Thursday, 28 April 2011

Some Hard Truths


I really must stop being a completely rubbish blogger. You see, I wait for an age then have to cram an entire months worth of running emotions into one post. This is hard.

Hard truths

After the health setback in February I was keen to rebuild my training mile by mile. I needed to tread a fine balance between increasing my fitness and not exhausting an already tired body. Initially, the main problem was getting my mind and body in sync. Throughout the last couple of months it has been very difficult to arrive at the start of a workout with both mind and body feeling fresh and energised. I was feeling constantly tired before and after my runs. I needed help from somewhere and it came from a quote from Tim Noakes’ book Lore of Running. The section on injuries says something like “running injuries [and ailments] are not acts of God”. Of course, this is obvious (especially for an atheist like myself) but its implications are important. It means there is always a reason or reasons for a bad run. These reasons may be difficult to identify but they are always there.

Lying to myself.

To find out my reasons I have to go back to the only real data I have: my training log. Everything else is just speculation and feelings. Since my hospitalisation I have done the following:

1. Tried to increase my weekly mileage from zero to a base level of 30.
2. Increased fell running work.
3. Increased gym work.

My symptoms have been the following:

1. Lack of motivation.
2. Constant tiredness both before and after runs.
3. A mild but persistent head cold.
4. Runners knee, especially after hill work.
5. Very tight calf muscles, especially after hill work.

Now, these symptoms are not just bad luck. As Tim Noakes would say, they are not acts of God. The reason was obvious after looking at my training log and after applying a bit of common sense. You see, I thought it would be relatively easy to build up to 30 miles a week. However, I took a good look at my training log and noticed that I had barely completed two weeks on the trot at that level for the past four months. Four bloody months!! I have consistently been getting up to 30 miles a week and then dropping back down because of injury, laziness or other commitments. The problems with my running have been going on long before my recent health issues. It has just taken up until now for me to realise this. I don’t know why I have been lying to myself. Maybe it’s just a mentality of progression without observation. Silly me. With this information it is easy to see why trying to consistently run a 30 mile week left me constantly exhausted. The key word here is consistency.

I have also been doing lots of fell and hill running. This is partly due to where I now live and partly due to a fascination with that type of running. I have discovered two things. One, fell running is really hard and two, I am absolutely rubbish at it. I had imagined that the transition between road and fell would be fairly smooth but it has simply amplified the inadequacies that already existed in my road training. I just didn’t have the consistency in my road training to suddenly switch to a harder type of running. I wanted to start taking part in some fell races this spring but I am simply not fit enough yet. All those hills have also taken their toll on my legs in aggravating my runner’s knee and leaving my calf muscles very sore. That’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed getting up into the hills. I love the sense of freedom and adventure that it provides. The loneliness of the hills lifts my spirits and instils a sense of calm that is very hard to get anywhere else. I definitely want to do more fell running and doing fell races is still high up on my list of goals.

I have also been trying to go to the gym as much as possible to strengthen those areas of my legs which feel weak when running. So, I would do a run and feel that my quads were weak and then head straight to the gym to try and strengthen them. This would leave them sore for the next run. And so on, and so on. This was causing a downward spiral where I was just tiring out my muscles.


So, on to the solutions. Firstly, I know that I have to cut back on my fell running adventures. I was doing too much too soon. For now, I have restricted myself to one fell run each week with a maximum length of six miles. I have started to do much more road running and the legs have been feeling much better for it. When I build up a CONSISTENT mileage base I will be able to slowly increase the length and frequency of my fell runs. With increased fitness and confidence I will then be able to consider doing some races. I think I have to admit that this is just going to take a few more months than I initially planned. In this instance, slow is good.
I have stopped using the gym as a cure for all my running ills. The strength work has taken a back seat to the running and as a consequence, my legs are feeling much fresher. I am simply doing core work and gently strengthening the quads to try and eliminate my runner’s knee problem. For the moment, I am trying to keep the strength work to a minimum.

Having curbed my over enthusiasm for strength and fell work, I have felt much better during runs. I have limited the number of fell runs to one a week. I have also made sure that my long runs are on flattish terrain.

Good going

The last few weeks have been good going. I’m putting in the miles and enjoying them at the same time. I was watching the London Marathon and decided, quite out of the blue to run a half marathon that afternoon. It was a beautiful day and a wonderful run. I can honestly say it was the easiest half marathon distance I have ever run. It was also the fastest in 1 hour 53 minutes. I still had plenty energy left and this has given me a huge amount of confidence in my running ability. It means that despite all the troubles of the past few months I am fitter now than I was when I ran my last half marathon in January. Progress is progress, no matter how slow.


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