Over the course of my running career I’ve learned what I do when the running shoes come off is just as important as what I do when they’re on.
I used to run races only to finish them. To be able to say “I’ve done a 10k” or “I’ve completed a half marathon”. Then, one day, a switch was flipped and I began to set myself time goals. I wanted to break an hour for a 10km finish; I wanted to complete a half in under two hours (last year at the North Face Whistler Half Marathon, thank you very much); and so on.
Not really knowing how to achieve my goals, I wrongly assumed that I just needed to pile on more mileage. More running would absolutely mean reaching my running goals. Cross training? Stretching? REST?! I didn’t have time for that – I needed to RUN!!
Well, in the Summer of 2009 that all caught up to me. I wasn’t running huge mileage, but I also wasn’t letting myself recover from the workouts I was completing. I did the Comfortably Numb trail race in June without any trail training whatsoever. I was out there for a while, and it hurt. I finished and immediately signed myself up for the Chicago Marathon in October. I was on a roll.
Or so I thought. I’m fairly certain that I didn’t take any time off after Comfortably Numb, when the basic rule of thumb is to take a day of rest for every mile raced (I should have been off for about 2 weeks). Instead I dove headfirst into more running.
It wasn’t long before I started feeling pain in my left foot/ankle area. Hindsight says it was painful enough that I should have stopped running right away. Miss “Don’t Be a Wuss, You’re Fine” powered through, for the next few weeks. Then one day I set out for a run and had to turn around after a half mile. Something was definitely wrong.
A visit to the Dr determined that I needed a bone scan, she was sure I had a stress fracture, but in the mean time I wasn’t going to be running. And if you’ve ever had a stress fracture, you know what causes them: over use, too much too soon, lack of proper recovery, imbalances in the body that lead to poor form, etc. I was guilty on all accounts.
Once I was able to put weight on my foot again (12 weeks later AND I missed the Chicago Marathon), I was put in touch with Christine Suter for some much needed personal training and coaching.
Running is a punishing athletic pursuit, especially when you get into longer distances like half marathons. What you do when you’re not running absolutely affects what happens when you are, whether that be in a race or just a regular training run. Through Christine I learned about cross training, allowing proper recovery, stretching and making myself stronger and smarter as a runner.
Today I run only three days each week, even during training, and I rarely run two days in a row. I try to do strength training at least twice a week, but I’ll admit that this area is where I definitely need to up the ante. In warmer months I’ll ride my bike as well. I’ve also incorporated a foam roller and The Stick into my stretching routine. I began a yoga practice in the Fall of 2012 and it has done wonders for not only my running but my overall state of being. I eat a mostly vegan diet (sometimes eggs) and I take full rest days at least once a week (usually Sunday).
I recommend working with a coach to devise a plan that works for you. Be honest with yourself and the coach you choose, if you hate the gym don’t look for a gym plan and instead ask for something you can do at home or outside. Your coach can help you build the skeleton of a weekly plan so you know what your goals are; workouts to complete and how many and what type and so on.
I haven’t had an injury since that stress fracture in 2009. I am proactive, not reactive, in how I approach my workouts. I listen to my body when it whispers so that I don’t have to hear it scream. That has been the best thing I could do for myself as a runner; I take care of myself when my running shoes come off.
See you out there!