Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ultra Running: Should runners go there...?

Running is an interesting and healthy sport for just about anybody, providing they train correctly and follow recommended methods. One of the recent trends in distance running today is ultra running. Technically, anything over 26 miles and 385 yards is considered an ultra. One of the entry endurance races for ultra runners is the 50K, or 31 miles. Then, there are fairly standard events at the 50 mile distance, 100k (62.14 miles), and 100 miles. There are also 24 hour, 48 hour and 72 hour running events usually held on tracks, trails, or enclosed areas in parks and other places. One hundred mile races are becoming extremely popular in the U.S. with more events being held each year. Should runners decide to begin running ultras, there are a few strategies, and some information they must be familiar with before embarking on such an adventure. Running the 50k is a great place to start for beginning ultra runners, and a main focus of this blog over the next couple of seasons, so lets take a look at how to get ready for a 50K race:

50k races are extremely popular, and most people can train for these races by following a good, steady marathon training schedule. Hal Higdon's marathon training programs are an excellent model to follow and are available online. The only exception would be to run a little farther for your long run when training for a 50k. As Alberto Salazar puts it, "running a 50k is only another 5 miles, but they are very tough miles." If you can imagine hitting the wall at 20 miles during a marathon, your training must be such that you will be able to endure another 11 miles. You don't have to put in a hundred miles a week to run a decent 50k, but you do need to ramp up the mileage intelligently and consistently. One method of accomplishing this is to follow either, or both of the following training methods:

In addition to your weekly mileage, which should include at least two other medium to hard training runs, here are two methods of gaining the endurance needed for running ultras:

1. Run back to back long runs: try adding extra endurance miles by running a long run on either saturday or sunday, and another long run the next day. Example: 20 miles on Saturday and another 10-15 miles on Sunday. Or you can switch those around as you see fit. This method should be used toward the end cycle of your peak training, not each week.

2. Run twice a day: Running twice a day helps to adapt your legs to spending a great deal of time on your feet. This would be a particularly good method of training for going longer, such as the 50k.

One word of caution, though: don't start out doing either method in the beginning of your training program. Both of thse methods are time consuming and can wear you down over an extended period of time. Wait until you have developed a good solid base of mileage before attempting either of these training modules. Expect to spend about 18-24 total weeks of training for your first 50K. If you have never run a full marathon, you should run a couple to get an idea of how much mileage is necessary for your comfortable finish. This blog is for those who want to "finish," not race. If you are a faster runner, looking to run a rather strong race, you should include some speed training in form of intervals, tempo running, or fartleks. Also, for the more advanced runner, your total mileage would amp up as well, maybe even as high as 70-90 miles a week for a top finishing time. Otherwise, to finish a 50k should not take up much more training than a regular marathon training schedule for most first timers who just want to go the distance.


You must also learn to eat and drink more on the run. Aid stations during 50k races have what is called "standard fare," which means they will usually offer a variety of food to keep your calories intake to about 200-300 calories an hour. Most aid stations will carry carbohydrate type of foods, to include orange slices, bananas, gatorade, Heed, or other type of sports drink, along with other items such as potatos that you can dip into salt, potato chips, candy, cokes, and other items that will keep your energy levels up. So, you must learn to eat in training before you enter your first 50k.


Ultra runners must also pay more attention to hydration and electrolyte replacement. Most ultra runners will eventually learn to carry their own water/hydration source with them and fill them up at the aid stations. Electrolytes will keep you healthy during your run. Most aid stations will have a variety of electrolytes you can use, or you should learn to carry your own for use out on the trail.

Are Ultras healthy?

Much has been written lately about the negative effects of ultra distance sports in general, including heart attacks, which some studies have revealed are possible during ultra events. Most of the ultra runners I know are extremely healthy, however, and have worked and trained their bodies to handle the extra miles, and are among the healthiest athletes around. However, if one attempts ultras without the proper preparation, or rush their mileage too quickly, they could be looking for trouble along these lines in a race or even in training:

1. blisters
2. cramps
3. excessive soreness, body aches and pains
4. long recovery times
5. breakdown of the immune system, which could leave you ill (sleepless nights, colds, flu, increased resting pulse rate, and exhaustion and fatigue, and/or agitation or irritability)
6. Heat exhaustion (if it's hot or humid)or heat stroke, which can be fatal
7. Hyponatremia: drinking too much water without proper electrolyte replacement means you have washed out all the electrolytes from your body (can be fatal)
8. Injuries (IT band problems, plantar fascitis, or other runners woes)
9. Lack of motivation to run another...

The caution here again, is to take training seriously, and allow yourself plenty of time to train, increase mileage safely, and take care of your body. You must also ensure you are taking in enough calories, including carbohydrates to fuel your running, and enough protein to repair the muscle tissue broken down with such heavy training.

Train for the Course

Learn as much as you can about the course you are going to race on, including elevation, altitude, technical sections, hills, terrain, and other important features. You should try to train on a similar course, if possible. If not, you must be inventive to adapt your training to the expected terrain. A lot of trails contain some hills, so some time spent running on hills would be an excellent idea, as well.

Wear Good Shoes

Trail shoes are different from shoes worn in road races. Some more experienced trail runners may get away with wearing minimal protection, but in the beginning, trail shoes might be a reasonable investment. Some trail shoes come equipped with toe bumpers for running on difficult terain with roots, rocks, or other impediments. They will save you from stubbing your toes, or otherwise damaging your feet, spraining your ankles, and protect your feet over a technical terrain. Trail shoes come with various other features, including more tread for steady gripping of loose terrain.

Does Everybody Run the whole way?

Not everybody runs the entire distance. There is nothing wrong with walking, in fact, run/walking is actually advised. Some run/walk methods that have been employed by many runners is the 9/1 method. You can make up your own ratio, for whatever is comfortable for you. The 9/1 method employs a 10 minute run, followed by a 1 minute walk, followed by another 9 minutes of running. You might also employ a method that includes walking the hills and running the downhills.

With some common sense training techniques, almost anyone can run a succesfull ultra race. a 50k is a good entry into the sport of ultra running, and you will experience a new sense of accomplishment and a new world of running. You will meet new people, and will probably see them at other similar events, as the world of ultra running is a very closeknit community.

For more information, you can e-mail me at jerryhollingsworth@hotmail.com.

Until next time, happy running everybody....see you on the trail!

Dr. Jerry W. Hollingsworth

Monday, February 18, 2013

Trail Running: Should I try it?

Trail Running: Should I try it?

One of the newest trends in today’s running scene is trail running. While road running has been one of the most popular ways to run races in the United States, trail running is gaining in popularity and more and more runners are entering trail races. While both types of races are fun, exciting, and great ways to maintain your physical fitness, there are some basic differences in the two environments.

Road races can run anywhere from a few participants to thousands of runners all lining up together at the starting line. In fact, some road races boast 30,000 runners or more, especially when the half marathon and the marathon are run at the same time. Some races even incorporate a 10k and a 5k at the same time, incorporating masses of runners. This would be unusual on a trail, which often times is run on a single track course, where only one or two runners can be accommodated side by side, so runners have to use a bit more courtesy on a trail run. We hear the term “on your left,” as other runners struggle to get past slower runners. Trail races can be very informal, as well, with very little pomp and circumstance. Runners tend to “string out” over the course of a long trail run, and you may experience times in the race when you are running all alone.

Littering the trail with gel packs or water cups, or other debris is a no-no! This is perfectly acceptable in a road race, but not on trails. Runners can be disqualified for littering. Aid stations usually contain more food items than road races, especially when the race is an ultra-running event of 50k or longer. Aid stations also tend to be farther apart than road races, which may have a water/sports drink table set up every mile. Some aid station in trail races may be 3 miles apart or farther, and you may need to carry your own water bottles or hydration equipment. Some people carry their own bottles, and some people wear Camelbacks, or waist packs.
Road racing is often held in the cities, and traffic must be controlled, and the scenery usually consists of bank buildings and expensive houses, as race directors and city officials show off the best parts of their cities. Trail races are held in State Parks, or in the woods, mountains, and around lakes. The views consist of trees, hills, mountains, rocks, wildflowers, and may contain plenty of nature.

In road racing, you can count on a few hills, but other than that, it is usually a concrete or asphalt surface, and you can maintain a pretty steady pace for the most part, and you can also “zone out” and let your mind wander, reducing the amount of stress and pain felt by the run. Or, to circumvent boredom, some road races hire bands to play music all along the way, keeping runners entertained. Trail races can be held in quieter venues, with no crowds, and no amenities.

Trail races demand more attention as the surface can be wet from rain, mud, or you may be running over slippery rocks, through rivers, creeks, and mud puddles. You may also run in glorious forests, over a bed of pine needles, or soft sand, or leaves and roots. Sometimes roots can be covered in leaves, leaving you vulnerable for tripping and falling. Trail runners run uphill, downhill, and both require a special skill and endurance. While road runners may experience hills, as well, trail runners often have to run downhill over slippery rocks, dirt, or scree, which can be tricky.
Road runners have to watch out for cars, or other people who may get in their way. Trail runners don’t normally have to worry about traffic, but there are wild animals in the woods. Often, runners may hear and see Coyotes, skunks, rabbits, Mountain Lions, Bobcats, and other critters. Some ultra-runners have reported encounters with bears, moose, and wild pigs. One elite runner reported being charged by a violent moose during a hundred mile race.

I was running a 24-hour race in Oklahoma when I saw a Bobcat standing just off the trail in the woods. I have also been frightened by wild pigs that dashed out in front of me, or surprised me on the trail. Those things can be scary. Night runs on the trails can also be daunting, as Coyotes and other predators can be seen or heard in the distance. Headlamps light up eyeballs of creatures on the side of the trail. At Huntsville State Park, the site of several trail running events, there are signs that say, “Beware of Alligators.”

If you are a nature lover, trail running might just be the thing to do….it takes a different level of fitness, a different mindset, and a genuine love of nature. It can be exciting, tranquil, and invigorating all at the same time. More trail races are popping up every day, and ultra-races are becoming more and more popular. You can find trail races from 10k distance, all the way up to 100 mile races.

For trail racing in Texas, there are several good resources that offer information and calendars for running events:

Tejas Trails: http://tejastrails.com/

North Texas Trail Runners: http://nttr.org/http://nttr.org/

Endurance Buzz: http://endurancebuzz.com/

Trail running is an exciting sport, and once you try it, you may be hooked. If you need any furhter information, you can contact me at:


Happy running everybody…..see you on the trail.

Dr. Jerry Hollingsworth

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Cross-Training: is it necessary?

My recent experience with a six week layoff due to an injury to my lower leg left me in sort of a conundrum...what do I do while I'm waiting for my leg to heal? I decided to take up swimming, because it was one of the only activities I could do that did not bring more pain to my leg. I'm actually not much of a swimmer, and at first, swimming laps was one of the most boring things I could think of, and one of the worst. For one thing, I could not swim very far, or very long at a time. I could run 50 or 60 miles, but could only swim for about ten minutes without having to stop and rest. That's when I decided that swimming was a pretty good workout. My arms were activated, along with my entire core, my legs, my entire upper body, and all without any impact at all. So, I have decided to keep swimming, even though I am now returning to a full complement of running activities. So, the question remains...do runners need to cross-train, and if they do, what types of activities are worthwhole for a runner? My own investigation led me to the following information: It is not totally necessary for a runner to cross-train, but it makes perfect sense to do so. Activities like swimming are an excellent form of aerobic exercise that works the whole body without the constant pounding of the legs. I would say that for older runners (like myself), cross-training is worth considering to prevent injuries. Running always takes precedence over cross-training, but the benefits of adding a day with no pounding on the pavement that reaps such physical rewards toward total fitness is an important element to think about in extending the life of our running careers. Weight-lifting is also a valued cross-training tool, as having a totally fit and stronger body aids in keeping one strong in the later stages of a very long run. Rather than lifting heavy weights, the goal of weight-lifting for a runner are different than for a body-builder, or a football player. The goal is not big muscles, but a strong, yet lean body that is fit and toned. So, rather than lifting heavy weights, a runner should lift lighter rather than heavier, and for more repetitions. Some people can get added benefits from riding a bike...the fitness rewards are amazing, and again...without the impact of running taking its toll on one's legs. Before you get the idea of my transferring to an event like a triathlon, remember, I'm a horrible swimmer, and I would envision myself not performing well in open water...but, one only has to look at the fitness of a triathlete to measure the benefits of running, swimming, and biking. Something to think about! I am including at least one day of swimming and adding it to my weekly schedule, and lifting weights on my easier running days....and the most interesting part about swimming...I didn't really lose much fitness while I was on my injury layoff. Happy running everyone....see you on the trail! Dr. Jerry W. Hollingsworth

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

On being injured and the Layoff

Being injured is a frustrating experience for most runners, who find that their enforced layoff is a punishment rather than a reward for their bodies. It can also mean that we ignore the most proper method of taking care of an injury. We do things like "self-diagnose." This is the most dangerous practice, as I most recently found out. Over the course of the past year, I have experienced difficulty with pain in my calf, which never really hurt when I was out running, but would begin as soon as I stopped. Ordinarily, especially ultra runners, we think we can outlast almost any pain, but eventually, it overwhelms us, as it did me on the "End of the World Marathon," and subsequently, the marathon that followed the next day, the "Day After the End of the World Marathon." Unable to finish the full marathon the first day, I limped across the finish line of the half marathon and called it quits. The pain was unbearable, but like a lot of others, I figured it would go away and so I lined up the next morning to begin again, but could only run for 7 miles before limping in and sitting down in excruciating pain. So, to put it mildly, I began this break with running to let myself heal...I would take off as long as it took to let everything heal. Six weeks later, I am having the same problem, so I managed to break the deal with myself and seek professional help. Turns out that I had two problems: arthritis in the knee, and a rare condition called Tibia Fibial Subluxation. Nothing I could fix myself. I had canceled some of my favorite races, laid off indefinitelly for no reason. a few shots of a new product in my knee would make my knee feel brand new, and physical therapy on my calf problem made it feel better after the one session of what they called "dry needling." I had never heard of this, but I had seen acupuncture, and while they are related, they differ in their function. It is, to say the least, a painful venture, but it is proving to be highly effective. Turns out, I had no reason to lay off so long....stubbornness and ignorance cost me time, canceled races, money, and fitness! Lesson learned....go seek professional help. Recovery is now just around the corner, and I can begin my comeback tomorrow, which is encouraging to say the least. I can now begin my cycle of running all the 50k races in the state of Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. I can't wait to start on those new goals, and of course, to train for the most coveted of my goals...the 100 mile race. see you on the trail...... Dr. Jerry W. Hollingsworth

Friday, January 11, 2013

50K Trail Reviews This blog is changing in scope and content. In the past, I have commented on my own races, and commenting on such things as traveling, as well. From this point on, I will be changing the content somewhat. This blog will become the place to read reviews on 50k races in the state of Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. My intention is to run every 50k in the state of Texas over the next couple of years, and this blog will review each race, adding information about the trails, the race, the aid stations, as well as other pertinent information trail runners want to know.