Individual or Team Sport?

Do you think of running as a team or individual sport? One of the appealing things about running, for me, was that I could do it as an individual. When I began running my schedule was such that no one else in their right mind wanted to do (2 am long runs since I had young children).

It wasn’t until years later that I began running with friends and on a team (relay team). I loved running with my team and would love to pull another team together for more relay races in the near future.

But Ultrarunning as a team? Why not? I’ve met many couples who run as a team and some running partners/friends who run as a team. I think this can be very beneficial to many people and if you are a social runner, I highly encourage you to find others who are social runners and make it a team event.

The most difficult decision a team must make is if one drops out do the others? What if one runner just doesn’t have it that day, and so they are going at a much slower pace than what the others can do. Does everyone slow down (no runner left behind kinda thing)? I think these are questions every team should answer before showing up to the starting line.

If you are teamed up with another runner and are sharing a crew and pacers, the questions above become even more relevant if you’re going to continue while a teammate either slows down or drops from the race.

I’ve trained with other runners and have always been very upfront about race day and running together. If we happen to be going at the same pace great, if not, we’ll wait for each other at the finish line. To sum it up-training together doesn’t mean racing together.

Even if you don’t run with someone else, ultrarunning can still be viewed as a team event because there are few ultrarunners who get through a race alone. You have your pacers and your crew and they are your team. Choosing individuals who work well together is very important. The more you work with them as if they are a team the better your outcomes will be. Conducting team meetings and recruiting the same people for multiple events will help you achieve better outcomes at your races. Obviously, these people must love you and you’re likely crewing/pacing for their races.

For those out there who think that ultrarunning is a lonely sport, you are sadly mistaken. We are a tribe of individuals who share a passion for putting one foot in front of the other. Although our teams look different than those of a cross country team, they are likely more closely bonded with one another than many other sports teams. After all, sacrifice, suffering, sleepless nights, and a common cause form bonds that run deeper than the blood we leave on the trails.

Top Five Mistakes of a First Time Ultrarunner

If you’re new to ultrarunning and have looked into planning for your first ultrarace, you’ll notice how overwhelming it can become pretty quickly. There is a lot of information out there (including on this blog) and sifting through it can become a full time job. Ultrarunners love to share their knowledge and expertise with others, especially those just getting into the sport.

Watching a new ultrarunner cross their first finish line is such a treat. The emotions that dance across their face and those of their loved ones waiting for them is truly inspirational. Out of my love for the newbies, here are my top five mistakes I see first time ultrarunners make.

Forgetting the Mental Training.

Running an ultra is not just a major physical effort. It’s a mental endurance event too, especially as you reach the 100 mile distance and beyond. In marathon running, runners talk about hitting the wall. Well, in an ultra there are lots of walls and they are usually followed by a dark pit of despair and then the pain cave. Leaving out the mental training can destroy your race. There are many runners who were physically fine to continue an event, but chose to drop because they had fallen a part mentally due to the exhaustion and concept of traveling 100 miles by foot all at one time.

You have to be ready to deal with your self defeating thoughts because they will come at some point during the race and they may visit more than once. Being prepared with positive affirmations, memories of when you overcame challenges before, and knowing that it’s a normal part of the ultra-experience makes a huge difference.

Ignoring Small Problems

When you’re running 50 or 100 miles (or more), things go wrong. Sometimes it’s one or two things, and some times it’s everything. They can be big things or they can be small things. The one thing you can’t do is ignore what you believe to be small because in 24-36 hours and over 100 miles, small becomes very very big.

If your shoelaces become a little loose, tighten them as soon as possible to prevent your foot from sliding back and forth or say hello to blisters. Tiny rock in your shoe-stop and get it out ASAP. Hot spot? yeah, take care of that right away. Some piece of clothing not quiet in the right place? fix it, lube it, or suffer in ten miles.

Fixing little problems as soon as possible is better than taking a long time or dropping from a race because you thought you could ignore it.

Dehydration/Electrolyte Imbalance

Finding the right balance for your body can be a challenge and you’re not always going to get it right.  Being able to identify dehydration and an electrolyte imbalance in your body is something both you and your crew should be able to do quickly. Knowing how to bring yourself close to equilibrium is critical. You’ll have plenty of opportunities during your training to figure this out, so pay attention an keep a log of what you consumed and what the environmental conditions were like. Dehydration or an electrolyte imbalance can cause nausea, vomiting, head aches, confusion, and much more.

Pace

Going out too fast and not walking when you know you should be walking under the circumstances are both situations which can end your race. Standing at a starting line is exciting and your all nerves. You just want to let it rip and get ahead of all these people who are going so mind mindbogglingly slow. Stop and think, why are they going slower? oh because they have 100 miles of mountains to get through on their own two feet. Keep it chilly at the beginning of a race, you can pick things up later if you have extra fuel in the tank. If you see people speed by you, keep calm and remember it’s a long race and a lot can happen.

The other issue with pace is you have to adjust to your circumstances. A hill that is very run-able at mile 15 may not be run-able at mile 55. Another situation is a run-able section in 65 degrees Fahrenheit can become not run-able in 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Pay attention to other runners especially if you find out they’ve run the race many times before and have a similar finish goal as you. I don’t mean you should glue yourself to them. Just think about what they are doing and ask yourself if it’s something you should consider.

Giving Up Too Early

Dropping out of an ultrarace is nothing to be ashamed of and nearly all ultrarunners make that choice for a variety of reasons at some point in their running career. But for every good reason to drop out, there is a runner who gave up too soon. In preparing for an event, you need to come up with reasons for you to stop such as major injury, repeated vomiting for more than an hour, or vomiting and diarrhea. Right below that should be all the things you should try to fix the problem before you actually turn over race number.

Postpartum Training adjustments

As the mother of a newborn, it’s obvious adjustments to my training plan will have to be made. I no longer have the luxury of going out on the trails at 7 am and not getting back until 3 or 4 pm. Well, I do, but that’s not the mother I want to be. I’m the mother who gets up at 2 am, so I can be home by 7 am for my baby. I’m the mother who runs on the road most of the time rather than the trail because the road is right outside my door (aka no drive time) and I can maintain a faster pace (aka not a technical route).

So what’s changed?

I’ve added heavy lifting to my training to build strength in my tendons and to prevent injury. This doesn’t add a lot of time to my workouts, but the benefits are huge. I’ve added squats and deadlifts. Yep that’s it. Maintaining proper form is essential, so if you’re going to add this make sure and watch some videos on youtube or have someone who knows what they are doing get you started. You only need to perform 4-6 repetitions at the highest weight you can do. You need to do this four to five days a week.

I’ve also added HIIT training to my schedule. You can do HIIT training for 10-15% of your weekly training and reduce your running miles by 15-20% without negatively impacting your performance on race day.

I run an up weekend and then a down weekend. This means every other weekend is high miles and the down weekend is half of the high mile weekend.

Another adjustment is acceptance of the treadmill. I know I’m going to have to find a way to tolerate and maybe even enjoy my treadmill running because I’m a mom who wants to be available when my baby needs.

What’s stayed the same?

I run four days a week. My runs are quality runs. I include hills (up and down) in most of my runs. I do a lot of core strength and balance training.

My times will increase as I’ll have to stop to feed my daughter, but every moment will be worth it, because she’ll give me the strength to get back out there and finish what I started. I’m a mom, and I’m an ultrarunner. I’ll continue to run 100s because I love it and because I want my daughter to see how strong she can be whether that’s in running or in whatever she chooses. I want her to know what dedication and commitment look like in the world.

Running teaches us so much about everyday life.

 

 

Embrace the Pain

We’ve all been to the darkest part of the pain cave in an ultra. The question is what did you do when you reached it? You don’t have to tell anyone if you crumbled into a pile of rubble or if you curled into a ball and closed your eyes. Honestly, there is no  shame in having taken one of those two approaches, at least the first time you enter the pain cave. After that, you really have to get your head in the game and come up with strategies to embrace the pain and use it to push you through to the other side.

When most people (non ultrarunners) think about the tough part of running, they of pushing your speed up a notch to stay fractions of a second ahead of the runner on your heels. This usually results in vomiting shortly after crossing the finish line or other unpleasantness. In the ultrarunning world, the pain cave is much darker. It’s continuing to move forward as fast as you can while combating hours of nausea, dehydration, blisters, sore muscles, exposure to the elements and possibly a rolled ankle or scrapped up hands and knees. As if that were not enough, you’re exhausted.

How do you prepare yourself for entering the pain cave, walking all the way through it, and reaching the other side? You build your mental endurance. You become familiar with the pain cave by training inside of it. Schedule workouts that are hard and run with people who challenge you to push past what you think are your limits. Here are some runs that you can use to get you into the pain cave:

Back to back long runs. Hill repeats. Carbohydrate depleting runs. Heat runs or cold runs. Intervals.

When you have a few of these under your belt, you can draw on these during races by telling yourself you’ve done hard things before.

Another strategy is to stay mindful of what is actually going on in your body. Some people check out of their body when things get hard. They go to their “special place.” Other runners become more focused on what is going on inside. They observe what is happening and without jumping on the pitty wagon (where we tell ourselves it hurts, it’s hard, or I can’t). These runners simply acknowledge that there is a pain/ache/unpleasant sensation and they watch it.

The damage comes when your thoughts start stacking negative and self defeating thoughts on top of the pain/ache/unpleasantness. Keep things simple in the pain cave. Recognize there is an issue and observe it. This takes practice. That’s why we train hard.

Cut It Short?

There is a time and place when we have to cut our runs short. This can be a very difficult choice for many runners, especially, those who have a busy scheduled with little flexibility. So what do you do when, you reach a point in your run and begin to think it might be best to cut it short?

I’ve had this thought a bunch of times out on the trail. The struggle is deciding whether or not this is a real reason to cut a run or if this is a day where you need to push through a tough spot in a run. We all have tough spots in runs and as ultrarunners, it’s very important to learn how to push through those.

There are a few things to take into consideration when making the choice to either push through a training run or to cut is short. Start by asking yourself just how weak and tired you actually feel? If you are exhausted and have nothing to give-cut it short. If it feels more like a time when your energy has just bottomed out but will come back with a snack-get a snack and push on through.

What about the middle? If you’re some where in the middle you have to ask more questions: First, what do you have planned the rest of the day? If you have a jam packed schedule requiring concentration and focus, cut the run short. If you have a day of other physical activities, cut the run short. If you have a day free from mental and physical strain and think you can spend that time recovering on the couch with a good book or movie, go ahead and finish the run.

Second, what has your sleep and rest looked like over the last week? what does your future schedule hold for sleep and rest? If you’ve had little rest and no high quality sleep for the past few days and you’re looking at more of the same, cut the run short. If you’ve had horrible sleep, but this will improve beginning with the next day, go ahead and finish the run.

Third, are you nursing any injuries? if you have that telltale twinge from your ankle, hamstring or hip flexor that says you’re pushing the limit, cut the run short. Running when you feel weak and tired coupled with a problematic area feeling twingy is not a good combination. You could end up taking a week or more off if you make a poor choice in your foot plant or just push the muscle/tendon beyond what it can do that day.

Fourth,  what does your running schedule look like the rest of the week? if you have another hard run in 48 hours, cut your run short. If you have a few easy days or are willing to adjust them to easy days, go ahead and finish the run. BUT you have to be able to stick to the easy days.

Cutting a run short is a difficult decision. You have to learn to listen to your body and know when it’s a head game and when it’s time to rest.

 

The Importance of Interval Training

Love it or hate it, interval training is here to stay and you should be doing it. I’ve never been a big proponent of doing speed work as an ultrarunner. Ultrarunners don’t run “fast” so why should we train fast? it increases your risk of injury and I’d rather focus on things that reduce my risk of injury. So the big questions why would we do interval training as ultrarunners and how do we reduce our risk of injury.

First, let’s address the injury issue. There are things you can do to reduce the possibility of sustaining an injury during interval training. Do a warm up! Run at a slow pace for 10 minutes. Don’t use static stretching before you run. Do use dynamic stretches such as high knees, butt kicks and toy soldiers before you start, but not a ton 20 meters of each is enough. Do three box jumps. Take advantage of your recovery time. If you have a history of hamstring pulls, knee pain, or other lower body injuries do your intervals on hills rather than on flat ground. If your injury prone or coming back from an injury do your intervals on a bike or other stationary exercise equipment. You can even do them in the swimming pool as pool running.

The Why. You should do interval training because at some point you’re going to hit a plateau in your training if you are always running near the same pace. Most of the gains you’ll make will happen early. Later gains will come but much more slowly and then it will feel like you’re not making any progress.

The reason is you’re not challenging your body and it has adapted as far as it’s going to without another stressor. As runners we want to be able to improve the cardiovascular and respiratory systems along with muscle strength. That’s how we get better.  Interval training trains a different part of those same systems. When you make an improvement in one aspect, it increases your ability to make gains in the one that has plateaued.

Interval training is the best way to increase your Vo2 Max and your Lactate threshold, which are two aspects of that same system we use as ultrarunners. Here are a couple workouts you can use to increase both. It’s best to use these your early training blocks and then as you get closer to race day drop these in favor of more race specific training such as climbing/descending, heat training and the like.

Vo2 max: All out for three minutes, recover for three minutes. Repeat 5-8 times. Do this two days a week for four to six weeks.

Lactate threshold: Run as fast as you can sustain for 40 to 60 minutes (like a tempo run). Do this two days a week for four to six weeks. You can break these up into ten minute blocks (ten on ten off) but keep the total hard time as 40-60 minutes.

 

Hip Engagement: Part Two

This is the second part of a two-part post on engaging and strengthening your hips to improve your running and to reduce your injury risk. Here is a link to the first part.

When we analyze our injuries, as we recover from them, we look for ways to prevent the same injury and reduce the risk of other injuries we fear will follow. At times we forget to look upstream and downstream in the kinetic chain. Lower body injuries often times begin in the hips and thus, hip strength and engagement should become an essential part of our training.

  1. Knee-out running.

This one is going to feel awkward, but it helps with knee alignment and getting the max benefit from engaging your glutes. This is a drill not the way that you will run. Part of what the glute does is rotate your hip outward. This outward turn allows you to get maximal hip extension. It’s easiest to practice this on a line such as on a track or the white line at the edge of the road. Try to keep your knee turned out a bit while your feet remain directly beneath you. Start with short distances or 30 seconds a few times during a run and work up to longer durations of 60-90 seconds.

  1. High knees.

High knee drills are the staple of many track teams and there is a reason for it. It works the hip muscles for both legs. You use your abdominals to lift one leg while you get a lengthening in the other hip.

While you’re running be aware of your knee height because this extra length in your hip flexor is going to give you more power. You don’t want to exaggerate the movement like you do in drills, but just checking in with your lift during your run will bring your attention to it enough to make sure your engaging those muscles.

  1. Arm swing.

This one goes back to those tendons that connect your shoulder blades to the opposite hip. Maintaining a good arm swing where your wrist/hand comes to your hip on the back swing and your elbow comes in front of your hip on the forward swing, will help maintain a good strong rotation in your legs. Especially, in the later miles of an ultra. When your legs are thrashed from all the climbs and descents, have your crew remind you to run with your arms. You can also put a note in your drop bags.

  1. Strong feet.

Having a strong foot is important for efficient powerful running. Feet, although necessary to running, are remarkably the lower body muscle group most neglected by runners.  Your feet are what pushes you off the ground. Poor push off can misalign your leg as it comes forward. You also loose power if you don’t roll forward onto your toes. You can improve feet strength through single leg calf raises where you lower your heel below your toes on a step. You can also strengthen your feet using an exercise band by wrapping the band around your forefoot and holding it back with your hand to get the right amount of tension. Extend your toes out (tension pulling your forefoot to your chest), turn your foot in (tension should be pulling your forefoot to the outside0, and turn it out(tension should be pulling your forefoot to the inside).

No one wants to be injured. Research has shown over and over again many running injuries originate in the hips and spending some time each week focused on strengthening hips is well worth the time even if it cuts into running time.