Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Advice on Running

Running is a highly personal endeavor.  We run races for several good reasons, such as to spend time with others that share our passion, meet up with friends, test ourselves against the field (Hey!  I'm 33rd out of 49 in my AC.  Awesome!) and to provide us with goals.  We run to keep fit, enjoy the great outdoors, get out in winter and to put our daily stress into perspective.  Reasons for running vary tremendously.  Someone who has run ultras for years (Doug Barber) has a totally different perspective on running than someone who has finished their first 30 minute training run.

Where is this all leading?  I wrote a short article on running that provides advice more from the skewed ultra counter-culture perspective than what is normally found in a running mag, intended for beginners.

2 notes before the article:

I have always struggled with completing a 50K "ultra" race.  This is due to a considerable injury list, that precludes sound training practices.  I talk of 50M and 100M races, but not from experience.  I hope to one day find the correct mix of motivation, training, free time and medication to undertake a 50M race.

The article is not intended as sound advice for training, nutrition or the correct alignment towards mental fortification.  It is intended as a vehicle to highlight alternative perspectives.  Enjoy!

One interesting aspect of running is that, aside from runners on school or elite teams, most get to pick which races they enter.  Even at the ultra distance, there is a considerable selection of races from which to choose.  Since both my wife and I run, we can also incorporate a race into a vacation.  At the start of a year, it’s fun to map out which races you plan to enter, but not so much fun when you realize your body is not keeping up to your expectations…

Here are some tips regarding your “ultra race wish list”.  These tips are meant for runners who are relatively new to ultra racing (less than 65 years running ultras) or fall into the “human” category.  Those who fall outside this category know who they are, for the most part.  A brief caveat on these tips.  They should not be confused with what is realistic, sane or any other description that does not apply to runners.  Try mentally noting all the runners you know that are realistic.  See what I mean?

 Number of races to enter

This depends on several factors such as cost (ignore this), travelling distance (ignore this also), logistics of fitting a race into the other demands on your time (wow!  Ignorance is bliss!) and how long it takes to recover from the previous race.  This last one is important, but I cannot remember why.  The best advice is to take the number of races you did last year, add 3 and divide by the square root of the number of major injuries you incurred during the second half of the year.  This formula may appear to be a complete fabrication, but it has the benefit of looking trendy, so let’s move on.  No one will remember it next year, anyway.

Vacation races

This has been given considerable exposure in the running magazines, but most articles fail to point out some salient facts that can be critical to a good experience, yet are not overly apparent.  Example:  If you are running an ultra out west, do not climb a mountain the day before the race.  This may seem like a good idea at the time, but mountain climbing takes a long time and is surprisingly dehydrating.  When you get back to town, you will need a nap and forget to drink water.  After the nap, it will be time to drive to the race.  Stopping at the first aid station for 6 glasses of water is considered bad form and results in an embarrassing sloshing sound for the next 25K.


You will heal more quickly if you complain about them, especially to other runners.  Injuries can be divided into 2 categories.  Those you can “run through” and still heal, and those that take a hell of along time to heal, when you continue running.  Rule of thumb:  If the injury persists for more than 3 years, see a doctor, preferably a psychiatrist.  It is important to correctly assess the extent of the injury.  Is that hamstring pull a micro tear or an ubertear?  Within 2 days of injuring a hamstring, you should schedule a speedwork session.  This will provide you with conclusive proof if it is an ubertear.

How to choose a race

You need to ask yourself some serious questions, then sign up for the race.  I didn’t say you need to answer the questions, hence the signing up before the realization hits, that you are woefully unprepared for the race.

Does it improve my chances of winning the series/challenge/cup?  It is important to know if the race is part of the race grouping you are intent on winning.  It is critical to run as many races not affiliated with the series/challenge/cup, for bragging rights.  “Yeah, I only came in 62nd, but I ran 16 races outside the series”.  This really impresses the series winner…

Is the race way beyond my abilities or training?  This question is so patently ignored by ultra runners, it hardly needs mentioning.  You have just struggled through a 50K race on a gentle flat broadpath trail race.  It almost killed you.  The logical progression is to sign up for that rugged, brutal 50 miler that is 3 weeks away.  No chance of training properly, you will need to wake up at 2:00 and drive for 3 hours to reach the starting line and the hills will destroy what’s left of your legs.  With luck, you will be eaten by bears, which is the only satisfactory excuse for doing poorly at a race.

What is the post-race food?  I actually cannot think of anything funny or derisive about this question.  It might be the only aspect that should be seriously considered as part of your decision to enter a race.  Try to remember what you were thinking at the finish of your last 50K or 80K.  Actually, thinking isn’t truly a factor.  Aside from being close to tears because you have just done the stupidest thing you can think of, your weary war-torn body is self-propelling to the food station.  You have no choice in the matter.  Stale bagels taste like a Michael Stadtlander masterpiece.  Of course, this implies the post-race food is not important.  Perhaps the question should be “Is there post-race food?”.

How much international media attention will I get?

It is very important to enter only those races that will enhance your media profile.  I cannot remember the reasoning behind this, but it has to do with positioning yourself so that you can ultimately quit work and be paid huge sums of money to run.  This was the consensus a bunch of us reached in the Angel pub, after the Niagara Ultra.

We also realized that running and winning the major marathons is tantamount to cheating.  You need to mid-pack obscure races in hostile climates.  Again, the reasoning escapes me at this precise moment, but I do recall that there were sound, lucid arguments supporting the conclusions.  It was almost an epiphany, just after the Tequila shots…

Do I run the risk of getting injured?

Avoid all races where the answer is no.  If you run a 50K race and have no chance of pulling a muscle, twisting an ankle or falling down a cliff while being chased by cougars, you will have to move to Orlando, Florida and live at Disney World.  I apologize for being so vehement, but avoiding this tactical error is a must.  Think of it this way:  You are talking to a bunch of ultra sisters and brothers, discussing this month’s injuries and you mention that you are injury free.  This will coincide with a lull in the noise level throughout the room and everyone will hear you.  A death-like silence will last longer than it takes to tie the spotless shoes that cover your healthy pink toenails.  Everyone will slowly move away from you, never breaking eye contact with The Freak (that’s you).  Any questions?

How much will it cost?

I happen to live 15 minutes from the starting line of the Duntroon / Stayner Canada Day 8K.  The race is free.  I can get up at 7:00, drive leisurely and make it to the race a half an hour before the start.  Very disappointing!  The most memorable races are those that involve complex travelling logistics, huge entry fees, massive crowds, a sprinkling of blood and a stale bagel at the end.  Why enter an event that does not test your physical, mental and financial limits?  If you can include stratospheric airfare to some isolated hellhole, sleep deprivation and a DNF due to heat prostration, consider it a bonus!

Should I run the race?

If you have read to this point, then you have already answered the question…


  1. Great post , I will be back when I need a chuckle!

  2. Some great advice, all which I have blatantly ignored in the past and will continue to ignore in the future.
    My current ankle injury has caused me to shut down my run last wed. after 8km yet I am still thinking maybe, just maybe I can still run 100 miles at Haliburton next week. HA