Category Archives: Ultrarunning

Inhale-Exhale

Breathing is something we all do without really thinking about it, unless it’s not going well. We become very aware of our breathing when it is a struggle regardless of the thing that is making it a struggle. The athletes who, I believe, are the most aware of their breath is swimmers.

A swimmer has to have a rhythm for their breathing. All other athletes we can just go and not think about it too much until we’re huffing and puffing and even then, we merely recognize it and adjust a bit or push through. Not swimmers. A swimmer has to coordinate every movement to make sure they are able to breath when needed.

Being aware of your breathing has benefits to many aspects of your life not just running (which is what we really care about, if we’re being honest). It can reduce stress, improve physical health, and increase self-confidence.

Deep breathing releases endorphins and those make us feel good and are a natural pain killer. It promotes better blood flow and increased energy through the extra oxygen. The increase in oxygen gives your body the tools to rebuild injured muscles and build muscle.

Breathing properly can reduce anxiety. When you’re feeling anxious about something take a few deep breaths and see what happens to how you feel. Deep breathing has a relaxing effect on our body and our mind, which helps relieve you of anger, sadness, and other uneasy emotions. It reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and helps with better sleep.

Deep breathing helps with posture. An upright posture has positive effects on many aspects of your physical health. Your internal organs function better when they are not all squished as you hunch over at a desk or table. Your spine stays healthy preventing lower and upper back pain. It massages your organs such as the heart, stomach, small intestine, liver and pancreas.

Deep breathing strengthens your immune system. Oxygen attaches to hemoglobin in your red blood cells allowing your body to metabolize nutrients and vitamins. It also removes toxins from your blood like carbon dioxide.

Deep breathing makes sure oxygen gets to all the important parts of your brain. You’re able to think more clearly and more creatively. Nerves run throughout your body sending messages from your brain to every body system and muscle. Oxygen is one of the nutrients the brain, spinal cord and nerves need to make communication quick and effective.

How do you do this deep breathing?

Ideally you would spend a few minutes each day and complete the following for two sets of ten. Sit with your back straight and tall or lay on your back. Exhale all the air from your lungs. When you think you can’t get anymore out, try a bit more. Pause for one second and then begin to fill your lungs slowly until you can’t take any more in.

Another option is to send a few minutes throughout the day being aware of your breath and make sure you’re sitting straight and breathing into your belly and not your chest. Make the breaths deep.

Hurts to Breath

Diaphragm cramp or side stitches, call it what you like it’s unpleasant. There are only theories as to why you get side stitches when you are running (or doing other sports activities). The most widely held belief is a muscle spasm of the diaphragm and/or its supporting ligaments.

Your diaphragm muscle assists you with breathing while you are running and because your need for oxygen increases when you’re running, your diaphragm works harder. The thought is that it gets tired and/or the surrounding tissues get tired and then the muscle spasms.

The second theory is improper breathing (oh yeah, you can breathe the wrong way). This theory ends the same as the above, a fatigued diaphragm and surrounding muscles which leads to spasms. The difference is breathing too shallow. Shallow breathing means your muscles don’t get enough oxygen and then get tired easier.

So what’s the proper way to breath when you are running? Deep with your belly not shallow into your chest. Breathing deep into your belly opens blood vessels found deep in your lungs and fills your blood with more oxygen. Most people breath with their chest, only filling two thirds of their lungs. To tell if you are belly breathing, lay on your back and lay your hand on your stomach. If your hand rises and falls you’re belly breathing. Most of us have to make a conscious effort to belly breath.

The third theory is we don’t time our breathing with our foot falls properly. When you are running try inhaling for three steps (right, left, right) and then exhale for two steps (left, right). This five-step rhythm will alternate your exhale from your right foot plant to your left. You have to think about it for a while when you’re first learning to do it, but it will reduce your side stitches. Practice it for a few minutes every mile and pretty soon it will become automatic. If you are climbing a hill or doing speed work, change it to a 2:1 ration for inhalation and exhalation.

The fourth theory is poor running posture, aka running with your shoulders rounded and your upper body bent forward. One belief is that hunching over like that compromises nerves in the abdominal area and then they become irritated and trigger the pain you feel and call side stitches. The other belief is that the hunching puts more weight on your diaphragm which causes it to spasm and get tired.

The final theory is dehydration. I’m not going to go into this one. We all know it’s critical to hydrate before, during and after our runs. We know we have to take in electrolytes if we’re running for more than about 60-90 minutes (depending on pace and temperature outside: faster and hotter=more electrolytes).

Bottom line: breath deep with your belly, use rhythmic breathing, pay attention to your posture, and hydrate.

Trail to Road

Switching from road to trail running has its challenges, but so does switching from trail to road. First, you don’t want to run on the road with your trail shoes. Road shoes can be used on less technical trails and dirt roads. Trail shoes should not be worn on the road unless you are running a trail and have to cross the road to get to the next section. Roads and sidewalks will destroy the tread on your trail shoes. If you’re going to be running some roads, buy some road shoes or be prepared to replace your trail shoes after a few runs.

There is research out there, done by credible sources, which comes to the conclusion that the impact on your body is the same whether you run on the roads or on the trail. The theory is that your brain and your body automatically adjusts the stiffness of your legs and torso dependent on the firmness of the ground. When you’re on a trail you have to push off harder because it is a softer surface. On the road, your leg has to be less stiff and you don’t push off as hard because there is very little give in the ground.

I’ve read this research and my body disagrees. I can run a fifty-mile run on the trial and I will not be sore. If I run a marathon on the road, I will most definitely be sore the next day. Could it all be in my head? Sure, why not. The only way you’ll know if it’s true for you is to go try it.

One way to combat the soreness from running on the road is to buy high cushioned road shoes. There are a variety out there, just about every major brand of running shoe has both minimal and high cushion options. Keeping your stride length shorter will also help reduce the impact. Maintaining proper running form—head up, shoulders back, ninety-degree angle arms, nice forward and back swing without crossover, a bent knee and foot landing below you—will make sure the impact forces go through your body in the correct way.

The higher impact (in my opinion) of the roads also makes for a longer recovery between runs. Using your foam roller becomes extra important because you need to work out the knots and flush out the lactic acid which may have built up.

A few other differences are the level of pollution, number of people and cars. Out on the trail you have some critters and creatures out in the woods and some are a little scary if you run into them—mountain lion—but to me people are way more dangerous, and so are cars.

It is easier to find a toilet and to refill your water when you are running on the road. Although, a water filter and not being afraid to bare your bottom in the forest solve those problems.

I think we all run on both surfaces at some point. And there are enjoyable things about each of them. Being able to run is what matters most.

 

Road to Trail

 

Does your experience running on the road transfer to running on trail?

You’re knowledge of how your body deals with running transfers, although, not perfectly. This is because you burn about ten percent more calories running trails, which means you are going to have to fuel your body more. The other difference is hydration and electrolytes. At higher altitudes, you need to consume more water and electrolytes. Road runners do have a foot up on those who are just starting out because they have a base of knowledge.

When you first switch from road to trail, you’ll discover muscles and tendons you didn’t know you had because they are going to get tired and sore. On the trail, you have to pull in more supporting muscles and tendons as you work to balance and increase your agility. You’re stride becomes shorter and faster as you hopscotch through rocks and roots. Your ankles become stronger as they adjust to the changing surface of the trail.

Running road hills and mountains is very different. There are some difficult road hills, and you usually find them in the mountains. Running mountains requires strong hamstrings, glutes, calves, and quads. You’ll find yourself on steep grades for long distances. Few quarter mile hills here. I often find myself climbing for 6-9 miles in one go because of the switchbacks to get to ridges or peaks. Even most “flat” trails are really rolling hills.

Running down is more challenging on the road and on the trails because of the increased impact and the higher chance of over striding. Trails will keep the length of your stride under control, but they often have dips and steep drops littered with the lovable rocks and roots. Sometimes there are fallen trees and rivers too. You may have to walk some mountains because they are too steep to make it worth the energy expenditure to get up to them and you’re likely to go just as fast walking as running.

Trail running takes more time. The changing terrain, rivers, and steep/long climbs slow you down, so make sure and a lot for this if you have things you are doing after your run. Initially, you’re going to be more worn out after your runs as well. This will go away once your body is use to the higher demands of the trail.

Running in general destresses a person. Running on trails does this on a deeper level. When you are listening to birds and owls in the early mornings, rivers rumbling past, reaching a summit and looking out over row upon row of mountains it’s impossible not to just let all the stresses of life melt away.

I encourage everyone to run because of the many benefits of doing so and trails are the best place for running.

Running Sucks

There are shirts out there now that say, “Running Sucks.” And there are the 0.0 stickers for cars mocking the 26.2. Everyone has heard, “My sport is your sports punishment.”

Running is hard. And let’s face it, we runners, we like doing hard things. It’s just who we are, but we all reach those points during training or during a race, where we wonder what we are doing out there and why we put ourselves through it over and over.

The best way to deal with these types of setbacks or low points is to be prepared for them. Don’t fool yourself by thinking that you are going to love every second of running. You don’t love every second of anything in your life.

It’s okay to have days where you think running sucks. It’s okay to have a whole week where you think running sucks. In fact, you can do it for a whole month if you really want to hold onto it that long, although, I don’t recommend it.

The first thing you need to know about these times where running sucks, is they go away, but only if you keep running. When you are out there running on cloud nine, loving every breath and footstep, file those experiences away to pull them out when running sucks.

Knowing why you run is sometimes difficult to put into words, but having an idea or a million reasons why you run and reminding yourself of those reasons can get you moving again.  Having goals that you are striving for can keep you moving when things are hard.

Look over your training, and make sure you have only been increasing your miles by ten percent and that you have been taking a rest week every fourth week by decreasing your miles by twenty to twenty-five percent for the week.

If you are one of those people who train seven days a week, try taking a day off a week for two or three weeks or a day off every other week. I know this is hard and I know the mental games that must be played to make this work, but it could be the fastest way to pull you out of a slump.

Review what is going on in your life. Are their extra stressors or just a constant high level of stress? Stress makes you tired and if it lasts for a while, you lose your motivation to do things you love to do even when they are the things relieving some of the stress.

No matter how much running may suck when you are out there, NOT running suck more.

 

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.

Trackers

Runners like numbers. We want to know how far we’ve gone, how fast we were, how much we climbed/descended, what our heart rate was and on and on. As much as we love numbers, it’s also important to keep things in perspective and enjoy the run for the run, so leave your fun toys at home once in a while and just run.
If you’ve been in a sports store or a running store recently, I’m sure you’ve seen the numerous watches that track every bodily function and your place on the earth at each moment. There are a lot of options out there. When you are in the market I would suggest doing some research. Here are some starting points:
Keeping It Simple
Mio Slice ($100): this little guy tracks your heart rate and makes recommendations about how much activity you should be doing each day. It’s tracking is very accurate. You can track steps, distance, calories burned, and sleep. It’s compatible with iphones and android. Battery life is five days.
Polar M200 ($120-150): tracks heart rate, speed, distance, and route.  connects with an app you can download on your phone. It has a running program adjustable to your needs. Battery life is 6 hours in GPS mode.
Polar M400 ($130): does everything the M200 does plus tracks altitude, calories,  steps and sleep quality. It’s waterproof to be used in all weather conditions. it has a bigger numbers on the display and it’s battery life is 8 hours in GPS mode.
Going Big
Garmin Fenix 5S ($700): this guy comes in three sizes in case you have smaller wrists. It is a multisport tracker with a barometric altimeter, magnetic compass and wrist band heart rate monitor. It measures stride, cadence, ground contact time, bounce, and estimates your VO2 Max. Battery life 24 hours in GPS mode
Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR ($500): a multisport trainer, waterproof up to 100m. It has 80 pre-set modes and sport specific metrics. It tracks your basics such as location, pace, heart rate, speed, altitude. Battery life 12 hours in GPS mode (other models have longer battery life if needed such as the spartan ultra 26 hours).
Samsung Gear S3 Frontier ($300)
This one runs on 4G LTE, bluetooth and Wi-fi so you can take calls and respond to text messages without your phone nearby. It’s compatible with android and IOS. It tracks your altitude  distance, location, pace, heart rate and more. It’s water, dust, and extreme temperature resistant. Batter life up to three days with mixed use and screen set to turn on/off automatically