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Still learning not to hurry

12 January, 2010
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For once, I have only a vague idea of the pace and distance I ran today. Perhaps five miles. The astute among you may have been expecting to read about a tempo run, which was the (all of a day-old) plan. I realized very early on, however, that what might have been just another hotspot is definitely a chronic muscle tear. It’s disappointing, but reaffirms my faith in the necessity of having a plan moving forward — this is still the result of not having a plan, and overdoing it last week.

Though I was dropping off the tail end of an easy pace, jogging around the park got me to a point of acceptance and has allowed me to see how things have changed, as well as how they haven’t. On the face of it, this is an identical injury to the one I suffered back at the end of June, insofar as the left calf (where the problem is now) is a mirror image of the right. The main lesson I learned from that experience is that you can’t outrun these problems, or ‘kick them off’, which is what I tried to do back then. It sounds idiotic, but one of the first things you learn as a runner pushing your own limits is the importance of the mind, the extent to which running is a test of mental discipline, not only by hanging on at the end of a race but also getting out the door — even if it means struggling through a blizzard with wet feet for ten miles.

This is all well and good, and, having developed an appreciation for this, the temptation when an injury comes along is just to fight through the pain and hope it goes away, which may well work for some hotspots. But the chronic muscle tear is deceptive in this way, starting imperceptibly while increasing gradually as it does, and has to be respected before recovery happens. If this were July of last year I would have gone ahead with the tempo run today and made it worse. At least I didn’t do that. Paradoxically, this lesson, which I hope now to have thoroughly relearned is about how not to be in hurry as a runner.

Another lesson I thought I had learned was of the necessity for strength training, in addition to the stretching that I was already doing fairly consistently. Looking back it’s hard to say with certainty how true this was. The root cause in both instances is overtraining, in this case going from 40 miles a week to 47 miles a week, and back then trying to race a half marathon from a 30 mile a week peak. But the fact that this tear is in the exact same place, on the other leg, suggests to me there may be something systematically wrong with the way I’ve been strength training. I am going to try alternating sets of calf raises with a different foot rotation, that’s to say toes pointing out, toes pointing ahead, and toes pointing in.

This week, I now have no goals regarding mileage or speedwork. My only aim is not to make this injury worse, and to recover so that I don’t lose a whole month or more of training, which was the outcome of last year’s muscle tear.

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