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Once a padawan, now a freaking Jedi. I run really far, I write a bunch, and have super powers that allow me to grow amazing facial hair.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Distance Between the Road and the Trail

Most things in life produce some sort of competitive atmosphere. The college I went to is better than your college. Pepsi is better than Coke. The Marine Corps is better than the Army (this one is totally true).

The big argument with distance runners comes down to this: roads versus trails.

Typical Road Marathon
Typical Trail Ultramarathon
If you are wondering which I prefer, then you're
probably new to my blog...

I will tell you up front my experience with both... I have 7 full road marathons under my belt to go along with 10 trail ultramarathons that ranged from 50 kilometers to 77 miles. Between both, I have run in 5 different states, in every season, in quite a few weather patterns, and been witness to a fairly diverse sampling of race-day factors.

Lets start with road running... the pros and cons.

Road Runnin'
 The Good...
  • Most races and even training runs can be easily measured.
    • Marathons are 26.2 miles, ALWAYS.
    • MapMyRun, Google Maps and similar apps are very accurate.  
Don't Lie. I Know Some of You
Thought This Was a Radio Station.
  • Road races tend to have better organization, websites, chip timing.
  • Location, location, location.
    • Marathons are everywhere, from major cities to small towns, all year long.
    • You won't likely get lost trying to get to a race... and probably won't get lost during the
      race either. 
 The Bad...
  • I hope you like an audience. Some marathons get well over 20,000 participants and even more spectators.
  • Traffic and parking. Trying to get to downtown *fill in any city or town here* is a clusterfuck when there are thousands of people trying to go to the same event as you are. Even if you live in the town, it's quite a challenge at 5:30 am.
    And Now You Know Why
    The Results Page Has a "Chip Time" and
    a "Gun Time".

The Ugly...
  • As friendly as my fellow runners are, when you're in a crowd, people are simply rude.    
    • People run with headphones, oblivious to everything around them, including you.
    • Farting, spitting, vomiting, and releasing other bodily fluids is way worse in a crowd.
    • You'd think you were in a church service by the way people avoid conversation.
  • "Concrete Jungle" isn't how I'd describe an ideal running venue. Some cities look better than others, but I like my smog to oxygen ratio a little less one-sided.    
Good Luck Finding
the Finish Line!
Trail Runnin'
The Good...
  • Intimacy is a thing to cherish. Few, if any, ultramarathons get to a 1000 participants. Many races will even have just a hundred or less. You can literally run hours without seeing a single person.
  • You will be running places that few people ever see. The views will be amazing, the wildlife will be out, and you will love every second of it (unless aaforementioned wildlife attacks!).
  • Trail running is easier on the joints... dirt and leaves don't hurt as bad as concrete and asphalt.
  •   You will meet people who will do anything to make sure you make it the whole way, even if it means they don't reach their time goal. You will make friends on the trail that put your best friend in real life to shame. There is nothing quite like shared suffering.
Getting Killed By a Mountain Lion is Still
a Pro in My Book. Who Wants to Die
In Their Sleep?

 The Bad...
  • Say goodbye to cellphone service, and forget GPS. They probably won't work where we're going.
  • Running through the woods makes it hard to see where you're going. Do your homework or you might find yourself in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre scenario. Trails are harder to mark than streets.
  • Bring a tent or plan on a day that starts at 3am. Hotels are for tourists and businessmen.
Tents are for Lustful Teenagers Who Need
The Ugly...
  • Exponentially greater chance of injury. A trail runner who hasn't been to the hospital in the last 12 months is no trail runner at all.
  • Less standardized. I have run several "50 kilometer" races, and not one of them was 50 kilometers. If you wanted to qualify for Boston, you better get back to the city. No race is the same... even if you ran it the year before.
  • Run enough races and you will get lost. Maybe you won't even be able to find the starting line kind of lost

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Dangers of Over Training

One of the biggest dangers to your running is OVER TRAINING.

How can you train too much for an ultramarathon you ask? Well it's way easier than you think.

Ahh, Shit. Now How Do I Get Back Home?
Why You Do It

  1. Lack of trust in a good training plan. You're a rookie and can't pick just one thing. You try to do them all.
  2. Addiction. You're in love. I get it, but just like your fling in the 6th grade didn't work out long term, neither will the way your training.
  3. Lack of common sense. You don't rest or know when to take it easy, running through those aches and pains that are meant to be natural warnings to ease off the throttle.
Tony Didn't Know When To Stop Either...

3 Ways Over Training Kills Your Race
  1. You get "overuse injuries" like tendonitis, stress fractures, shin splints, and muscle strains.
  2. You lose your motivation for running and your sight on the race goal.
  3. You plateau, not getting any faster or stronger. Then you backslide.
How To Prevent It
  1. Have a solid but reasonable training plan that starts out slow, peaks, and then has room for tapering... Oh yeah. AND FOLLOW IT.
  2. Cross train and be creative. Have other low impact activities that you can use to supplement running. Don't always run for training... throw in a few that have no agenda for time, pace, distance, etc.
  3. Listen to your body. If you tweak an ankle, knee, muscle, or anything else then you need to take care of it. No one likes paying a huge registration fee, booking hotel rooms, and putting in for PTO just to get injured and not be able to run. 
The Long Term Danger If You Ignore the Preventable

If you pack in the runs, constantly training, constantly racing you will burn out... plain and simple. In 2011 I registered for 12 races. All of them were marathons or longer. I had a great Spring season, set personal records for two distances and then finished my longest race to date. Then I started sliding. My running became sporadic. My commitment waned. That Fall I went to the starting line of a race that I ended up not running, didn't even show up for three that I had paid to do, had one of my worst marathon times ever, and then dropped out of another. I had pushed too hard, then I paid the price.

Everyone has periods of ups and downs in their training and their racing, but if you want to be successful, you need to be consistent.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Race Eve

Do you remember Christmas Eve when you were still small enough to believe that Santa would come down your chimney while you were sleeping? Did you sleep well that night? Knowing that just hours from then you would be opening up a ton of presents? Hell no you didn't!

Especially If You Had Seen the 1972
"Tales From The Crypt" Santa.
Running your first ultramarathon will likely be the same way. You do everything right, have it all planned, get to bed early, and then you lay there. Awake. All. Freaking. Night.

Think about it. You're nervous, hopefully excited, probably away from your own bed, and you probably can't stop thinking about the fact that in less than 24 hours you will embark on a run that will literally take your entire day. Here are some practical tips to help you make it to the starting line:

1.) Make sure you arrange lodging AHEAD OF TIME, and for your first race, don't pick one that requires camping. It sounds fun... and it is... but it opens up a host of other potential problems.

2.) Just like I've said in previous posts, TRAIN LIKE YOU RACE. Train when you are tired. Intentionally prepare yourself for running when you have had less than ideal sleep, because I can guarantee you won't be getting 8 hours of REM sleep on race eve.

3.) If you can't sleep, then rest. We have all had those nights where we are trying to fall asleep to the point where it's actually work. If you can't do it, then just do something relaxing and restful. Read. Take a bath. Whatever.

4.) Prepare everything you need ahead of time so you have to do little more than roll out of bed in the morning, and then set as many alarms and wake-up calls as you can. Being in a rush on the day of is just enough added stress that it could ruin your whole day.

5.) Try not to take pills or anything else that will either wake you up or put you to sleep. I love my coffee and I drink a ton of it, but it's not the way to go. Furthermore, you don't want to be coming out of an Ambien induced zombie state when you have to run. Just roll with whatever your body throws at you.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Many Ailments of an Ultrarunner

It comes as no surprise that running ultra distances, typically in remote places, and sometimes in less than ideal conditions has it's hazards. Ultrarunning isn't the safest or most comfortable thing you can be doing with your time, but as they say, the juice is worth the squeeze.

Unless You're Trying to Squeeze
Chuck's Lemons...

My Top 3 Running Ailments (With Firsthand Accounts)

1. Bonking (a.k.a The Wall)

No it's not the greatest double album in the history of music... it's the utter breakdown of your entire physical and mental being. Commonly referred to as "hitting the wall" or "bonking", this ailment comes well into a long training run or race. Biologically it's when your body depletes it's glycogen stores and can't get the lactic acid out of your muscles fast enough. You are nauseous, light headed, your legs cramp up, and your kidneys feel like they are being stabbed.

But Dammit I Looked Good
Doing It.
My Story: I have hit a "wall" running road marathons, usually hits me around mile 18 or so. I have only completely bonked out once though and that was during my first attempt at 77 miles. The heat that day paired up with poor training and even worse nutrition had me puking my guts out after the first 19 miles. I literally couldn't keep down water, gel, food, or even a Tums tablet. I dropped out to live and fight another day.

2. Chaffing

Unless you failed your 3rd grade science class, you at least know a little bit
about friction. Well, when you run for hours on end normal rubbing of body parts... under your armpits, between your thighs, even between your ass cheeks... is exaggerated. The result is raw, bleeding, and unbelievable pain. You might not realize it during the race, but you had better get a tub of Vaseline ASAP. Don't forget to tape your nipples either, because that ever so slight movement of your shirt is going to have you lactating blood.

My Story: You can't avoid chaffing altogether, but you can reduce how bad it gets. I learned the hard way when I was a rookie, not realizing it until the hot water from my post race shower hit my ass. I let out a cry that sounded like I was having Satan himself exorcized out of me. Then it hurt to use toilet paper for a week. My tip to you is be generous and all inclusive with some Vaseline before and during a race, get a pair of compression shorts, and always duct tape or put band-aids on your nips. (Duct-tape sticks better and won't fall off, but you may need to shave your sasquatch-like chest hair first.)

3. Temporary Insanity

Most people know that running messes with the dopamine and serotonin levels in your brain. It's like a poor man's Prozac. My theory though is that strenuous enough activity results in these balances to go haywire for a bit. It's why people cry at the finish lines of races all across the country or in some cases, completely go ape shit in the middle of race. Your physical body is working at a abnormally effecient level, burning fuel, moving stuff around. Your mind does it too. If you get off on a tangent inside your head it can screw you over. You stop thinking about the task in front of you and your mind wonders to what kind of person you wanted to become, the meaning of life, why bad things happen to good people, and it will all make you nuts. Your not racing anymore, your wallowing in whatever crazy idea your brain shifted to the front.

Running and Copenhagen are My
Only Addictions.

My Story: This is tricky because running to me is therapeutic most of the time. Sometimes though, it takes me down memory lane to things I'd rather not be thinking about. On a training run in the Winter several years ago in Ohio my mind wandered to back to Iraq. I literally stopped in the middle of the run at 2am and sat in a pile of snow for 2 hours until I got past the woe is me attitude and ran home before the sun came up. It happened at my last race too. I had a great first 20 miles, bullshitting with another runner the whole time. Then we separated and I ran alone. Having just lost my Mom a few weeks before to cancer, guess where my mind went? I dropped at the next aid station, nothing wrong physically, but my mind was not where it needed to be to finish. The solution is to have a self-talk plan for when things like this go down. Songs to sing. Positive memories. To-do lists. Anything.

As you began to run longer and further you may encounter these and others. Some other favorites, both from my own experiences and other runner's include:

-Temporary Blindness (Rarest of the rare.)
-Hallucinations (Typically reserved for 100-mile + runners.)
-Broken Bones (One trip over a root should clear this one up.)
-Animal Attacks (Going to happen eventually, hopefully it's a small dog.)
-Loss of Toenails (The truest sign of being an ultrarunner.)
-Shitting Your Pants (I always run with a bandanna a.k.a emergency TP.)

While I have experienced all but a few of these as a byproduct of running, it has been and always will be worth it. You will know what I mean when you cross your first finish line.