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.

Training not Where You Wanted it to Be?

Life can get in the way of the best laid plans. Even when running is LIFE, the other pieces can interfere and put us a week out from race day with inadequate training and a mindset lacking in enthusiasm for the event ahead of us.

What do you do when your training just hasn’t been what you wanted it to be? Maybe it has been a lot less than you wanted it to be, to the point where you’re questioning your ability to finish the race? You have three options to choose from.

First, you can DNS (did not start) and cut your losses with that (most races won’t let you transfer your registration to another runner or carry it over to the next year). Second, you can go out hard pretending that your training was amazing and nothing can stop you. Third, you can show up to the start and see what the day brings with only an expectation to enjoy yourself.

The second option is likely to get you injured, which will only compound any frustration you feel about the situation. The first, I can understand if you’re coming back from an injury, which has killed your training and you really don’t want to risk causing more injury or compromising the healing process.

The third is the option I encourage most runners to take. You paid for the race after all and I think you will surprise yourself if you hold to a few suggestions and trust in your running foundation.

It’s important that you stay positive about the event and situation as much as possible-Hey at least you’re able to be out there. Make sure you are encouraging other runners as you come in contact with them along the course. Not only will your encouraging words impact them, they will impact you because, you hear them as well.

Summon your inner confidence. You’re a strong runner who has done hard things before. You finished races before. You know where to slow down and where to pick up the pace. You know how to fuel and hydrate. You know how to utilize your crew and pacers to help you reach the finish line. You’ve dealt with the “pain and suffering” of running before and can do it again.

Don’t discount consistency. If you’ve been able to maintain consistency in your training schedule but not the miles remember that consistency goes a long long way when it comes to running. Yeah, sure you wish you could have gotten in more long runs and more time on the trails, but at least you ran every day you had scheduled to be a run day even if it was only for an hour. Consistency keeps your muscles and tendons strong. It also keeps your mental game strong.

Trust your foundation. If you’ve been running for years and this is just one of many races you’ve done trust your body. You have the running foundation to push through a race even on less than the best training.

Get out to the starting line and assess your body’s condition as you go. You don’t want to get injured, but don’t miss a chance to play on the trails and show yourself you can do things even when they don’t turn out just the way you had planned.

Self-Supported Long Run

Why would you do a self supported long run? why not? Planning out a route and setting everything up is great practice for running any ultra. It’s also good training if there isn’t a local “shorter” ultra race you can throw in your schedule before your big event.

Let me first clarify what I mean by self supported. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to carry all the stuff you’ll need for the entire distance you are running. It just means you’re the one setting everything up. You can have drop bags or meet up with a supportive friend/loved one to get additional items or trade out gear.

There are two main goals for doing this type of run. First, to get a good taste of where you are at in your training and what you  need to work on. Second, to get a good idea of how to pack drop bags and what you’ll need at particular places during a run.

The distance of the run depends on the distance of you’re main event. If you’re running a 100, consider putting together something between 40-50 miles. Yes, you’ll have to take a few days off afterward to recover, but you’ll be doing this two months before race day so you’ve got some time. If you’re running a 50 miler, shoot for 30 miles.

If you’ll be running at night during your race, setting this up as a night time run or an early evening (finish in the middle of the night) run is going to help you get more comfortable with the night portion. It’s also helpful if you don’t just sit around or sleep all day before you do this run. If you work, go to work. If you need to do grocery shopping, do it. This will give you a good sense of running tired.

If you’re running during the night, I would encourage you to find someone to go with you to keep you company and for safety reasons. Also make sure you are familiar with the route you’re taking since it wont be marked like it would be in a race.

Figure out your route

Try to find something that is similar to what you’ll be running in your race. Maybe not as difficult, but similar terrain wise. Don’t choose a road route, if you’re gearing up for a single track trail race, unless you don’t have any other choices. Find a route where you can meet someone once or twice to refill your supplies. Even if you’re not meeting up with anyone, make sure someone knows when you’re leaving, the route your taking, and the time you expect to be finished (just in case).

You might be able to place drop bags along the route or just pack them and give them to your support crew to bring with them and then only use the supplies out of the bag for that stop (unless its injury related, of course). This will help you know what to pack for a real event.

Get creative and have fun with your very own ultra event.

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.