail and cross country even though I spent quite a bit of time training for track and road races. It has always come more naturally to me with my Nordic skiing experience and I love the challenges of technical terrain.
I started training for long distance running by accident. I was running as a form of cross training for Nordic skiing in Australia, for running for juniors and for my school at the time. I really enjoyed all aspects, the long days on the trails and the quick after school runs between homework. I decided to take part in the school’s cross country races and the 5K Sydney Harbor on a whim. I ended up winning the SH5k and getting involved in school cross country – that’s when my family suggested I get a trainer, and I was quickly referred to Gary Howard from Run Crew. I never looked back! I’m still Nordic skiing and started skimo for fun, but trail running has taken center stage.
Fast forward to 2017, and after regular sessions with Run Crew, I got my first big win, the Australian U20 XC Championships. I had seen a massive improvement that proved to me the power of building a good foundation and a good engine and how that could be achieved by playing a different endurance sport. He has converted very well to long-distance running. After getting my undergraduate degree in Sydney Uni, I went to Boise State University to do my masters in vocal performance and participate in college competitions.
As of this writing, I’m on my way back to Boise to start working and training for mountain running. It will be winter time which means that a few more Nordic and Skimo sessions will be taken into account in my program.
Key factors in training.
Consistency is the key.
I firmly believe that the key to being a great distance runner (or any sport for that matter!) Is consistency. It shouldn’t be about nailing every session in terms of speed and pace, after all, we’re just humans and not machines. We have the opportunity to focus on a few points in each session to improve. It can be the state of mind, form, rhythm, feel, terrain – there are so many factors. My coaches always refer to it metaphorically, like a jar where at each session that we finish, we make a deposit. I particularly like trail running because of the varied terrain and the challenges that come with it. It brings other factors that you can’t find on the track.
Another message that has been embedded in my training philosophy from an early age is that you get stronger when you recover.
When we train, we damage the muscles and put stress on the body, which is only repaired and replenished when we recover properly. What are the key elements of recovery?
My number one is sleep, it’s the only time the body fully recovers. Think of it this way, if I get 8-9 hours of sleep for 7 nights a week and another athlete sleeps 6 hours a night, I get 14 more hours of sleep per week. It all adds up. If that isn’t possible, taking a 20 to 30 minute nap in the middle of the day can add up. When training at high volumes, it is so important to allow the body to repair itself.
Nutrition is also a very important factor, and to stay on top of things I regularly see a sports dietician. I think it’s important to remember that you can’t be your best and live outside of sport without proper nutrition. Top athletes are like sports cars, they need a lot of good quality fuel.
Keep the easy days easy and tough the tough days.
This is another component that I integrate into my training. We have to train all the different systems – endurance base, anaerobic, aerobic, top speed. If we take each session hard we do not recover well for the next session and over time this most often leads to burnout.
Diversity and work-study.
I believe that in order to be a great athlete it is important to expose the body to different ways of moving. Lucky for me, my backcountry skiing training introduced me to cycling, swimming, rock climbing and surfing from a young age, so I never had a problem with cross training. It is a great way to relieve the body from loading stress while building an excellent endurance base. Many runners might benefit from the addition of a cross-training session, or if they injure themselves at high mileage, they might consider replacing some runs with cross-training.
The Running Community – Finding People to Train With.
Training with others gives us the opportunity to improve ourselves. Personally, I like to do a few runs a week on my own, but for the harder sessions and longer runs, sharing it with others always improves my run and makes training a more social environment.
One of the things I love about trail running is the community that surrounds the sport. I find it more adventurous than the track and there is definitely a sense of camaraderie with every race. This is especially true for long distances, where it becomes as much mental as it gets physical and where everyone wants to see everyone finish. It’s atmospheres like this where we see others doing things they didn’t think they could, and it can be very emotional.
My favorite session when I train with Run Crew in Australia is the 3x3km and the 10x300m uphill. I love the diversity of the session, and just when you think you’ve burnt the tank on the 3k, you’ve got a bunch of hills to go. The session often ends at 8:30 am and you leave feeling like you’ve accomplished a lot before the day really begins.
When I train in the mountains I like a good long run with some good hills. The long term is arguably the most important session of the week.
Sponsors, causes, whatever I would like people to support.
Passions apart from running.
I am very passionate about protecting wild places and educating myself, others and the outdoor industry on climate and sustainability. We need healthy environments to be able to enjoy the outdoors. We also need educated athletes and the public to be able to enjoy the outdoors responsibly.
I recently had the opportunity to join the team of For wild places as a copywriter and content creator. I am so grateful for this opportunity as it allowed me to merge my passion for writing, the outdoor community and climate activism, and to work with people who have similar values. My first project is to help launch The Pilliga Ultra. Pilliga Forest is the largest remaining tract of temperate eucalyptus forest in eastern Australia (only 3% remains). You would think that a rare ecosystem like the Pilliga would be a top priority in Australia’s conservation efforts, but unfortunately this is not the case. These biodiversity hotspots are poorly protected and at risk of being developed, cleared and, in the case of Pilliga, the proposed site of the Narrabri Coal Seam gas project led by gas giant Santos. For Wild Places has teamed up with the Wilderness Society to launch a brand new Australian Ultra Event, The Piliga Ultra. The Pilliga Ultra takes place on March 26, 2022 and offers 5km, 20km and 50km options. I strongly encourage anyone looking for an adventure, a great community, and using the race to save a wild place to consider participating in a race, volunteering at the event, or sponsor a person / a team.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to travel to Moab, Utah with the Salomon USA team. I had never been to the area and it was on my to-do list for a long time, especially for running. This has been one of the best trail running experiences I have had to date. The people I met were so passionate, and a lot of laughs took place during the camp. We also ran a series of workshops throughout the camp which opened my eyes even more to the opportunities offered by the growing sport of trail running. I am really excited for the future of the sport.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to contribute to the Runners Tribe community!