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.

Pace vs. Cadence

track run

“If you take 180 steps a minute you must be going really fast!”

Not true. You can take 180 steps per minute and maintain a 13 minute mile if you want. Cadence has more to do with stride length, push off, and turn over than the pace.

The benefit of having a high cadence is that it reduces the impact forces that reverberate through your body when your foot hits the ground. Reducing the impact forces on your body reduces your risk of injury including shin splints, runner’s knee, and ITband issues.

Like with everything in running, if you want to increase your cadence you have to do so slowly. In order to count your cadence, count each time one foot hits the ground for thirty seconds and then multiply by four.

Not everyone should run at the 180 cadence, you have to find what is optimal for you.

What you are looking for is a cadence that places your foot beneath you as you contact the ground. Your knee is slightly bent. Your ankle, knee, and hip act like a spring. If your stride length is too long, rather than landing on a spring, you are landing on a straight stick.

Try it. Take a spring and push it on to the ground, feel the gentle impact. Now, take a straight stick and push it into the ground, pound it on the ground. Can you feel the vibration go through the stick? That’s what you are doing to your body when you land with your foot too far in front of you, not pleasant.

A higher cadence, keeps your feet below you. You can still maintain a slower pace even with a high cadence. Go to a track and try it out. Maintain your pace and shorten your stride length. Your feet should stay closer to the ground because you are not pushing off as hard. Now increase your pace, you will notice you push off harder, you have more air time, and your stride lengthens.


Running Illness

running is my oxygen

I awoke to three inches of snow Sunday morning, and the beginning of a head cold. By the end of the day I had lost my voice, couldn’t breathe through my nose, and felt like someone rubbed sandpaper along my tonsils.

I still went for a run.

And I still put in an hour and a half on my bike.

It’s a sickness of a different variety.

Cold temperatures bring an increase of illness around the world. Running while ill can be helpful or hurtful depending on the symptoms and the intensity of your runs.

Congestion, cough, runny nose, sore throat, headache, fever, diarrhea, and vomiting.

Obviously running with some of these symptoms would be unpleasant to say the least, not only for you but for others around you. Running with a fever is dangerous because the fever already increases your body temperature, and running will increase it even more.

What about the other symptoms? Running can help relieve congestion, which can then help with the related cough and sore throat. Running (exercise in general) can decrease the length of illness and prevent it. Runners, on average, take in more fluids than people who don’t exercise or run. The increase in fluids flushes your system of toxins through increased urination and sweat.

Exercising also sends antibodies and white blood cells through the body more quickly allowing you to detect illness sooner and to fight it off more effectively. The increase in body temperature caused by running or exercising, so long as you don’t have a fever, slows the growth of bacteria.

Physical and emotional stress causes the body to release stress hormones. These hormones reduce the effectiveness of the immune system. Avoid intense workouts, such as speed training or hill climbs while ill. These types of workouts place stress on the body and can lengthen the duration of illness or make symptoms more severe.

Regular running or other types of aerobic exercise will improve your immune system functioning boosting your body’s ability to prevent and fights illness.