Last Sunday was marked as a "rest day" on the training calendar. Since the weather was so nice I decided to walk the eight-mile course; you can never tell when a day like that is going to come around. Besides, I needed to break in the pair of running shoes I purchased the day before.
I put on a well-padded pair of socks (I wasn't wearing the silicone heel lifts I wear for running) and snugly tied down the laces before stepping off with our little group of walkers and joggers.
Everything went well for about the first two miles, after which all hell broke loose in the right heel and ankle. It did not resemble the pain or discomfort of a hot spot/blister, but more like the intense pain which comes from an unhappy tendon...the continuing saga of my achilles tendon recovery.
At this time I run an average of 30-to-35 minutes a day for three days with a day of rest in between. It's likely my body has learned to tolerate the pounding for that exact period of 35 minutes and not that much more.
It makes perfect sense, come to think of it. When I gave my wife the 15-minute head start and then ran my 30-minute workout a couple of Sundays ago, there was that little pop in my ankle not long after. So perhaps the mind has more to do with how well we handle physical stress than we like to think.
I explained this to someone the other day, "...back when I was running 'well,' finishing 10-kilometer races in the 37-to-40 minute range, I would feel beat-up after it was all said and done. The first time I decided to walk a 10-kilometer race, my body was good to go up to the 40-minute point, after which I felt like someone beat me with a nylon stocking filled with a half-dozen oranges."
"And I still had three and-a-half miles to walk."
The mind is only going to tolerate, or help the individual dissociate, what it is used to tolerating. Over time, a new stressor becomes second-nature; the body is ready, more or less, to add a little more stress. Or a new stress.
We used to think muscle cramps on the run had to do with the lack of electrolytes or the lack of hydration, but now researchers have determined there is a neurological factor which is one of the root causes. We get to a point beyond our farthest previous limit, and the brain starts looking at the "gauges" and asking the questions: 'How much farther or longer do you plan to go? Do we have enough resources to make it to that point?' If the brain thinks we're going to do some permanent damage to ourself by going any farther, it begins to shut down communication and transmission of energy to groups of muscle fibers; that's when we see runners 'tie up,' decrease their range of motion or stride length. Once muscle fiber groups get shut down the muscle decides it's not going to work.
Or work as hard.
But when you're already walking there's not much else you can do except keep slogging.
So, there are a couple of take-aways from this little tale: First, there are times when a rest day should be exactly that, and not a regenerative run, or an easy run, or any sort of cross-training. Second, if you're going to do something foolish, make certain it's on a course where you can take a shortcut as necessary to get back to the end...not an out-and-back. Third, if you use arch supports, heel pads, or orthotics for walking or running, don't forget to take them with you.