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

Injury Prone or Under Prepared?

Recently, a runner told me he was injury prone because he ran his first marathon and got shin splints and then a week later his achilles tendon started hurting. He wanted to know what to do to address the shinsplints and what type of training plan is good for an injury prone runner.
Just because you end up with different injuries in close proximity does not mean you are an injury prone runner. You could just be a beginning runner or new to the distance or type of race you have chosen. If you are an experienced runner in both time as a runner and at the distance/type of running, and continue experience a reoccuring injury or multiple injuries in a row, you may be an injury prone runner. However, if you have not been running long, increased your distance, or changed from road to trail running (or the other way), you are probably under prepared.
Let’s address under prepared runners first. The runner may actually have prepared to the best of their ability and still have some aches and pains that extend beyond a few days after a race, such as shin splints or IT band issues. This is very normal especially for a runner who is taking on the marathon for the first time. Most beginning marathon training programs build miles up to, but not beyond, a single twenty mile long run. If you tack on 6.2 more miles in one go, you’re likely to have some aches and pains. As you gain more experience you can increase the number of 20 mile long runs and build your miles beyond the twenty mile mark. This will reduce the chances of aches and pains after a marathon.
Let’s look at what I mean by under prepared. Training for any race should include race specific training as much as possible. This means if the race includes hills (up and down), run hills in training. If it includes trails, run trails in training. If it includes roads, run roads in training. All of these will impact your body in a different way, so if you don’t train specifically for the challenges of your race, you are likely to be sore or even get injured.
Both experienced and new runners can neglect strength training or not realize how important it is in training. Runners do not need or want big muscles, but strengthening muscle supportive muscle groups can prevent injury and post race aches. Runners as a group tend to have weak hips and tight hamstrings. Weak hips contribute to a multitude of common running injuries such as shin splints, runners knee, and IT band syndrome. Your hips work to stabilize your legs as you run. They make sure your leg swings back and forth with the right alignment and speed. Include a hip strengthening workout three times a week in your training. It only takes a short amount of time and you don’t need a gym membership. You can search the internet or use the one above. Tight hamstrings reduce your range of motion for your leg swing and if you over stride you can strain or tear them.
What’s an injury prone runner? An experienced runner who struggles with chronic, reoccurring, or consecutive injuries on an ongoing basis. Runners who fit in this category can do a few things to increase the likelihood that they will be able to continue running and participate in races. First, either go see a physical therapist or google rehabilitation of whatever condition you have. Use the strength exercises four days a week. It can take three to four months to feel a difference, especially if it is a chronic issue. Even if it is a reoccurring issue and you don’t currently have symptoms or they go away, keep up the exercises for 4-6 months.
Second, use a foam roller at least every other day. Roll on the area for two minutes at a time and don’t neglect the surrounding muscles because if they are tight, it will pull on the injured area. Stress fractures are another matter. Do not roll on a stress fracture. Follow your doctors instructions for any stress fracture.
Third, change your training program to reduce impact. A normal training program has a rest week every fourth week, which means miles are reduced by 20-25% for the week. Injury prone runners should change the rest week to a pool running week, mini-trampoline running, or an elliptical (zero impact machine) week. If you look through my training programs you will find such a program.
If you are new to running or new to the distance you are running, take a hard look at whether that could be the cause of your injuries or if you are actually an injury prone runner. Using the injury prone training program will keep you running, but you may not make the same gains you would if you took the steps under the new/under prepared runner section.

Making the Leap into the Ultra-World: Body Functioning

making the leap 3

Your body can throw all kinds of kinks in an ultra. During your preparation for your race, consider everything that could go wrong while you are out there. Think about all the body functioning issues you or your friends have had during training or races. You need to think of things that have been issues in the past as well because things have a way of revisiting you at the worst times. Even things that have never been a problem for you in the past, but have for your friends can spring up.

Some experienced ultra-runners go out with minimal gear, not me. I have it all because it allows me to focus on the race and not worry about the what ifs or the oh shits.

Preparation is about expecting the unexpected. You’re already dealing with a lot when you are out on the course—managing your mood swings, food, hydration, and pain management. Dealing with something unexpected without the proper solution only adds to your load.

Body issues to plan for:

Blisters—have tape, band-aids, alcohol, mole skin, Neosporin and other such things. All of this can be used for cuts and scrapes if you fall as well.

Diarrhea—have anti-diarrhea medication or preventative measures.  If you don’t like medication while running a table spoon of apple cider vinegar in 6-8 oz of water can help. I’ve also heard Turmeric can help as well. Have extra shorts and undies available. Carry wet wipes with you.

Indigestion, nausea, and vomitting—have ginger in some form: chews, crystalized, or ale. Peppermint is another one you can use. There are of course medications as well. Keep in mind stomach issues can be caused by electrolytes being out of balance which is an easy fix. Just ingest more electrolytes and wait (don’t stop moving). Your stomach cannot absorb water without electrolytes, which means both water and food just sit there and make you uncomfortable. Another, more extreme/distasteful, solution is to make yourself vomit and start over.

Heat exhaustion/stroke and sunburns—keep your skin covered and sun block on. Ziploc bags of ice under your hat, in your sports bra, and shoved down sleeves will help you stay cool. Ice rolled up in a bandana around your neck is a good option. Dunk your hat and shirt in rivers or ice water. Move side to side along the trail to remain in the shade when possible. Hydrate and watch your electrolytes. You may have to slow your pace. The faster you run the higher you drive your body temperature. Add temperatures of 90-100 degrees and it could be a very dangerous situation.

Hypothermia—Make sure you have what you need to stay warm and don’t assume you can’t get hypothermia when the temperatures aren’t “that low.” Hypothermia happens when your body temperature drops too low. If you are running in temperatures close to 100 during the day and then temperatures drop to low 50s or 60s at night, you could get into trouble. Keep extra clothes on hand so you can add layers and change wet clothes. If your base layer gets wet from sweat, you should change clothes before the temperatures drop at night.

Sore knotted muscles—this is just par for the course, but there are some things you can do about it or at least try. Massage relieves things for short time, which can get you moving again. Your crew can use their hands or a massage tool like the stick. You can pack along a foam roller in your crew vehicle too. Tiger balm and icy hot can be helpful. I never recommend medication. There have been studies done that say it’s not helpful. If it is helpful, masking pain can prevent you from feeling a serious injury that could lay you up for months if you continue to run on it. Plus, it can cause stomach upset and worse heart rate increases, blood pressure changes, and kidney damage.

Twisted ankle or knee—braces and athletic and/or kensio tape. Over the years I’ve collected various braces for knees and ankles. I put these in my crew vehicle, just in case. If you catch an old/new injury early enough a brace may get you through the race without causing major damage to the tissues requiring tons of time off. This is always a balance between finishing and harm.

Your crew and pacers should know what symptoms to watch for with these ailments and how to treat various things. There is a chart with this information on my Ultra Crew page above.

For lists of items I carry in my medical and blister kits, see my page on gear lists above.


Pool Running?


I’ve posted on pool running before, but I thought I would hit it again during the peak racing and training season for those of us in the northern hemisphere.

What is pool running?

It’s exactly what it sounds like, running in a swimming pool. Many pools have a floatation belt you can use while you are there. They keep them around for their water aerobics classes. Clip the floatation belt around your waist and cinch it up as tight as you can. You don’t want it to slid up while you are running.

Once you’re clipped in, get into the water. You need to be deep enough so your feet do not touch the bottom of the pool. Now start to run. You should not move very much despite how fast you move your arms and legs. If you are moving quiet quickly (really it is still slow compared to running), you are leaning forward too much. I run back and forth in one lane, my head bobbing just above the surface of the water.

Pool running is pretty boring so take a friend, play some type of mental game, have a list of problems you want to think out, or get some water proof earbuds. Most pools are either 25 yards or 25 meters. You can’t run for a particular distance because you are moving so little, but you can run for time.

In order to keep things interesting, do intervals or get a bungee cord or other elastic to pull against as you run. Race the swimmers, you will lose badly, but at least it’s something to do.

If it is so insufferably boring why would anyone want to run in the pool?

Pool running is the BEST way to give your body a rest from the impact of running while maintaining your running specific fitness. Now, with that, you can’t get into the pool and run leisurely. You need to break a sweat and that requires some hard work when you’re in the pool.

Pool running is excellent if you have an injury like a stress fracture or twisted ankle. Anything that requires you to take time off because of the impact of running. It is also the perfect way to recover from a race. It gives your muscles a well deserved break. Running in the pool is great for injury prone runners because they can maintain fitness while preventing an injury.

Typical training plan structure has runners taking what we call a rest/recovery week. So you build miles by 10% for three weeks and then reduce miles by 20% for a week to allow your body to heal those micro tears and become stronger. This reduces your risk of injury and overtraining. By running your rest/recovery week in the pool, you are adding another level of protection against injury while allowing your body to become stronger.

What in the Hell Happened?

injured runner

Many times when we get injured and have to take time off from running, we spend hours and days trying to figure out how we got injured in the first place. Of course, sometimes you know exactly what caused your injury because you fell, twisted wrong, or something such as that happened.

But for many runners, we have no real idea what the hell happened. All we know is something hurts and we need to take time off or that something is going to get worse. We are left with little clues which we must piece together to figure out the most likely cause to our injury.

If we don’t figure it out, we run the risk of causing the same injury down the road. So while we sit and rehab ourselves, we ask many questions and change many things to try to figure it out. Was it my shoes? Was it not stretching? Should I do a warm up? Do I need to add strength training or am I doing too much? Maybe, it wasn’t running at all, but the cross training I’ve been doing? Am I overtraining? Did I increase my miles too quickly? I am doing too much speed or hill training? Do I need an insole?

We want to get back to running so badly that we throw everything we know at the injury including but not limited to pain medication, ice, foam rolling, stretching, new shoes, insoles, more or less cross training, more or less strength training, reduction in miles, softer surfaces, and compression clothing.

All of these are great and one or a combination of them will likely help you get back to running sooner rather than later (unless it’s a stress fracture or something equally as serious). However, by trying so many things at the same time we actually hinder our ability to figure out what caused it in the first place and which treatment actually helped.

Why do we care if we are back running? Because you don’t want it to happen again.

If you start all of these things, you’re unlikely to maintain all of them or any of them for any extended amount of time (more than 3-4 weeks). As soon as you feel better, you are going to stop. This places you at a pretty high risk of re-injury within the next six months or so.

So what should we do?

Start with RICE, Rest Ice, Compression, and Elevation.

Then ask yourself if you changed anything in your routine recently. If you have, start there. If you increased your miles, back off them and build more slowly. If you went with a new type of shoe, switch back. If you added strength training, try reducing the weight and/or repetitions.

If you haven’t changed anything, it’s a little trickier. Many strains are caused by an imbalance in muscle strength or the opposing muscles are tighter, possibly both. Adding in light strength and foam rolling to balance out the muscles and loosen them up is the best place to start.

Use light weights or body weight with 10-15 repetitions and make sure you do both sides. The problem is unlikely to be your shoes or the surface that you run on, unless you have significantly increased your miles and in that case, decrease your miles and build more slowly.

And sometimes, we are just not goigt to know what in the hell happened.

Foam Roller vs. Stretching

foam roller

One of my friends called me a few days after running a marathon and asked, “I was in tears for the last few miles of the race because my IT Bands were hurting so badly. Have you ever had IT band issues?”

“Yes, I have. I ran a mountain marathon with about 9,000 feet of descending and had to walk down the last few hills backward because it was too painful to go forward and it felt like my knee would collapse.”

“What did you do about it?”

“Foam roller.”

The foam roller is my go to remedy for most running aches and pains especially ITband and pulled or  tight muscles. I recommend getting the foam roller that is actually not foam, but a hollow plastic tube 18 inches long (45cm) and five inches (12.5 cm) in diameter with contoured cushioning around it (orange one below).  You can use actual hard foam with the same dimensions (blue below); it just doesn’t last as long.

actual foam rollercontoured roller

I’ll use the IT band as an example since that’s where we started, but the process is the same for any muscle in the body.

Rolling is best done on a hard surface. For the IT Band you lay on the foam roller on the outside of your leg beginning at the hip. Support yourself with the arm on the same side. Slowly roll down to your knee and back again. You must go slow enough that you catch any knots. When you find a knot, a particularly sore spot or and actual bump, stop for approximately 30 seconds or until the knot releases.

You may have to start with supporting yourself with the other leg in front of your body if the amount of pressure without it causes too much pain or your arm is not strong enough to hold you up (as shown above). As much body weight as you can handle should be on the foam roller.

With acute IT Band pain, you should be rolling twice a day for ten to fifteen minutes each time. It will take a few days to a week for you to be able to return to running. When you are able to return to running don’t stop rolling just reduce it to once a day.

Ideally, you will incorporate foam rolling into your daily routine rolling the IT band, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. This will keep the muscles supple and prevent tightening and pain. You can do all four area’s in ten to fifteen minutes if there are no knots.

different positions on foam roller

What about stretching?

Stretching and rolling do two different things. If you are only going to do one or the other, I recommend foam rolling over stretching (I know time is limited). Stretching lengthens muscles, which is good and helpful for tight muscles. I generally recommend both with an injury.

Foam rolling breaks up scar tissue and releases knots. Stretching does not do this, which is why I recommend rolling over stretching. Scar tissue prevents the muscles and tendons from being elastic and sliding smoothly past one another. Both cause pain. Knots are a nasty business. They cause soft tissues to pull toward the knot, usually causing pain somewhere farther down or up from the knot. Knots can change your stride and the way your foot contacts the ground. Ultimately, knots can lead to other problems and injuries.

So love to hate your foam roller. It can be painful, but it is a good kind of pain that will keep you running.