The Despicable 5k

It was in June of last year that I stumbled onto a post, “Are Marathons Stupid?” Three little words, and I was captured.

The author, Jon Waldron from therunnereclectic.com, quickly referenced an article by Christie Aschwanden that had been published a few days earlier on fivethirtyeight.com, “The 5K, Not The Marathon, Is The Ideal Race“. I had already read this article, and thought it was a lousy attempt to upsell the 5k.

Waldron had the perfect response: “But the problem I have with the piece and others like it is that it makes no serious attempt to really grapple with the reasons people choose to run hard events, or competitive events, or long, life-altering events, rather than convenient ones. People don’t run for no reason, they run for a variety of reasons, some simple and some complex, and like any other human behavior, people engage in it because they apply a calculus that convinces them that it’s worth it.”

The last 5k I ran (and at this point there have only been two in my life) was 7 years ago. I wrote about the experience: “Less than 10 minutes in, I was saying to myself, “Shit! This hurts. I hate this!” A few minutes later I had decided nothing was worth hurting that bad for. I would quit. I stepped off the course and stopped running. For the next few seconds, I tried to picture how I would unwind myself from this race. Walk back to the start? Walk to the finish? Good lord, how would that look. How long would that take? My husband was standing at the finish line waiting for me. Did it really hurt so bad that I couldn’t finish? No, it didn’t. I put my feet back on the course, stopped at the aid station for water and, cussed all the way to the finish line. . . in 3rd place for my age group.”

Almost every year I try to convince myself I should run a 5k. They must be great for improving speed. It’s a nice way to set realistic expectations for other races scheduled that year. It’s only 3 miles. I hate the 5k.

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fivethirtyeight.com

Last Saturday I ran a 5k. It set me back $15. There were no finish medals, no mile markers, no aid stations – although there were plenty of bagels, donuts, coffee, water, oranges and shirts for all. And I won a blueberry bush from the drawing at the end of the race.

My only training included testing a theory that riding my bicycle would fire up the fast twitch muscles as well as sprints at the track, so I’ve spent about one day each week cycling instead of running fast. Otherwise, I focused on maintaining fitness for a spring half marathon instead with 25-30 miles/week and one longish run of 10-12 miles. It’s been heavenly.

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As race prep, I looked up the last 5k I ran (in 2010) and realized I had never recorded my finish time. And since it appears those race results have long ago been deleted from world history this took me to my very first 5k in 2008, which I finished in 24:19.

So there I stood at the starting line last Saturday morning hoping for a finish just one minute slower, but knowing I’d be happy with a two-minute gain over 9 years.

Maybe the 5k race strategy seems pretty simple. Run. Fast. Do. Not. Stop. There are other approaches.

Lauren Fleshman became an ambassador of sorts for the 5k. Her advice for running the perfect 5k goes like this:

“Try this next time: Run the first mile with your head, the second mile with your focus, and the third mile with your heart. In the first mile, you can’t let any emotion or excitement in at all. Start with a pace you are confident you can maintain and then relax a little bit more. Until you see that one mile marker, all you are allowed to think about is running smart. From 1-2 miles, focus on maintaining your form and start to look around you, taking a survey of which runners around you probably went out too hard, and which ones you should make your prey in the third mile. You are taking some time to strategize for the big battle, and you aren’t allowed to draw your sword until you pass the 2-mile marker! The last mile, start to pick off your victims.”

With the passing of time (old age), I’ve realized that if I can get my feet moving fast and then settle my heart rate back down by relaxing into the pace, I can maintain that pace for a while (however subjective that may be). On race day this translates into: start fast, settle in and feel good, momentarily crash just past midway, recover, and surge to the finish. Turns out it’s a viable strategy.

Rick Morris wrote “5k Race Strategy And Tactics” for Running Planet where he differentiates the 5k strategy based on the runner’s experience level:

“It has been drummed into our heads that we should always be conservative during the first mile of a 5K race so we are able to pick up the pace in the middle and last miles. But is that always good advice? Maybe not. There is evidence that competitive runners will usually perform better with a stronger start. Scientists at the University of New Hampshire studied 5K pacing strategy of eleven moderately trained women distance runners and found that the best performances were obtained when the athletes ran their first mile at between 3% and 6% faster than their average split times for the entire 5K race distance. Another study from South Africa that studied record breaking performances found that the first and last kilometers of most record breaking races were run significantly faster than the middle miles. Both of these studies seem to support the benefits of competitive runners running the first mile at a slightly faster pace. . .”

I survived my token 5k race of this year (decade?) with a finish time of 26.03. It felt pretty good to run faster than usual for the first mile. Things looked good when I made the turn at the halfway point, and then I nearly crashed on an uphill around mile 2. I had vowed not to stop and walk. I stopped and walked. Cussed when the 50-something woman ahead of me didn’t stop and walk. Recovered and surged to the finish.

It was the most miserable 26 minutes of this year.

Now that I have run the 5k race three times in my life I realize the length of the race is not commensurate with lessons learned.

In just 3 miles you can reach your limit, recover, and make a decision whether to continue or quit. . . “and just like any other human behavior, people engage in it because they apply a calculus that convinces them that it’s worth it.”

Happy racing, runners – no matter the distance.

The Anatomy of a Runner: it’s all about that bass (the Upper Leg & Glutes)

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The first in a series of posts about what makes runners uniquely equipped to do what we love to do most. . . run.

Functional Overview:

The lower leg is the part of the lower limb that lies between the knee and the ankle. The thigh is between the hip and knee and the term “lower extremity” is used to describe the colloquial leg. For this discussion, the runner’s base is considered the upper leg, which begins at the hip and the Gluteus Maximus and continues to the knee.

In human anatomy the knee is the connecting line between the upper leg and the lower leg. This connection, and the resulting tension caused by its relationship between the two has caused the topic of the knee to be moved to another post. We’ll get a feel for the knee’s function as it relates to the upper leg, but delve into specific knee injuries another time.

Key Facts: The only bone in this region is the femur, the largest bone in the body. The femur’s head creates the ball of the ball-and-socket-style hip joint. The base of the femur makes up part of the knee.

Major Players:

Gluteus Maximus (the “glutes”): muscle located in the buttocks regarded as one of the strongest muscles in the human body. Responsible for movement of the hip and thigh, contributes to good running form and alignment. Standing up from a sitting position, climbing stairs, and staying in an erect position are all aided by the gluteus maximus.

Hamstrings: three muscles at the back of the thigh that affect hip and knee movement.

Quadriceps: the strongest and leanest muscles of the body – a four-muscle group at the front of the thigh that work to extend the knee and lower leg.

Knee: a pivot-like hinge joint that connects the bones in the upper and lower leg. It is the largest joint in the human body. The knee is where the femur in the upper leg meets the tibia and fibula bones of the lower leg. The patella, or kneecap, is at the center of the knee.

Tendons, ligaments, and protective elements, such as cartilage and bursa, connect and protect the bones to keep them in place and prevent them from grinding against each other while also allowing the knee joint to flex and twist slightly.

Glutes

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Healthline.com

Why it hurts: The most common cause of a gluteus injury is stretching or straining one of the muscles beyond its normal range of motion – especially prominent with soccer, football, and baseball players who make sudden movements and overexert their legs during a play.

However, track events such as hurdles or the long jump, or a runner’s rapid acceleration (particularly up hills) can also increase the likelihood of a gluteal strain.

Excessive acute stress on a gluteal muscle can cause it to tear, which usually results in immediate pain and leg weakness.

Where it hurts: symptoms include numbness in the buttocks, hip and possibly the thigh down to the ankle with difficulty walking normally and rising from a seated position.

Prevention/Recovery: rest, cold/hot therapy, massage, and eventually strengthening exercises. According to a review in the November 2005 issue of “New Zealand Journal of Physiotherapy,” a full squat and running on an incline require the greatest gluteus maximus function. Start slow and easy.

Test Your Strength:

30 Second Chair to Stand test: this test measures the ability to stand up from a seated position as many times as possible in a thirty-second period of time. Testing the number of times you can stand up in a thirty-second period helps assess strength, flexibility, pain, endurance, and progression of recovery.

Runner’s Note: according to the physique-oriented website Waist, Hips & Thighs, doing repeat sprints using starting blocks is the best way to build the gluteal muscles. If you’re hoping to avoid the over-emphasized glutes (aka “bubble butt”), focus on long, easy mileage rather than short, intense bursts of speed.

Hamstrings

Why it hurts: also known as a pulled hamstring, is defined as an excessive stretch or tear of muscle fibers and related tissues. Hamstring injuries are common in athletes participating in many sports and are very difficult to treat and rehabilitate. Track and field athletes are particularly at risk, as hamstring injuries have been estimated to make up 29% of all injuries in sprinters.

Research proposes predisposing factors to injury include muscle weakness, muscle imbalance, poor flexibility, fatigue, inadequate warm up, poor neuromuscular control, and poor running technique. One of the few predisposing factors that most researchers agree upon, however, is previous hamstring injury. Brokett et al. (2004) stated that “the athletes most at risk of a hamstring strain are those with a previous history of such injury” and noted that 34% of the hamstring injuries were recurrences.”

Cameron et al. also found that 34% of injuries recur in the same season. Arnason et al. generalized these numbers, saying that previous injury was in itself an independent risk factor for re-injury.  (Reference: Wikipedia)

Where it hurts:

Grade 1: Sensation of cramping or tightness and a slight pain when the muscles are stretched or contracted.

IMG_2927Grade 2: Immediate pain more severe than the pain of a grade one injury. It is confirmed by pain on stretch, swelling and contraction of the muscle.

Grade 3: A grade three hamstring strain is a severe injury. Immediate burning or stabbing pain, unable to walk without pain. The muscle is completely torn and there may be a large lump of muscle tissue above a depression where the tear is.

Prevention/Recovery: almost always, the hamstring strain occurs just before the lead foot hits the ground, when hamstring tension peaks to resist forward motion of IMG_2924the swinging leg. Incorporate agility and trunk stabilization exercises, stop and stretch during runs.

Avoid over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, which can interfere with tendon remodeling.

Deep tissue massage is better for recovery and pain.

It is usually possible to continue running through recovery.

Shorten your stride, increase cadence, and keep the pace slow.

If the injury is too painful to run, avoid prolonged wet-vest pool running. Although it is true pool running maintains aerobic capacity while recovering from injuries such as stress fractures, pool running fails to adequately stress the hamstrings since the resistance provided by the water forces the quads to pull the lead leg forward while the hamstrings are stressed only while pulling the leg back.

The natural function of the hamstrings is to fire eccentrically when they lengthen to stop forward motion of the lead leg. By failing to strengthen the hamstring eccentrically, pool therapy often results in rapid hamstring re-injury as soon as the runner attempts to run fast.

 

Test Your Flexibility:

Test it With:  Toe Touches. To see if your ‘strings are supple enough for Deadlifts and Olympic lifts, put your feet together, bend over and touch your toes. Can’t reach? Back rounds when you do? Better loosen up.

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Fix it With:  Leg Lowering Pattern. Lie on your back with both legs in the air. Place a band around one foot, then lower your opposite leg, keeping the leg straight and core tight. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps on each leg.  (Read more at Champions Are Made In The Off-Season.)

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Runner’s Note: the glutes and hamstrings have far more fast-twitch muscle fibers than the quads, making them more powerful and explosive. If too much attention is placed on strengthening the quads, thereby creating an imbalance, the glutes and hamstrings will suffer. A lack of strength in the hamstrings compared with the strength in the quads can result in an unstable knee joint and assorted lower-body injuries.

Quadriceps

The Marathoner vs The Sprinter

Why it hurts: As mentioned above with the hamstring movement, eccentric loading occurs when muscles lengthen and shorten at the same time. When we run, our quadriceps contracts when our foot touches the ground. This stabilizes our knee and stops us from collapsing. But even stabilized, our knee bends slightly, stretching our quadriceps as it shortens. This eccentric tug-of-war creates enormous tension on the quads.

Where it hurts: Athletes with quadriceps strains often complain of a “pulling” sensation in the front of the thigh. Pain, swelling, bruising and muscle tenderness may also occur. Its severity is categorized by the same grades as with the Hamstring injury.

Prevention/Recovery: a counterintuitive strategy for recovering from a quad injury was offered by Pete Magill in Runner’s World: Cure Quad Pain, Calf Pain, and Heavy Legs: “Running downhill can cure quad pain once a runner’s legs adapt to the eccentric overload caused by the activity,” says Beaverton, Oregon, coach and exercise scientist Tom Schwartz. “Initially, the soreness caused by downhill running can be quite harsh.

A parallel is the soreness caused by starting a new weight training regimen. Soreness is caused by the lowering of weights, which is the eccentric loading. Lifting weights, which is concentric loading, doesn’t cause soreness.”

Brisk downhill running increases the eccentric load on our quads, causing more muscle damage. The good news is that once our body repairs this damage, we’re left with quads that are pain-free, stronger and protected from further injury.

Although there is no substitute for real descent repeats, eccentric single-leg squats and lunges may also prepare the muscles for downhills.

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Other eccentric Quad strengthening exercises include the straight-leg deadlift, good morning squat and the calf raise used by shortening the concentric phase to one second and extending the eccentric phase to at least three seconds. (Read more at runningcompetitor.com.)

(Additional Reading: Quad Strengthening Exercises from the Bay Area Orienteering Club.)

Runner’s Notes:

Weak hip muscles can allow the legs to angle inward or outward instead of keeping each stride in line.

Underdeveloped gluteal muscles might cause the runner to lean his or her trunk forward.

An imbalance between opposing muscles, particularly, is a major cause of the repetitive stress injuries.

Next up in our series: be still my beating heart.

Meghan Trainor declared, “I’m all about that bass, ‘Bout that bass, no treble, …”, and while runners everywhere train by the very beat of their heart, Meghan’s lyrics may be more true than we first thought.

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RUN through the Holidays!

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There’s nothing like sore abs from yesterday’s sit-ups to make you think twice about apple pie and ice cream. I like to think of sore muscles as progress, but progress is usually hard to come by during the holidays. It’s not like our bodies lie down in a motionless revolt. No, it’s the mind that betrays us.

If you’ve planned your schedule to allow for a 2-week Rest&Recovery session through the holidays, you may be the smartest runner of the year. My only scheduled rest break was immediately following the last marathon, which has already come and gone. That leaves at least some of us figuring out how to shop, entertain, and enjoy the holidays without losing one ounce of fitness.

Lots of folks write about exercising through the Season – intending to keep us motivated to hang in there with our tough training regimen. And if you’re halfway through a marathon training schedule, you probably have no choice but to keep at it.

If your racing schedule is similar to mine, however, you find yourself with holiday-related training options.

Our family makes yearly rotations through parents, grandparents, and in-laws so that some years we have the holidays – and our training schedule – all to ourselves. These quiet, mellow holidays are not the problem. It’s when the dance card fills up that things go a little haywire.

Here’s a few practical thoughts for coping that have worked for me over the years:

1. Job Share: when the house is full of guests, my husband and I take turns working out. While he mingles with company, I exercise and vice versa. Somehow it lessens the guilt of leaving your guests for a workout when your partner is there in your absence.

2. Keep it Simple: at the risk of repeating myself too often. . . one stressor at a time. If you’re going 90-to-nothing, pillar to post every day, keep holiday workouts easy. It’s the best injury prevention and the only way to avoid a Crash&Burn.

3. Cut back: even though I’m following a 6 day/week running schedule at the moment, last season’s 4 day/week training proved there’s no set rule, and lots of runners train just 3 days each week. It’s best not to miss more than 2 consecutive days, but if you drop back from your usual schedule to just 3 days of running through the holidays, you won’t lose fitness.

If you have the energy, ratchet up the intensity to offset the reduced mileage, or if you have the time, increase distance for those 3 days to maintain the same weekly mileage.

If a serious cut-back is required, remember that a brisk 10-minute walk three times through the day can reduce blood pressure, and burn calories. It always feels better than you expect to walk around the neighborhood after dinner with the family.

4. Let it go. Sometimes the only thing to do is hang up the running shoes until after the holidays. Somehow we always survive.

I would make the suggestion to also forego dessert, but my husband would say I have surely lost my mind. Happy Holidays.

 

 

image courtesy picphotos.net

The Dark Ridge

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A mountain-top farm along my long run route.

There’s a slight coolness to the morning air, and the pumpkins have already been harvested from the farm along my long run route. I first claimed this route for all my long runs four years ago when we moved back home from Ecuador, and in four years it has never changed. The first 8 miles are sheer bliss, and one mile further is just torture.

After all these years, my husband can calculate to the minute how long it will take me to finish the long run. Once we have done the math and agreed on a time to meet at Lulu’s for lunch, I head to the top of the mountain.

Granted, the down side of a point-to-point run and our agreed upon meeting time (and the fact that I don’t run with a phone in my hand) means there is no dilly-dallying. I keep a constant check on my pace, and no matter what goes wrong I keep myself moving for fear I don’t make that meeting time, give or take a few minutes, and my husband goes into a lunatic-worry over what has happened to me.

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Beginning at the Balsam Community Center, this run takes me past the historic Balsam Mountain Inn, local fly-fishing spots, and the Moonshine Creek Campground.

The creek rushes down the mountain 30+ feet below the road on my left while the rock face extends 30+ feet up to my right. Houses are scattered here and there, a train pokes along its track high above the creek, the wooden planks of one-lane bridges crackle under my feet, and farms glisten in the bright sunshine near the four-lane highway where Dark Ridge Road meets Skyland Drive, and the sheer torture side of this run soon begins.

Last week when my calendar turned up an 18-mile run, I had the idea to extend the blissful part of the run by as many miles as I could piece together. I don’t particularly like running new routes, lord only knows how many free-range dogs live on these roads, but it didn’t take long before I came on a new road that would add two miles to this blissful side of the run.

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Courtesy: mapmyrun.com

 

So, I’d like to say I have a proven theory on why this happens, but if I’m going to need a potty break during a run (of any length really), this becomes apparent very early in the run. It was barely a half mile into this 18-mile run that I knew I would need to find an early potty break, and all the unfamiliar sights and sounds of this new route were lost due to the endless search for a good potty spot.

There’s the 30 foot drop on the left that intimidates me, and even in the few places where I could walk over and put my toe in the creek, my Outdoor Leadership training kicks in and I wouldn’t dare “go” within 20 feet of the water. So I keep searching.

There were the two rocks I used a few weeks ago to drop down below road level and back up again, but adding the 2-miles to the early part of the run skewed my memory of exactly where those two rocks were, and every time I thought I’d be brave and just duck behind a tree. . . a car came along.

By mile 5 the situation had become urgent and I walked for a moment to compose myself. I knew there was a bridge overhead just down the road, and although it would not be nearly as private as I would have hoped for, I vowed I would stop behind the big concrete foundation of that bridge. A few minutes later, I turned the corner and could finally see the concrete footings of the bridge. . .

There was no warning trickle, and it took a few seconds to actually accept what had happened. Then there was the briefest “What now?”

Many years ago I read a hilarious account of a brave runner who described his not-so-fortunate “accident” and this was the thought that came next. Immediately I realized I am not the only runner that has suddenly lost their bladder. In fact, as my husband and I would later say to each other, it could have been much worse.

My accident happened just after mile 6. There were 12 miles to go. It was too far into the run to go back up the mountain to the safety of my Jeep, I still needed to finish this long run, and the clock was ticking – my husband would be waiting for me. There was nowhere to go but forward.

Maybe that’s the point. . . sometimes, no matter what has happened, there is nowhere to go but forward.

Scratch The Itch

3 weeks ago. . .

I missed a full week of training. I’ve never missed a full week of training. Things started with a migraine-style headache that led to nausea followed by several days of fever, chills, and lots of sleep. Day after day I promised my husband, and sometimes my Dad that I would visit the doctor. By Friday I was feeling better though, and I volunteered to take the early shift of meeting workers at our new house – giving me the opportunity to finally uncover the beautiful swan on the patio wall.

48 hours later. . .

The poison oak was evident along both arms, although my left arm took the brunt of the blow and was swollen twice its size replete with welts and blisters. I remembered from EMT training that poison is basically a chemical burn – I had a 2nd degree chemical burn on my left arm. It was the first day I was to get back to my training schedule, so I dutifully strapped my watch onto my right, less affected arm, and went for a run.

For all the miraculous benefits of modern medicine, I still consider it a last resort. I managed to control the urge to scratch the poison using topical creams, although that poison has taken its dear, sweet time to heal.

Meanwhile, the contractor finished installing the fence around our property, which includes a generous parcel of land up the hill behind the house that is all forest (and a good bit of our neighbor’s yard debris). We loaded the dogs into the Jeep that Saturday after my long run, and let them explore what will become their new territory. The boys were a little timid, so Dakota and I walked to the edge of the forest to show them there was nothing to fear.

24 hours later. . .

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Dakota was miserable, and irritable.

. . . the itching began. It was everywhere – on her stomach, ears, head, feet. I couldn’t see a thing, but she was obviously miserable. I held a cool cloth on her stomach, rubbed her with ointment, and tried my best to have her swallow a small piece of Benadryl. She was in such misery I couldn’t bear it.

I held her in my arms while she nestled her head under my chin and we’d walk around the house until she fell asleep in total exhaustion. Sleep lasted about an hour and we’d start the process all over again. I didn’t know whether to cry or scream.

It was chiggers, and every one of those nasty, little devils must have jumped off her and onto me. She was all better the next morning while I had red itchy bites everywhere – down my back, on my stomach, both arms and legs, chiggers on top of poison, but mostly on my neck and face. Whatever control I had over itching the poison oak was lost on these damn chiggers. They are surely the worst demons on earth.

I have learned everything there is to learn about chiggers, tried every remedy (including turmeric, which turned my fingers orange), spent inordinate amounts of time at the pharmacy counter, and I’ve taken enough Benadryl to kill a horse. I jumped out of bed at midnight the first night, stripped all the linens off the bed, stuffed them in the washer to contain the miserable critters, sprayed the whole house with bug spray (which I’m told will kill those still lurking in the shadows), and took a shower believing I was being attacked all over again. I won’t admit how many times this process has been repeated in the days since.

By this time my face and throat feel more like sandpaper than skin from the remedies that best relieved the itch. My face is red, sensitive to the sun, swollen, splotchy, and hurts so bad that I haven’t been able to run for three more days. I can honestly say I would have never believed there would be a time I couldn’t run because my face hurts.

My husband has spent the past few days in Chicago babysitting our dog that became an only child (who is doing absolutely fabulous by the way), and I’ve been relieved he hasn’t been subjected to the sight I have become.

Today is the last day I could withdraw from the upcoming marathon, but I have decided to refuse to give in. Who could have known just how far it would go when I decided to cut back on my training this season?

My husband and I have decided that if I survive this marathon, it will be an incredibly eye-opening experiment as it relates to how much training is enough, but if nothing else, this experience has given me an entirely new appreciation for “an ounce of prevention.”

The Long Run

My week begins on Monday, despite the compelling argument my husband has made on the subject. And it clearly seems I’m the odd man out among the masses, despite the fact that even Sunday was a day of rest after a long week of creating the universe in the beginning of time. Why would one begin the week with a day of rest?

For me, the week begins with the shortest run of the week, which was 7 miles this time last season, but just 3 miles this season. The long run was on Sunday last time, but our favorite long-run-day-restaurant isn’t open on Sunday, so this season’s long run has been moved to Saturday followed by lunch at Lulu’s on the patio.

This week there was also . . . an urgent run on the shoe store when I realized my old pair wouldn’t last one more week. . . a new water bottle with room for a snack because I got so hungry in the middle of the run last week that I thought I’d die, and. . .  a last minute update of my husband’s phone settings when I realized the Australian version of Siri he had been using might send me over the edge when we set the alarm for 5:30am.

I’d like to be one of those souls that can roll out of bed and go for a run, but a good amount of time is always devoted to morning coffee before my day can begin. The dogs wouldn’t get out of their beds on the long run day this week when we woke up in the dark to have our morning coffee.

My husband reads the news during morning coffee. I catch up on email, and research whatever topic is top of my list. Once I’ve gathered myself together, I eat breakfast, brush my teeth, put on my new shoes (despite my husband’s warning), and head out for the longest run of the week.

Most folks want to know what we runners think about for hours of running. Sometimes I solve the world’s problems, or my own. Sometimes I decorate houses, or write a post in my mind. But these random thoughts are typically sandwiched between long intervals of absolutely no thought whatsoever.

Sometimes I keep a count of the number of dogs that reach my ankles (5 this week), how many piles of poop in the road must have come from a bear (1), or how many dead animals I must jump over (4). I’m surprisingly conscious of what appears to be poison ivy along the edge of the road and doing my best not to let it touch me anywhere, although this was the week I was forced to jump into the middle of the ivy to avoid a last minute collision with a truck and the ivy drooping from a tree limb swiped me across the face.

Music usually occupies the silent, thoughtless moments, although this week I listened to the sounds of the creek until mile 9, which was also when I ate the peanut butter crackers I had stashed in my new water bottle even though I had smooshed them trying to find a comfortable way to hold this new bottle. And even though going to the bathroom one more time is the last thing I do before leaving the house, sometimes all I can think about is finding a good spot for an early potty break, which came along at mile 4 this week when I used a couple of large rocks to jump down the creek’s bank below road level and back up again.

The shoe strings of those new shoes were adjusted twice, the water in my little bottle was gone long before the run ended, and Lulu’s was closed due to air conditioning problems.

I’ve always said that life is a lot like training for a marathon, and you just never know what’s going to happen during that long run.

Hacking the OT (recovery from overtraining)

The accidental lesson learnt may be amongst the most fun lessons of life. Secret treasures of information that seemingly fall right out of the sky. It is the difficult lesson, on the other hand, the one we’ve suffered through, or have defiantly learned that has the potential of being the most transformative.

Just weeks after my last, horrific marathon I read an article, Running on Empty by Meaghen Brown for Outside (outsideonline.com). The article tells the tale of overtraining syndrome (OTS) among endurance runners, and it was the scariest thing I’ve ever read.

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Joe Friel’s Blog: The Overtraining Threshold

If you’ve run for several years, you’ve no doubt experienced the symptoms of overtraining at one point or another: extreme fatigue, sleeplessness, restlessness, elevated heart rate, maybe headaches. I get irritable. It’s easily remedied by taking an extra rest day, maybe two. Temporarily eliminate speed work, or cross training.

The type of runner that falls prey to overtraining, however, is also the type of runner that may find it difficult to take these necessary corrective steps, favoring instead to just push through. This ultimately leads to all the same symptoms. . . on steroids. Without the rest it desperately needs, the body completely shuts down, and worse yet, your mind no longer cares.

This spring I celebrated 9 years of competitive running. Even still, I wouldn’t say I’ve reached my peak. Success in training for a marathon lies in teaching the body to adapt to greater and greater training loads – train hard, take a step back, train harder, peak, run a race, rest, and repeat. We call it periodization. And for the longest number of years, you truly believe your body knows no boundaries. It’s just not true.

It has been 3 months since I realized how severely overtrained I had let myself become, and it has taken every day of these 3 months to recover. I threw the training calendar out the window, and only ran when I had the energy – sometimes just once or twice a week. I didn’t want to think about running, and I surely didn’t want to write about running.

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‘What is overtraining syndrome?’ runnersworld.co.uk (Illustration: Oliver Burston)

Early on, we reinvent ourselves as runners; literally change our identities. We are no longer known by our given titles. We are runners, and life suddenly revolves around this thing we have become. Days revolve around the run, recovering from the run, and preparing for the next run. Focus is extraordinary.

I’ve read Tim Noake’s book, The Lore of Running, where he so famously says of OTS, ‘We believe that the harder we train, the faster we will run, and ignore the evidence that this is blatantly untrue. We train harder and run worse, and then, in the ultimate act of stupidity, we interpret our poor races as an indication that we have undertrained.’

It happened to Alberto Salazar, who set three American track records and won three New York City Marathons in a row from 1980-1984, and then spent the next ten years plagued by respiratory infections and depression. And it happened to 23-year-old Kyle Skaggs, who shattered the course record at the Hardrock 100, but never raced again after that season.

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Overtraining is possible in any sport. . .

I’ve learned to ignore my watch for very long stretches of time, and measure runs by effort instead of miles. If things aren’t going well from lack of energy, or because it was too hot, or I just couldn’t get my legs to move, I’ve taught myself to call it quits for the day, and be ok with that. It has been a process.

This was the first week that I ran every mile I had planned to run. There have been hot, intense days at the track, quiet runs up the mountain, and a 10-mile run on Saturday – my longest run since the marathon. It’s been important for me to rediscover my love for running with less focus on the competitive results of running.

Some lessons are learned quite by accident, and that’s a beautiful thing. For some of us more hard-headed, defiant runners, the lessons are a bit more difficult. It’s still a beautiful thing.