This week marks, more or less, the 52nd week since my most painful two weekends of running in nearly two decades of the activity. I ran a half marathon almost a year ago which was actually an enjoyable first eight kilometers, followed by a very uncomfortable fourteen. Not to be outdone, the next weekend's (scheduled) 16-mile training run transformed into a tale of two loops; one good, and one terrible.
Since that harrowing fortnight I've been on the mend. I've tried to do as many things as "right" as possible, in the hope I can return to full-fledged running craziness. There have been good days/weeks and bad runs/recoveries, transitions and changes, and - most of all - a changed philosophy about my own training.
This week was the first of a three-week cycle where the running or non-impact exercise was scheduled for fifty minutes. Everything went fine yesterday, mostly because it was a non-impact day. Today, on the other hand...
...well, let's call it a bad day. I felt beat-up at the two-mile point on the run, and had to shut down at the thirty-minute mark. I walked the additional twenty minutes so as to say I did fifty minutes of some sort of exercise. One thing I made the conscious effort not to do, this time, was to berate myself or punish myself for not being able to complete the run...at least beyond thirty seconds, and the time taken to mark my calendar entry with a yellow highlighter.
Too many runners are more likely, in the wake of a poor workout effort, to redouble their effort the next day. If the schedule called for an easier effort run, they most likely would scrap that effort to take the previous day's run on, just once more.
Don't do it. The best solution for a bad day is another day.
If the offending workout is a series of repeats, save it for the next speed work day...or leave it be. If a long run, do it on another course, or do the same course which kicked your tail before. But "a steak and a nap," an old friend's way of saying "be good to yourself," will give you time to look at some of the things which might be going wrong.
It could be something as simple as wearing the wrong pair of shoes, the wrong shirt (if you sweat like I do, that's more important than you think), or, strangely enough, the wrong terrain.
Who knew that a mulch-covered trail could cause me such pain?
It flies in the face of conventional wisdom passed along by generations of runners and coaches: Softer surfaces are better for distance running. That's why the Kenyans are such great distance runners, right? That's why ultradistance events are on trails, right? I guess not.
Exercise researchers, interviewed for a (July 19, 2011) New York Times article, concluded there was no direct correlation between running regularly on soft surfaces and decreased tendency toward musculoskeletal injuries. In fact, the researchers found that runners tend to adjust to the surface on the fly in order to maintain a consistent ground reaction (impact) force. So, we're less stiff when we run on a roadway, but our legs stiffen when we hit the softer surfaces.
So, from where does the discomfort, or injury come? Like any situation where one of my athletes has complained of aches and pains, I start to look at what was recently added to the training regimen. Running one day on a treadmill, the next on a mulch trail, and perhaps two days after on an asphalt roadway, may have caused too much "confusion." Simply put, there was too much new stress in the past couple of days for this (nearly-50-year-old) body to adapt.
It doesn't mean I can't run on the mulch trail. Just that I need to add the trail in smaller doses. Once again, at least in my case, the best solution for a bad day on the trail is to schedule the trail for some other day.