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Reach Your Fitness Goals with Mountain Athletics

Ultrarunner Mike Wolfe shares how to get the most out of your workouts

Whether you’re a weekend warrior or looking for a new fitness routine, there’s always room to increase speed, strength, and endurance. With personalized online training videos, exercise demonstrations, and tips from The North Face Global athletic team, Mountain Athletics is geared to help you attain your athletic goals. After injuring himself in 2012, ultramarathon runner Mike Wolfe started using Mountain Athletics training to work on recovery. Since then, he has set new goals and broken world records. 

When Wolfe goes out for a run, he’s usually gone for six hours or more and can cover over 100 miles. In 2010, Wolfe, who began ultrarunning in 2006, won the Bighorn 100-mile race in Wyoming, beating the course record by 40 minutes. Last summer, he ran the 230-mile Muir Trail in just 84 hours, breaking the previous record by two hours. During that run he slept only four hours. Not bad for a husband, father of a newborn, and lawyer who works on estate planning. How does he do it? Let him tell you.

What does your training look like?
Obviously, I run, but I also go to the gym. In the gym I’ll do lots of plyometric strength training. It makes you more durable, balanced, and strong, and therefore you’re less likely to get injured. If you just run, you’ll become imbalanced and get injured. Your core gets weak; the little stabilizer muscles in your hips and glutes get weak. Then you end up with hamstring tendinitis.

So what do you do in the gym?
As an athlete who's been ultrarunning for a long time, I’m a believer that functional strength training keeps you healthy in the long run. For example, I’ll put a rubber band around my ankles and pull my feet apart. I’ll also do four-square box-hop drills, in which you hop forward, back, and side to side on one foot. It works the ankle and the hip stability that you need for running.

And how many miles are you putting in?
As I transition into spring, I’ll cut back to one day in the gym. By April or May, I’ll just be running. Two days a week of hill repeats, one day of speed workouts. On weekends I’ll run four to seven hours in the mountains. That’s over 30,000 feet of climbing and 120 to 150 miles of running. For hill repeats, I’ll do a 20- to 30-minute warm-up, then run a hill on a 12 to 15 percent grade as hard as I can for three minutes. I’ll do eight of those with three-minute rests in between. Then I’ll do a 20 to 30 minute cooldown. The workout usually takes about an hour and a half.

How do you recover?
For endurance runners, winter is our off-season. These days you can race year-round, but you need some recovery time. Winter is that time for me. I had a 50-mile race in December and then didn’t run a step for the next four weeks. Instead, I Nordic-skied, backcountry-skied, and alpine-skied. So I’m still exercising but not taking anything too seriously.

Are you on a special diet?
Maybe it’s cliché but I “eat clean.” It’s not rocket science. I’m not a vegan, vegetarian, or paleo. I hunt, and all the meat I eat is venison and elk, and I eat that meat every week. I stay away from sugar and unhealthy processed food. And for carbs, I eat good-quality bread from a local French bakery, lots of fruit, potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes.

Do you ever cheat?
Yes. Every once in while I’ll eat Espresso Heath Bar ice cream from a local shop.

How much sleep do you get?
I feel like I need eight hours. If I’m running a lot, it’s best if I can get nine or ten hours a night. The most important part of training is sleep and recovery. But I just had my first kid three weeks ago, so I’m not sleeping much now.

How do you balance family and training?
The biggest thing is that you need to communicate well to structure your days and give each other the time you need. My wife and I sit down and talk the night before to figure out what each other has going on the next day.

What do you think about while you’re running?
It’s my time of day to decompress and process the things I’ve been dealing with. I don’t run with music. I find it distracting. When I’m running, I have my most present and coherent thoughts. Things make sense. As an attorney, it gives me a good chance to process my work issues.

What motivates you?
At the basic level, my motivation is my love of being outside and in the mountains. And the challenge. You’re racing against yourself, and your competitors are there to push you. It’s self-exploration. I feel like it’s an instinctual thing that we all share, but in our modern world we’ve lost it. It’s part of our survival instinct. We don’t think about that anymore, but at one point it’s all we thought about. We live in a safe world, and we need to find ways to take risks and push ourselves. I think we have drug addiction because it’s coming from the same place, but we don’t have proper outlets for it. Running can be that outlet.

What are your goals?

I have unfinished business in ultrarunning. I’ll keep doing the ultras. But I think bigger than that are adventure endurance travel. I don’t have anything on the books, but I’ve been talking to somebody about mountain faces in South Africa. There’s a 200-mile trail there, and I’d like to be the first person to run it without stopping.  

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Mike trains in Kilowatt gear from The North Face. See the entire collection at thenorthface.com/mountainathletics.