Monthly Archives: April 2016

The Weigh In…

weigh in

 

Does your body weight impact your race? Of course it does. American culture puts the screws to both men and women to have the perfect body. Women want to be thinner and men want to be more muscular. Weight has become a part of our self-identity, which is very unfortunate. People judge others based upon their weight in a variety of ways. They make an assumption about lifestyle, intellect, and financial success. This is ridiculous.

The most important question is what is the healthiest weight for my lifestyle and where do I feel comfortable?

Hanging out at either end of the spectrum can hurt your running. Being underweight will slow you down more than being overweight. Your energy bottoms out, your speed declines, and you loose lean muscle. If you need to measure something, you should measure body composition, not weight.

It’s hard not to focus on the numbers. Runners hear losing one pound will make you two seconds faster per mile (or some such thing). Heavier runners are more likely to injure their joints. It’s a balance. The goal of athletes should be health and fitness regardless of their body weight.

If you believe you need to change your weight in either direction talk with a doctor or sports nutritionist to determine what is a good weight for you based upon your goals and lifestyle. They can help you lose fat while maintaining muscle mass.

Make sure you are fueling your body with a healthy balanced diet. I know, I know, we all run so we can eat the extra piece of cake or Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. That’s fine and good every so often, but 95% of the time you should be choosing fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and health fats. What you put into your body, really does matter because you get out what you put in. We learn all this stuff when we’re kids remember the food pyramid. As adults, life gets busy and it’s hard to make time to cook rather than dump stuff out of a box.

There are a lot of “ideal weight” calculators out there for runners and just for anyone. These are helpful, but I caution everyone not to get overly caught up in whatever it spits out as your ideal weight.

Your ideal weight is where you feel healthy and strong.

The Wind

wind

Oh, how I hate the wind. I have done some very windy runs. Two years ago, I ran the Salt Flats 100 where there were wind gusts up to 40 miles an hour. It was a tough race and two-thirds of the runners dropped out.

This past weekend, I found myself pushing against more wind gusts although not as wicked as Salt Flats. I was running along the side of a canyon toward the mouth and the closer I got to the mouth the worse the wind became. This wasn’t surprising of course, but it was still unpleasant. It was strong enough to push me around a bit and to bring me to a walking pace as I came around a few of the bends.

The wind is the most frustrating weather condition for me, especially, when it comes in conjunction with rain, hail, or snow. I don’t mind rain hail and snow without the wind. I do mind the wind alone. Even a tail wind, is unlikely to be met with neutrality let alone gratitude. The wind is a tricky thing and changes direction in the mountains with each bend in the canyon or drop in elevation.

Why do I hate the wind so? Because there is nothing I can do about the wind. Nothing. A wind resistant jacket you say? I suppose it helps keep the chill out, but it doesn’t stop the fight.

The only intervention I have come up with is reframing. I have to look at the wind as an ally. Well, I don’t know if I can go that far without some therapy for the Post traumatic Stress of Salt Flats 100, but I need to see it as benefiting me in some way.

Changing our perspective to see things we don’t enjoy to a more beneficial or at least neutral way can decrease our overall stress, especially when it is something we have to deal with on a day to day basis.

How does the wind benefit me? It makes me stronger both physically and mentally. When I was fighting with the wind around the bends this last weekend, Salt Flats immediately came to mind and I thought, “It could be worse, I can get through this.” Any adversity makes it easier to deal with the next challenge. When it is similar in nature or even the exact same, it really helps our confidence to endure again. Physically, it’s like running hills.

Challenges make us stronger when we overcome them. Don’t back away. If you aren’t successful, try it again. Tenacity, it’s a good quality in a runner.

Don’t Become Stagnant

stagnation

Do you run the same routes and distances every week? I hope not, especially, if your goal is to improve your running. It’s important to change things up and challenge your body in new ways. The body learns to run the same old stuff very efficiently. Once it does this, you stop getting gains in your running.

Most training programs include a couple of easy runs, one speed work, and then a long run on the weekend. This is pretty much true regardless of distance.

Having a couple of easy days is important for your body to recover and I don’t think you need to mess with these. Easy days should be at conversation pace. The distance depends on the distance of the race you’re training for and if you’re not training for an event, it would be based upon the distance you like to run on the weekends.

Speed work is a wonderful way to work on your leg turnover even if your focus is not speed but endurance. Being able to move your feet quickly is helpful for steep descents and technical terrain. There are many different types of speed work including intervals, ladders, and tempo runs.

Interval runs consist of a specific distance of a mile or less run at a 90% effort and then either a 200 meter or 400 meter cool down. Then you repeat them. The number of repeats again is tied to the distance of your long run on the weekend.

Ladders are when you increase the distance with each interval. You still have the 200 or 400 meter rest, but the first interval would be 400, the second would be 800, the third one mile, and the fourth a mile and a half. You can create a pyramid by coming back down, one mile, 800 and 400 with the mile and half being the apex.

Tempo runs are when you run a 800 to one mile warm up (actually you should be running a warm up with all speed work) and then run 4 or 5 miles at about 80% effort or race pace.

Of course these are just a few examples, and if you google you will find a ton more. When doing speed work make sure you are not putting it back to back with another hard workout such as a long run. Speed work is hard on your body and it needs an easy run or rest day to follow.

Another way to mix up speed work is not to run speed at all, but hills. You can find a long gradual climb of a few miles or you can do hill repeats (gag). With hill repeats, your rest is on the downhill. So run hard up and then slow down, repeat.

Long runs are another essential part of training, but there are options here as well. You can add in Fartleks. Fartlek means, “speed play.” What you do is pick a point in front of you during a long run. It doesn’t have to be very far out. And then run it hard. You can do this as many times as you’d like and change up the distance each time. This is also good for those who get bored during long runs.

Change up your route for your long runs too. Add some hills, some trails, or run through a park or two. If you run through a park with a playground you can stop and do some pull ups or go down the slide (why not?).

My final suggestion to mix it up and prevent that stagnation is to throw in some other exercises every mile or so during a long run. Stop and do some pushups, burpees, or jumping jacks. Run with high knees or butt kicks.

Changing things up forces your body to adapt in new ways. This means it gets stronger, which is what you want.

Heroes and Angels

heroes and angels

I love aid station volunteers. A Lot. They have saved countless runners who are ready to quit. They have assisted grumpy and rude runners with a smile. They’ve helped change dirty smelly runners socks and shoes. They stand out in the cold and rain patiently waiting for the last runner to come through.

They are heroes and angels.

Last year I decided to make heroes out of my running team. Well, they were already my heroes since they are my ultrarunning crew and pacers, but I wanted them (and me) to be heroes to other runners too.

We decided to man aid station 13 at mile 89 of the Salt Flats 100. I soon found out just how hard it is to pull off a successful aid station. There is actually a lot involved if you want runners to leave feeling as best as they can at mile 89.

Race directors supply their aid stations with as much as they can depending on the money from registration after other costs and sponsors for the race. This means supplies can very greatly depending on how big and well known the race is.

Salt Flats 100 is not a big race. It doesn’t fill up days after opening registration. Most years it doesn’t fill up at all. Because of this, my team brings a lot of our own stuff to create a refuge for the runners.

Runners don’t ask for much at mile 89. What they want is a bit of shelter, food, and encouragement.

Shelter: my team puts up two big canopies and walls off three and a half sides to create a shelter for the runners. Salt Flats 100 is run in the west desert of northern Utah. If you’ve seen the movie “Independence Day” the scene where Will Smith is dragging the alien through the desert on a parachute was filmed at the Salt Flats. It’s barren and exposed. There are mountains, but those are also barren and exposed.

Food: by mile 89 runners are either hungry and want real food or they are having significant stomach issues and would rather die than eat food. Most are in the former category. My team brings out a big camp kitchen and a propane pizza oven. We’re able to make pizza and quesadillas in the evening and night and then breakfast burritos and pancakes in the morning. We also bring the snacks we love to have when we run.

Encouragement: the “You’ve got this” attitude is a must for aid station volunteers. My goal is to never have a runner drop at my aid station. It gets ugly out there and pushing forward when your exhausted, want to vomit, and have torn up feet is tough. The front of the pack runners come through strong and don’t stay very long. The longer the runner is out on the course, the greater the beating their body takes. It’s harder to go slower. I know it’s the same distance, but it’s not the same race.

I mean think about it, the back of the pack is usually less experienced, less trained, or injured. Their mental state has been going up and down for miles and hours. Their stomach is likely to be in bad shape because of the duration of effort being pumped out. They are more exhausted. They’ve been exposed to the weather longer. They’ve been on their feet pounding away with sweat and dirt in their shoes for much longer than the front of the pack.

Volunteering for an ultra aid station is rewarding and it’s hard work.

Thank you to all the aid station heroes and volunteers.

angels and heroes

The Critic

critic

 

Many people criticize what others do. Some make a career out of it, such as movie and book critics, but those are not the ones I’m talking about. Runners don’t escape the critic’s notice.

How can you spend so much time running rather than with your family?

Think of what you could do with the money you spend on shoes and race fees?

Your race metals hanging on your office wall make others feel bad. Is that your wall of bragging?

Is it really fair to you family that all your vacations revolve around your running?

Why do you like to be alone all the time?

Is running more important than hanging out with your friends?

This type of criticism is sort of easy to brush aside. Some of us do feel a little guilty about the amount of time we spend running rather than with family and friends, but it’s easy to justify. Running makes me a better parent, sister, son, friend, and whatever. And there’s always the classic response, “You’re welcome to join me anytime if you want to hang out.”

Our worst and most difficult critic is the one in our heads. It tends to be much more cruel and has higher expectations than others do. It echoes all of the above statements and adds to the list.

It’s hard to get out and train some days and god forbid you miss a workout. If you do, the internal critic is all over that shit with, “You’re lazy, you’re going to get slow, and how do you ever expect to finish a race when you can’t even do a training run.” These are all beautiful guilt ridden statements.

I suppose they motivate you to move your ass sometimes, but there are so much better ways to get yourself going and sometimes it’s best to take a rest day or have an easy day. Step back and think about what you would say to a friend or training partner doing so can put things in to perspective.

When we don’t hit our goals, it can get ugly inside our heads too. “You should have trained more or harder.” “You had some left in the tank and could have passed one or two more people.” “You’re really not as good as you think.” “You’ll never make it.”

When we have an injury… “Don’t be a baby, it’s nothing.” “You’re weak.”

The mental side of running is more difficult to deal with than the physical training. These thoughts come so “naturally” to many of us that it’s impossible to stop them entirely. You have to prepare for them and learn how to counter act them.

When they show up during a race, they can shut you down and become the infamous self-fulfilling prophecy. Self-sabotage is another great way of thinking about it.

Ignoring the critic or telling it to shut up is not enough. You have to have examples to prove it wrong. This means you need to hang onto and store your successes. Those moments were you thought, “I did it.” Most importantly, the moments where you pushed through a particularly difficult run regardless of the reason it was difficult.

These successes are your secret weapon so keep them safe and close at hand. Then when the critic starts with its stream of negativity, you can pull out your triumphs.

Oh, look a shiny new race!

shiny new toy

There are so many races to run and sometimes the ones you want to run are on the same weekend! It can be so hard to decide which races you are going to do. Of course, you can make your choice and then put the others on the list for the next year.

I see races I want to run all the time. It’s hard not to whip out the cash and register for one every weekend. Even if running a race every weekend isn’t cost prohibitive, you shouldn’t put your body through the rigors of a race very weekend.

Racing means you push your body to its limit to achieve the time and distance you set out to do. When you run this way, you cause micro tears in your muscles and tendons. Running a race in this way every weekend will not let your body heal and get stronger. Running at your max ability stresses every system of your body and can lead to you getting injured, sick, or plain exhausted.

You should choose your races based upon your fitness and your availability. If you lack the fitness level to run a marathon and don’t have the time to train for one, don’t sign up, even if it’s in a really cool place or you have friends doing it. If it’s a new race distance for you, look at the training program first and figure out if you have the time to dedicate to the training you need to do. If you don’t, then run something that is within your fitness level and availability.

The goal is to keep running and committing yourself to a race that is out of your league when you don’t have the time to train will only cause you stress and angst. It can also put you in the position of having to choose to either forfeit your money or run the race under trained. If you run under trained you can end up injured and not running for weeks or months. One race is not worth, months of not being able to run.

Running an event as a training run is another option. You don’t have to run a race at your max capacity. You can use it as a supported training run. Many of the events I register for, under the 50 mile distance are just that, training runs. It gives me the chance to run with new people and in new places.

I choose one goal race a year and the rest of my races help me keep focused and motivated to keep working toward my goal. My goal race is a 100 mile run typically in the fall. A fall race gives me all summer to be out running in the mountains getting stronger. The warm sunny weather allows me to train for long periods of time during the day and the night.

I choose a challenging course because I don’t compete with other runners. I compete with the course and myself (if I have a prior finish). Autumn is my favorite time of year and running through the mountains with the autumn leaves and the earthy smell gives me no end of joy.

Pick your events for the season, register, and put everything else on next year’s race list.

Run Your Own Race

running hills

I’m writing this blog post to talk about an issue my running partner and I have had to discuss recently. I’m pretty sure other running partners and groups have had to address this same struggle. So I thought I would share my experience.

Carbo (as he likes to be called) just finished his first 100 mile run. I ran the same race, but it was my sixth 100. I’ve been training at the 100 mile level for three years and running consistently for 10. He has been training at the 100 mile level for one year and training as a runner consistently for a year and a half.

Given just this information, you’d expect some differences in our ability and knowledge of running. So here is the struggle when running with a training partner or group. What do you do when one or more of your runners are not able to keep pace for whatever reason?

As the runner who is not able to keep pace you feel like your group is leaving you behind and you feel like you are not as good as the others. You begin to question yourself, your running ability, and your training. You feel bad you can’t keep up and you also feel angry or hurt because they are not waiting for you.

As the runner who is pulling ahead you feel bad because your group is not able to keep up. You wonder if you should slow down. You hope they are not sick or injured. You know they are struggling and you want to help.

I think these feelings are rational and understandable by anyone who has run with others on a consistent basis and formed the bonds of friendship.

So what do you do? You run your own race.

Think about your goals and your groups goals, are they different? If your goal is to complete a specific distance in a specific time, you need to stick to your training and let your friend know why you are not waiting. If your goal is just to run with your friend, by all means slow down and let them set the pace. It’s the same for the other side. If you can’t keep pace, ask yourself what your friend’s goals are. If they are different let them go and do what you need to do to meet your goals or get stronger to keep pace.

Is your runner who is falling behind, injured or anything else that may be holding them back? Obviously you want to know if your friend is hurt, tired, over training or anything else that may be slowing them down. You might be able to help them resolve the issue and if they are hurt encourage them to stop and take care of themselves. On the flip side, know your body and listen to it. There is no shame in taking time off to take care of yourself. Continuing to push to keep up, will only make you fall farther behind and could result in serious injury.

How long do you think the struggle will continue? Short term differences in pace are going to happen. If you are recovering from a race or illness you can fall behind. Don’t stress about it. Let your body recover and then get after it. If there are differences in strength or ability, do what you need to do to get stronger and faster within your own limits. As the faster runner, help your friend become a better runner pass along information or strategies you’ve used to get to where you are. If you believe this will be an ongoing struggle you will have to think about going your separate ways at least as far as running is considered. This is a hard decision to make, but with communication and understanding you can still remain friends and run together on easy days.

Is there value to both runners to work through this struggle to become stronger runners? Every situation offers a lesson if you are open to hearing it. Usually, the longer you ignore it the worse it gets. There are a number of lessons in this situation: listen to your body and take care of it, learn new training strategies, push yourself beyond what you think you can do (so long as you are not injured or over training), communication goes a long way, and whether or not your new training is working.

Realizing your limits and accepting them is hard. We are all different. Running with others is a great way to push yourself and to make gains in your training. You have to run your own race. You have to make decisions which put you in the best spot to accomplish your goals. Maybe this is a little selfish. I’m sure some people think so. And I would tell them, their goals are just different and that’s okay.

Even if you train individually at times and together at others, when you both reach the finish line, you can always celebrate together.

Don’t worry Carbo, I think this is a short term struggle.