Sunday, June 26, 2011

Highland Sky 40 and some new training plans

   I have a new longest distance I’ve ever run and its 42 miles (somehow a couple miles of course markers were removed).  I’m pretty happy about that and more importantly, I feel a lot more confident about the two even longer races on my schedule in October and November.  There was a lot to like about this race.  The course has some road but not too much and the trail sections are really beautiful.  The people were friendly, the weather was great and there was free beer at the finish line.  The race was full of the kinds of moments that barely seem real later on.  At mile one, for example, while we were still running on a country road, a pony broke loose from a neighboring farm and ran on the course right up through the front half of the race to the lead pack.  The pony stuck around for about a mile.  I’ve never run anything that rocky or that hilly before and I’ve also never run a race with a section like Dolly Sods, where runners are advised not to leave the path as there may be unexploded World War II era bombs out there.
    For me the race was a little bit of a test of my training.  Most of the places to trail run within an hour or less of Cleveland aren’t quite as hilly as some of the places I want to race and also I want to run races that are longer than my training runs and I want to run them really well.  I finished this race without injury and feeling pretty good so in that regard it was a success.  I didn’t run as fast as I wanted to or as fast as I think I’m able to.  I’m hesitant to write about feeling disappointed with a third place finish at a new distance because maybe I should just be happy with what I’ve got.  I am happy.  Heck, right after the race I was pretty much elated.  I just know I can do better and I think perhaps it will help somebody out there if I share how.
    The first trouble I ran into was a blood sugar crash.  The race information said there would be hammer gel at aid stations but after aid station #2, there wasn’t.  I should have switched to just eating whatever was available right away but I figured I could just wait until the next aid station.  I took too long to begin eating and my then had enough of a deficit that I had to slow down to feel better.  Right before aid station #4, close to 20 miles, I had crashed to such an extent that I got confused about where I was on the course and just stood still for a minute or so before realized that I better just shuffle on ahead.  It turned out I was only a couple hundred yards from the aid station.  What to do differently in the future?  Well, I can pack more gels in preparation for this kind of thing.  I can also start eating a variety of aid station type foods on my long runs to get my system used to solids.  Also that will give me a chance to make sure none of it gives me too much trouble.  When I started trail running about a year and a half ago it took a few weeks to get used to even drinking water during runs so it seems likely there’ll be a few runs that get slowed down by my adjustment to solid food instead of gels but I’ll get there.  Lots of careful chewing and lots of water I think.
    My legs managed the hills pretty well but with some modification to the way I run hill workouts and the way I time them in my week I think I can get both stronger at hills and better at running the flatter areas.  So far I’ve run hill repeats by running fairly quickly up a hill and then walking down to recover.  Here’s the trouble with that; later in races, taking advantage of descents becomes increasingly risky and difficult and the downhill muscle fatigue.  Also, running more quickly up hills means fewer repeats.  I need far more feet of elevation gain in each hill workout.  Over the next few months I’m going to do some Saturday hill repeat days where I spend maybe a couple hours jogging up and down a hill.  I don’t think its going to be all that much fun but I do think it will be worth it.  On Sundays, in order to learn to run tired, I will run 20+ miles of beautiful trail on those beat up legs.  Mondays there will be eating and sleeping.
    The only other trouble I had involved trying not to sprain my ankles.  I rolled them both a little around mile 14-17 trying to maintain speed over some very rocky terrain.  I didn’t injure myself really, just scared myself a little and had to slow down.  What to do?  Well, I’ve been working on ankle strength some and I’m pretty sure without that I would have actually injured myself.  The exercise I do, which I mentioned last month, is to stand on one foot without holding onto anything and slowly raise up onto my toes and back down.  More reps more times a day should take care of that.  When my ankle starts to roll over I push up and onto my toes before I can think much about it.  The hill repeats should also help with the stabilizing muscles.
    On a side note, I’ve also concluded that I need to be a little more disciplined about signing up for shorter races.  I don’t think short races are actually the same thing as tempo runs and I do think they beat me up a little more than I realize.  The weekend after Vulture’s Knob 15K I ran the Ohio Warrior Dash, then the next weekend, the Hampton Hills 10 K trail race, then the Highland Sky 40 and then this weekend, a 5 mile trail race at Chapin Forest.  I want to be able to race that often but I’m not very good at not racing and racing isn’t the same as training at all.  Intellectually I get it but you know how it is, your friends sign up, you want to go run with them...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Blisters: Treatment and Prevention

Here is the best way to get a blister to heal quickly;
First make sure the blister is clean.  Next, mix a half teaspoon of salt into 1 cup of water to make saline solution.  Make sure everything is clean.  Wet a piece of gauze that is big enough to cover the blister.  Use a water proof band-aid or medical or sports tape to fix the gauze over the blister.  Leave it there during your work day or overnight or some other period of time that isn’t longer than eight or nine hours in a row.  DO NOT tear off the skin that covers the blister.  This treatment does work well for situations when the skin is already torn, but you should avoid that if possible.  If you must drain some of the fluid, sterilize a needle and make a small hole and use gentle pressure to drain most of the fluid.  Leaving a little fluid is good.  Your body put it there to protect you.  If you drain all the fluid, your body will just make more.
If you get signs of infection, like swelling or redness around your blister that grows then go directly to a doctor because infection can be dangerous.  This treatment also works on any kind of cut or burn that won’t form a proper scab and I have seen friends use it with some success on bicycling road rash.
What about preventing blisters?  Well, make sure your shoes fit well.  Don’t run a whole bunch of miles in a row in shoes that are brand new and know that extending miles or running faster is more likely to give you blisters.  Does your foot slide around in part of your shoe even though the rest of the shoe fits?  There are many different ways to lace shoes.  Runners World did a good article on it, click here to see it; how to lace your running shoes
Wear good quality running socks that are made out of something other than cotton.  Wet cotton is a really huge source of blisters for most people.  Since feet sweat and rain happens, your socks will not stay dry.  There are all sorts of great brands and I’m not going to review them all here.  For me all the higher end brands sold by most running and cycling websites and stores are fairly similar in terms of results.  For some people socks with merino wool blends are best and for some synthetics are best.  Not all skin is the same.
Another trick that helps some people with serious blister problems is to wear very thin and tight socks under a second pair of outer socks.  If you can’t find any super thin socks or don’t have room inside your shoes without making them too tight, use the feet from a pair of panty-hose.  Just be sure to cut them high enough to keep them from rolling down into your shoes and causing trouble.  The idea is that the socks rub more against the panty-hose than your skin and so you don’t blister so much. 
If you find that you keep getting blistered in a particular spot then take off your shoe and spend some time examining the inside with your eyes and fingers to see whether there is a seam or bump somewhere.  A friend of mine and I took the insole out of a pair of her trail shoes (you know, that part inside on the bottom) and found a bump under it.  It was right where she gets her blisters.  We took a nail file to the bump.  No more blisters since.  There is also mole-skin.  This is a product you can buy in the band-aid aisle.  While your skin is all clean and dry you apply the mole-skin to the spot that keeps getting blistered to cover and protect it.  You can also apply skin lubricant like Body glide or Trislide (sold anywhere that sells trail shoes or bicycles) to your feet before you put your socks on.  Slippery, lubricated feet don’t blister as easily.

Friday, June 3, 2011

#2 AKA Runners' Trots


There is a moment when the zebra realizes there is a cheetah flying across the plain, ready to attack.  At that moment the zebra’s adrenalin shoots way the heck up, causing a cascade of effects within it’s body to make the zebra more able to run away as fast as it can.  One of those effects is a sudden evacuating of the bladder and the lower portion of the digestive system, which lightens the load the zebra has to carry while running away, increasing the chances that the cheetah will go hungry or at least find something to eat other than that zebra.  We are not so different from zebras.  When we gather into a herd of other runners and begin to think about how to run faster and better than the runners around us our adrenalin shoots way the heck up and with similar results. 
Sometimes we’re lucky and we’re struck by nothing worse than a sudden and urgent sensation of having to pee.  Usually that fades a few minutes into the race.  What doesn’t always fade, and can grow much worse with lots of bouncing, is the need to empty the lower portion of the digestive system.  I’m trying to be a little polite here but I know that any of you reading this who have spent time participating in endurance sports know what I’m talking about.  Sometimes (and here’s where I’m glad I run trail and not road) the urge is overwhelming and you’ve got to go and squat behind a tree.  At best it’s uncomfortable and embarrassing.  Oh, and on a side note, if you do this, please, please kick some dirt over it when you’re done!
For some runners the problem doesn’t result in emergencies so much as stomach cramps and a miserable rest of the day.  It should also be noted that it is much less common to have trouble with this at shorter distances and much more common at distances of more than ten miles and also at higher speeds.   Hiking is not likely to cause much trouble at all. 
Happily, there is a solution and it is available over the counter as the drug, loperamide.  Loperamide is the generic for Imodium, it comes in little caplets and it treats diarrhea.  For any race that is 15K or longer (10 miles) I take two of these caplets a couple hours before the start.  A friend of mine takes one or two with the same timing in order to prevent painful stomach cramping in the hours following long races.  For both of us, running seems to be enough of a stimulus to counteract the drug by the next morning.  More clearly put, there is no lingering back up or slowing of the digestive system from taking loperamide the morning of a race.  Unfortunately for those of you reading this, I haven’t raced longer than 50K yet so I don’t know what sort of wear off there will be if I run more than six hours in a row.  I should know by the end of this year and will most likely share those results with all of you.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Ankle Sprains and Vulture's Knob

Saturday, May 28th I ran the Vulture’s Knob 15K trail race down in Wooster, Ohio with a bunch of friends.  For anyone who is not familiar with the location, it is a mountain bike trail built in part, on top of an old landfill.  The terrain is hilly, rocky, and on this particular day, due to recent storms, waterlogged and muddy.  There were places where narrow single track hills were narrow creek beds running ankle deep.  A shorter race means a faster pace and on this kind of terrain that means a certain amount of risk.  For me, I took off from the starting line with the lead pack and was determined to stay as far toward the front as I could for the duration of the race and the strategy paid off, although there were a few scary moments. 
From late summer last year, through several fall races and even through the late winter of 2011, I had chronic mild ankle sprains, especially of my left ankle.  Nothing requiring crutches, but a whole lot of ice and a few skipped runs.  Any time I stepped wrong, that ankle just seemed to want to turn over.  How did it hold up during Vulture’s Knob?  Great!  Did I get super lucky?  Well, I never want to totally discount chance but I did spend a few months trying very hard to get both ankles stronger and now they are.  Want to know what I did? 
      I started with more standard ankle exercises that many of you have probably heard of already.  I drew the alphabet in the air in front of me with my toe, I pointed my toes then pulled them up toward my head, I stood on one foot while brushing my teeth.  My ankles felt better but I still had trouble if I stepped just wrong enough and over enough training miles that will happen from time to time.  Switching to a trail shoe with less heel cushion so that the heel of my foot is closer to the ground did help but most of my improvement I attribute to one simple exercise.  I began to do single foot raises every day.  Any time I found myself with a little time, waiting for coffee to be done or waiting in line at a store, I would balance on one foot and pop up on my toes as high as I could go without holding onto anything for help.  For the first week this meant getting halfway up and losing my balance and having to put my other foot down before trying again.  Now I can do ten or more of these in a row.  I can even hold my other leg out behind me or way off to the side and keep going.  There are no weights involve, no equipment, I do these barefoot or in shoes.  There is a bit of mental discipline in terms of remembering to do them but that’s really the hardest part.
    During the Vulture’s knob race I did step wrong on that foot a little bit two times that I remember.  I felt my ankle start to turn but my body seemed to make a decision to push up onto and then off of my forefoot.  I say my body decided because I was already into my next stride as I noticed what had happened.  Any motion that you repeat enough times will become reflex.  People will look at you funny in the grocery store or where ever else you happen to be when you realize that really you need to keep practicing your ankle exercises.  You will get very tired of doing this ankle exercise if you really take it seriously but then you’ll find that it gets to be a habit and you just do them all the time.  Fifty or so a day spread across five or even ten sessions is a great number to do.  Any number more than one is better than none.  I don’t even really keep an exact count of them, but I do know that for three races in a row now I have been completely free the recurring sprained ankle.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Protein Update

Gel update

    After posting my last blog I got to thinking about how I would personally like it if Hammer Nutrition made a gel that had protein in it since I really like their products and really like gels.  Shortly thereafter I took it upon myself to email their customer support department to ask whether they had ever considered making something like that.  I have trouble using Perpetuem or any powder that mixes with water because I need to carry water in my water bottle and find running with two water bottles to be just a little too much weight relative to my size.  I’ve tried solid forms of protein and they’re great unless I’m racing and trying to go fast for something like a 50K.
    But enough about my troubles, here’s the important part; their fabulous customer support person, Katey, emailed me back the very next day.  Not a form email either, but a personal and very helpful email.  She explained to me that there is no way to make a protein/carb mix into a gel and have any kind of shelf-life without adding a bunch of preservative.  Hammer Nutrition does not believe preservatives provide any athletic benefit.  I’m inclined to agree, especially with new research showing that some preservatives that have been thought of as safe are actually carcinogenic.  Hammer gel may come in cool colors and flavors but none of them are artificial. 
    Katey went on to offer a solution to my difficulty and here it is;  mix 3.5 scoops of Perpetuem with 1-2 ounces of water, mixing until it is about gel consistency.  Put it into a 5 ounce flask (Hammer makes those for gel, I use one and it fits into my fuel belt) and it should last 4.5-5 hours.  She shared that she is a 130 lb cyclist and that’s about how long it lasts for her.  Since Perpetuem includes carbs, proteins and healthy fats, total caloric needs should be a little lower as compared to gel only.  She also suggests freezing the a bottle overnight if the next day will be hot and you plan to put it in a drop bag or simply not start to use it until you’ve been going for a couple hours.  If you were inclined to use aid station gels or food for some of your calories then this would get you through a 25K-50 mile race given a drop bag for the 50 miler. 
    I don’t usually endorse or promote particular products on my blog since that’s not my purpose in writing it but I do try to talk about my own experiences and research.  This was some very good and friendly customer service and also some very good information.  She’s right about the whole protein/carb/fat mixture too.  Chia seeds help because of the healthy fats they contain.  Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at aid stations are a similar idea.  For some of us, variety is more important and for others of us, a simple and easy to transport source of calories that will do it all is ideal.  I hope all of you out there find this helpful.  After I beg or buy some Perpetuem I will test this out on a couple long runs and update everyone again.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Artificially Flavored Chemicals

Why and how you should put calories in during runs if you are a distance runner:    
   You run a race faster and longer than you usually train and with a bunch of adrenalin to boot.  You do this with low blood sugar and you expect a good result?  Not likely.  Even the best breakfast is going to wear off after a couple hours of running and then your blood sugar will plummet if you don’t put more sugar in.  The brain cannot store sugar at all so when your blood sugar gets too low your brain can’t work well anymore.  Knowing this, the brain will try to stop you from using up what sugar is left in your blood by telling stories about what’s happening in the body.  Bad stories.  Low blood sugar turns a little soreness into aching pain.  It turns a tightness you could have run on into something that feels like a torn muscle.  It turns sniffles into the flu.  I am not exaggerating at all and yet I’ve met very good runners who don’t seem to know that pain signals and the interpretation of them can change radically in response to blood sugar fluctuations.  We wouldn’t be distance runners if we weren’t hard headed but there is a time and a place for that.  Ever been so hurt and sick you staggered across the finish or didn’t finish at all but then felt a whole lot better that very evening?  Consider your nutrition. 
    So now it’s time to talk about what I actually mean when I say “sugar”.  I don’t mean table sugar.   That gives you a spike and a crash and is no good for you at all.  I do mean easy to digest carbohydrates.  How much carbohydrate?  No matter how much you put in, your body can only absorb 65-80 grams of carbohydrate per hour.  Extra will just give you the runs after a while.  Waiting until you really need the sugar means hoping your body can make up a deficit and since you can only absorb so much at a time, that’s going to be difficult and probably slow you down. 
Do you need to max out on this stuff, put in as much as will absorb every hour?  I don’t know, I’m not you.  That kind of question has to be answered through experimentation during training.  Whatever it takes to fuel your training, remember that since you run faster when you race you may want to pay attention to how many miles per gel instead of how many gels per hour so that you can better figure out what you’ll need in a race.  If I ate one gel an hour jogging 12 minute miles then two an hour at 10 minute miles but then race at a 9 minute mile pace, I may need three gels an hour to race (and for me, I do if it’s going to take me more than four hours to finish).  Also, trail running burns more calories per hour than road running because irregular surfaces mean more different muscles get used, especially for newer trail runners.
    How do you decide which brand and which type of product to use?  Go to a running store or even a cycling store and buy a bunch of different brands and flavors then test them on yourself DURING TRAINING RUNS not during races unless you want to risk a few ruined races.  I love Hammer gel but some people hate it.  I used to like Honey Stinger gels but the sweetness can be too much for me after a couple.  A friend of mine can only use solids, or at least gummies, like Shot Blocs, but I don’t want to have to chew anything during a race.  What if your stomach objects?  Didn’t your legs object when you told them to run a new distance?
    Your digestive system is full of muscles and enzymes with variable levels sort of like your legs.  Your digestive system can be trained.  When I first started running distance I had to eat breakfast at least two hours before runs and drinking water during runs without cramping up was hard for me.  I kept at it.  Now I can eat gels while I run.  Oddly, I find that if I chew while the gel is in my mouth it seems to settle a little better or maybe more quickly.  Crazy?  Who knows, maybe my body wants an extra signal to tell it the glob of artificially flavored chemicals I’m swallowing is actually food. 
Don’t like the taste of anything you’ve tried?  If it doesn't taste great you'll wash it down with extra water and then you'll stay hydrated.  Nothing wrong with a little extra reminder to keep putting fluids in.  The other odd phenomenon I've noticed is that gels start to taste better as your body learns to associate them with feeling better.  Do know that if you have trouble with stomach cramping or getting the runs during races or just after, Immodium will probably fix it.  For anything longer than a 10K race I take two an hour or so before.  I have a friend who takes an Immodium before any run of more than 8 miles or so because without it her guts are in knots for hours.  The Immodium wears after five or six hours and digestion returns to normal.
    Why not just tough it out during training and try to get used to performing with lower blood sugar?  Okay, first of all, you need sit somewhere quiet and consider why you are trying to make ultra running even harder.  I have spent a little time on that one myself and have gotten much better about water and calories and I think it’s one of the things that has helped me get faster this year. 
On a more physiologic note, if you run at a moderate or better intensity for much more than an hour, especially more than an hour and a half, then, if you don’t put in any calories at all, your body will break down the muscle in your legs more than if you had put in just a little hundred calorie gel or something like it.  This break down is not something that will make you stronger.  This breakdown will only slow your recovery, causing subsequent workouts to have less intensity.  This means you won’t get better as fast as you could.  Running a border line amount of time and don’t want to carry stuff?  Don’t start on empty and put something with carbohydrate/sugar back into your system right as soon as you stop (not after talking to your running buddies for 15 minutes in the parking lot).
    This same problem of muscle breakdown happens with protein, by the way, only with protein it takes another hour and with protein you don’t need a whole lot.  5-10 grams will make a difference in a four hour run.  There are protein gels like Accel gel and protein single serving solids and powders like some of the Cliff bar products or Hammer Perpetuem.  If you don’t like any of those, consider that a Payday candy bar contains 7 grams of protein in addition to the sugar.  Heck, put some nuts in a little Ziploc and chew one every now and then.  I’ll write more about protein and running and solid food versus not solid foot on another day though because I think this is plenty to digest for one post. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Forget the PR, Mohican 50K and 25K Trail Race

            A group of us from Grunt Girls and a few of our friends stayed in a cabin at Mohican Adventures, where the start/finish area moved for this year’s race.  Two of us ran the 50K while seven ran the 17.4 mile long “25K”.  For our friend Will this 25K was the first race of his adult life (he’s 28) and he came out of it wanting to do more.  I really like going to races with a big group and making a weekend of it, even if it does mean maybe a little less sleep and an extra glass of red wine.  This time it also meant an audience for the two of us who ran the 50K and followed it up with an ice bath.  An audience is good, it keeps you from backing out when you stick your first foot in or from getting back out before fifteen minutes have passed.  For Gabe this was his first 50K and his first ice bath.  He did very well with both, finishing the race in a flat out sprint which he says hurt like heck, and concluding that he likes 50K trail races better than 15 minute ice baths.  I have to say I agree completely and wouldn’t bother with the torture if it didn’t get my legs working right again so quickly.
            Rob Powell, the race director (and an all around great guy), changed the course for both races this year and I’m a huge fan of the changes.  Now there are better hills, including the aptly named “Big Ass Hill”, which has its own sign at the bottom and is followed closely by the “don’t hate the hill, hate the race director” hill.  Also, this year both distances included the waterfalls loop, which is a really beautiful section of trail everyone should get to see.  There are parts along the creek where the trail is really just a creek with flags along it to tell runners they’re really still on course.  Later the flags actually lead under a waterfall before climbing up out of the ravine through tree roots runners have to grab hold of due to the steepness of the side.  This kind of course is why I trail run and I love it.  The river crossing was intimidating for a few but made for great pictures and everyone in our group made it across.  Stacy fell in up to her neck but bravely went on to finish strong if a little chilly.  Gale was a little nervous about the iffy footing at first but Gabe came along on his second loop while she was considering her strategy and they crossed together, arm in arm.  Someone on the bridge above captured them on camera and posted the pictures on the race website so we all got to see.
            For me this was my best 50K so far.  It was my second fastest but a more challenging course by far than the Fool’s run three weeks ago where I managed a PR.  The two loops are not identical in length or terrain, with the half way point coming a couple miles before the end of the first loop.  This meant managing pace more by paying attention to effort than by watching my GPS watch.  I was still jogging small hills in the last few miles of the race and crossed that finish line very, very tired but running.  Learning to pace by learning how my body feels at a particular distance is a goal of mine and something I really enjoy.  I also finished first woman and fifth overall, which is the highest overall finish I’ve ever had.  I like running for its own sake but I also really like the feeling of training hard and racing hard and then seeing the results.
            What did I learn from this race?  Well, my body definitely races better on more calories.  Every time I went too long without a gel, even just by a little bit, my legs would start to tell me I’d run the earlier miles too fast after all.  10-15 minutes after putting in a gel or two my legs would change their tune.  I think low blood sugar gives me illusions of pain.  I ended up putting in four Accel gels with protein, two Gu gels and I think seven or eight Hammer gels.  Talking to a couple fast runners after the race, I think I need to add more healthy fats to my breakfast before long races but maybe I’ll just always need a lot of calories to go fast.  I’m planning to experiment with a couple spoonfuls of natural peanut butter before my next few long runs to see what kind of impact that has. 
            Endurance athletes mostly get pretty comfortable discussing body functions and learning what to do about them during our sports.  A couple members of our group have a history of problems with fast moving digestion (the kind that causes emergency pit stops in the woods) and stomach cramps during or after long races.  I had some problems last year (three problems in one 25K) and have dealt with it ever since by taking a couple Immodium about two hours before any race longer than ten miles.  I have had great success with no follow-up trouble the next day, so of course I shared this information with my friends.  Everyone who tried this approach over the weekend felt that it worked very well, and Andrea, who has always had pain in her guts for the rest of the day any time she runs long said she felt great this time.  I share all this in case anyone reading it has similar problems.  It’s not one of those things you see mentioned much in running magazines so maybe it’s not a big problem out in the running community but if you have a problem with it then it is probably big to you.

Friday, April 8, 2011

How to Run; Notes on Form


If you google ‘running form’ you’ll find all kinds of different theories and vocabularies.  Sorting through the pages upon pages of information isn’t all that much fun so I’ve gone ahead and summarized the main three popularized running forms below.  I’ve experimented with these forms and ideas about running, reviewed them with a few people in the know, and written down the good stuff that you really need out of all of it.

Barefoot running: This is the notion that more shoe is a bad thing, that our bodies are made for running.  Running shoes pretty much get in the way and cause us to land heel first and hurt ourselves as well as correcting for weaknesses in the muscles in our feet and in our motor control.  It is suggested that this ultimately leads to more injury and that we need to build distance slowly and strengthen our feet.

Pose running:  This is a technique advocating short stride length and a mid-foot strike.  The body should angle or lean forward slightly.  The heels never really touch the ground and the feet never get in front of the hips.  This is not the same as running on your toes.  You’re meant to use hamstrings and hip flexors as well as your ‘core’ muscles, to keep your body moving, as well as your overall forward lean.  Do not bend from the waist but at the hip joints so that you do not hunch over.  Run with your upper body relaxed.

Chi running: The focus here is on efficiency and relaxation.  Forward lean of the whole body and mid-foot strike are emphasized as well as not letting the arms cross the midline of the body.  And the whole body is meant to be kept in line as with Pose running.  The focus in Chi running is more on imagery and energy than on mechanics.

What it pretty much boils down to;
Longer stride=injury Your feet need to stay under you while you run, your hips and butt too.  Don’t reach out in front of you with your feet and slam your heel into the ground.  If your foot lands in front of you then you’re putting on the brakes and sending a shock wave right up your body.  Longer strides are only for powerful sprinters when they are sprinting.  The very best distance runners in the world have short strides and take lots of them.  Why?  A short stride is like lifting a light weight.  You can do it lots of times.  You’re a distance runner, you have to lift your weight a really lot of times.  Also, do you really think you should stretch your muscles out as much as you can and then bang on one end of them?  Yup, that’s what a long stride length does. 
    For the rest of it, tilt your whole body, hips and all, forward a little, run happy and pay attention.  Tilt forward does not mean arch your back.  Your spine should be in the same position it is in when you are in a neutral standing position.  Why run happy?  Because misery just makes you tense and tension is a huge waste of energy and not really very much fun.  Do you know why drunk drivers wreck and don’t get hurt?  It’s because their bodies are so relaxed.  Running isn’t the same as slamming into a phone pole and probably shouldn’t be done immediately after downing a bottle of wine, but it should be done relaxed.  The cumulative impact of a week of running might add up to driving into a phone pole.  I’m not going to do the math here but surely you get where I’m going.  Whatever you need to get right in your head to help your body relax, whatever you need to picture or think about, find that.  Get loose, check in with yourself during your workouts. 
If you’re not sure about ‘vertical alignment’ or ‘whole body forward tilt’, try this; picture a string coming out the top of your head, pulling all of you up toward the sky.  Maybe it’s pulling you forward slightly but it still pulls mainly up.  You can’t bend at the waist because you’d have to pull down against the string to do it.  The string stretches your spine out.  Your legs can stay bent as they kick back behind you, propelling forward like the motor on a boat but the rest of you can float along above.  I say float because even when your legs are tired and heavy it’s important to try to find a way to stay relaxed.  Most of us run tenser when we’re tired, resulting in even more tiredness.
    Pay attention to what?  Pay attention to how your body feels.  Do you know whether your toes point in, out or forward?  There’s a certain amount variation because our bodies are all different so this isn’t about figuring out whether you run just the same as somebody who’s a little faster than you.  This is about you learning your own body.  If you don’t take the time to feel how far behind you each leg gets at the end of a stride or how much rotation your hips have or which part of your foot you land on then how will you ever change if you need to?  Try altering the curve in your back one way or another to see how it feels.  Try changing the position of your shoulders or even shrugging them up and down just to get a feel for where and how they move.  Most of us have a distorted perception of our own form and need to play around with it to get more aware.  If, for example, I were to try to shrug my shoulders up and find that they didn’t go far that might mean I was already running with them shrugged up a bit.
Once you can feel the way your body moves, then you can play with it, you can change things up and see how it feels.  There is no special scan or test or piece of equipment that can get inside your body, there’s just you.  You’ve got to remember that you are inside your own body, and your brain and your body aren’t really separate things.  It sounds a little silly and new age but there it is.  And really, feeling a little silly while you run might just do your form good.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Speed Work for Long Distance Running

Is speed work for making you faster?  No, not really, not for most of us.  How can I say that?  Well look at it like this; I can already run fast enough to run marathon in two hours, the trouble is I can’t maintain that pace for much distance at all.  Well yeah you’re thinking to yourself, of course not.  The fastest I can run isn’t going to improve much no matter how much I speed train either so this is why I say speed work won’t make me faster.  For some people it will, sure, that’s fine, but still that’s not actually why we as endurance athletes must do our speed work if we wish to maximize our improvement.  Actually, just reading this one may take a little endurance.  It took up two whole pages when I wrote it but if you don’t know a lot about speed work’s hows and whys this will be worth it and it’s written in a manner that should make sense to everyone, not just you science people.
            So why?  Well, there is a set percent of my personal maximum pace/heart-rate/endurance-buzz-word that I can run at and be able to sustain it for any particular distance.  A whole lot of what determines this is the details of my body’s biochemistry.  There are little energy factories inside muscle cells called mitochondria which turn sugar into the stuff your muscles can use to work.  There are also transporters that bring raw materials into the cell and enzymes in the cells and mitochondria.  Everybody has different amounts of all these different things that are needed to get a muscle to contract.  If you don’t have enough of one or all of these things to sustain the pace you are trying to sustain then the system will back up and you will slow down.
            Well that seems unfair, right?  I mean what, I’m just lucky and have more of all this stuff than you?  Well then do your speed work.  Your body can adapt to all kinds of demands.  Speed work creates the kind of intense demand that will cause your body to make more of all the various ingredients.  You may not get any faster as a sprinter and your VO2 max and max heart rate may not change but the percent of that max you can run at without having to slow down will change.  It can change a lot and it can make a big difference in your race results, not to mention your comfort level while you are running.
            Here’s the thing about doing speed work; it hurts, it sucks, for most of us it’s not fun.  You may decide that running is recreation for you and that if it’s not fun then you’re not doing it and that’s okay.  So what do we mean when we say speed work and how much should you do?  Do not do more than two sessions per week or you will ruin the quality of it and deprive your body of the time it needs to respond to what you did and make all the good stuff that will help you.  Once a week is just fine and missing the occasional week especially right before or after a long race, won’t stop you from benefitting.  For purposes of brevity and simplicity I’m going to break speed work into two types below and explain them.  You should do both types alternating weeks or be hardcore and one of each every week.

1)      Tempo runs: For this you warm up 10 min. minimum then run at a pace that is uncomfortable to you but that you can sustain and do it for a set amount of time.  You may start with 15 min. but should be able to get up to 45 min. and doing even up to 10 miles can still be tempo if you’re fit enough to keep the pace even.  Tempo runs do help make the part of the stuff that is mitochondria and aerobic enzymes which is good for making the ATP which is the stuff that your muscle uses to contract to make you go.  If you can make more ATP faster, then you can contract your leg muscle at a higher rate for longer.

2)      Intervals:  Warm up for 10-20 min.-know your own body.  I take 15 min.  Run 1-4 mins. as fast as you can go for that time/distance.  The newer you are to this the closer to 1 min. this should be.  Quarter mile intervals are a good and convenient distance.  Rest 2-3 minutes between intervals.  5 repeats is a good start and 10 is a very good workout.  If you don’t rest but try to keep jogging in between your intervals then your intensity will go down.  If you make your intervals too long then your intensity will go down.  Why is that bad?  Because short, intense intervals create such a specific and intense demand within the body that they result in real change in the body.   This helps with the mitochondria and enzymes like a tempo run BUT also does something else.  Remember that there are transporters for getting some of the stuff into the muscle cells?  These are proteins in the cell membrane and the number of them you have is not set.  Short, intense intervals will cause your body to make more of them so you can get the stuff that gets broken down inside the cell out of your blood and into your cell much faster.  This means more muscle contractions sooner.  This means you can sustain that pace. 
3)      I know, I said I would have two types.  This is a technique note.  Did you know that the cadence, the number of strides per minute while racing is about the same for elite sprinters as for elite marathon runners?  Crazy!  The sprinters have way more power and therefore, a longer stride length so they cover ground faster.  Why do I bring this up?  Because amateur distance runners often try to lengthen their stride when doing speed work and often at the cost of cadence.  Too long a stride over long distance and especially when it is not backed up by enough strength WILL get you injured.  As distance runners seeking to improve we need to pay attention to form which includes cadence so:  Instead of only trying to cover the ground as fast as you can when you are running intervals, work on the cadence part.  Do not let your steps feel long to you.  The point is not a faster quarter mile.  The point is to have good form that won’t injure you and to get really, really painfully out of breath.

This is a very simplified explanation.  If you are interested in learning more, the break-down of glucose to pyruvate, the conversion of that to lactate when there is a back up in the citric acid cycle, MCT 1 are all things you can google or look up in biochemistry and physiology textbooks.  I’ve read them and they’re fascinating and boring all at once. 

Here is the take home message; Your body has factories for making energy.  If you never demand much of them then they won’t upgrade equipment, they’ll just get slowly run down.  If you demand more than they can handle all of the time then machines will break and not get fixed and your workers may stage a walk out.  If you make some pretty big demands and you give the factory time to upgrade, then it will. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Fool's Trail Run 25 and 50K

I hadn’t run a trail 50K since last fall so I was a little nervous and very excited.  I knew I could finish, I trained a ton over the winter.  What I didn’t know is whether I’d really gotten faster and if I had, then how much?  Then also a lot of my friends were running one of the two distances which for me is a feel good thing.  I ran the first half with a couple other runners and between chatting, feeling really good and trying not to trip and fall I paid a lot less attention to my pace than I usually do, so when I looked up at the clock for my split I was shocked.  I’ve never run a 25K that fast let alone any half of a 50K.  Good or not good?
I held onto the pace until mile 20 or so and then it started to slip but I still ran 30 minutes faster than I’ve ever run a trail 50K before so that made me pretty happy.  Shaun Pope won the men’s and Sandi Nypaver, who I ran with for the first half, was strong enough to hold a little closer to the pace than I could and won the women’s.  I was happy with 2nd place, although I of course plan to try to get faster.  It was pretty amazing to watch her pull away running up hills late in the race looking so strong.  She promises me the hills started to hurt and slow down some in the last 3 miles out on the salt run loop but I several minutes behind by then and didn’t get to see it.  I’ve already mentioned this before but it bears mentioning again; I have met so many really wonderful people trail running and racing!
Three of my fellow Grunt Girls ran in the 25K.  Tonya Yanok set a new PR and didn’t even look tired by the time I got to the finish line.  Kim Zepp ran a great race, covering more miles of trail than she ever has before.  Anastasia Birosh finished over an hour faster than she’d told me she would while we were all huddled together for warmth before the start.  Yeah, that’s a lot faster!  Gabe Bures, one of our Grunt Guys also ran a PR, although this was actually his first 25K.  A crowd of our fellow Grunt Girls drove over from their morning training run to watch us finish and it was a life-saver hearing all that screaming and cheering fighting my way to that uphill finish.
So what else should I talk about?  It was in the low 20s when we started at 7:30 but rose to just above freezing and sunny by the finish, turning the trails into mud sometime around 11 and slowing progress for already tired runners.  The sun was so great to see and feel that I’m not sure I minded.  I continued my strategy of alternating protein gels with Hammer gels early in the race, switching to Hammer gels alone in the second half and I still think it makes me a heck of a lot less sore the next day to put in those 10-20 grams of protein.  I think I’ll send Hammer Nutrition an email and ask them to make protein gels. Total gel count?  I think 3 Accel gels (if you try them don’t complain to me about the taste, it sort of grows on you) and 10 Hammer gels.  Yeah, it’s a lot but I would start to feel like my legs really hurt and eat one and then a little while later my legs would hurt less again.  Higher blood sugar=happy brain and a happy brain will tell you your body hurts less.  Low blood sugar=unhappy brain which will play tricks on you to try to get you to stop running.  ‘Lies’ I tell it, ‘all lies’.   Possibly I should have put in even 3 more gels than I did.
Ice bath after?  Yep, after a large glass of wine.  Stairs this morning?  Not too bad.  Even just right after I get out of the ice bath I can feel the difference in how my legs respond-well, after they warm up again.  I’m sore but I’m not limping around.  Did I scream and carry on for the first couple minutes?  Oh, did I ever.  That will probably never go away.  After I was done screaming I called my friend Stacy Rhea, the woman who put the idea in my head in the first place, and she kept me calm enough and distracted enough to stay in the tub for about 18 minutes.  Thank you Stacy!  That’s enough blog for today I think  Thanks Lloyd Thomas for having a great and well marked race for us to run and have a wonderful day out there everyone.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Green Jewel 50K

I signed up for the Green Jewel 50K this year on a whim, not really thinking about what the race would entail.  The shirts from the previous year looked pretty cool, the parks the course runs through are pretty, I’d heard other runners say they liked it lots, so why not?  Then as the race approached and I began to really think about it I began to worry.  Not about the distance but about the surface.  The entire course is pavement.  Bike path sure, but pavement still.  I ran a whole lot of trail last year, even a few 50Ks but only one road race.  It was five miles long and my feet hurt afterward.  What was I thinking?  Sure, in some ways pavement is easier.  It’s certainly faster to run on, your feet don’t slide all over the place or sink in and usually it’s flatter than trail.  On the other hand it’s a lot more impact for your body to absorb and if your running form has problems you’ll be punished for it.  What was I thinking?!?
    I had worked on form a whole bunch the previous fall after a couple minor muscular difficulties.  Still though, I run two thirds of my miles on trails.  The longest training runs I used to do were 8 miles so I upped those to 10 or maybe 12.  I signed up for the race so there’s no way I was backing out.  I figured if I got into trouble I could just run on the grass next to the bike path.  Plus also I’d learned more about during race fueling during longer races over winter and really wanted to test it out.  I’d done some four or five hour runs sure but only a race really tests a new strategy and this was the perfect opportunity.
    So how did it all work out?  Well, I forgot my fuel belt but fortunately my good friend and running partner, Gabe, was with me for support and was able and willing to retrieve it for me and pass it to me a couple miles in.  I ‘ate’ four Accel gels (20 grams of protein) during the first half of the race and 7 or 8 Hammer gels throughout.  I expected if the race went well I might finish in four and a half hours.  I ended up finishing in 4:09:30 as first place woman.  I never knew I could run that fast for that long and it felt pretty amazing, especially after months of slogging through snow because I will NOT run on a dreadmill.  My legs felt the best they’ve ever felt after a 50K.  My feet were tender sure, but not really in pain.  All in all I was ecstatic.  If you’re a trail runner tempted to try a road marathon and Cleveland, Ohio isn’t far away I recommend you run this instead.
    This post is going to run just a little bit longer because I have to share another new experience I had that day.  I decided to try giving my legs an ice-bath post race since I’ve read that lots of elite marathoners, tri-athletes and so on use ice-baths to reduce inflammation and speed recovery.  Did it help me?  Sadly yes.  If you’re asking ‘why sadly?’ then you have never tried an ice-bath.  My wonderful aforementioned friend and training partner was there in a supervisory and lifeguarding capacity and recorded the first couple minutes on his iPhone.  He can be hear giggling in the background as I ease myself into the tub, pushing ice cubes against the sides and screaming like a very unhappy small child.  I think I’d stopped rocking by the time he ran out of video space.  Will I do it again?  Of course I will, I just won’t let it be recorded for posterity and the amusement of my friends who all got a huge kick out of that video.   

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Run With Your Heart 15K Trail Challenge

The 2010 Run With Your Heart 15K trail challenge was the very first trail race of my life so running and finishing first woman overall this year was special to me.  I had run a couple 5 mile charity road races with friends but hadn’t considered running to race since quitting high school cross-country about 20 years ago.  Over the preceding winter I’d made friends with many of the women in Grunt Girl Racing and had begun going trail running with them on weekends.  With their encouragement I signed and ran in the foot of snow that had fallen the night before, finishing exhausted but happy and in love with trail running.
    I spent the rest of 2010 running more trail races and building my endurance for the Buckeye Trail 50K which these same friends had convinced me to sign up for in an optimistic moment.  It turned out to be a great idea.  I liked it enough to sign up for two more 50Ks in the fall and conquered the Bobcat Trail Marathon in November.  All in all it was a great year for me and one with barely any time to think back on how it all got started.
    And then came this year’s Run With Your Heart.  It didn’t snow quite as much and I ran 22 minutes faster and feeling a lot stronger.  The thing is there were all these moments during the race when I found myself remembering the year before.  It’s funny how the memory works.  When I run down a particular piece of trail sometimes I can remember all kinds of odd details about the last time I ran there. 
In 2010 I spent the last 3 miles running behind Dan Belinger, who I’d never met before.  He asked if I want to pass which I definitely did not want to do.  Focusing on the motion of his feet was pulling me along and keeping me going.  A few minutes later he introduced himself and introduced me to something I didn’t know about trail runners.  They just race about happily making friends with whoever happens to be close by.  It’s fantastic.  I’ve made friends in just about every trail race I’ve run long enough to allow for a nice chatting pace but that one, clear memory of that first trail race stays with me, that camaraderie, that strange and special combination of fatigue, pain and happiness.