Power Words

Ultrarunners learn, almost as a first lesson, that their ability to finish has a lot to do with the mental side of running. There are many strategies to overcoming the mental challenges of completing an ultramarathon. In this post I want to talk about power words and imagery.

Power words are individual to each runner. They are words with deep meaning and when repeated to oneself during a race can bring back your focus and pull you out of a Pain Cave.

What makes them powerful is your pre-race work with these words. Before you even take your power words out on the trail or road with you, you’ll need to sit with them. What I mean by sit with them is you need to create mental images and physical sensations to fuse with these words.

For example, if you choose the word STRONG as one of your power words, you’re going to repeat this word to yourself during a quiet time, such as the five minute before you climb out of bed or the five minutes before you go to sleep. As you say this word to yourself, conjure or create mental images of you looking strong as you run. Delve into this image until you can feel it in every other sensory avenue you have, not just a mental image, but smell it, feel it, and hear it.

Perhaps STRONG smells like your deodorant or your sweat as you charge up a hill or hit a particular speed. Perhaps its the dust on the trail, the pine trees, or the river flowing near by.

Work on each one of your words. Identify three words that have deep meaning to you as a runner. That way you have a couple  back up options if you are in a mental space where one word is more of a trigger than a motivator. Really grounding yourself in the words prior to using it during a race is critical. Practice is your best friend here. Establish your imagery before using it in a training run, but then try to use it during easier parts of your runs and then incorporate it in hard efforts. 

What are your words of power?

Vibrating Foam Roller

I received a vibrating foam roller for Christmas, at my request, because I love and swear by foam rolling. Every evening I spend twenty to thirty minutes foam rolling. I know that the research doesn’t support it as a preventative technique, but my body says something entirely different. I know that if I don’t roll daily, shin splits, calf knots and ITband issues are headed my way within about two weeks and if I’m doing a lot of road running (because it’s winter and the mountain lions come closer to the city at the same time I am running alone) I will have issue within a few days.

I first heard about the vibrating foam roller last Christmas but couldn’t bring myself to put the money down when my trusty regular roller was working just fine (and still is). Anyway this year it was under the tree. So what do I think about it? Well, I have to say it is fun to roll on and my two and a half year old daughter loves to roll on it too. The one featured above is about $70.00 on Amazon and very similar to what I have been using. I don’t think I am sold on this as being better than my trusty regular roller. The foam on it is very very hard and has left bruises on the outside of my legs every time I use it. That’s my biggest complaint about it. It works fine for what it is but it doesn’t work any better than the one I have. It won’t wear out as quickly as a foam roller that is actually made of foam (mine is not it’s plastic wrapped with a contoured foam).

I do put my full body weight on the roller, other than having a hand to balance on. Perhaps if you used less pressure, then you would avoid the bruising. Really my other roller has left bruising in the past too when I have a very large knot but it hasn’t been a consistent thing. I feel like I get the best results with a high pressure slow roll. If you are considering one, perhaps get one with a 30 day return option or borrow one from a friend for a few weeks.

Roll on! Run Happy!

Return to Running and Racing

Weekly posts? Hahaha. All we can do is our best. As long it is our best in that moment, it is enough.

Life for us all is so interesting right now. I know I told you I would tell you about my DIY 100 mile run and I will, but the journey getting there is important so I would like to start from there. I decided to put my writing (blog and books) on hold in August 2018. I didn’t believe it would take years to get back to the blog. I knew the books would likely take years before I would have the time to dedicate to finishing them.

I had many changes occur in my life over the last two and a half years. My daughter was born, I left my 9 to 5 career (been there ten years) to start my own business, I got married, I moved and then there is this Covid-19 pandemic we are all more familiar with then we’d like to be.

My running has always been my freedom, my therapy, my meditation, my foundation as I have navigated changes and challenges in my life. During the last trimester of my pregnancy and for about 5 months following it, I wasn’t able to run. In August of 2018, I barely had my running.

I relied on hiking, elliptical, stair master, and strength training to keep my sanity through these months and just held on to my belief that I would be able to run again in time. The whole time I was pregnant and then right after, everyone told me you will bounce right back don’t worry about it. Your endurance and strength will return very quickly.

I know they were trying to be encouraging and they probably believed what they were saying, but it didn’t make me feel any better. In fact, it made things worse because when I was able to start coming back to running, it was hard, and I had to start from the very beginning. I had to start back with run walking which meant that I had regressed to a point past where I began my running life.

I was determined. I love running and I was not going to let it go.

I began with run/walking. I was walking more than I was running. I could only do 15 minutes at a time. The problems I was having were the same as every beginning runner. I had pain in my knees. I had pain in the tendons of my ankles.  I also had a new problem. I would pee every time I ran, even a short distance (if this is TMI for male readers skip the next paragraph).

I did many pelvic floor exercises I found online for months and it wasn’t getting better. I went to a physical therapist who specialized in pelvic floor muscles. I did those exercises for months. Nothing.  I had to see a urogynecologist about it, who said it may take a long time for my body to recover and I may need surgery to correct the problem or to wear a pessary every time I ran. I felt betrayed by my body. I was afraid that running would never be the same for me again.

It was October 2018, when I was finally able to get back to a run/walk program. It was slow going and little things like the knee and the posterior tibialis tendon issue would pop up when I increased my miles. It was hard to get out on the trails with a baby at home who was still breastfeeding.

I kept telling myself I was rebuilding my base. I had no idea when or if I would race again. All winter I worked at rebuilding my miles. In June of 2019, I was able to return to racing. I finished the Squaw Peak 50 mile in 13:05:29. I finished Speedgoat 50k in 10:25:45 in July 2019 and Antelope Island 50 in 5:50:59.

I had registered for Bear 100 but ended up withdrawing from the race because I didn’t feel my daughter was ready for me to be gone for 24 to 36 hours.

I was feeling good about my progression and excited for 2020’s race season to open up… and then Covid hit and all the races were cancelled.

Coming back

So it’s been a long time since I posted anything. Two years actually. That’s what happens when you have a baby, I suppose. They take over your life for a while. I would like to be able to commit to posting regularly but I cant at this point. I will say that I will post when I can and will make an effort to do so.

My return to running after the birth of my daughter has been a long slow process. I had to start from square one with a run walk and slowly build my miles back up. I’m now happy to say that I’m back to running 50 to 60 miles a week. I will talk about this more in depth in future posts.

I am planning a virtual 100 next weekend which will be a challenge to say the least. The route I’ve chosen is three loops of just over 33 miles each. Each loop will be about 7600 feet of climbing. I couldn’t choose a simple course could I? No that’s never been my style.

Due to the pandemic I will probably not have a pacer and my crew will be minimal. I will let you all know how it turns out

Running While Breastfeeding

Many women believe breastfeeding their child will help them lose the weight they gained while pregnant. While it’s true that breastfeeding burns about 500 calories a day. If you’re not running a deficit you’re not going to lose weight. But how much of a deficit is okay when your breastfeeding?

This is an important question for any endurance running mother who is breastfeeding her child, even when not trying to lose weight. Having enough milk to feed your child is obviously very important if you want to continue breastfeeding. The best way to maintain your milk supply is to drink lots of water and eat enough calories.

Many ultrarunners survive on calorie deficit pretty much everyday. Even marathon runners are going to have days where they don’t replace all of the calories they’ve burned. If you’re trying to lose weight, you’re going to have to fiddle with your calorie intake, but start with a 200 calorie deficit. Wait a couple of weeks before creating a bigger deficit. You shouldn’t be doing any dieting until your milk supply is well established at about eight weeks post partum. You shouldn’t be losing more than a pound a week.

Runners who are not trying to lose weight will need to monitor their calorie intake and milk supply.

The available research shows that exercise does not impact the composition of your milk. Breast milk contains protein, carbohydrates, and fats to help your baby grow. The other important thing your milk gives your baby are the antibodies you already have in your system.  This is a major reason breastfeeding is recommended. Your baby can’t get those antibodies from formula.

Spend some money on a good sports bra. You’re going to need some solid support. And when your baby is under a year, you probably need a bra you can nurse in too. The Brooks Juno has been perfect for me.

Newborns eat every two hours or more frequently. Feeding on demand is the best way to make sure you have enough milk and your baby is getting what he/she needs. Infants feed every 3 hours. This means it’s going to impact your running. Once your baby has a schedule, you should be able to get away for shorter runs. Long runs over two or three hours will require some planning and help. You’ll either have to have someone bottle feed your baby expressed milk or bring the baby to you to feed her. If you bottle feed, the issue you’ll run into is full breasts. You’ll have to stop to pump milk. There is a new breast pump called the Willow. It fits into your bra and doesn’t have any wires or tubes. Find it here.

Running ultras and breast feeding are definitely compatible.  Here are some tips to make the partnership work out:

  1. Feed baby or pump before you go out for a run
  2. Make sure you are consuming enough water and calories to maintain your milk supply.
  3. Find a way to pump on the run or feed baby during long runs.
  4. Get a really supportive sports bra.
  5. Be flexible with your running schedule to meet your baby’s needs especially before some predictability is established.
  6. Consider splitting long runs up.
  7. Take baby with you on runs and stop to feed if needed.
  8. Pay attention to caffeine in your sports gels, chews, and hydration.
  9. Throw a hand pump in drop bags where you can’t feed your baby. You’ll just have to dump it, but it will make you more comfortable. You don’t have to empty your breast just skim some off the top.
  10. Practice the plan during training, before you register for a race.

Happy running!

 

 

 

The Perils of Water and Running

Water on the trails mean mud. Mud comes in variety of thicknesses, much to our great joy. Super thin mud is just as treacherous as the thick, suction your shoes off, mud. So how do you navigate running through the mud? Well, it’s a bit treacherous and takes a bit of recklessness.

Thin mud, almost just dirty water, doesn’t stick to the outside of your shoes. It infiltrates the inside creating optimal conditions for blisters and having your skin rubbed right off. Having shoes that drain water well will help but the dirt tends to remain in your shoe while the water escapes.

Try to prevent the mud from getting to your feet by wearing plastic bread bags over your feet and under your socks or over your socks, which ever is more comfortable for you. If you know you’re going to be going through mud, take extra shoes and a bunch of extra socks. At each aid station you’ll need to clean your feet and change socks.

All of these suggestions are applicable to thick sticky mud as well, especially, having extra shoes. If you have a ways to go in the thick stuff trying to scrape it off your shoes is a waste of time. Keep moving and take care of it at the end because it’s just going to get stuck back on their within a few minutes and it probably took you three to five minutes trying to get it off.

Have your crew clean your shoes while you’re out on the course. That way you’ll have a pair of slightly cleaner shoes to put on while they clean the second pair. Pack a bucket and a scrub brush in your crew vehicle to be used to clean your shoes. Having a bundle of news paper on hand to shove inside your shoes will help absorb the moisture and maintain the shape of the shoes. Your crew should remove your insole or footbed before washing your shoes.

Your feet are not the only thing that suffers when you encounter mud and water on a course. There are unknown hazards that you can’t see. Rocks and roots are waiting to twist your ankle and bring you to your knees. This is where the bit of recklessness comes into play. Sometimes it’s best to maintain a running pace rather than pick your way through feeling with your foot. This becomes more true the longer you’re going to be in the mud. Keep your stride short.

Prepare you body for mud running by practice. Don’t shy away from the tough stuff when you’re training. Write out the ABC’s with your foot raised about six to ten inches in the air. This will help the brain-foot connection enabling you to move your feet when you feel unstable. Train with an agility (speed) ladder to improve your ability to move your feet quickly through rocks and roots. Squat and calf raises. Lots. Balance exercises are also going to be valuable.

If you’re looking for a post about running in a pool, you can find my post on that here.

If you’re looking for a post about river crossing, I have one here. 

 

Running in Sand

Running through sand is a great way to strengthen your feet, ankles and other stabilizing tendons and ligaments. If you have a race coming up with significant sections of sand, be prepared. Sand is rough on tendons who go in without experience and if the sand trap is early in the race, you could be in a world of hurt.

The other issue with sand is that it gets into your shoes and your socks. I’ve dumped sandboxes out of my shoes when running in southern Utah. A toe box full of sand not only cramps your feet, but it causes blisters and weighs you down. You have two options; keep it out or get it out.

The most effective option is to go barefoot. However, this comes with it’s own set of risks, such as cutting or burning your feet. If you’re choosing this option make sure you’re feet are strong enough for barefoot running and that your Achilles tendon is in good shape. Shoes limit the amount the Achilles stretches, so if you wear shoes all the time and then suddenly run barefoot, you’re likely to strain or tear your Achilles. Slowly build up to the distance you’ll be running barefoot.

To keep sand out of your shoes you can put your feet in plastic grocery sacks or bread bags before putting them in your shoes. This will keep the sand off your feet and out of your socks. You can also put it over your entire shoe, but it may just rip or cause your shoe to slip.

Getting it out of your shoe is a challenge, as anyone knows who has played on the beach and gone home. You will find sand in your car and every where in your house for at least a week.  You’re unlikely to be able to get all of the sand out. Dump your shoe and beat it on a rock or the ground. Same thing with your socks. Best if you can pack extra socks and just pull those on. This will require a lot of socks if you have repeated sand sections. With your socks and shoes off, wash your feet.

Running barefoot in sand is an excellent way to reduce your calluses, but a race is not the time to take sandpaper to your feet, so make sure you get between each toe. If, later in the race, you feel sand in your shoe, you’re better off taking the time to clean out your shoe than developing a blister(s).

When you begin training on sand, run on the wet stuff first. It’s more firm and wont tax your stabilizing tendons and muscles as much, thus giving them time to adjust to the increased load. Running on sand takes more propulsion which translates into a slower pace.

Chose a pair of shoes that are dedicated to sand running and don’t take them in the house!

 

Running Preggers: Pelvic floor

There are three muscles that take the brunt of the stress from pregnancy: the uterus (which is a group of muscles), the rectus abdominis (six pack), and the pelvic floor. It takes the uterus approximately 6-8 weeks to return to it’s normal pre-pregnancy size after the baby is born. We addressed the rectus abdominis in my last post regarding Diastasis Recti.

The pelvic floor muscles are like a sling or hammock that attaches to your pelvic bone and your tail bone. Having a week pelvic floor is not an uncommon thing even in those who have never been pregnant. In fact, men can have problems with their pelvic floor.

Your pelvic floor holds in your uterus, bladder and bowl. Only bladder and bowl in men obviously. Having a strong pelvic floor is important for both pregnant and non-pregnant people. The main symptom of a weak pelvic floor is incontinence or urine leaking, especially, when you cough, sneeze, laugh or during running. You can also have feces leak, but that’s less common. Because this is so common among women, many think it’s normal, but it’s not.

An even more serious issue than leakage is prolapse, which is when one of your organs falls down into your vagina. prolapse has to be corrected with surgery.

Having a strong pelvic floor during pregnancy is obviously important because it holds your uterus inside your pelvis. You should begin doing pelvic floor exercises as soon as you know you are pregnant. In fact, everyone should do them, especially, runners because we can stress our pelvic floor every time we run.

So what are some pelvic floor exercises? First you have to be able to isolate those muscles. The best way to figure out if you are flexing the pelvic floor is to stop the flow of urine. Kegel exercises are the most recommended pelvic floor exercise. A kegel is done by flexing the pelvic floor. Men identify the pelvic floor and do kegels in the same way as women. If you can’t feel your pelvic floor (not unusual after childbirth), use visualization.

You should be doing kegels three times a day, at least. You want to do ten repetitions of two types. First, pull your pelvic floor up and hold for ten seconds, then release for ten seconds. You can shorten the time between each as you get stronger. The second is to flex and release 2 seconds up and 2 seconds relaxed.

Other exercises that work your pelvic floor are:

  1. bridge
  2. clams
  3. hover: sit on your heels with your knees apart rise up and pull your pelvic floor up.
  4. split squats
  5. wall sits
  6. squats.
  7. elevator: pull your pelvic floor up halfway and hold it for 3-5 seconds and then pull it in as much as you can. Release in the same way.

Begin with ten repetitions and two sets. Do these three to four times a week.

When doing pelvic floor exercises it’s important to coordinate with your diaphragm and your rectus abdominus. You should be using your diaphragm to breathe. To make sure you are, lay on your back and place one hand right at the bottom of your ribs and the other hand on your chest. As you inhale it should begin in the bottom of your ribs not in your chest.

You should be relaxing your pelvic floor with each inhalation and contracting your pelvic floor with each exhalation.

You can begin doing kegels a few days after your child being born. If you have stitches you may have to wait a little longer if they cause any pain.

Pelvic floor exercises should be done in a variety of positions including laying down, sitting and standing.

Training not Where You Wanted it to Be?

Life can get in the way of the best laid plans. Even when running is LIFE, the other pieces can interfere and put us a week out from race day with inadequate training and a mindset lacking in enthusiasm for the event ahead of us.

What do you do when your training just hasn’t been what you wanted it to be? Maybe it has been a lot less than you wanted it to be, to the point where you’re questioning your ability to finish the race? You have three options to choose from.

First, you can DNS (did not start) and cut your losses with that (most races won’t let you transfer your registration to another runner or carry it over to the next year). Second, you can go out hard pretending that your training was amazing and nothing can stop you. Third, you can show up to the start and see what the day brings with only an expectation to enjoy yourself.

The second option is likely to get you injured, which will only compound any frustration you feel about the situation. The first, I can understand if you’re coming back from an injury, which has killed your training and you really don’t want to risk causing more injury or compromising the healing process.

The third is the option I encourage most runners to take. You paid for the race after all and I think you will surprise yourself if you hold to a few suggestions and trust in your running foundation.

It’s important that you stay positive about the event and situation as much as possible-Hey at least you’re able to be out there. Make sure you are encouraging other runners as you come in contact with them along the course. Not only will your encouraging words impact them, they will impact you because, you hear them as well.

Summon your inner confidence. You’re a strong runner who has done hard things before. You finished races before. You know where to slow down and where to pick up the pace. You know how to fuel and hydrate. You know how to utilize your crew and pacers to help you reach the finish line. You’ve dealt with the “pain and suffering” of running before and can do it again.

Don’t discount consistency. If you’ve been able to maintain consistency in your training schedule but not the miles remember that consistency goes a long long way when it comes to running. Yeah, sure you wish you could have gotten in more long runs and more time on the trails, but at least you ran every day you had scheduled to be a run day even if it was only for an hour. Consistency keeps your muscles and tendons strong. It also keeps your mental game strong.

Trust your foundation. If you’ve been running for years and this is just one of many races you’ve done trust your body. You have the running foundation to push through a race even on less than the best training.

Get out to the starting line and assess your body’s condition as you go. You don’t want to get injured, but don’t miss a chance to play on the trails and show yourself you can do things even when they don’t turn out just the way you had planned.

Self-Supported Long Run

Why would you do a self supported long run? why not? Planning out a route and setting everything up is great practice for running any ultra. It’s also good training if there isn’t a local “shorter” ultra race you can throw in your schedule before your big event.

Let me first clarify what I mean by self supported. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to carry all the stuff you’ll need for the entire distance you are running. It just means you’re the one setting everything up. You can have drop bags or meet up with a supportive friend/loved one to get additional items or trade out gear.

There are two main goals for doing this type of run. First, to get a good taste of where you are at in your training and what you  need to work on. Second, to get a good idea of how to pack drop bags and what you’ll need at particular places during a run.

The distance of the run depends on the distance of you’re main event. If you’re running a 100, consider putting together something between 40-50 miles. Yes, you’ll have to take a few days off afterward to recover, but you’ll be doing this two months before race day so you’ve got some time. If you’re running a 50 miler, shoot for 30 miles.

If you’ll be running at night during your race, setting this up as a night time run or an early evening (finish in the middle of the night) run is going to help you get more comfortable with the night portion. It’s also helpful if you don’t just sit around or sleep all day before you do this run. If you work, go to work. If you need to do grocery shopping, do it. This will give you a good sense of running tired.

If you’re running during the night, I would encourage you to find someone to go with you to keep you company and for safety reasons. Also make sure you are familiar with the route you’re taking since it wont be marked like it would be in a race.

Figure out your route

Try to find something that is similar to what you’ll be running in your race. Maybe not as difficult, but similar terrain wise. Don’t choose a road route, if you’re gearing up for a single track trail race, unless you don’t have any other choices. Find a route where you can meet someone once or twice to refill your supplies. Even if you’re not meeting up with anyone, make sure someone knows when you’re leaving, the route your taking, and the time you expect to be finished (just in case).

You might be able to place drop bags along the route or just pack them and give them to your support crew to bring with them and then only use the supplies out of the bag for that stop (unless its injury related, of course). This will help you know what to pack for a real event.

Get creative and have fun with your very own ultra event.