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.