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Monthly Archives - February 2019

Ellie Greenwood

When it comes to the world of Ultramarathons EVERYONE knows the name Ellie Greenwood, and for good reason. This British Ultramarathoner has numerous wins and course records under her belt that attest to how formidable she is as an athlete. She is a two-time 100km World champion, first British woman to win the 90km Comrades, holds records at the Western States 100, Canadian Death Race, JFK 50 Mile Run and the knee knackering north shore trail run.

We asked Ellie about how she got started running, unlike many athletes, she talked about how she always just enjoyed running. “I did run a little when I was in school, but not competitively or with a lot of structure” she said  “You know some things you just enjoy. When I was in university in the UK I decided to do a half marathon. I thought it would be fun, I had no concept of miles and pace. I did it and I loved it”.

That first half marathon ignited a passion and lead to more half and full marathons. Ultras were not even on her radar at that point and as soon as it was, she was intrigued. She assumed that since her marathoning experience had been good and she enjoyed outdoorsy activities like hiking, the idea of running further and on trails really appealed to Ellie greatly, however she did take her time getting into the sport “I did do a very low key one which is great” is what she said about her first Ultra “I spent quite a few years, I would say 6 years, between my first 50 k and my first 100 – miler”.

A big part of Ellie’s attitude towards participating in new things comes from her style of education. Her UK school was not super competitive like US schools, but encouraged more of a participation culture “It was a ‘put-up-your-hand-and-take-part’ atmosphere and I liked being active”. Not having big consequences based on winning or losing was very reassuring for Ellie. She also recognizes that Ultras are unique in being able to afford people the opportunity to perform well without having had a background in it. “It is sport specific. Had I wanted to be the best 10k runner in the world, I would have needed a lot more structure.”

Today Ellie looks at herself as more of a coach than a competitive runner “These day I am not really competing too much, I might get back there  and do a bit of that.” But even when she was competing, Ellie always mixed up her training, adding a variety of types of races, terrain to run on, rest days and participating in key races that flow well together . “2014 is a good example. I raced the comrades 56 miles road race in June, I did World 100K in November, but in the middle of the year, I did the Speed Goat, a very technical one.” Mixed in some fun activities like snowshoeing, Ellie makes the best of her time training. As a coach, she encourages the same ” If you do the same thing over and over, you are most likely to plateau.”

When asked about her win at the Comrades, “That was something I really wanted to do” she said  “It was the 3rd time that I ran it that I won it. Some other races I had better luck that I have showed up and won it” To get the result she wanted, she really needed to focus on it and it became much more than just a race she wanted to win “It was Hard! I tell you that. It wasn’t an easy day that I won”. But that made the win even more special.

When asked about a good strategy to pick races she said, “In the days right now, lets be honest, a lot of people chase UTMB points and Western States  qualifiers, its a wonderful thing to do and I am not anti those and there is nothing wrong with that but it narrows people down to lists. Have fun along the way. It will help with the motivation for training”.

When it comes to women in the sport, she had this to say “I think there have been changes in last 10 years or so. Obviously changes are still taking place and I think there is place for more change to happen” She attributes the increase in competitiveness in the sport of ultra running is because of the increase in participation. “I still think there isn a long way to go. WS now has the pregnancy deferral policy, but forgive me if I am wrong, UTMB doesn’t. There are still bridges like that that need to be crossed.” She talks about the importance of media, what they cover and more importantly how they cover female athletes so that women feel more included and can identify. She also talks about the importance of encouraging and fostering girls and women to participate.

Ellie doesn’t know what the future holds for her, but she knows that she will always be involved in running in some way, however she will continue to do what feels right and what is fun.

Listen to the whole podcast to hear everything that Ellie had to say.

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Ultra-Running: A Brief History of a 15,000-Year-Old Sport

 

To the uninitiated, ultra-running may seem like a new concept — extreme marathoning that is the running world equivalent of the X Games or football’s XFL. In actuality, however, the notion of pushing your body beyond the traditional 26.2 miles is as old as recorded history.

Photo Credit: Ultra-Running: A Brief History of a 15,000-Year-Old Sport

References to men pushing themselves for multiple days, often through harsh weather conditions, date all the way to the natives. Stretching back thousands of years to the Ice Age, when the exposed Bering land bridge allowed passage between Asia and North America, groups of people were known to trek into the great plains, across mountain and desert territories and even into the jungles of South America. Since horses wouldn’t be introduced as a transportation alternative until the sixteenth century, Native Americans built much of their lives around walking and running.

Meanwhile, records from 1009 A.D. reference two Scottish runners named Haki (a male) and Hekja (a female), who worked with the Vikings to explore new lands. Supposedly faster than deer, the two scouts would be sent out for days at a time, wearing little more than a hooded poncho while running a far greater distance than any traditional expedition could accomplish. If the Scots returned safely, the Vikings would deem the area safe to go ashore.

Photo Credit: Ultra-Running: A Brief History of a 15,000-Year-Old Sport

As the centuries went past, tribal warriors took pride in running for days at a time with little food — and often, without shoes. Around the world, systems began to develop where highly-trained, physically-fit messengers would run great distances daily to test the boundaries of communication. The Incan empire had the “Chasquis” (who ran up to 240 km a day while pioneering a relay system), the Aztecs had the “Titlantil” (trained from childhood until they could run over 100 miles in a day), and from Canada to the Carolinas the Iroquois trail network featured runners like “Sharp Shins,” a native who wowed observers by covering 90 miles in a day.

By the 1700’s it was not uncommon to see “ultra walking” competitions, where competitors and observers would place wagers on how far someone could walk in 24 hours — and in a spirit any modern day ultra-runner can understand, from there the challenges grew greater and more intense, pushing the boundaries of what the human body would tolerate.

Photo Credit: Ultra-Running: A Brief History of a 15,000-Year-Old Sport

In 1928, it was time for things to get organized. A sports promoter named Charles C. “Cash & Carry” Pyle envisioned a groundbreaking footrace across America, and soon the so-called “Bunion Derby” had nearly 300 participants attempting to run 3455 miles for a $25,000 first place prize. Much like a modern-day event, Pyle pioneered the use of support teams and checkpoints — and also had a rolling shoe repair vehicle following the runners. 20-year-old Cherokee Andy Payne, running to pay the mortgage on his family’s farm, was the first to cross the New York finish line — winning by more than 15 hours. The race lost money, but Payne was minted as a national celebrity.

From those humble (and sometimes quirky) origins, the sport has evolved into one that had about 127,000 people finishing an ultra in 2017. According to RealEndurance.com ( 2018 UltraRunning Summary ), there are nearly 2000 ultra races now held all over the world, and although such numbers are small compared to traditional marathons, the sport continues its upwards growth. Which makes one wonder if, perhaps, now would be a good time to revive the Bunion Derby.

 

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Hayden Hawks

Hayden Hawks

Hayden Hawks ultra-running career has taken off – fast! Ever since entering the professional scene he has won the Speed Gold 50k Championship, the Capstone 50k Championship, and holds the fastest known time (FTK) for the Zion Traverse, one of  the most difficult foot races with more than 6,400 feet of climbing.

For Hayden, the Zion Traverse was more than just a race, it was an ode to his roots. Having been born and raised in St. George, Utah he was no stranger to the rocky red terrain or the hard work needed to complete such a demanding race.

As child, his father encouraged him daily to push himself and in high school after getting cut from the baseball team, his best friend’s encouragement to not give up and join cross country changed the trajectory of his life. From there the rest was history. Hayden was offered collegiate scholarships to run cross country and started competing in large scale races.

He claims that his talent does indeed account for a large portion of the success he’s accumulated as a runner, however as we find out on today’s podcast Hayden doesn’t rely solely on his natural gifts. “Someone can have talent, but without the hard work, it won’t show. Then you’ll never know how much talent you really have.”

Join us as we sit down with Hayden Hawks to chat about running, family, success, and the decades of hard work that makes him the ultra-runner he his today. Enjoy! Listen to the full interview on the IRUN4Ultra’s podcast Here

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Iditarod Trail Invitational Promises Aching Feet, Freezing Temps and Lots of Snow

 

Iditarod Trail It has been called the longest, hardest ultra-marathon in the world. Participants must battle frostbite, dehydration, waist-deep snow and the occasional wolf. It is the Iditarod Trail Invitational, and if you’re looking for athletes truly pushing themselves to the extremes of human endurance, you’ll find it in Alaska.

Photo Credit: Iditarod Trail Invitational

On February 24, a few dozen brave souls will push off from Knik Lake (near Anchorage), having chosen cross-country skis, fat-tire bikes or simply their feet as a vehicle for the 1000-mile race. To qualify, each racer must have previously completed the ITI 350, a punishing journey itself that is barely one-third the distance.

“You come down a hill, and look up and there’s another hill. So many times I would lean over my poles, put my head down and cry,” 2018 Iditarod winner Pete Ripmaster told the Asheville Citizen-Times (Asheville runner wins worlds longest ultramar 1-000-mile iditarod trail footrace longest ultramarathon) after last year’s race, which took him 26 days and 13 hours, averaging a pace of 38 miles a day. “Mentally it’s so hard to keep going and going. You just want to lay down and have someone pick you up and take you home.”

ITI athletes pride themselves on self-reliance, with the event promising an adventure for those “who don’t want to be cheated out of a profound experience by excess support from the race staff.” Embracing that mindset during their 1000-mile trek, participants must carry all survival gear with them — three supply drops are allowed — but once the 500-mile marker is passed, they are on their own for the rest of the solitary, snowbound journey.

Founded in 2002, the Iditarod Trail Invitational grew out of the famed Iditarod Sled Dog race, whose founder Joe Reddington Sr. encouraged human powered events along the trail to keep it open. Each year since, competitors compete in 1000, 350 or 150-mile distances.

So, what’s it like out there? Climbing from sea level to over 10,000 feet elevation, racers traverse frozen rivers and bleak fields of white, waking from brief breaks in sleeping bags to discover themselves buried beneath a foot of snow with their zippers frozen. Temperatures have been known to reach -60 degrees Fahrenheit — but if you can survive long enough, you may also witness the Northern Lights, a massive moose, and the sort of solitary experience increasingly more unimaginable in our modern lives.

Photo Credit: Iditarod Trail Invitational

“Nothing says ‘Hello Alaska,’ like my cold hands lathering diaper cream over my private parts in the darkness of a winter morning along the Iditarod Trail,” wrote RJ Sauer in an account ( The Iditarod Trail ) of his 2017 bike voyage from Knik to Nome, a year in which no runners finished. “Each year it’s hard for different reasons and harder for some because of the unique variables they may face: sickness, injury, gear technicalities, and external forces on the trail.”

Literary legend Jack London — who knew a thing or two about snowbound sled dog races — once famously remarked: “The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.” Each year, the personification of those words can be found on the snow-soaked trail of the Iditarod Trail Invitational

 

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Israel National Trail Prepares Itself for Ultra-Running Spotlight

National Geographic has listed it among the 20 most “epic trails” in the world. It was constructed as a Middle East equivalent of the beloved Appalachian Trail. At more than 1100km, it gives runners a unique glimpse of biblical landscapes and the everyday life of the modern Israeli.

It is the Israel National Trail, a hiking path inaugurated in 1995 that stretches from Dan (near the Lebanese border) to Eilat (on the Red Sea) and crosses the entire country of Israel. These days, it is increasingly popular with “runthusiasts,” ultra-runners and those who aspire to live like them, as they plan running vacations that take them to amazing destinations reachable only on foot.

Photo Credit: Israel National Trail

Michael Wardian made waves in the running world recently, following up his amazing 10-marathons in 10-days performance with the revelation that he will run the 631-miles of the Israel National Trail starting March 12. This is big news for companies like Canaan Running Adventures, a family business in Northern Israel that organizes adventures for trail runners from around the globe. The company’s manager, Zoli Bihari, is the mastermind behind Wardian’s run.

“For us, running is much more than a sport,” Canaan Running Adventures declares on its site (Running Adventures in Israel). “Being in the woods or watching the sunrise from a cliff or a mountain top we just reached is the quintessence of living and the purest definition of freedom. We also believe that running is a communal endeavor, and love the camaraderie on the trails.”

Photo Credit: Israel National Trail

The company organizes both personalized running experiences and multi-day running adventures, taking care of all the logistics and promising that participants simply need to bring running gear, a hydration pack, a hat and their enthusiasm. More advanced courses target specific themes, like the ancient incense road in the Negev Desert or a 5-day journey between the Mediterranean and Galilee seas.

Along the traditional 620-mile route that has become increasingly popular with foreign travelers, one can expect to see Israel’s Arava wilderness, distinctive white, blue and orange striped trail markers, paths populated by camels and goats, sandy beaches, bustling cities and barren desert. The recommended timing for hike departures is February or October, when temperatures are at their mildest for the typically 2-month-long trek.


Photo Credit: Israel National Trail

Perhaps the most charming feature of the Israel National Trail, however, is its communal embrace of the land itself. Avraham Tamir, a journalist who hiked the Appalachian Trail in the late ’70’s, devised the trail with Ori Dvir (a founder of the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel), with the purpose of giving Israelis a way to experience the breadth of their land. Since the trail encompasses some isolated areas, so-called “trail angels” have been known to assist hikers with keys left out for rooms, or sleeping quarters exchanged for a day’s work. When NatGeo listed it as one of the magazine’s best hiking destinations (National Geographic Names Israel National Trail as One of World’s Best), it said: “The joy of the trail is meeting the Israelis hiking it, and spending some time in small kibbutzim where local people take hikers into their homes.”

Photo Credit: Israel National Trail

In an era when headlines regarding Israel, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem often lean towards the negative, the Israel National Trail offers a welcomed reminder of the breathtaking Middle Eastern wilderness. For ultra-runners, “runthusiasts” and more, it presents the opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

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The Science of Altitude Training

Altitude training: If you’ve heard runners rave about the miraculous benefits of training at high altitudes, you may have been left wondering what all the fuss is about. You’re not alone. Despite near-unanimous agreement on its general benefits, altitude training remains a subject of some controversy in the field of sports science.

Why Does Altitude Help Us Train?

In a nutshell: thin air.

If you’re not familiar with high altitude training, that answer may surprise you. Thin air is the last thing most people want when they’re pushing through the end of a hard workout, but it carries a suite of physiological benefits.

The proposed benefits range from the obvious increase in the physical difficulty of performing athletic tasks in low oxygen to the possible placebo effect of believing that your training will make you more effective.

And if you’re looking for the number one reason athletes train at altitude, you need to know about hemoglobin.

Hemoglobin

altitude training

Hemoglobin is the protein in blood which carries oxygen all throughout your body. At high altitudes, your body is unable to efficiently saturate each hemoglobin cell. It begins to counteract the lack of available oxygen by creating more of these cells, increasing the efficiency with which oxygen can be carried from the lungs through the body.

While there is no consensus on what altitude is required to stimulate this production, nor what duration of exposure, studies have shown that 2-3 of training weeks at 1800m results in a significant increase (Laura A. Garvican-Lewis, Iona Halliday, Chris R. Abbiss, Philo U. Saunders, Christopher J. Gore. (2015) Altitude Exposure at 1800 m Increases Haemoglobin Mass in Distance Runners. Between 1400m and 1800m, lesser benefits are suspected but largely unproven.

When athletes return to sea-level, the additional hemoglobin remains, and the body is more able to effectively deliver oxygen than it could be otherwise. This is considered to be the primary reason why training at elevation is effective.

Watch Your Iron

altitude training

You need iron to produce hemoglobin, so it is commonly recommended that you take an iron supplement while training at altitude. At least one study has shown that athletes who are typically iron deficient see a greater increase in hemoglobin mass, so long as they receive proper supplements (Laura A. Garvican-Lewis, Andrew D. Govus, Peter Peeling, Chris R. Abbiss, Christopher J. Gore. (2016) Iron Supplementation and Altitude: Decision Making Using a Regression Tree.

The Devil’s Bargain

It is widely accepted that elevation training does cause an increase in hemoglobin production, and that additional hemoglobin allows athletes to perform at increased levels, but there remains some debate whether elevation training is a completely effective method.

Many athletes and researches see an unspoken trade in elevation training. They believe that the environmental benefits conferred at high altitudes are negated by the increased difficulty of training there in the first place. While little quantifiable evidence has been found to justify this claim, it has led one research team to suggest a novel approach.

Live-High; Train-Low

In 2015 a group of Journal of Sports Science and Medicine researchers, led by Amelia Carr, published a study which suggests that three weeks of training at lower altitudes (~1400m) while sleeping in tents designed to simulate the oxygen levels at 3000m could stimulate hemoglobin production as effectively as living and training at 1600m.

By using this “LHTL” method, athletes can take full advantages of the benefits of high altitude training, while maintaining a relative intensity that wouldn’t be possible a little higher up (Amelia J. Carr, Philo U. Saunders, Brent S. Vallance, Laura A. Garvican-Lewis, Christopher J. Gore. (2015) Increased Hypoxic Dose After Training at Low Altitude with 9h Per Night at 3000m Normobaric Hypoxia.

Timing Matters Too

Once you’ve decided to incorporate altitude into your training routine, you’ll need to figure out the timing. It is generally recommended to use the first 1-2 weeks at altitude for a low-intensity training acclimatization period. However, more seasoned athletes (particularly those with experience training at altitude) may be able to resume high activity training in the first 2-4 days with better results.

On return to sea-level, hemoglobin mass has been observed to remain stable as many as 14 days, and, in some cases, has been suggested to last as many as 4 weeks. Overall, it seems that the first 4-8 days after completion of an altitude training camp is the optimal time to compete (Avish P. Sharma, Philo U. Saunders, Laura A. Garvican – Lewis, Julien D. Périard, Brad Clark, Christopher J. Gore, Benjamin P. Raysmith, Jamie Stanley, Eileen Y. Robertson, Kevin G. Thompson. (2018) Training Quantification and Periodization during Live High Train High at 2100 M in Elite Runners: An Observational Cohort Case Study.

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (17), 607 – 616. https://www.jssm.org/hf.php?id=jssm-17-607.xml)

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (14), 413 – 417.https://www.jssm.org/hfabst.php?id=jssm-14-413.xml).

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (15), 204 – 205.https://www.jssm.org/hf.php?id=jssm-15-204.xml).

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine(14), 776 – 782. https://www.jssm.org/hf.php?id=jssm-14-776.xml#).

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100 Changes Course

Fast 100 Changes Course, Maintains Epic Showdown for Elite Runners

The eyes of the Ultra-Racing world will be firmly affixed to Hong Kong on Sunday, February 17th as the eagerly anticipated Fast 100 is ready to host a showdown between Jim Walmsley and Rob Krar — albeit, with a few new wrinkles.

The world’s best trail runners are known for their ability to deal with adversity on the course, so it seems only appropriate that the Fast 100 Ultra grapples with some of its own. On the race’s official site and in a letter addressed to participants, organizers revealed a new starting point and shortened distance.

Photo Credit: Rob Krar

Due to circumstances beyond our control, we are forced to hold all events on Sunday, February 17th and to modify the course,” Trail Hub’s Valerie Lagarde and Jeremy Ritcey said in the statement. “Local residents opposed the use of our start/finish line overnight and thus, we have no choice but to shorten the 100km course to 80km (50 miles) in order to finish by 10pm.”

Alterations to the course include a new starting line at the Wah Fat Playground, with most of the cut sections after Shing Mun. Instead, the course will now loop around Shing Mun reservoir without going down towards Eagle’s Nest.

With the site now referring to the race as “The Fast 50 Miles,” participants are being assured that the race will remain the fastest 80 race in Hong Kong — and it won’t be a typical one, with roughly 2500m of elevation gain and hardly any stairs along the route to ensure more running than hiking.

This is particularly exciting for Ultra-Racing fans, as this new race sets the stage for Jim Walmsley (this year’s 100-mile Western States record-setter) to square off against Rob Krar (2014 Western States winner and two-time conqueror of the Leadville Trail 100). Walmsley is reportedly eyeing a long-term transition to marathon running, with a goal of participating in the Olympics.

Photo Credit: Jim Walmsley

“I’ll go over [to Hong Kong] and look at taking care of business first,” Walmsley told the South China Morning Post (https://www.scmp.com/sport/outdoor/trail-running/article/2168776/jim-walmsley-race-rob-krar-hong-kongs-fast-100-western) this past October. “The exploring and travelling will come after the race. A competitor like [Krar] keeps your training honest. It’s about being a professional and doing a job.”

Sunday won’t be the first time the two athletes have met each other on a course — Krar won the Moab Red Hot 55km, and each has beaten the other since — but with the two men firmly on top of their sport, the Fast 100 (aka Fast 50 Miles) has set the stage for an exciting showdown.

Auburn’s Formidable Mixes Scenery with Sweat

As any ultra-runner knows, there are few things as exciting as race day — the gathering at the starting line, the camaraderie between participants, the limitless promise of that first step. Which is just one reason that pulses are quickening with the February 16th arrival of the Fourmidable 50k, presented by Singletrack Running.

Photo Credit:FourMUDable

Sometimes jokingly referred to as “FourMUDable,” this event boasts 6000 feet of climbing through often back-breaking conditions; indeed, it is billed as the most challenging 50k in the picturesque Auburn/Cool area of California. With less than a mile of road at any time, the race begins with the forebodingly-dubbed “Cardiac Hill” — and from there it gets tough.

Photo Credit:FourMUDable

STR’s motto is “If you are going to do something difficult, you should never find just the easy way,” and Fourmidable puts those words in action, utilizing uncommon trails that most runners never get to experience. The name itself, meanwhile, comes from the four climbs that put would-be challengers to the test:

Cardiac Hill: Known for its sharp drops and switchbacks, the hill pays off with a scenic run along the American River. But that water run-off can also follow the trail and result in muddy conditions, and runners also must contend with a drop of nearly 800 feet in an eighth of a mile going down the mountainside.

K2 (aka Training Hill): Beautiful wild flowers are peppered throughout this difficult trail, as is the occasional waterfall and creek. But it’s also steep enough to ensure that runners feel the burn.

Knickerbocker Canyon Trail: Located at the site of the ill-fated Auburn Dam (known as “the dam that wouldn’t die” for its near-40 years in development), Knickerbocker features spectacular views, multiple waterfalls and an unrivaled physical challenge.

Photo Credit:FourMUDable

Overlook Hill: Picturesque Overlook Park is known far and wide as a popular place for hikers, runners and other athletes to start (or finish) their adventures, and for good reason. Just make sure you can run faster than the mama bears protecting their cubs.

This year’s Fourmidable entrants will be utilizing state of the art live-tracking equipment so friends and family can keep up on their movements, aid stations staffed by volunteers eager to keep everyone strong with gels, salt tablets, boiled potatoes and more — and of course, a post-race party that promises to be as epic as the run itself. Also, the event is proud to be environmentally-friendly, encouraging each participant to bring their own collapsible water containers so Fourmidable can remain cupless and keep their trails as beautiful as possible.

With the arrival of race day upon us, Singletrack Running’s Fourmidable promises to host a formidable day of sweat, scenery and successes. The event’s logo is a multi-colored skull, which seems only appropriate — soon enough, the city of Auburn will be home to many aching bones.

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Laz Backyard Ultra

Ode to Laz Backyard Ultra

Photo Credit: Ode to Laz Backyard Ultra  

Ever since Lazarus Lake (real name Gary Cantrell) invented the format with the inaugural Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra on his Bell Buckle, Tennessee property in 2012, Backyard Ultras have been cropping up all over the world. Whether they’re officially affiliated, like the international Backyard Ultras offering Big Dog’s Golden Tickets to their winners, or simply inspired by the original, like the Ode to Laz, these races share a set of simple rules:

  • Runners repeat a series of loops around the same course until only one runner remains.
  • Each loop is 4.16667 miles in length.
  • The time limit for each loop is one hour.
  • In between loops, runners wait in the starting corral.
  • Each loop begins exactly one hour after the previous loop.
  • 3, 2, and 1 minute warnings are given prior to the start of a new loop.
  • If a runner does not start a loop on time, they are disqualified.
  • Runners cannot leave the course or receive aid during a loop.
  • The winner is the last runner to complete a loop. All other runners are DNF.
  • If no runner completes one more loop than all other runners, there is no winner.

An Ode to Laz Brings the Format to Michigan

Photo Credit: Ode to Laz Backyard Ultra  

It has only taken 7 years from the original Big Dog’s for the Backyard Ultra format to travel the world. By the end of 2018, similar races had been scheduled as far from Bell Buckle, Tennessee as Dubai, New Zealand, and Norway, but somehow nothing had yet made it onto the calendar a measly 600-miles north to Michigan.

In the spirit of Lazarus Lake, who organized his first race in 1979 because he wanted to run and couldn’t find a local ultra, Tad Machrowicz has taken it upon himself to bring the Backyard Ultra to Michigan.

The Ode to Laz begins on August 3rd at 9am at the Holly State Recreation Area in Holly, Michigan. The race includes two variations on the course. The daytime loop features 300 feet of incline, on 2/3 technical single track and 1/3 moderate walking/hiking path, with a few hundred yards of pavement. Starting at 9pm, runners will switch to the night loop, which features 100-feet of climb on a paved road.

Registration for the Ode to Laz closes on July 31st, but with a 60-participan t cap and 56 registered (as of January 29th), hopeful runners should register on the Ode to Laz registration page as soon as they can.

Costume Contest Adds Retro Twist

Photo Credit: Ode to Laz Backyard Ultra  

The Backyard Ultra format was designed with a simple purpose in mind. Cantrell yearned for simple days gone by, when an ultra was as much a social event among a tight community of runners as it was a race.

If the purpose of the original Backyard Ultra was to revive those days gone by, then “Laz” himself must approve of the one innovation Machrowicz has made to his formula: a second prize awarded to the runner who completes the most laps wearing an outfit inspired by the late 70s (the same era Cantrell founded his first race). Here are the rules, as posted to the official Ode to Laz facebook page:

“You must wear long white socks with colored stripe(s), a terrycloth headband and/or two terrycloth wristbands, and your shorts and shirt better look 70’s. Our race director (and crew of discerning spectators) will make all final judgements.”

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Foot Damage

Does Running Ultramarathons Cause Long-Term Foot Damage


Carry the Weight: Does Running Ultramarathons Cause Long-Term Foot Damage?

Endurance runners spend a lot of time talking about their feet. Eavesdrop at the starting line of any ultra, and you’re likely to hear the chatter: kindly blister tip exchanges; vigorous debates over shoe style, arch supports, or how and when to use compression socks; endless hand-wringing over plantar fasciitis; and constant anxiety over proper foot strike patterns.

Despite this obsession with maintaining their feet, there seems to be a generally accepted superstition in the running community that the accumulation of wear from years of ultras will eventually saddle the sport’s most dedicated practitioners with chronic, debilitating foot conditions.

So, are the best distance runners truly doomed to painfully shuffling through their twilight years? Let’s look at the evidence.

Recognizing the Immediate Risks

Foot Damage
Photo credit: Ricardo Mejía

Unfortunately, due to the relative youth of the sport, we don’t yet have a large enough sample size of lifelong endurance runners for any study to reach a definitive conclusion on the long-term effects, but we can to build a case by looking at the common short-term foot injuries that distance runners face.

Setting aside blisters and bunions, the most common foot maladies faced by runners fall into two categories: , and stress fractures. Both categories are the result of repeated microtrauma: in the former, inadequately repaired minor tissue damage in tendons leaves them weakened and vulnerable to more significant re-injury. In the latter, degeneration of bone occurs too rapidly for the body to repair it1.

Another common running injury is plantar fasciitis, a degeneration in the soft tissue that holds up the arch of the foot2.

The first bit of good news here is that none of these conditions is considered chronic or incurable. Tendinopathies do seem to carry a high risk of re-injury, but the risk is mitigated by exercise (to increase the strength of the tendon), making it reasonable to infer that a return to running after such an injury is the safest course5.

You’ve probably also noticed that none of these complications is unique to runners, nor even to athletes. That’s the other good news: running may increase an individual’s risk of developing certain injuries or conditions, but it does not create any risks of its own.

Treatment and Prevention

Photo Credit:  Treatment and Prevention Of your foot

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: untreated or improperly treated injuries will cause long-term damage, particularly if placed under continued strain. That’s as much true for the guy on the couch as it is for the woman running the Barkley Marathons. But for the athletes who do seek responsible medical care, the future outlook isn’t nearly so grim.

Treatments for tendinopathies, stress fractures, and plantar fasciitis tend to follow the same basic procedures. Rest, ice, pain relievers, and anti-inflammatories are used to reduce pain and encourage healing until the injured area is adequately repaired to begin a progressive course of exercise. Load is then gradually increased until the foot is restored to full functionality1. Sometimes surgery is employed to accelerate repairs, or else to re-break improperly healed bone in the case of some stress fractures, but this is considered a last resort.

Both during and after recovery, emphasis is placed on correcting the foot posture that caused the pain in the first place. As Dr. Dave Hannaford, a podiatrist who has completed the Badwater 135 and Western States 100, wrote in Ultrarunning Magazine, “In high-mileage ultrarunning the feet have to be pretty close to optimal or pain and injury result. Every day in my practice I am amazed at sometimes how little is required to cure injuries which have been present for years. For many runners, a wedge the thickness of a nickel placed accurately can be enough, shifting the motion closer to optimal.3”

That leads to more good news: the same plantar short foot muscle exercises that are vital components of rehabilitation can (and should) be used by healthy runners to correct their foot posture, both reducing the risk of injury and mechanically improving the ability to run4. This suggests that athletes who have suffered, and responsibly recovered, from foot injuries may be at a reduced risk of future injury due to form improvements made incidentally in the course of their rehabilitation work.

OA? No Way

Photo Credit: Running Ultramarathons Cause Long-Term Foot Damage

Osteoarthritis, commonly called OA or degenerative join disease, may be the number one fear among long-time runners. OA is a complex condition characterized by a breakdown in the tissues that connect joints, and the tendons and ligaments around those joints.

OA has long been a serious concern amongst runners, but multiple studies have shown that habitual running does not increase the risk of developing of the condition, nor the severity in those who have already developed it. One study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), followed a group of male runners with a mean age of 56, and a second group of male non-runners with a mean age of 60, over a 12-year period. Using radiological examinations supplemented with subject self-reporting, they reached the following conclusions: “Our observations suggest, within the limits of our study, that long-duration, high-mileage running need not be associated with premature degenerative joint disease in the lower extremities6.”

Due to the relative prevalence of knee OA compared to OA in the joints of the foot and ankle, the majority of research on the effects of running on the development of OA focuses on the knee. While the indirect nature of these studies does call for caution (and further study), the results are nevertheless encouraging. One study, conducted with a larger group over nearly two decades out of Stanford University, reached similar conclusions to the JAMA report: “This study was unable to document that long-distance running among older adults confers any deleterious or protective effects on the development of radiographic OA… Long-distance running or other routine vigorous activities should not be discouraged among healthy older adults out of concern for progression of knee OA7.”

No Evidence of Long Term Damage

In what may be the most comprehensive medical research conducted on ultrarunners to date, Dr. Martin D. Hoffman’s Ultrarunners Longitudinal TRAcking (ULTRA) Study, published in 2014, collected self-reported data from 1,212 active ultramarathon runners.

The ULTRA study had a broad range of findings, all of which warrant further study. Among the conclusions, ULTRA appears to show that Ultramarathon runners are more likely to experience asthma and allergies than the general population, and are more likely to experience stress fractures in the foot than shorter distance runners (risk of most other injuries appear to be roughly equal between short and long-distance runners).

Despite these minor risks, the overall conclusions were optimistic. The study notes, “Compared with self-reported data from the general population, the prevalence of virtually all chronic diseases and mental health disorders appeared lower in the ultramarathon runners9.”

Even more interestingly, “the present study found that greater age is associated with a lower injury risk among ultramarathon runners.”This finding reinforces the idea that running maladies are most often caused by form and posture problems, further suggesting that endurance running presents more benefit than risk over the long term.

Hoffman himself supported this conclusion in a 2018 interview with The Irish Times, when he said, “At present, there is no good evidence to prove there are negative long-term health consequences from ultramarathon running.”

That may be a hard answer to swallow. You’d expect that carrying an entire human over thousands of miles per year for decades would eventually wear a foot down to the bone, like the treads on a tire (or on your old running kicks), but recent research may have begun to uncover the explanation.

The Magical Human Foot

A research team followed along with 44 runners at the 2009 Trans Europe Foot Race (TEFR), a 4,487km race from southern Italy to the North Cape in Norway. The subjects were scanned with a Tesla MRI scanner every three to four days over the course of a 64-day period.

During the first 1,500 to 2,500 kilometers, nearly all cartilage in the lower legs and feet of the subjects was observed to have degraded significantly, but what happened next was a surprise:

“Interestingly, further testing indicated that ankle and foot cartilage have the ability to regenerate under ongoing endurance running,” Dr. Schütz explained when presenting the findings to the Radiological Society of North America. “The ability of cartilage to recover in the presence of loading impact has not been previously shown in humans. In general, we found no distance limit in running for the human joint cartilage in the lower extremities.”

We’ve only begun to understand this ability of the human foot to recover while still under extreme duress, but it goes a long way toward explaining why we don’t see significant evidence of damage to the feet of aging endurance runners. As Dr. Schütz remarked in his presentation, “The human foot is made for running.”

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Chad-Weller

Does Running Ultramarathons Cause Long-Term Foot Damage

Carry the Weight: Does Running Ultramarathons Cause Long-Term Foot Damage?

Endurance runners spend a lot of time talking about their feet. Eavesdrop at the starting line of any ultra, and you’re likely to hear the chatter: kindly blister tip exchanges; vigorous debates over shoe style, arch supports, or how and when to use compression socks; endless hand-wringing over plantar fasciitis; and constant anxiety over proper foot strike patterns.

Despite this obsession with maintaining their feet, there seems to be a generally accepted superstition in the running community that the accumulation of wear from years of ultras will eventually saddle the sport’s most dedicated practitioners with chronic, debilitating foot conditions.

So, are the best distance runners truly doomed to painfully shuffling through their twilight years? Let’s look at the evidence.

Recognizing the Immediate Risks

Photo credit: Ricardo Mejía

Unfortunately, due to the relative youth of the sport, we don’t yet have a large enough sample size of lifelong endurance runners for any study to reach a definitive conclusion on the long-term effects, but we can to build a case by looking at the common short-term foot injuries that distance runners face.

Setting aside blisters and bunions, the most common foot maladies faced by runners fall into two categories:  , and stress fractures. Both categories are the result of repeated microtrauma: in the former, inadequately repaired minor tissue damage in tendons leaves them weakened and vulnerable to more significant re-injury. In the latter, degeneration of bone occurs too rapidly for the body to repair it1.

Another common running injury is plantar fasciitis, a degeneration in the soft tissue that holds up the arch of the foot2.

The first bit of good news here is that none of these conditions is considered chronic or incurable. Tendinopathies do seem to carry a high risk of re-injury, but the risk is mitigated by exercise (to increase the strength of the tendon), making it reasonable to infer that a return to running after such an injury is the safest course5.

You’ve probably also noticed that none of these complications is unique to runners, nor even to athletes. That’s the other good news: running may increase an individual’s risk of developing certain injuries or conditions, but it does not create any risks of its own.

Treatment and Prevention

Photo Credit:  Treatment and Prevention Of your foot

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: untreated or improperly treated injuries will cause long-term damage, particularly if placed under continued strain. That’s as much true for the guy on the couch as it is for the woman running the Barkley Marathons. But for the athletes who do seek responsible medical care, the future outlook isn’t nearly so grim.

Treatments for tendinopathies, stress fractures, and plantar fasciitis tend to follow the same basic procedures. Rest, ice, pain relievers, and anti-inflammatories are used to reduce pain and encourage healing until the injured area is adequately repaired to begin a progressive course of exercise. Load is then gradually increased until the foot is restored to full functionality1. Sometimes surgery is employed to accelerate repairs, or else to re-break improperly healed bone in the case of some stress fractures, but this is considered a last resort.

Both during and after recovery, emphasis is placed on correcting the foot posture that caused the pain in the first place. As Dr. Dave Hannaford, a podiatrist who has completed the Badwater 135 and Western States 100, wrote in Ultrarunning Magazine, “In high-mileage ultrarunning the feet have to be pretty close to optimal or pain and injury result. Every day in my practice I am amazed at sometimes how little is required to cure injuries which have been present for years. For many runners, a wedge the thickness of a nickel placed accurately can be enough, shifting the motion closer to optimal.3”

That leads to more good news: the same plantar short foot muscle exercises that are vital components of rehabilitation can (and should) be used by healthy runners to correct their foot posture, both reducing the risk of injury and mechanically improving the ability to run4. This suggests that athletes who have suffered, and responsibly recovered, from foot injuries may be at a reduced risk of future injury due to form improvements made incidentally in the course of their rehabilitation work.

OA? No Way

Photo Credit: Running Ultramarathons Cause Long-Term Foot Damage

Osteoarthritis, commonly called OA or degenerative join disease, may be the number one fear among long-time runners. OA is a complex condition characterized by a breakdown in the tissues that connect joints, and the tendons and ligaments around those joints.

OA has long been a serious concern amongst runners, but multiple studies have shown that habitual running does not increase the risk of developing of the condition, nor the severity in those who have already developed it. One study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), followed a group of male runners with a mean age of 56, and a second group of male non-runners with a mean age of 60, over a 12-year period. Using radiological examinations supplemented with subject self-reporting, they reached the following conclusions: “Our observations suggest, within the limits of our study, that long-duration, high-mileage running need not be associated with premature degenerative joint disease in the lower extremities6.”

Due to the relative prevalence of knee OA compared to OA in the joints of the foot and ankle, the majority of research on the effects of running on the development of OA focuses on the knee. While the indirect nature of these studies does call for caution (and further study), the results are nevertheless encouraging. One study, conducted with a larger group over nearly two decades out of Stanford University, reached similar conclusions to the JAMA report: “This study was unable to document that long-distance running among older adults confers any deleterious or protective effects on the development of radiographic OA… Long-distance running or other routine vigorous activities should not be discouraged among healthy older adults out of concern for progression of knee OA7.”

No Evidence of Long Term Damage

In what may be the most comprehensive medical research conducted on ultrarunners to date, Dr. Martin D. Hoffman’s Ultrarunners Longitudinal TRAcking (ULTRA) Study, published in 2014, collected self-reported data from 1,212 active ultramarathon runners.

The ULTRA study had a broad range of findings, all of which warrant further study. Among the conclusions, ULTRA appears to show that Ultramarathon runners are more likely to experience asthma and allergies than the general population, and are more likely to experience stress fractures in the foot than shorter distance runners (risk of most other injuries appear to be roughly equal between short and long-distance runners).

Despite these minor risks, the overall conclusions were optimistic. The study notes, “Compared with self-reported data from the general population, the prevalence of virtually all chronic diseases and mental health disorders appeared lower in the ultramarathon runners9.”

Even more interestingly, “the present study found that greater age is associated with a lower injury risk among ultramarathon runners.” This finding reinforces the idea that running maladies are most often caused by form and posture problems, further suggesting that endurance running presents more benefit than risk over the long term.

Hoffman himself supported this conclusion in a 2018 interview with The Irish Times, when he said, “At present, there is no good evidence to prove there are negative long-term health consequences from ultramarathon running.”

That may be a hard answer to swallow. You’d expect that carrying an entire human over thousands of miles per year for decades would eventually wear a foot down to the bone, like the treads on a tire (or on your old running kicks), but recent research may have begun to uncover the explanation.

The Magical Human Foot

A research team followed along with 44 runners at the 2009 Trans Europe Foot Race (TEFR), a 4,487km race from southern Italy to the North Cape in Norway. The subjects were scanned with a Tesla MRI scanner every three to four days over the course of a 64-day period.

During the first 1,500 to 2,500 kilometers, nearly all cartilage in the lower legs and feet of the subjects was observed to have degraded significantly, but what happened next was a surprise:

“Interestingly, further testing indicated that ankle and foot cartilage have the ability to regenerate under ongoing endurance running,” Dr. Schütz explained when presenting the findings to the Radiological Society of North America. “The ability of cartilage to recover in the presence of loading impact has not been previously shown in humans. In general, we found no distance limit in running for the human joint cartilage in the lower extremities.”

We’ve only begun to understand this ability of the human foot to recover while still under extreme duress, but it goes a long way toward explaining why we don’t see significant evidence of damage to the feet of aging endurance runners. As Dr. Schütz remarked in his presentation, “The human foot is made for running.”

Read more...