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. 

 

Running in Sand

Running through sand is a great way to strengthen your feet, ankles and other stabilizing tendons and ligaments. If you have a race coming up with significant sections of sand, be prepared. Sand is rough on tendons who go in without experience and if the sand trap is early in the race, you could be in a world of hurt.

The other issue with sand is that it gets into your shoes and your socks. I’ve dumped sandboxes out of my shoes when running in southern Utah. A toe box full of sand not only cramps your feet, but it causes blisters and weighs you down. You have two options; keep it out or get it out.

The most effective option is to go barefoot. However, this comes with it’s own set of risks, such as cutting or burning your feet. If you’re choosing this option make sure you’re feet are strong enough for barefoot running and that your Achilles tendon is in good shape. Shoes limit the amount the Achilles stretches, so if you wear shoes all the time and then suddenly run barefoot, you’re likely to strain or tear your Achilles. Slowly build up to the distance you’ll be running barefoot.

To keep sand out of your shoes you can put your feet in plastic grocery sacks or bread bags before putting them in your shoes. This will keep the sand off your feet and out of your socks. You can also put it over your entire shoe, but it may just rip or cause your shoe to slip.

Getting it out of your shoe is a challenge, as anyone knows who has played on the beach and gone home. You will find sand in your car and every where in your house for at least a week.  You’re unlikely to be able to get all of the sand out. Dump your shoe and beat it on a rock or the ground. Same thing with your socks. Best if you can pack extra socks and just pull those on. This will require a lot of socks if you have repeated sand sections. With your socks and shoes off, wash your feet.

Running barefoot in sand is an excellent way to reduce your calluses, but a race is not the time to take sandpaper to your feet, so make sure you get between each toe. If, later in the race, you feel sand in your shoe, you’re better off taking the time to clean out your shoe than developing a blister(s).

When you begin training on sand, run on the wet stuff first. It’s more firm and wont tax your stabilizing tendons and muscles as much, thus giving them time to adjust to the increased load. Running on sand takes more propulsion which translates into a slower pace.

Chose a pair of shoes that are dedicated to sand running and don’t take them in the house!

 

Running Preggers: Pelvic floor

There are three muscles that take the brunt of the stress from pregnancy: the uterus (which is a group of muscles), the rectus abdominis (six pack), and the pelvic floor. It takes the uterus approximately 6-8 weeks to return to it’s normal pre-pregnancy size after the baby is born. We addressed the rectus abdominis in my last post regarding Diastasis Recti.

The pelvic floor muscles are like a sling or hammock that attaches to your pelvic bone and your tail bone. Having a week pelvic floor is not an uncommon thing even in those who have never been pregnant. In fact, men can have problems with their pelvic floor.

Your pelvic floor holds in your uterus, bladder and bowl. Only bladder and bowl in men obviously. Having a strong pelvic floor is important for both pregnant and non-pregnant people. The main symptom of a weak pelvic floor is incontinence or urine leaking, especially, when you cough, sneeze, laugh or during running. You can also have feces leak, but that’s less common. Because this is so common among women, many think it’s normal, but it’s not.

An even more serious issue than leakage is prolapse, which is when one of your organs falls down into your vagina. prolapse has to be corrected with surgery.

Having a strong pelvic floor during pregnancy is obviously important because it holds your uterus inside your pelvis. You should begin doing pelvic floor exercises as soon as you know you are pregnant. In fact, everyone should do them, especially, runners because we can stress our pelvic floor every time we run.

So what are some pelvic floor exercises? First you have to be able to isolate those muscles. The best way to figure out if you are flexing the pelvic floor is to stop the flow of urine. Kegel exercises are the most recommended pelvic floor exercise. A kegel is done by flexing the pelvic floor. Men identify the pelvic floor and do kegels in the same way as women. If you can’t feel your pelvic floor (not unusual after childbirth), use visualization.

You should be doing kegels three times a day, at least. You want to do ten repetitions of two types. First, pull your pelvic floor up and hold for ten seconds, then release for ten seconds. You can shorten the time between each as you get stronger. The second is to flex and release 2 seconds up and 2 seconds relaxed.

Other exercises that work your pelvic floor are:

  1. bridge
  2. clams
  3. hover: sit on your heels with your knees apart rise up and pull your pelvic floor up.
  4. split squats
  5. wall sits
  6. squats.
  7. elevator: pull your pelvic floor up halfway and hold it for 3-5 seconds and then pull it in as much as you can. Release in the same way.

Begin with ten repetitions and two sets. Do these three to four times a week.

When doing pelvic floor exercises it’s important to coordinate with your diaphragm and your rectus abdominus. You should be using your diaphragm to breathe. To make sure you are, lay on your back and place one hand right at the bottom of your ribs and the other hand on your chest. As you inhale it should begin in the bottom of your ribs not in your chest.

You should be relaxing your pelvic floor with each inhalation and contracting your pelvic floor with each exhalation.

You can begin doing kegels a few days after your child being born. If you have stitches you may have to wait a little longer if they cause any pain.

Pelvic floor exercises should be done in a variety of positions including laying down, sitting and standing.

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.

Top Five Mistakes of a First Time Ultrarunner

If you’re new to ultrarunning and have looked into planning for your first ultrarace, you’ll notice how overwhelming it can become pretty quickly. There is a lot of information out there (including on this blog) and sifting through it can become a full time job. Ultrarunners love to share their knowledge and expertise with others, especially those just getting into the sport.

Watching a new ultrarunner cross their first finish line is such a treat. The emotions that dance across their face and those of their loved ones waiting for them is truly inspirational. Out of my love for the newbies, here are my top five mistakes I see first time ultrarunners make.

Forgetting the Mental Training.

Running an ultra is not just a major physical effort. It’s a mental endurance event too, especially as you reach the 100 mile distance and beyond. In marathon running, runners talk about hitting the wall. Well, in an ultra there are lots of walls and they are usually followed by a dark pit of despair and then the pain cave. Leaving out the mental training can destroy your race. There are many runners who were physically fine to continue an event, but chose to drop because they had fallen a part mentally due to the exhaustion and concept of traveling 100 miles by foot all at one time.

You have to be ready to deal with your self defeating thoughts because they will come at some point during the race and they may visit more than once. Being prepared with positive affirmations, memories of when you overcame challenges before, and knowing that it’s a normal part of the ultra-experience makes a huge difference.

Ignoring Small Problems

When you’re running 50 or 100 miles (or more), things go wrong. Sometimes it’s one or two things, and some times it’s everything. They can be big things or they can be small things. The one thing you can’t do is ignore what you believe to be small because in 24-36 hours and over 100 miles, small becomes very very big.

If your shoelaces become a little loose, tighten them as soon as possible to prevent your foot from sliding back and forth or say hello to blisters. Tiny rock in your shoe-stop and get it out ASAP. Hot spot? yeah, take care of that right away. Some piece of clothing not quiet in the right place? fix it, lube it, or suffer in ten miles.

Fixing little problems as soon as possible is better than taking a long time or dropping from a race because you thought you could ignore it.

Dehydration/Electrolyte Imbalance

Finding the right balance for your body can be a challenge and you’re not always going to get it right.  Being able to identify dehydration and an electrolyte imbalance in your body is something both you and your crew should be able to do quickly. Knowing how to bring yourself close to equilibrium is critical. You’ll have plenty of opportunities during your training to figure this out, so pay attention an keep a log of what you consumed and what the environmental conditions were like. Dehydration or an electrolyte imbalance can cause nausea, vomiting, head aches, confusion, and much more.

Pace

Going out too fast and not walking when you know you should be walking under the circumstances are both situations which can end your race. Standing at a starting line is exciting and your all nerves. You just want to let it rip and get ahead of all these people who are going so mind mindbogglingly slow. Stop and think, why are they going slower? oh because they have 100 miles of mountains to get through on their own two feet. Keep it chilly at the beginning of a race, you can pick things up later if you have extra fuel in the tank. If you see people speed by you, keep calm and remember it’s a long race and a lot can happen.

The other issue with pace is you have to adjust to your circumstances. A hill that is very run-able at mile 15 may not be run-able at mile 55. Another situation is a run-able section in 65 degrees Fahrenheit can become not run-able in 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Pay attention to other runners especially if you find out they’ve run the race many times before and have a similar finish goal as you. I don’t mean you should glue yourself to them. Just think about what they are doing and ask yourself if it’s something you should consider.

Giving Up Too Early

Dropping out of an ultrarace is nothing to be ashamed of and nearly all ultrarunners make that choice for a variety of reasons at some point in their running career. But for every good reason to drop out, there is a runner who gave up too soon. In preparing for an event, you need to come up with reasons for you to stop such as major injury, repeated vomiting for more than an hour, or vomiting and diarrhea. Right below that should be all the things you should try to fix the problem before you actually turn over race number.

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.