Today, December 11th is international mountain day.
It was created by the United Nations in 2003 to bring awareness to the importance of mountains to people and the planet. The U.N. and the F.A.O. (Food and Agricultural Organization) say this years theme for International Mountain Day is #mountainsmatter and ask we write why mountains matter to us. From the FAO website: Mountain regions are an important water supply, they house 56% of the worlds biosphere reserves, they are home to 13% of the worlds population, are important to indigenous people who have intimate knowledge of them and whose culture is intertwined with these regions, mountains attract 15-20% of the worlds tourism and mountains cover 22% of the earths land surface.
Along with these and many other reasons mountains are important to me.
When I run or hike in these places I am reminded of how fragile my existence is. How short a human life is in the grand scheme of the universe. The mountains seem to be ageless compared to us and their environments can quickly change without much warning and become life threatening. But mountains and their landscapes also inspire me and put me in awe of their beauty.
Their clean, natural environments help me reconnect to nature in a way that’s not possible in the urban environments we’ve carved out for ourselves. Mountains encapsulates life itself and reminds me of what the real important things in life are.
”The studies found that there are risk factors specific to athletes for depression.
- Injury: lasting >6 weeks or needing surgery
- Age related loss of performance
- Pregnancy interrupting training or competition
- Retirement or loss of professional or elite affiliation
- Overly perfectionist personality traits
- Recreational substance abuse
- Anabolic steroid use
The risk factors can be lumped into more general categories. 1. Injury negatively impacting performance and or training. 2. Life or developmental milestones affecting the athlete. 3. Finally maladaptive approaches/attitude to training and or competition having unintended negative impact on performance. It is my opinion that these risk factors should not be interpreted as an additive or causal relationship, meaning that if you acquire more of the above, like an aging type A personality-athlete with chronic injuries and difficulty attaining a sponsor, that you will definitely develop clinical depression; rather to recognize that these experiences, much like a fall on the trail, should indicate to the runner, coach, manager or sports med doc to perform a self-assessment or screening for depression.”
This was an excerpt written by psychologist and fellow ultra runner Dr. John Onate. I look forward to his next two posts which he will write about treatment, stigma reduction and advocacy for depression. Click on the link below to see the full post.
Depression in Endurance Athletes Part 1
I just received confirmation after receiving my medical clearance that I’ve passed the final step to entry to the Lavaredo Ultra Trail race.
It was a simple generic email from the race organizers but nonetheless it stoked excitement within me. You see I started racing ultra marathons four years ago and am in many ways still a bit of a newbie to this masochistic sport. That first year in 2014 I ran my first three 50k races. I was pumped with emotions after completing each one. They were not by ultra race standards overly tough courses, but they challenged this rookie immensely. Sometime between my racing SOB 50k and the McKenzie River 50k I read an article that Anton Krupicka had won the 2014 Lavaredo race in near course record time. Wait! What? I had never heard of this event. That race is in Italy! In the Dolomites! I read through the entire article and salivated over the photos.
This seemed awesome. I was not ready yet for a race like this with more than double the mileage of my first two ultras and over triple the elevation gain but nevertheless a seed was planted. My wife grew up in Rome Italy and I’ve had the opportunity to travel there several times. I enjoyed the country and it’s people immensely on those prior visits and it was time to go back. I thought what a great way to celebrate turning 50. We could go to Italy again, visit her family, dine on exquisite cuisine and in between I could squeeze in this race.
Life has a way of creating many twists and turns that we can never imagine are coming. My 50th came and went with no trip to that mountainous northwestern corner of Italy. However the seed which had since sprouted within me kept growing. I continued to race and train and with each passing year I gained valuable experience, fitness and knowledge to the point the dream of racing no longer seemed an impossible task. Now it was a question of simply when. My wife and I finally decided that it was time to go back no matter what else showed up down life’s path. It had been over a decade since she last visited her childhood home and despite having two children to bring along we would make this happen. So we put things into motion and began making all the necessary arrangements. I checked into gaining entry to the race and found out that one must run a qualifying race to get in. Their website stated “Athletes must also have completed at least one qualifying 4 point race as per the new ITRA classification (see art. 4).” My heart sunk. I learned races in Europe have their own point system and not all ultra races in the U.S. participate in this system. Did I run anything that would qualify me? Why didn’t I look into this much sooner? Would I even have time to run a qualifying race if my previous ones didn’t meet the criteria? I nervously began scanning their list of races which qualified in my region of the Pacific Northwest and low and behold there it was. The Gorge Waterfalls 100k. I had a rough time during that race and had my slowest finishing time to date for a 100k but it did qualify me. So now I was in! Err not so fast. There is a generous amount of racers allowed to run but the event did have a cap. There was going to be a lottery. Ugh. Fingers crossed I waited. Odds were better than getting into Western States 100 and I made it. One of 1500 racers out of nearly 3,000 lottery entrants.
Pouring over race details with some Italian wine and cheese.
It took four years of luck, planning and hope but what seemed just a fantasy is now reality. Far fetched dreams and goals are often great motivators to keep one pushing, training to not give up. All that’s left now is to keep training and get to the starting line as fit and healthy as possible. Piece of cake, right?! The journey continues.
As I make my way down the asphalt path I am conscious of the sound of my feet hitting the ground. It’s something I usually don’t pay much attention to but today is different. I am running with more attentiveness to my form. Is my posture good? Am I leaning into this short grade properly? Am I engaging my glute muscles? As my legs continue to propel me forward the parking lot comes into view. I see someone leave their automobile and make their way towards the trail head. As I go by him I see two others coming off the trail up ahead. I ponder as I approach. Do I head up the mile long trail or continue on the relatively flat route I’ve planned for myself this morning? It’s about a 600 foot gain in elevation which I’ve done many times over the years. But today I hesitate. After 7 weeks of virtually no running due to an injury this is just my third consecutive day running. It’s been a slow and frustrating process to get to this point. I felt pretty descent the previous two runs although not without pain and stiffness. I quickly check in with myself. Right calf is a bit tight as well as my right piriformis. Two months ago if you would have asked me where my piriformis muscle was I would have said piriformi what!? But so it goes with my running. I learn on the fly. I don’t come from a running background and with two young children to raise I can’t justify the expense of hiring a full time coach to aid me in my mid pack race finishes. Like many I learn from experience, from reading articles and books, blog posts and conversations with other runners. But pursuing running, or any sport for that matter, with the goal of continually pushing ones limits and trying to get better lends one to walking a tight rope. Stay on the taut, high wire and push to your maximum ability in attempt to maximum your gains. But go too hard and you’ll lose your balance and not only will your gains be less fruitful but can often lead to injury. I fell off the tight rope and didn’t even notice when I had lost my balance.
The start to my year had been good. I decided to try a new diet and become fat adapted and have had success with it so far. I ran a low key 50k race in January, the Madrass FatAss 50k and then another long run weekend along the Rogue River in southern Oregon with a group of other runners at the Southern Oregon Fat Ass run (SOFA). Although I ran into some stomach issues during the second run along the Rogue I learned much about fueling with this diet and had a great time. Things were clicking along and plans were being made for my upcoming running season. Then without warning down I went down.
It was an innocuous start to a short day hike. Just myself with my two children and our two dogs. It occurred on the way back about half a mile from the car. Our dogs in need of burning their pent up energy were playing fetch as we hiked along the snow covered forest service road. I bent over to pick up a stick when a sudden pain pierced my lower back. I almost couldn’t right myself back up. I managed a slow shuffle back to the car and my 8 year old son had to lift my legs so I could get in. Upon getting home it took almost a half hour for my wife to help me get back out. The pain was that intense. This injury seemed to apparate from out of nowhere like a Death Eater attacking Harry Potter, but in retrospect it was nothing quite so dramatic. In fact it probably had been a long time coming. Too much training spent just running and little to no time focused on stretching and working the supportive muscle groups. Add to this my work environment where I spend half my time in a chair with little walking and it’s no wonder that my problems didn’t arise sooner.
After a little research I self diagnosed myself with a condition called piriformus syndrome. Hey, Doctor Google is never wrong, right? But as the weeks went by my suspicions proved correct as my symptoms lessened and body responded to core work and hip and glute exercises. I was heading down the right path. I’ve been trying to incorporate regular workouts for these muscles by going to group classes and using resistance bands at home. It only took me 14 months and an injury to finally take the bands out of their original packaging! I had good intent when I bought them, but poor follow through. Don’t you make the same mistake. All those articles we see regarding cross training, stretching, strength and core work outs are there for a reason. They benefit us in becoming better runners and staying injury free.
So today I look up the hillside as I approach Pilot Butte seems like an old friend. One who patiently waits, unchanged since my last run weeks ago. I quickly decide to turn up the path and climb to the summit. She quickly makes me sweat from the effort even though I try to take a slow and steady pace. My calves begin to complain and a slight burning sensation begins to grow in my right glute. But I don’t hesitate or think of turning back. I’ve missed the exertion of running. The pain and sweat along with the things I see in the outdoors. When something you love is suddenly taken away or is lost it really hits home how often one takes it for granted. My old friend who I used to avoid like the plague when I first began running I now welcome with open arms. For although she doesn’t realize it she will be instrumental in allowing me to see many things and accomplish great goals. My regular running partner whose always there, waiting for me to join her. So I climb. Step by step. It’s not easy and I’m not fully healthy but it feels right. My heart rate rises and my breathing becomes labored and every step is worth it.
In ultra running and any endurance sport for that matter, how you think can play a huge role in your results. I’ve often thought the mental aspect was as much if not more important than the physical side of running. Don’t get me wrong you can’t perform well in a 100k ultramarathon without proper physical training, but one needs to train the brain as well. This topic and many others has been written about in previous articles by Alex Hutchinson and now is the topic of his new book Endure :Mind, Body and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance. His article “The Mental Tricks of Athletic Endurance” in the Wall Street Journal talks about this often neglected topic by athletes. Here is one tidbit from the article.
“Hill and other early researchers soon realized that psychology must play a key role. In 1961, a pair of scientists at George Williams College in Chicago showed that they could boost the maximum strength of weightlifting volunteers by 7.4% if an experimenter sneaked up behind the subject and fired a .22-caliber starter’s pistol just before the lift. It was among the first (and most bizarre) attempts to demonstrate that the limits we perceive as physical and absolute are often negotiable and mediated by the brain.
The precise nature of the mind-muscle connection remains hotly disputed today, but most researchers accept the essential point: that the physical manifestations of fatigue—racing heart, elevated core temperature, a rising tide of metabolites like lactate in the blood—merely serve as sources of information for the brain, rather than direct limits on our ability to continue.”
After reading the full article I look forward to gleaming more insight from his new book.
Breathing in, breathing out. One foot forward striking the hard ground. The other foot follows quickly as I pick my path watching for rocks that lay strewn along the way.
It’s a warm afternoon and I feel the suns heat upon my head and shoulders. Sweat trickles down stinging my eyes. I wipe it away and take a drink from my bladder pack which rests upon my sweaty back. My footfalls continue as the trail flows beneath me as I follow it twisting through the mountain landscape. I look left then right. Jagged peaks, grey and immense tower above as I progress deeper into their midst.
I pause to take in these mammoth granite giants. Feeling their power they fill my inner being, replenishing my emotional state. I look around at my immediate surroundings and breathe in deeply. The smell of plants and flowers enter my nostrils triggering more feelings of joy. This is why I come. This is why I don’t mind the hard effort and pain. For the physical pain is short lived but what I gain from a run in nature such as this lasts for days, even weeks. Some of the memories and feelings of pure joy last a lifetime. I look ahead and the trail becons me forward. I oblige with anticipation of what’s lies ahead. I turn and push my foot forward digging into the trail. Breathing in, breathing out I continue on. I feel so alive.
As I myself have been struggling of late to keep a regular training cycle going for my running this article gives some great tips in dealing with getting back at it after unplanned breaks.
Training for a distance race takes months of commitment. So it’s not surprising that there are times where you miss a run…or multiple weeks of runs. We often expect injuries to derail our training, but most of the time we take a short break because of other life commitments. Busy schedules often call for runners to readjust…
via How To Start Running Again After A Short Break In Training — Competitor.com