Monthly Archives: November 2015

How Ultra Running affects your body

This was an article in the Washington Post. I found it interesting, entertaining and accurate. http://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/health/ultramarathon/

 

run 100

What happens to your body during anultramarathon

Story by Bonnie Berkowitz, illustrations by Richard Johnson

 

Nov. 9, 2015

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Sometime in the past couple of decades, the idea of running a marathon became less crazy.

Since Oprah Winfrey finished the Marine Corps Marathon in 1994, millions of average Joes and Janes have tackled the distance, and now “26.2” shows up routinely on bumper stickers and bucket lists.

But for some people, a 26.2-mile marathon just isn’t long enough. These athletes are turning to ultrarunning, a sport that not long ago was considered the reclusive, funky-smelling cousin of traditional road racing.

About 1,000 of them will line up Nov. 21 in Boonsboro, Md., to run theJFK 50 Mile, the country’s oldest ultramarathon and one of the two largest. (An ultra is anything longer than 26.2 miles; the most common distances are 50 and 100 miles and 50 and 100 kilometers, or 31 and 62 miles.)

No one is saying that a marathon is short or easy, but there are some huge differences — physiological, logistical and psychological — between running far and running really, really far.

How more miles can affect your body

Hallucinations are part of ultra lore. When you run around the clock, extreme fatigue and strange shadows in the wee hours can sometimes play havoc with your mind. A nap usually fixes the problem.

Temporary blurred vision can happen in longer ultras, probably due to corneal swelling.

Insect stings and bites are more common in ultrarunning.

Cuts and bruises from falls are common because of the uneven terrain of ultras.

Heart problems are rare in long races; running usually makes the heart and circulatory system stronger. But some recent studies indicate that distance runners may be at slightly higher risk for atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat. Other research has shown some temporary cardiac dysfunction after long races, particularly in the least-trained participants.

A high rate of respiratory ailments found among ultrarunners in a 2014 study may be largely attributable to dust and flora along trails.

All distance runners should be aware of the risk ofexercise-associated hyponatremia, a potentially deadly condition in which drinking too much water or sports drink dilutes the body’s sodium, causing cells to swell and burst.

Body temperature is more likely to drop too low (hypothermia) in an ultra, when energy stores are depleted and weather conditions vary. Heat illness is more common in marathons, in part because of the more intense effort.

Marathoners burn a higher percentage of carbs and can get by on sports drink and gels. Ultrarunners burn a higher percentage of fat and usually need real food, which can mean more gastrointestinal problems.

The longer the race, the more likely muscle crampswill strike, most often in runners’ quadriceps, hamstrings and calves. No one knows exactly why cramps occur, but most research points to fatigue in the mechanisms that govern muscle control and contraction.

Stress fractures and other musculoskeletal overuse injuries can plague long-distance runners. Feet are the most common site of stress fractures in ultrarunners, but fractures of the pelvis, femur, tibia and fibula also occur.

Blisters are more common in ultras, thanks to mud, water, rocks and dust that can get into shoes and socks. Also, moving on varied terrain, such as steep downhills, can cause friction spots.

Sources: Martin Hoffman, research director for the Western States Endurance Run; Mike Joyner, physiologist and anesthesiologist at the Mayo Clinic and “The Runner’s Body,” by Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas.

In contrast to big-city marathons, U.S. ultramarathons tend to be spartan, low-key affairs, often beginning in very small towns near very long trails. JFK, for instance, is run mostly on the Appalachian Trail and the C&O Canal Towpath.

 

Many ultramarathons have fewer than 100 runners and almost no spectators.

“You’re surrounded by nature,” said Amy Pope Fitzgerald of Chantilly, who has run both Marine Corps and JFK each year since 2012 and has completed one 100-miler. “I like the fact that ultras are smaller, and you’re just running, so you make friends. I’m not having to fight for my spot on the course.”

Not yet, anyway.

The closest thing ultrarunning has had to an Oprah moment was the 2009 publication of Christopher McDougall’s “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen,” a bestseller that introduced many readers to the world of ultras. U.S. participation has more than doubled since then.

More than two-thirds of those participants are men, according toUltraRunning Magazine, and more than half are older than 40.

Longer distances seem to attract older runners who can compensate for lost speed with greater perspective and experience — not to mention perseverance.

Most people finish a marathon in three to six hours and make it home in time for lunch. But a 50-miler takes an average of 10 hours, said Karl Hoagland, publisher of UltraRunning Magazine, and 100-milers typically take 24 to 30 hours or more of nonstop forward motion.

“As you get older, you realize the sun’s going to come up, and you get less rattled,” said Mike Joyner, a distance runner and a Mayo Clinic physiologist who studies how human bodies respond to exercise.

 

Not long after runners cross the start line, other factors unique to ultramarathons appear.

In marathons with huge fields and prize purses to match, the top runners fly off the start line and maintain a pace of less than five minutes per mile until they finish a little more than two hours later.

Top ultrarunners also start fast, but courses and human physiology don’t permit them to maintain a constant breakneck pace for hours on end. Even the fastest competitors hike rather than run at times.

“Everything has to be adjusted. You’d crash too soon if you run at marathon pace,” said Jim Hage of Kensington, who won Marine Corps in 1988 and 1989, then won JFK in 2002 at age 44. “You have to take everything a little bit easier . . . and if you get in trouble at 20 miles? Wow, that’s a long way home.”

The lower intensity is measurable. Marathoners’ hearts often beat at 75 to 85 percent of their maximum heart rate for the duration of the race, Joyner said. That’s not a sprint, but it is a moderately hard effort.

Ultrarunners, he said, spend a lot of time at 50 to 65 percent of their maximum heart rate, with elites on the higher end and the just-happy-to-finish folks at the lower end.

This is probably a main reason heart problems show up less often during ultras than in marathons, according to Martin Hoffman, who has studied the medical side of ultrarunning as research director for the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. Western States is to ultrarunners what the Boston Marathon is to marathoners: a showcase for top racers with a challenging entry standard for regular runners. It also has a robust research arm, and much of the data scientists have on ultra­runners was gathered there.

Hoffman said ultrarunners’ age and experience also means that any hidden cardiac problems are likely to have surfaced earlier in their running lives.

As for recent studies concluding that long bouts of vigorous exercise over a lifetime are dangerous for the heart, Joyner said other studies show the opposite, and the question may never be settled because there are so few people to study who don’t have mitigating factors such as coming to running to try to reverse a health problem.

“Exercise is not a vaccine for heart problems,” Joyner said. “But people who have been lifelong, high-volume runners tend to have big, compliant hearts and very good vasodilation” — in other words, very healthy circulatory systems.

Although most ultrarunners don’t have to worry about their hearts during a race, they do have to worry about their stomachs.

Unlike marathoners who can get by with sports drink and maybe a few energy gels to fuel them to the finish, ultrarunners usually need to eat real food along the way — some salty, some sweet, such as sandwiches, potatoes, chips, pickles, candy — which can lead to gastrointestinal distress.

Eating on the run

At marathon aid stations, you’ll find water, sports drink and maybe energy gels. Ultra aid stations have those things plus real food, such as sandwiches, pasta, cake, pickles, soup, burgers, M&Ms, salted potatoes, baby food, bean burritos, soda — occasionally even liquor and beer.

Hoffman said this is probably because blood is diverted from the digestive system to muscles to keep them churning and to the skin to remove heat.

“Digestion is not the body’s priority at the time, so blood is shunted elsewhere,” he said. “Once that happens, there can be certain things that enter the bloodstream from the GI tract that can cause inflammatory reaction throughout the body and cause nausea.”

In some cases, he said, the problem may be simply that the stomach isn’t moving its contents down the line quickly enough, so fluid and food just sit there. In other cases, food is jostled down the line too quickly, causing diarrhea and abdominal cramps.

Runners who don’t manage their food well can “bonk” or “hit the wall,” which occurs when the body runs out of energy and the brain tries to put on the brakes. A unique and instant kind of despair follows — and ultrarunners can hit more than one wall during a race.

“I’ve made every kind of mistake possible,” said Mike Wardian of Arlington, who won JFK in 2007 and is among the country’s most prolific distance runners. “You’ll have really high peaks where you’re be, like, ‘Aw, man, I can do this all day! I’m doing everything right!’ Then five minutes later, it’s the lowest low. . . . ‘I can’t believe I twisted my ankle!’ or ‘I can’t believe they didn’t have chocolate gummy bears!’ I think as the race expands, there are so many more things that can go wrong.”

The list is long, even with proper fueling. Hoffman said that, compared with marathoners, ultrarunners have a greater chance of respiratory problems, cuts and bruises, serious blisters and insect bites — all at least partly attributable to the courses.

Most marathons are run on exactly 26.2 miles of asphalt streets, which are wide enough to accommodate lots of runners, flat enough to not scare away the masses, smooth enough to allow for even pacing and accessible enough for fans who want to watch. Many offer prize money and some, such as Boston, Chicago and New York, offer six-figure paychecks for first place.

Most ultras, at least in the United States, are the exact opposite.

They often occur on rocky, root-filled, narrow, steep and slippery trails with big elevation changes. Organizers gleefully scare people away with names like Mountain Masochist, Badwater, Bear Bait and Frozen Dead Guy. Most offer little or no prize money.

And the distance is almost always a ballpark number because trails are so hard to accurately measure. That means a 100-mile event could actually be 99.4 miles or 110 — which is just as well because most courses don’t have many mile markers.

The uncertainty can make pace-obsessed former marathoners crazy, and the transition can be unnerving even for the fast folks.

“I had no idea where I was on the course,” said Hage of his 2002 JFK 50 Mile (which is actually 50.2 miles, according to race director Mike Spinnler). “You’re running through the woods; it’s easy to get lost. That’s never an issue in a marathon. You can still figure out your splits and go, ‘Oh, that last mile was a little slower, a little faster.’ But in an ultra, the lost-in-the-woods feeling prevails.”

Ultrarunners often carry many of their supplies because aid stations can be spaced 10, 20 or even more miles apart, compared with every mile or two in most marathons.

Packing light

Ultrarunners have to be more self-sufficient than marathoners because aid stations may be hours apart, but they don’t want to weigh themselves down. Some things they may carry: rain gear, gloves, an ear warmer, duct tape, wet wipes, toilet paper, antacid, painkillers, anti-chafing lube, quick-energy snacks.

“The main difference in an ultramarathon versus a marathon is that you have to make sure you take care of issues before they become a real big problem,” Wardian said. “If there’s a rock in your shoe or something, in a marathon you could be, like, ‘Okay, that’s going to suck for 10 miles,’ but if you’re out there [in an ultra] and it happens at the same point and you don’t address it, that little rock can become a huge blister, and it can be the difference between finishing the race and not finishing.”

The terrain, the unknown and the solitude mean that ultras require a different frame of mind for runners trying to conquer a new distance for the first time.

“You have to almost trick your mind that you are invincible and that you are going to finish this,” Fitzgerald said. “The ultras allow you to do something that’s awesome, but you do it at your own pace. You don’t have the pressure to finish in a certain time. As long as you’re finishing, it’s considered awesome.”

 

Frozen

icy runner

How do you keep your hydration pack or hand held from freezing on long runs in the winter?

If you are using a hydration pack, the water in the bladder doesn’t usually freeze solid (at least I’ve never had it totally freeze). It will get ice crystals in it. The hose is another matter. Over this last weekend, my running partner’s hose froze and we had to share until the sun came out and thawed his. Drinking a sip of water frequently will prevent both the hose and the mouthpiece from freezing unless it is very cold.

I’ve tried to think of different ways to keep this from happening. The first is to not leave any water in the hose. I always squeeze the mouthpiece and hold the hose up to drain any water. You can also blow the water back into the bladder, but this fills your bladder with air and causes it to make a sloshing noise as you run. These two methods don’t always work because some water remains in both the mouthpiece and the hose.

The second possibility is to buy or make a sleeve from neoprene that will insulate the hose. There are snowboarding hydration packs, which may be an option for you.

The third option is to put the hydration pack under one of your layers of clothing to keep it warm.

A fourth option is for you to use a sports drink or at least mix some in with your water. The sugar will slow the freezing down. A shot of alcohol will also do this :0) Just don’t use too much, or you’ll have more problems than frozen water.

Rather than using a hydration pack with a bladder, you can also buy one that uses bottles. However, you do want to get some insulated bottles rather than the ones most packs come with.

For a handheld it is a must to buy the insulated bottles. This will not only stop the water from freezing, but it will stop it from freezing your hand.

Of course there is the option of running a loop and leaving a stash of water in a Styrofoam cooler, but loops get boring after a while.

Let me know what you have tried, any additional suggestions are appreciated especially at the lower single digits.

 

Running as We Age

aging runners

We all wonder, what is going to happen to my running as I age? Will I get slower? I think most people assume you will get slower as you age, which is probably a good assumption, but how much do we slow?

A huge study done in 2010, showed for each year over the age of 40 a runner slows only by 0.2%. That works out to be about one second per mile per year. This continues up to the age of 60. Here’s the interesting news, after 60 years of age men’s advantage over women hits the wall. Men’s performance begins to take a pretty steep nose dive (sorry guys).

For highly trained runners, the loss in muscular strength and oxygen uptake goes down at a much slower rate than for moderately or untrained runners. Running economy (how efficiently you burn energy as you run) remains consistent up until age sixty.

The impact to your running is higher the longer the distance is that you run. While at the 10k and half marathon you only lose one to two seconds per mile after the age of 40, at the marathon distance it works out to be four to five seconds per mile.

The general advice for runners over the age of forty is to not focus on the high miles. Adjust your miles so you are able to bring in more strength training and stretching. Making those changes to your training program will guard you against the effects of aging.

Cut out those low mile rest days and replace them with some yoga and either body weight strength training or light weight training. Maintain your high quality runs such as speed work, race pace, and long runs.

As always never increase your miles by more than ten percent a week, and you may want to lower it to 5-7 percent as you pass fifty five. Also make sure an incorporate a rest week every fourth week of training by dropping your miles by twenty-five to thirty percent for the week.

Running forever is the goal.

Sleep? Who needs it.

sleepy runners colin m. lenton

photo by Colin M. Lenton

I’ve been known to say, “Sleep is overrated,” and “I hate sleeping.”

I truly do wish that sleep was not required by my body. I have so many things I want to do and loosing eight hours a day to sleep seems like such a waste. Just think of all the other things you could do during your life if you didn’t spend at least a quarter of it sleeping.

But the sad reality is, our bodies do need sleep, especially as runners. Sleep is the time when the most healing and building occurs. When the body enters REM sleep, growth hormone is released which is the main component needed to fix those micro tears we cause during strenuous workouts.

Sleep deprivation also impacts your immune system. It drops the number of T-cells, which eventually leads to getting sick. And well, if your sick you probably aren’t running.

Lack of sleep can lead to overtraining and visa versa overtraining can lead to not being able to sleep. And we all know what overtraining leads to: grumpy injured runner.

While your body is sleeping it is also processing, synthesizing and cataloging the details of how to run. It learns the way your muscles and nerves must work together to power each step and the way you need to position your body as it moves through running motions.

How much sleep do you need? The recommendation is eight to nine hours of sleep a day. If you are getting less than six hours, it’s going to hurt your running and your functioning in daily life. Ideally, you should add one minute per mile you run during the week to the usual about of time you spend sleeping. So if you usually sleep seven hours a night and run fifty-five miles a week, you should be sleeping 7 hours and 55 minutes a night.

Another good way to figure out how much sleep your body needs is to take a seven day vacation and sleep until you wake up. Don’t use an alarm clock. During days 1-4 you will be catching up on sleep so just sleep and don’t worry too much about how much you are sleeping. On days 5-7, write down the time you go to be and the time you get up each day and then average the amount of sleep you got each night. This is going to give you the best calculation based upon YOUR body’s needs.

Signs you are not getting enough sleep: you fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow, you need caffeine to get you through the day, falling asleep when your body is at rest like at movies or meetings, or if you are hitting the snooze button more than once.

“Sleep is the most crucial part of my training. If I cannot recover from my training, then there’s no point in training.”

Ryan Hall, Marathoner.

A Vigil for Justice: Final Episode

Flag

A Vigil for Justice, is a serial thriller fiction novel. Updates of 1,000-1,500 words will be posted every Friday.

Recap: Sixteen-year-old Melanie Craig and her family live in the small Colorado mountain town of Blue River. Since the end of World War Three, the economy in the United States has dropped out making funding law enforcement impossible and increasing crime rates in all, but the smallest towns. The government passes a Law allowing anyone over 16 to kill three other people during their life. Vigilante justice doesn’t seem like the right solution to Melanie, but she has no choice other than to learn how to protect herself and her family.

Melanie began to shake, it was slight at first, but it grew until she sunk to the ground on her knees. She couldn’t turn her eyes away as the Sergeant locked the handcuffs on Mitchel’s wrists. Sounds were sucked out of the world revolving around her, but one, and her breath caught with every click of the metal as the handcuffs locked tighter.

Mitchel turned his face toward her. His eyes rimmed in red, his face streaked with tears, and his soft lips mouthed the words, “I love you.”

Melanie nodded her head unable to find the breath to make a sound or the strength to form the words.

Seth’s antler handled knife had flown from Mitchel’s light grip straight to its mark. Only three people could have made it, and now two of them were dead. Melanie buried her fingers in the loose dirt around her, feeling the granules.

Sound returned to her in the form of foot falls that approached from behind, she turned and closed her hands around a couple smooth stones she had found.

Jennifer was running toward Mitchel. She didn’t slow down when the guns were raised and aimed at her.

“You know who and what he was.”  Tears streamed down her red cheeks as she pointed to Seth’s body on the ground.

Reaching Mitchel, she grabbed the Sargent’s hands, thrusted them away, and stepped between Mitchel and him. “He gets three. It’s the law. You saw it. I saw it. They saw it.” She flung her arms out toward the Sargent’s men. “No investigation is needed. It will be marked on his chip. Let him go.”

It wasn’t a question or a request. It was a command. Her mother’s voice held more authority than Melanie had ever heard. It was her lobbyist voice, Melanie realized. Her mom must have used it to fight the very legislation she was now promoting.

Melanie never thought she would hear her mother use the Justice Law to help someone, but there she was screaming at the soldiers to put down their guns and let Mitchel go.

Another sound entered. Sam was wailing to Melanie’s right. Melanie pushed herself to her feet, let the rocks slip from her fingers, and went to her sister. She pulled Sam into her arms and held her tight. Melanie turned around, so Sam couldn’t see what was happening. She stroked her sisters long golden hair.

Melanie glanced over her shoulder. Daisy was howling inside the van and clawing at the window that was open a few inches.

Melanie watched the standoff between her mom and the sergeant. Neither had said a word. Melanie shifted her weight to her left foot. There was still a dull ache deep inside from when she rolled it. The soldiers held their guns at the ready. Melanie couldn’t see Mitchel’s face. His shoulders had fallen along with his head.

The sergeant raised his hand, and the soldiers relaxed lowering the black barrels toward the ground. He took the little keys from his pocket and Jennifer stepped aside. The sergeant’s gaze never left Jennifer’s even as he unlocked the cuffs around Mitchel’s. Melanie wondered if he thought Jennifer was more of a threat at that point than even Mitchel.

Sergeant McCall slid the cuffs into their fitted pocket on his belt. He turned on his heel and strode toward his men. As he reached the first, he waived the others back toward the gatehouse, but then he stopped and turned to face them.

“You have until nightfall to decide who goes in and who doesn’t. Mitchel, no longer qualifies.”

Melanie had already made up her mind. It was the first thought she had after Seth had fallen.

She held onto her sister until her mom reached them and lifted Sam into her arms.

Melanie ran to Mitchel. She clung to him like a squirrel falling from a branch. Slowly, he took her into his arms.

“I want you to go into the safe zone,” he said.

She hesitated. Of course that’s what he would want. He wanted her and the baby safe. “No. I choose you. We choose you.”

“Please, Melanie.”

“I won’t.”

“I—“

“I don’t care,” Melanie said. “It’s my choice.”

He held her tighter.

 

 

Saying goodbye to her mom and Sam was the hardest thing Melanie had ever done. She watched them until they were behind the fence. Then she watched them until they reached the wall. Please go inside she had begged her mother. Please keep Sam safe.

Mitchel’s hand slid into hers. “You can still go.”

Melanie turned and looked up into his grey eyes. He brushed his thumb across her cheek.

Daisy whined and pushed her damp nose against Melanie’s other hand. “Come on girl, it’s time to go.”

As she climbed into the truck, she said, “Back to the hotel?”

Mitchel turned the key and then engine came to life. “Where else?”

Don’t Panic!

don't panic

At some point in your running life, something is going to go wrong on your run. Sometimes it is something small, like you break a shoelace. No big deal.

Things just happen and the longer your runs get the more likely something is going to go wrong. There is a saying among ultrarunners related to stomach issues during a hundred miler, but I think it applies across the board, “It’s not if you have stomach problems, it’s when.”

A few weeks ago, Spongebunny dropped his gloves on the way up a mountain. We were doing a 17 mile trail run. He didn’t realize it until I was pulling my gloves on because it was getting colder as we climbed. This is how it went:

Spongebunny: “Shit, Nik, I dropped my gloves.”

Me: Snickering and shaking my head. “Well let’s go back.”

Spongebunny: “No, I’ll be fine. I don’t know how far back they are.”

Me: “Are your hands going to be okay at this temperature for two or three hours?”

Spongebunny: “No, damn it.”

And we turned around. The gloves were only a mile back and Spongebunny kept his fingers.

 

Next potential panic moment occurred last weekend. Here’s the play back:

Spongebunny and I are happily running down the trail finishing a crossing from Big Cottonwood canyon into Millcreek canyon. We had cars parked in both canyons. We were a mile from our finish line car in Millcreek Canyon and twenty three miles into the run.

Spongebunny stops. He bends over. He puts his hands on his knees. When he turns to me, his face is ashen.

Me: “Are you okay? Are you dizzy? Are you going to throw up? Sit down.”

Spongebunny: “You’re not going to like this.”

Me: “What?”

Spongebunny: “The keys to my car are in Big Cottonwood Canyon.”

Me: laughing hysterically. “Let me call Swiss Miss.”

This last one could turn into a major issue and all trail runners should be prepared for this type of situation. We were not, but thankfully, it wasn’t one where it was going to end in an unexpected camping trip.

Just this last Saturday, Spongebunny and I went out for an easy ten-mile run. We parked at Church Fork and ran an out and back to Elbow Fork. Once back from Elbow Fork, we were going to summit Grandeur Peak.

We were very familiar with the out and back portion of the trail and Grandeur is a popular climb. We were only going out for ten miles and temperatures were in the forties, so I didn’t take any food or water, which is very typical for me at that distance. Spongebunny had his handheld.

We get to the summit of Grandeur and the view is amazing. I stand on the top and take pictures all the way around. Another group of runners join us at the top for a few minutes and then they are off back down the mountain. When I’m done taking pictures, I follow them down the trail.

The trail is rocky and steep. Spongebunny and I are watching our feet not wanting to trip and land on one of the rock fins sticking up out of the dirt. We

We get to the summit of Grandeur and the view is amazing. I stand on the top and take pictures all the way around. Another group of runners join us at the top for a few minutes and then they are off back down the mountain. When I’m done taking pictures, I follow them down the trail.

The trail is rocky and steep. Spongebunny and I are watching our feet not wanting to trip and land on one of the rock fins sticking up out of the dirt. We get a mile and a half or two miles down the trial and Spongebunny has to pee, so we stop on a flatish section.

I walk out to an overlook and stand there looking around.

Me: “Spongebunny, we’re on the wrong trail.”

We both turn and look back up the trail. It’s at least a 1500 foot climb back to the peak.

Spongebunny: “Son of a b****.” (for sensitive ears)

Me: laughing, “Embrace the suck.”

Spongebunny: “I gotta be somewhere at 11.”

Me: “Yeah, that’s not happening. Do you have her phone number? I’ve got service here.”

The worst thing about it was we didn’t have water for the extra miles. If it had been summer, we would have been seriously dehydrated by the time we got back. We ended up with eighteen miles rather than ten.

Eventually you’re going to have to deal with an unexpected situation, so you should always have a plan and the first on the list is don’t panic. The second should be laugh. If it’s going to be funny later or funny to your friends, then it’s funny now. When you are done laughing at yourself, take a deep breath, think over your options, and talk about them (even if you’re alone because that’s funny too).

Always tell someone where you are going and what time they should start to worry. Always take extra food, water and a jacket even on a short run.

 

Run Through Challenges, Not Away from Them.

trail running

It doesn’t matter how bad my day has been, how horrible I feel about life, or how angry I am at myself or someone else, when my feet hit the trail, my soul opens and lets it all go.

Within a half mile, all the tension melts from my muscles and the mountain air has cleared my head. Because of this wonderful ability of the trails, my running partners know me better than almost anyone in my life. My training partners laugh and say, “If you want to know Nik, run with her.” And it’s very true, I am most open and relaxed when my feet are moving over the dirt.

Running has always been my time to figure things out. It doesn’t matter how difficult the problem is or how hopeless I thought it was, if I run with it, a solution will present itself. There’s a lot of research that shows people are more creative during and immediately after exercise due to the higher oxygen levels and the release of stress. This extra creativity helps get a new perspective on issues and makes thinking outside the box easier.

When I was running alone, I would work out life problems, outline novels, and devise the theory of my next trial. Now that I run with other people, we bounce ideas off one another. We talk about our struggles and our triumphs. It’s been great to get other’s opinions, and it is interesting to see what possible solutions we can come up with as we dodge branches, hop between rocks, and splash through creeks.

It can be snowing and windy outside and still the trail works its magic. I can even run on roads with a similar experience, although not as profound. The only thing that seems to stifle it, is running indoors.

There’s nothing I can’t work out while running. Running teaches you to face challenging things rather than take the easy way out. If you always run flat routes at a constant pace, you’ll never get any better. You have to face the hills, rocks, and rivers.

And sometimes you’re going to trip and fall on your face.