Hatrun 50K Ultra Summary

March 22, 2009

A spring ultra?  Suuurrre.  Apparently my brain was not registering when I read the following course description back in early December at registration time:

“The course is mostly single track trail with a mix of open fields, dirt road and some paved road. The course features nearly 9,800 feet of climbing. There is a starting loop of 3.6 miles followed by two identical loops of 13.7 miles. There are 4 stream crossings that can be challenging depending on the water level – there is always the chance of getting wet feet.”

I also remember seeing this course profile picture from the http://www.hatrun.com website … apparently this did not register completely either.

This all occurred, of course, just a few days after the JFK 50 Ultra experience; perhaps ultra runner’s euphoria was still in place.  I particularly like the use of the phrase ‘the course features …’ when describing the terrain.  OK, so now I know what 9600 feet of climbing, and 9600 feet of descending feels like over 31 miles.  Here is a summary of my experience at this great event.

Pre-Food:

Two bananas dusted with cinnamon about two hours before the start.  The cinnamon helps to slow down the digestion/absorption of the high sugar content fruit.  Otherwise my blood sugar tends to get out of balance.

Weather/Course Conditions:

About 35 degrees at the start; about 50 degrees later in the day.  Partly sunny with very little wind on some of the connecting meadows.  The course was relatively dry with a few muddy spots.  The streams were not running high and all the crossings could be made without getting wet.

Race Plan:

Primarily go out slow(er), set in a good mental focus, and then stay focused on the two keys of Floating and Flowing.  At the same time, enjoy it … the day, the park, the event, the people, the experience.

I did not really have a time goal since I did not have a good idea of what the course would be like.  I also did not really train for this event.  My longest run since the new year was 17 miles.  My biggest week since the new year was 37 miles.  My approach was to train on technique, so I did a lot of hilly trail runs; but none of the home trails remotely compared to the terrain on this course.

Overall:

Uphill:  The ‘Float’ focus worked perfectly.  It kept me tall and kept the pressure off of my glutes.  One of my tendencies is to tense up my back and glutes when on a uphill.  At the same time, the ‘Flow’ focus enhanced keeping my back, hips, legs relaxed.

Uphill Steep:  Many of the hills you (meaning I) really could not run.  Walking was the most efficient approach; so I had a lot of ChiWalking® practice.  In some cases, I needed to use the sidehill technique to keep my ankles down and feet flat.

Downhill:  The ‘Flow’ focus also worked perfectly on the downhills.  It again kept me very relaxed in the back, hips and legs; and reduced impact.   At the same time, the ‘Float’ focus here kept me tall while leaning less and I felt very light on my feet.

Downhill Steep:  In retrospect, this was my biggest challenge.  In my last ultra, I took a lot of pounding in my quads because I lost focus and tensed up on the steep downhills.  Today’s post event body senses suggest I still have some technique work to do here.  The quads are just a little tight which means I was using them to ‘brake’.  I do remember tensing a bit to try and control my speed when I should have been thinking light (‘up’) on my feet with a quicker short turnover.

Flats (although not much of this on the course):  I played with the concept of balancing Floating and Flowing on the flats.  Often it was effortless, particularly in the last 1/2 mile.  I came out of the woods and could see the finish.  For most of the day I kept saying to myself ‘float and flow, less, less, less’.

My favorite three words in the whole ChiRunning® book are ‘Less is more’ in the introduction on CR-NewEditionpage 4 (read the introduction free here) and again on page 28.  This concept keeps popping up in my running and in my life.  When I try too hard, I get out of alignment, overextended and I tense up.  When I just focus on alignment and relaxation, everything falls into place.

Other Adjustments:

At about mile 22, my right mid-back (kidney area) started to cramp a bit which is a tendency due to an old injury.  I took in some extra water and stopped and did a Spine Roll Body Loosener.  This helps to extend the spine and release some tension.  This helped my back quite a bit and I was lucky to be at the top of a long gradual downhill.  I focused on flowing down this hill and allowing the pelvis to rotate more which provided a massage to my mid/lower back.  This really loosened up the back and release any remaining tension.

At about mile 24 my left knee suddenly starting aching; like a dull ache, not really pain in any one spot.  At the same time I got a tingling feeling in the toes of my left foot.  I wondered what could be causing this and again decided to stop and do a few Body Looseners.  After Ankle Rolls, Knee Circles, and Hip Circles the ache and tingling faded away and I was off again.

Food on the Course:

First mini-lap (3.6 mi.):  No aid stations and no food for me at the loop (start/end) point.  Just a water refill and a ditching of my long pants.

First loop (13.7 mi.):  Two aid stations, boiled potatoes* with salt and a half banana at each.  Another add station at the loop (start/end) point.  I took a 3-4 minute pause here for a restroom break and a half banana.

Second loop (13.7 mi.):  Same two aid stations, again boiled potatoes* with salt and a half banana at each.  Later, I also dipped into my backup stash (box of raisins) at about mile 30.  This was a great boost for the final approach to the finish.

The best part was that I did not eat anything I usually avoid; which was a good indication I was thinking straight and was not looking for ‘comfort’.  I also did not use any electrolytes (Succeed! Caps), although I was comfortably warm and lost a lot of fluids.  I think this was due to some key diet changes recently and my electrolyte batteries were fully charged.  I set my countdown timer to 12 minutes and took a mouthful of water everytime it went off.  I carried my water in a diagonal water belt.

[*Danny Dreyer, creator/author of ChiRunning®, has on numerous occasions talked about the physical and mental transformations that occur on an ultra from boiled potatoes dipped in salt.  Now I know first hand how well these work for quick energy.]

Key Take-aways:

- Hills are an ideal place to test your technique and your ability to make adjustments quickly; sometimes automatically as the body senses effort.

- “It was a great running lesson”.  I had almost 6 hours of continuous practice on some very challenging terrain; my brain was operating at close to its current max capacity.  I am wondering what it will be like to now run having to think ‘less’ having stretched my brain and body/muscle memory to a new level.

- “Float” and “Flow” with varying levels of each depending on the terrain can simplify your focus to the key elements; and enhance your experience and performance.  Danny Dreyer’s original article on these concepts is located here.

This is great event put on by some great people.  Everything, everything was first rate.  Hats off to everyone involved.  I can see why such a challenging event sells out quickly every year.

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Oh, almost forgot … the numbers for those who need to know:

- First mini-loop: 33:51/3.6 miles, Second loop: 2:27:48/13.7 miles, Third loop: 2:53:25/13.7 including a 4:11 pause.  Overall 5:55:02.

- 122 out of 385.  38th out of 93 AG.

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Brief post event update 3/31/09:  Ran again Wednesday 3/25 after the race about 5 miles flat sub-8s, then again Friday 3/27 about 11 miles hills easy.  Feel great with little to no recovery.  Today another 11 miles mostly flat trails … wondering what could be next for me.

My theory about having stretched my brain was correct.  Running in the effortless zone seems to have taken on a new level.

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David Stretanski is a holistic health, fitness and wellness coach and Certified ChiRunning®/ChiWalking® Instructor.  For more information on David, please see his About, Contact page or his website at http://www.eChiFitness.com.

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ChiRunning® and ChiWalking® are registered trademarks of ChiLiving, Inc.


ChiRunning®: A Balance of Float vs. Flow

March 18, 2009

This post is about subtle changes in mindset making dramatic changes in running efficiency, both in the hills and on the flats.  A few days ago Danny Dreyer, creator and author of ChiRunning®/ChiWalking®, posted a blog entitled “Training Program for a 10K Trail Race” about event-specific training for a very hilly 10K he has coming up in August.  See the blog reference link below.

At the end of this post he refers to a ChiRunning Article “Float and Flow: Using the Elements to Run Hills”; see the article reference link below.  Since I have a very hilly ultramarathon coming up (this weekend), I decided to focus on this ‘float’ and ‘flow’ terminology on a few final training runs before the event.  Over the course of a few very hilly trail runs I periodically asked myself ‘how can I float more?’ and ‘how can I flow more?’  In the noted article, the concept is to focus on floating more uphill and focus on flowing more downhill.

Floating is the concept of using the upper body more and reducing effort in your lower body/legs.  You use your alignment to maintain the pull of gravity up the hill – and, yes, it is possible to fall up a hill.  Flowing is the concept of relaxing your lower body to effectively negate the potential impact when falling down a hill – just as water flows downhill.

At one point on a training run I was reminded that its not all float uphill and not all flow downhill.  There are elements of both float and flow in play at all times.  I realized how this compliments the balancing of the two key ChiRunning concepts; Alignment and Relaxation.  On flat ground, I worked to have a balance between my Alignment (floating taller in my upper body) and my Relaxation (flowing looser in my lower body).

floatflow-flats

Flat Terrain

And when on a hill, that balance needed to shift but not completely.  If on an uphill and I became too stiff in my alignment, I would tense up.  I have a tendency to clench my lower back and glutes on an uphill, so staying loose is a key focus for me.

float-uphill

Gradual Uphill

If on a downhill and I became too soft in my relaxation, I would lose my alignment.  I have a tendency to slump a bit in the mid/upper back, so staying tall is a also a key focus for me.

flow-downhill

Gradual Downhill

I started to ask myself both questions at the same time for each section of terrain on my run.  If uphill, I would consider more adjustments to float more; and downhill, I would think about more options to flow more.  But keeping just the ‘right effort’ in both respects kept me efficient with minimal tension and impact.  The adjustment in the balance between these two concepts allowed me to address any terrain change, even as a hill turned from gradual to very steep(*).  To add float, I found the visualization of a helium filled balloon attached the back crown of my head to be very helpful.  Adding a slight (mental) breeze always at your back keeps the balloon up and out over alignment.  To add flow, I considering running more from my mid-back (T12/L1) and letting everything completely relax, rotate and swing from there.

Danny’s blog post and article arrived just as I needed a refresher and a new way to focus mentally; and I am looking forward to putting these questions and focuses into a longer ‘practice’ of balance this coming weekend.  I highly recommend taking a look, and giving these concepts a try.

(*) Steep uphills and downhills require additional technique changes.  These are described in the ChiRunning book.

[Note:  All of these sample principles and focuses apply to ChiWalking as well.  For a complete description, see the ChiWalking Book.]

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Referenced Blog: Training Program for a 10K Trail Race

Referenced Article: Float and Flow: Using the Elements to Run Hills

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David Stretanski is a holistic health, fitness and wellness coach and Certified ChiRunning®/ChiWalking® Instructor.  For more information on David, please see his About, Contact page or his website at http://www.eChiFitness.com.

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ChiRunning® and ChiWalking® are registered trademarks of ChiLiving, Inc.


Natural Running Technique?

March 10, 2009

Recently a well-known running coach posted some general comments about ChiRunning®/Pose Method causing injuries.  This is a highly respected (from myself included), published coach who has helped 1000s if not 100,000s of runners get moving, keep moving and accomplish their fitness goals.  His work is complimentary to anyone with a similar purpose.  His identity is not important; and the following may be considered useful so each of us can fully consider which approach to running technique we wish to adopt.

Some Running Approach Options:
1.  Run the way you run ‘naturally’, and don’t mess with your running technique.
2.  Consider running technique; usually based on the body’s design and simple laws of physics for the purpose of energy efficiency and injury-prevention.

First, consider that running ‘naturally’ or instinctively might mean running the way we ran when we took our first running steps as a toddler.  A lot has happened between then and now, it is called ‘life’; and this biography can certainly affect our current approach to life’s experiences.  Go to any playground and watch little kids run.  They will run with a subtle angle of lean from the ankles, and their feet land flat underneath them.

In addition, we might also want to consider how we first walked as a toddler.  Watch little kids walk and you will see a very similar technique.  Lean is even subtler, which might be considered simply leading with the body, and their feet land underneath them.

In both cases, kids move more from their center with alignment and balance.  If you watch people run or walk from non-industrialized areas, they will generally maintain these same concepts.  And the longer into life people consistently run or walk (in particular without shoes), the more closely they maintain these concepts.  A prime example is many of the world class runners from African nations.

[Update: Another great example is the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, which have recently been highlighted in Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.  They also run with great posture, a subtle lean forward from the ankles, and a mid(full)-foot landing under them.]

So … if we want to run/walk ‘naturally’, we might want to define that term a bit more.

Second, athletes in almost every other sport consistently consider technique to improve performance/efficiency and reduce/eliminate injury.  Why would running or even walking be any different?  If someone was running or walking very awkwardly, every one of us would probably cringe, look away and think “ewww, please don’t do that”.  So at what point is considering technique no longer necessary; where is the line drawn?  When you can’t see the extreme need?  Or perhaps when you can’t sense (feel) the need via discomfort, fatigue, aches, or injury?  And who decides where that line is drawn?  From my own experience, there is always a way to improve my technique on any given day, even practicing some aspect of my running when I am not running.  It is an ongoing process to improve to reach higher and higher levels of fitness and overall well-being.  For me, there is no line.  For you, you get to decide.

Common ChiRunning Misconceptions:
- A lean is a lean is a lean.  Not true, a lean from the waist is very different than an efficient lean from the ankles.  If you are trying ChiRunning, make sure your posture is aligned* and you are only slightly leaning from the ankles.  If not, you will likely suffer from the back or neck pain mentioned in the published comments referred to above.
- Land on the forefoot or land on the midfoot (full-foot) and then push off with the feet.  Again, not true; in ChiRunning you land midfoot (full-foot) and you do not push off with your feet.  If you do; stress on tense feet, ankles and calves can result in one or more lower leg injuries common to running.  It is also very important to have loose ankles and feet so you can efficiently fall with no resistance as your foot lands.

[*Postural alignment is based on the body's functional design; 1) shoulders over hips over ankles, 2) a level pelvis and 3) a neutral head position, ears aligned over shoulders with back crown of head tall.]

If the above two misconceptions have not been fully addressed, then back/neck or foot injuries cannot conclusively be linked to the ChiRunning technique itself.

Running Upright vs. Running with a Lean:
- If you run from an upright vertical position (diagram to the right), you have to nCRv2power yourself.  If you run with an efficient lean from the ankles (diagram below), you can tap into gravity for propulsion reducing effort and negative strain on the body.
- And if you run from a upright vertical position, your feet/legs will likely land in front of your body.  A simple law of physics states that if your foot lands (ie. heel strike) in front of your body, it is essentially acting as a brake to your forward momentum.  This means you are powering yourself and braking (‘breaking’) yourself at the same time.  What happens in a vehicle when you have your foot on the gas and the brake at the same time?  When you see a vehicle traveling with its brake lights on, what comes to mind?  The equivalent result is working harder than you need to; and many of the running injuries at the knee and below, or sometimes in the hip or lower back.  You may not feel this impact right away, but many runners will eventually be affected by this simple law of physics.  Laps, miles or years down the road the repetitive stress impact of braking can result in injury.

Here is the best analogy I have for Upright Running vs. Running with a Lean.  If you had a 175 lb object to move across the ground, would you rather move a 175 lb sphere or a 175 lb cube?  Running with a Lean, and keeping your feet landing under you, is more like rolling a sphere and once you get it moving momentum will do most of the work.  Upright Running, with your feet landing in front of you, is more like pushing a cube and if you stop pushing … it stops moving.

CRv2[An additional note on the concept of 'rolling';  most web resources regard the wheel as one of the oldest and most important inventions of all time.]

The statistics indicate a high percentage (~65%) of runners get injured every year.  Injured or not, changing technique is to be done slowly and carefully; there are years of habits in mental programming, muscle memory and muscle conditioning to be re-formed into new habits.  Just like everything else in nature, change occurs gradually for long term success.

In the end, it is an individual decision about what is best for each of us.  If you are not running and walking/hiking effortlessly, with little to no recovery and without any discomfort/aches/pains/injury … ever … I highly suggest you consider ChiRunning® and/or ChiWalking® and take a good look for yourself.

[As I was blogging this, a fellow ChiRunner contributed the following quote to the latest ChiRunning Newsletter which suggests the Egyptians utilized a lean when running:  "I know the proper attitude for a statue, I know how a woman holds herself ... the way a man poises himself to strike with a harpoon...the bewildered stare of a man roused from sleep... the tilt of a runner’s body..."
- From an Egyptian Tomb, Approximately 1280 BC]

[What about running barefoot? Some thoughts on this approach to running 'naturally' here: Blog Post: Should We Run Barefoot?]

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[An added note on the results of a ChiRunning Study are below.]

ChiRunning Study conducted by West Virginia University:

Study Results Highlights:
- 91% reported the technique has played a role in preventing injury.
- 95% reported their ease of running has improved.
- 91% reported they would recommend ChiRunning to other runners.

Study Conclusions:
- “You can change your mechanics to a biomechanically more efficient, lower impact form.”
- With these changes “you can reduce your rates of injury and effort“.
- “Running technique should and must be taught, just as proper technique is taught in almost any sporting endeavor“.

Study References:
- An article on the West Virginia Study study is online here:  http://www.runwashington.com/news/may08chirunning.html
- The study results can be accessed directly here:  http://www.chirunning.com/shop/pages.php?tab=r&pageid=18&id=354

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David Stretanski is a holistic health, fitness and wellness coach and Certified ChiRunning®/ChiWalking® Instructor.  For more information on David, please see his About, Contact page or his website at http://www.eChiFitness.com.

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ChiRunning® and ChiWalking® are registered trademarks of ChiLiving, Inc.


Dem Bones, Dem Bones …

March 7, 2009

Bone Health is becoming a key health concern due to the statistics related to Osteoporosis and other bone health conditions.  Based on a lot of on-going research on this issue for my work as a fitness coach and wellness consultant, below are a few points that I thought all might want to know about Bone Health.

Our bones are responsible for much more than just our physical structure.  They are also a ‘bank’ of mineral reserves which the body uses for many metabolic processes; and are also a factory for our red and white blood cells.

Just like any other ‘bank’, there are deposits and withdrawals.  Deposits are when we assimilate bio-available minerals with the help of a ‘potentiator’ which helps to convert and absorb each mineral.  Bio-available means the minerals are in a form which the ‘bank’ can accept or convert.  This is similar to a local bank only accepting certain currency.  A potentiator acts similar to a catalyst or an enzyme; it enables the assimilation process to take place.  As we age, our body’s production of this key substance for calcium is reduced.  This is similar to a bank having less and less tellers available for transactions.

Withdrawals occur anytime the body needs minerals for metabolic processes or to keep the body’s blood pH in an acceptable range.  If we get too acidic; from our nutritional, environmental or lifestyle choices, the body needs to make a withdrawal from our bones to neutralize the acidic condition.  As is the same with our own back accounts, significant problems begin to emerge when withdrawals are greater than deposits over an extended period.

In addition the body needs healthy physical stress to build bone.  Our bones are constantly being cleaned and rebuilt by two opposing processes in the body.  Bone loss might be described as the bone cleaning process doing its job and the bone building process getting inhibited by not having enough raw material (bio-available minerals) or not enough tools (potentiators) or not enough workers (physical stress).  A simple form of physical stress is the effect of gravity on our body.  Postural alignment is critical to making sure weight-bearing activities are healthy physical stress.  If your posture is out of alignment, there are at least two potential negative effects.  First, if your posture is out of alignment you will rely more on your muscles to oppose gravity and less on your skeleton.  This reduces the effective healthy physical stress on your bones resulting in less bone building.  Second, if your posture is out of alignment you might also build bone or calcification in ways that are not beneficial.  A heel spur is an example of this.  The body is simply building where there is physical stress caused by a heel strike.  Another potential negative effect is an increase in stress and strain on joints, tendons, and ligaments.

In my work as a Fitness Coach and ChiWalking/ChiRunning Instructor, we first establish postural alignment based on the body’s design.  This is the key to efficiently opposing gravity with the strongest part of our body, our skeleton.  We then work to move that posture efficiently through space.  The result is positive bone building stimulus when we are sitting, standing, walking, and running.

In my work as a Wellness Consultant; I recommend whole food nutrition, whole food supplementation and environmental resources based on some simple principles of nature, my own experience, and on research/study results.  A few options I can recommend for bone health:
- Minerals:  Green leafy vegetables chewed thoroughly or blended, supplements like *Kenzen™ Calcium Plus from Nikken®, and other supplements that help to pH balance the body.
- Potentiator:  *OsteoDenx™ from Nikken®, see the links below for more information on the efficacy of this product.
- Healthy Physical Stress:  ChiWalking®, ChiRunning®, other exercise which promotes postural/functional alignment.

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*Full Disclosure:  I am a Nikken® Independent Distributor.  I became involved with Nikken after having experienced significant health benefits using many of their products – and I want you to know what I know.  For more information, please see my Nikken® website at http://www.nikken.com/echifitness; and select Lifestyle Solutions to the right, then Nutrition, then Skeletal System.

Additional Resources/Notes on OsteoDenx:
- Online Presentation: http://ntouch.nikken.com/player.php?slideshowID=3678
- Ingredient: The ‘potentiator’ ingredient is also known as R-ELF or ELS.  Only the Nikken OsteoDenx product will provide this key ingredient.
- Significant Benefits from Research Study Conclusion, “R-ELF supplementation demonstrated a statistically significant reduction in bone resorption and increase in osteoblastic bone formation, to restore the balance of bone turnover within a short period.”  The abstract from the peer-reviewed and published research study in Osteoporosis International Journal is located here: http://www.springerlink.com/content/e518483l54728k41
- Creator:  The creator is Dr. Nairan Naidu is nominated for the Nobel Prize; see his bio here:  http://www.nterminus.com/nterminus/html/naidu.html.  The creator’s website informational page for bone health is here:  http://www.nterminus.com/nterminus/html/osteoRep.html

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David Stretanski is a holistic fitness coach, Certified ChiRunning®/ChiWalking® Instructor and Nikken® Independent Wellness Consultant.  For more information on David, please see his About, Contact page or his website at http://www.eChiFitness.com.

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Statements on this website/blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any physical or medical condition.  If you have a physical or medical condition, you should seek the advice of your medical professional immediately.


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