To describe Phillip Gary Smith as merely an outdoors enthusiast would be to absurdly underestimate his passion for long distance running and snowshoeing.
He’s authored five health and fitness books while holding down his post as senior writer at Snowshoe Magazine. Smith is a seasoned athlete who knows the many benefits of working out regularly.
In our Q&A, the Hopkins, Minnesota resident talks about what drives him to keep moving in any weather situation, and offers his motivation tips.
Q: What inspires you to get outdoors to workout?
A: I recently read an article from Outside Magazine (by) Amby Burfoot, that listed 10 benefits of running, plus providing evidence supporting that collection. Essentially, you will be (up to) decades younger than your non-active peers.
For example, 75-year-old runners and bicyclists (who have exercised for 50 years) are closer to a 25-year-old’s biological profile than those having no physical exertion.
This revelation may not seem meaningful to someone under the age of 30, let’s say, but it is similar to putting away some money in the bank throughout life.
You’ll be financially far ahead of the crowd when you do. By being healthy at a senior age, the spending of those dollars may be for fun and games versus doctor visits and therapy.
Q: Can you describe some of the most tangible benefits?
I’ve found, as the magazine also confirmed, that sleep comes easier because your physical being wants and needs to recover.
If anything, it provides an excuse to get out of chores on the to-do list because you need to ‘recuperate’ via a nap.
One of the real benefits of snowshoeing and running comes from being outside in heat and snow, which stimulates thoughts and creativity.
I’ve written chapters of books, articles, and a good portion of a movie script, all while making way on trails.
There’s the dopamine secretion that accounts for some of this, but there’s another reason altogether often missed: there is a cadence, a constant motion when moving on a road, a trail, or while putting snowshoes on the top of a snow-covered path. It seems to act something like a metronome for music.
Music, which is comfortable to listen to while running, provides an environment in your aura where fanciful thoughts bubble up.
In a script, those characters in my story will carry on a dialogue with one another, all the while I am making way over a prairie field or climbing a long, challenging mountain on the Superior Hiking Trail.
Though this may seem wacky, the fact is, it works, particularly when training or racing on your own.
I’ve burst out laughing while training on trails or roads as characters prancing around my head act in a certain way or provide a terrific line of dialogue.
Sometimes they argue with me about how they talk, what they would do, and that I didn’t have it right. I can’t explain how this happens, but I suggest it is related to just ‘doing,’ being away from the ordinary day.
“T.O.T.,” as I call time-on-trails, brings out something else, too.
That is, solving personal or business problems. It’s not that you shut the car door and say, “Well, all I’m going to think about for the next four hours will be about this problem or that situation.”
A better approach means you ignore that stuff and celebrate the woods, the beauty of snow falling, and the sounds of running creeks.
At some point, your psyche realizes a possible workaround to your challenge and flashes it to you. It is a moment you won’t forget.
The BBC’s ‘Future’, published in March 2016 by Chris Baraniuk, describes this as an outcome of a serene brain because one has ‘automized behavior.’ I’ve written about this advantage in an article awaiting release by Snowshoe Magazine.
The title: How Snowshoeing Resolves Your Problems (A Fresh Approach).
Q: What are some safety tips that you find essential?
A: We need to cover a new concern that has come to the forefront in the last few years, personal safety on trails and roads.
This topic moves away from the typical ‘watch out for cars’. Rather, some are on trails and scouting parking areas, either through what they consider opportunism or a planned assault to harm, rob or menace you. ‘That will never happen to me’ doesn’t give one an accurate lay of the land.
Assume it COULD happen to you. It’s better to have some protection and be prepared should something come up. Here are some ideas.
I’ve carried a cool white and black bullwhip in my backpack for some time. If I come across some animal that might attack me because of my mistake or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, at least I am not standing there with my pants at half-mast.
Carrying a knife in its sheath on my belt gives me a tool to cut through the brush. Additionally, that tool might protect me in some unknown situation.
Mace or bear spray also makes sense to me to pack. Human or mammal, one has to have a way to protect self. Never forget the trail teaches lessons that can take or save a life.
If not experienced, then never travel alone. If your partner stops, so do you. Practice before venturing out. Cover a day, two days, and more on the trail itself.
Find your weak spots and fix them before you leave. Just assume the weather will be nasty all the time and prepare for that. In winter, temperatures reaching significantly below-zero temperatures can kill you.
Carry a GPS device with you that doesn’t depend on a signal tower but reads through a satellite. Mark trails when you step off the official trail, so it is easier to see where you need to go and the direction to travel, too.
I always text my wife when I enter a trailhead. She knows my plans.
When I complete the planned distance and reach the car, I text again. Someone needs to know where you’re at and your plans.
Q: Can you share how you train specifically for events?
A: The best way to train for whatever goals you have means entering and competing in events. You don’t have to worry about winning; let others do that. Get out there, start, and, importantly, get your finish. I love to register those so I can keep up with them.
There are several sites just for that purpose, but I use Athlinks. I like their attitude: “The pain you endured to cross the finish line is temporary.
But your race results are forever. Claim, share, and celebrate them here.” Looking back on those results brings that competition right back like it was yesterday.
About Steve Erickson