Ask the Coach: First Ultra Training

Matt Hart January 17th, 2013

I’m training for my first trail ultra, I’m training for my first trail ultra, and have worked up to a long run of 18 miles. My legs feel strong, but on runs approaching three hours, I get really ache-y, especially my upper and lower back. What do you recommend?                 
Susan Maccall, Madison, WI

Strength training offers trail runners many benefits, and your situation is a great example of why. If you ignore strength work while increasing running volume, you can experience sub-par performances or, worse, a broken body.

It appears you may have developed postural-strength deficiencies. This means that the muscles required to keep you erect and in an efficient biomechanical position for running lack the necessary endurance. Sports Performance Coach Tim Sinnett of Integral Evolution Fitness, says, “Low back pain is common among runners and is typically the result of a weak core and/or improper pelvic position, which is usually related to a weak core.”

To address these issues start with some “pillar-strength” exercises, which include the full complement of plank poses. These isometric exercises involve contracting your muscles in place while the joints remain still. I also have clients do a set of exercises called WYLIT, on a stability ball. Lying stomach down on a ball, toes on the floor you work through spelling the letters
W.Y.L.I.T with your arms.

Finally breakdowns in good running form can exacerbate the postural issues. Have a professional examine your running biomechanics to determine whether you exhibit excessive pelvic tilt, which is where the front of your pelvis is tilted down more than about five degrees for men, 10 degrees for women. Sinnett adds, “Even with a strong core, if you slip into a major anterior pelvic tilt, you’re going to get some back tightness and pain.”

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