Category Archives: Ultrarunning

Losing it?

One of the most frustrating things that happens when you take time off running is you lose your hard earned fitness and have to work your ass off to get it back. We all know the longer you have to take off of running the more you lose. This is definitely something I have struggled with as I’ve been coming back from two rolled ankles and a strained hamstring. Anyone who has been forced to take time off running due to an injury knows you go through the whole grief cycle, which I’ve written about and you can find it here.
There are two aspects of losing it: the mental side and the physical side. Let’s start with the easier of the two: the physical side. There’s been lots of research about how quickly fitness is lost when an athlete has to take time off after an injury or just because they are burnt out. We lose the most fitness right up front 20% in the first three weeks. Ouch. after that things level off and up to three months you retain 80% of your fitness. For those athletes who have trained for a long time the impact over time is less because you have a stronger base of fitness. What the experienced athletes lose is what they have most recently gained. You go back to your baseline. As much as this steep drop in fitness loss sucks, it is easier to get back to where you were than it was to get there in the first place.
You can slow the loss and maintain fitness by cross training that makes sure your aerobic system keeps working at the level you had it and doing strength training to minimize the amount of muscle strength you lose. Sport specific fitness is definitely going to take a  hit though so don’t get discouraged when you go back and are sore after a run that would have been a walk in the park pre-injury.
The mental side of it, in my opinion, is the harder of the two that you work through. Depending on how long you are injured, you may have developed a maladaptive coping skill telling yourself it doesn’t matter and maybe you do something other than running. Sometimes it can go as far as, I just don’t want to run anymore. Telling ourselves these things when there is no end in sight or we when we are catastrophizing is a way that we cope with the loss of running, which has becomes a indispensable part our life and who we see ourselves as.  The problem with this, is it makes reviving the motivation to get back out there more difficult. The best way to regain motivation is by remembering the things you love about running, which can trigger those feelings of loss all over again that you were trying to avoid in the first place. See my article on working through the cycle of grief link above.
Once you are back out there, you have to get over the fear of another injury. This takes time and building trust in your ability and self confidence. The only way to build these is to get out there. Give yourself permission to go at your own pace by taking it slow and run easier routes for a bit. It helps if you come up with a plan of action. A plan will help you come to terms with the fact that you can get back to where you were.
A critical element to maintaining motivation and avoiding a lot of self recrimination is to not compare yourself to where you were and where you are. This is a particularly difficult one for me. Try to remain positive and every time this thinking pattern pops into your head, counter act it by reminding yourself that you had to work hard to get to where you were and it’s possible to do it again because you know how and you know you are strong enough mentally and physically to get there. The other half of working through this is accepting where you are. Berating yourself and dwelling on the fitness you’ve lost is not going to help you move forward. It doesn’t change where your current level of fitness is at.
It is not easy to come back from an extended voluntary or involuntary break from running, but runners are a tenacious bunch who like challenges and this is just one more hill to climb.
I’ve also blogged about the safe way to return to running after an injury. You can find it here.
Here is a post about how to run in the swimming pool. Boo!
There is also something called forced rest depression which I talk about here.

Back Pain?

Back pain is no joke. Many adults and even children suffer from back pain, specifically lower in their backs. There are a whole host of things that contribute to back pain, some are life style choices and some are genetics. Back pain can remove you from daily life activities that are both fun and necessary. Runners are not immune. Running involves repetitive stress and impact for long periods of time, which obviously has the potential to cause some back pain or tightness at some point. Maintaining good running form, following some basic training rules and keeping the back muscles loose will save you from missed work, and more importantly missed running.
Maintaining proper running form and a strength training routine (see mine here)  focusing on the core muscles (including the lower back) is going to go a long way in preventing lower back pain. Running form can make you a more or less efficient runner and it can make you a more or less injury prone runner. What is proper form? First, you don’t want to make big changes to your running form at a time, pick one of these and do it until it becomes automatic and then move to another. If you notice any pain, which you shouldn’t, make sure you are doing it correctly. If any pain continues, reduce it to every other run until it’s comfortable and then increase to every run.
  1. Head up and shoulders back, not uncomfortably but might feel a little weird if you sit at a computer for a long time each day.
  2. Chest up. Imagine a string attached to your sternum about nipple height pulling up to the sun or moon. This is probably the most helpful with aligning your body.
  3. Be aware of your legs. they should be under your body when you land not way out in front, especially downhill otherwise every step is like putting on the breaks and causes major impact to go through your body improperly.
  4. Foot plan should be mid-foot or forefoot. If you are doing one or the other, don’t switch. Basically, you don’t want to heel plant see number 3 above.
  5. Arm swing. Hold a ninety degree angle at the elbow, hands loose, like you’re holding a potato chip. Don’t cross your arms past your mid-line, center of your torso. Your elbows should come up to your hip and swing back until your wrists are at your hip. They should go straight back and then straight forward, a little pull toward the center is okay, just don’t cross over.
Another important factor, is increasing your miles by the 10% rule and taking rest weeks every 4th week (reduce your miles by 20-25% for the week). Increasing your miles too quickly doesn’t give your body enough time to build the muscle to handle the next level of training. Training with big mile jumps leads to over use injuries. Rest weeks are equally as important because they give your body time to heal and get stronger. As we run we create micro tears in our muscles. This is good because they heal stronger and build more muscle. But if you don’t give it time do do that effectively, it will just do the best it can with what it has, which doesn’t work well long term for you.
Self massage on the back. Sure being able to afford regular massages by a professional would be awesome, but not all of us runners have sponsors, which means all our money goes to our shoes and socks… That leaves massaging to our significant others or more often ourselves. The least expensive and surprisingly very helpful are La Crosse balls. Buy two of them from Amazon or a local athletic store and tape them together. Keep the tape smooth and make sure they are secure. Place the taped balls between your back and the wall with the indentation in the middle over your spine. The balls will be on either side. Now slowly raise and lower yourself against the wall. Keep your hips neutral (great squat workout too). Stop on knots for a few 20-30 seconds to see if you can get them to release. Keep going for 2 minutes or longer if you’d like.
A wonderful tool for total body massage (no they don’t pay me) is the Body Wrench, find it here. It’s a bit pricey, but remember it’s an investment in your body and it’s 100% money back guaranteed. You can use it for strength training as well (a 2-fer). It comes with a storage bag and an instruction manual. There are instructional videos online, found here.
Running forever, means we are going to do what we need to do to prevent and fix injuries and pain.

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.