Our new trail running coach is here to answer your questions
Alicia Woodside is Get Out There's resident trail running expert
My running career started with my Dad’s love of mountain biking, an activity to which I wasn’t as inclined.
Growing up in Port Moody, BC, my dad would always try to entice us to ride up and down Burnaby Mountain in our free time. I was not a fan. I was impatient to learn the physics and the gearing, and I remember always wanting to stop. At some point, I tried leaving the bike at home and just ran the trails beside my dad. I was hooked.
In university, I ran marathons and in my twenties, I discovered the mountains and backcountry running adventures. Even though I originally discovered it as a kid, I think you sometimes lose your way as a teenager, and it took some special friends to re-discover that passion. At the start, I felt extremely out of place. I was a road marathon runner with good endurance, but I had zero mountain skills. I remember showing up to my first backcountry hike with nothing more than the clothing I was wearing: yoga pants and a tank top. Getting to the trailhead after a long drive, my friends were appalled that I had no food, water, or proper attire. Thankfully, they lent me their spare backpack and Merino wool layers, and they shared part of their PB&J sandwiches. I came away from that day with my mind blown. While I didn’t have any of the necessary skills, it didn’t matter. I felt a huge pull to this new world, and I had a huge desire to learn.
After a while of struggling and learning to run and hike uphill and over roots and rocks, I gradually found my stride. I became stronger and more competent in the mountains, and the more I went, the more confident I became. When I started, I had no expectations of ever being “good”, I just loved it so much. I figured it would take 10 years to keep up with my friends, but I viewed it as a positive. This was something that would keep me busy, challenged, and inspired for a long time!
I think that attitude really fuelled a big progression.
Coming from a place of deep intrinsic motivation, I eventually ended up getting good external results. With time, I got to run for Team Canada in various trail and ultra running events and even got to set some Fastest Known Times (FKTs) on trails that I could barely run when I started out. Trail and ultra running were my gateway drug to the outdoors. I moved next to the forest in Squamish, surrounded myself with inspiring friends who also love the outdoors, and now it’s a regular part of my life to enjoy the mountains year-round, doing a mix of trail and mountain running, backcountry skiing, and nordic skiing at Whistler Olympic Park.
My decision to pursue coaching came in the summer of 2022, and it was one of those epiphany moments. At the time I was on parental leave, and for me it was a big time of self-discovery and reflection. It's a natural pause we're gifted in life, and an opportunity to consider our passions and how we spend our precious time. I was doing an informational interview one afternoon with a mentor, and she asked if I’d ever coached before. That question unlocked possibilities and ambitions I didn’t know I had.
Over the years I'd often made training plans for friends and family who wanted to discover the joy of long-distance running, but I never considered myself a coach. The question gave me permission to see myself as a coach for the first time, and it suddenly triggered a deep desire. I spent time on the phone and on runs with coaches I admire, enrolled in a coaching certification course, ordered and studied a stack of books on physiology, training, and nutrition, and started coaching my first official athletes a few months later! It's so rewarding to learn about my athletes as they evolve and grow and create a training environment that's optimal for their needs, goals, and other priorities.
In this column, we’ll explore insights and ideas from the things I learn as a trail and ultra running coach and my own experiences over the past 15 years of backcountry adventures and running marathon distances and beyond. We’ll explore topics that can help you make your training and adventures more fun, meaningful, efficient, and effective, like how to incorporate speed work for trail and ultra running, ideas for injury-prone runners, how to find time to train if you have a baby or young kids at home and more.
If you have any questions about training, please send them to email@example.com and we will see if we can answer them in a future column!
See you out there