Meeting Metzler: Picking Brian’s Brain.
By Cindy Doyle.
Living in beautiful Boulder, Colorado, Brian Metzler is a veteran of running journalism, a veritable mine of information. He’s also a really nice guy, down to earth and very friendly, so meeting Metzler was a really pleasant experience. He’s made a living as editor-in-chief and content director of a variety of media companies and magazines such as Trail Runner Magazine (which he founded!), Runner’s World and Competitor Magazine & Group. He has authored and co-authored books and written countless articles for any number of sports magazines. I’ve no doubt that his latest project, Motiv Running will be just as successful.
Obviously, as well as writing about running, he also runs! And has been since he was in short trousers, turning it into a career and lifestyle as soon as he graduated from university. So, he kinda knows what he’s talking about. With his own experiences and the benefit of having interviewed countless others, I was keen to find out what training tips I might glean from him which could help aspirant trail runners.
Running the Wicklow Way
During a recent visit to Ireland hosted by Wicklow Tourism to promote the Wicklow Way, I had the opportunity to meet, eat and chat with Brian and Adam Chase. I also had the opportunity to run with them. However, still carrying a few injuries from my fall (which you may have read about), I left the running part to others, shedding a few tears as they headed off up the side of Mullacor from Glenmalure without me…
Given my own (still obvious) injuries, it was the first topic we chatted about. I was amazed that Brian’s only running disaster was once breaking a big toe! He stubbed it on a rock, managed somehow to maintain his balance despite having fractured the toe horizontally! Three foot-strikes later, he was in immense pain as the fracture widened.
As a veteran of the sport, these days Brian is focusing on Ironman and Triathlon challenges. He still runs 6 days a week, with 3 days swimming and 2 days biking which he wants to build to 3 days. He reckons he’s a better runner now due to these cross training disciplines. I was enthralled with the idea of fitting all of that into a hectic schedule and asked him as much.
As a family man, how do you manage the juggle the logistics of family life, spending quality time with them, in addition to work and training commitments? Do you sleep at all??
“I don’t sleep much, but I probably should sleep more! As far as balancing family life and running, I try to plan my weekend runs in advance so my family knows when I’ll be gone and also so we can plan ahead for family activities and other family events. During the week, I often start running at 5:30am (or whenever first light appears) so I can get back to the house by about 7:00 or 7:30am when my wife and daughter are starting their days. It’s important to see my daughter before she goes to school, so that makes my early morning runs that much more important.”
You used to run much shorter distances. How did you get from that 5K burnout to successfully running long distance trails?
“Because of my track background, I loved running short and fast distances. But I kind of got tired of the same thing all the time and when I moved west to Colorado, I found the trails of Boulder ideal for running long distances. I fell in love with trail running for everything that road and track running was not. It was an always an exciting adventure and never based on my stopwatch. I found the longer I went, the more I enjoyed it and the more fit I became. Suddenly I loved running again and that really has not stopped for 20+ years.”
With the benefit of hindsight and having spoken to so many athletes yourself over the years – give 3 Dos and Don’ts for people interested in starting out in trail running.
- Definitely wear trail running shoes instead of road running shoes. The traction, protection and durability are far superior in trail running shoes, and those features will make any trail run more enjoyable.
- Be prepared for changes in weather. Running on trails—especially in the mountains—can mean sudden weather changes without much warning. Rain, colder weather, hotter weather, wind and even snow can come on in a moment’s notice, so it’s good to always carry a lightweight shell jacket, a pair of gloves, a pair of tights and maybe even a dry pair of socks (if you have to cross a deep stream)
- Make sure to re-fuel and re-hydrate along the way. Most of my trail runs wind up going longer than I initially expect, partially because that’s the nature of trail running and also because there are often moments I stop to take in the views. But that means I’m often out on the trails for many hours at a time. I always carry about a liter of water and several gels and other energy snacks to make sure I can maintain my energy without bonking. If you don’t re-fuel and re-hydrate, your mind starts to go sideways and that’s when you can get lost or get injured.
- Don’t go off on a trail run without first looking at a map of the trail and the surrounding area. Having a good idea of where you’re going (and what kind of terrain you’ll be on) is very important. But if you just show up at a trailhead and start running, you’ll have no idea what to expect, no idea how the trail might meander or climb and no idea how long you might be out there.
- Don’t go out on a trail without telling someone where you’re going. It’s important to carry a phone, but sometimes (oftentimes) you might not have phone service. Telling someone where you’re going and checking in with that person upon your return is a good safety measure that will work to your benefit if you get lost or get hurt out on the trail. Eventually someone will come looking for you and they’ll have a better idea of where to look if a friend or family member knows roughly where you were going.
- I would suggest not going running remote mountain trails alone. Even if those trails are your favorite local trails that you’ve run many times, having someone with you is a smart idea for safety reasons. If you get lost or suffer a serious injury (like a broken leg) or start to bonk, the person with you can immediately help or start to get help. Other than that, having someone with you can make a run even more enjoyable because of the shared conversations, shared views and shared accomplishment of covering so many miles (or k’s) in a beautiful place.”
How did running in the Wicklow Mountains compare with other trails you have run?
“I find that trails are different everywhere you go and certainly that’s what made running the Wicklow Way so special.
I really, really enjoyed running in the Wicklow Mountains. Most of the trails in Colorado are very rocky and dry, so running through lush hills and sometimes boggy trails of the Wicklow Way was a very enjoyable contrast. It was amazing to see everything so green and vibrant and feeling the soft ground under foot was a welcome relief to the harder steps common to the trails in Boulder.
Also, what was really fun was to run the Wicklow with local runners, people who were as genuinely passionate about running trails as I was but who also had great stories to tell about the routes and local races.”
Did you approach running boardwalk and bog differently to those dry, rocky trails?
“I just spoke to a friend this morning on a run about the experience of running along the boardwalks. Although I love running on dirt trails, I thought the wooden-plank boardwalk was a unique and very purposeful path for running, especially because it made running through boggy, steep or slippery terrain much easier.
I enjoyed the traction and the consistent cadence it provided. Typically trail running over natural surfaces means your cadence is slower because of inconsistent trail conditions (steepness, debris, weather-related variables, etc) but running on the boardwalk provided a delightful way to keep my cadence high and my stride fluid.
As for running through the boggy sections, I tried to adapt as best possible. I looked for the high and dry spots and that was fairly successful, although a few times I had a foot submerge in the sloppy mud and then I had to take it step by step to get out without falling. But I have to admit, getting muddy legs and shoes is part of the thrill of running on trails!”
Through illness, injury and age, my own running has taught me both humility and perseverance. It has taught me about the fragility of life and to be unafraid of dreaming. What does running mean to you?
“That’s a good point. When I was younger, running was about moving fast and free, no matter what kind of surface I was running on. As I have been running for 35+ years, though, running is more about freedom, self-discovery and the pure enjoyment of being in nature.
Running gets me the best time to think and reflect, it allows me to have a proper context of my place in the world (meaning that it is humbling and challenging) and running makes me appreciate that the only cost of being healthy, happy and free is the courage and passion to get out there and do it. Running has become my daily affirmation of all that is good in life and how I try to live my life. The best things in life are free and yet to achieve many of those things hard work and dedication are both necessary and rewarding.”
We parted with a race invitation to Boulder… A 7.5mile ‘Distillery Race that takes 6 hours to do due to all the sampling! Now meeting Metzler again at that would be interesting….
Meeting Metzler interview by Cindy Doyle. Cindy has her own blog at GoWild.ie