Troubleshooting on the Run, Part Two

In Part One of this Troubleshooting on the Run series, we began discussing remedies for some of the most common race-day blunders and maladies, while this series wraps up with Part Three.

Included in this article is another set of ultrarunning problems we hope to help you sort out. Topics covered include:

Katharina Hartmuth - 2023 Trail World Championships 80k - running at 24k

Katharina Hartmuth racing the 2023 Trail World Championships 80k. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Foot Problems

To continue moving, we must maintain the health and durability of our feet. Runners are no strangers to cuts, bruises, and other bodily irritations. However, if we develop these on our feet, we can kiss our race finish goodbye or, at the very least, expect to suffer greatly through the rest of the event. We can do a few things to reduce our chances of developing debilitating blisters and macerated skin.

  • Though it’s a popular habit, never wear new shoes or socks on race day. Ensure that you’ve tested them beforehand for proper fit. As well, consider race-day conditions when choosing your footwear. For example, don’t be caught out on a wet and cold course with shoes and socks that may reduce circulation, retain water, or provide little warmth.
  • Become familiar with your feet. Know where on your feet and under what conditions problems regularly surface. Apply powders, Squirrel’s Nut Butter, Vaseline, or protective moleskin or athletic tapes to sensitive areas before the race.
  • Beat the issues to the punch. If you begin to feel a hot spot developing, stop as soon as possible and address the situation. Placing extra socks and a change of shoes in your drop bags is an excellent preventative measure. Moisture-wicking running socks will absorb excess water from wet skin, and a new pair of shoes can change stresses and rub patterns on your feet.
  • John Vonhof, the author of “Fixing Your Feet” – a must-have book for runners — suggests using gaiters to keep debris from entering the shoe, experimenting with lacing systems, exploring the use of custom or over-the-counter orthotics, and maintaining a proper hydration regime to ward off bad foot juju.
Best Running Socks - Injinji Run Lightweight Mini-Crew

Take care of those feet! Photo: iRunFar/Alli Hartz

Chafing

Though not as devastating as foot damage, chafing can turn an enjoyable race into a complete nightmare. Whether the cause is from clothing, a pack or running belt, or the build-up of grime and salt, the best course of action is to modify or adjust the offending item. Cover the irritated spot with athletic tape, bandages, or lubrication. Carry a small stick of Squirrel’s Nut Butter with you and change clothes if necessary.

Here’s iRunFar’s deep dive into how to prevent chafing while running in the first place.

Running at Night

Many ultramarathons begin or finish well after sundown, making a well-dialed lighting system vital. Being able to see the trail clearly will save you time and prevent unnecessary tumbles. When shopping for a good, trail-worthy light, consider these options:

  • Handheld versus headlamps – Most trail runners prefer hands-free lighting. This enables you to carry a water bottle, fumble with zippers, give high fives, and catch yourself if you take a spill.
  • 300 to 400 lumens – I wasn’t blessed with good night vision. While I’ve found even lower levels of lamp brightness allow me to run aggressively on most trail terrain, 300 to 400 lumens should handle nearly all on-trail running situations.
  • Battery life – The majority of 100-mile runners are on course from dusk to dawn. In the winter months, this could mean up to 14 hours or more in the dark! Don’t skimp on lights that have poor battery life. However, no matter the specifications, carry extra batteries and place extras in your drop bags.
  • Weight – Whether you decide to carry or wear your lamp, weight matters. A sufficient running lamp should come in at around three to six ounces.
  • Power settings – Useful LED headlamps will have more than one power setting. A low power setting will enable you to save battery life on smooth sections of tread and while at aid stations. High-powered options will allow you to light up technical trails and cast a farther beam when searching for course markings.
  • Adjustable angled lamp – Being able to toggle the angle of your light will be helpful as we are not all built the same.

For most, more light is better. Try running with two headlamps, one on your head and one around your waist. This setup will cast different angled shadows on the rocks, roots, bumps, and dips in the trail. You’ll also be able to turn one light off, still see the ground, and not blind your pacer, crew, or aid station volunteer. You’ll also be wearing your backup light.

Over the years, iRunFar has developed a series of resources about running at night.

Transgrancanaria 2022 - Night - Abby Hall

Abby Hall using a two-light setup en route to finishing second at the 2022 Transgrancanaria. Photo: Jordi Saragossa

Murphy’s Law

We’re all familiar with the adage, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Have you ever run out of nutrition or water during one of your races? No matter how much we pre-plan, stuff happens. Aid stations can be farther apart than advertised, drop bags go missing, or once-reliable water sources are mysteriously turned off or dried up.

If you are out of water or nutrition during an organized event, do not sacrifice your health for a race result. Slow your pace and effort until you can refuel. In dire circumstances, stop and take shelter along the course and wait for another runner to give or send for help.

What if you find your drop bag missing or the aid station is stocked with unfamiliar foods, which is almost guaranteed if you race internationally? Remain calm and do not take this inconvenience out on the volunteers. You may just have to eat some new foods if you wish to continue. Chances are you’ll be fine if you do.

Fastest known time (FKT) attempts and self-supported adventure runs are very popular. These kinds of outings are even more risky because they lack aid stations and are often done solo, possibly with nobody tracking your whereabouts. We shouldn’t fear these grand treks, but here are some simple safety precautions:

  • Submit a run plan to several family members or friends, including the route, start time, and estimated finish time.
  • Take a well-prepared friend along with you.
  • Know the terrain and weather patterns.
  • Carry a personal locator beacon.
  • Pack more food, batteries, and clothes than you think you’ll need, and know how to use a reliable water purifying system.

Trailside Litter

We’ve all seen litter on the trails, a used gel wrapper, a wadded tissue, banana peels, or an orange skin. What do you do? Whether you’re running first or last, you pick up the trash and certainly don’t add to the mess. There is such a thing as trail karma, and I invite you to test the theory. Next time you’re at a race or on your favorite trail and see someone else’s garbage, pick it up. You’ll be glad you did.

trail runner running in open valley in mountains.

Always try to leave the trail better than you found it. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Race-Day Diarrhea

Kristina Folcik from New Hampshire won my attention with her reader comment, “Pooping, relentless diarrhea from mile 16 to the finish. It is making race day so stressful. Horrible lower abdomen cramps followed by having to go every 5 to 10 miles. Help me!” Several things may be going on here.

  • Both pre-race and race-day diets must be investigated. What are you ingesting differently on race day that you aren’t during training? Explore the possibility that you may have a food allergy. Eliminate suspect foods from your diet like soy, wheat, eggs, and dairy if you’re struggling with this on a regular basis. Be systematic and keep a food log.
  • Examine your race-day effort level. High-intensity running can certainly cause intestinal distress. Practice race pace and conditions during training and test foods and their frequency of use during those workouts.
  • Today, we can pop a pill for most ailments, and there are several drugs that will ease gastrointestinal upset. However, I suggest we find the underlying problem before settling indefinitely on the medication “cure.” Through this process, we may not only find the cause of the gastrointestinal problems, but we may also uncover other health issues that may further improve your quality of life.
  • If all available solutions have failed, see your doctor. It’s not so rare that we could be harboring a parasite or evil gut bacteria.

In Part Three, I cover trail-side bathroom etiquette, wildlife encounters, equipment malfunctions, evaluating mid-race injuries, what you can do if you miss your crew, and what to do if your pacer turns out to be more than you bargained for.

[Editor’s Note: As one of iRunFar’s best training articles, we’ve worked with author Ian Torrence to update this article before resharing it.]

Call for Comments

  • Have you found yourself troubleshooting any of the issues Ian covers here?
  • If so, how did you resolve your problem?
Yngvild Kaspersen - 2023 CCC champion

Whether running the CCC in Chamonix, France, or a race close to home, problem-solving is a key part of ultramarathon success. Photo: UTMB


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