Category Archives: Ultrarunning

Back Strength and Running

This is the third blog post in a series about how each major muscle group in your body plays a role in your running. Runners definitely don’t want a bulky upper body to weigh them down, but our upper body plays a significant role in our running form and our efficiency. If you don’t pay attention to muscle groups other than the legs, you set the stage for injuries both up and down the kinetic chain. Our muscles don’t work in isolation.
Strength in our back is not only important in running but in daily life. Many people who sit for long durations of time at their job inevitably develop back pain. As a runner it is important to have strength in your mid and lower back to stabilize the spin and pelvis. A strong back is able to evenly distribute the force of you hitting the ground with each foot plant because of this even distribution of force you are less likely to suffer an injury. Back strength also contributes to maintaining good running form without over rotation, and, as we know, good running form, not only reduces injury risk, but it increases running efficiency (are we catching the theme here from the last two posts?).
As you increase your miles a strong back becomes more important because the increase means you will be running farther while your body is tired. This is also true for ultrarunners who train with back to back long runs. Soft tissues break down as we run and there are two things you need to do to reduce this and to help your body recover. First is rest. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, only increase your miles by 10% a week, and every fourth week reduce your miles by 20-25%. The second is strength. Soft tissue breakdown in your back can lead to injuries, especially in your hips and lower legs.
Over rotation of your torso due to a weak upper body causes your hips and legs to turn as well. They need to maintain a forward motion. A weak lower back also puts extra strain on your hamstrings, which can alter your stride and cause injuries in your hips, knees, and ankles.
Using high repetitions and low weight will help prevent building bulky shoulders. If theses are too easy for you, increase repetitions and keep the weight as low as you can. If these are too hard, lower the weight and then the repetitions as needed. By the end of the third set you should feel a burn in your shoulders and it should be difficult to perform the last repetitions.
Here are some exercises to help increase your mid and low back strength. Back extensions three repetitions hold for 15-45 seconds. Planks three repetitions 15-60 seconds. Bird dogs three sets 10-12 repetitions hold for 3-5 seconds at the top
How to perform back extensions: lay on your belly and lift your legs and upper body, hold it.
How to perform planks: get into the beginning push up position and hold. Your stomach should be held tight and your back straight. You can also lower yourself on your forearms.
How to perform bird dogs: get on your hands and knees lift your right arm and left leg straight out. Do the same thing with the left arm and right leg.
Adding strength workouts to your training program can be difficult because you just want to run and it can be hard to find the time. Keep in mind the first goal is to make sure you keep running and strength will help prevent injuries.

Unexpected Perspective 


We all have unexpected things happen in our lives. It’s just the way the world works. Unexpected things are not always negative. They can be full of joy and excitement too. We just don’t hear about the positive ones as often as the negative. 

It’s easy to take the things in our lives, that are going well, for granted and that position begins an easy slid down the mountain. One that’s so fast, we can’t slow down to cherish the unexpected positive things that happen in our lives, let alone the day to day “mundane” gifts. 

When things are going really well for us and everything is falling into place, an unexpected bump can seem an insurmountable mountain. Even when we’ve overcome more difficult things in the past. We forget our successes and our strengths so easily. 

We stop and take a good long look at the negative, many times we pick them up and permanently attach them to ourselves. But we speed past the positive? If we think about it from the point of evolution, since it seems to be woven so deep within us to be instinctual, I can see some value in slowing for the negative. You want to notice dangers in your environment, if you intend to survive. The slowing isn’t the core of the problem. It’s the counter effect that we should all be concerned about because like imbalances in opposing muscles and tendons, this imbalance also leads to a self imposed injury cycle. 

As an ultra runner I’m very aware of the impact my mental state can have on a race. It can mean failure.  I know when things get tough, and they will, I have to hold onto the memories of me being strong. I have to conjure the images of the sun rising from behind the peaks sending its rays through the rustling leaves to warm my skin. I have to believe things will get better and the key to that belief is slowing down enough to notice the positive things in our lives. 

Don’t leave the positive things behind; not even the little ones. Positive memories, images and experiences are not only weightless, they can carry you into the finish line. 

Think about how our perspective would change if we could reverse the notice the negative-forget the positive response.  

Stuck in the Injury Cylce

Getting stuck in a cycle of injuries is one of the most frustrating things for any athlete, but it happens to many of us. Why does it happen and how do you get out of it?

The why of it is often overtraining/lack of rest and recovery time. We love our sport and we want to do it as much as we can and we want to get better. The thing we forget is rest is part of the getting better process. It’s also essential in preventing injuries.

When an injury occurs and we don’t give ourselves enough time to recover and slowly/gently come back to our regular training routine, we increase the chances of getting another/different injury along the kinetic chain or on the opposite side of the body.

Allowing the body time to heal and regain its strength to be able to tolerate the load we are going to put on it takes time and it takes a gradual increase in training. Even when we are resting enough and are strong, our body goes through a cycle of training stimulus to fatigue/minor damage to recovery/building. If we push hard during the fatigue/minor damage phase, we risk injury. This is why we alternate intense days with easy days in our training programs. It’s why we take a rest week every fourth week.

The bottom line here, is realize your body is not a machine. It has to recover before you can build. Patience is a virtue in these matters.

One of the best things you can do to prevent injuries and stop the cycle is to add strength training to your training schedule. This will help get injured muscles back to pre-injury status and it helps improve the strength of supportive muscles.

I cannot stress enough how important strengthening your core, including your hips, is for runners. These are your stabilizing muscles. Strength in this area will prevent injuries both up and down the kinetic chain. Add a routine three days a week to work on this area and if things get easy, increase the repetitions or change your program. You don’t need a gym membership to do many of these workouts. Your own body weight is enough. My routine requires some home equipment. You can also add in a short arm routine if you’d like.

Here is my routine:

I do them in super sets and repeat each superset three times. It takes me about one hour.

Super set one:

Inner thigh lift one minute

Front plank one minute

Side planks one minute

Leg lowers with or without weight 15 times

15 burpees

Fifteen clams with a band

Single leg bridge on a swiss ball, lift and lower 15 times hold at the top for five seconds

Super set two:

Kettle bell swings 15 times

Kettle bell gobble squats 15 times

15 jump squats

15 piston squats each leg

 

Super set three:

15 wall ball toss with squats

15 Ball toss sit ups

15 Box jumps

15 Jane fondas

15 fire hydrants

To Know or Not to Know

When you register for a race do you really want to know what you are in for? There are two sides to this argument as there is to pretty much anything running related. I’ve approached races from both ends of this spectrum and at various points between.

The obvious benefit to knowing the course is you know how to exactly how to train. You may actually be able to train on the course. You are also less likely to get off course during the race. It also makes it easier to anticipate what you will need at each aid station because you can give a better guess at what time you will come into each aid station.

The potential down side to knowing, you can psych yourself out and worry about particular points in the course. I have a fear of heights and have avoided watching videos of the courses because I can get myself worked up if I think there is going to be a section with big drops and narrow trail.

If you do have fears about certain aspects of courses, you should be training in areas where you have to face those fears. When I’ve gotten to sections where there is drops during a race, I’m able to push through them because I’m in race mode. However, it would be better if I just didn’t get so worked up.

You can also begin to question your ability to complete the course or to deal with aspects of it. Sometimes just having to deal with a situation when it is happening rather than stressing about it is an effective strategy.

The middle ground would be knowing the amount of ascent and descent for the course overall. Knowing that is going to give you enough of an idea to shape your training program to fit the course.

You may choose different styles depending on how far the race is. With a 50k, you’ll finish in less than twelve hours and won’t have a crew. For a 50 miler, you may have pacers and a crew, but i’ll finish within 12-15 ish hours.

One hundreds are different and a lot more planning goes into them. It is better to know more about the course.

When you are using a crew and pacers, the more you know about the course the better it will be for for them because you are going to be able to provide them with more information about what to bring for themselves and when they will be meeting you at each aid station.

If there are big breaks in the time your crew will have the chance to sleep, eat and go to get anything you or they need off the course (depending on how close services are of course).

Knowing the course allows you to build a better strategy. Get to know it as much as you can. Find profile maps, youtube videos, talk with other runners, you’ll be better off in the long run and so will your pacers and crew.

Blisters on the Move

pop-blisters

The sun is rising behind the mountains. It’s first rays touching the west side of the valley. Your feet move along the trail, a cool breeze brushes your cheeks. You’ve been training for this race for six months and know this is your day.

And then you feel it. A hot spot begins to develop on your forefoot. Just below your big toe, you know the spot. It’s been an issue in the past, but you haven’t had any problems for months. Since you changed the type of socks you run in. But none of that matters because it’s there now.

What do you do? If you wait you know it will become a blister. Blisters are not good, they can destroy your race, at a minimum you’re going to hurt.

It’s best to deal with blisters as soon as you feel the hot spot or as soon as you know a spot on your foot is going to be problematic. Prevention is the best solution to blisters, but sometimes, regardless of all the blister free socks, shoes, tape, powder, lubrication or whatever, you still get them.

If you’ve done all the prevention you can and know a blister is still a possibility (as it always is); be prepared for them. Take a small blister kit in your hydration pack. They don’t take up much space, well mine don’t.

A mini blister kit should include: a safety pin, alcohol pads, kensiotape and/or hepafix tape and second skin squares. If you get to the offending spot before a blister forms, clean the area with the alcohol pad and tape over it with one of the tapes. If a blister has formed, use the safety pin to drain fluid, after cleaning it and the blister area with the alcohol pads. Make sure the hole you make is in a place where the fluid will continue to be squeezed out as you run to prevent it from refilling. Once this is done, tape over it. If the roof of the blister has ripped off, clean the area with alcohol, put a second skin square down, and tape over it.

If prevention didn’t help and you didn’t come prepared, find something to put between your sock and your shoe to stop the rubbing. A gel wrapper works well or any piece of plastic. You can ask other runners if they have them, if you don’t. No plastic, take your shoe and sock off and see if rearranging things stops the rubbing. Doesn’t help, try running on your foot a little different, just don’t do this for long because it will screw up other things, cause you to fall, or pull some little tendon that will then hurt for the rest of the run.

 

Pollution and Running

air-pollution

Aerobic activity is healthy and everyone should be doing it a few times a week, but what about all the air pollution? Running in air pollution has the potential to cause serious health issues.

I am fortunate to live in an area where the air pollution is generally low enough that there are minimal risks when running out doors. In the winter months, that changes. I live in a valley and the cold air traps the pollution down in the valley as shown in the picture above. Yuck!

I can see it in the air, a brownish yellow fog. I can smell it in the air, exhaust and dirt. I can feel it when I breathe, thick and irritating.

I cough up mucus. My nose is congested. My throat is sore.

Pollution consists of both fine particulate matter and ozone gases. Both are bad, but the particulate matter causes major problems because it settles in your lungs causing inflammation and irritation. It can also get into your bloodstream. When it gets into your blood vessels, it causes them to dilate blocking oxygen and blood from reaching your muscles. It also lowers your body’s ability to create a protein, which breaks up clots.

But what about running?

When you run you inhale more air, ten to twenty times as much air, and you pull it deep into your lungs. If you are breathing through your mouth, the air bypasses the natural filter of your nose. Which means, all that thick yellow fog is making itself at home in your lungs.

Those with asthma, diabetes, heart or lung conditions, or lower respiratory disease should avoid being out in the pollution and definitely should not be out exercising in it.

For the rest of us who are relatively healthy, you should think twice. Running in the pollution especially long runs, which put you out in the yellow fog for hours at a time, is probably not a good idea. It can damage your airways and increase your risk of developing asthma. Oh and there is the chance that it will increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease(heart attacks) and lung cancer too.

Experts in the air pollution area say don’t give up on exercising outdoors because the benefits to exercise outweigh the damage especially if you take some precautions.

So what do you do?

Monitor the air quality in your area. The internet is the best way to do this. Most areas have a website dedicated to reporting air quality and keep it updated by the hour.

Run indoors on a track or treadmill. I know it is not the most fun, but it’s better than cancer. On Sunday, I ran my second long run on the treadmill.

Run where the air is safe to breathe deeply. On Saturday, I went to a higher mountain valley to run where the air is clear. It was slightly colder than where I live, but at least I could breathe.

Reduce the time you are out there. If you must run outside, shorten your run and try to time it for when the pollution is at its lowest if possible.

Stay away from major roadways.

Take an extra rest day and hope it clears up the next day.

Creating Lasting Change

lasting-change

It’s resolution time!! January of every year most of us make resolutions about how to change our lives to make them better or to get into a better place  allowing us to do the things we really want to be doing.

The problem is after about six weeks we give up. We might drag it out for another two weeks, but ultimately the changes don’t hold, so how do we create lasting change?

First, start with your language. Resolution just has a negative connotation, even if it’s a positive word, it carries some heavy baggage because so many people give up. I use the word goal.

Second, don’t go into things at full throttle. If you are new to swimming, you don’t jump in the deep end. It’s the same with any other exercise program you begin as well as other areas of life. Go slow.

Third, don’t set the bar too high. Change takes time. You can’t expect to go from novice to expert overnight. That type of approach results in injury. Slow and steady wins the race. Learning to do something properly is more important than learning quickly.

Fourth, Forgive yourself for set backs, but hold your self accountable too. Beating yourself up for mistakes is not going to help you move forward. If you miss a day, it’s not the end of the line. Start fresh each day. You also know when you are making excuses. Excuses to not do something, are a dime a dozen. Find reasons to follow through.

Fifth, track your progress. Keep a chart and check off days that you have followed through. You can take it a step further by tracking improvements such as weigh lifted, pace, distance, or whatever it is you are working toward.

Sixth, celebrate success. Don’t go all crazy and eat a cake or something silly that could set you back in your goals. Try little rewards, like new socks, new shoe laces, a new headband. Anything to make you feel good about what you are doing.

Having a support person who has the same goal and is committed to reaching it, is very helpful in maintaining a commitment to change your life style.