Plains vs. Mountains

mountain sunrise



Is the ultrarunning experience different when you run a flat race compared to a mountainous race?

Obviously, every course and every race is going to be a unique experience; even if you run the same race year after year there are just too many variables for it to be the exact same race.

But mentally and physically, there are differences when you are running a mountain race as compared to a flat race. Most 100 mile races and even 50k and 50 milers are in the mountains. It’s just easier to plot a course when you have hundreds of miles of trail to choose from and you don’t have to deal with streetlights, cars, and all the complications a city would create. I’m not saying putting together a trail race is easy. It definitely has its own challenges, but I would rather have those issues than the city issues.

Some mental challenges are similar and others are different. Similar: comprehending the distance you are running; mental exhaustion; working through aches and pains; working through the amount you have left to go (such as when you’re at mile 25 and you realize you have an entire marathon or three left to go. This becomes more of a challenge at mile 50 and 75 because you are more tired). Different: in a flat race the lack of variation can become tedious, especially if there isn’t much vegetation; you get bored more easily. With a flat race, you think it is going to be easier. It’s not. When you get out there and it’s just as difficult, or more, discouragement sets in and can cause you to slow down. The entire race is runnable, so you become frustrated when you have to walk due to heavy legs, sore feet, or whatever.

Some physical challenges are the same and others are different: Similar: you’re going to hurt, eventually, you’re going to have to eat when you don’t want to, and you’re going to be physically exhausted. Weather conditions can very and you need to be prepared for those. Stomach issues still need to be anticipated. Different: during a flat race, you are using the same muscles in the same way the entire time. In a mountain race, you incorporate different muscles as you climb and descend. This can lead to more aches and pains. The entire race is runnable, without mountains, there aren’t automatic hike sections, thus making you push harder or not take rest walks early in the race, which leads to being more tired than you would be if you had walked a bit at regular intervals. If you think the race is going to be easier, you may not stay up on your fuel, hydration, and electrolytes. This will lead to all kinds of problems making a schedule and sticking to it is going to prevent this.

As you can see, the physical challenges are linked to the mental challenges. Training is the sure fire way to find these challenges/differences and learn how you can deal with them. Every runner is going to deal with them in different ways. Training properly, will alleviate many of the physical issues which will then reduce the mental challenges as well.

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling, keep those doggies rolling..

contoured roller

I’ve written about foam rolling before, but it’s an essential element in my training/recovery routine and it merits repeating. Over the last week, i’ve been reminded, by my body, how important foam rolling is. After I finished the Bear 100 three weeks ago, I jumped right back into training mode, after one week off, because I have the Pony Express 100 in more 8 days. I skipped rolling for a few days in a row because I was busy and tired. My ITBand began tightening up in my left leg and my quad in my right leg. Both of which pulled the tendons guiding my knee caps resulting in tension and aching. I knew right away what it was and made sure I didn’t miss anymore days.

I get a lot of questions about when and how to stretch. My response has always been the same. If you’re going to stretch, stretch after you run not before. Muscles must be warmed up  before you stretch them or you risk straining or even tearing them. You can also “freeze” your muscles, causing them to go into defense mode and reduce your range of motion. Since the idea behind stretching is to help recovery and prevent injury you sure don’t want to cause injury.

How to stretch is a more complicated question. There are so many different ways to stretch and it’s hard to know which muscles/tendons to stretch in the first place. Of course, if you’re going to stretch, it’s important to stretch big muscles you use for running: quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and ITBands. Stretch to the point of it feeling tight and not super tight, just when it first starts feeling tight. You should hold the stretch for twenty to thirty seconds and then release it completely. Go through your stretches two to three times depending on how tight they are.

Why do I keep saying “if” you stretch? Because using a foam roller is better than stretching. A foam roller will do everything stretching does and more. It lengthens your muscles and tendons and also increases your flexibility. The “more” of foam rolling is its ability to break up the tension in your myofascial layer (deep connective tissues).

Here are the basics of foam rolling: relax the muscles you are rolling, but keep your core tight and stable. If you let your core sag, you’re not going to get the right angle and pressure on the tendons and muscles you’re trying to hit; roll slowly over the area, going back and forth for one to two minutes. Rolling isn’t all fun and games. It hurts at times. In fact, it can hurt pretty bad when you hit a knot. If you roll on a regular basis, you develop less knots.

Roll Happy!

Lucky Pick


I threw my name into the lottery for the Hawai’i’s “Hawai’i Ultra Running Training Teams 100 mile trail run” AKA The HURT. They draw 125 names. The race is in January and in Hawai’i it’s about 70 degrees Fahrenheit in January. There is 24500 feet of cumulative elevation gain. It’s five 20 mile loops in the middle of the island of Oahu. There are four river crossings for each loop.  Yep, you got it, my name was pulled! I’m so very excited for this race. It will be one of the most challenging, possibly the most challenging, race I’ve done.

I’ve had to come up with some creative ways to get the training I need for the HURT. In Utah, where I live, it is winter in January, January is one of the coldest months, ice and heavy snow cover the ground, temperatures below freezing, so cold I run in the neighborhoods with narrow streets just to keep warm.

So how am I going to train to run in 70 degrees when it’s 20 degrees where I am? Well, I’m going to dress in my winter clothes and do have of my long runs on the treadmill in doors. Sounds like fun huh? Not at all, but it’s what you do if you want to finish the HURT.

With all that snow and ice, running the mountains will be pretty much impossible. Driving up into the canyons with six feet of snow is not my idea of a good time, nor is potentially sliding off the side of a mountain. So How am I going to train for the climbing? I’m going to learn to love running stairs (or hate it, either way, it’ll get done). My office building has six flights of stairs. If anyone needs me between the hours of five am and seven am, that’s where you can find me.

I plan to continue with my strength training routine, including core and balance; however, I’ll be switching things up to make sure I maintain the strength in my climbing and more importantly, my descending muscles and tendons. Most people believe that climbing is harder than descending and mentally it is more difficult, but descending is harder on your body because of the impact. If you don’t practice descending, you’ll end up with ITBand issues, shin splints, and blown quads before the end of the race. That’s rough if you still have a lot of descending to do, in fact, it can cost you a finish.

Finally, do you see that picture up there? That’s the trail. How in the hell do you train to run on that?  Agility training my friends. I have a friend who is a soccer player, soccer players have fast feet, lightning fast, moving in and out of everyone else’s feet trying to steal the ball. I asked him to create an agility training routine on the ladder. I have three months to get my little feet to move just as quickly as a soccer player’s. And I have a lot of work to do. I thought I had fairly quick feet since I spend so much time jumping around on single track trails avoiding roots, rocks, mud, and whatever else happens to be out there, but no. When he showed me, I knew right away how much I suck.

The great thing about knowing I suck is I know how to fix it and I’m willing to put in the work. I’m going to finish the HURT 100, if I break both my ankles so be it.

If anyone else has run the HURT, i’m open to suggestions for training or preparation.

Aunt Flow in town?


Hold on guys! This one is for the lady runners. Alright you can read it, but you can never unlearn this information, which may be a good thing if you have women in your life and I hope that you do in some way because we’re pretty awesome.

One of my new runners misheard something I was talking about and believed I was saying something about running during the menstrual cycle. Even though I wasn’t, she wanted to know how being on your period impacts your running, so this one is for you, Charity my girl.

The menstrual cycle is twenty-eight days long on average. The first fourteen days is called the Follicular phase and the second fourteen days is called the Luteal phase. During the follicular phase, the uterine wall thickens and prepares to become pregnant, estrogen levels increase and your body tries to conserve glycogen and relies more on fat stores for energy, serotonin levels drop and cortisol levels rise, causing cravings for sugar and fats, which help balance out moods imbalanced by the increase in hormones.

Sugar and chocolate cravings the week before and during your period are common. Cravings are typically a sign that your body is in need of something. Some women become more sensitive to insulin during their menstrual cycle and when the blood sugar levels drop they crave sweets.

A chocolate craving can be instigated by low iron and/or magnesium levels. Low magnesium levels can cause imbalances in electrolytes and muscle cramps. It’s not menstruation that causes low iron levels, the myth lives on, but it could be running. There are newer theories, which suggest each time our foot hits the ground we break red blood cells and lose iron. Another theory, is that a hormone that’s released in response to inflammation inhibits the uptake of iron.

During the Luteal phase, your plasma volume reduces by 8%, this causes an increase in your body temperature and slows down the sweating process. As if that’s not enough, the lower plasma thickens your blood making it more difficult to shuttle around fuel and oxygen, which of course, reduces energy levels. The lower plasma affects recovery time since your body is working harder to get oxygen and fuel to tired or injured muscles.

By the time you reach the luteal phase, you’ve likely put on a few pounds and your hormones are at their highest causing cramping, bloating, lower back pain, and headaches and then you can’t, or shouldn’t, take iburprophen because of the risk of kidney damage and other things (white willow bark and Aleve are recommended). Then ovulation happens over the next three to five days, then the blood begins and continues for five to seven days.

When you think about this, it’s not surprising to find out that your running performance can be affected by your monthly visit from Auntie Flow. So ladies, be aware there will be fluctuations in your performance caused by your cycle, keeping a training diary will help you pin point a pattern of changes and plan for them.

Who isn’t stressed?

mom pulling hair out

Stress can be good and stress can be bad for our running. Stress forces our body to adapt and get stronger, but too much stress can wear us down and not allow us to recover. Too much stress plus to many miles or hard workouts can lead to injury which then causes more stress and thus the cycle goes on and on my friends.

Stress can come from many different places in our lives leaking into our running, impacting our performance, and syphoning our energy until we dread getting out of bed in the morning resorting to smacking the snooze button half a dozen times.

Maintaining a balance in all aspects of our lives is a very lofty goal and impossible to maintain on a consistent basis making ebbs and flows the standard. That is standard procedure in my world. Sometimes my life blows up and nearly every facet of it becomes a hot mess pressuring me to not get out and run at all, but focus on putting Band-Aids on everything to stem the catastrophe.

Our bodies are interconnected systems. If one system is overwhelmed with stress, it impacts others. Most people divide their lives into seven different facets: physical, emotional, social, environmental, occupational, intellectual, and spiritual when one of these is out of wack, another picks up the slack. This is not a bad thing as long as it’s doesn’t become the norm, in fact, we see it when we have a physical injury. Our supporting muscles take on the work of the injured muscle or tendon allowing it to persist in that way will eventually lead to additional injuries and imbalances.

Chronic stress reduces your body’s ability to recover by compromising your body’s immune system. Breaking your body down too much is not going to produce performance gains. You need to allow your body time to adapt and get stronger. It can’t do that when you’re putting it under high levels of stress on a regular basis even if it’s from different angles of your life.

How should this change the way we train? If you know you have an especially difficult day, make your training for the day easier. When you are planning your training for the season, look at the things you know are coming, which could cause some extra stress. Schedule a rest week during those times. By reducing your miles you will reduce the risk of over training. Schedule your intense workouts such as speed work and long runs for days where you are least likely to be high stress days. Prioritize your workouts. If you have to skip a workout or change things around, dump the easy days and keep your high quality workouts like speed work and long runs.

100 mile fuel

run and eat

Everyone uses different things to fuel their body during a 100-mile run. You have to find what works for you through trial and error. What I do know, is what works for you as a marathon runner, probably won’t work as an ultrarunner.

Some ultrarunners use the traditional sports fuel such as Gu, shot blocks, sports beans and the like, but it’s difficult to use them throughout the race. You just get sick of it and it becomes more difficult to choke it down.

Fueling is necessary, which means you have to put something down the hatch. Perusing the aid station buffet will give you an idea of what most ultrarunners eat: various types of candy, trail mix, potato chips, boiled and salted potatoes, cookies, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cheese quesadillas, ham or turkey sandwiches, Romen noodles, and fruit.

Bodies run off mainly carbohydrates during exercise. You can also burn fat and more runners are turning to a low carb diet, which allows them to tap into their fat stores as fuel during their runs. This is very useful and can be very beneficial to runners who have stomach issues regularly. You have to eat a whole lot less when you’re low carb. I’ve used this strategy, but could only maintain it for eighteen months because I couldn’t get enough fats to sustain my energy output. I’ve been back on carbs for about 18 months and feel great. I’ve written two blogs on low carb running if you are interested they are here and here.


What about protein during runs? I discourage most protein while running because protein, for most people, digests slow. It sits in your stomach slowing your metabolism down. A slow metabolism means your body doesn’t get fuel quickly. You need carbs to go through quickly if you want to maintain a good pace throughout the run. You also need electrolytes and water to go through quickly. If your digestive system is working on a lump of protein, everything else is going to come through slower too.

Easily digestible proteins are fine during a race, but not too much and space it out. Nut butters are easy, cheeses are easier, and plant based proteins are easy. Meat is not easy. Many protein bars(especially over 10 grams) are not easy.

The only way you are going to figure out what works for you is by training with different things until you find a few things that work for you. I suggest you find multiple things that work because you get sick of eating the same thing every hour (or more) for up to 36 hours.

The other thing I strongly encourage is to find out what the event is using at their aid stations and make sure you can use them. Especially, electrolyte pills or drinks and other specific sports nutrition such as Gu.

My favorites: Swedish fish,Oreo cookies, fruits, peanut butter and jelly, and chick-o-sticks (all vegan by the way :0)

Muscle Cramps: part two


You can almost taste the finish line. The crowd is getting dense, cowbells are clanging, and hands clamp faster and faster. You stagger and grimace as your left calf clenches, but it releases as you toe off. You’re right isn’t so luck and you hit the ground. Your hands immediately find your calf and squeeze trying to get the cramp to release.

As if the last post wasn’t bad enough, let’s further complicate this question of why do muscles cramp during exercise, specifically endurance running? Many times muscle cramps occur in the later part of an event. If this is the case, then the cause is likely muscle fatigue rather than dehydration, carbohydrate depletion, or electrolyte imbalances.

You have all read my posts (at least I hope you have, but if not go back and read some) about how important core strength is in preventing injury through compensation and recruiting supporting muscles. Here is just another reason for me to stress how important it is to strengthen your core increasing the time you can maintain proper form as you run.

Your core doesn’t just mean your abdominals. It includes your hips, glutes, back, and abdominals. Basically, from mid-thigh to the top of your abdominals all the way around your body. If these muscles are not strong, your form deteriorates as the primary muscles become fatigued. The contractions become more forceful to maintain your pace and your body can’t sustain it. You slouch, shuffle, and increase cross over of both arms and feet. When this happens, your body automatically asks other supportive muscles for help to keep you going. These supportive muscles fatigue at a faster rate because they are not used to the strain and then they cramp.

What can you do about it? If you are cramping in your claves and quads (usual suspects) you need to strengthen your hip flexors and hamstrings and then stretch them. When your hip flexors and hamstrings fatigue, they call upon the calves and quads to move your leg back and forth.

The take away, your body is an interconnected system. If you let one part get weak, the other parts will try to help it to their own detriment. This eventually leads to muscle impairment or injury and thus stops you in your tracks.

In case this isn’t confusing enough, there are researchers who believe running hills, inadequate stretching, and a family history of cramping increases the possibility of cramps.

This makes sense to me. Hill running forces your muscles to contract forcefully to propel your body up a hill against gravity. This strain is going to deplete glycogen (see last week’s post) and fatigue (see above) the muscles. Tight muscles have a more difficult time relaxing and at times just can’t do it because they are all knotted up. If they can’t relax between contractions, the contractions just continue to tighten things up and bam, a cramp. And genetics, well their genetics.