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This post brought to you by a humbling 6 mile run, and the letter P.
Ultrarunning has become wildly popular over the last few years, and I, for one, love it. I love the community. I love seeing people push beyond their preconceived physical and mental barriers. I love the happy-go-lucky, dirt bag lifestyle that accompanies ultra runners – even if only for the weekend of the race.
Lately I’ve noticed a disheartening trend. Well, it’s disheartening if you are a running coach and care about these things. What I’ve noticed are runners who keep showing up to race after race who are:
- Not adequately trained (or even close) for the distance.
- Lacking basic running fundamentals (because they never had them or they’ve been ignoring proper training in order to retain those fundamentals).
- Not properly recovered from the last ultra.
- Chronically injured.
- Not really in all around good health.
Regardless, they toe the start line with one or all of the above maladies (can you call lack of adequate training and running fundamentals maladies? Let’s, just for today.) and somehow drag themselves to the finish line…if they are lucky.
Repeat, ad nauseum.
And that’s the kicker. Not that they show up once underprepared, I mean let’s face it, most of us have likely done it. It’s that they continuously crawl from one race to the next, digging their bodies deeper into this hole of self destruction. Each time they swear they will prepare better next time, but next time simply comes too soon for any progress to be made (never mind recovery to happen). The reason I’m suddenly so hyper aware of people like this surrounding me at an ultramarathon starting line?
BECUASE I’VE BECOME ONE OF THEM.
Of course, like most of my fellow “should I really be doing this?” cohorts, it didn’t start out that way. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide to wing an ultra. (Well…wait, yes I did. But that was a long time ago and I’ve made better choices since then.) No, instead I trained my heart out for a race, was healthy and adequately prepared, and had an incredible race day experience (in this case, Frozen Hell Hole 100).
The problem came when I didn’t stop there.
Instead of basking in the glow of success and letting my body reap the recovery it so greatly deserved, I set my sights on the next race, and demanded my body to immediately get ready for it. And then the next race, and then the next…even when things began to unravel. Why? I’m not sure. Because I could? Because 50K was my new “short distance” so I thought I was tougher than conventional exercise science wisdom? Because FOMO? Because I have some sort of internal demons that are silenced while I’m suffering in the woods over endless miles of trails? Who knows.
Here’s what I do know: ignoring my body’s pleads for rest and recognizing the need to “reset” has left me with the following issues:
- Fatigue (physical and emotional).
- A pissed off adrenal system.
- My running form went to shit.
- So did my speed (what little I had left).
- Decrease in all around strength.
- Muscular imbalances.
- Aches, pains, and nagging body parts that never used to complain.
- Ultimately, a show stopping injury.
Frankly, it all boils down to a complete lack of respect for the distance.
I know that sounds cliché and maybe even harsh, and many will disagree, but I’m going to call a spade a spade. Ultras are really far (emphasis on the “really far” part). Our bodies are not invincible. And it can be really hard to remember this, especially when you really enjoy what you do (and boy do we love to run really far).
Please know that I’m not “calling people out” (and myself, obviously) as a means of bursting fun bubbles. I love seeing people succeed at really hard things. I love even more an “underdog” story. But I also hate seeing people defeated…and I’m telling you right now that this constant cycle of disrespect for the distance and disrespect for your body WILL defeat you. Because that’s the place I’m writing this post from right now, and it’s not a really fun place to be.
Whew. It felt good to get that all off of my chest.
So now what? Well, if I’ve learned anything about pointing fingers and calling groups of people out, it’s that you damn well better lead by example (you know, the whole throwing stones in glass houses thing). I’m certainly no elite athlete, celebrity runner, or anything of that nature, but I do know that people follow what I do, as well as take my training advice. I feel as though the role I have in this online space comes with a responsibility…which is why I’m the first to call myself out when I’m suddenly training and racing like an asshole.
So, my plan for the remainder of 2019 and the first half of 2020 is to focus on the following:
The last three years of what I lovingly refer to as the “Lowcountry Shuffle” has turned my running form into some sort of unrecognizable ultra running trot. My cadence is barely faster than a power walk, and I’ve somehow resorted to an “all quad” pull that barely even uses the rest of my legs. I know, I don’t get it either (but it kind of explains the calf injury).
The kicker was a few months back when I was running, what felt like a “strong” training run at Huntington Beach State Park. A very kind gentlemen rode up to me on his bike and asked me what I was training for. “Vermont 100” I told him. He replied he figured it was something like that, because I “looked like I was capable of running so much faster than that shuffle.” I kid you not. I wasn’t insulted, because he wasn’t wrong. But it also knocked me down a few pegs, because in that moment I felt like I was running fast.
Specific areas I’d like to focus on are:
- Faster turnover / cadence
- Running form (I’m currently obsessed with learning the biomechanics between pushing and pulling runing form)
- Incorporating more running drills into my workouts to help maintain proper form and keep these skills fresh.
Speed (over Distance)
I always remind my clients of the principle of specificity: if you are training to run FAST, you are going to use certain training techniques. If you are training to run FAR, you are going to utilize different techniques. And here, I have to remind myself of the same thing.
I hate listing specific paces on my social media because I don’t ever want to encourage the comparison game. So let’s just say that a certain pace that used to be on the slow end of my happy zone, is now nearly 2 minutes per mile FASTER than my “why are we running this fast, this is hard!” zone. I’ve lost a TON of speed, and while I know that’s because I haven’t been training for speed, I can’t help but wonder if my overall race efforts would be easier if I could gain some of that back.
Therefore, I’d love to try to PR my marathon and 50K times, and make those my focus over the next year.
I love strength training. I used to say I loved it almost as much as running, but today I’ll tell you that I love it MORE than running, because running and I are going through a “thing”. But, seemingly over the last year I’ve skipped the majority of my lower body / leg days because I almost always had a race coming up, and wanted to avoid having sore legs for race day. That approach works well every now and then, but when you are racing too much, it ends up with atrophy of the lower body because you are once again training like an asshole. In short: I need to get back to a regular strength routine that compliments my running…and not just my lats.
This has actually never, ever been a strength of mine. However, there was a brief 3 or 4 month stint two years ago where I reguarly practiced yoga and I felt AMAZING. I don’t expect to get back to a 3-4 day a week regular practice ever again, but once or twice a week would be nice.
You know. Adequate rest. Hydration. Taking my vitamins. My diet isn’t horrible: as a vegetarian/almost vegan, I eat pretty well. But I fear I don’t eat enough to balance what I do, and my body has revolted because of it. Eating and nutrition have always been a tightrope act for me. I, like many women I know, grew up with very unhealthy emotional eating habits as a teen and young adult. Tracking food, even just to see if I’m getting what I need, can trigger restrictive habits. So for years, I’ve intuitively ate in order to avoid that trap. And it’s worked…to a point. As I am getting older (I’m 37, I’m not old) and participating in longer events that require more taxing training, I may need to start paying closer attention to making sure my body is getting the fuel it needs.
Proper Builds AND Cutbacks.
EMPHASIS ON THE CUTBACKS. One to two goal races per year. And just because I *CAN* sign up for the longest distance offered at each $30 Club race doesn’t mean I SHOULD.
THE POINT OF MY INCESSANT RAMBLING …
…is not to simply “dear diary” my problems with the entire world wide web (although, once a blogger, always a blogger…). Rather, I share these things I am experiencing (and have observed in others) to challenge my fellow runners – ultra or not – to take a moment and reflect on your own physical and mental health, as it relates to running.
Let’s face it: we runners are one passionate bunch, and often our desire to experience new races and new distances can blur our long term vision. Sure, some of you guys can run 100 milers every month with no problems, but the reality is, most of us can’t…at lest not long term. And of course, there are plenty of you who are DOING IT THE RIGHT WAY, with adequate training, rest, and realistic goals. I applud you. But the rest of you (us)…
Are you taking care of your body? Are you protecting your running, long term?
I’m not sure about you, but I hope to be running for the rest of my life. And I haven’t been doing a good job at investing in that long term goal. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but rather, pretty eye opening and powerful to realize that it’s time to take a step back in order to eventually go even further.
So, here’s to the next chapter…