Monthly Archives: March 2017

Are You Strong?

All you have to do to train for a race is run, right? Wrong.

Wait a minute, my legs are really strong. I mean check out these calves, quads and glutes. I used to think the same thing. The number one reason to incorporate strength training into your running training is injury prevention. The other reasons are increasing your speed during your long runs.

Running beats up your body, if you haven’t noticed. If you don’t have a lot of time to add in strength training, and who does, work on your hips. Strong hips are essential to preventing injuries. There is tons of research that supports this. You can prevent some of the most common running injuries such as runners knee, shin splints, and ITband issues.

Your hips stabilize your upper and lower body. The muscles surrounding the hips are recruited when other muscles become tired which can cause overuse injuries and compensation injuries. Weak hips throw off your gait, causing your knee and ankles to be unstable, in addition to your hips. You can develop mid-line crossover of your arms and feet. Cross over is an over rotation of your upper body during running. This twisting action wastes energy and can cause you to fall if you’re running on an technical surface.

You don’t need to do strength training every day, three days a week is best, more is not better. Your body needs a chance to build after you work the muscles. It doesn’t take a long time to add in some hip strengthening either, you can throw in 20 minutes after a run or on your cross training days. Let’s eliminate one more excuse too, you don’t need any equipment or a gym.

Here are some exercises that will get you started:

Fire hydrants: Get down on all fours. Lift your right leg out keeping the knee bent at a 90 degree angle. Lift slow for four counts and then lower for two counts. Repeat this for 10-20 times and three sets. Repeat on your left side.

Side Leg Raises: Lie on your side with your legs stacked on top of one another. Lift your top leg to about 45 degrees and then lower it back down. Repeat 15 to 20 times per leg.

Bird Dog: Get on all fours on the ground. Focusing on balance, lift your right arm and extend it straight out in front of your body. Simultaneously, lift your left leg and extend it out behind your body. Bring your extended arm and bent knee back to center under your body, and then extend them both out again. Repeat 15 to 20 times on each side.

Hip Hikes: Standing on one foot, drop the right side of your pelvis a few inches downwards while keeping the left side in a neutral position. Activate your left hip muscles and lift your right side back to the starting position. Repeat 15 to 20 times on each side.

Single-Leg Bridge: Lie on your back with both legs bent and your feet flat on the ground. Lift your left leg off the ground and extend it while you raise your lower back and butt. Hold the position for two seconds and lower back downwards in a controlled manner. Repeat 10 to 15 times on each leg.

Donkey Kicks: Get on all fours again, but this time you will only be lifting and extending your legs, keeping your hands on the ground. Instead of extending the leg backwards like you did during Bird Dogs, keep the knee slightly bent and kick upwards, with the bottom of your shoe facing the sky. Repeat 15 to 20 times on each side.

 

 

Giving Back

Races of every distance could not happen without their volunteers. Giving back to the running community is essential because of this. We’ve all be “saved” by a volunteer at some point during our running careers. It could have been something simple, like them handing you a Gu or a cup of water, or as complex as helping you remove your shoes, take care of blisters, and get your shoes back on your wet muddy feet.

The volunteers out there may or may not have family or friends running in the event. I’ve run into many an aid station to find out the aid station is run by a family or community group who does it every year and no one runs.

I know we are all very busy with training, working, family, and some minimal form of social life, but there are races nearly every weekend, especially 5k and 10ks. They are not a huge time commitment either, just a couple of hours.

Experiencing the running world from the volunteer’s side, will give you a new perspective and much appreciation for what they do. It will help you make their lives easier when you come into their aid station. It will also help you, if you ever decide to be a race director or organize a race of your own to benefit a non-profit agency.

How do you get started?

  1. Contact the race director for a race you have run or that supports something you can get behind. There are always 5k and 10k races support things like prevention and research of medical and mental health problems. There are also a ton of races raising money for local non-profit groups. Even schools have them to raise money.
  2. If you don’t know about any races, go to your local running store or get on their website and find the race calendar.
  3. Search on the internet.
  4. Once you have a race selected, email/call the race director or volunteer coordinator.
  5. Let them know you’d like to volunteer.

If you are considering a big event, such as a ultra, it’s good to let them know your experience as a runner so they can place you at points in the race where you will be the most help to the runners. The other thing to know about volunteering for an ultra, especially if you’re going to be the captain of an aid station, is you have to bring a lot of your own stuff.

The bigger races such as Western States, Leadville, Hardrock and the like, will have bigger sponsors and more supplies. But your smaller races that draw mostly locals and rarely the top runners of the ultra world don’t have as much and you may be expected to bring things, including food items, canopies, chairs, cots, heaters, and whatever else you want for your own comfort and that of the amazing runners.

Don’t be put off by bring your own stuff. Call in friends and family. I’ve always been able to gather the things I need and haven’t had to buy more than some food items and even that cost is split between my friends who volunteer with me at the aid station.

Remember none of us would be out there without the amazing volunteers.

Eager Beaver

Not everyone is an eager beaver. Pulling yourself out of the winter hibernation can be quiet the process. “But it’s running!” the beavers say. I know I totally get it beav. I’m right there with you rearing to go, chomping at the bit, barely containing the animal within.

But for some, it takes time for the snow to melt, the limbs to thaw, and the warm blood to reach the toes. It can be especially challenging if you have dropped your miles very low over the winter months or if you had a disappointing race season before the cold hit your neck of the woods.

When your miles drop to the point that you are having to work up to the fitness level where you were at the close of the race season, overcoming that mental hurdle of knowing how hard it can be to come back is your most formidable enemy, but you’ve slain this foe before. Write yourself a good gradual training program, set some goals along the way, sign up for races with increasing distances, and help your running partners thaw themselves out as well. Remember how great it feels when you’re at peak fitness. And at the end of next season, rethink the idea of maintaining a higher milage base.

A disappointing race season can leave you depressed and questioning why you work so hard only to miss the goal you set for yourself. If you find yourself in this space, you really need to get out into the sunshine, even if it is just to sit on a park bench. Soak in some of the suns rays. Feel the warmth of the sun on your skin. Wiggle your toes in the grass and earth. Brush your fingers gently on the blossoms covering the trees. Breathe the mountain air. There is nothing like getting outside away from the business of the city to reignite the fire that fuels your engine.

Once your brain is in a better place, it’s time to rethink your race season. Failures are only failures if you learn nothing from them and continue to repeat them. There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “Failure is not falling down; it’s not getting up.” Find the places where you think you were less than your best and pull them apart until you know why. That “Why” is your starting place.

Turn your why around and look at it from every angle. Get intimate with it. Pull it apart and turn it inside out. Now, come up with a plan to kill the why. This will likely be trial and error during your training.

Trial and error can be fun. It makes you think outside the box. It makes you dig deep and find something new about yourself. You may make new friends through collaboration as you work through this little issue of yours.

We’re runners, we stare into the face of challenge and smile.

 

 

Time to Heal…

Being patient with your body and allowing time to heal is difficult, but absolutely necessary if your goal is to run for a long time. I struggle with taking time off just to rest and recover; an injury is just as difficult for me. Usually, I continue running on it-telling myself I can run through it. And many times running through minor injuries is fine. It’s the not so minor ones that you can’t run through. Even some minor ones, get worse if you try to run through them. Knowing the difference, is the difference between an experienced and novice runner.

Injury and time off is unfortunately part of the running experience. Alternatives to running are just not the same. You don’t get that runners high. You don’t get that peace and sense of freedom. The longer it takes to heal the more agitated you become. It’s easy to fall into a pessimistic and defeatist attitude. You become an expert at positive self talk or you fall into a depression. The longer you are in the recovery mode, the farther off running feels.

You definitely go through the seven stages of grief: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing, and acceptance.

Shock and denial are lumped together most of the time, “It’s not that bad,” “I can’t believe this has happened.” “It’s nothing to worry about,” “I can still run, it’s fine.” “It’s the shoes, I’ll just get a new pair.”

Anger is directed at pretty much everyone including other runners and yourself. You beat yourself up about not taking time off right when it happened. You decide you could have prevented it and were just stupid.

Bargaining-” Dear God, I’ll take time off right away next time, if I can just have my running back now.” “I’ll volunteer more and donate money, if I can just get back out there.” “I’ll do anything to get back out there!!” Anything, but take the time to heal that is. You  begin doing research about the fastest way to heal. You spend hours looking at new training programs, super foods, stretches, miracle vitamins, and strength training.

Depression comes in the form of the defeatist. “I’ll never run again.” “this is going to take years to heal.” “It will always hurt to run.” “I can’t be happy without my running.” “I can’t live without my running (you think this is going to far until you’ve been there).”

Testing-“I’ve taken a few days off, I can go back.” “I know it still hurts a little, but a little run won’t hurt it.” “Just an easy three miles.”

Acceptance- “this sucks, but my goal is to run until I die, so I guess I’ll spend six months doing physical therapy and then I’ll take the time to get back to running in the right way because if I don’t, I’ll be back where I was when this started.”

When you’re ready to start your epic return to running make sure it’s slow. Review my return from injury training program found above under the 5k and 10k training program link.

It’s a shame that we can’t start with acceptance. Maybe that should be our goal for our next injury because if we’re honest with ourselves, the next injury will come.

Weaknesses?

Knowing your strengths and weaknesses as a runner is important if you want to improve and lower the risk of injury. The best way to discover weaknesses is to challenge yourself during your training runs. The best time to deal with a weakness is during training runs. Physical weaknesses are easy to find as you ramp up your miles during training or when you are nearing the finish line of a race.

But knowing your mental strengths and weaknesses is just as important and maybe more so. Often times, runners don’t think about this aspect of an ultra despite the well known axiom, “the first half of a one hundred is run with your legs, the second half is run with your mind.”

There is only one race I can think of where my mental state was in a good strong place throughout the race. Everyone is going to experience ups and downs in their mood and belief in themselves during training and during races. The longer the race the more likely this is to happen.

When I first began running one hundreds, I had to deal with serious self-doubt at mile fifty. I knew that and would tell my crew to get me out of mile fifty as quickly as possible. This has diminished substantially as my experience with races has increased.

Experience has been the most helpful thing to combat these down times during a race. Having worked through hard times before, I know I can do it again. Knowing things always come up after being down, helps lift the bad mood more quickly.

A second helpful strategy is using positive affirmations to counter the negative thoughts (even if you don’t believe them and can barely think them) makes each step easier. Remind yourself you completed the training and you are in the best physical condition to complete the race.

A third helpful strategy is distraction. Talk with other runners. Notice the scenery. Pick something in the environment to find such as flowers, various shades of green, rocks,  different animals or bird song. Listen to music or an audio book. Think of positive things in your life.

Fourth is having an experienced crew and upbeat supportive pacers can be a life saver. They will quickly pick up on your negative mood and can offer support rather than agree with your negativity. Even validating your feelings of “this sucks ass” can be precarious.

 

I’d love to hear what others have found helpful in combating negative mental states during training runs and races. Thanks in advance for your input.

 

To Know or Not to Know

When you register for a race do you really want to know what you are in for? There are two sides to this argument as there is to pretty much anything running related. I’ve approached races from both ends of this spectrum and at various points between.

The obvious benefit to knowing the course is you know how to exactly how to train. You may actually be able to train on the course. You are also less likely to get off course during the race. It also makes it easier to anticipate what you will need at each aid station because you can give a better guess at what time you will come into each aid station.

The potential down side to knowing, you can psych yourself out and worry about particular points in the course. I have a fear of heights and have avoided watching videos of the courses because I can get myself worked up if I think there is going to be a section with big drops and narrow trail.

If you do have fears about certain aspects of courses, you should be training in areas where you have to face those fears. When I’ve gotten to sections where there is drops during a race, I’m able to push through them because I’m in race mode. However, it would be better if I just didn’t get so worked up.

You can also begin to question your ability to complete the course or to deal with aspects of it. Sometimes just having to deal with a situation when it is happening rather than stressing about it is an effective strategy.

The middle ground would be knowing the amount of ascent and descent for the course overall. Knowing that is going to give you enough of an idea to shape your training program to fit the course.

You may choose different styles depending on how far the race is. With a 50k, you’ll finish in less than twelve hours and won’t have a crew. For a 50 miler, you may have pacers and a crew, but i’ll finish within 12-15 ish hours.

One hundreds are different and a lot more planning goes into them. It is better to know more about the course.

When you are using a crew and pacers, the more you know about the course the better it will be for for them because you are going to be able to provide them with more information about what to bring for themselves and when they will be meeting you at each aid station.

If there are big breaks in the time your crew will have the chance to sleep, eat and go to get anything you or they need off the course (depending on how close services are of course).

Knowing the course allows you to build a better strategy. Get to know it as much as you can. Find profile maps, youtube videos, talk with other runners, you’ll be better off in the long run and so will your pacers and crew.

Opposition

 

Not all runners have a wonderful support system who understands when they take off for hours at a time to get long runs in on the weekends or spend hundreds of dollars on one race. Those of us who do, count our lucky stars.

Having supportive friends and or family is important. Why? Because running can be hard. There will be times when you lose your motivation. There will be times when you want to celebrate and you should be celebrating.

Supportive family and friends offer you the chance to improve even when they don’t really know anything about running because they give you a sounding board. They may be able to give you new ideas because they see it from outside the running box. If they do know about running or are runners themselves, they probably like to talk about running stuff: new gear, new shoes, upcoming races, training strategies and so on.

You can build and adjust what you are doing based on their experiences about training, particular/similar races, injuries, fueling, and preparing (other than running) for a race.

How do you handle the lack of support? If you’re support system is just indifferent to you, it’s much easier than if they actively oppose your running hobby.

If they’re indifferent and don’t show up to your races, don’t take any interest in your accomplishments, or just project an attitude of we don’t care, find people who do care and who are supportive. Get involved with the running community more. You don’t have to abandon your family or friends who just don’t get it, but you do need to find a support system that does for all the reasons stated above.

If they actively oppose you, seek understanding first. Friends are unlikely to actively oppose your running. They may give you a hard time about it once in a while. Active opposition comes from family and significant others.

Find out what it is about your running that they don’t like: the time commitment, concerns for your health, the cost, or feeling like an outsider.

Provide information to address their concerns.

I can’t count how many times people have told me running as much as I do is not healthy. I send them the research that says it is and I explain what it does for me personally regarding physical and mental health.

Running can be expensive, especially, if you are running multiple 100 mile races at about $300 a pop just for registration. Then there is gear, food, travel costs, and shoes, just to name a few things. This one is obviously going to be a potential issue with significant others who share financial resources. You’re going to have to compromise and explain why running is so important to you. Encourage your other half to engage in a hobby. Make sure you are not using all the extra spending money for your running. Help them feel like they are a part of your running experience and team.

If they are “jealous” because they feel like an outsider around your running friends or when you talk about running (because you do and you use running metaphors to teach life lessons), get them involved. Include them with planning races and choosing races. Pick places they want to see. Try not to use inside jokes around them, unless you’re ready to explain.  Help them learn the terminology.

The big one is the time commitment. This one can become a sore spot for the runner too when they have conflicting desires. It’s always a balance. Try to choose times when your family is engaged in another activity where you can’t really be such as working, school, or asleep. This works well when you have young children. Help the other person understand the benefit running has on you and how that impacts your relationships. Everyone needs time for themselves to recharge and breathe. If you don’t take care of your own needs, then you cannot be fully present for others. Be willing to adjust things for important events the other person has. Get them involved with your running. They could meet you along your run for refueling or lunch. They could run a portion of the route with you. Both of these work even on training runs. Make sure you are contributing to family chores and other “unpleasant but necessary” activities as much as the others. Try scheduling a down season and commit to spending more time with the family. Make sure you are taking your rest week every fourth week and make an effort to spend quality time with those you love.