Apathy, Your Body, and Trail Running: A Worse Combination!

Last week, I wrote about how apathy on the part of trail runners could spell disaster for our parks and public lands. Well, I’m back to say that many of us are not being vigilant enough or are not working hard enough to maintain our own bodies for trail running. Sure, there are some trail runners out there that eat great, get good sleep, stick to rehab, stretch every day, strengthen weak muscles, and rest when they need it. That ain’t most of us. It’s certainly not me!

The Questions
That begs the question, why don’t we take care of our bodies as well as we should? More specifically, why don’t we take the actions, large and small, that will make us better trail runners? That will have us out on the trails more frequently? That could help keep us as trail runners for additional years? Many of us won’t bat an eye lid at the thought of going out for a 2, 4, or 8 hour run, but then say we “don’t have the time” to stretch was an hour a week or do five minute of Achilles rehab every day!

The Personal
If I’m pointing fingers around here, know that I’m certainly pointing at a mirror. Back in the summer of 2002, I ran through Achilles pain for a month … and eventually needed to take of nearly half a year. If I’d been vigilant in monitoring my body and responsible in taking a few days off, the tendonitis might not have resulted in a chronic injury. As it happens, I ran on that chronic Achilles tendonitis for 6 years without doing a single bit of rehab! Only the thought of running the Marathon des Sables could get me to even consider rehab. It’d been even longer than 6 years since I’d done any thing in the way of consistent core work before I got to work for MdS. Let’s not talk about my diet or the fact that I’d work until the wee hours of every morning if not for caring reminders. I’m also quite inflexible, literally.

Addressing these deficiencies is certainly daunting. However, in the preface to a recent yoga class, the instructor asked folks for guidance in what they wanted to include in the day’s practice. She inquired as to which poses were our favorite and which were our least favorite. We all chuckled at the last bit, simultaneously acknowledging that, perhaps, these least favorite poses were the ones that we should focus on the most. That likely transfers well to most of our self-neglect.

Maybe I can’t correct all these issues at once, but I can make one small change at a time. Once that small change takes hold, once it becomes the new routine, I can go for the next one. Yeah, this will take some prioritizing based on both need, time, and ease of change. I need to find successes if I want to continue down the path to improved healthfulness, to improved trail running.

The Challenge!
Share with us the specific ways you’ve been neglecting your body. If you’re up for it, share what you plan to do about it! Public accountability is a great motivator!

There are 17 comments

  1. Steve P

    Hi Bryon….

    I think if I neglect anything it's weight training.

    I do try to mix up my running between trails and roads (mostly trails) to prevent injuries.

    I do try to mix up my running shoes for the same reason.

    I rarely stretch, but have found in the past 35 years of running I've never really needed to. I will get down on the floor at night and check to see if anything needs stretching, but usually I'm pretty good.

    After a hard run or race, I will roll out my muscles with a stick or foam roller.

    Weight training I need as I get older (I'm 58 now) and it doesn't hurt having a little bit of upper body strength for some of those Hardrock climbs, so I hop on my Total Gym at least once a week. A good week is twice and I don't do a lot. Just one set to muscle failure (usually 30-50 reps) for all my muscle groups. This seems to help. I really do dislike weight training, but find it a necessary evil.


  2. Michael Helton

    From the perspective of an aspiring ultrarunner I have to say that it is difficult to get any solid information on how to properly train for ultras. I have read many books, follow dozens of blogs, and subscribe to all the main ultra mags; and the lack of solid training info is shocking.

    When I ask ultra runners why they do something the most common answer I get is, "I don't know. It just works for me." or "So and so told me to do it once." Marathons on the other hand are basically down to a science. Do this for this many minutes and then eat this and that and you will run X fast.

    The allure of ultras is that they are so variable and the antithesis of the formulaic marathon. Each ultrarunner gets to experiment and find out on their own what works for them under any given conditions.

    However, I believe this might also leave some gaping holes in the training we should be doing.

  3. Dan

    Great thought-provoking post Bryon. I'm a relative newbie to trail running (2 years) and strive to complete my first 50k race soon. As a 43 year old, very inflexible desk jockey I struggle with keeping my body strong for longer runs. I seem to handle moderate distances very well, but on longer runs (15-20 miles) it becomes clear that I have muscle imbalances – particularly in the hamstrings and glutes.

    One of my goals this year (and ongoing) is to spend more time in my garage with weights working on these muscle groups. Squats, lunges & core work would no doubt help me tremendously but conquering the mind is typically the biggest challenge. I've recently added a medicine ball and fitness bands to my garage gym and plan to incorporate them into a weekly routine. As with most athletic/fitness endeavors, once my goal becomes important enough – I'll find a way to make it happen.

    Happy trails…

  4. Beth McCurdy

    I think an important part of me doing well in marathons/ultras so far is cooking healthy meals pretty much every night using fresh vegetables, olive oil, lots of garlic, chicken and fish, and lots of carbs. We rarely eat out in restaurants.

    Where I'm lacking is strength training. I don't enjoy it but try to make a point of doing some twice a week-especially now that I've hit the 4-0.

  5. TrailClown

    This is an interesting post, as it highlights the problem that every athlete faces in their favorite sport of choice: overdoing it in one area. Much like weightlifters probably find running a necessary evil, I also (like Steve) see weightlifting as a necessary, albeit highly beneficial, evil. My workplace has a yoga class which is great for strengthening important running muscles–I find that when I stretch on my own I don't hold the stretch/breath for the correct amount of time/tension, so an organized class can be very beneficial. Nutrition is still a problem, because overtraining leads to nutritional choice imbalances (euphamism for junk food). Ice baths and hot epsom salt baths and body massage would be ideal after each long run, but who has the time/money/energy/availability etc? I think the most important thing is listening to the body's wisdom and not the mind's goals and dreams. Ultrarunners tend to think big and think in future terms, while the body knows only the present sensations. So I'm always working on staying grounded in my current run while my mind thinks of Mont Blanc and Hardrock and HURT, etc.

  6. Chris Owens

    Oh, did I need to read this today! I flat out suck at everything that could help my running except running. It's crazy. I have a detailed running schedule that I follow as if my life depended on it. I've signed up for Yoga, went twice never went back. Added gym workouts to my schedule, didn't follow it. Push ups and sit ups at home in the morning, simple enough, nope! I have back problems, in part due to a car accident in my teens, in part because I do NOTHING to help it. I spend a lot of money to chiropractors and massage therapists, who all tell me to strengthen my core…hmmm, still don't. The one thing I can conclude, is that NO amount of talking about core strength training is doing anything for my core strength, unfortunately. I just turned over a new leaf….again….this time…..I'm gonna stick with it! I hope.

  7. Mark

    I for one, decided to do something about my issues starting this last winter. I've been strength training twice a week, yoga twice a week, stretching almost every night. My focus has been on the medial quad to protect the knees, upper body strength to balance the legs as well as glute strengthening. Yoga and stretching has been focused on gaining some flexibility especially in the hip flexors. So far, I've had great results. I'm running longer, stronger, faster recovery and a definite improvement in flexibility. It's paying off. I highly recoemmend it.

  8. Will T.

    I hate stretching. It's the last thing I want to do before/after a run. I'd rather maximize my workout time but just running. A knee issue has brought me to a stop in my tracks this past month. When I found that the cure to this was stretching my tight hamstrings I had a major attitude adjustment towards stretching. I now make time for it before and after every run, but I'll be the 1st to admit as soon as all signs of the knee pains are gone, I'm sure I'll get lazy again and the stretching will get put on the backburner. Not sure why it is that we act this way. I think it's hard to change something when we are content with the current situation.

  9. SaraM

    Great post. I've recently had to take several weeks off from running due to injury and to some extent it was a blessing. I had been neglecting everything besides running before that and the break forced me to focus on healing and staying in shape. I did a lot of cross training and started doing strength workouts again. I quickly noticed how out of shape I was. Now I am trying to do yoga at least once a week and strength training at least twice a week. I am also keeping up with some cross training to try to avoid over-doing it on the running. I am also focusing on my diet more (mostly clean eating) and started taking a few supplements that my doctor recommended (calcium, Vit D, and omegas).

  10. Brad K

    Sleep… sleep is what I need. I constantly struggle to find balance in my life, along with my training. I simply refuse to sacrifice any time with my family or jeopardize work/career. During the week, I run late at night after the kids are asleep… but that was not enough time, so now I sacrifice some sleep, too (of course, I gave up all TV a long time ago). I am unable to catch up on sleep on the weekends because I do my long run early in the morning, to leave the rest of the day for family, soccer practice, etc. It seems I have finally adapted to 4 hours of sleep, but I know its not nearly enough (or is it? :).

    One major plus is that my exercise and eating habits have been a very positive influence on my family… and I sure love ultras!

    1. Bryon Powell

      Brad, finding enough time to work, run, and spend time with loved ones sure is tough. I know I'd spend far too little time sleeping if I wasn't frequently reminded to work less. That said, there are usually other places one can eliminate unnecessary time. Commuting time, whether to work or to run errands or to go for runs. Are there TV substitutes that we spending too much time doing? It could be reading books or surfing the internet.

  11. Brad

    Excellent points, Bryon! (but for me, it's complicated)

    Also, there are ways to consolidate time by combining some of the activities. Like running to the local soccer fields and meeting the family there for the kids soccer practice (and running home after, as well)

  12. Matt

    Bryon — do you happen to have a post somewhere on your Achilles rehab? I'd love to hear about it. Also, any posts or suggestions for a well-rounded stretching routine for runners? I've got my own but love to learn about other options.

    Some Achilles tendonitis and a nasty IT band have forced me into some good stretching, use of The Stick and a foam roller, and now yoga classes.

  13. Bryon Powell

    Matt, I've never written about my Achilles rehab. You think it would be useful?

    Definite no posts about stretching … yet. I'm admittedly awful about it!

    Congrats on being so diligent in your rehab. I could certainly use more of all the things you do. I'd really like to make yoga a regular addition to my week.

  14. Evan

    Bryon, I would love for you to address Achilles rehab, I have been fighting mine for about six months. I spent money on the trigger point roller, and like the topic at hand only seem to use it only when it gets bad. I want to start my 100 training in OCT, but I do not want to fight with the pain next year.

    1. Bryon Powell

      The short version is that I did one exercise, eccentric heel drops, nearly every day for 6 months. I'd do 3 sets of 10 on each foot with a break for some other work (usually some core stuff) in between. Here's a video demonstration http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0neih0R7rws . I did my work without weights. The key is taking at least a three count in going from the up position to being fully dropped. For a while, use your non-targeted foot to help raise you back on to your toes. After a long while, I slowly added some raising myself with the same foot.

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