My goal is to help you successfully run your first 50K or your first 100 miler. Most people writing about how to run ultras are really fast, and that is great if “you” are really fast. If you are a middle-of-the-pack runner like me, what I write may be more applicable and useful. After all, we are on the trail a lot longer than those “fast” runners. Most of the Posts are available on my website "Run Your First Ultra" where the posts are easier to access by subject. (Link in the right column)
Thursday, May 29, 2014
Core Strengthening - A key to better trail running.
I am sure everyone knows strength training is an important
addition to every runners training regimen.
It is especially important to trail runners and absolutely critical for
ultrarunners. Just about anyone can go
out and run a flat 5K or 10K without your “core” giving out. I have written articles on how you can run an
ultra if you only run three times a week and do no other training. This is true, you can, and I have done just
that for years. The key word here is
“Can.” You will not do your best and your runs will be more difficult, but it
can be done.
I am running a race this summer with over 33,000 feet of
elevation gain. I have resolved to start
strength training, specifically leg and core strengthening. There is little or no chance I could complete
the race if I don’t. I joined the new
Lifetime Fitness facility literally 1000 yards from my house (2 miles by road)
and started training just before Christmas.
I have worked out two or three times each week up until last week when I
took it easy while tapering for the Mountain Mist 50K on January 25. I was amazed at how much stronger my legs
felt and how much stronger I ran after only three weeks of working out. The run felt much better than in any ultra I
have run recently. I did have a major
problem with cramps the last 10 miles but that was because I was just not
drinking enough and became dehydrated.
You may be wondering why core strength is so important to a
runner. Here is a quote from Ultrarunning
Magazine. “Your core muscles function to
support the hips and spine in correct alignment from front to back, side to
side, and up and down. Trunk muscle groups include hips abductors, adductors,
and flexors; gluteals, various abdominals, the psoas, pectoralis, and lower and
upper back muscles. The core groups have key roles in a fluid running stride.
They stabilize the center of your body, allowing for efficient generation of
force by the legs, arms, and torso. They also provide balance so you can
maintain your center of gravity (located just behind and below your belly
button) when running on uneven or hilly terrain. With strong core muscles, your
spine is kept in a neutral position (s-shaped), lowering pressure on discs in
the back and even helping to relieve back pain if you have had that problem in
the past.” Yes, maintaining a good
posture while running really is important in all forms of distance
running. Your running is more relaxed
and more efficient thus using less energy per hour of running. The longer the run the more important this
all becomes especially when you consider an average 50K takes most runners 5 to
7 hours to complete. The average 100
mile race takes 25 to as much as 48 hours to complete. Your core had better be strong for that!
Fatigue during those long runs will usually results in poor
form. It is not just your legs that go;
it’s also your arms, shoulders, hips and back.
I can’t tell you how many times I have returned to the car after a long
run and barely had enough strength to remove my hydration pack. Having a strong core will make you a better
runner no matter what you run. One
downside of trail running is falling. If
your core is strong you also have a better chance to regain your balance when
you stumble and avoid a fall. Another
benefit of a strong core combined with strong legs, especially the quads, is
having the ability to “power up hills” like the Yellow/White Connector at Oak
Mountain. A strong core forms the
platform from which your arms and legs work to help you run more efficiently.
So how do you strengthen your core? One of the simplest and core exercises is a
sit-up. Another is the “back extension”
or, as I refer to it, a reverse sit-up.
Here is how Shawn McDonald, who wrote the Ultrarunning article mentioned
above, recommends that you strengthen your core muscles. He suggests 2 or 3 core workouts a week, each
lasting 20 to 30 minutes. “The core work
can be combined with a short, easy run or short bout of aerobic cross-training,
either of which should be performed before the core exercises to act as a
warm-up. Then you should stretch your back, trunk, and limbs for about ten
minutes prior to the start of the core work. Be sure to perform the core
exercises with proper form, in a controlled manner and cadence. Finish the core
workout with about ten minutes of additional stretching as a cool down.”
Here is the workout routine suggested by Shawn.
Below are examples of a “Plank” - “Back Plank” - “crunch” and “Side Bridge”
Metaboliceffects.com, sprints are one of the best core workouts for
runners. They recommend 100 meter
intervals. For distance runners, 200
meters is great. I rarely run intervals
these days but this the best way I know of to improve speed at any
distance. A very effective way to run
200 meter sprints is go to your local track and pick a logical starting
point. I always like to start at the end
of the straightaway. Sprint as hard as
you can for 200 meters then slow to an easy jog. Continue jogging to your start point and
sprint another 200 meters. Continue
sprinting and jogging until you have completed 10 sprints. After the last sprint continue running as an
easy pace for another mile or so to cool down.
Ten sprints is a tough workout and if you really run as hard as you can
for ten 200 meter sprints and the next day every muscle in the upper half of
your body isn’t sore I will buy you a cup of Coffee*. (For anyone that regularly runs intervals
this offer is not valid.)