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Vol State boasts 2 records broken as Angels showrunners the way

By Larry Carroll

There are plenty of ultra-marathons that could be called a “race,” and with that designation give the uninitiated an idea to wrap their heads around something they’ll most likely never experience. Then there are the ultra-marathons that take it one step further – Badwater, Barkley – adding in unique elements and obstacles so intimidating that “race” seems less of a relevant noun and could instead be replaced by something like “near-death experience.” 

The Vol State 500k Relay, it would seem hard to argue, is one of those races. 

On July 11, photos began emerging on social media of what one athlete dubbed “abnormal people,” crowded onto a Mississippi River ferry in running shorts. They were standing under a beautiful sky, which was something akin to false advertising when you consider what they were about to endure.

Once the ferry hit land in Kentucky, participants disembarked and were then on their own until they reached “The Rock,” a destination atop Northeast Georgia’s Sand Mountain. Many have been running ever since.

An estimated 120 participants took place in this year’s Vol State, but it was Greg Armstrong of Castalian Springs who finished first, setting a new course record of 3 days, 14 hours, 11 minutes and 31 seconds. Of course, this being the event that proudly advertises itself as “a journey, an adventure, and an exploration of inner space,” Armstrong won with no crew to help him, finding his own water, food, and resting places where he could during the 314-mile trek. In fact, it was his “uncrewed” status that made his run all the more notable.

“For me ‘unaided’ meant no hotels, no showers, and very minimal road Angel support,” Armstrong tells Tennessee’s Lewis Herald newspaper (“Running to The Rock” : Vol State Roadrace is more than just a test of fitness). “I rested for 10 min on a cot in front of a church, maybe 15 on a lawn chair at the Nutt house but all other horizontal breaks were in ditches, park benches or side of the road. I almost broke my vow of no hotels in Manchester but resisted. I applaud anyone that covers the 314 miles on foot, my hat is off to anyone that reaches the Rock!”

Making his time perhaps even more amazing is the fact that Armstrong – the event’s defending champion, 3-time winner, course record-holder, and Tennessee native – ran in Teva sandals. 72 hours into the race, he had already run an astounding 262 miles while his nearest competitor (Johan Steene) was 13 miles behind. Sixteen runners, meanwhile, had at that point quit. Additional male competitors who have finished include:

2. Johan Steene 3:22:07:19

3. Alan Abbs 4:07:18:19

4. Sean Ranney 4:12:54:15

5. Aaron Bradner 5:08:15:13

6. Jeff Stafford 5:13:35:52

7. Henry Lupton 5:14:44:34

8. Tim Purol 5:16:51:02

9. Terry Bonnett 5:17:40:06

10. Seth Crowe 5:18:56:54

Armstrong finished ahead of the race’s typical pace, which is stated on their website as being between four to ten days to complete. Runners must cover 50.24K per day to finish in the allotted 10 days, regardless of whether they run or walk. 

Entering day 8 in the July heat and humidity, participants are still navigating their way along the highways and backroads of Tennessee, perhaps worrying about where they’ll find their next food morsel or drink of water. 

Where those necessities may come from, however, has become a minor point of contention. On July 16, race director Laz Lake complained on Facebook (Laz is complaining that Vol State angels are too generous) about local “Angels” who have been supporting the racers with food, drinks, chairs and more – and asked them to knock it off. 

“Goodies beside the road, maybe a hose, a canopy for shade, mats or cots to sleep on… this is all great,” he wrote. “But taking people into your home for showers, putting them in your beds, doing their laundry, cooking them meals, letting them hang out like some parasitic relative all day… this is way, way too much! those people are way beyond crewed!”

Vol State racers may sign up as “crewed” or “screwed” (which means uncrewed), but regardless of crew support and bus transportation to the starting line, it seems like Angel help is in abundance for those who want it. 

On the women’s side, Bev Anderson-Abbs finished first in her rookie run of Vol State, setting a new uncrewed women’s course record of 4 days, 7 hours, 17 minutes and 55 seconds. Comparing her experience to that of her husband Alan (who ran Vol State in 2013, and again alongside her this year, she tells (Laz is complaining that Vol State angels are too generous) Canadian Running magazine that times have changed. 

“There are coolers all over the place with water, snacks, chairs set up, and I thought, this is not like what I expected,” she says of the course. “There were very few places where you really had to think about what you needed to make it to the next place where you could get water or food. For the most part, you could just hop from cooler to cooler.”

Additional female finishers (as of July 17) include:

2. Kimberly Durst (5:15:51:51)

3. Denise Calcagino (5:21:25:29)

4. Christina Pierce (5:23:46:49)

5. Judy Rupp (6:07:11:32)

6. Karen Jackson (6:07:53:40)

7. Andrea Beasley (6:14:54:23)

Not all the drama, however, played out at the finish line. One racer reported seeing a mountain lion in Twitter, another was reportedly struck by a Dodge Caravan – but kept running Facebook, and there were apparently some very aggressive dogs around mile 210 (“Running to The Rock” : Vol State Roadrace is more than just a test of fitness). All of which serves as proof once again that the Vol State 500K is a race…er, near-death experience…like none other.   

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Badwater 2019 breaks records, makes romance

by Larry Carroll

The Badwater is pretty much the antithesis of boring – dubbed “The World’s Toughest Footrace,” it is 135 miles of pain via punishing heat and relentless elevation – but the 2019 installment, in particular, proved to be one worth remembering. Just over 21 hours after the race began, the event had a new male record holder, a new female record holder, and a top contender for the most romantic moment in the history of the sport.

Japanese ultra-marathoner Yoshihiko Ishikawa set a new course record in California’s Death Valley on Monday night/Tuesday morning, crossing the finish line in 21 hours, 33 minutes and 1 second. It was some 23 minutes faster than Pete Kostelnick’s 21:56:32 mark from 2016. Ishikawa had spent 21 hours journey from the lowest elevation in the continental United States (Death Valley) to the highest point (Mt. Whitney), which seems only appropriate since his life was about to also reach a high point – and we’re not talking about the record-setting win.

Moments after Ishikawa crossed the finish line, having conquered three mountain ranges and 14, 600 feet of ascent, he dropped to one knee. But it wasn’t for the reasons you might expect, as the 31-year-old athlete asked his girlfriend to marry him. She replied in the affirmative, which undoubtedly renewed his spirit faster than any Gatorade or orange slice ever could.

The newly-engaged Ishikawa finished on top of a pack of most Americans, with a few international athletes also thrown into the mix:

2. Harvey Lewis (Cincinnati, Ohio) 26:11:18

3. Tetsuo Kiso (Japan) 28:02:04

4. Lee Whitaker (Fort Mill, South Carolina) 28:13:11

5. Richard Kabanuck (Clovis, New Mexico) 28:13:55

6. Grant Maughan (Australia) 28:30:33

7. Steve Slaby (Callaway, Maryland) 29:26:43

8. Joshua Holmes (Los Angeles, California) 29:35:53

9. Flavio Fernandes Vieira (Brazil) 30:29:14

10. Eric Hunziker (Cincinnati, Ohio) 31:15:46

Although the female side of the race had decidedly fewer marriage proposals, it was not lacking in equally impressive and historic athletic accomplishment. Patrycja Bereznowska of Poland finished second overall with a time of 24:13:24. Setting a new course record, Bereznowska’s time was more than 90 minutes faster than Alyson Venti’s 2016 time of 25:53:07.

Hailing from the small village of Wieliszew (population: 3,122) in east-central Poland, the veteran Bereznowska came to Badlands with a supportive social media team who posted pictures of her running through the desert and videos of them greeting her with inspirational messages as she tackled the last 18 miles of the race. The team also posted photos of baked crackers with the phrase “Go Pati” and a heart on them.

A specialist in 24-hour running, Bereznowska was originally more focused on equestrian racing – competing in such events as the world championship of horse-drawn long-distance rallies. In 2007 she began running professionally, and she has since spent much of the last decade winning medals in her native Poland and setting records throughout the world. Bereznowska is a two-time unofficial world record holder in 24 hours running (no official records are kept), a bronze medal winner in the 24-hour World Cup, and holds a Ph.D. in agricultural sciences in the field of zootechnics from the University of Life Sciences in Lublin, Poland.

The 43-year-old Bereznowska is a former Spartathlon winner –– as is Ishikawa. The race is considered similar to Badwater in terms of extreme temperatures and elevation, so it should be no surprise that Bereznowska set a course record there as well.

The women’s field was similarly dominated by Americans overall, with a few international runners in the mix:

2. Gina Slaby (Callaway, Maryland) 29:26:45

3. Lisa DeVona (Pompano Beach, Florida) 32:36:17

4. Caryn Lubetsky (Miami Shores, Florida) 33:42:39

5. Pamela Chapman-Markle (San Leon, Texas) 34:03:47

6. Suzi Swinehart (Fort Wayne, Indiana) 34:16:59

7. Annie Weiss (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) 35:25:31 

8. Silvia Amodio (Uruguay) 36:17:48

9. Kerri Kanuga (Cayman Islands) 37:58:24

10. Estela Vaz Rodrigues (Brazil) 39:18:30

Photos posted to the official Badwater Instagram account show Ishikawa down on his right knee, with the finish line behind him in the darkened evening. His girlfriend, wearing a fluorescent green vest and with a camera over her shoulder, seems overcome by emotion. Additional photos show the couple embracing, wiping away tears, and then posing for photos. On a night when new male and female course records were set, it was just another reason that Badwater 2019 will go down in history.

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Tollefson and Krupicka lead American athletes hoping to dominate Lavaredo

by Larry Carroll

Running through the streets of Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy is an experience like none other. Located in the Southern Alps on the Boite river, the charming ski town is lined with walking streets, simple storefronts and a church spiral in the town center. The crowd cheers “Bravo, bravo!” as you jog past, head torch reflecting the path ahead; the sounds of bells and vuvuzelas pierce the evening air.

For more than a decade, thousands of runners have traveled from all over the world to do exactly this, via the Lavaredo Ultra Trail, renowned as one of the most beautiful running races in the world. With 6,000m of ascent and a journey around northern Italy’s Dolomites that puts runners up close and personal with the region’s beautiful and distinctive mountain ranges, the race is as picturesque as it is punishing.

As the years go by, a formidable American presence has been increasing in visibility at Lavaredo. This point was underlined last year, as Minnesota’s Tim Tollefson finished 3rd behind countryman Hayden Hawks, the Lavaredo winner. In the 2019 installment, Tollefson returns with his eyes on the prize. An elite runner and full-time physical therapist, Tollefson typically keeps a lighter racing volume than his peers, which he believes helps with recovery.

Will the vuvuzelas blow for Tollefson on June 28, as participants race away from the starting line at nightfall, head torches ablaze? The 34-year-old certainly hopes so. Tollefson recently tweeted that he “began listening to podcasts and music intermittently while running,” but “very quickly it was realized that Apple earphones were designed by the devil.” Calling his attempts to grapple with the ubiquitous white earbuds “comical,” here’s hoping that Tollefson’s Lavaredo experience goes more smoothly than his battles with technology.

Another storyline this year is the return of American trail running legend Anton Krupicka, who won the 2014 Lavaredo while calling it “the most beautiful race I’ve ever run.” Known for his long hair, beard and minimal running gear (often sans shirt, wearing lightweight shoes), Krupicka ran his first marathon at age 12, ran 200 miles a week in his twenties, and was a prominent figure in ultra-running before his 30th birthday. Five years ago, Krupicka won Lavaredo with a sprained ankle; now the Nebraska native returns, and if he’s healthy the sky appears to be the limit in this race through the Dolomites.

Over on the women’s side, any runner regardless of nationality seems likely to have their hands full with Brazilian superstar Fernanda Maciel. A onetime gymnast who was competing on major events by age 10, she then studied martial arts before eventually falling in love with running at age 15. In the years since she has won numerous races — including the 2011 Lavaredo. Another run through Cortina d’Ampezzo in 2015 had her finishing third, so the 2019 Lavaredo offers a chance at redemption.

This year’s Lavaredo is one of transition and, as they say on their website, “novelties.” Most significantly, after ten years of sponsorship by The North Face, the race will now be branded La Sportiva. Lavaredo has also added a 4th trail length (the 87km UltraDolomites), and the start of the Cortina trail has been distanced from the others to reduce congestion. Some things, however, never change — and Lavaredo will always be a race of breathtaking beauty, physical punishment, and infectious charm.

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With Western States, Courtney Dauwalter closes out a stunning year

by Larry Carroll

As the summer officially descends upon us, the ultra-running community is asking itself one question: Which will be hotter in the next few months, the temperature on the trail or Courtney Dauwalter?

For those paying attention, the Colorado-based 34-year-old has strung together twelve months of running that are becoming the stuff of legend. It began with a dominant Western States 100 win in June of 2018 that was more than 2 hours faster than the 2017 Women’s winner. Now, as the Western States is on us once again, observers are left wondering how she’ll bookend this year of dominance.

Will she beat everyone at the Western States, both female and male? It certainly seems possible, as she has done exactly that in nearly a dozen other ultras, and last year’s 17:27:00 time would have made her competitive with many past male winners. Will she turn the race into a laugher? Also possible, as a 240-miler in Moab, Utah once had Dauwalter finishing 10 hours ahead of second place.

For many athletes, winning the Western States and then training for the next would be enough. But in between the two, the former high school science teacher has never stopped running — or winning.

A few weeks after the Western States, she ran a 50 miler in Squamish, British Columbia. She then returned to Colorado for the Continental Divide Trail Run a week later, finishing first in the 50K. 

Those were likely just warm-ups, however, for the Tahoe 200 Endurance Run, which took place in September. All she did was destroy the previous women’s record by 18 hours, running a race whose requirement is that it be finished in 100 hours — while doing it in less than half that.

Then came Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra. Taking place in October, Dauwalter made headlines by covering a distance of 279 miles in three days. The brutal Tennessee-based event has one basic rule, as simple as it is punishing: The last one running wins. After 68 hours of running without sleep, she found herself alone with male competitor Johan Steene, ultimately settling for second place.

After taking a break for the holidays and admittedly doing a lot of sitting, Dauwalter roared back in February with New Zealand’s Tarawera Ultra. Posting a start-to-finish women’s win, she dominated the 102 km race and celebrated her 34th birthday shortly thereafter.

Next up was March’s Behind the Rocks Ultra in Moab (1st place), April’s Madeira Island Ultra-Trail (1st place) and June’s Mueller Marathon in Divide, Colorado (also 1st place).

Dauwalter has indicated that, following this year’s Western States, she has plans to tackle many other big races and give the 24-Hour World Championships another shot. The next question on the minds of observers, then, seems to be an obvious one: Could her upcoming 12 months be even more impressive?

Photo credit @ Lavaredo Ultra Trail 

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2019 Hardrock

2019 Hardrock threatened by snow, avalanche conditions

By Larry Carroll

One might think that scheduling an ultra-marathon in Colorado in early July would seem to be a pretty safe bet, weather-wise. Of course, a focal point of the Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run (founded in 1992) has always been pushing athletes with extreme altitudes and multiple climate zones that can bring subzero temperatures, thunderstorms and other weather anomalies. But this year, snowy conditions may be putting a chill on the festivities.

2019 Hardrock

“There have been record levels of snow late into the season down in Southern Colorado this year,” the Hardrock’s official Instagram feed posted recently. “We wanted to give you an update on what this means for Hardrock 2019.”

Indeed, this year’s “snowpack” (a term referring to layers of accumulated snow) is an astounding 202 percent of its season-to-date average at this time of year. According to the Denver Post, the snowpack is approximately five times larger than it was at this time last year. Although many entrants of the Hardrock have often used crampons, trekking poles and other such equipment typically associated with mountain climbing, such conditions are threatening to make the race impossible for even such adventurous souls.

2019 Hardrock

“The Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run is currently monitoring the snowpack conditions within the San Juan Mountains,” explain the organizers of the annual race, dedicated to the memory of miners who settles the area. “We encourage everyone … to regularly monitor the Hardrock social media channels and our website to stay as up to date as possible on the situation.”

Entering the third week of May, snowpack was 302 percent of its average in the San Juan Mountains. For a race held on a loop course that traverses four-wheel-drive, cross country and dirt trails on the San Juan Range, from Silverton to Telluride to the 14,048-foot summit of Handles Peak, such snowfall could be a disaster in more ways than one. At the moment, Hardrock organizers aren’t officially telling athletes to stay home — but posted under an ominous picture of a truck squeezing between walls of snow is a message that seems anything but assuring.

The decision to proceed or postpone the July 19 scheduled event “is based on the Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) measured at the Red Mountain Pass SNOTEL site.” Adding that another consideration this year is a number of avalanches that have occurred in the area, the Hardrock statement sets June 1st as a pivotal date of judgment. “Should the SWE be equal to or less than 23″ … the Run will take place … If the SWE is greater than 23″ on June 1st of this year and/or avalanche impact is still questionable, then a decision will be made by the Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run management.”

Although rare, a cancellation wouldn’t be without precedent. The 2002 Hardrock didn’t take place because of nearby forest fires — and the 1995 installment was cancelled because of too much snow.   

2019 Hardrock

Over on Hardrock’s Facebook page, athletes and observers point out that the SWE has actually gone in the wrong direction since race organizers posted their statement, and question whether the lengthy wait to get a slot will carry over to next year in case of cancellation.

“We understand that considerable planning and resources goes into being a part of the Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run,” the statement says. “With that in mind, as information on the snowpack and avalanche debris conditions and their possible impact on the running of the 2019 Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run becomes available to us we will work as fast as possible to pass any pertinent information along to all members of the Hardrock community.”

Will the Hardrock be able to navigate this sizeable obstacle, much like its participants have to do every July? As intimidating as those walls of snow may look, three decades of Hardrock runs have taught the running community that these are not athletes you’d be wise to bet against.



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Lessons to Learn When You Don’t Finish the Race

by Larry Carroll

To an outsider, headlines coming from the recent Barkley Marathon must have seemed frustrating. For the second straight year, not a single person finished the race? Out of 40 participants, they all went home without crossing the finish line? What’s the point?

Experienced ultra-runners, however, undoubtedly read things a bit differently. Naturally, finishing a race is always preferred — and to strap on your shoes means that you intend to give heart, body, soul and gallons of sweat to achieve that goal. But DNF’s are simply a reality of life, and sometimes the lessons you learn from a “Did Not Finish” are invaluable on future runs.

With that in mind, here are just a few of the things a “DNF” can teach you about yourself, your body, and the adversities of trail-running. Because as the old saying goes: You can lose the battle, but still win the war.

Your Rest Level – How well did you sleep the night before the race? How about the night before that? Did you sleep at home, or in a hotel? And when you were on the trail, was exhaustion an issue?

To many elite athletes looking to spend hour after hour pushing themselves to the physical limit, that level of rest is a key factor in performance. In general, adults should strive for 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night — and it’s almost a guarantee that for several days after a marathon, you’ll average another hour or two as your body recovers.

But how much sleep you get right before the marathon is a personal choice akin to any other facet of training. You need to know your body, know how much caffeine will help you/hurt you in achieving that goal, and act accordingly. And much like having a bad workout, a bad run can be both a bummer and an opportunity to learn. If you didn’t feel well rested on the trail, take notes on what you did the night before, and in the future adjust accordingly.

Are You Running Correctly? – Take a look at this blog entry (Going Wide: The Role of Stride Width in Running Injury and Economy) by physical therapist/ultra-runner Joe Uhan and you’ll begin to see all the possibilities for bad habits that can set in when we’re doing what seems like the most natural activity in the world: Running.

Narrow strides, hip weakness, forward trunk engagement and other such issues are only a few things to consider as you run. Like a golf swing or a baseball pitcher’s motion, it looks so effortless to the untrained eye — but when done correctly, you’re looking at maximized potential, body discipline, and the unflinching ability to repeat a motion time and again without variation.

Do you need to adjust your own landing or push-off? Are you running economically? A DNF may signal your own need to see a physical therapist, strip your running style down to its bare elements, and rebuild it for better results.

How to Avoid Injury – Many DNF’s occur because of injury, or the fear of causing one. Both offer valuable learning opportunities for the runner.

If this is your first run after recovering from an injury, perhaps the DNF is telling you that you should have waited longer. As frustrating as it is, your body is basically telling you that you’ll need to adapt to the new reality of a body part not functioning as well as it once did. Does this mean your ultra-running days are over? Of course not, but it may indicate that you’ll have to start running more by intellect and less by instinct.

On the other hand, perhaps you bowed out of the race because some part of your body didn’t feel right. Of course, no marathon goes without some degree of discomfort, but your post-mortem on the race should include an examination of possible factors. What did you eat in the hours before the run? How about on the trail itself? What behaviors did you observe while stretching? Should they be adjusted? These and other such questions might pay off in future races, so that you won’t experience that same injury fear again.

Weather Adaptability – With every ultra-marathon, weather and terrain is a huge factor. So, what did you learn from your DNF?

Perhaps it’s that your clothing was insufficient to cope with the elements. Perhaps you learned that your running shoes weren’t appropriate, that they weren’t as waterproof as advertised, or didn’t grip the trail to your liking.

When you’re out on the trail, you also have the opportunity to learn about yourself, so make sure you’re listening. Did the heat bother you more than you expected? Have you always considered yourself a good night runner, but for some reason it didn’t go so well this time? Such things can be taken into consideration for future races, and the selections of which to run.

How Do You Bounce Back? – Most importantly, a DNF teaches you about your resilience. How do you fare in the face of what some may perceive as a defeat? Are you the kind of person who jumps right back on the horse, plots a careful return, or simply throws in the towel? Will you start back with a smaller race and build off that success? Or will you return with a similar race, determined to prove the “DNF” was a fluke?

So learn your lessons, adjust accordingly, and get back out there. Because ultimately it’s the bounce back, not the failure, that speaks volumes about any athlete.

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Every Ultra-Runner’s Secret Weapon: Socks?

By Larry Carroll

Let’s face the facts: Running shoes are sexy. Shorts get lots of attention, tees display messages that tell everyone a runner is serious, silly, or sweating for a cause. Then there are the accessories: packs to carry, GPS trackers that boast the allure of new tech, and of course nothing makes you look cooler than a good pair of sunglasses.

But the one thing (almost) every runner wears, and very few observers ever notice, is socks. They’re boring, they’re simple — and if chosen incorrectly, they could make a huge difference between a smooth run and one dogged by pain and discomfort.  

As Albus Dumbledore said in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”: One can never have enough socks. So, let’s give some love to the unsung secret weapon of ultra-runners everywhere, as we consider the reasons why proper sock selection is crucial.

Hold The Cotton – Sure, if your plan is to Netflix and Chill on your couch on a Friday night, cotton socks are a comfy choice. But those in the running community know that cotton is a terrible material for sweating, as it absorbs moisture and causes blisters. On hot days and in wet weather especially, it should be avoided at all costs — instead, preferred footwear options will typically contain merino or synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon or spandex. What you need is a fabric that dries quickly, breathes well, and protects your feet mile after mile.

How Low Can You Go? – While a lot of elite athletes prefer the “no show” look, lately crew length has returned from 80s exile to become the norm. It isn’t just a comfort issue, however — when you’re running on trails, taller socks can act as a barrier against brush scrapes and keep dust and dirt from accumulating. For this and other reasons, knee-length socks are the preferred option for many runners, because they cover the whole calf.

Don’t Decompress – Compression socks are all the rage these days, with many athletes thinking they speed up recovery, improve blood flow to the muscles and lessen fatigue. Snug fitting and stretchy, when worn correctly these socks will squeeze your leg and make you feel better on the trail.

As with running shoes, the key to compression socks is making sure they fit properly. It is recommended that runners use a tape measure to get the circumference of the ankle, and measure the widest part of the calves, before purchasing compression socks accordingly.

Minimize the Annoyance – If you choose your running socks well, you’ll never have to think about them. If you choose poorly, they will dominate your thoughts for mile after mile.

For instance, durability is a major concern because you’re going to be putting serious mileage on your feet and if a hole develops, it most likely will not be pleasant. Similarly, consider the seam, which could rub you the wrong way — quite literally. Thankfully, many socks today are seamless, presenting heel-to-toe comfort for those who prefer the seamless lifestyle.

Smell You Later – It’s a reality of running: Your socks are going to smell bad. But many socks offer options to diminish the odor, from wool to moisture-wicking fibers to silver ions that supposedly kill germs. Such factors are worth considering — particularly if you have a partner brave enough to do your laundry.

Extra Support – Some socks have silicone pyramids that massage the Achilles tendon; others have toes, maximizing blister protection; others still have dual layers that rub against each other to prevent chafing. There are socks that conform to the left and right structure of the foot — and don’t even get us started on cushioning options. The bottom line is, no matter what you’re looking for in a sock it seems to be out there — so compare notes with other runners in your life, and proceed accordingly.

What’s Your Style? – Last but certainly not least, a runner’s socks offer one last chance to personalize a look.

While many are purely functional, others come in a variety of styles and colors. Are you inclined to go fluorescent, so you’ll be easier to see on the trail? Or maybe have your own socks custom-made with a design, logo or message for all to see? Yeah, socks can be a little boring — but only if you want them to be that way.

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hallucinations

Hallucinations: Humorous or Harmful?

by Larry Carroll

They sound like something out of a Road Runner cartoon, or a David Lynch film — hallucinations, mirages, mind-trickery that convinces you something is so real you could reach out and touch it. But as humorous as it may be to conjure up thoughts of backward-dancing dwarves and unicorns, for elite runners such phantasmagoria can be both horrifying and dangerous.

Unlike shin splints or Achilles tendonitis, however, hallucinations are neither easily diagnosed nor treatable. In fact, many runners consider them part of ultra lore, fodder for some good campfire stories the night before a big race. But when an athlete sacrifices body and mind for hours at a time, often in remote areas and into the middle of the night, there’s no way of knowing if hallucinations will hamper your journey — until they do.

“Your mind plays tricks on you,” ultra-marathon legend Courtney Dauwalter said last year in a YouTube interview (Courtney Dauwalter Ultra Runner | Talks First Hallucinations in Ultra Race), stopping just short of invoking the “h-word” to describe what she’s seen out on the trail. “You’re seeing something, and instantly your brain tries to tell you what you’re seeing, and it’s not at all what’s there. One time in Steamboat [Springs], I was running along these trails. It was getting dark — and next to the trail, a woman was churning butter.”

“There was a colonial woman just standing there, churning butter,” she says with a laugh. “It wasn’t real; she wasn’t there.”

In 2013 at the Hardrock 100, Steve Pero was running along Colorado’s remote Bear Creek Trail in the middle of the night when he saw a camper who had set up his tent in the middle of the trail, then came across hundreds of 1970s-style transistor radios. As Jay Sanguinetti, a University of New Mexico research assistant professor — and runner — tells Trail Runner magazine (Ultrarunning Hallucinations Happen. Here’s How to Deal With Them ), such hallucinations are rare but perfectly plausible in their cause, if not their storyline.

“Your brain chooses what data from the optic nerve it wants to use,” says Sanguinetti. “It gets very complicated when it’s dark outside, or very shady…Your brain is saying, ‘This is the best I can do, given that you’ve been awake for two days while running. You’re going to see some stuff, and I’m not sure if it’s out there or in here.'”

At that point, which hallucinations you see out on the trail are as personal as any decision you may make in your daily life — this one, however, is more about your subconscious choice than any you’d willingly select. For Gary Robbins in the 2016 Barkley Marathon, it manifested itself as house numbers on trees and faces on the leaves he was trampling on.

“The first time, it’s like blistering or chafing,” he tells Trail Runner. “It’s super painful. Then, you realize you’re not going to die. Years of experience definitely helped me handle hallucinating.”

But just like a mirage in an old cartoon, as long as the runner keeps moving along the vision offers no danger, vanishing into the ether as quickly as it appeared. As Gary Dudney wrote in a blog entry on Ultrarunning Magazine (Got Hallucinations?), sometimes such visions aren’t even the sorts of thing that should be on dry land.

“Each vision was as distinct and vivid as a cellphone snapshot,” he says of a race in Shenandoah Valley that had him seeing dolphins in the middle of the night. “The dolphin and its wave dissolved when I got even closer and directed my flashlight beam at a big chunk of fallen tree trunk with a bushy little sapling sticking up behind it … A few minutes later I ran through an area full of tree stumps, which at first I could have sworn were robot men.”

For a fascinating read on the realities behind such visions, take a look at “Within the Dreams, Reality and Hallucinations of Ultra-Marathon Runners,” a 2003 study ( Within the dreams, reality, and hallucinations of ultra-marathon runners ) by Andrew J. Mojica that analyzes the visions of Badwater ultra-marathoners and even draws parallels to the hallucinations of the Greek dispatch runner Pheidippides who claimed to see the god Pan in 490 B.C.

According to Mojica, six people out of the twenty study participants reported seeing hallucinations, most between midnight and sunrise, most less than a minute and attributing sleep deprivation as the likely cause.

Ultimately, all you can do is try to minimize your own likelihood of hallucinating (get your sleep, run with a pacer who can assure you they don’t see any butter churners, try to keep your mind from drifting) and if you do encounter one, keep calm. Because as long as they aren’t instructing you to step off a cliff, hallucinations are harmless.

“You’re in a really unusual situation, not faced by most of us,” Mojica tells Trail Runner. “It’s fine. Try not to stigmatize it, and it should be less frightening.”

According to Dauwalter, you just have to accept that robot men, dolphins and butter-churning comes with the challenge. “My first hallucination was a pterodactyl and some giraffes and I was like ‘this is not safe!’,” she smiles. “But when I ran by the colonial woman, I waved at her.”

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running shoes

How to choose your next pair of running shoes

by Larry Carroll

For ultra-runners, selecting a pair of shoes is like Han Solo bonding with his spaceship or John Wick picking out a certain weapon of choice. You’re about to head into battle together, the two of you are about to share a special bond — and when showtime hits, you want to make sure you won’t be let down.

Another unfortunate reality of endurance running, however, is that you need to replace your kicks with frequency, and innovation is constantly changing your options. With that in mind, below is a simple breakdown of some questions you should be asking yourself when the time comes to select your footwear.

Trail-runner or road-runner? – Although you’d be hard-pressed to find a lengthy run that doesn’t combine the two to some extent, the first choice you must make is which kind of shoe your needs require. For this discussion we’ll assume trail runner shoes, which are generally designed to prevent foot rotation injuries over control of pronation (the degree to which the arch of your foot collapses upon impact). 

Is my store up to the task? – It sounds obvious, but far too many runners put more thought into shoe brand and style than they do fit. Even if you think you know your shoe size, don’t take it for granted. Make sure that your selected shoe seller has the measuring abilities, staff, and selection to properly fit your feet — then take the time to do so before you do anything else. You’d be surprised at how much impact a half-size difference can have when you’re out on the trail.

Light, rugged or off? – Trail running shoes can largely be divided into 3 categories. If you tend to run on well-groomed trails, then you want something close to traditional running shoes, weight-wise, because a brisk pace is most important to you. Rocks and roots aren’t as much of a concern, so you want to go with a light trail shoe. Rugged trail shoes, meanwhile, will generally give you additional underfoot protection, toe guards and lug patterns to keep you upright and protected — and can range widely based on how crazy you plan on getting out there. Speaking of which, the last category is Off Trail shoes, which offer the most resilient materials and actively guard against twisted ankles while simultaneously satisfying all your weatherproofing needs – but remember, the more weatherproofing you take on, the less your feet will breathe out there.

Be realistic – While some people might think it could be inspiring to buy shoes for a 100-mile race when your training level is only around 5 miles, it’s really just overkill. Be honest with yourself about where your training currently stands, and shop for the races/training in your immediate future. Don’t worry — when you’re ready to run Badwater, you can always come back and get another pair.

What’s your stack height? – Some runners swear that thick, protective shoes will make your runs more comfortable and less likely to result in injury. Others desire less cushioning, wanting a feel so natural that it’s almost like running barefoot. Ultimately, it’s a personal choice — but if you lean towards minimal footwear, just be sure that you build up gradually.

Give yourself a wide berth – For some, a wide forefoot is best. If you’re running very long distances, for instance, or if you happen to have wider feet and need a bit more wiggle room. Shoe width is an important decision, however, because losing fit precision could lead to clumsiness on the course.

What’s the off-set? – It seems like a minor decision, but when you plan to spend mile after mile with a pair of shoes it’s one worth asking: How much lower do you want your toes in relation to your heel? With each stride, shoes with less of a drop encourage you to land on your fore-foot or mid-foot; a bigger drop is ideal for striking with your heel.

Once you’ve considered all this and made your purchase, you get to enjoy the best part: Busting some new shoes out of their box, strapping them on and taking them out for a maiden voyage. Is it weird to bond with a pair of sneakers? Remember, what happens on the trail stays on the trail.

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Is it a good idea to ultra-marathon on a Keto diet?

by Larry Carroll

If there’s one thing that has been around as long as the concept of running for health, it’s dieting for health. Much like running itself, dieting has witnessed the rise and fall of many fads, vast quantities of products touting the ultimate solution, and many programs that prove difficult to stick with. Nowadays, the hot word in dieting is “keto,” and as more long-distance runners are looking to it for an edge, one has to wonder: Is it a good idea to ultra-marathon on a keto diet?

For decades, the image of a long-distance runner in the days before a marathon was relatively clear-cut: Huddled over huge plates of pasta, shoving a banana in the mouth at the starting line, treating themselves to chocolate milk in an attempt to get sugar back to the muscles post workout. Of course, all these images run contrary to the rise of the ketogenic diet, which promotes a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate lifestyle that forces the body to burn fats rather than carbs.

According to a recent article by CNN (https://money.cnn.com/2018/09/17/news/companies/keto-diet-trend/index.html), “With the help of social media and word of mouth, demand for keto-friendly products have gone through the roof … Interest in keto has far outpaced interest in other fad diets. A Google Trends chart over the past year show searches for ‘keto’ have dwarfed searches for ‘paleo,’ ‘Whole 30’ and ‘intermittent fasting.'”

Naturally, when something the media describes as a “fad diet” hits such pervasive proportions, it is going to bleed over into the world of athletics and fitness. It’s no surprise, then, that someone like Zach Bitter is giving interviews talking about his recent setting of the record for fastest 100 mile trail run while crediting a diet with virtually no carbs.

Remembering his high school and college days, Bitter tells Men’s Journal (https://www.mensjournal.com/health-fitness/zach-bitter-100-mile-american-record-holder-he-also-eats-almost-no-carbs/): “My diet was clean, but probably 60% carbs. Then, in 2010, I started participating in ultra-endurance events and noticed that things weren’t ideal — not being able to sleep consistently through the night, having big energy swings during the day, chronic inflammation in my ankles, things like that.”

After meeting with Jeff Volek, an Ohio State University professor/expert in low carbohydrate research, Bitter changed to a diet that now has carbs accounting for as little as 5% of his diet. “The inflammation went away really quickly, and within a month I was sleeping way better, like getting through the night,” Bitter explains. “And I noticed that my energy levels were consistent throughout the day.”

Whenever any athlete decides to go Keto, the primary question seems to be the same: How can you fuel yourself during an endurance race?

According to Kristin, a blogger at Madcity Eats, it was just a matter of time before her body got accustomed to burning fat, not carbs. “I started training for a 50k after being on the keto diet for about four months At that point, I was fully fat-adapted, meaning my body had shifted into a metabolic state where it was using fat as its primary fuel source.,” she writes (https://madcityeats.com/my-first-ultra-marathon-on-a-keto-diet-eb6e66840cce), observing that the fat in her diet made her less hungry than in past training, allowed her to skip breakfasts and rely on fuel from the previous night’s dinner, and like Bitter led to her recovering from workouts faster. “I know the ketogenic diet is working for me  —  not only in my day-to-day life, but also in my endurance pursuits.”

Much like Atkins and other low-carb diets, keto puts your body in a metabolic state called ketosis. Your body becomes efficient at burning fat for energy, and supplies energy for the brain by creating ketones in the liver. Reductions in blood sugar and insulin levels are common, which can result in health benefits. However, health experts have voiced concerns over ketoacidosis — a dangerous condition that occurs when the body stores too many ketones — which could lead to liver, kidney or even brain damage, particularly in diabetics. Even if you closely monitor your transition into the keto diet, the so-called “keto flu” should have you expecting to feel tired and in some sort of gastrointestinal distress for several days.

Then there’s the matter of a recent study in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness where Edward Weiss, PhD, associate professor of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University, found with some colleagues that participants actually performed worse on cycling and running tasks after 4 days on a ketogenic diet than that same window on a high-carb diet.

“Just losing a few pounds is enough to give you a huge advantage on the bike, but I’m very concerned that people are attributing the benefits of weight loss to something specific in the ketogenic diet,” Weiss tells Health magazine (https://www.health.com/weight-loss/keto-diet-side-effects). “In reality, the benefits of weight loss could be at least partially canceled out by reductions in performance.”

Not exactly music to the ears of an ultra-runner hoping to improve their time on the trail.

Ultimately, Kristin at Madcity Eats may sum it up best: “What I learned is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to training and racing while in ketosis. Everyone is different and has different fueling needs based on factors like body composition, how long you’ve been fat adapted and the duration of your race. Some athletes can train and race in a fasted state; others need to eat before and during a race. Still others opt to break from ketosis in the days leading up to an event and consume more carbohydrates for optimal performance.”

As the TV commercials say: Consult your doctor. Together, perhaps you’ll decide that keto offers the right path to reach your training goals. But until then, you might not want to throw away all those boxes of spaghetti just yet.

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