A Look Inside “The Trail Runner’s Companion”: My Ultra of a Book

It took nine months, like a pregnancy. It felt like training for—then running—a hundred-mile ultra. But I got through the metaphorical labor and delivery, and I mentally crossed a finish line. I wrote my first book!

I’m pleased to announce:

The Trail Runner’s Companion: A Step-by-Step Guide to Trail Running and Racing, from 5Ks to Ultras

“In 2005, one month before I turned thirty-six, I lined up for a marathon unlike anything I’d ever experienced, with runners unlike any I’d ever met.” So begins this 288-page, 14-chapter guide that takes readers on a journey from safe, consistent training to adventurous, ambitious trail racing.

The publisher, Falcon Guides, officially releases it June 1; but, you can preorder it here. Additionally, here’s a schedule of where I’ll be speaking about the book.

On last Sunday’s run, a friend asked how The Trail Runner’s Companion differs from other running books in the trail and ultra niche. I told him:

  •  The book explores the “why” as well as the “how” of becoming a trail runner and graduating to ultras. It goes beyond showing how to achieve better trail-running performance—that is, how to structure weekly and monthly training, develop trail-specific techniques and kick ass on race day. The chapters also convey the culture and ethos of the sport, and spotlight many notable characters in it.
  • It’s full of stories—mine and others’. Every chapter opens with a story, and real trail tales—many funny, some frightening—breathe life into the practical advice.
  • It’s full of beautiful photographs, including a phenomenal collection from Howie Stern.
  • It’s for all runners—male and female, rookie and seasoned. I purposely created a crossover book from road to trail, sub-marathon to ultra, organized progressively so that beginners can find their footing and build their base, while experienced endurance athletes can learn fresh tips for training and fine tune their ultra game plan.

I’m grateful that several trail-running mentors and heroes took time to preview it. [Update: Read the first review of the book, by Scott Dunlap, here.] Here’s what some had to say:

“With The Trail Runner’s Companion, veteran ultramarathoner Sarah Lavender Smith presents a thoroughly researched compendium full of useful tips. Sarah is an engaging storyteller, and this fun-to-read book is chock full of great recollections and advice from savvy mid-pack runners and elite competitors. The Trail Runner’s Companion is an essential resource for beginners and experienced runners alike.” – John Medinger (longtime ultrarunner, race director, and Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run president)

 The Trail Runner’s Companion will guide a newbie trail runner to success while being comprehensive enough that a veteran trail runner can glean many useful tips. Sarah blends her own trail-running savvy with knowledge from well-known experts. Beyond being chock-full of practical advice, the book nicely captures the ethos of trail running and the mindset of the trail-running community. Sarah peppers the advice with personal anecdotes, which keeps the book relatable and entertaining to read.” – Pam Smith, M.D. (100K national champion, Angeles Crest 100-mile course record holder, and 2013 Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run champion)

“Sarah Lavender Smith has long been one of trail running’s finest and most insightful writers, and her first book, The Trail Runner’s Companion, ties everything together for all trail runners, from newbies to veterans and all abilities in between. She expertly and empathetically describes how one should train, eat, drink, and think while becoming a trail runner. But perhaps most importantly of all, she tells us what it means to be a trail runner—why this journey, in her words, ‘all the way up to the summit and back down,’ is worth the effort. If you already are a trail runner, The Trail Runner’s Companion will make you want to become a better trail runner. If you aren’t yet a trail runner, The Trail Runner’s Companion will make you want to become one.” – John Trent (longtime ultrarunner, race director, Western States Endurance Run board member, and award-winning sportswriter)

One of Howie Stern’s photos featured in The Trail Runner’s Companion. Sawna Guadarrama runs above Island Lake in the San Juan Mountains near Silverton, Colorado.

Friends, I would sincerely appreciate if you would help the launch by pre-ordering, and share the link on social media with #TrailRunnersCompanion. (The publisher’s marketing guru says that Amazon and other sellers buy books based on demand, and a book with a lot of preorders will get a bigger initial buy.)

What’s inside? Here’s an abridged Table of Contents:

Introduction: My Journey from Road to Trail

Section 1: Train on Trails

Chapter 1: Become a Trail Runner. Goal: Adopt a trail runner’s mindset. Highlights: Think and act like a trail runner; the single best piece of trail-running advice I ever got; how to talk like a trail runner.

Chapter 2: Gear Up for the Trail. Goal: Get the trail-specific clothing and gear you need, but keep it simple. Highlights: Tips for buying the right trail shoe; clothing essentials and less-essential add-ons; your independent running store.

Chapter 3: Build Your Base. Goal: Run well and consistently, adding more miles on trails. Highlights: How to structure your base-building week; when and how to run hard and fast during base-building; Running Form 101.

Chapter 4: Conquer Hills and Navigate Gnarly Terrain. Goal: Get up, down, and through whatever the trail presents. Highlights: Mentally prepare and adjust for all types of trail; uphill and downhill technique; workouts for hill practice; how to handle sloppy, rough terrain.

Chapter 5: Conditioning for the Time-Crunched Trail Runner. Goal: Develop an efficient routine of supplemental exercises to run better and prevent injury. Highlights: Dynamic stretching; core, upper and lower body conditioning; injury prevention.

I’m grateful to photographer Tonya Perme for taking photos of me to illustrate Chapter 5’s advice on conditioning.


Section 2: Be Safe and Healthy on Trails

Chapter 6: Stay Safe and Minimize Risks on the Trail. Goal: Know where you’re going and how to handle potential threats. Highlights: How to avoid getting lost, but what to do if you do; animal encounters; prepare for severe weather; what to do if you get hurt.

Chapter 7: Refuel and Rehydrate for Optimal Trail Running. Goal: Learn the best ways to eat and drink before, during and after trail runs. Highlights: How to eat healthy every day without deprivation; what to eat for shorter and longer training runs; how to balance hydration and electrolytes.

Chapter 8: 6 Common Trail Running Troubles to Avoid. Goal: Learn how to prevent and troubleshoot typical problems on the trail. Highlights: Blisters, chafing, cramping, diarrhea, upset stomach and vomiting, gear malfunction; how to pee, poop and deal with your period on the trail. (Lots of poop talk in this chapter!)

Section 3: Race on Trails

Chapter 9: Choose Your Races and Plan Your Season. Goal: Find and plan for one or more races that inspire and challenge you. Highlights: How to choose your trail races; different distances in trail racing, including Vertical Ks and Skyrunning; putting it all together to plan a training season.

Chapter 10: Train Specifically for Your Race. Goal: Develop a training cycle to build and sharpen for a goal race. Highlights: A four-step process to train for trail races; how to determine what your training mileage should be; how to prepare specifically for the conditions of your race.

Chapter 11: Put It All Together For Race Day. Goal: Plan and execute a race in a way that makes you proud and fulfilled. Highlights: 6 steps to taper right; how to plan race-day refueling, hydration and gear; checklists for race day; how to pace a trail race; trail-racing etiquette.

Section 4:  Become an Ultrarunner and Find Adventure on Trails

Chapter 12: Ultras: The Twenty-First Century’s Marathon. Goal: Learn about the sport of ultrarunning and what it takes. Highlights: What it takes to be an ultrarunner; how ultras are different from shorter races; 12 inspiring ultrarunners to know.

Chapter 13: Go the Distance in Ultra Trail Races (50K to 100 miles). Goal: Train wisely and develop strategies to finish the longest race of your dreams. Highlights: How to adapt your trail training for ultra distances; a sample 70-mile week for peak training; mental strategies for ultras; how to know when to tough it out and when to quit; how to plan crews, drop bags and pacers.

Chapter 14: Keep Your Trail Running Fresh and Fulfilling. Goal: Train smart and avoid burnout to run long for life. Highlights: How to avoid burnout and overtraining; how to give back to trails; how to run long and strong no matter what your age.

Another Howie Stern photo featured in The Trail Runner’s Companion.

If you like the outline and want to read it, then I hope you’ll preorder it and share the link on social media to spread the word.

Here’s more advance praise, for which I’m so grateful:

“Sarah has really nailed it. From gear to nutrition to lingo, it’s everything a budding trail runner needs to get going and thrive on trails.” – Magdalena Boulet (2015 Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run Champion and 2008 U.S. Olympian)

“Sarah Lavender Smith is a prolific runner, writer, and adventurer, and her new book is the definitive work on all things related to running on that majority of Earth’s surface unpaved by the hands of man. Whether you’re an elite athlete looking to tackle a multi-day race through the wilderness, or a first-timer seeking to venture onto less tamed pathways, The Trail Runner’s Companion is an indispensable resource for all your needs and something that belongs on every runner’s bookshelf.” – Dean Karnazes (ultrarunner and New York Times bestselling author)

The Trail Runner’s Companion is a must for runners looking to hit the trails! With humor and insight, Sarah provides practical and time-tested tools for success with trail running. Whether you are brand new to trails, or preparing to tackle an ultramarathon, Sarah’s book will be a tremendous resource.” – Cory Reese (author of Nowhere Near First and columnist for UltraRunning Magazine)

This image by Howie Stern is featured in Chapter 13, about specific training for ultra distances.

The Trail Runner’s Companion is a must-have for all trail runners, both new and experienced. It brings a wealth of knowledge and entertaining stories to keep you engaged in the valuable content of the book. If only I had The Trail Runner’s Companion to read before my first trail race, I could have avoided so many mistakes! I highly recommend it.” – Kaci Lickteig (2016 UltraRunning Magazine UltraRunner of the Year and Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run champion)

The Trail Runner’s Companion is an excellent resource for those just entering the wacky world of ultras, as well as for those looking to sharpen their skills, improve times, and reduce injury. Through Sarah’s anecdotes that precede each chapter, we’re able to immediately put into perspective and vision the lesson we’ll be learning and how it relates to real life. Her tips for success—honed over two decades of running and racing—are excellent reminders of what we need to do to be more successful when the gun fires. Great resource.” – Eric Schranz (host and writer at UltraRunnerPodcast.com)

“Yay! Congratulations. What embarrassing stories about me did you include?” – Morgan (my husband) [You’ll have to read Chapters 5 and 8 to find out.]

“I really like the photos! I’ll read it later.” – Colly (my daughter)

“Cool.” – Kyle (my son)

I welcome your feedback, and I greatly appreciate your help in spreading the word about my new book. #TrailRunnersCompanion

(Background photo by Howie Stern; cover image by Ted Distel.)

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3 Responses to A Look Inside “The Trail Runner’s Companion”: My Ultra of a Book

  1. Mike March 29, 2017 at 5:32 am #

    Congratulations Sarah! I can’t wait for your book. I pre-ordered my copy several weeks ago. Your insights are consistently helpful and inspiring. I’m excited to read your book and improve my own running.


  1. Ultramarathon Daily News, Tue, Mar 28 - UltrarunnerPodcast - March 29, 2017

    […] it’s ready to go.  Co-host Sarah Lavender Smith’s book “The Trail Runner’s Companion” is offici…  I’ve got an early copy and it’s well written for beginner runners to veterans […]

  2. It’s Getting Hot, Heavy and Hard: Yes, I’m Talking About Peak Training for My Stage Race | The Runner's Trip: Run Long, Travel Far, Discover More - April 3, 2017

    […] be in a drawing for a coaching consultation with me. Please help spread the word about the book by sharing my earlier blog post about it or posting on social media if/when you order a […]

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