World Mountain Running Championships in Argentina promise sights, sounds and sweat

By Larry Carroll

The eighth-largest country in the world, Argentina is home to 44 million people. Since 2003, it has also been home to the K42 Adventure Marathon – and in 2019 will play host to the World Mountain Running Championships. 

If you want to get an idea of how seriously the residents of Patagonia take the Salomon K42, check out this video “Salomon K42 Adventure Marathon anfitriona del Mundial de Montaña 2019“. While hyping up the 2019 installment, footage is shown of deep blue waters and pristine mountains – as well as blinding snow and hellacious downslopes. “Do you want to show who you are?” the clip teases as if daring participants to sign up. “Do you want to honor your country, your people?”

Of course you do. The only problem is, so do athletes from Uruguay, Ecuador, Chile, Peru, and too many other homelands to count. So the end result is an annual race that has dozens upon dozens of runners out of the starting gate, but precious few at the finish line. 

This year’s festivities take place November 12-17, with a flower ceremony in beautiful San Martin Square awaiting those who earn medals. Organizers are expecting some 2000 runners (a substantial increase over the 345 they attracted in their 2003 inaugural race), with about 60 percent running the 42km and the rest selecting the shorter but no less important 15km. 

 “You will travel to the bottom of South America, to walk in the footprints that the greatest athletes of the world have already left,” touts the video, showing clips of entrants splashing across streams and hesitantly navigating steep terrain. “A footprint that knows about sufferings and feats. A footprint that will remain in history.”

Sure enough, over the years such elite runners as Kilian Jornet, Miguel Heras, Luis Alberto Hernando, Oihana Kortazar and Zaid Ait Malek have left their footprint in Argentina. Perhaps the most beloved K42 athlete (locally speaking, at least) is Cristian Mohamed from Mendoza, Argentina – who won the 2009 and 2011 K42 Adventure Marathons, then returned for last year’s edition to triumphantly take the title back to its country of origin (after six years of foreign winners including Heras, Francisco Pino and Marco de Gasperi). 

“I ran the first six kilometers with the Italian,” Mohamed said after the race of Bernard Dematteis, another K42 favorite. “But it was going at a pace that we would not be able to sustain. I knew that the race begins in the climb to Bayo, in the Raizal and I took care until there.”

Echoing that sentiment was 2018 women’s champion Ragna Debats, a formidable Spanish Dutch runner who similarly conserved her energy for the latter part of the race. “It’s a very demanding race,” she said of the K42. “[I had to be] conservative because I knew that the second part was demanding.”

So, what can this year’s runners expect? A good road map is provided by Sarah Lavender Smith, a long-distance runner, mom and author who wrote extensively about her 2009 run on her blog “An Adventure Marathon” in Argentina’s Lake District Lives Up to the Hype“, calling it “epic” and “unforgettable.”

“The Salomon K42 calls itself an ‘Adventure Marathon,’ but I didn’t expect its course or my experience on it to go to such extremes,” she writes, citing her marathon resume. “Suffice to say I was reminded that it’s best to expect the unexpected and prepare for any and everything that the course might deliver.”

While fondly describing “that magical, crazy day when I traversed a peak in the Andes overlooking lakes and ski towns,” Smith bluntly recalls the dangers of mountain running.

“I was grasping at branches of shrubs that lined a narrow chute of mud and snow on a stretch of trail that seemed as steep and slippery as a wet playground slide,” she recalls. “At one point I had to scramble to the side to avoid being toppled by a guy who lost his grip and came skidding butt-first toward me.”

Beginning in the town, racers are given a powerful push-off via shouts of encouragement from the supportive community. Within moments, however, the Patagonian primeval forest blankets participants in near silence – broken only, no doubt, by the rhythm of their breathing. After a loop of going up and down throughout the forest, on single trails that seem to weave between untouched natural beauty, runners begin making their way up to the base of Cerro Bayo ski station – the point where the contenders are often separated from the pretenders.

Check points offer food and drink, while icy rivers reward those who splash through them with enough cold water to revitalize the legs. Then comes the vertical path named RAIZAL II, as forest turns to snow and the threats evolve along with it. At some point, you view La Angostura down below, then begin the downhill descent, back into the forest and through curves and countercurves that would offer a fun rollercoaster ride – if your muscles weren’t on fire by this point. It all ends back in the town, with cheers on the main avenue.

Who will survive this year to see that celebration? Who will enjoy the hot stew and celebratory party with a medal on their chest? Once again, the time has come for the hype to fade away – and the athletes to start moving their feet. 


Plant-based diets, athletes and what we can learn from them

By Larry Carroll

When you’re an elite athlete, the only thing that approaches your workout in terms of importance is what you put into your body. Like any human being, food nourishes, sustains and on some occasions delights you. But more so than most people, you depend on food to build muscle, stave off injury and allow you to perform at peak capacity. 

More and more these days, athletes are coming forward with revelations of embracing a plant-based lifestyle. And with many of them, it’s hard to argue that any other sort of diet could make them better at their respective sports: tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams, Olympian weightlifter (and holder of the U.S. record in the clean and jerk) Kendrick Farris, NBA all-star Kyrie Irving, world champion surfer Tia Blanco and more. 

Plant-based diets, athletes and what we can learn from them.

Then there’s Scott Jurek. Considered one of the greatest runners of all time, the 46-year-old Minnesota native has won the Hardrock Hundred, the Badwater (twice), the Western States 100 (7 straight years) and more – and has been on a plant-based diet since 1999. In 2012, Jurek published “Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultra-Marathon Greatness,” an autobiography which concludes each chapter with one of his favorite vegan recipes.

Anecdotally speaking, athletes quickly notice a difference in their bodies after switching over to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle – and most of what they notice appears to be good. 

“I wasn’t feeling as inflamed, creaky or sore, or just kind of blah in the morning,” Olympic medal cyclist Dotsie Bausch told US News recently (Athletes Can Thrive on Plant-Based Diets), looking back on her switch. “I was bouncing out of bed – I felt ready to go. I was more energized.” 

Plant-based diets, athletes and what we can learn from them.

“I think it’s a great lifestyle for long-term stability,” Venus Williams, who credits veganism with overcoming the autoimmune disease Sjogren’s Syndrome, told Shape magazine ( A Venus Williams Interview That’s Not About Tennis ). “You also have to look at everything else in your regimen, what you’re putting into your body, like supplements. I’m always learning and I’m hoping to perfect my system.”

Accordingly, Venus made headlines earlier this year (Venus Williams said her raw vegan diet was unsustainable, so she now eats potatoes and lentils too) when she revealed that her raw food-diet aspirations had proven difficult to sustain over long periods of time, leading to an amended diet that includes such foods as  potatoes, rice and lentils. “Sometimes you just need something more substantial — some rice, some potatoes — after a workout,” she reasoned. 

According to a series of studies published in the journal Nutrients ( Plant-Based Diets for Cardiovascular Safety and Performance in Endurance Sports )

Plant-based diets, athletes and what we can learn from them.

“The effect of plant-based diets on cardiovascular risk factors, particularly plasma lipid concentrations, body weight, and blood pressure, and, as part of a healthful lifestyle, reversing existing atherosclerotic lesions, may provide a substantial measure of cardiovascular protection. In addition, plant-based diets may offer performance advantages. They have consistently been shown to reduce body fat, leading to a leaner body composition. Because plants are typically high in carbohydrate, they foster effective glycogen storage. By reducing blood viscosity and improving arterial flexibility and endothelial function, they may be expected to improve vascular flow and tissue oxygenation. Because many vegetables, fruits, and other plant-based foods are rich in antioxidants, they help reduce oxidative stress. Diets emphasizing plant foods have also been shown to reduce indicators of inflammation. These features of plant-based diets may present safety and performance advantages for endurance athletes.” 

Bausch, for her part, certainly agrees with the recovery advantages. “When you recover faster, you can handle more load … You can handle more damage, more training. The more training you can do, the faster you’re going to become. People can’t train 24 hours a day, because you have to recover. So if you recover fast, you can train again.”

So, where do you start? According to “Forks Over Knives” ( Top Tips for Plant-Based Athletes ), you need to train yourself much like in athletics – but to avoid all animal products, processed foods, oils and refined carbohydrates. Many athletes worry about where they’ll get their protein, but the human body only requires 5 to 10 percent of its caloric intake to be protein, so simply maintaining adequate caloric intake will often satisfy that need. You’re also likely to get all your essential amino acids. 

Plant-based diets, athletes and what we can learn from them.

In a gradual manner, a plant-based athlete needs to transition to a diet of calorically-dense whole plant foods, starchy vegetables and fruits for fuel. Rather than large meals, it is wiser to eat many smaller ones per day. It’s also crucial to keep close tabs on weight, looking to the Harris-Benedict calculator “Calculate Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) online (Harris Benedict Equation) ” to determine caloric needs and  BMR (basal metabolic rate). 

Naturally, you want to consult with your physician before embracing any radical change to your diet. But the keyword here is exactly that: naturally. Athletes who embrace the plant-based lifestyle and are able to make it work to report all kinds of benefits from putting all-natural foods into their bodies. Ultimately, it’s a matter of having an open mind, a compliant palate, and training appropriately. 


Javelina Jundred: R-rated fun, serious run

By Larry Carroll

With each passing year, it seems there are more must-watch races for the ultra-marathoning community. Not many, however, have to remind participants on their racing page that “frontal nudity/exposure is NOT permitted” while including a cheeky (quite literally) asterisk and the following amendment: “We have the best ass award…so expect some bare butts. You’ve been warned.”

Javelina Jundred

Yes, it is time once again for the Javelina Jundred, a race that is out there in both terms of being physically demanding and in terms of being…well…out there. The 17th installment will take place on October 26-27 in Fountain Hills, Arizona, and this party is proudly sold out. Taking place just a few days before Halloween, Javelina is just like your neighborhood Halloween bash – that is, if your party didn’t focus so much on the punch, pizza, and party dip but instead on pushing your body to its physical limitations in the middle of the Arizona desert. 

Beginning at the Four Peaks Staging Area at McDowell Mountain Regional Park, participants have a choice of running either 100 miles or 100 kilometers. Those doing the former will begin with a 22.3-mile loop on the Escondido Trail, followed by four 19.45 mile loops on other trails; the latter option will be essentially the same, with only the first three loops. 

Javelina Jundred

Camping is encouraged, and in many ways, the Javelina Jundred will be as much a show as it will be a competition. One unique feature of the race is that since the runners reverse directions with each lap of the race “washing machine” style, they will pass by “Javelina Jeadquarters” every 20 miles – so, crews are only permitted in that area, are well covered by shade, and can turn Jeadquarters into a vibrant social scene complete with wood-fired pizza, a coffee cart, a bonfire for roasting marshmallows and much more.

Javelina Jundred

Of course, each runner finishing the 100 Mile (in under 30 hours) and 100 Kilometer (in under 29 hours) receive the customary belt-buckle, bragging rights and eligibility for unique handmade Dia de Los Muertos-themed awards going to the top 3 male and female finishers. But this is a race that proudly awards flair, so participants can also take home awards for “Best Costume,” “Most Memorable Performance,” “1st Virgin” (being the best placing rookie) and more.

Javelina Jundred

Past Javelina Jundreds have given us participants in Jackie Onassis dresses and pillbox hats, wearing fake beards and wigs, dressed as hot dogs and Disney princesses and more. While the 2019 edition would seem to be limited only by the imaginations of the racers (and of course, the ban on full-frontal nudity), this is a serious business. The 100 Miler is, in fact, a 2020 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run Qualifier, and the 100 Miler and 100 Kilometer are both 2020 UTMB Qualifiers. In short: The athletes out there will be serious, even if their costumes are not.

For those looking to embrace the Javelina vibe but not the aching muscles and pulled hamstrings, Javelina offers the “Jackass Night Trail.” Featuring one 20 mile loop, the event is hyped up “Jackass Night Trail” as “Fun! Running during the Javelina Jundred is a unique, vibrant, and fun-filled experience for all runners. It’s unlike any other trail running event and we want to encourage more people to join in the fun! The Jackass Night Trails is the best way to experience the course, the aid stations, and the mayhem of Jackass Junction! Plus, it comes with its own perks & swag!”

Javelina Jundred

The Night Trails race promises a disco party, a DJ and that you’ll someday be able to start your stories with “So, I was running between a hotdog and a unicorn…”. Another requirement reads: “Please note that a sense of rhythm is not required, but a sense of humor is.” And who knows? If you’re lucky, you might just win a disco ball trophy and be crowned as the Jackass King.

If you can’t make it out to Arizona, be sure to keep an eye on the Instagram hashtag #OnlyAtJavelina, where people have already begun uploading eccentric pictures of races past. If the previous 17 editions are any indication, the Javelina Jundred will once again be an event like none other. Just be careful if you have any children around your computer/smart device – because, with that Best Ass Award in contention, those Instagram pics might just get very R-rated.

2019 Big Dog Backyard

2019 Big Dog Backyard preview: ‘This is a race to the death’

By Larry Carroll

Typically, when you discuss a sporting event, you marvel over the feats of the athletes. Somehow, they might manage to accomplish the impossible, do something no one has ever done, create a physical expression on par with a masterful painting, poem or novel. In their own way, through endurance, imagination, and talent, they craft a masterpiece.

But when you’re discussing Big Backyard Ultra, the praise must first be heaped upon the race’s designer. Sure, massive props must be given to anyone who actually wins this punishing, annual test of the human capacity for pain in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. But much like when you consider the complex machinations of baseball (9 innings, 27 outs, no clock) or football (two-point conversion or field goal?), you begin to realize that the creation of the sporting event itself is a true thing of beauty.

And so, it is with that knowledge that we can call Gary Cantrell, a.k.a. Lazarus “Laz” Lake the Picasso of pain. And in the note establishing this year’s ground rules, he seems to take particular, defiant pride in his achievement.

“The Backyard Ultra is back for 2019,” he says of the October 19 race, in a page on UltraSignup whose “Align Left” format evokes a kind of cruel haiku. “The concept is simple.”

2019 Big Dog Backyard

So simple, in fact, that it almost feels like a trap from a “Saw” movie. In short, you run. And then you run again and again. And as long as others keep running, you must do the same. The last person running wins the race, everybody else loses. If no one runs one last lap after second-place gives up, guess what? Everybody loses.

It is that distinctive framework that instills such a love/hate relationship with the participants. 

“Have you ever thought that you could not be beaten, if only the faster runners were unable to run away and leave you?” the posting explains, teasing you with the allure of this one-of-a-kind race. “This is your chance to find out. Every surviving runner will be tied for the lead, every hour.”

2019 Big Dog Backyard

Ultimately, every hour is a chance to start anew. At 6:40 on Saturday, October 19 the race will begin, with all participants running around a 4.166667-mile trail in Laz’s backyard. If you don’t finish near the top of the pack, no worries, all you need to do is cross the finish line within an hour. Sure, some might finish with more time to spare – and they get to do whatever they like with that time for recovery – but at 7:40, the madness starts all over again, and you are once again revitalized (or perhaps, cruelly teased) by the notion of being right back in first place with everyone else.

At that point, Big Dog participants become Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day” – repeating the same events, in the same spaces, against the same people, time and time again. Each time, it all becomes a little less fun, a little more repetitive, a little more like a punishment. There is no certain point where it will end, and it will inevitably come down to a battle of wills as the final two competitors wearily eyeball each other in a “can we please just end this?” game of chicken.

For that and so many other reasons, this is a race unlike any other. “Brats and chili will be served beginning at 1500 hours and continuing until the finish. Rumor has it, there will be moonshine testing lessons around the campfire,” the site reads as if to underline that point in red ink.

In 2017, Guillaume Calmettes and Harvey Lewis dueled to the point of exhaustion, with Calmettes (listed as a returning participant for 2019) running a total of 245.835 miles in 59 hours. Last year, Johan Steene and Courtney Dauwalter battled for 66 laps before Dauwalter finished their 67th showdown with her slowest lap in three days (53:26); smelling blood in the water, Steene came out for lap 68 and rather than discovering a competitor, he found Dauwalter’s hand extended in capitulated congratulations. 

2019 Big Dog Backyard

Expressing the same sentiment as the Big Dog Backyard description, Steene freely admits that had the race been a traditional one, he would have lost. “If there had been a predestined finish line at Big’s Backyard, my money would have been on Courtney to win, she would beat me at any such race and distance,” he told Trail Runner. “But at the Backyard, you draw your own lines.”

As the race’s description reads: “The Big Backyard will continue until but one man is left standing…no matter how long it takes. This is a race to the death…”

Steene’s grand total was 283.335 miles. The general sense among Big Dog observers is that a 300 mile/72 hour race is going to happen soon. Steene has predicted that someone will do 85 laps soon. Calmettes, meanwhile, has been quoted as saying that it would be “cool” to cross the 100 hours mark. Could this be the year any of those milestones finally fall? 

World Championships

Preview: Camille Herron, Courtney Dauwalter lead the pack for 24 Hour World Championships

By Larry Carroll

It’s no secret that ultra-running has been growing in popularity for some time now, so in some ways, it seems only natural that interest in the sport would splinter off into other subsections under the ultra-running umbrella. Of course, races like the Iditarod and the Big Backyard Ultra proudly take the concept of a long-distance race, break it down and flip it on its head. Then there’s another rapidly-growing obsession, fueled by some recent record-setting efforts: The 24-hour race.

This past December, 36-year-old Camille Herron ran around a high school track in Phoenix, Arizona as many times as possible for 24 consecutive hours – finishing after 162.9 miles and establishing a new world record by about two miles. Less than a year later, Zach Bitter took to an indoor track in Milwaukee to make history, setting the world record by running 104.8 miles in 12 hours – almost as an afterthought following his obliteration of the fastest 100-mile run record. 

Although many athletes have been proudly running in circles for years, there suddenly seems to be renewed interest in such offshoots of ultra-marathoning. It makes a lot of sense, then that the upcoming 2019 IAU 24 Hour World Championships is boasting increased numbers – and participation from folks like Courtney Dauwalter and Herron.

World Championships

“Based on provided data we are expecting to have 363 athletes from 45 countries (38 for women and 44 for men),” the International Association of Ultra-runners says in a statement dated September 27. “This is a 26% improvement comparing to the last Championship in Belfast in 2017. With respect to individual distribution, it will be 153 women and 210 men. It is another improvement comparing to the last Championships of almost 19% and over 32% respectively.”

Set for October 26-27, this year’s 24 Hour World Championships will take place in Albi, France. It is one of the IAU’s four main world championship events (along with the 100km World Championships, the Trail World Championships, and the 50km World Championships) and the only one based on a time format rather than distance. Currently, the event’s standing records belong to USA’s Michael Morton (277.543 kilometers, in 2012) and Japan’s Mami Kudo (252.205 kilometers in 2013).  

World Championships

Episcopal city and birthplace of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi has a population that hovers around 50,000 and a humid subtropical climate. Operating as the world governing body of ultra-running, the IAU regulates and sanctions ultra-marathon championships and tracks records.

Of course, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them tracking some new ones later this month. For starters, Camille Heron will be working to improve the incredible pace of 8:03/mile that she maintained in December when she set her records (she also captured the women’s world record for running 100 miles on a track). 

“I’m coming from a marathon background, so I know it’s hard to wrap your head around running 100K, and then 100 miles, and than 24 hours,” Herron, who ate a Taco Bell Double-decker taco and a beer at 2 am in the middle of her record-setting performance, told OutsideHow Camille Herron Set a 24-Hour Running Record“. “I really had to work with my husband and coach, Conor, to think about what I might experience while running through the night and dealing with sleep deprivation, hypothermia, and nutritional needs. There are all these things you have to deal with on top of the actual running part. It’s more about your mind than your legs. It’s trying to will the legs to keep turning over through sleep deprivation. My legs just started getting really stiff and I was doing wind sprints just to try and keep my legs turning over.”

World Championships

Although she may be the record holder, Herron will be competing with more than just herself in Albi. Courtney Dauwalter continues to cement a career of near-legendary proportions, having recently won the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. In 2018, she finished 2nd overall in the Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra and also broke the women’s course record for the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. Dauwalter is perhaps best known, however, for her breakthrough performance in the Moab 240 race – her 2 days, 9 hours and 59 minutes were faster than any man in the pack and she finished more than 10 hours in front of the second-place finisher. 

Unfortunately, Zach Bitter will not be participating – but since she holds the record for a fastest 24-hour race among both men and women, any of the other 362 athletes hoping to dethrone Herron will be able to challenge her (and, perhaps, take a few notes) in person.

Blood Testing

Blood Testing: Is it the path to peak performance?

By Larry Carroll

For the most part, runners have become accustomed to certain measuring tools for assessing their training and overall health. Some rely on the latest technology (heart-rate trackers, post-run stats), others on old-fashioned observations (pulse, dehydration), but in this sport, everyone is always looking for that next great advantage.

Which is where direct-to-consumer blood testing comes in. The industry claims that our blood contains vital information we cannot attain elsewhere, which can lead to diagnostics that will keep us operating smoothly and effectively, as an electronic device or automobile; critics point out that results are often misinterpreted, that you may be opening yourself up to privacy concerns, or that claims of accessibility and ease could be Theranos-like missions of misinformation.

Blood Testing

What’s the truth? Below, we examine some facts and fiction about the blood test movement – and the possible advantages of do-it-yourself blood analyses. 

Is the price right?

Testing your own blood while bypassing a physician or healthcare practitioner is a rapidly growing business. Companies like LabCorp, Health Testing Centers and Walk-In Lab offer easy-to-use tests, typically with online result delivery. With prices typically ranging from $99 to $1000, the question then becomes a more complex one: What are you screening for?

The services you need

Blood testing companies typically offer to screen you for everything from allergies and cancers to diabetes and STDs. If you’re a healthy athlete, many would be an unnecessary expense; if you have a history of iron-deficiency anemia, low hormone levels or other afflictions, testing might be more helpful. While some athletes are driven to blood testing because of symptoms – sluggishness, underperformance, etc – others see it as a preventative measure. Clearly, if you have significant deficiencies in zinc, vitamin D or magnesium, it’s better to know and adjust your diet than pushing harder in your workouts and potentially compounding your problems.

Blood Testing

What are the benefits?

Over at Simplifaster 7 Reasons to Blood Test Athletes “, Track and Field coach/sport technologist Carl Valle recommends quarterly blood testing, calling it “one of my top three metrics for athletic development.” He then explains how analysis of a person’s bloodstream measures biomarkers represent long patterns over time, revealing “cold and direct” truths about such things as vitamin D levels (which he says are easy to work with) and hormone levels (which must be approached more cautiously). 

“Blood testing helps coaches elicit performance when athletes are free of such barriers as nutrient deficiencies and problems away from the track or field,” he says. “A clean bill of health and perfect scores on blood tests do not guarantee an athlete will reach the podium or win a championship, but it does rule out wellness as a limiting factor.”

Also worth considering is Valle’s assertion that since information is power, many athletes will use its acquisition as motivation to further push, nourish and rest their bodies – and the results are often beneficial. However, this also marks the point where certain substances could be labeled as “performance-enhancing” and get an athlete in trouble – so proceed with caution.  

Misreading the results

Although many of these companies present their findings in easy, user-friendly readouts, to many physicians and lab technicians the thought of a layman interpreting their own lab results is nothing short of horrifying. Then there are studies like this one “Assessing the utility of yearly pre-season laboratory screening for athletes on a major professional sports team.” on healthy professional athletes, which found that 10.1% of initial screening lab results were abnormal, leading to 40.3% receiving additional testing, but only .35% leading to a change that resulted in a significant positive outcome. In short, only one out of every 300 abnormal blood tests in a healthy athlete leads to anything more than additional testing, additional money and increased worry. 

Blood Testing

Reading the symptoms

Ultimately, much of this stuff is simple common sense. If you’re not feeling well, dial back your exercise regimen and discuss your symptoms with a healthcare provider who may or may not recommend a blood test. If you are feeling well, then you most likely have little to gain from a blood test – striving for perfection in every metric, or overcompensating for a certain shortcoming by taking vitamins and mineral supplements beyond their daily recommended allowance, is a slippery slope. 

Proceed with caution

With the above in mind, it seems clear that anyone seeking to cut doctors out of the diagnostic process should proceed with extreme caution and skepticism. False positives are a very real concern with any blood test, and if you are interpreting them without professional help you could end up impeding your physical regimen via paranoia and unnecessary response measures. The sweet spot for those looking to test their own blood is to look over any possible concerns while accompanied by a trained physician or specialist, and then proceeding accordingly. 


Running Metrics: Are they right for trail runners?

by Larry Carroll

In some ways, running feels like the most primal of instincts. Watch any child and you’ll see the evidence: Just moments after we learn to walk, we’ll try to run. In no time, a child learns that moving your legs faster will get you where you want to go faster – and immediately begins testing the limits to see how fast they can go.

In other ways, running has never been more cutting-edge than now. With the rise of GPS, heart monitors, smartphones and endless apps to document and analyze every aspect of your run, there is a limitless amount of information at your fingertips. The question then presents itself: How much is useful, and at what point does it become overwhelming?

Heart rate, cadence, average pace per mile, vertical ratio, ground contact time and other such metrics are becoming increasingly popular, as are the Apple Watches, Lumo Runs, smart shoes, LifeBeams, and other devices used to capture such information. But do they deserve their popularity?

For starters, let’s take a look at the heart rate (HR). Among many runners, it is considered the best indicator of running effort because the faster and harder you push, the more it will increase. Devices typically track both average heart rate and maximum heart rate (the formula for which is 220 minus your age). Then there are the HR zones, popularized by Garmin, which give you zones like “Warm-Up” or “Very Fast Running” based on your perceived maximum HR. 

But the heart rate is particularly tricky. It takes a long time to register, so if your metric is telling you it is too low or too high, it’s very difficult to make an adjustment on the fly. By the time your heart rate’s lag time has caught up to your body, you might already be in need of a recalibration. 

There’s also the matter of practicality in the body. Rather than concerning itself with the rate your heart is beating, the body cares about its rate of cardiac output – measured by heart rate times stroke volume, which can vary depending on hydration, stress and other factors. In short, heart rate is a partial measurement of an overall picture – and examined by itself, is somewhat akin to measuring a car’s performance by only looking at the tire pressure.

Ultimately, the best data is what your body sends you during your workout via sweat, pain, breathing, cramping, and other manifestations. If you’re adept at interpreting them, you’ll be able to discern all the information you need about effort level, motivation and how your workout measures up against past efforts.

Sometimes, athletes can actually prevent themselves from a breakthrough if they are too obsessed with their numbers, playing to a machine rather than their best effort. Although monitors are machines, they are observing human bodies, which most certainly are not. So although monitors may judge you based on where they think your heart rate or calorie burn can be, that doesn’t mean that the target presented to a runner can effectively measure effort. 

For trail runners, in particular, the answer may lie in what has commonly come to be called “Mindful running.” The phrase refers to the process of listening to your body and using that information to fuel your training. 

Over at GQ, “Mindful Running” is referred to as meditation on the move, exploring the whole-body benefits of freeing yourself from electronics, timers, and demands for a personal best. At Trail Runner , meanwhile, a rating system is used to measure your effort level in various categories:

Breathing – Determine in advance how difficult your run will be, then attempt to focus on steady, rhythmic breathing to align your effort level with the amount of exertion you’re targeting.

Muscular Effort – In short, it’s all about improving efficiency by training yourself to run faster without significantly increasing your perceived effort. If your legs keep moving smoothly and your exertion rate is low, you’re on the right track.

trail runners

Mental Effort – Yes, it’s true. You run with your mind, and if you’re making true progress you won’t need to grapple with it constantly to push yourself.

Enjoyment Level – Is your recovery easy? Did your run feel like a chore? Such questions are easy to answer, and as it turns out, essential in reading the messages being sent by your body in regards to your training regimen. Ignore them at your own peril.

Ranking each of the above categories from 1 (very easy) to 10 (maximum effort), you can begin to analyze the data your body is sending you every day, and proceed accordingly – no electronics necessary, as fun as some of those toys might be. 

trail running bones

Loading with calcium – does it help your trail running bones?

By Larry Carroll

We’ve been on the receiving end of the same message since we were little children, sitting in front of the TV during Saturday morning cartoons being promised that a glass of white liquid does a body good. Calcium, we were told, helps your bones.

trail running bones

Now we’re grown-ups and, as athletes, depend on our bones in increasingly more punishing ways. All those countless miles of running, pounding step after step, aching feet and splintered shins. And so, the question has evolved: Does extra calcium help fortify and repair our trail running bones?

It’s certainly not going out on a limb to say that bones are of vital importance not only to an athlete but to any human being with the goal of simply being upright. As such, the structural framework of the human body has to be looked after – and although it might not seem that way, your bones are a constantly evolving mechanism. 

With each passing day, your body removes calcium from some areas of the bone and places it elsewhere. Think about Captain Kirk in “Star Trek,” ordering that emergency power is rerouted to the deflector shields – at a time of crisis, your body can deal with stresses by rerouting the calcium, but it may leave other areas at risk.

trail running bones

This becomes a particularly dangerous scenario for runners, whose repeated foot strikes see the same parts of the bone being punished time and time again. If enough time is allowed for recovery, the body will adapt to these stresses and cells will adequately resorb. If you aren’t giving yourself enough time to recover – or if your calcium intake isn’t enough to make up the difference – that’s when your body finds itself facing the stress fracture equivalent of a Klingon starship attack. 

Planning your intake accordingly, however, can be trickier than you’d think. One factor to consider is age: According to Runner’s World, adults need about 1000 mg of calcium per day, a typical high school runner requires about 1300, and older adults need about 1200 mg ( Fueling the Runner: Bone Health ). If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, that number needs to go even higher.

Then there is the poster child for calcium itself: Milk. As the years go by, it seems less and less likely that your average American is enjoying a glass of cow’s milk with their meal, as it is increasingly viewed as a children’s beverage and supplanted by the far-trendier and infinite alternatives: soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk and on and on. 

To avoid weakened bones and an increased risk of fractures, you need to look beyond milk and into alternative sources that you can sneak, Trojan-horse style, into your meals. 

Stocking yourself up with calcium (and its partner in crime, vitamin D) in healthy doses can be achieved through yogurts, cheeses (start with mozzarella and muenster) and other dairy staples. If you’re trying to avoid dairy, look to certain fortified cereals, soy products, tofu and spinach, and fish such as sardines and salmon. 

trail running bones

Another great idea is working seeds – tiny, nutritional superfoods – into your dishes. Poppy, celery, sesame and chia seeds all boast an impressive calcium punch and can be sprinkled onto something like yogurt or an acai bowl without your tastebuds noticing much of a difference. The same goes for beans and lentils, potentially prepared in a variety of delicious ways as a stealthy side dish for your typical meal. If you’re feeling really adventurous, try winged beans – which contain 24% of the recommended daily intake for calcium.

Edamame is a rich calcium source that is so easy to prepare and snack on like it’s popcorn, while tofu could provide 86% of your RDI is just half a cup and is so famously malleable that it could be substituted for meat in many dishes. 

Whenever possible, both runners and non-athletes alike should strive to get their calcium from food, not supplemental tablets. In fact, researchers at the University School of Medicine in St. Louis ( Dietary Calcium Is Better Than Supplements At Protecting Bone Health ) found not only that 34 million Americans were at increased risk for osteoporosis, but also that only about 35% of the calcium in supplements ends up being absorbed by the body.

If you do have a calcium deficiency developing, be on the lookout for frequent muscle cramps, poor clotting, and dreaded stress fractures. But the good news is that if you can get your calcium intake to its proper level, you can look forward to some wonderful side effects – including healthier hair and nails, a better-regulated heartbeat, and more. So, if you want to be a better runner – and one that might turn a head or two on the trail – reach for that yogurt!


Running on the treadmill vs. running outside: Which is more effective?

By Larry Carroll

In theory, it makes perfect sense: Treadmills are made to mimic the open road, your feet don’t have eyeballs, so running on one should be just as good as sprinting along with the real thing. In practice, however, it isn’t always so clear cut. With technology improving in each passing year, to the extent where a treadmill from a decade ago would be laughed out of today’s gym, the question is one both timeless and continuously asked: How effective is running on a treadmill vs. running outside?

To address the question, it may be best to make a list of pros and cons. Naturally, every runner will decide on their own which factors extract the best results from them, and which others are unimportant. Much like running shoes themselves, one size does not fit all. Read on and see which points strike a chord with you – then lace up and act accordingly.

The Road

Pro: Being Outside – For many runners, nothing beats being outdoors, exploring your neighborhood and having run-ins with nature and neighbors in their natural habitat. As complicated as competitive running can sometimes get, there is something beautifully basic about the concept of a runner, a pair of sneakers, and a road stretching off into the horizon. How far will you run? Where will you go? At moments like this, you are truly free.

Con: Being Outside – When you get right down to it, how free are you, really? If the weather doesn’t cooperate, you’re turning around early. If you have a bad encounter with a car, a bike, an animal or an uncooperative surface, you might be limping home – or worse. 

Pro: The Unpredictability of the Course – When it comes time to race for real, the only thing you can predict is that your track won’t be one smooth, looping surface. In real life, you’ll have to deal with rocks and curbs, slopes and sudden drop-offs and in a word: Unpredictability. Whether you realize it or not, training outdoors is not only good for your body but also good for honing the instincts you may need to someday rely on at a moment’s notice.

Con: The Unpredictability of the Course – On a treadmill, you can worry less about a sudden potential injury and focus instead on measuring your metrics. You are in complete control of the pace, intervals, recovery time and incline. On the road, you have to hand some element of your workout over to chance. Control freaks, beware.

The Treadmill

Pro: Better Long Term – Have you ever seen an older runner, struggling to simply walk around, and then considered all the hard miles they’ve put on those muscles and joints? When it comes to race day, they had no choice; still, it’s hard not to think about how much better off they’d be if a higher percentage of their practice runs had been on a treadmill. According to one study (Aerobic requirements of overground versus treadmill running), the amount of oxygen your body uses during physical activity is the same whether you’re on a treadmill or outside; according to another (Biomechanics Expert Debunks Treadmill-Running Myths), if you’re running at a pace of at least 7:09 and set your treadmill to a one percent grade, it accurately re-creates an outside run. In short: What’s going on inside your body is identical under those conditions, but the cushioned belt is much easier on you.

Con: Monotony – Too many runners, being on a treadmill is the human equivalent of being trapped on a gerbil wheel. Run and run all you want, but you’re not getting anywhere – and when you’re talking about multiple hours per week, treadmill running can get old real fast. That’s why it’s essential to distract yourself – be it music, television, a podcast, etc. That can create a problem, however, if you then try to run a race without those distractions at the ready. 

Pro: Technology – Yes, there is something beautifully basic about being on the road. But not everyone wants to be basic, and some would rather play with a fancy new toy. If you can afford it, something like the NordicTrack Commercial x32i Incline Trainer/Treadmill will scratch that itch quite nicely. You can incline to 40% (giving you up to 5 times the calorie burn!) or decline to 6%; interactivity speeds up and slows down the machine; a 32” screen keeps you entertained, while a Bluetooth chest strap monitors your heart; there are even fans to keep you cool. Just be sure you don’t get so spoiled that you’ll never be able to run without it.

Con: The Tendency to Overdo It – Even among people who’ve run outside for years, there’s a temptation to get on a treadmill and immediately press all the buttons you can to get up to immediate speed. It’s crucial to remember that each and every treadmill session should begin with appropriate stretching, then a brisk walk, followed by a few minutes of jogging before you ramp-up to full speed. The same goes for the cool-down period – which is a natural when running outside and you need to walk back home, but not so natural when you’re in the middle of your garage and the couch is just one room away. 

Ultimately, the tug-of-war between outdoor and treadmill running is one that can only be decided by the runner. Like most things in life, however, the answer may exist in perfect balance between the two extremes.


Quinoa vs. Brown Rice: Which is better for carb recovery?

By Larry Carroll

Much like ultra-marathoning itself, in life everybody has their own races to run. For some, a healthier overall lifestyle filled with important vitamins and nutrients is the goal. For others, quick recovery is the key target. Such self-exploration is at the core of one controversial word tossed around in dietary circles all the time: carbs.

If you’re regularly burning hundreds of calories a day with multiple hours of training, your body will crave carbs, you have the most to gain from them, and you are the least likely to gain body fat. If your lifestyle is less active, however, you’ll want to prioritize other health concerns.

Which brings us to two of the top carbohydrate sources in the modern diet: The classic bowl of rice, and the trendy serving of quinoa. What are the benefits and drawbacks of both? Which one is the true powerhouse? Read on for those details, then plan your diet accordingly.

A Brief History of Rice

Rice is the seed of a grass species, and as a cereal grain is one of the most popular foods in the world; in fact, it has been estimated that rice provides more than one-fifth of the calories consumed worldwide by humans. While it is especially popular in Asia, there are many varieties of rice, and its flavors and nutritional value vary widely throughout the world.

One thing to consider when you’re consuming rice is the difference between long-grain (whose grains tend to remain intact after cooking), medium-grain (which tends to get sticky, such as in risotto or sushi) and short-grain (think rice pudding). After that, it becomes all about preparation: If your rice is rinsed, it may remove excess starch, but also nutrients; if your rice is soaked, it could improve texture and activate enzymes. Boiling, steaming, frying or using a rice cooker can also have a major impact on rice’s taste, texture and ultimate health benefit.

When considering rice as a factor in your diet, you should also consider other variables. Are you consuming white, brown, red, black, or some other variety? What is the nutrient quality of the soil that the rice has ben grown in? How processed has the rice been between its trip from farm to table? The good thing about rice is that it is so easy to find – but you’ll want to make sure you’re consuming a variety consistent with your nutritional needs.

A Brief History of Quinoa

In some ways, quinoa is a master of disguise. It has a texture reminiscent of rice, is often presented as an alternative to rice at restaurants, and can typically be found alongside rice on supermarket shelves. Both are considered ancient ingredients, are easily cultivated, and have been fueling diets for millennia.

That, however, is where the similarities end. While rice is a grain, quinoa is the seed of the goosefoot plant. Rice is believed to have first been domesticated in China’s Yangtze River basin around 12,000 years ago. Quinoa originated in the Andean region of northwestern South America nearly 7,000 years ago – and subsequently spent several thousand years as a food for livestock, before humans consumed it. 

But instead of rice, we should think of quinoa as a closer relative to spinach, beets and leafy vegetables. What makes it exceptional, however, is the fact that quinoa is a complete protein, containing all nine of the essential amino acids – a true rarity compared to plants. It also has very high levels of minerals and fiber, meaning a serving of quinoa checks off multiple boxes on anyone’s healthy living checklist.  

Rice vs. Quinoa

For the sake of comparison, it is best to examine white and brown rice since they are by far the most prevalent in terms of consumption. And right off the bat, you can pretty much eliminate white — because as delicious as it may be in so many dishes, it has limited nutritional value and does little more for your body than increase your blood sugar level. During processing, white rice commonly has its husk, bran and germ removed, then is artificially enriched. 

Brown rice is a much healthier option, and offers such benefits as high levels of fiber and the potential to lower blood pressure. By retaining its bran and germ throughout processing, it retains minerals like phosphorous, manganese and magnesium. 

Comparing quinoa to brown rice head-on, both have their advantages. Quinoa has nearly twice as much protein, wins hands down in amino acids, and has three to four times more micronutrients (iron, phosphorus, calcium, etc.) than brown rice. Rice, meanwhile, has slightly fewer calories, and like quinoa is gluten-free. 

But when it comes to athletic benefits, the most important criteria may be carbohydrate replacement. When participating in an endurance sport, you need to fuel your body via carbs, which contain glucose – essential for muscles and the liver but stored in limited amounts. It is believed that once your exercise exceeds 75 minutes, your body’s glycogen begins facing depletion – in laymen’s terms, this is when you hit the wall. 

The USADA calls carbohydrates “The Master Fuel” and offers a formula to calculate the recommended grams of carbohydrates needed per pound of body weight. The formula breaks down to your weight in kilograms, multiplied by five per hour of activity.  

Although they aren’t far apart, brown rice has slightly more carbs. Indeed, a cup of quinoa offers 39 grams of carbs compared to a whopping 45 for rice. So, for the ultra-athlete seeking to simply replace carbs as quickly as possible, reach for the rice.

Obviously, sitting down and eating a bowl of rice isn’t always the most practical notion within an hour or two of participating in an event, however. And quite often, you’d be better off choosing quinoa since it wins in all those other categories, offers those amino acids, and has just slightly less carbs. 

Either way, the first time you’re able to set aside the Gu and PowerBars and have a true meal, it’s a great idea to include either brown rice or quinoa. And since both can be prepared in a myriad of ways, you’ll never get sick of the taste or consistency – and when you’re talking about healthy foods, that isn’t always the case.