Sometimes…Moving Forward Means Looking Back

hamiltonOkay…you’ll have to forgive me.  I’m a bit of a Hamilfan (for those of you not “in the know”…that means I’m a fan of the musical Hamilton.  So…the start of this blog is going to be a bit of an homage to the musical.  If you know the music…you’ll get it.  If you don’t…keep reading and then go check it out.  It will change your life.

[ME]

You’re a runner.  Of course!  I’m a runner
God, I wish there was a race!
Then we could prove to everyone
That we’ve got a fast race pace…

[RUNNER]

Can I buy you a drink?

[ME]

That would be nice.

[RUNNER]

While we’re talking, let me offer you some free advice.
Train slow.

[ME]

What?

[RUNNER]

Run more.

[ME]

Ha.

[RUNNER]

Don’t let an injury set you back or make you sore.

[ME]

You can’t be serious.

[RUNNER]

Then let me reassert…

[ME]

Yes.

[RUNNER]

Always run hard and you’ll end up hurt.

*END SCENE*

~*~*~

Did I lose you?  I hope not, because what I am about to say is actually rather important.  I just sometimes have a hard time getting to the heart of the matter.

For the better part of the beginning of 2017, I was injured…again…

And…for once it had nothing to do with the amount or intensity of my runs.  Well…not exactly.  When I went home for Christmas, I continued with my training schedule…except the neighborhood where my parents live is hella hilly.  I mean, you literally can’t NOT run hills when you are there.  So, for pretty much the entire few days I was there, my runs were full of hills.  And my left hip flexor started to complain at me on the last morning I ran there.  I shrugged it of and boarded my plane back to the Louisville area.  I took my usual rest days, and went out for my morning runs, which during my warmups, I would note a slight twinging in my left leg, but nothing that was crippling.  My cadence and my pace seemed off for me though.  Some stretches and rolling and I was on the road to Columbus, Ohio for my New Years celebration at my friend, Jenn’s.

I know, I’ve pretty much gone over this before, but I am making a point…so, please…don’t tune out yet…

It was after a 14 mile run that I started to feel some pain in my left hip (the one opposite the one that suffered a labrum tear last year.  I hobbled through the rest of the day, took some Aleve with dinner that night, and felt a little better in the morning.  I managed to get through my 6 miles of speed work (I thought to do it at Jenn’s because her neighborhood is SO flat it is great for speed work), but didn’t quite hit the pace.  I missed it…just barely.  Upon returning home, I managed one more 6 mile run before it all went to hell.  My hip was not happy on that run and the following morning, a cross-training day, I found that I couldn’t even do my physical therapy exercises.  Sadly, my orthopedic doctor couldn’t see me before I jetted off to Disneyland for a 10K and half marathon race.  I survived those, although I still don’t know how I managed those times, but I think it was sheer stubbornness and the unwillingness to stop because I knew if I did, I’d never start running again.  That and my orthopedic doctor’s magic cocktail of 2 Tylenol & 2 Ibuprofen…3 times a day.  And KT Tape and ACE Bandages.

We all know what happened from there, but as the wait to see the orthopedic doctor took forever, and then the actual getting back to some semblance of running (first by not limping, then on the Alter-G, and then on roads…with very low mileage and with a super easy pace for me)…I decided I needed to go back and reflect on the one and only year where I wasn’t injured.  At all.

2013.

When I was training for my first full marathon.

I went back to my training journals.  This is why I keep a paper training log.  Because it gives me immediate access to the things I was doing that kept me uninjured and running strong, if nothing else.

I had become a member of a Distance Runner group, which, after the Boston Marathon bombings, branched off into a great group of runners who were seeking to qualify to Boston.  I hoped to do it sometime, so I joined.  These Boston Qualify Seeking Distance Runners, as I said, were fantastic people and runners, most of which I still speak to and am in touch with today.  But as we all geared up to train for our BQ attempts, it became a matter of how fast can you run your runs.  And while the pace of my weekday runs started to speed up, even on easy days, my long runs were much slower.  Like WAY slower.  I put a lot of quality speed into my speed work days (fartleks, tempo, intervals), posting pics of my Garmin with the best of them on the group.  But while they were all rocking out long runs at or near their race pace, I was running with a group that trained a little more deliberately.  I never really posted the Garmin shot on my long runs, and would often find myself wishing I could post training runs as fast as they were.  They were going to be so ready for Boston.  But, this was also my first marathon…so I didn’t expect the magic to happen that quickly.  I stuck to my plan, kept training with the more deliberate group, and got through June through October without hitches.  AND…get this…there were times I was doing a long run on Saturday and then another one on Sunday.  My legs never felt tired or like I was doing too much, because the paces I did these runs was so much slower than I would have run if I had been on my own.

Part of doing the back-to-back long runs was that I had signed up for the inaugural Dopey Challenge at Disney World…and I figured that was good practice.  Part of it was just loving to be able to run with people.  My friends were slaughtering their long runs…and I was just sort of cruising through them.  Weekend after weekend.

And I was never injured.

What has occurred to me as I reflected on my best year of running and racing was…

Most runners, including myself, train too hard, too often.

We all get wrapped up in those numbers, how they might look on social media, to our peers, to people who *gasp* run faster than us already.  No quality runner that I know judges their fellow runners by their training and race paces.  But, to runners, those numbers are our Bible.  And, we’re all guilty of the comparison game.  I know I am.  We love showing off our good runs, but what about the average…or not so good ones?  Why was I so frustrated and embarrassed with my slow runs on those long run days?

Little did I know, I was training smart and training properly.  Low-intensity training allows an athlete to gain fitness without overstressing the body.  Doing too much high-intensity training can cause your body to not be able to absorb all the stress being applied to it and turn it into fitness.  If you fatigue your body too much, too often, you run the risk of compromising your performance, your workouts, and possibly leading to injury.  The entire point of the long run is not to bust it out at race pace, but to get your endurance up, get you used to being on your feet for a long amount of time.

In fact, most of my long runs going into the Chicago Marathon were done at a slow pace.  There were a few weeks where certain miles were to be done at marathon pace…and I managed to rock those out.  And come the beginning of October…I lined up at the start line of the Chicago Marathon…ran strong…ran far…

AND QUALIFIED FOR BOSTON.

My first marathon.  My first BQ.  And I did it because I didn’t race all of my runs.  Speed work and quality runs are important, yes…but make them something you do once a week…and run those other runs at a much more deliberate and easy pace.  You shouldn’t be embarrassed to train slow.  In fact, I do believe it was training like this that got me to that start line safely, uninjured, and feeling strong and prepared.

Yes, high-intensity training is very important to training as well, but a relatively little amount goes a long way.  Here is one case where more is definitely not better.  There is no need to unnecessarily tax your body when you should be taking it easy.  I know…it sounds counterintuitive, especially in running when the entire goal is to reach the finish line in the fastest time you can, but…honestly…proper training means getting through the slow, the fast, the easy and the hard.  But you have to hit on every spectrum to become a better, more efficient, and…uninjured runner.

I have been sidelined every year since 2013’s Chicago Marathon.  I also attempted to run way more marathons in a year than was good for my body…but that’s another story.  That being said, after this last round with my hip flexor in January…I’m making a more conscious effort to train smarter.  Some of it is fear.  Not fear that someone will judge my training pace as being too little.  But fear of ending up with a worse injury…something that isn’t as easy to work around or get through.

I was lucky.  This time around, my hip labrum wasn’t the issue, although I fretted for a month that it was.  You have to keep your body moving forward, but turn down that intensity.  Seriously, you’ll reap serious benefits and rewards simply by slowing down.

Trust me…I’m the poster child for this, apparently!

And those training paces that you used to brag about on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or other social media…forget about it.  Those numbers shouldn’t be bragging rights or your sense of worth in the running community.  The running community is awesome because it embraces everyone, all shapes, sizes and paces.  These times, distances, paces…these are your records of your progress.  You shouldn’t feel like you need to post only your best, fastest times for those who follow you on social media, or make excuses for runs that you deem as too slow.  Nope…these numbers are much more valuable and important than that.  It’s fine if you want to share your stats…I’m not condoning that.  Lord knows, I’ve done my share in the past.  But…do NOT base your self-worth as a runner on these numbers.  Don’t run hard every time you run.  Don’t try to overdo what you are capable of doing.  And NEVER PR a training run.  Save that for race day.  If you PR a training run, you’re not training right!

In the end…running to much, running too hard…is running your body into the ground.  And, I, for one, am tired of injury after injury.

So, to my speedy friends who I could keep up with or even outrun at times, my apologies…because I am stepping my long runs down this training season.  My long runs will be quality, long slow distances.  As they should be.  Some might have miles at race pace…but for the most part, I’m returning to how I trained for Chicago the first time around…as I gear up to run Chicago again this October.

This is NOT easy for me to do.  My legs know one speed…fast…especially when I’m on my own.  So, I do hope to find some people to hold me back and keep me accountable this summer as I work through my training and get to that start line, once again feeling confident and prepared.

Like I said…sometimes moving forward means looking back.

Maybe there really is magic in those easy, deliberate paced runs.

I ask you to consider this the next time you put that Garmin on and head out the door for an “easy” run.

giphy104

“Always enjoy yourself.  Don’t be upset if you don’t win, you’ve won by simply not giving up.” – Unknown

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2 thoughts on “Sometimes…Moving Forward Means Looking Back

  1. Great post, as usual!! And excellent advice! Lately my left knee has been bothering me. I’m not in pain (although I have an extremely high pain threshold, so I wouldn’t know if I was in pain lol) it just feels like it’s not connecting right or something. I’m doing more limping than smooth running.
    Just realized how very old my shoes are, and went to Pacers today. My IT band feels very tight, so I’m going to commit to foam rolling regularly. Don’t know what else to do. I’m going to take 3 days off from running and do recumbent cycling at the gym and stretching.

    Hoping for great things for your running this year Karen!! I’m proud of you for taking such good care of your body. You’re an inspiration to me!!
    Prayers for your complete healing!!

    • Thank you so much, lovely!! It’s funny how runners fall into 2 camps…those who listen to their body and those who don’t. We’ve discussed it earlier…a run is NOT worth a lifetime of injury/pain. The problem I have, it seems, is my body doesn’t alert me to a problem until it is already a problem. BUT…I am hoping that my return to my original approach to running helps get some of these kinks out.

      You’re an inspiration to me too, lady!! So glad we’ve met!

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