Monday, August 31, 2009

Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc

The Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc (UTMB), one of the world's most spectacular and most popular trail races concluded over this past weekend. Almost 2,400 runners toed the line in Chamonix, France for this 100 mile circumnavigation around the highest mountain in Western Europe, Mt. Blanc. The trail race circles the Mont Blanc massif, cutting through Les Houches, St Gervais, Les Contamines, Courmayeur, Champex, Trient, Vallorcine and La Flegere before returning to Chamonix. It is a spectacular course through the Alps showcasing jagged mountain ridges, deep valleys, alpine scenery and quaint mountain villages. It's also one of the most difficult trail races in the world featuring almost 31,000 feet of elevation gain. While it doesn't have the altitude that the Hardrock 100 in Silverton, CO has, it boasts nearly as much elevation gain as Hardrock (33,000 feet). It would be difficult to say there is a trail running race anywhere in the world as challenging as Hardrock, but UTMB comes pretty close (the Barkley races notwithstanding).

With nearly 2,400 competitors, you're pretty likely to have a good race on your hands. UTMB usually doesn't disappoint. American favorite Scott Jurek challenged for the lead early but couldn't hold the pace and dropped back to finish a still solid 19th overall. Spanish runner Kilian Jornet, regarded as the best trail runner in Europe, won the race in a spectacular time of 21 hours, 33 minutes, 19 seconds. French runner Sebastian Chaigneau finished second while Japanese runner Tsuyoshi Kakuraki rounded out the podium in third.

The real story for the Americans was runner Krissy Moehl who would go on to win the women's race in course record time and place 11th overall. It was the highest finish for a woman in course history. Moehl held off last year's UTMB champion Lizzy Hawker of Great Britain and third place finisher Monica Aguilera Viladomiu from Spain.

Other American runners also ran very well at UTMB including Joe Grant (20th), Topher Gaylord (24th), Tim Englund (86th) and Mark Gilligan (160th). There were 1,382 finishers.

To find some good articles on the race, please go to:

Check out a video of the event:

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Video produced by Chamonet.Com

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ultrarunning Video

This video has been floating around the internet for a while now, but I still enjoy watching it every once in a while. It captures the essence of trail running and ultrarunning very well. Matt Hart did a great job putting this video together. Check it out:

UltraRunning from Matt Hart on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Colorado Trail

As dedicated trail runners, we love discovering new trails and running adventures. We prefer running these new trails, but we also love uncovering new trails, researching them, hearing about other runners adventures and planning our next trip. We'll share new trails on Trail Runners Outpost when we find them and tell you about some of our experiences running them.

We recently returned from a 5 day 80 mile running trip on the Colorado Trail. We ran from the Gold Hill Trailhead near Frisco/Breckenridge to the Mount Massive Trailhead near Leadville. On our final day we ran to the top of Mt. Elbert - the highest peak in Colorado and 2nd highest in the lower 48 states at 14,433 feet. This segment of the Colorado Trail was spectacular with an amazing amount of variety from rushing creek valleys to high alpine ridge running. On the first day we went over the Tenmile Range and experienced some sublime ridge running. The second day took us over Searle and Kokomo Pass and amazing fields of wildflowers. The alpine traverse between Searle and Kokomo Pass at over 12,000 feet was spectacular. The third day took us through the beautiful Holy Cross Wilderness area with high mountain lakes and rugged alpine terrain. On the fourth day we ran through the Mt. Massive Wilderness Area and on some sweet rolling singletrack through thick pine forests.

Our trip on the Colorado Trail was just a small sampling of the wonders this trail offers. The Colorado Trail runs from Denver to Durango and covers nearly 500 miles. The trail is divided into 28 segments, each making a great daily running adventure. Six designated wilderness areas are crossed and it climbs over several high mountain passes.

Over the years many runners have run the entire trail from end to end. The Colorado Trail makes a great running adventure with good access points along the trail for support. The fastest known time for covering the entire length of the Colorado Trail is held by trail runner Paul Pomeroy. He completed the entire length of the trail running from east to west in 8 days, 12 hours and 15 minutes. Pomeroy also has the fastest known time for the unsupported run of the Colorado Trail in 14 days, 9 hours, 30 minutes. We recommend taking your time and enjoying each days run on the trail.

Adventure Running Co. offers a 5 day fully supported run on the Colorado Trail. This is a great way to run a beautiful section of the Colorado Trail, enjoy full support including gear transport and meals, relax after a beautiful day of running and make some great new running friends.

To learn more about the Colorado Trail and begin planning your own adventure, check out the Colorado Trail Foundation website. The Colorado Trail Foundation also has a great guidebook covering the entire trail.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Endurance Running Hypothesis

Obviously I'm very intrigued by the Endurance Running Hypothesis as it's apparently referred to. As a long distance trail runner, I like the idea that humans have adapted themselves to be long distance runners. When people look at you strangely upon hearing that you run long distance races on trails, you can feel satisfied knowing that you're only doing what the human body was so beautifully designed to do. Whether you believe our bodies evolved this way or were created this way, it's nice to know that we are all born to run.

Here are some more interesting articles about the Endurance Running Hypothesis:

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Humans Hot, Sweaty, Natural Born Runners

Another good article about the Running Man(Human) Theory.

Just days before Monday’s 111th running of the Boston Marathon, Lieberman presented his theories of the importance of running to ancestral humans to explain why we’re the only species that voluntarily runs extraordinarily long distances, such as the 26.2 miles in the marathon.

The talk, “Why Humans Run: The Biology and Evolution of Marathon Running,” was delivered at the Geological Lecture Hall as part of the Harvard Museum of Natural History’s spring lecture series, “Evolution Matters.”

While more than a million humans run marathons voluntarily each year, most animals we consider excellent runners — antelopes and cheetahs, for example — are built for speed, not endurance. Even nature’s best animal distance runners — such as horses and dogs — will run similar distances only if forced to do so, and the startling evidence is that humans are better at it, Lieberman said.

Modern humans and their immediate ancestors such as Homo erectus sport several adaptations that make humans, instead of some ferocious, furry, or fleet creature, the animal world’s best distance runners.

“Humans are terrible athletes in terms of power and speed, but we’re phenomenal at slow and steady. We’re the tortoises of the animal kingdom,” Lieberman said.

That evidence belies the long and firmly held belief that humans are the animal world’s biggest wimps and, if not for our big brains and advanced weapons, we’d be forced to subsist on fruits and vegetables, always in danger of being gobbled up by fiercer predators.

The problem with that theory, Lieberman said, is that we began adding meat to our diets around 2.6 million years ago, long before we developed advanced weapons like the bow and arrow, which was developed as recently as 50,000 years ago.

While some of our ancestors’ meat-eating may have been due to scavenging, Lieberman said the appearance about 2 million years ago of physical adaptations that have no impact on walking but that make humans better endurance runners provide evidence that early scavengers became running hunters.

Specifically, we developed long, springy tendons in our legs and feet that function like large elastics, storing energy and releasing it with each running stride, reducing the amount of energy it takes to take another step. There are also several adaptations to help keep our bodies stable as we run, such as the way we counterbalance each step with an arm swing, our large butt muscles that hold our upper bodies upright, and an elastic ligament in our neck to help keep our head steady.

Even the human waist, thinner and more flexible than that of our primate relatives allows us to twist our upper bodies as we run to counterbalance the slightly-off-center forces exerted as we stride with each leg.

Once humans start running, it only takes a bit more energy for us to run faster, Lieberman said. Other animals, on the other hand, expend a lot more energy as they speed up, particularly when they switch from a trot to a gallop, which most animals cannot maintain over long distances.

Though those adaptations make humans and our immediate ancestors better runners, it is our ability to run in the heat that Lieberman said may have made the real difference in our ability to procure game.

Humans, he said, have several adaptations that help us dump the enormous amounts of heat generated by running. These adaptations include our hairlessness, our ability to sweat, and the fact that we breathe through our mouths when we run, which not only allows us to take bigger breaths, but also helps dump heat.

“We can run in conditions that no other animal can run in,” Lieberman said.

While animals get rid of excess heat by panting, they can’t pant when they gallop, Lieberman said. That means that to run a prey animal into the ground, ancient humans didn’t have to run further than the animal could trot and didn’t have to run faster than the animal could gallop. All they had to do is to run faster, for longer periods of time, than the slowest speed at which the animal started to gallop.

All together, Lieberman said, these adaptations allowed us to relentlessly pursue game in the hottest part of the day when most animals rest. Lieberman said humans likely practiced persistence hunting, chasing a game animal during the heat of the day, making it run faster than it could maintain, tracking and flushing it if it tried to rest, and repeating the process until the animal literally overheated and collapsed.

Most animals would develop hyperthermia — heat stroke in humans — after about 10 to 15 kilometers, he said.

By the end of the process, Lieberman said, even humans with their crude early weapons could have overcome stronger and more dangerous prey. Adding credence to the theory, Lieberman said, is the fact that some aboriginal humans still practice persistence hunting today, and it remains an effective technique. It requires very minimal technology, has a high success rate, and yields a lot of meat.

Lieberman said he envisions an evolutionary scenario where humans began eating meat as scavengers. Over time, evolution favored scavenging humans who could run faster to the site of a kill and eventually allowed us to evolve into persistence hunters. Evolution likely continued to favor better runners until projectile weapons made running less important relatively recently in our history.

“Endurance running is part of a suite of shifts that made Homo [the genus that includes modern people] human,” Lieberman said.

Source: Harvard University

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Another Born to Run book review and Video Clip

Another book review of Born to Run and provides some additional insight into the book. Also a brief video clip of Christopher McDougall explaining why he was born to run.

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Posted Jul 12, 2009 @ 10:27 AM

"Born to Run"
By Christopher McDougall
Alfred A. Knopf

Why wear shoes when you run?

Whether you're a weekend jogger or serious marathoner, the answer's easy, right? We wear shoes to protect our feet and provide the cushioning necessary for an activity that puts enormous pressure on vulnerable joints.

Yet if that's the case, Christopher McDougall argues in his new book, "Born to Run," why has the rate of running injuries increased even as shoes provide ever more padding?

One tidbit sure to stop a few people in their tracks: Studies show that the more expensive your running shoe, the more likely you are to be injured.

McDougall, a runner who beat his own chronic injuries, makes a compelling case that ditching those pricey running shoes in favor of bare feet, or at least far more basic running apparel, may be the kindest thing you ever do for your body.

But McDougall's book is far more than a treatise on what runners should - or shouldn't - wear on their feet. He uses an extended portrait of one of the world's least known cultures, the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico's Copper Canyons, to put modern American running under an exacting magnifying glass.

"Born to Run" starts with a simple question he kept asking his doctors: "How come my foot hurts?"

Their response: Your foot hurts because you run, and running is one of the most stressful things you can do to the human body.

McDougall's not satisfied, however, and so we get our introduction to the Tarahumara Indians, a retiring tribe renowned for their members' ability to run long distances - really long distances, 50 and 60 miles at a time - in little more than sandals. No $150 running shoes, no bottles of sports drink strategically placed along their running routes, no stretching.

Above all, no injuries.

The Tarahumara channel our evolutionary ability, unique in the animal world, to run long distances without overheating. It's a skill that came in handy when the earliest humans chased down prey that might have had the upper hand - or leg - at shorter distances, but were outmatched the longer the hunt went on.

McDougall, a former Associated Press reporter who covered the war in Rwanda, travels to Mexico where he meets some of the best Tarahumara runners. Along the way, we encounter America's top ultramarathoners, those runners who turn their noses up at the paltry 26.2 miles of a traditional marathon and regularly race distances of 50 to 100 miles or more.

McDougall has a knack for storytelling, and the stories of these amazing runners and their races make some of the most entertaining reading of the book.

McDougall uses these tales to pose tough questions about the state of U.S. running. Why is it, he asks, that in the early 1980s a single track club in Boston boasted half a dozen world-class marathoners alone, and yet less than 20 years later, not a single American man could meet the Olympic marathon qualifying time?

The solution to this puzzle is complicated, but McDougall places a big chunk of the blame on the influence of money, especially the billion-dollar running shoe industry.

Lost in the financial greening of the sport: the feeling experienced by anyone who ever dashed around the backyard as a child.

"That was the real secret of the Tarahumara: they'd never forgotten what it felt like to love running," McDougall writes. "They remembered that running was mankind's first fine art, our original act of inspired creation."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Born to Run book review

Having recently finished reading Chris McDougall's book Born to Run, a brief book review seems to be in order. First of all, this book is simply a really enjoyable read. It was one of the most enjoyable non-fiction books I've read in a long time. Now, I've heard people say that there is quite a bit of embellishment in this book, which may be true, but it's still a very enjoyable read. The characters are well developed and fun, the story is very interesting and there is something to be learned within. Whether all the characters behaved exactly as described in the book is irrelevant, it's a fun read based on actual events.

I had been firmly in the low profile, minimal shoe camp prior to reading the book, so this was no startling revelation. However, McDougall develops the argument for minimalist running shoes very effectively. As even Barefoot Ted (one of the main characters of the book) will admit, if it 'aint broke don't try to fix it, for many runners, it still makes sense to strive for a more minimal shoe. Learning to run more on the forefoot and dispensing with heel-striking has helped me run faster with less effort and with fewer injuries. If you're a consistently injured trail runner looking for answers, it might be worth looking at more minimal shoes and working on your form a bit. A little barefoot running on soft surfaces thrown in at the end of a trail run will also help strengthen your feet and improve your form.

I was also very intrigued by the chapter which addresses human physiology and our natural traits designed to allow us to excel at long distance running over rugged trails. Mcdougall covers this theory in great detail in the book. Briefly, humans possess several adaptations that make us natural born distance runners. We are hairless and are one of the few animals that sweat, allowing us to cool our bodies effectively during long runs. We also developed long, springy tendons in our legs and feet that function like large elastics, storing energy and releasing it with each running stride, reducing the amount of energy it takes to take another step. Our bodies are also adapted to counterbalance each step with an arm swing, and our large butt muscles hold our upper bodies upright while an elastic ligament in our neck is designed to help keep our head steady. There are other adaptations that are addressed in the book. A good discussion of this theory can be found here

Overall, if you enjoy running and are looking for a fun end of the summer read, you should pick up a copy of Born to Run. Our copy is getting haggard as we shuffle it around to all of our friends, runner and non-runner alike. They all seem to enjoy it.

See Chris McDougall on the Daily Show

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Avoiding Ankle Sprains

In keeping with our recent discussion on ankle sprains, here's an article from Trailrunner magazine which addresses ways to prevent and cope with ankle sprains. Add this information to yesterday's post.

Get Twisted (or Not)
How to prevent and cope with ankle sprains
By April Rose Ferrentino

You're cruising along a beautiful singletrack, enjoying your elevated heart rate and a great view, when suddenly you lose your footing. Ouch! Along most trail runners' favorite routes lie such potentially ankle-turning hazards as roots, rocks and quick descents. A brief moment of not paying attention to where you're stepping is all it takes to disrupt the ankle's delicate balance. Even worse, injured ankles remain weakened for an average of six months.

And up to 80 percent of all ankle sprains stem from previous injuries. Athletes who have an injury-weakened ankle joint are about 10 times as likely to suffer a repeat injury than those who don't. Twelve to 20 percent of all sports injuries are ankle sprains.

The ankle's physiology is one reason why inversion injuries are so common. The inside of the ankle is much more stable than the outside, especially when the toe is pointed (plantar flexed). The good news is that you can quickly and easily determine if your ankles are weak, and take precautions to keep them healthy.

Are You at Risk?

According to head athletic trainer at Boston College, Bert Lenz, "The most common type of ankle sprain seen in sport involves the ligaments on the lateral [outside] aspect of the ankle. Injury to these ligaments most often occurs with a 'rolling' of the ankle inwards, or an inversion mechanism, such as simply stepping on a rock while running. This type of inversion action to the ankle can damage one or all three of these ligaments in differing degrees."

Sports medicine professionals define dysfunction resulting from ankle inversion injuries as a reduction in proprioception, or knowing where your ankle is in space and what it is doing. If your brain isn't aware of how your ankle should react, you're much more likely to trip over a log or roll your ankle in a downhill divot. So how do you know if you have a weak or "dysfunctional" ankle? According to a study published by T. H. Trojan and D. B. McKeag in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the simple "single-leg balance test" is a reliable way to predict the possibility of future ankle sprains.

To perform the single-leg balance test, stand barefoot on a flat surface. Stand on one foot with the opposite leg bent and not touching the weight-bearing leg. Focus the eyes on a target, then close them for 10 seconds. If you sense any imbalance, the test is failed. If the foot moves on the floor, the arms move, the legs touch or a foot touches down the test is failed. A failed test suggests the individual is more susceptible to ankle sprains and injuries. Further, according to Trojan and McKeag, athletes who failed the single-leg balance test but taped their ankles were less likely to sustain ankle sprains than those who didn't.

An Ounce (or Two) of Prevention

So here's the damage control. If you have a weak or dysfunctional ankle, you can reduce the likelihood of injury, and re-injury, by taping, bracing, stretching and strengthening the joint in question. If you're planning on taping your ankles, see a physical therapist or an athletic trainer who can show you how. Ankle braces are easily found in your local drug store and can effectively fortify vulnerable joints.

Another ankle-saving consideration is in selecting the proper shoes. Jason McGrath, USATF Level 2 Track Coach, decorated ultra trail runner, and shoe expert suggests trail-specific shoes that are neutral and low to the ground. Most running shoes suitable for pavement are well cushioned; however, a thick midsole means that your feet are farther from the ground, causing less stability and increasing the probability of rolling an ankle. McGrath also warns strongly wearing "stability" shoes, common on the road-shoe market. These shoes contain medial posting, or a separate material lining the instep that prevents overpronation of the foot. When running on uneven terrain these shoes place more stress on the physiologically weaker lateral (outside) portion of the ankle, making it more likely to roll. In the meantime, you will also want to add ankle strength and flexibility exercises to your workout regimen.

Stay Supple

Stretching the ankle is important to restore and maintain its range of motion. The following exercises will get you back on the trail.

1. Calf stretch–Sit on the ground with both legs straight out in front of you. Loop a jump rope around one foot and pull the toes back toward the knee as far as you can without the rope's help. Make sure the knee remains straight. Then gently pull back on the rope to assist the stretch and hold for approximately two to three seconds. Perform this stretch another six to 10 times on each leg.
2. Tibialis anterior stretch–Sit down on a chair with your left ankle resting on the opposite knee (the actual ankle bone should be about two inches off the thigh). Point the toe as much as you can on its own, then grasp the toe with your right hand and gently pull it toward you on your right side. Hold this stretch for two to three seconds and repeat six to 10 times for both legs.
3. Ankle everter stretch–In the same position as the previous stretch, grasp the forefoot with your hands and from the ankle, rotate the foot inward towards you so that the sole of your foot is pointing up. Assist with the hands at the end and hold for two to three seconds. Repeat six to 10 times on both sides.
4. Ankle inverter stretch–In your chair, raise one leg so that one foot remains on the floor and the heel of the other foot is in your chair in front of your buttock. Rotate this foot outward and gently assist it with your hands placed on the forefoot. Hold for two to three seconds and repeat six to 10 times on both sides.
5. Range of motion practice–Lift one foot into the air and draw circles with your toes for 30 seconds in each direction on both sides.

Stay Strong
Strengthening the ankle muscles (NOTE: the muscles around the ankle, these exercises help primarily with proprioception which will help you avoid ankle sprains) will provide greater stability and reduce the likelihood of re-injury. The following exercises can be easily performed anywhere.

1. Towel scrunches–Sitting in the chair, place a hand towel underneath your forefoot and your heel placed firmly on the floor behind it. Use your toes to scrunch the towel as far as possible. Repeat three times on both sides.
2. Towel scoops–Again, in your chair, keeping your heel on the ground and your forefoot on the towel, scoop your forefoot toward the midline of your body, straighten and repeat until you have passed the towel from outside your foot to the inside.
3. Towel push-aways–In the same position, with the heel on the floor off the towel, push your forefoot away from your body, straighten and repeat until the towel has moved from the inside of the foot to the opposite side.
4. Calf raises–Stand with the ball of your foot on a step and hold onto a railing for balance. With a straight knee and the non-exercising leg bent at the knee, raise yourself by pointing the toe of the exercising leg. Repeat 10 times on each leg.
4. Heel walking–raise your toes in the air and walk only on the heels of your feet for 15 to 20 yards.
5. Wobble board-An oval-shaped board that pivots freely over a hard cylinder or ball, the wobble board works great for training proprioception. Stabilizing on the board may feel difficult at first, but most people progress quickly. Stand on the board and try to rotate it three times around in each direction. Then try to tap down in the four directions North, South, East, West consecutively. Try to balance on the board with no parts touching the ground for as long as you can. This will strengthen ankle muscles, and improve proprioception.

Recovery Road
In the event that you do sprain your ankle on the trail, here are a few tips to get yourself back in action fast. Everyone's doctor suggests RICE immediately following an ankle. RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation and is the old standby for athletic injuries.

In the article "Management of Ankle Sprains," authors Michael W. Wolfe M.D., Tim L. Uhl PhD., ATC, Carl G. Mattacola PhD., ATC, and Leland C. McKluskey M.D. emphasize the importance of stretching and exercises (see sidebars) to maintain range of motion during the initial icing stage immediately after injury. Compression using an elastic bandage alleviates swelling in the area.

According to a study by Bleakley, McDonough and MacAuley in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the best way to ice an ankle sprain is in 10-minute intervals, alternating with gentle stretches. This procedure may be repeated every two hours, and was shown to significantly reduce the pain felt on activity within the first week of injury. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) also alleviate swelling and pain. After pain and swelling are gone, begin a stretching and strengthening routine, taking care to tape or brace your ankle before hitting the trails.

Support Group
Ankle braces, which both compress the ankle and improve joint stability, are easier to use than traditional taping methods, generally comfortable to run in (although they may not fit well in all running shoes) and washable. A couple of proven products are:

Body Glove Ankle Support (
Stromgren Supports Double Strap Ankle Support 325 (
EDITOR'S NOTE: Definitely include the ASO ankle brace mentioned in the previous post here.

RICE 101
: Stop running immediately after ankle injury occurs.

ICE: Apply ice for 10 minutes, stretch for 10 minutes, re-apply ice for 10 minutes and repeat every two hours until swelling subsides.

COMPRESS: Cut a U-shape out of a wad of gauze. Place the bottom of the U underneath the bone on the outside of your ankle ("ankle bone," or malleus) so that the bone is surrounded on both sides and underneath by gauze. Hold this in place and wrap an elastic bandage toe to mid calf around the ankle. Otherwise use an ankle brace.

ELEVATE: Lie or sit down, relax and place the injured ankle no lower than six inches above the heart until swelling subsides.
EDITOR'S NOTE: And...contrast baths!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Dreaded Ankle Sprain

So far, 2009 has been a year for ankle sprains. Prior to this year, it had been almost a decade since I had really torn up my ankle. Training for the Western States 100 in 2000, I stepped on a rock while bombing downhill and tore just about every ligament and tendon in my right ankle. It was a severe sprain that ended up keeping me out of Western States that year and took a long time to heal.

Since then, I'd been pretty much ankle sprain free until this year. Back in April I sprained my ankle bad enough to keep me from running home. No fractures were discovered and the ankle healed up quickly, allowing me to race a trail 50K two weeks after the sprain. Fast forward to last night: another ankle sprain on the same ankle (the right one that was sprained severely back in 2000). This time I was able to run home on the ankle and it doesn't seem to be as swollen. It does however hurt today and it feels a bit different than the last sprain.

I actually believe that my ankle is stronger since the first sprain I suffered in 2000. Perhaps "stronger" isn't exactly the correct term. From what I understand, the ankle doesn't really get stronger when you exercise it after a sprain. Since there aren't any muscles in the ankle, you can't really make the ankle "stronger." You can strengthen the muscles around the ankle (primarily the calf muscles), but this doesn't really make your ankle more stable. What you're doing when you do balancing exercises after a sprain is improving your proprioception. In other words, you're retraining those nerves that were also torn during your sprain to fire signals to your brain that your ankle is inverting and that you need to make an adjustment to catch yourself before it turns all the way over. Training these nerves to fire efficiently is critical to avoiding future sprains.

Since my severe ankle sprain in 2000, I've run almost exclusively trails. I believe that this has naturally made my ankles "stronger" by training them to adjust to uneven surfaces, up, down and around rocks and roots. Trail running naturally improved my proprioception helping me to avoid ankle sprains.

So, now that I have the sprain, what do I do? With the last sprain, after icing for the first 24 hours, I believe contrast baths helped the injury heal much more quickly. Contrast baths involve immersing your foot and ankle in alternating hot and cold water. The water should be as hot and as cold as you can tolerate. Basically what you do is fill two buckets with water, one with cold and one with hot. Start by dipping your injured ankle in the cold water for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Immediately transfer the foot into the hot water for 1-2 minutes. Then back to the cold water for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Repeat this procedure for 5-10 transfers or about 15-20 minutes total. Always end your contrast bath in the cold water. While your foot is in the water, keep it moving, rotate left and right and spell out the alphabet with your toes. Try to do this at least two times per day. The contrast of hot-cold creates a pumping of the blood in and out of the body part to promote healing.

It's also important to remain active on the ankle when the pain and swelling subside. Active recovery is much more effective that just sitting around doing nothing because it also promotes blood flow through the injured limb.

To protect my ankle on trail runs as soon as the pain subsides enough for me to run, I often use an ankle brace for a couple of weeks after the sprain. My favorite ankle brace is the ASO brace. This brace locks the ankle in tightly yet is small and light enough to fit easily into a running shoe. It's definitely the most comfortable and effective ankle brace I've ever used.

Once you're comfortable running trails again and the ankle is healed, get rid of the ankle brace and start naturally "strengthening" the ankle and improving proprioception with trail running. Pay attention to where your foot lands and don't daydream too much. It seems my ankle sprains occur when I'm daydreaming and not paying attention to the trail. And, it's usually those places where the trail is less rocky and technical that you sprain your ankle because you're not paying as much attention.

Why did I sprain my ankle this year after nearly a decade of ankle sprain free running? I'm not really sure other than I may be daydreaming more lately. Run carefully out there!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Spotlight on Trail Running

By Leigh Brown Perkins
Her Sports + Fitness

When she trained for her third Tour du Mont Blanc ultra marathon last summer, Chlo Lanthier-Brandner never was spotted running the roads near her home in Whistler, British Columbia. She was always deep in the woods, blazing up and down old logging trails.

"All of my runs are on trails," Lanthier-Brandner says. "I forget I'm running."

Elite runners are not the only ones lured by trails. More than 5.7 million Americans consider themselves avid trail runners, an increase of 36 percent in the last five years, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. Another 37 million runners hit the trails a few times a year.

Nancy Hobbs, founder of the All-American Trail Running Association and co-author of The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running, explains the growing interest in trail running this way: "There's a real spiritual component to being on the trail. It provides a great physical challenge but in a serene, forgiving environment."

Trail running makes demands on a wider range of muscles than road running, without the repetition injuries of pounding pavement. Ankles, hips, inner and outer thighs and core muscles are engaged for balance. Trails more fully engage the quads, increasing leg strength. Taking on ascents and descents builds stamina, and difficult climbs sharpen mental focus.

Trail-Running Tips

Follow these tips for happy trails wherever you run.

1. Run tall. Running, especially uphill, can be exhausting, but if you bend under the effort it's more difficult for the lungs to do their thing. On the uphill, keep an eye at the crest or a few yards ahead, not at your feet. If you're gasping, slow down and pump your arms a little, or if you need to, walk, while keeping your posture tall. Even elite runners will walk a steep hill.

2. Shorten your stride on the way up. And plant your entire foot; climbing on your toes kills your calf muscles. Jump over obstacles. Stepping up on unsteady rocks and roots is not only tiring, it can be hazardous.

3. Be loose on the downhill. Stop braking and allow yourself to fly a little, throwing your arms to the side. But don't flail. If you lose control, slalom from side to side like a skier. Don't lean back or dig in your heels to brake (a guaranteed butt slide). Instead, land quickly and lightly.

4. Plot your moves. View the trail like a chessboard. Plan your steps around bumps, dips, soft sand and fallen trees yards before you reach them.

5. Focus on time, not distance. Don't expect to match your road PR. "Out-and-back routes are great because you can cover the same distance a little bit faster on the way back," Lanthier-Brandner says.

6. Diminish your risks. Run in pairs or let someone know where you're going and when you'll be back. Take plenty of fuel and fluid, a lightweight jacket and a cell phone, which won't always get a signal in the mountains, but might. Uphill runners yield to downhill runners. Yell "trail" well in advance of passing another runner or hiker.

7. Find your balance. Slippery downhills let you know what your legs are made of. Build them up between trail runs with weighted squats and lunges, and build your balance using wobble boards (check out for balance gear).

8. Keep your bearings. Things look different coming back than going. Pause to look around when two or more paths diverge from the one you're on. Look at trail signs and identify rocks, trees or landmarks on the horizon.

9. Leave no trace. Even in races, trail runners stow empty wrappers and wouldn't dream of dropping cups like road racers. Stay on marked trails, don't cut switchbacks and go through, not around, puddles to prevent erosion.

10. Feel like a kid again. Crank it on the downhill, hoot and holler, jump into a stream. "Trail running is a chance to get down and dirty, to grab hold of our authentic selves," says trail running coach and sports psychologist Terri Schneider. It'll make all those miles during freezing winters on the treadmill so worth it.

Trail Gear

Essential gear for a trail runner doesn't have to be anything fancier than a crusty pair of trail shoes, an old race tee and socks that will never be white again. But a few other purchases will get you running wild.

Shoes. Your favorite brand of road shoe won't necessarily manufacture a good trail runner, or a trail runner that works best for you. Trail running shoes sit lower than road shoes, with a harder midsole to take the impact of the trail. They provide greater ankle support to prevent rolling and more lateral support and flexibility for uneven terrain. They have sturdier, stickier treads. Runners who face stream-crossings or mud should wear trail shoes with drainage holes, waterproof uppers and laces that won't stretch when wet.

Apparel. Trail runners take layering seriously since weather at altitude can change instantly. When the temperature begins to cool, start layering with a running tank, then a long-sleeve tee, both made of a wicking fabric. A breathable, hooded jacket is vital. In warmer weather, stick with loose, wicking shorts. In cold weather opt for snag-proof tights.

Gloves. Wipeouts happen. Lightweight gloves protect hands from gravel burns, stray brambles and chilly air.

Socks. Find what works for you: wool blends, layered micro fiber, toe socks. If you blister, turn them inside out. Go with gray, brown or black.

Hydro packs. Dehydration happens quickly at altitude so carry water. Hydration packs are necessary for longer runs; bottle belts for shorter trails. Buy packs that are sized for women, with lots of pockets to stash energy gels, bars and a cell phone.

Freelance writer Leigh Brown Perkins lives and runs trails in horizontal south Florida, where a drawbridge is as close as she gets to altitude.

Monday, August 17, 2009

6 reasons why trail running will make you a better runner

Boston Triathlon Examiner Claire Lunardoni

Add a few trail runs to your schedule, and all the power and good technique that you developed on the trails will have you running faster. Here's what you're missing if you never run on trails:
  1. Trails make you strong. The terrain around roads has been flattened out to accommodate houses, mini malls, and parking lots. Trails have hills as nature intended them, as steep as they darned well please. Having to run up a few 20% grades will give you a great hill workout without boring repetitions, and give you the aerobic capacity of a steam engine. Also, since trails are riddled with rocks, roots, twists, and turns, balance comes into play much more than on the road. Don't be surprised if after a trail run, muscles are sore that you didn't even know you had.
  2. Trails are injury prevention. Although you might turn an ankle in the woods or get a boo-boo on your knee, trail running will probably prevent more injuries in the long run than it causes. First of all, you are always using your muscles slightly differently on the uneven terrain, helping to prevent repetitive stress injuries and strengthening muscles and muscle fibers that are neglected on the road. Having legs that are strong all-around will make them practically bullet-proof to most repetitive stress injuries. Also, the soft surfaces on the trails give your legs respite from the hard pounding on the pavement.
  3. Trails give you a break. You need to add variety to your routine to keep from plateauing or simply getting stale. You can't get bored on the trails like you can on the road, because the second you zone out you'll be eating dirt. I do most of my trail running on the same 5.5-mile loop, but I never get tired of it because there is always so much to think about. The scenery changes from day to day, and it seems to become a whole new trail every few months. Since you have so many obstacles (hills, rocks, roots, slippery descents), trails also give you a break from thinking about your pace, and shake up a stale routine. Eventually you'll learn to stop looking down at your watch (because that's a great way to get a branch to the face), and just enjoy the ride.
  4. Trails are cool. With the 90ยบ heat that we've been... enjoying/suffering through (take your pick)... these past few weeks, I don't need to tell you how nice it is to get off the steaming hot pavement. Heat can not only ruin a tough workout, but it can also be dangerous. Trails are generally around water and shaded by trees, which cuts the heat down considerably and gives you a chance to get in a tough workout on a hot day. Even if you are not running on a shaded trail, sunny trails are cooler than the road where the tarmac soaks up the heat and radiates it back into the air even deep into the night.
  5. Trails can be long. There's a reason why there aren't many 100-mile road races. You can get away with running much, much longer on the trails than on the road because of the slower pace and soft surfaces. Try doing all or part of your next long run on the trails and your muscles will probably feel fatigued, but your knees, shins, feet, and other problem areas will probably feel better. You will also recover more quickly from a long trail run than a road run. If you really start getting into trail running, try a trail race. You'll find that trail runners are a laid-back and welcoming group (which can be refreshing if you hang out around tri-geeks too much). Trail races tend to be longer than road races, and can even be substituted for a long training run if you wish.
  6. Trails make you pick your feet up. Have you ever noticed the people around you in a race shuffling their feet, and then seen your race photos and found that you were one of them? Picking your feet up (knee drive) is a key part of running faster, but it's usually one of the first things that falls apart when you're tired from riding your bike or just running for too long. Trail running will teach you to pick your feet up even when you're tired. If you don't pick your feet up on the trails, eventually you're going to go ass over teakettle and wind up with a pine needle sandwich. When picking your feet up becomes a habit, it will translate to better running form off road as well as on.