On Your Left!

trail runners

I became focused as I reached the top of the pass. I knew the narrow rocky descent was going to require much of my attention. I had to move my feet and stay on my toes. Missteps resulted in falls onto unmerciful rock and sticks. I loved these descents because it became a game to me about how fast I could really move my feet.

I glanced down the trail right as I dropped over the saddle. There was two hikers about half way to the bottom. The first few meters of the trail weren’t bad, but the farther you got down the slope the rockier it got, not to mention the steepness increased as well. My pace quickened. My feet balanced on the edge of certain injury with the catch of a toe or a roll of an ankle. My eyes moved back and forth between my next step and ten to fifteen feet in front of me.

“On your left,” I call out as I near a hiker picking through the rock carefully.

_____

What do you think this hiker did?

Yeah, he moved to the left and I ended up dancing around him. Luckily I didn’t eat dirt.

“On your left,” must be the most confusing statement any cyclist or runner can make. It is intended to warn those in front of you that you are going to pass them on their left side. What the person in the front hears is, “Move to your left.”

I’ve spent some time thinking about this problem because it’s happened many times. I liken it to showing someone a picture of the word Blue written in red and asking them to tell you what color the word is.

I would like to experiment with this by calling out, “move left” instead of, “on your left.” My hang up is I don’t want to sound rude and have people develop animosity toward trail runners or cyclists.

I’ve also considered calling out “on your right” and then passing on their left, but sometimes you get that one person who is probably a trail runner or cyclist themselves and they move in the proper direction.

Ideally, hikers and slower runners would listen for others coming down the trail behind them and just move over. This doesn’t happen, partially, because people have their ear buds in. The other part, I think, is they are lost in their own thoughts.

At this point, trail runners and cyclist have to call out early and be ready to move to the opposite side to pass.

Do any of you call out something different and get better results?

Rest

rest

Have you ever sleep a good eight hours only to get up more exhausted than when you went to bed? We all have. Just because you have gone to sleep does not mean that you have rested. There are four types of rest: Physical, sensory, emotional, and mental rest.

Everyone is familiar with physical rest. You lie down and don’t move your body more than necessary to remain comfortable. The importance of physical rest is pounded into every runners head. It’s essential to making gains in strength and speed. Without it, our bodies break down and we get injured. Even if you are getting eight or nine hours of sleep a night, it may not be enough to keep you going at a high level of training. Take a look at the other types of rest.

Sensory rest is when you rest your senses. Sensory overload can effect anyone. Everyone has a different tolerance for the amount of sensory input they can handle before they have a total melt down and withdraw from the stimulation. Young children are particularly vulnerable to sensory overload. But so are adults especially when it is multiple senses. It’s okay to check out for a bit. Close your eyes, cover your ears, or just go into a dark room. It’s like pushing the reset button. Allowing your senses to rest even for a brief moment keeps them fully available to you when you need them.

Emotional overload is one of the most significant forms of exhaustion I’ve ever experienced. It makes me feel tired for days. Preventing emotional overload is not always possible. One of the reasons it’s so draining is because it comes when you aren’t expecting it. Life throws a curve ball at you and there is no getting around dealing with it. This can be the death of someone close to you or a crisis in your life. It can also happen when you are taking on the emotional problems of those around you. The best way to rest your emotions is to step back and ground yourself in the present. Try to let go of worries about the future and guilt over the past. Just be present.

Mental rest is all about stopping the Tasmanian devil from stirring up your thoughts. Whirling thoughts keep you up at night and make you feel flighty during the day. You jump from idea to idea. Your ability to focus on one thing is thirty seconds at best. The result from all this; mental tiredness. The way to rest is the same as it is for emotional rest. Step back and ground yourself.

To really recover and continue to push our bodies, a full body and mind rest is essential. It’s hard to do and somedays it will be impossible. For me, running makes it much easier to take advantage of all four types of rest. It clears my mind of thoughts and lets my emotional baggage fly away on the wind. Out on the trail my senses get the sweet taste of nature and my body burns off all the energy so I slide into sleep quickly each night.

Rest fully and run Happy.

Heroes and Angels

heroes and angels

I love aid station volunteers. A Lot. They have saved countless runners who are ready to quit. They have assisted grumpy and rude runners with a smile. They’ve helped change dirty smelly runners socks and shoes. They stand out in the cold and rain patiently waiting for the last runner to come through.

They are heroes and angels.

Last year I decided to make heroes out of my running team. Well, they were already my heroes since they are my ultrarunning crew and pacers, but I wanted them (and me) to be heroes to other runners too.

We decided to man aid station 13 at mile 89 of the Salt Flats 100. I soon found out just how hard it is to pull off a successful aid station. There is actually a lot involved if you want runners to leave feeling as best as they can at mile 89.

Race directors supply their aid stations with as much as they can depending on the money from registration after other costs and sponsors for the race. This means supplies can very greatly depending on how big and well known the race is.

Salt Flats 100 is not a big race. It doesn’t fill up days after opening registration. Most years it doesn’t fill up at all. Because of this, my team brings a lot of our own stuff to create a refuge for the runners.

Runners don’t ask for much at mile 89. What they want is a bit of shelter, food, and encouragement.

Shelter: my team puts up two big canopies and walls off three and a half sides to create a shelter for the runners. Salt Flats 100 is run in the west desert of northern Utah. If you’ve seen the movie “Independence Day” the scene where Will Smith is dragging the alien through the desert on a parachute was filmed at the Salt Flats. It’s barren and exposed. There are mountains, but those are also barren and exposed.

Food: by mile 89 runners are either hungry and want real food or they are having significant stomach issues and would rather die than eat food. Most are in the former category. My team brings out a big camp kitchen and a propane pizza oven. We’re able to make pizza and quesadillas in the evening and night and then breakfast burritos and pancakes in the morning. We also bring the snacks we love to have when we run.

Encouragement: the “You’ve got this” attitude is a must for aid station volunteers. My goal is to never have a runner drop at my aid station. It gets ugly out there and pushing forward when your exhausted, want to vomit, and have torn up feet is tough. The front of the pack runners come through strong and don’t stay very long. The longer the runner is out on the course, the greater the beating their body takes. It’s harder to go slower. I know it’s the same distance, but it’s not the same race.

I mean think about it, the back of the pack is usually less experienced, less trained, or injured. Their mental state has been going up and down for miles and hours. Their stomach is likely to be in bad shape because of the duration of effort being pumped out. They are more exhausted. They’ve been exposed to the weather longer. They’ve been on their feet pounding away with sweat and dirt in their shoes for much longer than the front of the pack.

Volunteering for an ultra aid station is rewarding and it’s hard work.

Thank you to all the aid station heroes and volunteers.

angels and heroes

The Critic

critic

 

Many people criticize what others do. Some make a career out of it, such as movie and book critics, but those are not the ones I’m talking about. Runners don’t escape the critic’s notice.

How can you spend so much time running rather than with your family?

Think of what you could do with the money you spend on shoes and race fees?

Your race metals hanging on your office wall make others feel bad. Is that your wall of bragging?

Is it really fair to you family that all your vacations revolve around your running?

Why do you like to be alone all the time?

Is running more important than hanging out with your friends?

This type of criticism is sort of easy to brush aside. Some of us do feel a little guilty about the amount of time we spend running rather than with family and friends, but it’s easy to justify. Running makes me a better parent, sister, son, friend, and whatever. And there’s always the classic response, “You’re welcome to join me anytime if you want to hang out.”

Our worst and most difficult critic is the one in our heads. It tends to be much more cruel and has higher expectations than others do. It echoes all of the above statements and adds to the list.

It’s hard to get out and train some days and god forbid you miss a workout. If you do, the internal critic is all over that shit with, “You’re lazy, you’re going to get slow, and how do you ever expect to finish a race when you can’t even do a training run.” These are all beautiful guilt ridden statements.

I suppose they motivate you to move your ass sometimes, but there are so much better ways to get yourself going and sometimes it’s best to take a rest day or have an easy day. Step back and think about what you would say to a friend or training partner doing so can put things in to perspective.

When we don’t hit our goals, it can get ugly inside our heads too. “You should have trained more or harder.” “You had some left in the tank and could have passed one or two more people.” “You’re really not as good as you think.” “You’ll never make it.”

When we have an injury… “Don’t be a baby, it’s nothing.” “You’re weak.”

The mental side of running is more difficult to deal with than the physical training. These thoughts come so “naturally” to many of us that it’s impossible to stop them entirely. You have to prepare for them and learn how to counter act them.

When they show up during a race, they can shut you down and become the infamous self-fulfilling prophecy. Self-sabotage is another great way of thinking about it.

Ignoring the critic or telling it to shut up is not enough. You have to have examples to prove it wrong. This means you need to hang onto and store your successes. Those moments were you thought, “I did it.” Most importantly, the moments where you pushed through a particularly difficult run regardless of the reason it was difficult.

These successes are your secret weapon so keep them safe and close at hand. Then when the critic starts with its stream of negativity, you can pull out your triumphs.

Run Your Own Race

running hills

I’m writing this blog post to talk about an issue my running partner and I have had to discuss recently. I’m pretty sure other running partners and groups have had to address this same struggle. So I thought I would share my experience.

Carbo (as he likes to be called) just finished his first 100 mile run. I ran the same race, but it was my sixth 100. I’ve been training at the 100 mile level for three years and running consistently for 10. He has been training at the 100 mile level for one year and training as a runner consistently for a year and a half.

Given just this information, you’d expect some differences in our ability and knowledge of running. So here is the struggle when running with a training partner or group. What do you do when one or more of your runners are not able to keep pace for whatever reason?

As the runner who is not able to keep pace you feel like your group is leaving you behind and you feel like you are not as good as the others. You begin to question yourself, your running ability, and your training. You feel bad you can’t keep up and you also feel angry or hurt because they are not waiting for you.

As the runner who is pulling ahead you feel bad because your group is not able to keep up. You wonder if you should slow down. You hope they are not sick or injured. You know they are struggling and you want to help.

I think these feelings are rational and understandable by anyone who has run with others on a consistent basis and formed the bonds of friendship.

So what do you do? You run your own race.

Think about your goals and your groups goals, are they different? If your goal is to complete a specific distance in a specific time, you need to stick to your training and let your friend know why you are not waiting. If your goal is just to run with your friend, by all means slow down and let them set the pace. It’s the same for the other side. If you can’t keep pace, ask yourself what your friend’s goals are. If they are different let them go and do what you need to do to meet your goals or get stronger to keep pace.

Is your runner who is falling behind, injured or anything else that may be holding them back? Obviously you want to know if your friend is hurt, tired, over training or anything else that may be slowing them down. You might be able to help them resolve the issue and if they are hurt encourage them to stop and take care of themselves. On the flip side, know your body and listen to it. There is no shame in taking time off to take care of yourself. Continuing to push to keep up, will only make you fall farther behind and could result in serious injury.

How long do you think the struggle will continue? Short term differences in pace are going to happen. If you are recovering from a race or illness you can fall behind. Don’t stress about it. Let your body recover and then get after it. If there are differences in strength or ability, do what you need to do to get stronger and faster within your own limits. As the faster runner, help your friend become a better runner pass along information or strategies you’ve used to get to where you are. If you believe this will be an ongoing struggle you will have to think about going your separate ways at least as far as running is considered. This is a hard decision to make, but with communication and understanding you can still remain friends and run together on easy days.

Is there value to both runners to work through this struggle to become stronger runners? Every situation offers a lesson if you are open to hearing it. Usually, the longer you ignore it the worse it gets. There are a number of lessons in this situation: listen to your body and take care of it, learn new training strategies, push yourself beyond what you think you can do (so long as you are not injured or over training), communication goes a long way, and whether or not your new training is working.

Realizing your limits and accepting them is hard. We are all different. Running with others is a great way to push yourself and to make gains in your training. You have to run your own race. You have to make decisions which put you in the best spot to accomplish your goals. Maybe this is a little selfish. I’m sure some people think so. And I would tell them, their goals are just different and that’s okay.

Even if you train individually at times and together at others, when you both reach the finish line, you can always celebrate together.

Don’t worry Carbo, I think this is a short term struggle.

Is it all about the numbers for you?

stop watch

I’m not saying running fast isn’t fun. What I’m talking about is are you a competitive runner or someone who just runs for the joy of running? The idea of getting into ultrarunning to be fast is a little strange to me. I know there are fast runners out there who can finish one hundred miles in eighteen hours and sometimes less. Those runners are incredible and just fun to watch. They make it look so easy. I’ll never be that fast, but that’s okay with me because I didn’t get into ultrarunning to be fast.

Despite these pure reasons to get into the sport, we all want to know finish times and all the split times. How much time did we spend in each aid station? How much did we slow down after mile seventy-five? Were we able to pick it back up? Is there any consistent pattern in our races?

It’s all fine and good to want to track these things and to improve your times and compete with other runners. However, the risk I see if it’s all about the numbers for you, is it’s no longer fun. The joy of being free and tromping through the woods is lost.

Training should be fun too. Of course, you are going to have hard days, but if you have more hard days with no motivation and you are dreading your runs, it’s time to take a long look at why you are running a particular race and if you need to adjust your mindset.

I got into it to be on the trails and to challenge myself. I believe that most ultrarunners get into the sport to explore nature and spent time on the trails. I choose my races because of where they are. I want to see new places and I want to see them in a way that others don’t get to see them. I also go back out to the same races I did the year before to improve my time, but I never lose sight of the freedom and joy trail running brings me.

Never lose the joy of running. If you do, running is just a job, which is just about the saddest thing I have ever heard. Ultrarunning is a horrible paying job anyway.

New Years is Coming

new years

It’s that time of year again, new year’s resolutions…

I don’t like the term “resolutions” because it implies there is something wrong in your life and it needs fixing or that there is some type of conflict. I like New Year’s goals much better. A goal is something you strive achieve. You’re moving forward and I like achievements.

The word “goal” has a positive connotation where, a resolution, especially if it is preceded by the words, “New Year’s,” is typically negative or at a minimum cringe worthy.

Word choice has a significant impact on the way we view things, so it’s important to use words that motivate us to keep striving toward our goals until we achieve them regardless of how long they take.

We may slip a little or even stand still and look around to determine where we are exactly, so long as we don’t turn back, we are good.

Winter can be a down time (emotionally and number of miles) for many. Add in the holidays with family, friends, and traveling it can all lead to a few extra pounds which circles around and can make us not feel so great.

How do we get past the winter slump and begin the New Year with determination and optimism? Set yourself a few goals for the next year. They don’t all need to be running related. They shouldn’t be. You should make goals in other areas of your life too.

For our purposes here, I’m talking about running. Pick yourself an early spring race and a goal race a little out beyond the spring race. A goal race is THE race you are really training to run for the year. It’s the big enchilada. All the other races are just filler and preparation.

Once you have your GOAL race, identify the things you need to do to be prepared as best you can for the race. Come up with a time line as to when you will be implementing each of the things on the list to help you reach your goal. It can be anything such as new running shoes, better eating habits, find a running partner, begin trail running, or find a hill for repeats. These things are going to be individual to you and your GOAL.

Checking off each of the things on your preparation list is getting one step closer to that goal.

Achieving a goal motivates us to continue making progress and building our self-confidence to take on things in all areas of life. As you create your lists and write out your goal, choose your words carefully and make sure they are not words you associate with failure or negativity.