This season has been a running year, or well kind of a running year. With a new born, lots of work, a major live in remodel (done mostly by myself), the training isn't great. Thanks to a good friend with a goal to do a 50 miler however, he was able to break me free from the chain and crank.
For a mountain person such as myself the midwest is a bit mysterious in its trees, lakes, swaps, dragon bugs, humidity, and general flatness. Uncognitively (I"m not sure thats a real word) I've been traveling back to the Midwest ever couple of years and doing some type of run. 50k on the North Shore of Lake Superior, A run in the poison Ivy infested Red River Gorge, and finally the pictured rocks 50 miler in the UP (upper peninsula for those of us from the mountains).
I often go into these runs with attitude of "I'm from the mountains, this will be super easy." I mean, I've ran things like the little big horn 50 and the Speed Goat 50k, how hard could a flat, low altitude run be? Like with every run, the experience is never what you expect.
In the world of mountain running we tend to have two speed groups, the up and the down.
Up in my case has two basic strides, the run and the walk. The run is a small, quick stride that helps maintain a good cadence, yet manages the heart rate on most moderate climbs. I often hear people use tips like: 'swing those arms a lot', 'run on your toes', 'keep your feet under you.' My personal balanced cadence is somewhere around the 70 spm. As the grade increases the stride length decreases. Imagine your wearing a backpack with a rope connected to a tractor tire your dragging along behind you.
When things get really steep I transition to a sort of power walk. Often times this can be faster than the above short fast running side, and possibly more important it uses a different muscle group. The gluts, ham sting and the top of the quad (think groin to femoral apex) tend to take the brunt of this stride and the core relaxes a bit. In this stride you step forward with a big step forward. Often times you will see people with a hand on each leg pushing down to assist in the stepping.
If your a cyclist, think climbing in a small gear with a high cadence is the same as the former method and the ladder is like standing up in the big ring and powering though a climb.
On the down, the Ultra runner often uses gravity vs. using work. So think big slow, strides. Almost like falling down hill. Your probably thinking that doesn't sound good for the knees, ankles, and hips. Well your right, its not. Some thing that helps reduce the suffering is by having a good forward stride. This means intentionally leaning forward where the ball of the foot strikes first, and the foot plants below the knee, not in front of the knee. This lets you use the calf muscle properly as the initial shock as apposed to a heal strike which directly transmits everything to the knee and the hip.
The final zone is the flats. For the record, I'm spend little to no time developing this one. But basically its a combination of the up and the down. A longer stride, with a quick cadence (again about 70 spm for me) where you are running forward on the toes, planting the foot under the knee and the torso, not in front. Most people have a well developed stride in this zone regardless of if its correct or not.
This season I attempted to develop my flat stride with a number of fun runs, but I have an inherent problem of always looking up towards the mountains. I think this was a problem for me not in the lack of stride, but more importantly in the little muscles in the core that come along with it.
How should we respond to this type of failure? I think its important to remember a couple of things:
1.) Ultra running always has unexpected problems and highs and lows. The theme of the Wasatch 100 is '100 miles of heaven and hell.' There are lots of ups and downs and you don't know when they are coming, just know they aren't staying!
2.) Even with the best preparation, sometimes things do go wrong.
3.) Listen to your body... sometimes. If your body is telling you that it wants to stop, you need to think hard WHY its telling you that. If its because you've been running for 8 hours and your tired, thats not a good excuse, if its because your feet are sore, not a good excuse. But if your can see the blood coming through your shoe because a blister has formed, broke, and is now bleeding, the answer is stop. To the best of your ability in your exhausted state you need to ask yourself the following questions:
1.) What are the likely consequences of continuing? If the answer is an extra day of soreness, you know the answer. But if the answer is a trip to the ER, you know the answer too. The trick is deciding where your problem fits. Ibuprofen is a common tool for helping us run faster and farther, but be careful with it as it can also mask serious problems for a long time or even cause them. Blood is mostly a bad sign. blood on your feet, in your urine or excriment. On your nurps well, that's a bummer but get a band-aid. Pain in your legs, feet, and joints can be normal, but again be careful. Any sharp pain should be taken seriously. Is it sharp pain in your lower leg on every stride? This could be serious.
2.) Ask your partner! Chances are your partner has a bit more objective view of what your experiencing. The more experience they have the more effective their advice.
3.) If in doubt, drop out. Whatever it is, even if its the Hardrock at mile 90, you can always come back another year. That being said, this is not an excuse to DNF on every race. You put a lot of time in, don't waste it.