By Jodi Weiss
A few years ago, I started pulling a tire back and forth over a local bridge as part of my endurance training, and as you can imagine, it encouraged some interesting remarks from passersby. “I think there’s something chasing you,” to “Let me sit in there,” to “My dog would love you to pull him around,” were the norm. Sure, I felt ridiculous dragging my tire at times, but living in flatlander Florida, I also believed that lugging a tire was a way for me to prepare for running hilly ultramarathons (races beyond the marathon distance of 26.2) outside of Florida. Truth be told, I had abandoned my hot-pink painted tire for the past year, until this fall, when I started to work with Dreamchaser Coach and endurance athlete extraordinaire Lisa Smith-Batchen, to prepare for the Brazil 135 ultramarathon. Lisa reintroduced tire pulling to my weekly training, and suffice to say, it was just the right formula, along with hill repeats and running, to get me across the finish line of the most mountainous race of my ultra-career to date!
The Queen of the Tire Pull
While Lisa Smith-Batchen notes that she by no means invented tire training, she started to incorporate it into her own training after 1983, and included it in her coaching students’ training schedules shortly thereafter. Her brother’s ice hockey coach used to implement it into his teams’ training, and she had also seen race horses in Driggs, Idaho train by pulling a tire. If it was good training to keep race horses strong, Lisa figured it would certainly build strength in humans. “It helps to train one’s core, develop strength, and in some capacity it teaches athletes proper form for running uphill and downhill.” According to Lisa, there’s not that many other activities that work one’s core, glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calf muscles while helping one to attain proper running posture, which is upright with a slight forward lean. “The great thing about training with a tire is that when you take it off, you feel lighter and move faster!”
This April, Lisa, who among other feats, was the first American woman to win the grueling six-day Marathon des Sables across the Sahara, in addition to two first-place finishes at Badwater 135 across Death Valley, will Run the Nation to raise funds for the band Imagine Dragons children’s pediatric cancer foundation, The Tyler Robinson Foundation (www.trf.org). You can bet that tire pulling has been an integral part of her training plan to get her ready for the 3,100 mile trek from California to New York, during which she intends to average 68 miles a day for roughly 46 days in an attempt to break the Transcontinental coast-to-coast speed record. Lisa has gone so far as to pull a tire for a 100 miles from West Yellowstone, Montana to the base of the Teton mountain range in Driggs, Idaho. But don’t let the 100 miles of tire pulling scare you away! Lisa is clear that tire training is about quality of workout versus quantity.
The Tire-Pulling Plan
Lisa currently trains pulling a tire two to three days a week, typically for short endurance bouts in the four-mile range, and most of her coaching students have some tire pulling in their schedules, depending on their upcoming races and goals.
How does one get started? First, it’s all about finding the right-sized tire. One’s size and weight as well as what one is training for are critical to determining the appropriate tire size. 13, 14, or 15 inch rim diameter will work. As per Lisa’s suggestion, the bigger you are, the bigger you may want to go with your tire, but the key is not to start out with a tire that induces any pain. “Pain is not good!” she stresses. “Fatigue is a great byproduct of tire pulling, but fatigue is not to be confused with pain.” Fatigue is what endurance athletes typically experience at the mid-way point of a long-distance race and beyond. Experience with fatigue is a great help for getting athletes through endurance events, especially 100 milers.
Lisa emphasizes that less is more when it comes to tire pulling, and that it’s critical to increase distance, as well as tire size/weight, incrementally. Once you have a tire, the next step is to set up your contraption. Purchasing a Tire Pull Kit (details below), is a great and safe way to commence. Then it’s time to get outside. At the onset, Lisa suggests power walking with the tire for ¼ mile and then to power walk for ¼ mile without it to feel the difference. If that feels okay, repeat it for a few times, and then call it a day until the next time.
How soon will you feel the benefits? “Right away,” Batchen said. “It’s an effective and inexpensive form of cross training for all athletes.” If you experience any pain, find a lighter tire. Work on your pulling posture. It should not hurt your back.
Apparatus: The Tire-Trainer Kit
Vincent Antunez, an ultra-runner and President of Trail Toes, LLC , which makes the quintessential anti-friction foot cream and body cream for runners, is the creator of the Tire-Trainer. Vincent, who has completed several endurance events himself—the Four Deserts, Marathon Des Sables, Grand to Grand, and several in Europe—was inspired by Lisa Smith-Batchen to start pulling a tire as training. His Tire-Trainer creation was the result of his not being able to find the right product on the market.
According to Vincent, “there are many different designs in use, but there was no complete system that one could procure, off the shelf.” Creating the Tire-Trainer became a fun endeavor that involved hours at Lowe’s and Home Deport trying to piecemeal the right items for his concept. Eventually, Vincent created a working prototype. The next step was to develop an efficient system to help athletes to develop a stronger core while simultaneously improving their overall cardiovascular endurance. Customer safety is Vincent’s key priority. “I am proud of the craftsmanship that goes into each of the ropes and bungees that I personally make.” Each kit includes all you need to assemble your tire puller, minus the tire. For that, you can use an old tire that you may have in your garage, or visit a junk yard or even a tire shop and ask them for a leftover.
In support of Lisa Smith-Batchen’s upcoming Run the Nation, Trail Toes will offer a 10% Dreamchasers discount code to help raise money for The Tyler Robinson Foundation.
Be prepared when you hit the road lugging your tire for stares, photo ops by passersby, and comments. It’s also likely that your neighbors will think something is not quite right with you when they see you passing by. To add some flavor to your tire, you can paint it a favorite shade. Most importantly, be safe and have fun!