HIIT

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is something every runner should be adding to their training routine, but especially runners who find themselves short on time for those extra long runs. Interval training is not new to runners. Most think of it as speed training such as 800 or 400 repeats. But HIIT can and should be more than just speed interval training. HIIT that incorporates strength moves helps build total body fitness in a way that just speed interval training doesn’t do.

HIIT is hard. You should be close to maximal effort. If you ever feel nauseous, light headed, or dizzy take a break before getting back to it. Some experts say that fifteen minutes of HIIT provides about the same physiological benefits as three hours of long slow distance. That does not mean you can train using only HIIT.

Adding in HIIT once or twice a week will actually allow you to reduce your total weekly miles by 10-20% without losing any fitness gains you’ve made. Many running coaches recommend that 20% of your training should be HIIT because of the many benefits you will reap. HIIT focuses on the fast twitch muscle fibers and as endurance runners we don’t tap into these all the time, but we do when our slow twitch muscles are fatigued because we begin to recruit anything we think will help. Training those fast twitch muscles will give a boost to your slow twitch as they become fatigued.

Another benefit of HIIT is the psychological training. HIIT makes you push through barrier after barrier when your body is screaming stop. You can tap into those experiences when things get hard out on the trail. Other benefits of HIIT: it’s very effective at burning fat, it boost your metabolism, and builds muscles

How long your HIIT workouts should be will depend on your current fitness level and your fitness goals. You can start with 20-30 minute and build up to 45-60 minute workouts. Here is an example of a HIIT session you can start with.

If you are recovering from an injury do not start HIIT training until you’re fully recovered. The intensity will increase the likelihood of re-injury. Warming up before a HIIT session is essential to reduce the risk of injury.

Workout ONE 30 minutes

3 minute dynamic warmup: Jumping jacks, high knees, lunges, inch worms, and leg swings.

1 minute rest

First set: 1 minute pushups: 20 second rest; 1 minute squat jumps: 20 second rest: 1 minute front plank: 20 second rest: repeat.

Second set: 1 minute burpee: 20 second rest: 1 minute dumbbell row: 20 second rest: 1 minute bicycles: 20 second rest: repeat two times

Third set: 1 minute mountain climbers:  20 second rest: 1 minute dumbbell/kettlebell swing: 20 second rest: 1 minute split squats with a jump: 20 second rest: repeat two times.

Running Preggers: Relaxin

I wish I were trying to be cute and leaving the “G” off Relaxing, but Relaxin is a hormone produced in increasing amounts during pregnancy. It’s a necessary hormone, but as an athlete, it’s not something you want in increased amounts. Relaxin is a protein-based hormone found in men and non-pregnant women. Pregnant women have ten times the amount as non-pregnant women.

Relaxin relaxes the blood vessels, ligaments, and tendons in your body. It begins its work in the beginning of pregnancy (before actually) by preventing contractions in the uterine wall and making implantation easier. It allows your blood vessels and arteries to expand to accommodate the extra blood volume. As you’re baby grows and shoves your internal organs into your ribcage you’ll be glad relaxin has made expansion of your abdominal muscles and ribcage possible. What you’ll be most happy about is relaxin ensures that your pelvis will be able to expand not only to accommodate your growing child, but to allow the child to be born.

Relaxed tendons are a problem if you are an athlete. It can be problematic if you’re not an athlete and you just want to go about your day without any pain or discomfort in your joints. Instability in your ankles, hips, and knees is something runners try to minimize and correct through strength training. When you’re pregnant, strength training isn’t going to help and you really, on some level, don’t want it to help because that baby has to exit somehow.

The instability can cause achiness and pain in your joints with just everyday activities, let alone running. Relaxed tendons and ligaments places you at higher risk of injury, even when doing exercises you have been doing for years pre-pregnancy.

What all of this means for pregnant runners is be careful and rethink increasing your miles or the intensity of your running workouts during your pregnancy, especially, during the first and third trimester when relaxin levels are at their highest. You’re also likely to feel increased soreness after runs, especially, in your pelvic girdle, hips, and lower back. Try using a maternity belt to help reduce the pressure of the baby on your pelvic joints.

You’ll likely have to decrease your miles and your pace as your son or daughter grow and their debut approaches. Reducing your miles to prevent injury, especially, an injury that could stop you from getting back to running after baby is born, is a small price to pay. Cross training with low impact exercises, such as swimming and cycling, will become your go to activities at the gym. I know this can be frustrating, but keep in mind it also means you’re closer to holding your little one in your arms.

Tired Body or Tired Mind

Have you heard the expression, “An ultra is 50% physical and 90% mental,”? No, well then, you’re probably not an ultrarunner or haven’t been one very long. A critical aspect of training that doesn’t get the attention it deserves is the psychological side of getting your body to keep putting one foot in front of the other for 100 miles as quickly as possible.

We all know it’s important, but we don’t spend much of our training time on it. I’m guilty of this myself. Sure, I have strategies I use when I get into that dark place, but I have never taken the time to actually make psychological strategies a part of my training to the point where I actively think about and practice them during my training runs. There are two types of psychological strategies you must have for an ultra. First, is dealing with the negative moods and thoughts. Second, is dealing with being so freaking tired.

The problem with not actively including psychological strategies as a core aspect of your training plans is that it’s mental fatigue that will stop you before physical fatigue in a race. Might want to read that again. Mental fatigue is more likely to put a stop to your race than physical fatigue.

That’s right, it’s your brain being tired that is going to slow you down and stop you before your muscles and nerves will. It actually takes an enormous amount of energy to fight off the persistent urge to sleep. I’ve fallen asleep while running and my pacers have had to persuade me not to crawl into small caves to take a nap while out on the course. I’ve seen runners curled up on the side of the trial sleeping while their pacer waits. When 100-mile events can take up to 36 hours it’s no wonder that those who run at the mid or back of the pack are exhausted, in every way, by the time they cross the finish line.

There are a few things we can do to be prepared for this level of extreme mental fatigue. Use caffeine strategically. Most ultrarunners are using caffeine in some form for a race, and caffeine is very effective at keeping you awake. However, if you drink a lot all the time, it’s not going to be as effective. You should taper off caffeine about 30 days before a race for it to be most effective during a race. Caffeine comes in all forms. You can get gels with caffeine, tablets, or drink it.

Another option is to take a nap. What!? I know, I know. I will admit I’m one of the last people who would suggest this. I’ve never napped during a 100-mile race, but if you’re out of options and falling asleep on your feet, sleeping for 30 minutes might be your best bet for picking up your pace. It goes back to the amount of energy it takes to force yourself to stay awake. I’ve run many relay events where my team runs through a day, a night, and a day. I know that if I sleep for two hours, I’ll be as good as new for the last leg of my race on day two. My muscles haven’t had time to recover, but I’m able to sustain the same pace as my first leg if I get those two hours. If I don’t, I’m going to be slower.

Another strategy is to train your mind to deal with being tired and running anyway. There are a couple of ways to do this. First, do something mentally challenging throughout the day (this is easy if you have a job that is mentally challenging) and then go for a long night run without sleeping between the two activities. Another way is to perform challenging mental tasks while you run. A research study used cyclists and the Stroop Test. The Stroop test is like the picture above. You have to read off colors when the word is written in a color other than what the word says.

The cyclists who did this training had a significant increase in their ability to stay mentally focused beyond the point where they previously became mentally fatigued to the point where it impaired their performance. The Stroop test is a little difficult to do while running, unless you’re on a treadmill (yuck!), but it maybe worth your suffering. You can use anything that is going to cause your brain to really work while you run (complex math anyone?).

Ultras challenge us in more than one way and we have to prepare for each. Psychological training is not an area you want to let slip by.

When to Walk in an Ultra

Ultrarunners walk. It’s just one piece of ultrarunning and knowing when and how long is essential to finishing at your best. The easy answer to the question of when to walk, aka power hike, in an ultra is, you walk all the uphills. But if we wanted easy, we wouldn’t be ultrarunners now would we?

Do all ultrarunners power hike? Yes, at the 100 mile distance everyone is going to do some form of power hiking on the uphills. At the 50k distance, it will depend on how steep and long the hills are. At the 50 mile and 100k distances, pretty much everyone is doing some power hiking.

The factors that go into a decision to power hike rather than run are: the length of the race, the steepness of the hill, the length of the hill, your training/conditioning, current weather/trail conditions and your current physical status. None of these factors can be considered without thinking about the others. It’s a multifaceted decision. The only one that takes priority over the others is your current physical status.

Your current physical status is how all of your bodily systems are functioning. Uphills can be a perfect opportunity to rehydrate and refuel. The slower pace may allow your body to absorb water and fuel easier, but don’t count on it. Hiking up a long steep slope can be just as taxing as running hard on level ground. If it is, and your stomach protesting at everything you put into it, you may be better off trying to refuel on the downhill or on a flat. If you’re experiencing pain, hiking an uphill is a good time to assess the situation. You’ll be using different muscle groups to climb, which may help you rule in or out particular muscles as the problem. It will also give sore/cramping muscles a chance to recuperate.

There may be times where hiking flats and downhills is the most appropriate course of action given your physical status and you shouldn’t be ashamed of this, at least you’re still moving forward. If you’re vomiting or have diarrhea walking/hiking is a must. You need to give your body a chance to regulate and it can’t do that if you’re pushing the redline.

The length of the race plays a major roll in when you begin your power hiking. The longer the race the earlier you’re going to begin hiking. Changing to a hike allows you to engage different muscles from those you use for running. This change gives muscles a chance to rest and prepare for the next time they’ll be needed as the primary force. This is true even in a very flat race with little to no uphills.

The grade (steepness) of a hill can demand that you hike rather than run. At some point, a hill becomes so steep it’s just easier and often faster to hike. Whether this is an 8% grade or 15% grade depends on you. Research says a grade of 15% is the point at which it becomes more energy efficient to hike than to run up a slope. However, keep in mind this research was done with individuals who were fresh. In other words, they hadn’t already finished 75 miles and they didn’t have 95 miles to go. The best way for you to figure out where you are, is to practice. Train on all types of grades and hit them at different times in your long training runs.

The length of an uphill is important too. Maybe you’ve come to a hill with a moderate grade and thought, “It’s runnable.” But is it runnable for three miles? It’s okay to start running it and then decide a bit later that it’s no longer runnable. You can even take a run/walk approach to these types of uphills.

Weather and trail conditions can also dictate when you should be running or hiking. Rain and snow can change visibility. Swampy conditions can conceal rocks and other hazards. Heat can change a mild runnable slope into a death march.

What you don’t want to do is walk due to a mental block or because you’ve hit a psychologically dark mood during your run. The only way to avoid this is by having a plan of action. When you get the first inkling of a drop in your mood or mental state, ask yourself if you’ve kept up on hydration, electrolytes and fuel. If you haven’t, start there. If those systems are where they need to be, initiate your positive mood plan. You can use imagery, mantras, recalling when you’ve overcome other challenges, or repeating positive words. For these to be most effective, you need to develop them in your training.

Your training is the key to knowing when you should hike and when you should run. Training on hills is going to give you the strength (mental and physical) to conquer those hills that are within the realm of sensible and the wisdom to know when it’s not sensible. The definition of what is runnable and what’s not is going to change, and you need to be able to evaluate yourself and each hill under the current circumstances.

What’s in a Shoe? Cushion.

Cushioning is another place where you’re going to see or hear the word minimalist. I’m going to stick with high cushion and low cushioned shoes as terms to avoid confusion.  Cushioning is usually talked about in millimeters (mm). As we have seen in recent years, there are shoes out there with barely anything under your feet, aka barefoot running shoes, and those with cushioning over an inch thick (an inch is 25.4 mm).

The theories on why one shoe is better for runners abound and often contradict one another. The idea behind high cushion is that it reduces impact forces and thus reduces injury. What does the research say? Research does not support a lower injury risk or less muscle fatigue with a higher cushioned shoe. It is the alignment of our lower leg that changes impact forces, and the alignment of our leg is changed due to sensory input our brain receives as we run.

Don’t fret all is not lost my high cushion loving runners. Here are some things we know about running with and without cushion.

Heel striking runners should not run in low cushioned shoes. It can be hard to tell if you are a heel, midfoot, or forefoot striker. The most reliable way is to look at the bottom of your shoe or have someone watch you run (when you’re not paying attention to your foot strike, because you’ll alter it). If you have more wear on the heel of your shoe, you’re a heel striker. About 80% of runners are, it’s not a bad thing, so long as you wear the right shoes. If the wear on the sole of your shoe is on the forefoot, you’re a forefoot striker. This is pretty rare and is usually sprinters and shorter distance runners.

Higher cushioned shoes can cause instability in the ankles and hips, especially, for beginning runners who have not developed the ankle and core strength to tolerate the instability. This instability can also be a problem on trails, which are already uneven. Some high cushioned shoes compensate by having a wider sole, although, this solves SOME of the instability it adds the problem of a wide ass shoe. A wider sole can get stuck between rocks easier. Also keep in mind that a wide ass shoe sole does not always translate into a wider toe box.

High cushioned shoes can protect the bottom of your feet from rocks, roots, and other nasties. As we age we lose some of the natural cushioning on the bottom of our feet making a higher cushioned shoe possibly a better option for runners as they age.

Heavier runners (over 170 for men and over 160 for women) are going to want a shoe with stiffer cushioning rather than the pillow soft stuff because of the compression that occurs when you land. If you have super soft cushion, it’s not providing you with much protection.

What I want you to take away from this whole series on shoes is everyone is an individual and research results are an average. Sometimes if researchers look at individual runners there is a difference. It could just be the runner’s belief (placebo effect) or other biomechanical differences between runners, but if it makes a difference for you, stick with the shoes or dump them as appropriate.

Wear what makes you happy and don’t be afraid to dry new stuff.

Happy running.

What’s in a Shoe? Heel to Toe Drop.

Why do we care about heel to toe drop? Well, because it’s one of the aspects of a shoe that have people thinking it could help or contribute to injuries.

The heel to toe drop of a shoe is the difference of the sole’s thickness at the heel compared to at the toe of the shoe. Most shoes have a heel to toe drop of 10-12 mm, while minimalist shoes have a heel to toe drop of less than 4 mm. To give you an idea, an inch is 25.4 mm

For clarity’s sake, I want to be clear on what I mean by minimalist in this post. There are two major tenets of minimalist: first, the amount of heel to toe drop and second, the amount of cushioning. This post is talking about heel to toe drop, which I’ll use instead of the term minimalist. If amount of cushioning comes into play in this post, it will be clearly indicated.  If anyone is interested the other tenets are weight, added motion control technology and flexibility. Here is a scientific article on how a minimalist shoe is defined.

The most recent research says there’s no difference in injury rate in runners who run in a lower drop shoe as compared to those who have a higher drop shoe so long as the runners who have switched to lower or zero drop have done so with an adequate transition, which we’ll talk about in a second.

A lower heel to toe drop could be good for people with a neuroma or arthritic changes in the big toe joint because it places less pressure on the forefoot. However, they may not be good for people with plantar fasciitis or Achilles/posterior tibial tendonitis because a lower heel to toe drop requires more extension in your Achilles, knees and hips.

Transition to a lower or zero drop shoe is critical, and it can take weeks, so before you buy your zero drop shoes, make sure you’re committed to the transition. You should start by wearing your zero drop shoes for a 1-2 miles of your runs and then increase a little each week. If you start to feel soreness in your lower leg or knee, don’t increase the distance at all and think about backing off a little. This is true whether your new to running or a more experienced runner because most people walk around in shoes with a 10-15 mm heel to toe drop.

Research on body weight compared injury rate in runners in the Asics Piranha, 9mm to 4.5 heel to toe drop, and Asics Gel Cumulus, 23 mm to 13 mm heel to toe drop.  The runners who were selected to run in the Pirahna’s did a 26-week transition to the shoes. The results showed runners over 165 lbs (the average for the study group) had an injury rate four times higher than those under 165 lbs. The researchers also looked at the type of weight, so was the higher body weight due to muscle mass or height as compared to someone who is overweight due to the amount of fat they are carrying on their body. The results showed no difference, which lead to the conclusion that it is the weight regardless of where it comes from that is correlated with the higher injury rate.

What does lower injury risk when it comes to heel to toe drop? Running in shoes with different heel to toe drops. This makes your musculoskeletal system adapt and become stronger under different circumstances.

Happy running. Next up is amount of cushion.

 

Running Preggers: Lots of Snot

This is my first post about running while pregnant. I don’t plan on making all my posts about running while pregnant, even as I get further a long in my pregnancy. But, I do plan on throwing them in here every so often.

I know from searching online there’s a lot of personal stories about running while pregnant and what women were running and not running while pregnant. And while all of this is very encouraging and useful, I find that it’s also a little lacking because it doesn’t go into the changes that occur in your body when you’re pregnant and how those change running. So, that’s what I’m hoping to do with my pregnancy posts.

One of the things that began to plague me from early in my pregnancy is the congestion. At first it was only at night. Now at 19 weeks, it’s all the time. The increased congestion is caused by a couple of things. The increased blood volume and hormones. The increased blood volume and estrogen cause swelling in the lining of the nasal passages and that causes more snot. The extra blood also causes the tiny blood vessels in your nose to swell. All of this leads to what has been coined pregnancy rhinitis.

Being congested while you run can be interesting. As your body temperature increases, the snot clogging your noes gets runny, which means you can breathe again, but there’s a cost. It can make your throat sore and irritated because its running down that way or it can make it, so you want to snot rocket all over what ever happens to be to your right or left. For me, that’s another person since I’m running on the treadmill (too much pollution outside). Another pleasant result of the snot beginning to run is then it makes you cough or sneeze.

Pregnancy Rhinitis can begin around eight weeks of pregnancy (yep) and then continue until you deliver the baby. After the baby, it should stop within a few weeks. Having allergies makes things worse of course and the constant stuffy nose can lead to sinus infections.

So what can you do about it? If you start your run all stuffed up, it’s going to make things more interesting when you get going. Using a humidifier at night will keep the drainage action going and help you start your run with clear nasal passages (you have to buy one for the baby anyway, might as well make sure you chose a good one and see how it works). Use saline drops or spray to clear your noes before your run or inhale steam.

If it gets to be too much, contact your doctor or the mother to baby hotline 1 (800) 822-2229 or email them expertinfo@mothertobaby.org They are the experts of what goes through mom’s system and into baby’s. They have tons of research on hand on what medication, vitamins and all sorts of other stuff can be harmful to a baby growing in utero.

I know knowing how much you can run while you’re pregnant is a challenge and it’s all subjective. Let your body tell you how much is okay and be prepared to listen. I’ll post how much I’m running each week at the end of my pregnancy posts, but again how much you should run while pregnant depends on many factors. Make choices best for YOU and YOUR BABY.

Weekly miles: 36, running three days a week.