If you are a runner, you know what it is to experience set-back. It's inevitable. You feel great, and set out with optimism for a long run, only to have an injury flare up and stop you in your tracks after only a few km. Or you push yourself too hard with speed or distance and end up needing to take a week off. Or your really injure yourself, your training gets derailed, and you find yourself far short of your goals for the season, which is how my year has played out.
As I discussed in my last post, I spent my spring and summer struggling with shin splints and foot pain as a result of improper foot wear. These injuries proved to be the undoing of my training plan, and a serious setback to my distance goals from the year. I ran my second half marathon in the spring, before my injuries had become too serious. The race went well, and I managed to shave 10 minutes off my previous time. Filled with the optimism that inevitably accompanies a successful run, I immediately registered in the Victoria Marathon, which gave me 5 months to train. I sat down and devised a detailed training plan, and looked forward to a summer of gradually building up to my first marathon!
As the state of my legs and feet deteriorated, so did my running and my training plan. I couldn't amass enough distance to improve, and couldn't seem to break through the 10 km barrier. However, I remained optimistic, hoping that my problems would resolve themselves, and that I'd be able to salvage my training and run the marathon. It wasn't until mid July, after 3 months of unsuccessful physio sessions that I completely surrendered all hope of completing the full marathon, and downgraded my registration to the half marathon. I was terribly disappointed, as I knew it would be quite some time before I had another chance to run a full marathon, and I'd really wanted this to be "my year". But I was also realistic enough to realize that, in the shape I was in, I'd be lucky if I could even pull off completing a half marathon. And after all, is a half marathon really something to sneeze at? I think not! So I dusted off my injured pride, and set out to make the best of the situation. At the risk of sounding trite and slightly Erma Bombeckish, I've always believed that if you can squeeze something positive out of a bad situation, then you've really come out ahead.
So what are the positives I manage to extract from this situation?
1 . Knowledge. Because i was determined that this injury was not going to be the end of my running career, I began to research. I spent hours pouring over forums, sports medicine web pages, anatomy books, running books, and picking the brain of anyone who would talk to me about sports related injury. I learned a great deal about injuries, how to prevent them, and how to deal with them when they did happen. This research led me to discover many methods for speeding recovery and caring for an injury, such as compression sleeves, icing, foam rollers and taping. I learned the benefits of building core strength, and which areas of my body I should work to strengthen in order to circumvent injury. I researched shoes obsessively, and probably know more about the current footwear available, and which shoes are appropriate for which types of runners, than do the staff at most running stores.
2. Mindfulness. Finding my miracle shoes was really only half the battle. It's a basic fact that your running shoes are only as good as your form. I never put a great deal of thought into my form until I started going to physio, and the therapist emphasized how important good form is to injury free running. While I've never been a heavy heel striker, I knew I had a great deal room to improve my form. I started reading about Chi Running, and other forms of "natural running", which I believed would complement my new footwear. I spent many hours reading barefoot and natural running forums, and watched countless YouTube videos demonstrating a natural gait compatible with minimal footwear. I slowly incorporated these techniques into my running, and my runs began to improve steadily, both in terms of comfort and efficiency. Form is now at the forefront of my mind while I'm running. I am in a constant state mindfulness while I run; looking for pain, counting my cadence, checking my gait, making sure my core is engaged and my pelvis leveled, pulling my shoulders back and my head up, relaxing my arms, concentrating on landing softly on my mid foot. I am always aware of any little tweaks that might turn into something more serious. I know immediately if I need to pull back a bit, or if I can afford to push myself a little bit harder. I'm able to avoid losing my form at the end of a run when I'm really fatigued, which is the time when many runners start to get sloppy and inattentive. When I return from a hard run, I know immediately which areas of my body need the most post-run attention. This awareness has made me a much more efficient runner. My recovery time is much shorter than it used it used to be. I'm usually able to assess my pain and determine if it's normal pain resulting from a hard workout, or something more serious that I need to really focus on. When you are able to listen to and interpret what your body is trying to tell you, you'll be much less prone to injury.
3. Patience. This has been by far the most difficult lesson for me to learn with regard to running. My tendency has always been to run as far and as fast as I can before hitting the wall and collapsing. I'd always tried to increase my load as much as possible each week, assuming this was the only way to improve my endurance. If I had a bad run and couldn't run as far as I had hoped, I'd be discouraged and feel like the run had been a waste of time. Well, nothing slows you down like an injury, and when you've been slowed down, you can respond in one of two ways. You can try to battle through the pain and push yourself even harder, which slows the healing process, puts you at risk of exacerbating your injuries, and can lead to new injuries. OR, you can be patient. You can focus on your injuries and what you can do to overcome them. You can start with short runs and back off when things start to hurt. I went with option number one for the first little while, until I realized that my injuries were getting worse and my running was not improving. This lesson instilled in me a more gradual and conservative approach to running. I've been building up my mileage very slowly, and backing off when I need to, especially now that my injuries are starting to improve. I'm no longer afraid to take a few days off if my legs feel tired, and I certainly don't feel that a short run is a wasted run. I've started to accept that not every run is going to be stellar, and no longer feel discouraged if I can't accomplish the distance I set out to run. Not only has my endurance improved with the arrival of this new, more relaxed attitude, but I find I enjoy running a great deal more when I'm not focused solely on pounding out a predetermined amount of kilometers. I now enjoy running for its own sake, for the experience of the run, the beauty of the scenery I'm moving through, and the way my body feels when it's moving down the road. I know that if I keep working away at it, I'll eventually arrive at my desired level of fitness, and I'll be able to run a successful and enjoyable marathon. I'm aiming to reach my full marathon goal at the Vancouver Marathon in May. In the meantime, I have the Victoria half coming up on October 7th, and the Fall Classic half in November. I'm not anticipating a PR or particularly stellar time, but I intend to enjoy every minute of each race as well as the pain, sweat and joy of training.
So, as you can see, while my season did not go at all the way I'd planned, and I experienced a great deal of pain and frustration, I think I came out ahead in the bargain. I've gained a lot of knowledge and skills that will make me a much better runner in the long run. I've changed my running philosophy from focusing on putting in the miles, to running for running for the joy of running, and getting the most out of each session. I also get to enjoy that wonderfully smug feeling that comes when you're able to benefit from a bad situation!
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