Chasing the Cut Off

There is almost nothing worse than missing a cut off time during a race. I’ve done it and it sucks and it leaves you wondering what went wrong and looking at all the places where you “know” you should/could have picked up the pace, but couldn’t get out of the mental funk you were in.

Cut offs are not put in place by race directors just to encourage runners to move their butts. They  set an end time for the race for both runners and race staff/volunteers. Race costs can increase when emergency and safety personnel are required to be out there for longer periods of time. It also becomes problematic if there are any road closures or access restrictions put in place due to the race event. Liability increases as participants cognitive and physical abilities diminish with the length of time they are out on the course. And lets face it, we are more cautious about jumping into a race if we think the time lines are not within our ability or we really focus our training to make sure we’re in the best possible condition to make those cut offs.

The ultrarunners who chase cut off times throughout a race are some of the strongest among us. They keep their head in the run and keep moving forward as quickly as they are able too. It takes a significant amount of fortitude and determination to keep going when you’re barely making cut offs. In my personal opinion, ultrarunners who chase cut offs or who are out there for more than two sunrises are stronger than those who finish under 20 hours.

I’ve run sub 24 hour 100 mile events and I’ve run 35 hours and 46 minutes (36 hour time limit) 100 mile events. Give me the 24 hour finish any day. Sure you get a big energy boost when the sun comes up on day two, but after two hours that’s totally gone and putting one foot in front of the other becomes more difficult with each step.

Running a 100 is hard and you’re going to suffer on some level, but the longer you’re out there the more suffering there is and the longer you have to endure it. Runners who chase cut offs are inspiring. They give me strength to push hard when I want to quit because I know they are still out there and I know they are not quitting.

So for all of you who have chased cut offs and those who will chase cut offs in the future, please know, you give us all strength. Don’t give up, a finish is a finish even if you make it by a fraction of a second.

 

Winter Running Tricks

Here are some ideas/tips/tricks of the winter running trade to help you get through the cold months to come.

  1. Don’t want to buy Yak Trax? That’s okay. You can take an oldish pair of running shoes that still have some decent life left in them and modify them. Go to your local hardware store and buy some hex head screws or sheet metal screws (you don’t want flat headed screws). They need to be about ¼-3/8ths in length. You need a bunch of them. Screw them into the bottom of your shoe so the head is out to grip the ice.
  2. Wear ski goggles to protect your eyes from the cold and snow. A neck gaiter to protect your neck from exposure and a mask if the cold dry air bothers your lungs or makes you cough. Use a thin layer of Vaseline to protect any exposed skin, including your lips.
  3. Colleges and University campuses are great places to run because they have lots of cleared sidewalks without motorized traffic. They clear their sidewalks regularly and are usually the first to do so. They have their own maintenance crews and don’t have to wait on the city or county to clear things.
  4. Run with the wind in your face on your way out and the wind at your back on your return trip. During your run, you’re going to get hot and sweaty and having the wind at your back is much better than having it in your face.
  5. If your shoes are soaking wet when you finish your run, stuff newspaper into them to absorb the water and to help maintain their structure. Don’t put them in the dryer or the oven. It will ruin them.

Here is a guide on how to dress depending on the temperature outside. I found this at RunnersConnect.com. Runnersworld.com has something very similar. Runners World also has this nifty “What to Wear Tool” that takes into consideration your gender, temperature, wind, conditions, time of day and intensity before it pops out a clothing recommendation. Find it here. 

30 degrees:

  • 2 tops, 1 bottom. Long-sleeve base layer and a vest to keep your core warm. Half tights if you’re a polar bear.

10 to 20 degrees:

  • 2 tops, 2 bottoms. A jacket over your base layer.

0 to 10 degrees:

  • 3 tops, 2 bottoms. Two tops (fleece for the cold-prone) and a jacket. Windbrief for the fellas.

Minus 10 to 0 degrees:

  • 3 tops, 2 bottoms, extra pair of mittens, 1 scarf wrapped around mouth or a balaclava.

Minus 20 degrees

  • 3 tops, 3 bottoms, 2 extra pairs of mittens, 1 balaclava, sunglasses.

Notes

  • Wear tight clothes because they trap heat better and if they get wet, you can capitalize on your own body heat, much like a wetsuit

 

The Treadmill Struggle is Real

 

I hate treadmills. I know they are useful and in some situations better for your body than running outside in extreme weather or pollution. Treadmills are troublesome for a few reasons. First, they’re inside. Second, the scenery is limited and the same day after day. Third, you are not going anywhere. Fourth, there are numbers right in front of you telling you how much longer your torture session is. Sixth, it’s not the same workout.

A treadmill can be helpful if you are working on cadence, stride length, and form. It’s easier to pay attention to these things when you’re not going anywhere and the surface doesn’t change.

Treadmill and outdoor running are different. You expend less energy running on a treadmill than you do outdoors (running at the same pace). The reasons for this is the lack of wind resistance, terrain changes, and because the treadmill belt helps propel you along. To compensate for this, raise the incline to at least one percent.

Another difference is your smaller stabilizing muscles in the lower legs don’t work as hard on a treadmill as they do outdoors. This is because the surface is level, and you don’t have to propel your body forward as much. Your calf muscles, on the other hand, work much harder. Because of the extra work, runners can have calf muscle pain, shin splints, Achilles tendonitis and other issues if they run long distance on treadmills.

The biggest challenge of treadmill running, for me, is the monotony. How do you keep yourself entertained while on the treadmill? (really, I want to hear from all of you on this one).

Here is what I’ve come up with: music, audio books, podcasts, Netflix or other video streaming, and books (yes, I can read on a e-reader and run. Actual books are more complicated). For longer runs, I have to take all of these.

Other ways to entertain oneself while running the hamster wheel are to do various types of workouts. Here are a few suggestions:

Hamster Wheel Speed work

Workout: Six/Sevens
Warm Up

1 Set: 90 seconds @ 6 percent grade and marathon pace
1-minute recovery @ flat jog
1 minute @ 7 percent grade and marathon pace
2-minute recovery @ flat jog
Do 6-10 sets.
CoolDown

 Workout: Faster, Faster
Warm up
1 Set: 400m @ easy run pace
400m @ 15K (tempo) pace
400m @ 3-5K race pace
Do 4 sets.
Cool Down

Workout: The Pyramid
Warm Up

Set 1: steady pace 1 minute each @ 4, 5 and 6 percent incline
2-3 minutes recovery @ flat jog

Set 2: steady pace 1 minute each @ 5, 6 and 7 percent incline
2-3 minutes recovery @ flat jog

Set 3: steady pace 1 minute each @ 6, 7 and 8 percent incline
2-3 minutes recovery @ flat jog

Set 4: steady pace 1 minute each @ 7, 6 and 5 percent incline
2-3 minutes recovery @ flat jog

Set 5: steady pace 1 minute each @ 6, 5 and 4 percent incline
2-3 minutes recovery @ flat jog
Cool down

Workout: The Lab Rat
Warm up

Stage 1: 4 minutes @ easy run pace
lower speed 2 mph for 2-minute recovery

Stage 2: 4 minutes @ stage 1 pace + 1 mph
lower speed 2 mph for 2-minute recovery

Stage 3: 4 minutes @ stage 2 pace + 1 mph
lower speed 2 mph for 2-minute recovery

Stage 4: 4 minutes @ stage 3 pace + 1 mph
lower speed 2 mph for 2-minute recovery

Stage 5: 4 minutes @ stage 4 pace + 1 mph
lower speed 2 mph for 2-minute recovery
Cool down

Tiggers Bounce, Should You?

I know Tigger is very adorable bouncing on his spring like tail down the trail of Hundred Acre Wood, but running is not supposed to be adorable and runners don’t bounce, right?

Common sense says that pushing off the ground with a higher stride angle, the angle of your ankle joint, (so you travel up more than forward), would equal less running economy, but there’s at least one study from 2013 that says more bounce is better. Don’t get excited my bouncy friends, there are lots of studies that show bounce is bad.

It’s a long-held belief that running with a bounce, or vertical oscillation, wastes energy because runners want to move forward not upward. Runners with more bounce tend to be heel strikers as well. If you think about it, it just makes sense. Pushing off so you move up rather than forward, when forward is the goal, is going to use more energy over time than moving forward without so much upward motion.

Of course, it’s not that easy. There are runners who bounce and land toward their forefoot. There are two types of bouncing runners: those who run with a forefoot strike and have an elastic bounce and those who run with a heel strike and have a muscular bounce.

An elastic bounce uses the stored energy of the Achilles tendon to power the runner and can reduce energy costs. A muscular bounce on the other hand, is caused by a long stride length, the breaking action of a heel strike followed by a hard toe-off from the forefoot. The problem with the muscular bounce is it places more stress on the musculature of the lower legs and feet.

Not only does this waste your energy, but the impact of hitting the ground flows through the body in the wrong way and can cause injuries such as shin splints, runners knee, lower back pain, and soft tissue vibration and injury.

Alright so you’re a bouncer, what now? If you are a beginning runner, the bounce may fade away as you build muscle and get into your running groove. If you’ve been at this running thing for a while and you still bounce, make sure your stride is short and your leg turnover is about 180 steps per minute. Pay attention to your arms as you run too. They should be at a 90-degree angle and swing mostly straight forward and back. Your elbow comes up to your hip and your wrist goes back to your hip. Keep your hands lose.

If you’re a heavy heel striker, try to adjust to landing on your feet when they are beneath you, so you’re landing on your mid-foot or forefoot. This will happen automatically if you have a slight forward lean, your shoulders are pulled back, and your head is up.

Tigger is very happy bouncing on the trails, but you’ll be happier and faster if you reduce the bounce.

 

Start and Restart

Over the last year, I’ve had to restart my running four times. It’s been very frustrating. I know everyone gets injured eventually. It’s just part of running. I skated by without injury for years and years and then it caught up to me, hamstring, rolling left ankle, and rolling my right ankle. I tried so hard to reframe and find the positive in restarting. Often, it was difficult to remain positive, especially, when you’re running better than ever and then you watch and feel all the gains you’ve made slip away.

I know many runners who have experienced injuries of all levels and never returned to running. Some picked up another sport and others just hit a wall in the area of physical fitness. There were days where I considered walking away (cause I sure as shit couldn’t run) and doing something else.

I thought maybe the universe was telling me it was time to switch to triathlons. I know, I know it’s like sacrilegious, but if I’m being totally honest that’s where I was at on some days.

How did I keep starting over? I told myself you started once and look what you achieved. You can start again. You’re not a quitter. You don’t quit during 100 milers and you’re not quitting now. I told myself it was the ultimate endurance event and I had to stay focused.

I also had a lot of support from family who reminded me I could get back to where I had been and reassured me that it would come back faster than gaining it in the first instance because the foundation was there.

This fourth time of restarting is for an amazing reason, being pregnant, but it’s still been difficult to come to terms with it and I’m sure part of that is the three other restarts and the future restart I know will happen.

Running as always is one of the best metaphors for life and teaches life lessons we often don’t learn the first go around or resist when presented in other areas. Restarting is another wonderful example of this.

I’ve restarted many times in my life, but my most epic restart was when I was 17. I had just overcome an addiction, returned to high school, recovered from a rape, and was raising my first son. This is a picture of me then. If you are needing some extra inspiration or just love stories of hope and determination, I’ve linked a short story published about my restart on Epoch Times. Here

Rising from the Dead

I really must apologize for my serious lack of posting over the last month or so. I had to take my own advice and let one of the juggling balls fall while I kept others in the air. As some of you know, I’m a full-time attorney by day and an ultrarunner by night (and day). I’m also the program director for the Homeless Youth Legal Clinic here in Utah. I sneak in writing when I can (I was hoping to publish another novel this year, but that doesn’t look like it will happen). Oh, and I’m a mom of two amazing sons and now a third little one is coming in May 2018!

Needless to say, between being pregnant and everything else, sleep became more necessary than writing my weekly blog posts. But the first trimester is behind us and the energy is supposed to come back soon…zzzzzz

Here is another confession. I chose not to run after I was five weeks pregnant. I’ve been hating on the elliptical and the stair master for the past eight weeks. However, I will be starting back running now that the first trimester is complete.

Running during pregnancy is a personal choice for each mother and child. And subsequent pregnancies can be treated very differently. It is completely possible for a healthy pregnant woman to run throughout her pregnancy. However, running is not a sport a woman should take up during pregnancy. Other, non-impact, activities are totally fine and should be pursued by pregnant women.

Here is why I chose to back off my running during the first trimester. The first trimester is the time with the highest risk of miscarriage. My chances of miscarriage started at 20% and slowly decreased during the first trimester. There is some research out there that says running can increase the chances of miscarriage during the first trimester.

A research study done with 90,000 pregnant women in Denmark, which found women who exercise more than seven hours a week during the first trimester increase their chances of miscarriage four times. And women who participate in running or ball sports during their first trimester increase their chances of miscarriage by four times.

I don’t think this study says women shouldn’t run during their first trimester. I think it says be smart and know your limits and know your body. I wasn’t willing to increase my risk of miscarriage since it was already higher than average because I’m over 35.

After the first trimester the risk of miscarriage is below 2% and all of the baby’s major systems are established and the placenta is fully functioning. Miscarriages happen for many reasons and most of them are out of the control of the mother-to-be.

Reverting to less impact forms of exercise for the eight weeks after we found out I was pregnant was a sacrifice I was willing to make to increase our chances of a healthy full-term pregnancy. Plus, I’ve come back from low impact training to full running many times and know it’s not as hard as grieving after a miscarriage and wondering if it could have been prevented.

Looking forward to running this new adventure!

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. Thirty minutes three to four days a week will make a major difference. Keep in mind the first goal is to make sure you keep running and strength will help prevent injuries.