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.

Winter Running Safety

Running safety is always something runners are aware of, particularly, women runners and their companions. Winter brings on some additional concerns some of which I’ve addressed in prior blogs such as the cold, and falling or slipping on ice. Other potential threats are the dark and vehicles.

Yes, if you’re a road runner, vehicles are always a threat. As trail runners, who aren’t used to taking cars into consideration, migrate to the road for the winter it’s important to go over some of the basics.

Reflective vests and/or other reflective attire is critical when running on the roads in the dark and winter in the northern hemisphere brings longer winter hours, which means most runners will be running in the dark at least for a portion of their run. As counter intuitive as it seems given the night running, wearing black clothes is better if than wearing light colored clothes and you don’t want to wear white. This applies if there is snow on the ground rather than no snow. It’s just easier to see a runner who is wearing black on a white background (see picture above, her legs are much easier to see compared to her torso).

Headlights and taillights are also critical not only do they make it, so you can see in the dark, but it allows cars to notice you earlier. If wearing your headlight on your head is problematic because of tunnel vision or the reflection from the snow, try wearing it around your waist or carrying a flashlight that you can move a round more.

Let’s talk about the vehicles. Running on the roads can be boring and they are even more so if you’ve been running exclusively on trails for the majority of the year. It’s very tempting to just zone out and pop in the earbuds for some much needed entertainment. The problem is it’s easy to get lost in whatever you’re listening to, which means you may not hear things around you including cars. My recommendation is if you must listen to something keep one earbud out and make it a habit to check into the world around you every few minutes.

The other threat with cars is they slide in the snow too. Once a car slides, many drivers panic and over correct causing even more sliding or they turn their wheels the same direction as the slide and make things worse. Running on the road means you need to be aware of those cars and trucks more than usual. Be prepared to high tail it out of the way at all times, but most especially on corners or curves in the road. Also, if there’s been significant snow fall or weather conditions are primed for ice (warm weather followed by an over night freeze).

If a car is sliding, don’t wait to see if they regain control, just get out of the way. This extra threat also makes it more important to run against traffic or just get up on the side walk where you can. It can be tempting and easier to run in the tracks of cars on the road, which is fine, you just have to be alert. Although, I strongly caution against this if it is not a neighborhood road and the speed limit is above 35 mph.

Even though there are extra precautions you need to take during the winter months, don’t let them scare you away from running outdoors. Running in the quiet after a snowfall can be magical and is one of my favorite road runs (even though I don’t like winter). It is also a warmer time to run if their continues to be a good cloud cover.

So layer up and get out there.

What’s on Your Feet?

running shoes

A big concern when running in the winter is slipping and falling, but if you’re constantly thinking about it, you’re going to fall. At least, that’s what I’ve found out out running trails. The more I think about not falling the more I fall. You have to let your feet, ankles, and brain talk and get out of their way.

Communication between your brain and your feet/ankles is critical, and what you put on your feet can hinder or help. What you put on your feet matters (as if you don’t know that). Take a gander at the bottom of any road shoe. smooth as a baby’s bottom right? Okay they’re not dance shoes but there’s not much to them.

Trail shoes on the other hand, are studded with nubs of all shapes and sizes. They grab and hang on to the surface beneath your feet because of this, trail shoes are much better in the snow than road shoes. Even if you’ve never run in trail shoes before, if you plan to run through snow on the roads, you should pick some up. Another benefit of trail shoes in the winter is many of them are water resistant or have Gortex uppers, which will help keep your feet warmer and drier. My favorite trail running shoes are Solomons because they have the most aggressive tread and the rubber grips well.

After shoes, theirs socks. If you’re a thin sock lover, try double layering your socks. As always, you want to have socks (and other clothing) that pulls the sweat away from your skin and moves it to the outside of the fabric or the next layer of clothing where it can dry without freezing against your skin. Personally, I love Drymax socks. They have a cold weather running sock that is multi-layered with extra protection at the toe. Here’s a list of great winter running socks.

Okay, we’ve got your socks and shoes covered, and now w’ere going to actually cover your shoes for those icy days. Let’s talk ice traction cleats, or just ice spikes. There are tons of brands to choose from now and how aggressive of spikes you want depends on the surface you are going to be running on.

If you know you’re going to be running across sheets of ice and through snow, you’ll want something pretty aggressive like Hillsound trail crampons or Yaktrax summit cleats. This is definitely what I would use on the trails in the winter.

If the ice is just spotty here and there, you’d do well with Yaktrax pro ice grips or something similar. There are lots of ones that have little spikes which are great for walking and some running, but they wear out quickly so buy extra spikes you can replace worn ones with right from the start.

When you’re choosing your spikes make sure they are easy to put on and off with gloved hands and that they are light weight. Spikes are not fun on the bare road, so you may have to pull them off if you hit a long section of road that’s clear of ice and snow.

 

 

 

 

Wind down or wind up

Oh the weather outside is frightful. It’s getting “chilly” here in the mountains of the northern hemisphere. Well that’s how the meteorologist described the 23 degrees Fahrenheit today. Personally, I’d say that’s freezing.

Many runners turn indoors in the winter months and reduce their miles for a welcome and well deserved rest season. I can’t say I blame them. It’s very challenging to get in long runs when the thermostat drops below zero.

Challenging does not mean impossible, however, and if you’re considering an early spring or runcation to somewhere warm, you’ll be doing decent miles all winter long. What’s it take to run outside on very cold days? Creativity and layers, lots and lots of layers.

Let’s start with layers. You want a good thermal base layer that will pull the seat away from your skin. After that, use a lighter middle layer. Whether it’s long sleeves and another pair of pants or a short sleeve and shorts will depend on the length of your run and the temperature. If you need more than a second set of long sleeves and pants, make your third layer wind proof, even if it’s not windy, it will hold the heat in.

Don’t forget your head, face and hands. Keep your lips coated with lip balm and you may need something similar for any other exposed skin. Use hand warmers and mittens over gloves. I do gloves, hand warmers and double layered mittens, which hasn’t failed me yet.

For your head use a balaclava and either a fleece headband or beanie. Make sure your ears are tight to your head. You want as little exposed skin as possible.

Now comes the creativity. Try splitting your long run into two shorter ones on the same day. You can also run part of your run inside either on a treadmill or indoor track. I recommend starting out doors and finishing indoors due to sweat and it being easier to unlayer than layer. Stay where the wind can’t get you, so on narrow roads or trails with lots of trees.

Winter brings a new set of challenges, beautiful glistening runs, discovering new routes or a new perspective on the old ones. We’ll talk about other aspects of winter running including footwear, other gear, and safety training in the posts to come.

Happy Running!

The Treadmill Struggle is Real

 

I hate treadmills. I know they are useful and in some situations better for your body than running outside in extreme weather or pollution. Treadmills are troublesome for a few reasons. First, they’re inside. Second, the scenery is limited and the same day after day. Third, you are not going anywhere. Fourth, there are numbers right in front of you telling you how much longer your torture session is. Sixth, it’s not the same workout.

A treadmill can be helpful if you are working on cadence, stride length, and form. It’s easier to pay attention to these things when you’re not going anywhere and the surface doesn’t change.

Treadmill and outdoor running are different. You expend less energy running on a treadmill than you do outdoors (running at the same pace). The reasons for this is the lack of wind resistance, terrain changes, and because the treadmill belt helps propel you along. To compensate for this, raise the incline to at least one percent.

Another difference is your smaller stabilizing muscles in the lower legs don’t work as hard on a treadmill as they do outdoors. This is because the surface is level, and you don’t have to propel your body forward as much. Your calf muscles, on the other hand, work much harder. Because of the extra work, runners can have calf muscle pain, shin splints, Achilles tendonitis and other issues if they run long distance on treadmills.

The biggest challenge of treadmill running, for me, is the monotony. How do you keep yourself entertained while on the treadmill? (really, I want to hear from all of you on this one).

Here is what I’ve come up with: music, audio books, podcasts, Netflix or other video streaming, and books (yes, I can read on a e-reader and run. Actual books are more complicated). For longer runs, I have to take all of these.

Other ways to entertain oneself while running the hamster wheel are to do various types of workouts. Here are a few suggestions:

Hamster Wheel Speed work

Workout: Six/Sevens
Warm Up

1 Set: 90 seconds @ 6 percent grade and marathon pace
1-minute recovery @ flat jog
1 minute @ 7 percent grade and marathon pace
2-minute recovery @ flat jog
Do 6-10 sets.
CoolDown

 Workout: Faster, Faster
Warm up
1 Set: 400m @ easy run pace
400m @ 15K (tempo) pace
400m @ 3-5K race pace
Do 4 sets.
Cool Down

Workout: The Pyramid
Warm Up

Set 1: steady pace 1 minute each @ 4, 5 and 6 percent incline
2-3 minutes recovery @ flat jog

Set 2: steady pace 1 minute each @ 5, 6 and 7 percent incline
2-3 minutes recovery @ flat jog

Set 3: steady pace 1 minute each @ 6, 7 and 8 percent incline
2-3 minutes recovery @ flat jog

Set 4: steady pace 1 minute each @ 7, 6 and 5 percent incline
2-3 minutes recovery @ flat jog

Set 5: steady pace 1 minute each @ 6, 5 and 4 percent incline
2-3 minutes recovery @ flat jog
Cool down

Workout: The Lab Rat
Warm up

Stage 1: 4 minutes @ easy run pace
lower speed 2 mph for 2-minute recovery

Stage 2: 4 minutes @ stage 1 pace + 1 mph
lower speed 2 mph for 2-minute recovery

Stage 3: 4 minutes @ stage 2 pace + 1 mph
lower speed 2 mph for 2-minute recovery

Stage 4: 4 minutes @ stage 3 pace + 1 mph
lower speed 2 mph for 2-minute recovery

Stage 5: 4 minutes @ stage 4 pace + 1 mph
lower speed 2 mph for 2-minute recovery
Cool down

Rising from the Dead

I really must apologize for my serious lack of posting over the last month or so. I had to take my own advice and let one of the juggling balls fall while I kept others in the air. As some of you know, I’m a full-time attorney by day and an ultrarunner by night (and day). I’m also the program director for the Homeless Youth Legal Clinic here in Utah. I sneak in writing when I can (I was hoping to publish another novel this year, but that doesn’t look like it will happen). Oh, and I’m a mom of two amazing sons and now a third little one is coming in May 2018!

Needless to say, between being pregnant and everything else, sleep became more necessary than writing my weekly blog posts. But the first trimester is behind us and the energy is supposed to come back soon…zzzzzz

Here is another confession. I chose not to run after I was five weeks pregnant. I’ve been hating on the elliptical and the stair master for the past eight weeks. However, I will be starting back running now that the first trimester is complete.

Running during pregnancy is a personal choice for each mother and child. And subsequent pregnancies can be treated very differently. It is completely possible for a healthy pregnant woman to run throughout her pregnancy. However, running is not a sport a woman should take up during pregnancy. Other, non-impact, activities are totally fine and should be pursued by pregnant women.

Here is why I chose to back off my running during the first trimester. The first trimester is the time with the highest risk of miscarriage. My chances of miscarriage started at 20% and slowly decreased during the first trimester. There is some research out there that says running can increase the chances of miscarriage during the first trimester.

A research study done with 90,000 pregnant women in Denmark, which found women who exercise more than seven hours a week during the first trimester increase their chances of miscarriage four times. And women who participate in running or ball sports during their first trimester increase their chances of miscarriage by four times.

I don’t think this study says women shouldn’t run during their first trimester. I think it says be smart and know your limits and know your body. I wasn’t willing to increase my risk of miscarriage since it was already higher than average because I’m over 35.

After the first trimester the risk of miscarriage is below 2% and all of the baby’s major systems are established and the placenta is fully functioning. Miscarriages happen for many reasons and most of them are out of the control of the mother-to-be.

Reverting to less impact forms of exercise for the eight weeks after we found out I was pregnant was a sacrifice I was willing to make to increase our chances of a healthy full-term pregnancy. Plus, I’ve come back from low impact training to full running many times and know it’s not as hard as grieving after a miscarriage and wondering if it could have been prevented.

Looking forward to running this new adventure!

Light it Up

I passed two people walking their dog along the trail this morning at 530 a.m. in the pitch black. As I passed them one said, “Oh I guess we can run with our headlamps.”

Now, I’m sure all of you know you can run with a headlamp. It does take some getting used to so give yourself some time to adjust. You’ll likely be a little slower at first until you gain confidence.

You don’ t need to use a headlamp either. You can use a flashlight or something else that will light the path in front of you. If you choose to use a flashlight as your primary source of light (I have a tiny one as an emergency backup) make sure it has a wrist strap in case you fall.

I wear my headlamp around my hips rather than on my head. Whenever I wear it on my head it slides with my sweat, it bounces a bit, or I get tunnel vision. The other problem I have with it on my head is that it wipes out my night vision completely. If it’s around my hips I don’t have these problems.

There are a few things you’ll need to figure out if you try wearing a light around your hips: first, make sure your shirt is not going to bounce over the light; second, you do have to turn your body to see in another direction with the light, but you may not need the light unless you’ve obliterated your night vision or it’s really freaking dark.

Okay so we all know we need to have a light.

What are the things we need to think about when purchasing a headlamp?

  1. How far do you need to be able to see? If you are running trails you need a brighter light. There are lights out there that are self-adjusting for brightness
  2. The beam width. A spot light is going to be brighter to see farther, but a flood light is going to show you more width.
  3. Battery life. You don’t want to be changing batteries mid run. Although you should always have spares with you. When you’re looking at battery life, think about the different settings of the lamp. Bright is going to use more life. Steady beam is going to use more than a flashing beam.
  4. Weather resistance. Rain, snow, heat, can your light handle it? Another thing in this vein is how durable is the light. Trail runners fall. Make sure your lamp can take a bit of a beating.
  5. A lighter light is usually more comfortable. How much does it weigh? Some headlamps have a overhead strap which can add to the stability and is good for a lot of uneven trails or technical stuff where you are really getting around. Look for something in the 6-7 ounce range.
  6. User friendly. Let’s face it, if you’re an ultrarunner and you need to figure out why a light isn’t working or change batteries on your own at mile 80, a three-year-old better be able to figure it out.