The Stronger Sex

making the leap 3

When I first started running ultra distance I read somewhere that the gap between men on women runners decreases as the distance increases. The theory at the time went something like this: glycogen stores run out after about 1.5 to 2 hours and after that the body burns fat. Woman have more fat than men and therefore they can run stronger longer. It’s not just the extra stores of fat either, for an unknown reason (at least right now) women are more efficient at burning fat.

But maybe it’s not so simple… there are plenty of women in ultra running who finish before their male counterparts and take first place overall in Ultras. In fact, there are many ultra runners who still hold steady to the belief that women are better at ultra distance for a number of reasons. Here are a few of their ideas:

Women deal with heat, on average, better than men do.

Estrogen, yep, estrogen has many benefits for endurance athletes. It attaches itself to a neurotransmitter in the brain that delays the brains recognition of being tired. It also has some long term benefits such as acting a an antioxidant, keeping the free radicals down, and helping to keep arteries from becoming clogged and hardening.

Women are smaller. Being smaller helps on the descents, because your body takes less of a pounding, which means less soreness and fewer aches as you move forward. Shorter legs also helps because you have faster leg turnover and a higher cadence. Men have larger lung capacity. Being able to breathe well, helps on the ascents, but not enough to counter balance the benefit of being smaller and the decrease of impact to the body. Men’s muscle mass also benefits them at shorter distances, marathon and less, but at ultra distance, the extra muscle doesn’t help them get to the finish line any faster.

The stifling of women. Women have fought to get where they are in sports, sports which have been dominated by men since well…forever. Because of this woman have a mind frame of determination and tenacity while men continue to think in lines of harder, faster, and stronger.

Women have a higher pain tolerance. There have been a number of research studies, including myth busters, who have found that women do actually have a higher pain tolerance than men on average. Women were built to have children. Giving birth to a child is an endurance event of its own and most women have to deal with multiple levels of discomfort and pain during pregnancy and then during labor and delivery. I’m not sure if this is the underlying reason for a higher pain tolerance but it is sure the number one reason that is put forward to support the theory.

And finally, women are more detail oriented and anyone who has prepared for a 100 mile race knows there are a lot of details that need to be accounted for.

Women have a higher percentage of finishes in ultra endurance events than men and women continue to gain confidence in their ability to complete and be competitive in ultra events. So look out guys your about to be chicked!

Does running have to hurt?


It’s nearly the anniversary of when I fractured my foot and I’m thanking my lucky stars that I took the time and had the discipline to rehab my foot properly so I could run this past season.

Non-runners feel entitled to comment on whether or not running is healthy. Some of the frequent comments/questions I get when people find out I’m a distance runner are, “Isn’t that bad for your knees?” “Running that far can’t be good for you.” “Running long distance is bad for your heart. People have had heart attacks at the end of races.” “If you keep running you’re going to get hurt.”

I’m guessing they get this idea that runners get injured all the time from the research which says 45% of runners get injured each year. Part of the problem with that number is it doesn’t define injured. Whenever we participate in a sport on an ongoing basis, even high school and college level athletes, we have aches and pains, which are a result of our participation in physical activities.

But what does injury actually mean? I think this is subjective to a certain extent. Runners, ultrarunners in particular, tend to push themselves beyond aches and pains. It’s what we do to get to a finish line of a 100 mile race. If we stopped when it hurt, most of us would never finish. Even when we do have more than a simple ache or pain we continue our training and continue to increase our miles.

Is this the wrong thing to do? Now I’m no doctor, so you should really talk with them over me, but I don’t think running through an injury is always a bad thing. There are some injuries where it is better to stay active and by that I mean reduce you miles and take it easy for a few weeks. There are other injuries where it is best for you to take time off running and find some type of cross training to do. I’ve always drawn the line as a fracture or more than mild soft tissue injuries.

Sometimes it can feel like we are always dealing with some type of injury or pain, which doesn’t go away when we stop running or take a day of rest. Running is not easy and runners are a tough bunch, aches and pains and even actual injuries are going to happen to all of us at some point in our running career. We need to know before hand, where our line is in the sand and how to tell the difference between an actual injury and just an ache that can be worked through.

Acute stabbing pain is not good. You should take a day off and if it continues for more than 2-3 days see a doctor. Centralized, one particular spot, pain is also a bad sign, if it continues for more than 2-3 days, have it checked out.

Swelling, redness, bruising means ice, rest, compression, and elevation for a few days. Strained muscles and tendons, means you should warm up before running hard and watch your form. Also, look into some type of strength routine for your hips. Weak hips cause a whole host of issues.

As we head into the colder months here in the western US, our race season is coming to a close and many runners reduce their miles for the winter to rebuild their muscles and give their body much deserved rest from the hard work it has put in for the winter.

Winter or off season months are the best time to add in preventative routines to your training, such as strength and stretching.

Listen to your body, think about what it’s telling you, and do what it says most of the time.

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.