The Perils of Water and Running

Water on the trails mean mud. Mud comes in variety of thicknesses, much to our great joy. Super thin mud is just as treacherous as the thick, suction your shoes off, mud. So how do you navigate running through the mud? Well, it’s a bit treacherous and takes a bit of recklessness.

Thin mud, almost just dirty water, doesn’t stick to the outside of your shoes. It infiltrates the inside creating optimal conditions for blisters and having your skin rubbed right off. Having shoes that drain water well will help but the dirt tends to remain in your shoe while the water escapes.

Try to prevent the mud from getting to your feet by wearing plastic bread bags over your feet and under your socks or over your socks, which ever is more comfortable for you. If you know you’re going to be going through mud, take extra shoes and a bunch of extra socks. At each aid station you’ll need to clean your feet and change socks.

All of these suggestions are applicable to thick sticky mud as well, especially, having extra shoes. If you have a ways to go in the thick stuff trying to scrape it off your shoes is a waste of time. Keep moving and take care of it at the end because it’s just going to get stuck back on their within a few minutes and it probably took you three to five minutes trying to get it off.

Have your crew clean your shoes while you’re out on the course. That way you’ll have a pair of slightly cleaner shoes to put on while they clean the second pair. Pack a bucket and a scrub brush in your crew vehicle to be used to clean your shoes. Having a bundle of news paper on hand to shove inside your shoes will help absorb the moisture and maintain the shape of the shoes. Your crew should remove your insole or footbed before washing your shoes.

Your feet are not the only thing that suffers when you encounter mud and water on a course. There are unknown hazards that you can’t see. Rocks and roots are waiting to twist your ankle and bring you to your knees. This is where the bit of recklessness comes into play. Sometimes it’s best to maintain a running pace rather than pick your way through feeling with your foot. This becomes more true the longer you’re going to be in the mud. Keep your stride short.

Prepare you body for mud running by practice. Don’t shy away from the tough stuff when you’re training. Write out the ABC’s with your foot raised about six to ten inches in the air. This will help the brain-foot connection enabling you to move your feet when you feel unstable. Train with an agility (speed) ladder to improve your ability to move your feet quickly through rocks and roots. Squat and calf raises. Lots. Balance exercises are also going to be valuable.

If you’re looking for a post about running in a pool, you can find my post on that here.

If you’re looking for a post about river crossing, I have one here. 

 

Reduce Race Day Nerves

You’ve been training for months and months and race day is fast approaching. Staring down an ultra can cause a little anxiety, even among experienced runners. There are a few things you can do to reduce some of that race day anxiety you may experience.

Know the course and the rules of that particular race.

Knowing the course is important, from the time you start planning your training schedule and runs. Shaping your training to meet the demands of the course you’ll be running as closely as possible (or harder) is going to make you much more confident and comfortable when you head out from the starting line.

Knowing the course also makes it easier to plan and pace. If you know where the climbs and descents are, you can give a good prediction as to when you’ll be coming into the various aid stations. This is important because your crew, if you have one, will need to know what time they need to be at each aid station. In some races the space is limited and crews can only enter an aid station within a certain amount of time of their runners expected arrival.

Being able to calculate your pace lets you plan for what to put in drop bags at the aid stations. You’ll have a good idea of which aid stations you’ll go through during the night and be able to pack headlamps and warmer clothing, as needed. Getting all your drop bags ready 4-5 days in advance of race day will help you stay calm and not feel rushed the day or two before.  

You’ll need to know cut off times, when you can have a pacer, and where your crew is allowed to be. In many ultras, there are some aid stations where crews just can’t get to or aren’t allowed do to space or other reasons. You’ll want to make sure you have a drop bag with all the stuff you might need there especially if it’s going to be another 10-15 miles until you see your crew. In most 50 mile races you’re not allowed to have a pacer until at least 30 miles in and for most 100s its going to be around mile 40-50 (usually when the majority of runners are going to be heading into the nighttime hours).

Something you can do throughout your training to reduce your race day anxiety is to not duck out of training runs that are difficult due to the weather or because you stayed up too late the night before. Even if your stomach is a little edgy, I would encourage you to go out and get miles in. The weather on race day could be anything and if you’ve run in similar conditions, you won’t worry about it so much on race day. Weather can also change very quickly during mountain races. When you’re out in the mountains for 24-36 hours you can see sun, rain, and snow. So make sure you know what is within the range of normal for the area you’re race is in.

Have a fuel and hydration plan. If the menu is not included in the race details, you may want to contact the race director or just plan to bring your own food and electrolytes. It’s fine to grab some potato chips at an aid station if they look really good, even if you don’t generally train with them. Do not try anything that’s “complicated” or has a lot of ingredients unless you’ve tried it before. During your training, experiment with different foods and find what works for you. You’ll need a few options because eating the same thing for 100 miles is tough. Same goes with electrolytes and water. Pay attention during your training runs and keep logs of what you’re consuming, how much, and the temperature outside.

Reducing your nerves on race day really begins during training because that’s when you should be building confidence in your ability to tackle the challenges of the course (course specific training), and developing a good fuel and hydration plan (keep a training log).

Individual or Team Sport?

Do you think of running as a team or individual sport? One of the appealing things about running, for me, was that I could do it as an individual. When I began running my schedule was such that no one else in their right mind wanted to do (2 am long runs since I had young children).

It wasn’t until years later that I began running with friends and on a team (relay team). I loved running with my team and would love to pull another team together for more relay races in the near future.

But Ultrarunning as a team? Why not? I’ve met many couples who run as a team and some running partners/friends who run as a team. I think this can be very beneficial to many people and if you are a social runner, I highly encourage you to find others who are social runners and make it a team event.

The most difficult decision a team must make is if one drops out do the others? What if one runner just doesn’t have it that day, and so they are going at a much slower pace than what the others can do. Does everyone slow down (no runner left behind kinda thing)? I think these are questions every team should answer before showing up to the starting line.

If you are teamed up with another runner and are sharing a crew and pacers, the questions above become even more relevant if you’re going to continue while a teammate either slows down or drops from the race.

I’ve trained with other runners and have always been very upfront about race day and running together. If we happen to be going at the same pace great, if not, we’ll wait for each other at the finish line. To sum it up-training together doesn’t mean racing together.

Even if you don’t run with someone else, ultrarunning can still be viewed as a team event because there are few ultrarunners who get through a race alone. You have your pacers and your crew and they are your team. Choosing individuals who work well together is very important. The more you work with them as if they are a team the better your outcomes will be. Conducting team meetings and recruiting the same people for multiple events will help you achieve better outcomes at your races. Obviously, these people must love you and you’re likely crewing/pacing for their races.

For those out there who think that ultrarunning is a lonely sport, you are sadly mistaken. We are a tribe of individuals who share a passion for putting one foot in front of the other. Although our teams look different than those of a cross country team, they are likely more closely bonded with one another than many other sports teams. After all, sacrifice, suffering, sleepless nights, and a common cause form bonds that run deeper than the blood we leave on the trails.

Postpartum Training adjustments

As the mother of a newborn, it’s obvious adjustments to my training plan will have to be made. I no longer have the luxury of going out on the trails at 7 am and not getting back until 3 or 4 pm. Well, I do, but that’s not the mother I want to be. I’m the mother who gets up at 2 am, so I can be home by 7 am for my baby. I’m the mother who runs on the road most of the time rather than the trail because the road is right outside my door (aka no drive time) and I can maintain a faster pace (aka not a technical route).

So what’s changed?

I’ve added heavy lifting to my training to build strength in my tendons and to prevent injury. This doesn’t add a lot of time to my workouts, but the benefits are huge. I’ve added squats and deadlifts. Yep that’s it. Maintaining proper form is essential, so if you’re going to add this make sure and watch some videos on youtube or have someone who knows what they are doing get you started. You only need to perform 4-6 repetitions at the highest weight you can do. You need to do this four to five days a week.

I’ve also added HIIT training to my schedule. You can do HIIT training for 10-15% of your weekly training and reduce your running miles by 15-20% without negatively impacting your performance on race day.

I run an up weekend and then a down weekend. This means every other weekend is high miles and the down weekend is half of the high mile weekend.

Another adjustment is acceptance of the treadmill. I know I’m going to have to find a way to tolerate and maybe even enjoy my treadmill running because I’m a mom who wants to be available when my baby needs.

What’s stayed the same?

I run four days a week. My runs are quality runs. I include hills (up and down) in most of my runs. I do a lot of core strength and balance training.

My times will increase as I’ll have to stop to feed my daughter, but every moment will be worth it, because she’ll give me the strength to get back out there and finish what I started. I’m a mom, and I’m an ultrarunner. I’ll continue to run 100s because I love it and because I want my daughter to see how strong she can be whether that’s in running or in whatever she chooses. I want her to know what dedication and commitment look like in the world.

Running teaches us so much about everyday life.

 

 

Embrace the Pain

We’ve all been to the darkest part of the pain cave in an ultra. The question is what did you do when you reached it? You don’t have to tell anyone if you crumbled into a pile of rubble or if you curled into a ball and closed your eyes. Honestly, there is no  shame in having taken one of those two approaches, at least the first time you enter the pain cave. After that, you really have to get your head in the game and come up with strategies to embrace the pain and use it to push you through to the other side.

When most people (non ultrarunners) think about the tough part of running, they of pushing your speed up a notch to stay fractions of a second ahead of the runner on your heels. This usually results in vomiting shortly after crossing the finish line or other unpleasantness. In the ultrarunning world, the pain cave is much darker. It’s continuing to move forward as fast as you can while combating hours of nausea, dehydration, blisters, sore muscles, exposure to the elements and possibly a rolled ankle or scrapped up hands and knees. As if that were not enough, you’re exhausted.

How do you prepare yourself for entering the pain cave, walking all the way through it, and reaching the other side? You build your mental endurance. You become familiar with the pain cave by training inside of it. Schedule workouts that are hard and run with people who challenge you to push past what you think are your limits. Here are some runs that you can use to get you into the pain cave:

Back to back long runs. Hill repeats. Carbohydrate depleting runs. Heat runs or cold runs. Intervals.

When you have a few of these under your belt, you can draw on these during races by telling yourself you’ve done hard things before.

Another strategy is to stay mindful of what is actually going on in your body. Some people check out of their body when things get hard. They go to their “special place.” Other runners become more focused on what is going on inside. They observe what is happening and without jumping on the pitty wagon (where we tell ourselves it hurts, it’s hard, or I can’t). These runners simply acknowledge that there is a pain/ache/unpleasant sensation and they watch it.

The damage comes when your thoughts start stacking negative and self defeating thoughts on top of the pain/ache/unpleasantness. Keep things simple in the pain cave. Recognize there is an issue and observe it. This takes practice. That’s why we train hard.

Hip Engagement: Part Two

This is the second part of a two-part post on engaging and strengthening your hips to improve your running and to reduce your injury risk. Here is a link to the first part.

When we analyze our injuries, as we recover from them, we look for ways to prevent the same injury and reduce the risk of other injuries we fear will follow. At times we forget to look upstream and downstream in the kinetic chain. Lower body injuries often times begin in the hips and thus, hip strength and engagement should become an essential part of our training.

  1. Knee-out running.

This one is going to feel awkward, but it helps with knee alignment and getting the max benefit from engaging your glutes. This is a drill not the way that you will run. Part of what the glute does is rotate your hip outward. This outward turn allows you to get maximal hip extension. It’s easiest to practice this on a line such as on a track or the white line at the edge of the road. Try to keep your knee turned out a bit while your feet remain directly beneath you. Start with short distances or 30 seconds a few times during a run and work up to longer durations of 60-90 seconds.

  1. High knees.

High knee drills are the staple of many track teams and there is a reason for it. It works the hip muscles for both legs. You use your abdominals to lift one leg while you get a lengthening in the other hip.

While you’re running be aware of your knee height because this extra length in your hip flexor is going to give you more power. You don’t want to exaggerate the movement like you do in drills, but just checking in with your lift during your run will bring your attention to it enough to make sure your engaging those muscles.

  1. Arm swing.

This one goes back to those tendons that connect your shoulder blades to the opposite hip. Maintaining a good arm swing where your wrist/hand comes to your hip on the back swing and your elbow comes in front of your hip on the forward swing, will help maintain a good strong rotation in your legs. Especially, in the later miles of an ultra. When your legs are thrashed from all the climbs and descents, have your crew remind you to run with your arms. You can also put a note in your drop bags.

  1. Strong feet.

Having a strong foot is important for efficient powerful running. Feet, although necessary to running, are remarkably the lower body muscle group most neglected by runners.  Your feet are what pushes you off the ground. Poor push off can misalign your leg as it comes forward. You also loose power if you don’t roll forward onto your toes. You can improve feet strength through single leg calf raises where you lower your heel below your toes on a step. You can also strengthen your feet using an exercise band by wrapping the band around your forefoot and holding it back with your hand to get the right amount of tension. Extend your toes out (tension pulling your forefoot to your chest), turn your foot in (tension should be pulling your forefoot to the outside0, and turn it out(tension should be pulling your forefoot to the inside).

No one wants to be injured. Research has shown over and over again many running injuries originate in the hips and spending some time each week focused on strengthening hips is well worth the time even if it cuts into running time.

Coming to Terms with a DNF

At some point in an ultrarunner’s career there will be a DNF, Did Not Finish. They happen for many reasons. Regardless of the reason, in the moment, it feels like an absolutely legitimate reason. Then there is the next morning, where you’ve slept and eaten a real meal, at that time, your reason for pulling out of the race may feel like the wrong decision.

It’s hard not to beat yourself up over, what you see as, a less than adequate reason for the DNF. And maybe some self criticism is warranted, doubtful but maybe. The problem is it gets you no where. It doesn’t help you improve. It doesn’t make the DNF go away. It doesn’t make you feel like getting back out there.

I have three DNFs. All three of them were in the same year! The first was at the Speedgoat 50k. My dropping from the race wasn’t voluntary. I missed the cut off by five minutes. The second was at my first 100 miler, Pony Express 100. I went into the race injured. I had rolled my ankle 5 weeks before and then proceeded to run on it for a relay run for 50 miles. I couldn’t let my team down and knew when I chose to do the relay, I was putting my 100 at risk. At mile 75 of the 100, my knee was so painful I could barely walk. I decided it wasn’t worth risking a long time injury. My last DNF was at Buffalo Run 50 miler. I pulled out 12 miles from the finish with mild hypothermia. I had stayed in an aid station waiting for warm broth. During the time I was there my body temperature dropped, since I wasn’t moving. The next morning I went out and finished the last 12 miles.

It sucks to get a DNF. I remember each of these very vividly. I did beat myself up after each and everyone, especially the Buffalo Run 100. After sulking for a week, I decided I was done and I was going to learn from each of these experiences. I went back and asked myself several questions about each.

What when wrong?

What could have prevented the DNF?

What can I do to include these prevention strategies in my training in the future?

Ultimately, I decided two of the three could have been prevented. I realized my training for Speedgoat was not what it should have been to make the cut off times. For Buffalo, I learned to never stay in an aid station for more than what is absolutely necessary. I talk to my crew about this every time. I also learned how to better educate my crew and how to pick crew who will throw me back out into the cold, even if it’s a blizzard.

You can look at a DNF in two different ways and you’ll likely see both in each DNF you have beginning with the Did Not Finish and concluding Did Nothing Fatal.