Does running have to hurt?

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It’s nearly the anniversary of when I fractured my foot and I’m thanking my lucky stars that I took the time and had the discipline to rehab my foot properly so I could run this past season.

Non-runners feel entitled to comment on whether or not running is healthy. Some of the frequent comments/questions I get when people find out I’m a distance runner are, “Isn’t that bad for your knees?” “Running that far can’t be good for you.” “Running long distance is bad for your heart. People have had heart attacks at the end of races.” “If you keep running you’re going to get hurt.”

I’m guessing they get this idea that runners get injured all the time from the research which says 45% of runners get injured each year. Part of the problem with that number is it doesn’t define injured. Whenever we participate in a sport on an ongoing basis, even high school and college level athletes, we have aches and pains, which are a result of our participation in physical activities.

But what does injury actually mean? I think this is subjective to a certain extent. Runners, ultrarunners in particular, tend to push themselves beyond aches and pains. It’s what we do to get to a finish line of a 100 mile race. If we stopped when it hurt, most of us would never finish. Even when we do have more than a simple ache or pain we continue our training and continue to increase our miles.

Is this the wrong thing to do? Now I’m no doctor, so you should really talk with them over me, but I don’t think running through an injury is always a bad thing. There are some injuries where it is better to stay active and by that I mean reduce you miles and take it easy for a few weeks. There are other injuries where it is best for you to take time off running and find some type of cross training to do. I’ve always drawn the line as a fracture or more than mild soft tissue injuries.

Sometimes it can feel like we are always dealing with some type of injury or pain, which doesn’t go away when we stop running or take a day of rest. Running is not easy and runners are a tough bunch, aches and pains and even actual injuries are going to happen to all of us at some point in our running career. We need to know before hand, where our line is in the sand and how to tell the difference between an actual injury and just an ache that can be worked through.

Acute stabbing pain is not good. You should take a day off and if it continues for more than 2-3 days see a doctor. Centralized, one particular spot, pain is also a bad sign, if it continues for more than 2-3 days, have it checked out.

Swelling, redness, bruising means ice, rest, compression, and elevation for a few days. Strained muscles and tendons, means you should warm up before running hard and watch your form. Also, look into some type of strength routine for your hips. Weak hips cause a whole host of issues.

As we head into the colder months here in the western US, our race season is coming to a close and many runners reduce their miles for the winter to rebuild their muscles and give their body much deserved rest from the hard work it has put in for the winter.

Winter or off season months are the best time to add in preventative routines to your training, such as strength and stretching.

Listen to your body, think about what it’s telling you, and do what it says most of the time.

Feeling Lucky

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Every once in awhile, it occurs to me how lucky I am and how I take many things for granted. I had this very thing happen during my run last Thursday.  I was out on a trial I had only been on one other time. It’s very beautiful with aspens trees standing right up against the trail edge, and as you climb higher this changes to a pine forest. The temperatures dropped with each step up toward the saddle of Lambs Canyon Pass. I watched the sun rise from behind the mountains surrounding me. I heard the rustle of birds, squirrels, and all manner of other small creatures waking up.

Whenever I realize how lucky I am to have the opportunity to be out on the trial, I stop and just breathe it all in and try to appreciate it. I think about everything that has to happen and come together to allow me to be out there such as time, where you live, financial ability, freedom, work schedule, family support, and obviously health.

Injuries make us stop and think about how much we do have as runners. It’s unfortunate that, in many aspects of life, we forget what we have until it is gone. As a western society, I think we tend to focus on the negative things in our lives. With our focus on the things which are going wrong or badly in our lives, we lose sight of what is going well and how much we have.

In the United States, there are still many people who live way below the poverty line and lack the ability to meet their own basic needs. But there are also many who are able to do so and those who are able to have enough financial means to provide for their wants and desires as well.

It’s important to remember and be grateful for how much we have compared to those who have so little in our own community and worldwide. This change in perspective will make you more content in your daily life. We all have struggles and obstacles we face at various stages in our lives and because of our choices. Dealing with stressors is easier when you see the things that are positive in your life.

Life gets busy for all of us and we lose sight of the positive things in our lives, but once things slow down stop and remember the beauty in your life. Surround yourself  with small reminders of the positive things in or to slow down and see them.

Next time you are out there with your feet floating over the trail or pavement, take thirty seconds, breathe in the beauty that surrounds you, and call to mind all that is positive in your life.

Too much of a good thing?

Is there a point where the number of miles you run begins to hurt your performance? Some say yes. The goal is to reach race day healthy and uninjured. There is a point for every runner where you have reached your potential and adding miles only places you at risk for injury.

How many miles you run depends on a lot of things (This should be the standard answer to any running question) and everyone is different (ditto). Amount of sleep, life schedule, how long you’ve been training, and injury disposition are just a few.

Here are some basic rules to keep in mind as you increase your miles:

  1. You need to run higher miles for longer races. This seems to make sense since your body needs to be accustomed to running the distance you are going to be racing.
  2. If you want to finish strong and hit higher performance goals, you need to run more miles. If you just want to finish a race, then your miles can stay lower.
  3. Quality over quantity. If you are doing quality runs (speed work, long runs, hill climbs, and the like), you should reduce your miles because of the added stress the more quality runs put on it.
  4. Another point on quality. If you want to hit a particular pace during a race, you need to train at that pace.
  5. 10% golden rule. Increase your miles slowly to allow your body to adapt to the stress of the added miles. Experts agree that increasing by 10% a week is safe and effective.
  6. Re-read the bold sentence in paragraph one (I’ll put it here just in case you don’t want to scroll up. The goal is to reach race day healthy and uninjured).

Here are some general guidelines:

5K: Beginner 10-20 miles a week; mortal 20-25 miles per week; Elite 70-80 miles per week.

10k: Beginner 15-25 miles a week; mortal 25-30 miles per week; Elite 80-100 miles per week.

Half Marathon: Beginner 20-30 miles per week; mortal 30-40 miles per week; Elite 100-110 miles per week.

Marathon: Beginner 30-40 miles per week; mortal 30-50 miles per week; Elite 100-140 miles per week.

Ultramarathon: Beginner 55-65 miles per week; mortal 60-75 miles per week; Elite 120-150 miles per week.

Now that we have an idea about how many miles, we need to know how frequently. Most coaches and trainers recommend running four days a week and taking one complete rest day every week or one every two weeks. Elite runners are running twice a day on run days to get their miles in. They run a high quality run in the morning and then easier miles in the evening.

Most marathon and under plans schedule a run three days during the week and then a long run on the weekend. This format lets you do a quality run in the middle of two easy runs during the week. Then it gives you a day off before your long weekend run and a day off after your long run to recover. You can choose to add in strength training or some type of cross training on one or two of your non run days which can help you become a more balanced runner.too much of a good thing

What’s Your Fear?

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Sometimes our fears can hold us back from doing the things we enjoy or at least enjoying them to the fullest. I have a terrible fear of heights and so far it has not limited my ability to finish a race. It has, however, impacted my enjoyment of a few races, training runs, and hikes. In fact, I was recently hiking Angel’s Landing in Zions National Park and it ended the hike prematurely.

Maybe you like your fear and believe it is healthy. If that’s you, you can probably skip this post, unless you have a friend who has a fear barring their progress. Then maybe there is something here to help them.

Some fears are easier to deal with than others. The more intense the fear is, the longer it is going to take to overcome. The roots of the fear don’t really matter when it comes down to dealing with them. Sometimes we have no idea where they came from and sometimes we know exactly why we developed a fear of a situation.

The process for overcoming a particular fear of this nature is pretty much the same. Some fears which may impact your ability to continue in a race or at a minimum your enjoyment of the race are: heights, water, the dark, and animals/insects.

Slow exposure at low intensity is essential to overcoming most fears. In order for me to overcome my fear of heights, I have to expose myself to situations which trigger my fear. I don’t want to start with something that is going to make the fear worse or disabling. I just want to trigger it enough to make the situation challenging. Even a small challenge is a great place to start. I have done this and my fear has reduced in many situations. Shear drops still scare the crap out of me causing vertigo and shaking.

You can use this same strategy with fear of water and the dark. If it is animals and insects think about starting with step two. The reason I say that is, because some animals and insects are actually dangerous to be exposed to. If you have a debilitating fear of bears or black widows you don’t go out and snuggle up to them.

Step two is knowledge. For animals and insects, find out which are in the area where you live and run. Educate yourself on how to tell if they are in the area and what to do if you see one. Take precautions such as running in a group, wearing a bear bell, or carrying some pepper spray (research which animals this is effective on.

Knowledge as it relates to heights, water, and the dark is all about experiences. The more experiences you have the more confident you are going to become in dealing with scary situations. One thing I tell myself is that the trail that scares me is just as wide as any other trial I run on and I don’t fall and fly into the bushes or trees. I fall right on the trial.

I identified two other fears which can hold you back, but are different in nature. First is injury and second is failure. None of us want to get injured, but we do. All we can do is take precautions to prevent injury, listen to our bodies, and draw upon our experiences and training.

Fear of failure holds people back from taking risks and trying new things. Everyone fails at something. It sucks but we turn it into a lesson as much as we can. Even if the only lesson is we have more work to do before we make a second attempt.

Talking about our fears with others, helps us realize we are not the only ones who have dealt with these situations. Others can also offer you support and suggestions about how to face your fears.

Feel the fear, and do it anyway.

Overwhelmed by Training?

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As a beginning runner it can be overwhelming when you stare down at your first training program regardless of the distance you are training for.

When you are returning to running after an extended break, you have an advantage over those who are just getting into the sport. You at least know what you are getting into, and you know what it takes to get to where you were before your break.

Even with this knowledge, and sometimes because of this, training can be overwhelming.

A friend of mine recently contacted me about getting back into running after having a baby. She was running consistently prior to getting pregnant and the birth of her daughter. But, having a little one who needs you much of the time makes running or exercising in any way more difficult.

Her goal is to run a 50 miler one year from now. This is an entirely achievable goal. It will take the entire year for her to get there with the lowest risk for an injury. She will have to follow the golden rules of running: 1. never increase your weekly miles by more than 10% and 2. Reduce your miles by 20% every fourth week to allow your body to recover and gain strength.

How do you get going without feeling like you will never reach your goal?

Use a calendar and track your progress. Small progress and improvements, are still improvements. Breaking your training down into smaller bites such as week by week, makes it seem more manageable.

If you post your training program where you can see it everyday (my recommendation to stay motivated and accountable) don’t post the entire thing. Just hang up one or two weeks and then check off each day as you knock them out.

Beginning runners should start with a shorter distance such as a 5k or 10k. Completing shorter distances with more manageable training programs builds confidence in your ability. It is also easier to find 5k and 10k races. Participating in events every three months helps keep you motivated and training.

A couch to 5k training program can be anywhere from eight to twelve weeks depending on your fitness level when you start. It’s easy to overestimate our ability to run, so start easier than you think and then increase the difficulty and distance once you have a better understanding of what your body is able to do.

The other thing I recommend to new or returning runners be gentle with yourself. You’re going to have set backs, even elite runners have bad days. We are more harsh with ourselves than anyone else is.

Keep things small, set goals, track progress, and be gentle with yourself.

Rest

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Have you ever sleep a good eight hours only to get up more exhausted than when you went to bed? We all have. Just because you have gone to sleep does not mean that you have rested. There are four types of rest: Physical, sensory, emotional, and mental rest.

Everyone is familiar with physical rest. You lie down and don’t move your body more than necessary to remain comfortable. The importance of physical rest is pounded into every runners head. It’s essential to making gains in strength and speed. Without it, our bodies break down and we get injured. Even if you are getting eight or nine hours of sleep a night, it may not be enough to keep you going at a high level of training. Take a look at the other types of rest.

Sensory rest is when you rest your senses. Sensory overload can effect anyone. Everyone has a different tolerance for the amount of sensory input they can handle before they have a total melt down and withdraw from the stimulation. Young children are particularly vulnerable to sensory overload. But so are adults especially when it is multiple senses. It’s okay to check out for a bit. Close your eyes, cover your ears, or just go into a dark room. It’s like pushing the reset button. Allowing your senses to rest even for a brief moment keeps them fully available to you when you need them.

Emotional overload is one of the most significant forms of exhaustion I’ve ever experienced. It makes me feel tired for days. Preventing emotional overload is not always possible. One of the reasons it’s so draining is because it comes when you aren’t expecting it. Life throws a curve ball at you and there is no getting around dealing with it. This can be the death of someone close to you or a crisis in your life. It can also happen when you are taking on the emotional problems of those around you. The best way to rest your emotions is to step back and ground yourself in the present. Try to let go of worries about the future and guilt over the past. Just be present.

Mental rest is all about stopping the Tasmanian devil from stirring up your thoughts. Whirling thoughts keep you up at night and make you feel flighty during the day. You jump from idea to idea. Your ability to focus on one thing is thirty seconds at best. The result from all this; mental tiredness. The way to rest is the same as it is for emotional rest. Step back and ground yourself.

To really recover and continue to push our bodies, a full body and mind rest is essential. It’s hard to do and somedays it will be impossible. For me, running makes it much easier to take advantage of all four types of rest. It clears my mind of thoughts and lets my emotional baggage fly away on the wind. Out on the trail my senses get the sweet taste of nature and my body burns off all the energy so I slide into sleep quickly each night.

Rest fully and run Happy.

Run Your Own Race

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I’m writing this blog post to talk about an issue my running partner and I have had to discuss recently. I’m pretty sure other running partners and groups have had to address this same struggle. So I thought I would share my experience.

Carbo (as he likes to be called) just finished his first 100 mile run. I ran the same race, but it was my sixth 100. I’ve been training at the 100 mile level for three years and running consistently for 10. He has been training at the 100 mile level for one year and training as a runner consistently for a year and a half.

Given just this information, you’d expect some differences in our ability and knowledge of running. So here is the struggle when running with a training partner or group. What do you do when one or more of your runners are not able to keep pace for whatever reason?

As the runner who is not able to keep pace you feel like your group is leaving you behind and you feel like you are not as good as the others. You begin to question yourself, your running ability, and your training. You feel bad you can’t keep up and you also feel angry or hurt because they are not waiting for you.

As the runner who is pulling ahead you feel bad because your group is not able to keep up. You wonder if you should slow down. You hope they are not sick or injured. You know they are struggling and you want to help.

I think these feelings are rational and understandable by anyone who has run with others on a consistent basis and formed the bonds of friendship.

So what do you do? You run your own race.

Think about your goals and your groups goals, are they different? If your goal is to complete a specific distance in a specific time, you need to stick to your training and let your friend know why you are not waiting. If your goal is just to run with your friend, by all means slow down and let them set the pace. It’s the same for the other side. If you can’t keep pace, ask yourself what your friend’s goals are. If they are different let them go and do what you need to do to meet your goals or get stronger to keep pace.

Is your runner who is falling behind, injured or anything else that may be holding them back? Obviously you want to know if your friend is hurt, tired, over training or anything else that may be slowing them down. You might be able to help them resolve the issue and if they are hurt encourage them to stop and take care of themselves. On the flip side, know your body and listen to it. There is no shame in taking time off to take care of yourself. Continuing to push to keep up, will only make you fall farther behind and could result in serious injury.

How long do you think the struggle will continue? Short term differences in pace are going to happen. If you are recovering from a race or illness you can fall behind. Don’t stress about it. Let your body recover and then get after it. If there are differences in strength or ability, do what you need to do to get stronger and faster within your own limits. As the faster runner, help your friend become a better runner pass along information or strategies you’ve used to get to where you are. If you believe this will be an ongoing struggle you will have to think about going your separate ways at least as far as running is considered. This is a hard decision to make, but with communication and understanding you can still remain friends and run together on easy days.

Is there value to both runners to work through this struggle to become stronger runners? Every situation offers a lesson if you are open to hearing it. Usually, the longer you ignore it the worse it gets. There are a number of lessons in this situation: listen to your body and take care of it, learn new training strategies, push yourself beyond what you think you can do (so long as you are not injured or over training), communication goes a long way, and whether or not your new training is working.

Realizing your limits and accepting them is hard. We are all different. Running with others is a great way to push yourself and to make gains in your training. You have to run your own race. You have to make decisions which put you in the best spot to accomplish your goals. Maybe this is a little selfish. I’m sure some people think so. And I would tell them, their goals are just different and that’s okay.

Even if you train individually at times and together at others, when you both reach the finish line, you can always celebrate together.

Don’t worry Carbo, I think this is a short term struggle.