Play Nice on the Trail

Trails can be crowded, especially, in the spring and if there happens to be a waterfall somewhere along the route. Everyone likes to see waterfalls. There are dogs, runners, bikes, children, and hikers out there. And we’re all out there wanting the same thing, to enjoy the outdoors, breath some fresh air, and climb some mountains.

Sometimes we get so caught up in our own enjoyment, that we forget to play nice and share the trails with others. I’ve been known to complain about mountain bikers and I’m sure they have complained about me. The weather is warming up where I live and the snow is melting, which means everyone is aching to get into the mountains and those first few sunny weekends will be busy with very excited mountain goers.

We can have mixed feelings about other people on the trail because we want everyone to enjoy them so they can be protected and taken care of, but we also want to be able to enjoy them without other people disturbing our solitude. Choose your trail and time of day wisely and you will be able to get the experience you’re looking for.

Here are some gentle reminders of how to play nice out there. When passing from behind, make sure and announce yourself before it’s time for them to move out of the way. If you’re moving significantly faster than the other people, call out to which side you’d like to pass on (and then keep in mind this confuses some people and they move into the space you were planning on using). This is especially important when you are cruzing around blind corners.

If you listen to music while your out on the trail, keep the volume down so you can hear others around you, such as the runner needing to pass or a moose crashing through the trees. And please use your earbuds, I personally find music rather annoying when I’m on the trail because I want to listen to the wind, water, and my feet on the dirt. If I’m on the road, I don’t care, but out in the mountains there is enough natural music for me.

Remember the yielding rules. Bikes yield to hikers and runners. It is nice of hikers and runners who yield to bikers that are struggling up a climb, but it’s not required. The rule is bikers yield, so mountain bikers need to ride with the expectation that hikers and runners will not yield. This doesn’t mean that runners and hikers can just go about their day willy nilly. You have to be aware when bikes are out there because you don’t want to get run over. Also it is very helpful when the lead bike calls out how many are in their group.

Hikers and runners yield to horses. Horses have the right of way when it comes to all other trail traffic. Horses can spook and hurt everyone around them. Hikers and bikers should stop and move to the side of the trail to allow horses to pass. Never get close to a horse from behind. If you come upon a horse and need to pass, call out from a good distance giving the rider time to adjust their position and keep their horse calm.

Hikers vs. Hikers. those going uphill have the right of way. this is because those going up have a smaller field of vision and are usually in a rhythm of climbing which can be hard to regain after you stop to let someone pass.

Be nice to one another out there.

Downhill Training

Running downhill is the easy part, right? Wrong. Anyone who has run downhill for more than a few minutes knows it is a sure-fire way to rip up your quads. Most ultramarathons have climbs and descents of various degrees. Everyone thinks about training for those uphill climbs, but training for the downhills is just, if not more, important.

There are some coaches out there who do not advise their runners to train for downhill mountain running because of the inherent risk for injury from the increased impact and the risk of falling. However, if done with the right amount of caution and focus, downhill running can be used to great benefit during training.

I cannot imagine standing at a starting line of a race with more than 25,000 feet of descent without having done significant downhill training. Yes, downhill running does pose a higher injury risk, but not doing downhill running and starting a race with lots of downhill poses a significant DNF risk and places you at an even higher injury risk, in my opinion, because you’re tired, your form is not perfect, and it may be dark.

Learning to run downhill proficiently has major benefits. It improves strength in your legs. It reduces DOMS because your body adapts to the higher impact load. It’s a great way to make up time you’ve lost on the long climbs.

Downhill running improves leg turn-over rate for faster running on flat ground. Because of this, even runners who don’t run a lot of downhill races, training on down hill can improve your performance.

Running downhill is an art. Some people come to it naturally and others have to practice and learn all of the skills of the trade. Start with short lower grade hills and work your way up. Choose hills that are not technical. You can even start on grass hills at a park or on the road. Don’t venture out onto unknown downhills until you’re comfortable doing the ones you do know.

While your working on building the muscle strength and endurance for downhills you can work on your foot work with an agility ladder. Trail running requires quick feet. You can search YouTube for agility training and find a bunch of exercises you can start right away.

Keep your eyes at your feet but move them between 8 feet in front of you to 2 feet in front of you. Your steps should be short. You want to lean forward a bit at the ankles but not to the point that you’ll lose control of your speed. Bend your arms at the elbows and flare them out a bit to maintain balance. Make sure you’re hydrated and fueled before heading down a long descent because You don’t want to have to find things while your navigating rocks and roots.

If you’re running technical downhills, you’ll probably fall at some point, so try not to keep things in your hands and have a small first aid kit in your pack and in your car. If you feel yourself starting to fall, try to counter balance with your arms. If you’re going down, protect your head and face as much as possible with your arms and tucking your chin. Try not to stretch your arms out straight in front of you to brace for the fall because you could break something. You want to be in a pushup position, so your bent arm can absorb the force. If you’re going straight forward or straight back, try to turn onto your side and keep your arms and legs bent.

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