Taper Adaptations

Tapering for a race is really difficult for many runners. I know that there are some elite athletes who don’t really taper at all, although, they may take the two days before a race off. An important, possibly critical, difference between elite runners (many not all) and us not so elite runners is we all work typically full-time jobs. This means we don’t have the same opportunity to recover between our runs during training and thus we reach race day more depleted making tapering more important for the average runner.

I’ve tried both three week tapers and two week tapers. I didn’t find any difference between the two. Again, that’s me. Other people may be different. Tapering is– as many aspects of running are– very runner dependent.

The professional research based recommendation is three to four weeks. This is because a taper  is giving your body the time and rest needed to take all the training you’ve been doing and lock it into place in your various bodily systems.

For ultrarunners, your aerobic system has pretty much reached maximum conditioning. Other system haven’t. There are actual changes down to the protein synthesis level. Some of the adaptations that your  body makes during your taper are:

  1. Training causes minor tears to muscles. The muscle need a chance to rebound and repair.
  2. Immune system needs time to get rid of any inflammation and repair cells.
  3. Hormone profile rebounds which takes some time especially cortisol and testosterone. Both of these become depleted during your training.
  4. Red blood cells become consistently damaged when you’re running high miles, so your having to manage that while training. The taper allows those to be repaired and to increase. This is important for oxygen transportation to muscles.
  5. Metabolic wise, rest allows you to store more  glycogen in your muscles and liver.
  6. Running 100 miles is a mental as well as physical challenge. We also tend to be a bit sleep deprived which has both physical an mental components impacting our performance. It improves your vigor and mood.
  7. Many ultrarunners have some level of dehydration pretty much all the time. The taper gives you time to balance your hydration.

In addition to sleep and reducing your running, nutrition is a major part of recovery. Eat healthy whole foods, which will give you what you  need and reduce the chance of gaining weight close to the race once your body is using less calories to rebuild.

Regardless of whether you run by time or miles, you should reduce your running by 20% each week beginning three weeks from race. You on’t need to reduce the intensity, but you shouldn’t increase it. You can maintain the number of runs per week. It’s very important that you keep in mind you are going to feel better as your body rests and recovers (the point of the taper), but you shouldn’t increase your efforts. You’ll need to use pace rather than perceived effort during your runs. You’re not going to lose any fitness by giving yourself the three weeks to rest and repair.

Here is an easy way to remember the “rules” of tapering:

Trust in your training

Adjust your Calorie Intake

Perfect your race day strategy

Embrace the “free” time

Rest and recover

First Ultra?

I love running and I want everyone else to love running, so I try to make this crazy ultrarunning thing easier for others to wrap their minds around and jump in. Here are my eight quick tips for runners who want to make the leap to ultrarunning:

  1. Physical Training.

Training must be a priority and it must be consistent. You don’t have to run a hundred miles a week to be an ultrarunner. Many ultrarunners run 60 miles a week and complete 100-milers. Your training does need to be race specific. If the race has mountains, you train mountains. If the race is flat, you train flat. If it’s going to be hot, run in the heat. If you’ll run through the night, train in the dark.  Weekly long runs, up to 20-30 miles, are a must. Back-to-Back runs should be done at least a few times throughout your training. Speed work is good to include, but not necessary. Be careful, speed increases your risk of injury.

  1. Mental training.

In ultrarunning, training your mind is as important as training your body. There will be dark times during the race where you question your ability to go on. Positive self-talk, mantras, and remembering how you’ve overcome other difficult times can get you through them. My favorite is, no matter how dark it gets, the sun always rises.

  1. Rest.

An injury is the last thing you want to have as you near your goal race. Taking a rest week every fourth week by cutting your miles back by 20%, will decrease your risk of injury and help build your endurance and strength. Listen to your body and take a rest day when needed. It’s better to take a break early in training than push through and have it get worse and force you to rest late in training.

  1. Strength training.

It’s more important to add strength training than to cross train or to stretch. Core and hip strength are critical to maintaining your running form and preventing injuries. Two to three days a week is enough. If you have time add in squats and deadlifts with low repetitions(4-5) and maximum weight 4-5 days a week.

  1. Nutrition plan.

Plan what you’re going to eat during your race. If you’re going to take stuff from the aid station, know what’s there. Train with what you plan to use in the race (this goes for gear/clothes too). Relying on gels and chews is not enough for most ultrarunners. Train with solid foods that are easy to digest, high in carbs, low in protein and low in fiber. Use caffeine strategically. Stop using caffeine a month before the race, so you can use it to stay alert during the night portions of the race.

Know your hydration needs. Drinking to thirst isn’t enough during an ultra and electrolytes are a must.There are a lot of sports drinks out there, find one that works for you or use salt capsules. Pack enough for the whole race in your drop bags and with your crew.

  1. Body Functioning issues.

Plan for dealing with blisters, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, nausea, cramps, aches, and general pain. We all hope we don’t have to deal with these issues, but if you’re caught unprepared they can ruin your race. I keep a blister kit with my crew and a small one in my hydration pack. I also have ginger chews, antacids, Imodium, and Icy Hot. I avoid any pain medication.

  1. Crew/pacers.

Chose happy supportive people who won’t let you back out of your goals, even if you’re crying and limping. Family and spouses are not always the best for this. Finding crew and pacers who have experience with ultrarunning is going to be very helpful to you. If you don’t have anyone with experience, you’re going to need to educate them as best you can. See my page on the Ultra crew.

  1. TAPER wisely.

Trust in your training.

Adjust your calorie intake to match your decreased training.

Perfect your race day strategy.

Embrace the “free” time.

Rest and recover.

Hydrating, It’s Complicated.

Staying hydrated is essential to being able to sustain a good pace on race day. Too much or too little water can cause serious problems for runners. Maintaining optimal hydration is more complicated than we’d all like.

There are many factors that play a role in your hydration during training and races. We all hear the pervasive message of 8 glasses of 8 oz of water a day, but is that right for everyone? It’s not even close. It’s difficult to calculate exactly how much fluid a person needs each day. Some factors that impact your recommended fluid intake are: the type of food you eat, your activity level, your body fat percentage, and your acclimatization to the heat.

Another recommendation we hear a lot is to drink to thirst, but once again the phrase, “it’s complicated,” rears it’s head. When you’re exercising, especially for extended periods of time, your body may not signal you to drink because of imbalances in your system. You need to be looking at other objective measures such as the amount of fluid you are taking in, the temperature, the color of your urine (we’ll talk about this more in a few paragraphs), and any GI issues you’re having.

You’re unlikely to need to hydrate during a 5k or 10k event. For a 1-2 hour run, you’ll need water, but not electrolytes. If you’re running five plus hours, you’re going to need some form of electrolyte replacement strategy. If you’re between the 2-5 hour range, water is necessary and electrolytes would be helpful but are not necessary like they are after 5-6 hours. Electrolytes are helpful in the 2-5 hour range because they help you hold onto the water you’re consuming rather than it just going straight through you.

 

Most ultrarunners use some type of electrolyte supplement during training and in races. There are lots of options as far as different sports drinks, powders, and tablets/capsules. It’s likely that you’ll want a variety of options when you’re racing because things change and some times something that has worked throughout training suddenly stops working. Sports drinks usually do double duty by providing you with both carbohydrate and electrolytes, so make sure you have options for both when the drink doesn’t work so well. Aid stations typical fare will consist of foods with both carbohydrate and with sodium, the main electrolyte you need, so keep a mental note that you’ve taken in some electrolytes there too.

After a run or a race, there’s no need to ingest a sports drink to replenish your electrolytes. Your body will be able to balance it out within the next 24-48 hours. If you have another run within that time frame, however, drinking a Gatorade is probably a good idea.

One way runners often judge their hydration is through urine color. The problem is there are a lot of things that impact your urine color, so it’s not always the most accurate. You can have clear urine because your body doesn’t have enough electrolytes to hold onto the water so it just spits it back out. The best time to judge hydration with urine color is when you first wake up in the morning because it’s had time to accumulate. The first urine in the morning tells you about your hydration the day before. So if you track your hydration and exercise, you’ll get a good idea of what your body needs for different workouts.

 

 

 

Heat Acclimation

It’s still winter where I live, but if you’re planning on running early spring or summer races, preparing for running in the heat should be on your mind. There are lots of changes that occur in your body when you become adapted to the heat during exercise.

One of the first things is you have a lower heart rate when exercising at a particular temperature. Your blood plasma increases, which allows you to move warm blood toward the outside of your body to dissipate heat. Increased blood plasma also allows you to begin sweating earlier and at a higher rate. Sweating earlier means your body will start sweating when your core temperature goes up by one degree rather than two or three. This head start may not seem like much, but is important for maintaining a lower core temperature.

Without the increase in your plasma volume, you would compromise your cardiovascular output as more energy was shunted to decreasing your body temperature through sweat and moving your blood around.

Now keep in mind that just because you are more efficient at running in the heat, does not mean that you can slack off on your hydration. You are actually losing more fluid because you are sweating earlier and at an increased rate. The change in the amount of sweat lost can be huge. Normal fluid lost for one hour of exercise is 0.5 to 1 liter. As you become heat acclimated, this can increase up to 1-2 liters per hour.

How do you get ready for the heat? run in the heat. hot and humid is difficult to adapt to but you can do it to a point. If it’s winter or just not hot enough where you live, there are still some things you can do. The bottom line is you want to increase your core body temperature to about 100 to 101.5 degrees.

Some options include building a really simple heat chamber in your home, over dressing. If you have the space, create a room that gets really hot. You can use space heaters or stop the clothes dryer from ventilating outside (which will increase humidity too). Ideally, you’ll have a treadmill, but some other type of exercise equipment like a stationary bike or elliptical machine will be all right.

Over dressing is pretty simple. Just put on lots of extra clothing and then go running. In doors is going to be the best, but out doors will work if you don’t have another option. This isn’t an ideal way to prepare but it is better than nothing.

Another, less effective, way is to do some high intensity exercise until your core body temperature is up to 100-101.5 and then go sit in the hot tub or a sauna.

Adapting to the heat takes about seven to fourteen days of heat exposure for one hundred minutes a day. You can do a much shorter period of three to five days and it will help you feel better when running in the heat, but for endurance events the longer period is what you should be doing.

The problem is that heat training makes you tired, so you don’t want to do this super close to your race date, but you have to balance that with not losing the heat adaptation you’ve tortured yourself to develop. Try to complete your heat training 3-4 days before your event.

 

When to Walk in an Ultra

Ultrarunners walk. It’s just one piece of ultrarunning and knowing when and how long is essential to finishing at your best. The easy answer to the question of when to walk, aka power hike, in an ultra is, you walk all the uphills. But if we wanted easy, we wouldn’t be ultrarunners now would we?

Do all ultrarunners power hike? Yes, at the 100 mile distance everyone is going to do some form of power hiking on the uphills. At the 50k distance, it will depend on how steep and long the hills are. At the 50 mile and 100k distances, pretty much everyone is doing some power hiking.

The factors that go into a decision to power hike rather than run are: the length of the race, the steepness of the hill, the length of the hill, your training/conditioning, current weather/trail conditions and your current physical status. None of these factors can be considered without thinking about the others. It’s a multifaceted decision. The only one that takes priority over the others is your current physical status.

Your current physical status is how all of your bodily systems are functioning. Uphills can be a perfect opportunity to rehydrate and refuel. The slower pace may allow your body to absorb water and fuel easier, but don’t count on it. Hiking up a long steep slope can be just as taxing as running hard on level ground. If it is, and your stomach protesting at everything you put into it, you may be better off trying to refuel on the downhill or on a flat. If you’re experiencing pain, hiking an uphill is a good time to assess the situation. You’ll be using different muscle groups to climb, which may help you rule in or out particular muscles as the problem. It will also give sore/cramping muscles a chance to recuperate.

There may be times where hiking flats and downhills is the most appropriate course of action given your physical status and you shouldn’t be ashamed of this, at least you’re still moving forward. If you’re vomiting or have diarrhea walking/hiking is a must. You need to give your body a chance to regulate and it can’t do that if you’re pushing the redline.

The length of the race plays a major roll in when you begin your power hiking. The longer the race the earlier you’re going to begin hiking. Changing to a hike allows you to engage different muscles from those you use for running. This change gives muscles a chance to rest and prepare for the next time they’ll be needed as the primary force. This is true even in a very flat race with little to no uphills.

The grade (steepness) of a hill can demand that you hike rather than run. At some point, a hill becomes so steep it’s just easier and often faster to hike. Whether this is an 8% grade or 15% grade depends on you. Research says a grade of 15% is the point at which it becomes more energy efficient to hike than to run up a slope. However, keep in mind this research was done with individuals who were fresh. In other words, they hadn’t already finished 75 miles and they didn’t have 95 miles to go. The best way for you to figure out where you are, is to practice. Train on all types of grades and hit them at different times in your long training runs.

The length of an uphill is important too. Maybe you’ve come to a hill with a moderate grade and thought, “It’s runnable.” But is it runnable for three miles? It’s okay to start running it and then decide a bit later that it’s no longer runnable. You can even take a run/walk approach to these types of uphills.

Weather and trail conditions can also dictate when you should be running or hiking. Rain and snow can change visibility. Swampy conditions can conceal rocks and other hazards. Heat can change a mild runnable slope into a death march.

What you don’t want to do is walk due to a mental block or because you’ve hit a psychologically dark mood during your run. The only way to avoid this is by having a plan of action. When you get the first inkling of a drop in your mood or mental state, ask yourself if you’ve kept up on hydration, electrolytes and fuel. If you haven’t, start there. If those systems are where they need to be, initiate your positive mood plan. You can use imagery, mantras, recalling when you’ve overcome other challenges, or repeating positive words. For these to be most effective, you need to develop them in your training.

Your training is the key to knowing when you should hike and when you should run. Training on hills is going to give you the strength (mental and physical) to conquer those hills that are within the realm of sensible and the wisdom to know when it’s not sensible. The definition of what is runnable and what’s not is going to change, and you need to be able to evaluate yourself and each hill under the current circumstances.

Running Preggers: When you have to go, go!

Running can have some interesting challenges relating to using the bathroom. If you’re a trail runner, this isn’t so much of a problem, although you should be burying or packing out solid waste. In the woods, you can just duck behind a tree. Looking up and down trail before, of course. As a road runner, depending on the time of day when you run, bathroom access is also pretty simple.

When you’re running for two, it’s not that simple. Why would it be? Every bodily system you can think of is altered when you’re pregnant (although I haven’t heard anything about your perception of sound…). It’s very important that you don’t wait to go to the bathroom, number one or number two.

Holding your urine is not just uncomfortable when you’re running, but it can cause infections, even in non-pregnant people. The real problem is the frequency of needing to go pee. Even in early pregnancy, when the baby is smaller than a pea, women will need to go more often. This is because your body increases the amount of blood it pumps and your blood volume, so you’re drinking more water and your kidneys and bladder are working overtime.

Blood volume increases until the third trimester and making sure you’re hydrated throughout the day will continue this pattern of needing to go all the time. And then there’s the baby. As baby grows he/she puts pressure on your bladder making you feel like you have to go even when you don’t have that much in there.

You can be running along enjoying the beautiful day and then bam, you have to go right now. You think, “but I went 15 minutes ago!” doesn’t matter, you have two choices: stop to pee again, or pee your pants. This can make running frustrating at times because jumping into the bushes to pee in a neighborhood is frowned upon. Getting off the treadmill all the time is also frustrating. So, for the potty problems, trails are your best option, in my opinion.

As for number twos, unfortunately, pregnant women don’t have to worry too much about those while they’re running. In fact, most pregnant women wish they had to worry about that when running. Constipation is another lovely side effect of being pregnant. The hormones in our body slows digestion down to a crawl, so the baby can suck as much nutrients out of the food we eat as possible. And then there’s the baby. As baby grows he/she compresses your intestines and shoves most of your organs up into your ribcage further complicating your ability to digest food and move it through your body. All in the name of love.

A maternity belt can help alleviate some of the pressure on your bladder and hopefully you won’t have to go pee, so much. Don’t restrict your water intake to prevent the frequent bathroom stops as tempting as that may be. You could wear very absorbent panties, but they would likely chafe something awful.

Weekly miles: 30 miles this week!

Training Framework

Training has many different aspects to it, but I think we all have a tendency to focus on the physical running part more than anything else. Running is definitely one of the defining aspects of our training, but our training should include much more than just running.

When anyone asks us what our training looks like, we immediately go to how many miles we’re running and how many days a week. They might as what we’re training for and we’ll throw out the name of our goal race or possibly just the next one on the schedule.

Even if you’ve never really thought of it, our training encompasses more than just running. Training can be broken down into physical, psychological, and nutritional. Making sure you take the time to consider each of these separate from the other, guarantees you’ll be thinking about them and adding them to your training plan in some form.  You can set goals related to each of these different aspects of your training.

Physical training includes your running, strength training and rest days. Running is at the core of our training and it is our goal. We want to run for life not just for the next race and because of that goal all of these other aspects of training get pulled in. Being the best runners, we can be means we need to address speed, endurance, and strength in our training schedule. If you want your training to mean anything, you have to rest. Without rest our body cannot adapt and get stronger.

Psychological training includes strategies for dealing with down times during a race, lack of motivation in training, boredom, going out too fast, and rest. Ultrarunners know finishing a race hinges on pushing past the low points, and there will be low points. Getting through months of training and any injuries takes mental fortitude like you wouldn’t believe. Being prepared for these challenges is critical to getting to the starting line let alone the finish line. Psychological rest is being able to find other things you enjoy that reduce your stress level because if you get injured and have to take time off, you need to have other things you can focus on to get you through and back to running.

Nutritional training includes day to day nutrition and hydration, race day nutrition and hydration, and recovery nutrition and hydration. All runners think about race day nutrition, but not all of them think about their day to day nutrition or their recovery nutrition. The same goes for hydration. Yeah, we all laugh and say we run so we can eat whatever we want, but for most runners eating ice cream, fatty burgers, pizza, and French fries is not going to help you reach your running goals. There may be an argument for recovery though, at least for your postrace meal. Our body gives what it gets. Try different ways of fueling and hydrating your body during training, and you’ll be able to dial it in making your race a success.

Limiting our definition of training to just our weekly running schedule or our next goal race is short sighted and won’t get us what most of us want, which is to run healthy and strong for the rest of our lives.