I mentioned a couple of weeks ago why 21 days can be crucial for women starting a training program - even if it doesn't have anything to do with running. That's how long it takes for the first positive physical changes to show. A person who has done only one workout without changing the duration or intensity for that period of time will no longer gain any benefit from it. Of course, I don't know anyone who would do that. Or do I?
I actually have a friend who does the same 5,000-meter course, day in and day out. He came to me once and asked why he couldn't improve his race performances. I took a deep breath, then recommended he consider doing a long, easy run once or twice a week. At first, you would have thought I demanded he sell his mother to the gypsies. He thought about it, told me he'd give it some thought, then continued eating his lunch.
But, getting back to 21 days...after the disastrous training run I had three weeks ago I decided to do a complete reset on my training. That meant I had to discard the idea of the Rock n' Roll - Mardi Gras Marathon; even the half-marathon was out of the question. No racing in the immediate near-term, either. The choice was either to rest or risk a debilitating injury to my achilles tendon. Three weeks of rest or minimal-impact training seemed like a reasonable alternative to surgery, physical therapy and the slight possibility of never being able to run again.
So, I planned my first runs to be little more than easy 20-minute jaunts with a focus on the time rather than the distance. Silly me, I then remembered I was going to lead a hare-and-hounds (hash) run this weekend. I could have driven the course earlier in the day and marked everywhere the "hounds" needed to run. But that would have been cheating.
In light of the injury I don't think anyone would have disagreed with that tactic. But I promised myself and the friends who drew me into hashing I would do things the right way. That meant being an honest "hare" and not pre-laying any of the trail. So, twenty minutes of easy running ended up twice as long. While the average pace (according to my data) was fairly slow it felt like a nearly all-out effort. Must have been the stops I made every 80-to-160 yards to leave a trail marking of some sort. My job was to provide some confusion for the "hounds," but I was suffering from my own form of confusion, that of the cardiorespiratory kind:
Run! Stop! Run! Stop! Turn? Not Yet! Turn here! Mark! Run! Holy cats - who is that guy and how hard did he have to run to catch up with me!? At that point, it was more like Monty Python's knights meeting up with the Killer Rabbit: 'run away, run awayyyy...'
Three weeks of nothing more than elliptical trainer will slow the decline in cardiopulmonary fitness, but that much time off will drop run performance by anywhere between five and seven percent, according to Dr. Jack Daniels, author of "Jack Daniels' Running Formula," which is one of my three most-referred to run training texts. Add to that the sudden change from no impact to impact, and it felt like running the first time all over again.
If you have to take time off from running, the best thing I can remind you is that running is a sport of patience. It takes lots of patience to become a habitual runner; one who runs because they want to, not because someone says they must.
It's so good to be back in the fight, even if it's only twenty minutes at a time, a couple times a week.