YOGA & ULTRA DISTANCE RUNNING

by guest writer Angela Sullivan
The first miles of my ultra distance races are sublime.  An eagerness to start down the trail provides an adrenaline push that sparks well-rested legs.  The alert mind is rapturously taking in the sight of hundreds of runners jostling and laughing as they shake off their nerves and start a journey that will test their strength, nerve, and will.  The great collective push never fails to delight me and it buoys the first hours of effort.

Start of the Moab Red Hot 55k. Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer

Start of the Moab Red Hot 55k. Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer

 

But once the excitement and adrenaline begins to wear off, there is a moment of recognition that there is a very long way to the finish and it’s time to focus and get my head in the game.  The body is demanding attention and the relentless nature of the trail begins to take its toll.  Falling into a negative loop in my head about the miles ahead and those emerging aches forces me to dig deep into my yoga and meditation practice to refocus on the moment.   How is my body moving through space?  Am I lost in thought?  Am I really appreciating the scenery?  Returning to my physical and mental center I am refreshed and grateful for my yoga practice.  

Who would have thought this trail was 15min outside Boston? Getting into the groove on the Skyline Trail in Canton, MA. 

Who would have thought this trail was 15min outside Boston? Getting into the groove on the Skyline Trail in Canton, MA. 

 

A run that exceeds a marathon distance can be best undertaken with skills developed through a smart yoga practice.   Ideally, the practice incorporates dynamic movement, unwavering mental stability, and a willingness to return again and again to the present moment.  The smooth motion of yoga with with its efficient firing of nimble muscles in perfect order for effortless action mirrors the physicality of striding along a forest trail.

 

Physically, a body must be both strong and flexible.  Postures in yoga highlight particular muscle groups.  If they are tight, the posture facilitates a process of teasing out some ease and pliancy.   Muscles that are weak or underutilized will be strengthened in a practice.   Yogis are constantly calibrating how much effort is required to maintain a one legged balance or perhaps a squat position.  We become sensitive to just the right amount of effort required to sustain a posture or flow through movement.   This dance of strength and flexibility occurs along all the main planes of movement in the body.  

There is no hiding what muscles are weak while holding a pose. 

There is no hiding what muscles are weak while holding a pose. 

 

Becoming acquainted with subtle sensations will allow you to discern both subtle and gross tension in the body. It can be the perfect antidote for the numbing disconnect that creeps in over long grueling miles on trail.  Being attentive to how we are holding our bodies and how we are moving is essential.  It is much like a car tire being a few degrees misaligned.  A few miles is no big deal, but over thousands of miles it can destroy a new tire.  Our bodies are similar to that unbalanced tire.  We have to pay attention to our alignment and ease of movement in order to avoid the “wheels coming off” on our run.  

The wheels were definitely coming off at the 2013 TRT Endurance Run 100 mile! 

The wheels were definitely coming off at the 2013 TRT Endurance Run 100 mile! 

 

When one undertakes a long distance trail run, the body must be able to move dynamically and be stable in all the directions of movement.  Sure, it is mostly perpetual forward motion, but there is constant calibration of muscular effort and a compensatory reaction of the muscles as certain muscles fatigue and others kick in to pick up the energetic slack.   Just like a yoga posture!!  When a posture is held, there is a constant awareness that some muscles are overworking while others are relatively relaxed.  We learn to read the smallest signals.  On trail we have to be able to make micro adjustments as the miles pile up.  Tension around the shoulders must be released.  Pain in the hip may arise from overuse.  Can we distinguish where the effort is accumulating and can we shift it?  

 

 

But what is truly magical about the yoga practice is what is revealed in the mind.  In my  yoga classes, the students will be distracted by other people in the room or sensations in the body, or simply be getting lost in daydreams.   Bringing them back to an awareness of breath and the bodily sensations associated with the breath is the beginning of a strong mindfulness practice. When we can return again and again to the direct experience of what is actually happening on the mat, there can be a deep sense of relaxation.  Sure, a posture may be uncomfortable or the hamstrings unbelievably tight, but we begin to see that those sensations are fluid, changing and ultimately impermanent.   My Dharma teacher, John Travis, uses the mantra “It’s like this now” to keep us directed to this moment.   The stress of ruminating on what has happened or what is about to happen falls away.   Yoga requires you to stop and sit and notice what is happening in the body and mind.  There is magic in the deep relaxation of the body.

                                                                     RELAX 

                                                                     RELAX 

 

Moment-to-moment awareness cultivated on the yoga mat can be the perfect antidote for the numbing disconnect that creeps in over long grueling miles on trail.  The mind can easily become lost in a pleasant daydream or anticipating some point in the future, like an aid station or a finish-line.   Lost in thought, it is possible to go for miles without actually experiencing scenery or the  beauty of the trail.  Projecting into the future can also take a dark turn if we allow our thoughts to take a small  ache in the body and blow it up into a race-ending injury.   

 

 

Whatever is occurring will change over the course of the race.  That intense discomfort can completely disappear and that cheerful attitude and light step can change instantly, too.  The deep truth that everything changes can be experienced directly on trail and it is a tremendous lesson of life.  Just observing what the mind is doing and not being reactive to every thought can make the journey more enlightened and infinitely easier.

                    Runners in sync at the 2015 Tahoe Ultra Camp. Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer 

                    Runners in sync at the 2015 Tahoe Ultra Camp. Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer 

 

In addition to the many hours logged running, my best training tool has been my yoga practice. Incorporating the skills developed in a yoga practice has enhanced both my  physical and mental performance.  Being attentive to how we are holding our bodies and how we are moving is essential.  There will always be challenges on an ultra distance race, but a mind full of the moment is open to the experience of moving, breathing, and making contact with our gorgeous Earth one footfall at a time.  

 

 

TAHOE RIM TRAIL ENDURANCE RUNS: Race day tips

Regardless of what distance you plan on racing at this years Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs (55k, 50mile or 100 mile), it takes months and months of hard work and dedication to get to the start line fit and healthy. But those months of dedication won't prepare you for the intricacies, conjuring "tastes of heaven and glimpses of hell," of the challenging TRT course.

Tahoe Ultra Camp runners cruising the beautiful Flume Trail. Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer 

Tahoe Ultra Camp runners cruising the beautiful Flume Trail. Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer 

Having lived in Carson City, I got to know these beautiful trails pretty well. I could run from my backdoor, up Ash Canyon Road, and arrive on the TRT about 9 miles and 3,000 ft later. These are still some of my favorite trails to run. I also raced the 50 miler (my first ultra) and 100 miler, so I have experienced the highs and lows of the TRT course. 

Below are 4 race day tips that may be helpful come July 18th! 

  1. Be aware of the DG (decomposed granite): This fine sediment, worn off weathered granite boulders over eons, can become a problem for people that are not used to running on this surface. The DG will get into your shoes one way or another, which can cause some feet issues down the trail. The DG also as a  great reflector to the sun light (just like the cold white stuff). TIP: Gaiters! If you haven't tried them out consider it for TRT. Staving off the DG will keep your feet happy :) I recommend Altras gaiters, found here: https://www.altrarunning.com/trail-gaiters/altra-trail-gaiter. Salomon and Outdoor Research both offer great gaiters. Everyone should lather on some sunscreen but those extra sensitive to the sun can try some arm-coolers, a large brimmed hat and some sunnies to keep that sun at bay! 

Keep your feet dry and safe from the DG with some gaiters! You will be happy you did :) 

Keep your feet dry and safe from the DG with some gaiters! You will be happy you did :) 

 

2. A Glimpse of HELL - THE "sneaky" RED HOUSE LOOP: Departing from Tunnel Creek Aid (12 mile mark), you go right and downhill (1,000 feet) to start the 6.3 mile loop.  You'll stop by the historic Red House Aid, home to caretakers of the historic flume system that provided water and timber to Virginia City during its mining boom. Don't be fooled. "Only a 1,000 ft?" you might say. This 10k loop is tough, especially for the 100 milers who have to complete it twice. Its tough because the 1,000 feet drops (and climbs back out!) quickly on technical terrain, early in the race. It's easy to take the decent too quick, which makes the climb back up a slog, and the remainder of the course extra challenging. TIP: Take the decent and the climb back out EASY, keeping in mind the gradual 6 mile uphill to Bull Wheel Aid
 

The infamous RED HOUSE.

The infamous RED HOUSE.

3. Bandana with ICE:  Just like the cowboys! TRT starts at Spooner Lake at 7,000 ft and averages 8,000 ft throughout the course. YOU CLOSE TO THE SUN! In July the temperatures can be in the mid to high 80's.The bandana around the neck will help protect you from the strong July sun and keep you cool.  TIP: Put some ice in your bandana or hat at aid stations to keep your neck nice and cool. 

Tim Tweitmeyer started the bandana fade (for a reason)! 

Tim Tweitmeyer started the bandana fade (for a reason)! 

4. The NEVERending decent (Tyrolean downhill): After leaving Bull Wheel Aid, you have 4 miles to the Incline Creek Trail junction and another 4 miles and 2,000ft of decent (Tyrolean downhill) to Diamond Peak Aid (50k mark and 80mile mark for 100 milers). Eight miles from your last aid, a BIG descent, twists, turns, berms, and jumps--this a is a good place to have a ton of fun, but also a good place to bonk hard. TIP: Take plenty of fluids & calories with you from Bull Wheel Aid and take DON'T take the descent to Diamond Peak aid station too quick. Why? Because after that descent, you have a 1.8 mile 1,700 ft climb up a ski slope in thick DG, thats why! 

Hey wrong way! Runner descending Diamond Peak service road during TRT training run weekend. Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer 

Hey wrong way! Runner descending Diamond Peak service road during TRT training run weekend. Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer 

 

I hope these tips are helpful and most importantly get you excited for an epic journey in July! 

2016 Mountain Pulse Running Adventures!

Hi and welcome to the Mountain Pulse Running Adventures website. We are extremely excited for the 2016 season! We have some EPIC adventures planned for you including our NEW San Juans Mountains Trail Camp and the Costa Rica Trail Camp in the fall. Both these adventures will be full of BIG days in the mountains, home cooked meals, and a chance to take your running to another level.

All of us at Mountain Pulse Running Adventures love running and spending as much time as possible outside, moving. I caught up with the crew for a few questions...... 

Sean Meissner is our lead guide at Mountain Pulse Running Adventures and Ultra Running coach with Sharman Ultra Endurance Coaching. I caught up with Sean when I was able to get him to sit down.

                                                                                                            Sean flying off rocks on the flume trail 

                                                                                                            Sean flying off rocks on the flume trail 

 

How long have you been ripping up the trails? What is your favorite trail in your hometown of Durango, CO?

I've been running or about 35 years. While I ran trails a bit around my home growing up and in college, I really started running them a lot when I moved to the Tetons in 1997. So, that's almost 19 years of ripping up the trails! My favorite Durango trail is the marathonish distance loop around Engineer Mountain on Coal Bank Pass.

Favorite food?
Donuts, Chocolate/Peanut Butter Ice Cream, Arugula, Broccoli, Radishes (I can't pick just one!). Note, I don't necessarily eat all of those items together.

Arugala, really? Gross Sean.

Hannah Riedl (rhymes with banana beetle) is working on her Masters degree from Colorado State University in Ecology. Her love for the outdoors is contagious. She grew up in Carson City, NV, with Lake Tahoe and the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains as her backyard. Hannah unfortunately will not be with us in Tahoe this year as she's attending a good friends wedding in Montana. We will MISS you HANNAH!!! I was able to track her down for some questions (that wasn't too hard--we live together). 

                                                                                   hannah banana and her mother after backpacking On the Pacific Crest Trail. 

                                                                                   hannah banana and her mother after backpacking On the Pacific Crest Trail. 

Rivers or Mountains?
I would choose a good run along the river over a mountain summit most days, as long as we're talking scree-side to floodplain, singletracky trail--not river path. One of my favorite quotes says, "Humility is the mother of giants; one sees great things from the valley, small things from the peak" (Gilbert Chesterton). To me, it puts things much more into perspective to stand at the base of a mountain mastiff than at the top of it. Following a creek or river makes me feel more a part of the whole tangible valley, instead of just a vacuous view. Plus, then the dog can stay cool and hydrated. Good thing you get to follow rivers up mountains!

Cats or dogs? Why? 
Dogs. They love you unconditionally. Cats are a gamble. They might be too cool for you, a killer, or a sticky snuggler. I would get a black cat though. 

Kevin Bigley, owner of Ascent Physical Therapy, is also an avid trail runner and hosts trail running events through Ascent Run in the Carson City/Lake Tahoe area. Kevin will be at the Tahoe Ultra Camps this June offering a full PT assessment with follow up. Campers will get this service at a reduced rate!

                                                                                                                       Kevin and his wife tammy in costa rica 

                                                                                                                       Kevin and his wife tammy in costa rica 


How long have you been a Physical Therapist? 
I've been practicing Physical Therapy for 22 years. 

Whats your favorite local trail? 
Clear Creek trail. Its right outside my front door! 

Angela "registration goddess" Sullivan is owner of Sun Mountain Yoga in Carson City, NV, and is a certified CoreAlign instructor at Ascent Physical Therapy. Angela is also in charge of registration for the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs. She is an avid trail running and can be found adventuring in the Sierra Nevada Mountains with her dog, Puck. 

                                                                                                                     Angela and her son lucas in nepal

                                                                                                                     Angela and her son lucas in nepal


How long have you been teaching yoga? Where is the coolest place you have traveled? 
25 years teaching with 10 Buddhist practices. 
The coolest place I've traveled is the Lo Mantang seat of the Kingdom of Lo, Upper Mustang, Nepal. This was during the Tibetan Buddhist Saga Dawa Festival, which is the celebration of the Buddha's life. I've also traveled to Mjoifjordur, Westfjords, Iceland on the Greenland Sea with my family during the endless light of Summer Solstice.  And really, any of my secret mountain spots in the High Sierras and central Nevada.   Sometimes the sweetest journey may be incredibly close to home!