Cut It Short?

There is a time and place when we have to cut our runs short. This can be a very difficult choice for many runners, especially, those who have a busy scheduled with little flexibility. So what do you do when, you reach a point in your run and begin to think it might be best to cut it short?

I’ve had this thought a bunch of times out on the trail. The struggle is deciding whether or not this is a real reason to cut a run or if this is a day where you need to push through a tough spot in a run. We all have tough spots in runs and as ultrarunners, it’s very important to learn how to push through those.

There are a few things to take into consideration when making the choice to either push through a training run or to cut is short. Start by asking yourself just how weak and tired you actually feel? If you are exhausted and have nothing to give-cut it short. If it feels more like a time when your energy has just bottomed out but will come back with a snack-get a snack and push on through.

What about the middle? If you’re some where in the middle you have to ask more questions: First, what do you have planned the rest of the day? If you have a jam packed schedule requiring concentration and focus, cut the run short. If you have a day of other physical activities, cut the run short. If you have a day free from mental and physical strain and think you can spend that time recovering on the couch with a good book or movie, go ahead and finish the run.

Second, what has your sleep and rest looked like over the last week? what does your future schedule hold for sleep and rest? If you’ve had little rest and no high quality sleep for the past few days and you’re looking at more of the same, cut the run short. If you’ve had horrible sleep, but this will improve beginning with the next day, go ahead and finish the run.

Third, are you nursing any injuries? if you have that telltale twinge from your ankle, hamstring or hip flexor that says you’re pushing the limit, cut the run short. Running when you feel weak and tired coupled with a problematic area feeling twingy is not a good combination. You could end up taking a week or more off if you make a poor choice in your foot plant or just push the muscle/tendon beyond what it can do that day.

Fourth,  what does your running schedule look like the rest of the week? if you have another hard run in 48 hours, cut your run short. If you have a few easy days or are willing to adjust them to easy days, go ahead and finish the run. BUT you have to be able to stick to the easy days.

Cutting a run short is a difficult decision. You have to learn to listen to your body and know when it’s a head game and when it’s time to rest.

 

Taper Adaptations

Tapering for a race is really difficult for many runners. I know that there are some elite athletes who don’t really taper at all, although, they may take the two days before a race off. An important, possibly critical, difference between elite runners (many not all) and us not so elite runners is we all work typically full-time jobs. This means we don’t have the same opportunity to recover between our runs during training and thus we reach race day more depleted making tapering more important for the average runner.

I’ve tried both three week tapers and two week tapers. I didn’t find any difference between the two. Again, that’s me. Other people may be different. Tapering is– as many aspects of running are– very runner dependent.

The professional research based recommendation is three to four weeks. This is because a taper  is giving your body the time and rest needed to take all the training you’ve been doing and lock it into place in your various bodily systems.

For ultrarunners, your aerobic system has pretty much reached maximum conditioning. Other system haven’t. There are actual changes down to the protein synthesis level. Some of the adaptations that your  body makes during your taper are:

  1. Training causes minor tears to muscles. The muscle need a chance to rebound and repair.
  2. Immune system needs time to get rid of any inflammation and repair cells.
  3. Hormone profile rebounds which takes some time especially cortisol and testosterone. Both of these become depleted during your training.
  4. Red blood cells become consistently damaged when you’re running high miles, so your having to manage that while training. The taper allows those to be repaired and to increase. This is important for oxygen transportation to muscles.
  5. Metabolic wise, rest allows you to store more  glycogen in your muscles and liver.
  6. Running 100 miles is a mental as well as physical challenge. We also tend to be a bit sleep deprived which has both physical an mental components impacting our performance. It improves your vigor and mood.
  7. Many ultrarunners have some level of dehydration pretty much all the time. The taper gives you time to balance your hydration.

In addition to sleep and reducing your running, nutrition is a major part of recovery. Eat healthy whole foods, which will give you what you  need and reduce the chance of gaining weight close to the race once your body is using less calories to rebuild.

Regardless of whether you run by time or miles, you should reduce your running by 20% each week beginning three weeks from race. You on’t need to reduce the intensity, but you shouldn’t increase it. You can maintain the number of runs per week. It’s very important that you keep in mind you are going to feel better as your body rests and recovers (the point of the taper), but you shouldn’t increase your efforts. You’ll need to use pace rather than perceived effort during your runs. You’re not going to lose any fitness by giving yourself the three weeks to rest and repair.

Here is an easy way to remember the “rules” of tapering:

Trust in your training

Adjust your Calorie Intake

Perfect your race day strategy

Embrace the “free” time

Rest and recover

Simplicity of Running

I’ve been writing about various aspects of running for four years covering training facets, gear, and injury prevention. Despite the complexity of some of these topics, I still believe there is a beautiful simplicity to running.

If you watch animals and children run, they do it with such exuberance and joy. I often think, that’s the way of it. We should all run with joy and the excitement of what it will bring into our lives. I know there are tough days of running. Even on tough days we can find joy in the experience.

We have all of these fancy gadgets and gizmos for running now and new ones come out all the time. These are great tools to use, but they can also be a hindrance. We get so caught up in the numbers whether its distance, pace, or heart rate, that we forget why we first started running and to enjoy the fact that we are running.

A string of tough runs and disappointing race times can lead to a loss of the joy of running and this is when it’s most important to return to the simplicity of it. Ditch the GPS tracking, ipod, heart rate monitor and just get out there. It’s even better if you can hit the trails or a mountain road, if you’re a road runner.

In reality, all you need to run is some good shoes and clothes that don’t chafe. Runners who are able to maintain their interest and love of the sport are the ones who continue to believe in the simple joy of running.

Simply running can teach us many life lessons. Lessons all the gadgets, gizmos, and training plans can’t teach. Running has taught me to appreciate each day, to respect and care for my body, to surpass the “impossible”, set goals and achieve them, and many other lessons.

Running also builds strength of character such as determination, ambition, honesty, self-worth, respect for others, respect for the world around us, humility, belief in our own ability to do hard things, commitment, grit, and tenacity.

Our fascination with the many aspects of running and all the tools out there to “enhance” our running is fueled by our love of the sport. These wonderful tools and loads of information can also rob us of some of that love.

Take one of your runs this next week, and just run. Rediscover the simplicity of your feet hitting the ground, the rhythm of your breath and heart, and the wind brushing across your skin.

HIIT

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is something every runner should be adding to their training routine, but especially runners who find themselves short on time for those extra long runs. Interval training is not new to runners. Most think of it as speed training such as 800 or 400 repeats. But HIIT can and should be more than just speed interval training. HIIT that incorporates strength moves helps build total body fitness in a way that just speed interval training doesn’t do.

HIIT is hard. You should be close to maximal effort. If you ever feel nauseous, light headed, or dizzy take a break before getting back to it. Some experts say that fifteen minutes of HIIT provides about the same physiological benefits as three hours of long slow distance. That does not mean you can train using only HIIT.

Adding in HIIT once or twice a week will actually allow you to reduce your total weekly miles by 10-20% without losing any fitness gains you’ve made. Many running coaches recommend that 20% of your training should be HIIT because of the many benefits you will reap. HIIT focuses on the fast twitch muscle fibers and as endurance runners we don’t tap into these all the time, but we do when our slow twitch muscles are fatigued because we begin to recruit anything we think will help. Training those fast twitch muscles will give a boost to your slow twitch as they become fatigued.

Another benefit of HIIT is the psychological training. HIIT makes you push through barrier after barrier when your body is screaming stop. You can tap into those experiences when things get hard out on the trail. Other benefits of HIIT: it’s very effective at burning fat, it boost your metabolism, and builds muscles

How long your HIIT workouts should be will depend on your current fitness level and your fitness goals. You can start with 20-30 minute and build up to 45-60 minute workouts. Here is an example of a HIIT session you can start with.

If you are recovering from an injury do not start HIIT training until you’re fully recovered. The intensity will increase the likelihood of re-injury. Warming up before a HIIT session is essential to reduce the risk of injury.

Workout ONE 30 minutes

3 minute dynamic warmup: Jumping jacks, high knees, lunges, inch worms, and leg swings.

1 minute rest

First set: 1 minute pushups: 20 second rest; 1 minute squat jumps: 20 second rest: 1 minute front plank: 20 second rest: repeat.

Second set: 1 minute burpee: 20 second rest: 1 minute dumbbell row: 20 second rest: 1 minute bicycles: 20 second rest: repeat two times

Third set: 1 minute mountain climbers:  20 second rest: 1 minute dumbbell/kettlebell swing: 20 second rest: 1 minute split squats with a jump: 20 second rest: repeat two times.

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 Runner Road Running?

As a trail runner, I have looked at road runners with curiosity, especially those that run canyon roads. I always wonder why would you run on the road if you are right by a beautiful trail?

Is there a place for road running in a trail runners training? Yep. There are a number of reasons to run on the road as a trail runner. It’s not ideal and I try to avoid it when I can.

On vacation, it can be difficult to find nearby trails where you can get your daily dose of running, but you definitely don’t want to skip your run, so you head out on the road. Another reason to run on the road while on vacation is if you are in a place where the city because of buildings or culture is an attraction. There’s no better way to explore than running up and down streets.

Winter can be a challenging time to find trails clear enough of snow that they are runnable and not all runners take winter off or change to a winter sport. Road running in the winter poses its own challenges because it gets dark earlier and light later, make sure and take a headlamp, tail light, and reflective vest. You also need to watch for sliding cars.

Convenience is another one. Sometimes you just don’t have time to get to the mountain, but you need to run. Runners are busy people with family and work obligations. Fitting in a run can be a challenge some days. It’s okay to run on the road when you’re short on time. The trail will still love you.

Supporting a fellow runner. Beginning runners can be hesitant to jump right to trail running. If you’re pulling someone into running. Running on the road is permissible, in fact, supporting a fellow runner who is running the road is pretty much always permissible. Trail runners are some of the most community oriented runners who would give you their last drop of water or piece of food on the trail.

Recovering from an injury, especially one involving twisting of a joint. The uneven surface, rocks, roots, and river crossings ubiquitous in trail running increases the risk of re-injury. Running on the even predictable surface of a road may get you back out running earlier than if you wait until your body is ready for a trail. And the earlier you can get back out there, the less fitness you lose.

Running on the road is different than running on trails, pretty obvious. I suggest road shoes rather than your trail shoes for a few reasons. The pavement will ruin your trail shoes and trail shoes have thinner bottoms than road shoes. If you are going to be running on the road for more than a week or two, think about grabbing a pair of road shoes.

Definitely invest in a reflective vest, headlamp, and tail light if you’re running in the dark. Cars need to be able to see you as early as possible. Wearing earbuds is also something to think about because you need to be able to hear the cars approaching you.

I know there is research out there that says your body adjusts to the surface you are running on and that there is the same impact to your body regardless of what you are running on, however, my experience is different. My muscles feel the road a lot more than the trail. I can run a fifty-mile race on trail and not be sore, but if I run a marathon on the road, I’m sore.

Giving Back

Races of every distance could not happen without their volunteers. Giving back to the running community is essential because of this. We’ve all be “saved” by a volunteer at some point during our running careers. It could have been something simple, like them handing you a Gu or a cup of water, or as complex as helping you remove your shoes, take care of blisters, and get your shoes back on your wet muddy feet.

The volunteers out there may or may not have family or friends running in the event. I’ve run into many an aid station to find out the aid station is run by a family or community group who does it every year and no one runs.

I know we are all very busy with training, working, family, and some minimal form of social life, but there are races nearly every weekend, especially 5k and 10ks. They are not a huge time commitment either, just a couple of hours.

Experiencing the running world from the volunteer’s side, will give you a new perspective and much appreciation for what they do. It will help you make their lives easier when you come into their aid station. It will also help you, if you ever decide to be a race director or organize a race of your own to benefit a non-profit agency.

How do you get started?

  1. Contact the race director for a race you have run or that supports something you can get behind. There are always 5k and 10k races support things like prevention and research of medical and mental health problems. There are also a ton of races raising money for local non-profit groups. Even schools have them to raise money.
  2. If you don’t know about any races, go to your local running store or get on their website and find the race calendar.
  3. Search on the internet.
  4. Once you have a race selected, email/call the race director or volunteer coordinator.
  5. Let them know you’d like to volunteer.

If you are considering a big event, such as a ultra, it’s good to let them know your experience as a runner so they can place you at points in the race where you will be the most help to the runners. The other thing to know about volunteering for an ultra, especially if you’re going to be the captain of an aid station, is you have to bring a lot of your own stuff.

The bigger races such as Western States, Leadville, Hardrock and the like, will have bigger sponsors and more supplies. But your smaller races that draw mostly locals and rarely the top runners of the ultra world don’t have as much and you may be expected to bring things, including food items, canopies, chairs, cots, heaters, and whatever else you want for your own comfort and that of the amazing runners.

Don’t be put off by bring your own stuff. Call in friends and family. I’ve always been able to gather the things I need and haven’t had to buy more than some food items and even that cost is split between my friends who volunteer with me at the aid station.

Remember none of us would be out there without the amazing volunteers.