Chinese medicine for ultrarunners

There will be no shortage of ultrarunners training in and around Southwest Montana this spring with three of the big “local” races already full – the 2016 Bighorn Mountain Wild & Scenic Trail Run 100 MilerThe Rut 50K, and The Devil’s Backbone 50 Miler.

running mountains

The challenge for many will entail not only the obvious physical and mental demands of ultrarunning, but the commitment to train with a balanced approach. Consider two major themes of Chinese medicine: Moderation and prevention.

It’s not always easy to know when enough is enough
“Is it possible to love this sport too much?” was the question posed in the June 2015 Outside Magazine article on overtraining syndrome (OTS).1 As far back as 1990, scientific research articles existed on the subject of overtraining and there was a consensus that “undertraining is better than overtraining, and this seems to be the surest way of avoiding prolonged fatigue.”2 I’m not debating whether “fatigue” is synonymous with “OTS” but for the middle-of-the-pack runner like myself there is little difference.

My run with ultras
Running the New York City Marathon in 2005 ranks as the coolest big city experience I’ve ever had. Period. But my heart belongs on trails not asphalt and my body is made more for endurance than speed.
So after a few Bridger Ridge Run finishes, I thought I’d challenge myself to go farther: Bighorn 50K in 2008; Le Grizz 50 miler in 2009; and Bighorn 100 Miler in 2010. I DNF’d the latter at mile 58 in the morning light with a tibialis anterior injury. Less specific were the effects on my body as a whole. I will never know for sure if my running long distances might have impacted my fertility
I haven’t done anything longer than the Bridger Ridge Run since, but I still dream that some day I’ll redeem myself in the Bighorns. That decision will come with a price: Save my ability to age gracefully or have the experience of a lifetime. At this point, I truly do not know which I will choose.

Signs of overtraining
While OTS is a term most often reserved for the elite,1 overtraining is relative and runners of all abilities should be aware of these possible signs of overtraining:
Brain fog
Diminished libido
Excessive sweating
Generalized fatigue
Heart palpitations
Insomnia, including difficulty staying sleep
Malar flush (red cheeks)
Numbness in extremities

How Chinese medicine can help
One symptom does not make a pattern. In combination, however, seemingly unrelated symptoms such as some of those above can help uncover what Chinese medicine calls patterns of disharmony – even if blood tests, MRIs, etc. yield no definitive diagnosis.
Fortunately, the patterns of disharmony experienced by athletes are eminently treatable with acupuncture and properly prescribed Chinese herbs. “Integrating Oriental medicine and strength and conditioning can be invaluable for an athlete’s optimum performance level during training sessions, thus minimizing overtraining and potential injury.”3


Local ultras still open
For runners still looking for an ultra challenge, the Old Gabe 50KElkhorn 50K and 50 Miler  and Le Grizz 50 Miler are still open as of today!

Balancing running, rest and recovery

No matter one’s speed in finishing these races, it’s crucial to not overdo it in training. Consider the thousands-year-old advice advocating moderation and prevention as a reminder to balance training with adequate rest and recovery.

The Perks of Volunteering

For Big Sky Wind Drinker (BSWD) members who volunteer for a 2016 BSWD fun run or race, receive a free acupuncture session: My gift to Bozeman area runners who give back.