Making the Leap to the Ultra-World: Introduction

making the leap intro

What do you do when you hit the marathon distance and you run marathons for a few years and it just no longer satisfies the need? Go longer.

Ultrarunning is challenging and not everyone wants to be an ultrarunner. It takes a pretty big commitment in order to finish races and not be injured. The internet is packed with information about how to make the transition from “regular” runner to ultrarunner. I’m going to try to simplify things and make it not so daunting.

I love running and I want everyone to love running, so I try to make this crazy thing I do easier for others to digest. If you run less than a marathon, I encourage you to get to the marathon distance before jumping into an ultra.

An ultra is anything over a marathon. Most people think about the 50 or 100 when ultras are mentioned, but there are also the less known 50k (31 miles) and 100k (62 miles). I’m going to give you an overview of the differences in this post and then give you more detail on each section over the next few weeks by comparing the marathon, fifty miler, and 100 miler when it comes to training, food, crew, pacers, gear, and what I’ll call body functioning issues.

Here is a snapshot of what I’ll be covering:

Training: there are definitely differences here. First, the back to back long runs. Second, speed work. However, the rules of ten percent a week increase and taking a rest week every fourth week still applies. This gives your body time to adapt to the increase in miles. Speed work is more controversial some ultrarunners do it and some don’t. There are costs and benefits both ways, which will be in my next post so stay tuned.

Food: You’re going to need to increase your calories obviously, but what I want to tell you about is eating while running. There are few ultrarunners who get all their fuel from gu, or similar product, while running. Solid food is the norm or a mix of solid and energy gels. Bottom line is you need to find things you can eat while you run that won’t make you sick and you need to train your body to digest while you are running.

Crew/Pacer: Once you move into the ultra-arena it becomes harder to organize your events and get through them without a little help from people who love you and like watching you torture yourself (or achieve greatness. It’s really the same thing here). Who you have out there with you and what they do can make or break your race. The more you know about ultrarunning the better prepared your crew and pacer will be to help you.

Body functioning issues: The possibility of injury is always there for runners, but just because you run farther doesn’t mean you will get injured more. And injury is not the only body functioning issue you can encounter. Runners of all distances can have problems with vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration and other pleasant things. The longer you’re out there the more chances there are for body functioning problems to arise. You need to know what causes them and how to fix or minimize the problem and keep going.

Gear: There is always lots of new fun gear out there for runners. As an ultrarunner, it’s easier to justify buying fun new things because well…you’re out there for a really long time and you need things, Right? Of course you do. There are some things that can be helpful for ultrarunners to have like blister kits, hydration packs, and drop bags.

Like in anything new, there is a learning curve, but I hope this makes breaking into the world of ultrarunning easier. If nothing else it gives you enough knowledge to begin asking questions or enough to deepen your belief that we’re all crazy. Either way, I’ve done what I set out to do.

Shoe Swap

running shoes

Do you ever see the new shoe reviews? Of course you do. I’m here to say, “Beware.” The reviews can suck you into thinking your shoes are not right for you or that you can get better ones which will prevent or be the fix all for any nagging injuries you have.

It’s not just the shoe reviews which can prompt a change in shoe. Sometimes you just walk into the running store and there they all are beautifully displayed along the wall.

Our running friends get new shoes and talk about how great they are. You look down at their feet and see the clean and vibrant colors and think, “It’s about time for new shoes, right?”

Every year there are runners who are forced into changing shoes as new models are released and no longer work for us or  have bothersome aspects,  which,  stir up the desire to find something else.

There are a million reasons we decide to change shoe brands or models.  Despite the reason for us changing shoes, there are some precautions runners should take or possible issues they should think about as they make the change.

Make sure you find out about the construction of the shoe and how it is different or similar to what you are currently running in. Running store employees have quite a bit of information in this area. They talk to a lot of runners who give them personal reviews. You can also search for reviews online. Even if you don’t order shoes from online sources, many have review or comments. Also look at the website for the manufacturer. They usually detail the updates and changes from one model to another.

Toe box width, heel to toe drop, arch support, and stability are all important aspects of a shoe you should be asking about. Once you know this info, turn the shoe over in your hand and check out the tread. Is it aggressive enough for where you run? How stiff is the sole of the shoe?

Take the shoe for a test drive. Many running stores will let you run on a treadmill to feel the shoe. This is never enough time for you to really assess the comfort level of the shoe.  And it’s not the ideal conditions unless you run on treadmills for the majority of your running.

Pay attention to how the foot feels in the shoe, is there anything rubbing, does the heel fit well in the heel cup, do your toes have enough space to wiggle, and is the shoe supportive/tight enough in your arch. Make sure there is not a place on your foot where there is more pressure than other places.

There are two good times to go try on shoes: first, after a long run, and second, after you have worked all day. The reason is, your feet swell throughout the day making them bigger at the end of the day. Your feet also swell during running. The point is make sure you have enough room in the toe box.

Many stores also have a 30 day return policy. However, this may be a bit tricky if you’ve run a bunch of miles and the shoes are dirty in any way. Check into the return policy when you are switching brands or models.

My final advice is, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.

Feeling Lucky


Every once in awhile, it occurs to me how lucky I am and how I take many things for granted. I had this very thing happen during my run last Thursday.  I was out on a trial I had only been on one other time. It’s very beautiful with aspens trees standing right up against the trail edge, and as you climb higher this changes to a pine forest. The temperatures dropped with each step up toward the saddle of Lambs Canyon Pass. I watched the sun rise from behind the mountains surrounding me. I heard the rustle of birds, squirrels, and all manner of other small creatures waking up.

Whenever I realize how lucky I am to have the opportunity to be out on the trial, I stop and just breathe it all in and try to appreciate it. I think about everything that has to happen and come together to allow me to be out there such as time, where you live, financial ability, freedom, work schedule, family support, and obviously health.

Injuries make us stop and think about how much we do have as runners. It’s unfortunate that, in many aspects of life, we forget what we have until it is gone. As a western society, I think we tend to focus on the negative things in our lives. With our focus on the things which are going wrong or badly in our lives, we lose sight of what is going well and how much we have.

In the United States, there are still many people who live way below the poverty line and lack the ability to meet their own basic needs. But there are also many who are able to do so and those who are able to have enough financial means to provide for their wants and desires as well.

It’s important to remember and be grateful for how much we have compared to those who have so little in our own community and worldwide. This change in perspective will make you more content in your daily life. We all have struggles and obstacles we face at various stages in our lives and because of our choices. Dealing with stressors is easier when you see the things that are positive in your life.

Life gets busy for all of us and we lose sight of the positive things in our lives, but once things slow down stop and remember the beauty in your life. Surround yourself  with small reminders of the positive things in or to slow down and see them.

Next time you are out there with your feet floating over the trail or pavement, take thirty seconds, breathe in the beauty that surrounds you, and call to mind all that is positive in your life.

I Run for Me

I run for me

For all long time runners there are multiple reasons behind why they run, health, time to think, play/enjoyment, process emotions, love of the outdoors, to eat junk food, or social aspects just to name a few. It’s good to revisit this from time to time to remind yourself what running means to you and how it has changed your life.

What started you running, may be completely different from the reasons you have continued to run. Your reasons have shifted from external to internal and if they haven’t, running may lose its appeal. At least, until you find another external reason to toss you back into running.

In this post, what I want to consider are internal reasons to run rather than the external ones.

The question here is, why should you run for you? I’m sure some think this is a silly question, but I see a lot of people in many different settings who do things because of the benefit they think it gives to others or to change how others perceive them. Let me give you some examples to clarify.

I run for my children. I want to show them how to be healthy, and I want to be healthy to be able to run and play with them. I run to socialize and hang out with my friends. I run to show the world I’m strong, capable, and can achieve goals. I run to look good to others and find a significant other. I run to deal with a stress caused by others. I run to compete with others.

I think these are fine reasons to get you started, but you need to dig deeper if you intend to keep running. These are not sustainable sources of motivation because, eventually, they lose their ability to propel you forward. Life changes and priorities change. In other words they are situational.

Don’t get me wrong, doing things for others is a good thing. I’m not advocating selfishness here. Running for yourself benefits everyone in your life. Some of the above reasons can be turned inside out, becoming reasons to run for you, but I think they are still surface reasons. Running for yourself means competing with who you were yesterday. It means growth. It means valuing yourself just because you are you and nothing more. It means running because YOU deserve the benefits of running.

I run to discover myself and to be as alive as I can possibly be. I run to be free to be myself without judgement. I run because I deserve to be happy, stress free, healthy, strong, beautiful, grounded, creative, and fearless.


Falling on Your Face…Literally

falling down

I have had some epic falls out on the trail, just ask my running partner who wishes we had a go pro to capture some of these. I wish we had one too because I’d like to see what happens when I fall. Not just the fall itself (I know how that felt), but where my feet were and how my body was positioned right before I careened into the ground.

As a trail runner you expect to fall every once in a while. You are, after all, running down trails with rocks, roots, fallen trees, overgrown vegetation and other obstacles. Some runners fall more often than others. And then there is me.

Over the last month, I have fallen during nearly every run. I currently have a scraped knee, hand, and forearms. I have bruises on both hips and other places on my thighs. Typically, I catch my toe on a rock or root and down I go. During one long run, I counted how many times I almost fell, fifteen. The trail was rather tricky and overgrown.

I fell once hard on my knee and had to stop running for a week. From then on, I’ve tried to fall to one or the other side, and thus the bruising on my hips. This is probably not the best strategy.

My latest fall (today)… was the most interesting yet. I caught my left toe while skipping through rocks going downhill. Because of my momentum, I flew through the air, rotated, landed on my butt and back, and slid two or three feet. So you can add a large bruise on my right butt cheek and scrapes up my spin and across my right shoulder.

As I was researching this topic, I found articles saying work on your core strength and stability. I have an hour and a half core, proprioception, and stability workout I do two to three times a week. I’m pretty stable and my core is strong which is why I can catch 90% of my tumbles before I hit the ground.

I’ve ruled out other causes of falling such as untied shoes, not paying attention, listening to music, proper running form, and making sure my feet aren’t too close together. I have been able to increase my speed on climbs and descents, which I’m sure is contributing to the problem, but…

Since I am catching my toe, I’ve decided I need to focus on picking my feet up higher and doing some high knees. I’m not blaming my shoes but I think it may help to get shoes that fit more snug along the sides of my feet and are only one size to big rather than a size and a half. I am also getting shoes that allow me to feel the ground more (minimalist) to see if that helps my proprioception.

I was reading through an online forum and found kindred falling runners. It was nice to know other runners are falling just as much as I do.  Some of the most helpful and funny advice I found was written by Lisa Butler. This is what she had to say:

“The best way to not get hurt by falling is to not fall. I know, it’s more stupidity from that ‘Lisa’ and someday she’ll probably be the kind of Doc who says “if it hurts to blink your eyes, don’t blink.”

Seriously though, think prevention first.

First, look where you WANT to go, not where you don’t want to go. Like driving or mountain biking, you tend to go where you look. So if you look straight down at the root you are stepping over, you may get a closer look than you want. Scan ahead, know it’s there, and step up.

Second, ‘think yourself upright.’ Thinking “Don’t fall” over and over, especially when you are tired, programs you to fall. Instead think, “stay up, stay light on my feet.”

Third, if you do fall anyway, resist the urge to catch yourself on your outstretched arm. Your shoulder can handle the hit much better than your wrist. Handheld water bottles may afford some protection here, but not always.

Heroic torqueing maneuvers to ‘make the save’ are as likely to injure you as the impact. It is beautiful when it works and you don’t twist a knee or hip.

Lastly, remember that the injury only truly counts as an injury if the blood hits your sock. Otherwise it’s inconsequential and you don’t get to whine. Yes, THAT part is a joke.”

My hope, is other falling runners, will read this and know they are not alone as they eat dirt over and over again on the trail.


Feeling Good, Feeling Bad

mountain sunriseMuch like the rest of life, there are going to be good days and there are going to be bad days out there on the trail or road even in the gym, swimming pool or on the bike.

This raised a couple of questions: first, how do you deal with the bad day during the run; second, how do you even get out there when you know it is going to be a struggle.

I had this very thing happen a few weekends ago. It’s one thing to deal with a bad day during a short run, but to get through a long run? Ugh, it’s tough. My weekend called for back to back long runs of 27 miles and 25 miles. I chose to do my 27 mile run with a lot of climbing. It took me a lot longer than I had planned, but the run was beautiful. On Sunday, I chose a flat trail. I knew it would be a tough run from the moment I woke up. It was hard to get out of bed. And even as I was getting ready, I thought about going back to bed. I was behind anyway.

I made it to the trail about twenty minutes late. It took a while to get warmed up and I struggled the whole way. I fell hard at mile 23 and sat in the middle of the trail wanting to quit for the day. I nearly had myself convinced I could just sluff off the last four miles. But I got up and finished.

So what did I do to get myself out the door? I have a morning routine and I stuck to it. Even while my mind was saying go back to bed, the rest of me was going through the motions of getting ready to go. I had packed my hydration pack and set out my clothes the night before, which didn’t leave me a lot of time to think about not going in the first place.

Each time the thought of not going came up, I reminded myself of all the times I had been tired and run anyway. I felt great once I got going and was always glad I had finished my run. I reminded myself how much I love being on the trail in the morning hours and listening to the forest wake up. I told myself I could take a nap after my run if I needed it. Once I was out the door, there was no turning back.

I kept going on the trail despite the low energy, low mood, and fall by reminding myself I would be happy I finished. I told myself it was good for me to struggle through long runs on occasion because I would struggle at some point during a race and I needed to be able to deal with it and keep going. And not just keep moving forward, but keep running a pretty good pace. I knew this would be one of those runs I would rely on in the future when I was having a difficult time. I also know from other difficult runs, that the sun always comes up. In other words, it gets better if you just keep going.

Everyone has hard days where their energy and mood are not conducive to a long run. Remind yourself of how great you feel when you are out there and after the run. Remember hard runs make you stronger mentally and physically. Most importantly, the sun always rises.