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.

 

 

Does Carb Loading Work?

carb-loading

We have all heard about carb loading before a race. Many races serve a pasta dinner the night before a race, but does it really have that big of an impact on race day? It can if it is done properly.

Why do we carb load? You want to fill your muscles with as much glycogen as you can before a race because that’s what your body uses to fuel itself while you run.

There are two main ways to carb load. There is the traditional method, which is spread over three to six days before the race, and then the 24 hours binge. The traditional method goes something like this: from Sunday to Tuesday before the race you should consume fifty percent of your calories from healthy carbs. From Wednesday to Friday 70 percent of your calories should come from carbs.

The 24 hour binge is not recommended and can make you feel sluggish rather than energized. It can give you GI issues as well and no one wants GI issues while they are running. The 24 hour binge is where you consume 4.5 grams of carbs per pound of your body weight the day before the race. If you do this, avoid eating foods high in fiber, add healthy fats and some protein to the mix to slow the release of the carbs and reduce blood sugar spikes.

Carb loading is not necessary and comes with its own risks. There are so many products out there that make fueling during a run easy, carb loading may not be worth it. If you’re running less than 90 minutes carb loading won’t help you at all because it takes that long for most people to burn through their glycogen stores.

Lastly, women don’t reap the same benefits from carb loading as men. The reason for this is believed to be the difference in hormones, estrogen in particular. All is not lost though, women can increase their calorie intake by thirty to thirty-five percent during the loading period and get the same or similar benefits.

Pollution and Running

air-pollution

Aerobic activity is healthy and everyone should be doing it a few times a week, but what about all the air pollution? Running in air pollution has the potential to cause serious health issues.

I am fortunate to live in an area where the air pollution is generally low enough that there are minimal risks when running out doors. In the winter months, that changes. I live in a valley and the cold air traps the pollution down in the valley as shown in the picture above. Yuck!

I can see it in the air, a brownish yellow fog. I can smell it in the air, exhaust and dirt. I can feel it when I breathe, thick and irritating.

I cough up mucus. My nose is congested. My throat is sore.

Pollution consists of both fine particulate matter and ozone gases. Both are bad, but the particulate matter causes major problems because it settles in your lungs causing inflammation and irritation. It can also get into your bloodstream. When it gets into your blood vessels, it causes them to dilate blocking oxygen and blood from reaching your muscles. It also lowers your body’s ability to create a protein, which breaks up clots.

But what about running?

When you run you inhale more air, ten to twenty times as much air, and you pull it deep into your lungs. If you are breathing through your mouth, the air bypasses the natural filter of your nose. Which means, all that thick yellow fog is making itself at home in your lungs.

Those with asthma, diabetes, heart or lung conditions, or lower respiratory disease should avoid being out in the pollution and definitely should not be out exercising in it.

For the rest of us who are relatively healthy, you should think twice. Running in the pollution especially long runs, which put you out in the yellow fog for hours at a time, is probably not a good idea. It can damage your airways and increase your risk of developing asthma. Oh and there is the chance that it will increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease(heart attacks) and lung cancer too.

Experts in the air pollution area say don’t give up on exercising outdoors because the benefits to exercise outweigh the damage especially if you take some precautions.

So what do you do?

Monitor the air quality in your area. The internet is the best way to do this. Most areas have a website dedicated to reporting air quality and keep it updated by the hour.

Run indoors on a track or treadmill. I know it is not the most fun, but it’s better than cancer. On Sunday, I ran my second long run on the treadmill.

Run where the air is safe to breathe deeply. On Saturday, I went to a higher mountain valley to run where the air is clear. It was slightly colder than where I live, but at least I could breathe.

Reduce the time you are out there. If you must run outside, shorten your run and try to time it for when the pollution is at its lowest if possible.

Stay away from major roadways.

Take an extra rest day and hope it clears up the next day.

Can’t Make it Up

extra-credit

Life isn’t like high school— you can’t make up the work. There’s really no credit recovery system in place. And there isn’t extra credit. Sorry.

This is why it is so important to catch waning motivation early, injuries, overtraining, and even boredom. When you miss a training session, sleep, or a meal (among other things in everyday life outside of training), you can’t go back and insert it. Your body just doesn’t work that way.

So what do you do if you miss a critical training session or don’t sleep well the days coming into a race? You press reset and move forward. Don’t look back and for god’s sake don’t try to “make it up” or get “extra credit.” The only thing you will get for your efforts is less. You’ll deplete your body and it won’t be ready for the next session, if you try to throw in an extra workout. You also run the risk of an unnecessary muscle strain or similar minor injury, especially, if you are a beginning runner or not used to doing two a day workouts.

Sleep—that precious recovery time a body needs (and my mind despises). If you lose it, it really is gone. Harvard Medical School actually did a study on this very issue click here for the study. The sleep foundation summed up the findings, “Even when you sleep an extra ten hours to compensate for sleeping only six hours a night for up to two weeks, your reaction times and ability to focus is worse than if you had pulled and all-nighter.”

Making up calories doesn’t sound reasonable to me unless you are trying to gain weight. If you’re maintaining or losing it’s counterproductive. Over eating at a meal, isn’t good for you. It can make you feel hungrier the next day, which sets you up for eating more the next day too. You eat to fuel your body when it needs fuel. You don’t overeat to replenish your body’s energy supply for work you did the day before.

So if you miss a training session, a meal, or sleep, move forward. Don’t criticize or berate yourself either, that doesn’t help anyone and can lead to less motivation and progress. Press reset and move on.

Do you run in the winter?

what-to-wear

I get this question a lot, from runners and non-runners. It’s a valid question considering I live where it snows and temperatures can be below zero. Not only is the weather a challenge, but we also have an inversion— pollution stuck in our valleys because of the cold air above the warm air.

The quick answer is yes, I run in the winter. There are a lot of things to consider when you decide to head out into the cold and if you don’t head out in the cold there are options to maintain your fitness for the winter months. Also there are many runners who use winter as their “rest” season.

Alright, so you’ve decided to run outside during the winter months and you’re going to be doing it in the snow and freezing temperatures. You have to have the right gear, especially, if you are going to run long distance. Layers. Layers. Layers. That’s the secret. You have to wear a wicking thermal base-layer. After that, keep piling things on until you stay warm while you are out. This takes a bit of trial and error because everyone is different. There is a tipping point where I won’t run outside due to the cold— if I have to wear so many layers it is difficult to get a good stride going. Usually, that means I need better running gear.

You may have to break up your run, if you are going out for more than two hours. Try to run during the warmest part of the day, which doesn’t always mean the sun is out. Cloud cover keeps heat trapped close to the earth. I also stay in the neighborhoods because the homes block some of the wind and they keep it warmer. Stay on more narrow streets too.

Ice is always a problem at some point. I have Ice Joggers, which pull over the bottom of my shoes and stop me from slipping. They are like YakTracks. Lights are an essential piece of running gear, along with a reflective vest.

Running indoors on a track or treadmill is not ideal and is really a form of torture. There is a middle road, though, you can also do some inside and some outside. If you are going to run on a track make sure and change direction or you will have aches and pains on one side of your body and cause muscle imbalances. If you’re on the treadmill, variation is key to keeping you “entertained.” Change the grade and the speed to mix things up.

Alright so you HATE the cold and snow and just cannot bring yourself to run outside during the winter, what are you going to do? If you do nothing, you will lose all your hard earned fitness. Maybe you even have an early spring ultra you are training for and you thought you could hack it this year, but it’s way too cold. Where there is a will, there is a way.

You can always run on the treadmill for 20-30 miles. Or you ca use every cardio machine your gym has for your long workouts. If you have a five hour workout, do the stair master for one, the treadmill for one, the elliptical for one, and whatever else they have.

What about resting for the winter? You still want to maintain a base level of fitness if you plan to run anything in the spring or early summer (depending on your distance). Twenty-five miles a week is a good base for a rest season. A rest season also gives you the chance to try new things, such as spinning, a cardio class, crossfit, swimming, or yoga. Rest seasons are a perfect time to bring in strength training too. If you don’t mind the snow, give snowshoeing and cross country skiing a try.

Running in the winter requires creativity and determination, but we’re runners we have that in spades.

Where do you get your protein?

cow-salad

It’s the first question I get when I tell people I’m vegan. This is not a sermon about why the world should be vegan. It’s about how particular food choices have impacted my running. I’ve tried other diets to improve my health, fitness, and endurance, but haven’t found them to be sustainable.

Runners in general tend to be food aware, in that they pay attention to the things they put in their mouths and how it impacts their running. The health benefits alone should be enough for people to move toward a more plant based diet and rely less on animals as a source of food, here are just a few.

Reduces risk of cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, type 2 diabetes, cataracts, arthritis, and osteoporosis.

Lowers Cholesterol, blood pressure, body mass index, weight, body odor, bad breath, PMS symptoms, and allergy symptoms.

Prevents muscular degeneration and migraines.

Increases energy, strength of hair and nails, and life span.

I’ve always been health conscious and enjoyed eating fresh fruits and vegetables, so the switch wasn’t difficult for me. I stopped cooking out of boxes (mostly) a long time ago. And I stopped eating red meat, fifteen years ago. I’ve tried the low carb diet, but could not get enough fats to fuel my running. This is partly because of my food preferences. There are athletes who do extremely well on low carb diets.

What is vegan? I know the word is spreading regarding veganism (no it’s not a religion), but many people I speak with still confuse vegetarian and vegan. Vegetarians still eat some animal products such as dairy, eggs, and honey. There are some other variations on this as well. A vegan on the other hand does not eat any animal products. Their food is completely plant based. Vegans also have to watch for how food is processed because some things such as sugar are processed using animal products.

So the protein thing, there are a ton of sources of protein other than meat: soy, lentils, seitan, tempeh, beans, nuts, hemp, quinoa, wheat, spinach, chia seeds, brown rice, nutritional yeast, nut butters, edamame, peas, oats, barley, broccoli, mushrooms, collard greens, kale, artichoke, and potatoes. I could go on, but I won’t because I think you get the picture.

I’ve been vegan for nearly one year now and I love it. I have more energy and recover from my runs much quicker. I’ve been able to increase the intensity and length of my runs over this last year and still felt energized. The only time I’ve had tired heavy legs is after a 100 mile race or a back to back 40/30 for the third weekend in a row. Being vegan has also pushed me to use more “real” foods to fuel my runs, which has been more effective at providing sustained energy and reducing gastrointestinal issues during 100s than using sports gels and chews. The only drawback I’ve found is it’s a bit harder for me to get enough calories down the hatch, so I have to be aware of how much I am eating. Being aware of what you are eating and when is not necessarily a bad thing.

I haven’t found it any more expensive or time consuming to cook vegan either. I can make all of my favorite recipes vegan. Eating out with friends and family who are not vegan can be a challenge depending on where you live. Some places are more vegan friendly than others. Here in Salt Lake City, Utah, vegan restaurants and vegan options are cropping up more and more. As a vegan you have to do some research before you go out to eat, but it’s not difficult.

If we want to do this running thing for as long as possible or just to be active and have a high quality of life as we age, we need to pay attention to the food we eat and how it makes us feel long term and short term. We all know what we eat has a major impact on our recovery and performance as athletes. Yes some of us use our running for an excuse to devour a cake and carton of ice cream on a Saturday afternoon.

Food choices are very personal and have to not only provide your body with what you need, but fit your lifestyle and perception of who you are.

Happy eating and running!

Run Safe

safe-running

I think it’s important to address runner safety periodically, just to remind us all to consider it, at least on occasion. Runners should be mindful of their surroundings day or night, road or trail. Bad and unexpected things can happen to anyone, anywhere. The number one threat, in my book, to runners is other people.

I know out on the trail there is the possibility of getting lost, falling and having a serious injury, or animal attacks, however, these are less frequent than attacks by other people.

It’s also my opinion that road runners are at higher risk, just because there are more people around them. The approaching winter always makes me think about these things because I’ll be on the roads almost exclusively since the mountains are covered with snow and ice to the point where both running and driving in the canyons become an issue, unless you snowshoe or ski/snow board, which I don’t.

Here are my tips for staying safe out there:

  1. Run with a friend
  2. Make sure people know where you’re going and when you expect to be back
  3. Carry your phone
  4. Run against traffic
  5. Wear lights (red flashing rear/front and a headlamp) and reflective gear
  6. Wear bright colors
  7. Carry runners mace: buy here
  8. SING: solar plexis, instep, nose, and groin. These are the places to hit in order to disable your attacker quickly and effectively.
  9. Change your routes and/or time of day that you run.
  10. Keep at least one earbud out at all times
  11. Have identification on your person. Road ID is great for this, you can find it here.
  12. Pretend you’re invisible, in other words assume drivers and others don’t see you and act accordingly. If a driver doesn’t make eye contact and waive you through, stop and wait for them to go.
  13. Be cautions around blind turns and hills.
  14. Use extra caution during the early morning at dusk. Lighting is strange and the sun can be directly in the face of drivers.
  15. Make eye contact with other people as you pass them.
  16. Call out when you approach others from behind (you don’t want to scare the shit out of them).

There are safety apps out there for both the iphone and android. Not only can you use them for running but put them on your kids phones and tell other people about them.

  1. Bsafe has an alarm you can sound with a touch on your phone. It activates your camera and starts recording a video, and broadcasting your location to your friends. The video, voice, location and time are stored on bsafe servers. You can set up a timer that will alert friends/family if you don’t check in by that time (you can update this as you move). Best of all this app is free! Android and apple.
  2. Glympse allows others to track you while you run. They don’t have to have the app on their phone to do it. Android and apple.
  3. RunSafe allows you to track your activites like any running app. It has a panic button feature which alerts your contacts and sounds an alarm, activates your flashlight and records sounds. This is free and has upgrade options for a $4.99 monthly subscription. Android and Apple
  4. RoadID has an app as well. It lets your friends and family actively follow your digital trail, sends an SOS message with your location if you stop moving for five minutes and don’t respond to the app’s alert within 60 seconds. This is free. Only for apple.
  5. Reactmobile alerts 911 or sends your GPS coordinates to your emergency contacts with a touch of a button. It’s similar to bsafe. Friends and family can also track you real time. Free. Android and apple.
  6. Kitestring is an app you activate when you enter a potentially unsafe situation. It checks up on you after a period of time and if you don’t respond or post pone the check in, it sends a customized emergency message to your pre-selected contacts. It’s free.

Be Safe out there and if you have other ideas please share them, we have to stick together.

Aunt Flow in town?

womens-health-1

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.

Muscle Cramps: part one

muscle-cramps-1

You’re cruzing along a trail feeling great and all of a sudden you fall to your knee clutching at your quadricep  as it spasms in pain. Muscle cramps are not new to athletes, including endurance runners. What causes it and how can you fix it during an event?

Muscles cramp for a variety of reasons, and usually a combination of them. Novice athletes are more likely to cramp than experienced athletes. Novice athletes pushing their bodies beyond their limits these fatigues muscles seize up as they are continually pushed.

Heat is a major culprit in muscle cramps especially for athletes who do not train in the heat. Their bodies are not accustom to dealing with scorching temperatures while making sure muscles continue to fire. Imbalances in electrolyte’s, dehydration, and depleted carbohydrates also create a higher chance of cramps.

Unfortunately, these factors hit an athlete all at the same time more often than not. Dehydration increases the risk of cramps, but it’s not a guarantee you will cramp. When you are hydrated there is a balance in the amount of fluid inside and outside of your cells. If you are dehydrated, there is less fluid outside of your cells. This situation causes nerves to be squished and fire which then causes twitches and then cramps in muscles. So just drink more water right? Sorry it’s not that simple.

Electrolytes make the cell walls permeable allowing the fluid to move in and out of a cell. If this can’t happen, an imbalance of fluid inside and outside the cell occurs and you have the same situation as above.

To further complicate the matter, insufficient carbohydrates leads to cramping as well. We all know muscles need glycogen to function and there is only a finite amount held in our muscles. When that is depleted we have to consume more carbohydrates. Glycogen is the fuel our muscles use to contract and relax. If our muscles can’t relax, they cramp.

What can you do about it? make sure you are drinking to thirst, taking electrolytes on a regular basis, especially in the heat, and train for the conditions you will be running in.

Sodium and Chloride(aids nerves in firing and permeability of cells) are not the only two electrolytes although they get all the attention. Here are the others and what they do:

  • Calcium – aids muscle contraction
  • Magnesium – aids healthy cell function
  • Potassium – helps regulate pH balance
  • Phosphate – helps regulate pH balance

 

Choose electrolyte replacements containing all of these. If you want a good explanation of how each electrolyte works read this.