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Runner Interview: Peter Billard (@catchingthestride)

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Interview with Peter Billard


  • Glastonbury, Connecticut, USA

Peter Billard Runner Interview Trail & Kale
Water break on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail on the way up Mt. Washington

When and why did you start running?

My first time was as a teenager in high school.  I ran track and cross country events. Nothing exemplary about it. Then took a long break. Started running anew in 1985 as training about a month before a multi-day hike to Mt. Washington and nearby peaks. It was a big success in that I could truly enjoy the hike without discomfort from the pack’s weight and elevation ups and downs. It’s been my preferred exercise since then, mainly because it’s effective and always available. What’s so nice about running? You don’t need expensive gear. Don’t need a permit or lift ticket. I don’t need anyone’s permission or approval to do it. I can step out of my door and within ten feet start my run. When I travel, I can still run. Running gives a thrill, much as it did when I was a young kid. It’s a solid connection with the elements and outdoors, too.

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A great pleasure has been collaborating with my son Jesse to produce interesting running photos for our social media pages. I run and he shoots. Thanks, son, for your sharp eyes, reflexes, and editing skills! Jesse Billard on IG: @jb4free

Peter Billard Runner Interview Trail & Kale
Summer of 2000 Mt. Washington Trip, Jesse and I are just above tree line on the Airline Trail

Describe your ideal race?

(Fictional) Running along an undulating ridge trail at altitude, with spectacular views into the distance, nature at its best, valleys of fog slowly dissipating, a slight chill in the air, birds awakening with their calls, all while the sun rises ahead of us. The passage of time and preoccupation with ordinary concerns is suspended. A physical, emotional, and spiritual first person experience. Good affirmation of what it means to be alive.

Peter Billard Runner Interview Trail & Kale
One of our town parks has beautiful views and cinder trails along the Connecticut River

What’s so nice about running? You don’t need expensive gear. Don’t need a permit or lift ticket. I don’t need anyone’s permission or approval to do it. I can step out of my door and within ten feet start my run. When I travel, I can still run. Running gives a thrill, much as it did when I was a young kid. It’s a solid connection with the elements and outdoors, too.

What’s your favorite trail race to date, and why?

Truthfully, I stopped doing races. They became too anxiety producing. I’d see someone ahead of me and want to catch them. I’d hear people behind me and not want them to pass me. Pre-race was filled with stomach jitters. I traded the anxiety for why I run now: for fitness, relaxation, and enjoyment. I don’t mind running solo. Along with my halt to races, I’ve abandoned so much measuring, timing, counting, tracking, comparing, keeping score, and ranking. They have their place and I employ them where appropriate, but not while I run. I don’t need a number in order to experience the joy of running.

What has been your biggest running / adventure challenge to date?

My most frequent year-round route has a long steep hill on the return. I run the route in all weather. In the winter it’s cold and dark the entire run. I struggled with that hill in my head about 15 years ago. Then it finally dawned on me that the hill wasn’t the hard part. My legs, lungs, and heart handled it fine. I realized the hard part was getting out of bed at 5:00 a.m. to run in the dark. From then on I had no trouble thinking about either the hill or my warm bed.

Running is my meditation. I recite in my head both my own writings and the words of others. It’s good to review what I stand for, my guiding principles, universal truths, and enduring values.

Tell us about your greatest running fail (we’ve all had – or will have – them at some point!)

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Earlier this year while running on the road with my hand weights, I decided to duck into the woods and take a longer trail home. Started out fine, but maybe I got careless or tired, but at some point, I tripped on a root or rock and went down face-first. I badly injured both thumbs because the hand weight straps and grips prevented me from opening my hands to break my fall. Thumbs got a little smashed. Bloodied my gloves. No more hand weights while in the forest!

[Ouch that sounds painful, but also good advice for running with weights!]

Peter Billard Runner Interview Trail & Kale
Peter Billard Runner Interview Trail & Kale

What is your approach to training? Do you follow a particular training plan?

I guess my training is preparation to be active, relevant, and fit well into my later years. I don’t need to continually run faster and farther anymore. I intend to be still running long after most others have retired to the couch. Doing good so far!

Running is my meditation. I recite in my head both my own writings and the words of others. It’s good to review what I stand for, my guiding principles, universal truths, and enduring values.

Running is stimulating in allowing my mind to go where it wants as I move through the forest or on the road. Ideas come to me. I think clearly about personal subjects in need of solutions and sometimes an answer will appear. Other times I only pay attention to the terrain, light through the trees, wildlife, and the beauty of it all. Running early in the morning is never interrupted by phone calls, meetings, or distractions. Despite the energy expended, it ends up invigorating everything else I do that day.  And unexpectedly, running seems to have a subtle effect on suppressing my appetite. Maybe because I don’t want overeating to be the demise of my running. And I sure enjoy food!

I intend to be still running long after most others have retired to the couch. Doing good so far!

What advice would you give to a new trail runner?

Pick your feet up higher than you would on the road. Watch out for stumps, rocks, and roots. Maintain good balance and strong ankles. Embrace the variety of terrain. Seek out interesting and new destinations. Run when it rains, don’t hide inside. But also watch out for slick leaves and rock surfaces when it’s wet. Charge up hills. Stop whenever you feel like taking in the whole view.

Peter Billard Runner Interview Trail & Kale
The Salmon River State Forest near our house is a labyrinth of trails made by mountain bikers

What is your favourite bit of running kit?

What challenges / races / adventures are you planning for the coming year?

Healing and strengthening after a recent out-of-the-blue piriformis muscle problem. Had to stop all running for a while–ugh! Several weeks of physical therapy got me on the right track, now I’ve identified seven areas to maintain:

1. stretches for that area,

2. massage of those muscles,

3. use a foam roller,

4. practice better back posture than what I’ve been doing,

5. regular situps for a stronger stomach that will help support the back,  

6. use stretchy bands around the ankles to strengthen the appropriate area, and

7. heating pad and ice packs from time to time. Everything’s mending OK, I’ve resumed running.

Peter Billard Runner Interview Trail & Kale
Strapped in and secure, sitting on my yoga pads, photographing a race in May 2017

What’s your favourite running/adventure book?

Two: Jon Krakauer’s ‘Into The Wild’ and ‘Into Thin Air’. Both emphasize key points to do with preparation, risk assessment, psychological stamina, focus, recognizing warning signs, and the challenge of handling the unforeseen and unexpected. Good lessons that can apply in other areas of our lives.

Finally, what do you get up to in life when you’re not running or adventuring?

Family life is at the top: sharing dinners and conversation, kayaking together, Friday nights for pizza and a Netflix, and being a good husband and father. Community involvement. My photography business, as well as photography off the job. Home projects. Rock sculptures in our yard. Yearly tomato and herb garden. Keep a sharp outlook on the world. Help others. Exercise mentally, physically, intellectually, and spiritually. Give back more than I take. Working in my research and development center out back, which my wife Nancy calls my ‘shop’.

 


 

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Thank you, Peter for sharing your wisdom and insights about how to be a mindful runner who loves the act of running for what it is. We are discovering that there are so many different reasons why people run on the trails, and every one of them is wonderful! We also love how you work with your son to get some of the amazing shots that you share on Instagram. Best wishes for a 100% and speedy recovery!! 🙂

Happy Trails!

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