Running While Breastfeeding

Many women believe breastfeeding their child will help them lose the weight they gained while pregnant. While it’s true that breastfeeding burns about 500 calories a day. If you’re not running a deficit you’re not going to lose weight. But how much of a deficit is okay when your breastfeeding?

This is an important question for any endurance running mother who is breastfeeding her child, even when not trying to lose weight. Having enough milk to feed your child is obviously very important if you want to continue breastfeeding. The best way to maintain your milk supply is to drink lots of water and eat enough calories.

Many ultrarunners survive on calorie deficit pretty much everyday. Even marathon runners are going to have days where they don’t replace all of the calories they’ve burned. If you’re trying to lose weight, you’re going to have to fiddle with your calorie intake, but start with a 200 calorie deficit. Wait a couple of weeks before creating a bigger deficit. You shouldn’t be doing any dieting until your milk supply is well established at about eight weeks post partum. You shouldn’t be losing more than a pound a week.

Runners who are not trying to lose weight will need to monitor their calorie intake and milk supply.

The available research shows that exercise does not impact the composition of your milk. Breast milk contains protein, carbohydrates, and fats to help your baby grow. The other important thing your milk gives your baby are the antibodies you already have in your system.  This is a major reason breastfeeding is recommended. Your baby can’t get those antibodies from formula.

Spend some money on a good sports bra. You’re going to need some solid support. And when your baby is under a year, you probably need a bra you can nurse in too. The Brooks Juno has been perfect for me.

Newborns eat every two hours or more frequently. Feeding on demand is the best way to make sure you have enough milk and your baby is getting what he/she needs. Infants feed every 3 hours. This means it’s going to impact your running. Once your baby has a schedule, you should be able to get away for shorter runs. Long runs over two or three hours will require some planning and help. You’ll either have to have someone bottle feed your baby expressed milk or bring the baby to you to feed her. If you bottle feed, the issue you’ll run into is full breasts. You’ll have to stop to pump milk. There is a new breast pump called the Willow. It fits into your bra and doesn’t have any wires or tubes. Find it here.

Running ultras and breast feeding are definitely compatible.  Here are some tips to make the partnership work out:

  1. Feed baby or pump before you go out for a run
  2. Make sure you are consuming enough water and calories to maintain your milk supply.
  3. Find a way to pump on the run or feed baby during long runs.
  4. Get a really supportive sports bra.
  5. Be flexible with your running schedule to meet your baby’s needs especially before some predictability is established.
  6. Consider splitting long runs up.
  7. Take baby with you on runs and stop to feed if needed.
  8. Pay attention to caffeine in your sports gels, chews, and hydration.
  9. Throw a hand pump in drop bags where you can’t feed your baby. You’ll just have to dump it, but it will make you more comfortable. You don’t have to empty your breast just skim some off the top.
  10. Practice the plan during training, before you register for a race.

Happy running!

 

 

 

The Perils of Water and Running

Water on the trails mean mud. Mud comes in variety of thicknesses, much to our great joy. Super thin mud is just as treacherous as the thick, suction your shoes off, mud. So how do you navigate running through the mud? Well, it’s a bit treacherous and takes a bit of recklessness.

Thin mud, almost just dirty water, doesn’t stick to the outside of your shoes. It infiltrates the inside creating optimal conditions for blisters and having your skin rubbed right off. Having shoes that drain water well will help but the dirt tends to remain in your shoe while the water escapes.

Try to prevent the mud from getting to your feet by wearing plastic bread bags over your feet and under your socks or over your socks, which ever is more comfortable for you. If you know you’re going to be going through mud, take extra shoes and a bunch of extra socks. At each aid station you’ll need to clean your feet and change socks.

All of these suggestions are applicable to thick sticky mud as well, especially, having extra shoes. If you have a ways to go in the thick stuff trying to scrape it off your shoes is a waste of time. Keep moving and take care of it at the end because it’s just going to get stuck back on their within a few minutes and it probably took you three to five minutes trying to get it off.

Have your crew clean your shoes while you’re out on the course. That way you’ll have a pair of slightly cleaner shoes to put on while they clean the second pair. Pack a bucket and a scrub brush in your crew vehicle to be used to clean your shoes. Having a bundle of news paper on hand to shove inside your shoes will help absorb the moisture and maintain the shape of the shoes. Your crew should remove your insole or footbed before washing your shoes.

Your feet are not the only thing that suffers when you encounter mud and water on a course. There are unknown hazards that you can’t see. Rocks and roots are waiting to twist your ankle and bring you to your knees. This is where the bit of recklessness comes into play. Sometimes it’s best to maintain a running pace rather than pick your way through feeling with your foot. This becomes more true the longer you’re going to be in the mud. Keep your stride short.

Prepare you body for mud running by practice. Don’t shy away from the tough stuff when you’re training. Write out the ABC’s with your foot raised about six to ten inches in the air. This will help the brain-foot connection enabling you to move your feet when you feel unstable. Train with an agility (speed) ladder to improve your ability to move your feet quickly through rocks and roots. Squat and calf raises. Lots. Balance exercises are also going to be valuable.

If you’re looking for a post about running in a pool, you can find my post on that here.

If you’re looking for a post about river crossing, I have one here. 

 

Running in Sand

Running through sand is a great way to strengthen your feet, ankles and other stabilizing tendons and ligaments. If you have a race coming up with significant sections of sand, be prepared. Sand is rough on tendons who go in without experience and if the sand trap is early in the race, you could be in a world of hurt.

The other issue with sand is that it gets into your shoes and your socks. I’ve dumped sandboxes out of my shoes when running in southern Utah. A toe box full of sand not only cramps your feet, but it causes blisters and weighs you down. You have two options; keep it out or get it out.

The most effective option is to go barefoot. However, this comes with it’s own set of risks, such as cutting or burning your feet. If you’re choosing this option make sure you’re feet are strong enough for barefoot running and that your Achilles tendon is in good shape. Shoes limit the amount the Achilles stretches, so if you wear shoes all the time and then suddenly run barefoot, you’re likely to strain or tear your Achilles. Slowly build up to the distance you’ll be running barefoot.

To keep sand out of your shoes you can put your feet in plastic grocery sacks or bread bags before putting them in your shoes. This will keep the sand off your feet and out of your socks. You can also put it over your entire shoe, but it may just rip or cause your shoe to slip.

Getting it out of your shoe is a challenge, as anyone knows who has played on the beach and gone home. You will find sand in your car and every where in your house for at least a week.  You’re unlikely to be able to get all of the sand out. Dump your shoe and beat it on a rock or the ground. Same thing with your socks. Best if you can pack extra socks and just pull those on. This will require a lot of socks if you have repeated sand sections. With your socks and shoes off, wash your feet.

Running barefoot in sand is an excellent way to reduce your calluses, but a race is not the time to take sandpaper to your feet, so make sure you get between each toe. If, later in the race, you feel sand in your shoe, you’re better off taking the time to clean out your shoe than developing a blister(s).

When you begin training on sand, run on the wet stuff first. It’s more firm and wont tax your stabilizing tendons and muscles as much, thus giving them time to adjust to the increased load. Running on sand takes more propulsion which translates into a slower pace.

Chose a pair of shoes that are dedicated to sand running and don’t take them in the house!

 

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.

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.