Anyone who has been running for awhile knows the training drill: plan for gradual, incremental progress toward your goal. Work on endurance first, then strength, and only then (if ever) speed. Carefully increase distance or intensity by no more than 10 percent per week. That sounds like a reasonable approach, so what might lead us astray?
We are feeling good. It’s tedious to run a shorter distance or slower pace than we feel like doing that day. Once we dress, and perhaps drive to a trail, we want to make the most of it. And if some is good, isn’t more even better? It is exhilarating to test our limits, and just maybe we can do more than the formula calls for. Caution is for weenies, not for us.
Training for significant improvement takes a long time, especially when the running goal is an ambitious half or full or ultra marathon. The spreadsheet with six months of numbers looks great at the beginning of the season, but within a matter of weeks we have veered off course. A bad case of bronchitis, work travel, a family emergency, or an irritable body part interrupt the flow. Before we know it, the plan is in shambles and we are falling behind the timeline we had set earlier. We don’t think baby steps will enable us to catch up, so we extend our stride.
Many Back-of-the-Pack runners are late bloomers. Whether we started running to lose weight or to manage medical conditions or to stave off the effects of aging, we are beginners in terms of distance running. We are just beginning to build the experience that leads to wisdom. Our egos may resist the advice to take it easy. We have goals to meet and the clock is ticking. The ego is ever-more demanding as we see the ultimate finish line coming into view. (See Terrible Toos)
A Personal View
Despite temptations to the contrary, small steps have always served me best. A little patience goes a long way in building a solid foundation before adding the superstructure of longer, steeper, or faster.
This year’s ankle adventure is a case in point. From the moment of initial injury in August through late December, I went through repeated cycles of backing off, getting impatient, pushing again, hurting worse, falling back, and coming back too soon. An MRI and the threat of surgery brought me to my senses.
The journey of recovery truly began in February. Newly sobered by the risk of permanent damage, I followed the protocol precisely. An injection led to two weeks of complete rest, then four weeks of cardio machines, and finally, short walks with jog breaks. The physical therapy regimen strengthened musculature and restored range of motion. From April into May, I built from one to six miles, run-walking two short days and a longer one each week. Spring training has involved baby steps with lots of recovery in between.
Breaking it Down
A training season is always going to proceed unevenly. As John Lennon has written, “Life is what happens to us while we’re making other plans.” Physical setbacks and the needs of work and family will divert us from the best-designed schedules. How do baby steps work under those circumstances?
I have found success with Jeff Galloway’s advice: slow down and take longer walk breaks, but keep moving. He urges us to reduce impact and increase rest while focusing on endurance. I often chant his mantra: “There’s no such thing as too slow for the long run.” We really can achieve more by doing less.
What About You?
What is your experience of working with a training plan, interacting with ego, and dealing with the unexpected? Have you ever pushed the envelope too far? What pointers would you give someone asking for your advice?