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Lessons from Boston

I have to apologize for the delay in getting this post up. We had a pretty nasty tornado the day before it was scheduled to go up, and lost power for several days. We got lucky, our house is perfectly fine (unlike most of those in the neighborhood). We finally have internet back after the tornado! But onward with the lessons learned in Boston...

This year’s trip to Boston provided some lessons for me. Most of these I already knew, and routinely try to impress on my clients, but the last year or so of my own training failed to apply these lessons to myself. For the sake of context, the last year or so was intentionally a year of “not training”. I had spent several years grinding fairly hard while trying to balance training with work and home life. Staying focused is important when chasing performance goals, but that kind of focus isn’t sustainable over indefinite time spans. You end up burning out or having your training come into serious conflict with your work and family responsibilities. So I intentionally spend the summer and fall after Boston last year simply running for fun. No real training plan or objectives. No intentionally thought out recovery sessions or cross training. Just having fun. Which is something that I needed.

The start of the Derby Day 5 miler last year. 3 weeks after Boston.

I failed to do was take into account that the faster/higher intensity running I was doing requires a more deliberate approach to recovery to avoid injury. And so while I was mentally ready to start training for Boston again last fall when it was time to, I was fighting off some little niggles that had crept up during my “sabbatical” from training. As the winter dragged on, my training kind of went out the window as I wasn’t able to fully recover from the “planned” workouts, cut most of them short because of one of the little nagging niggles was speaking up, and just wasn’t getting the training in that was I wanted to. I had failed to meet some of the basic assumptions of the plan I had written for myself. I wasn’t fully healthy when I started. My average weekly mileage wasn’t as high at the start as it should have been. And I hadn’t done some of the off season strength building stuff I should have done. In short, I had written my training plan for someone that was healthier, fitter, and was already putting in a lot more miles than I was.

It doesn’t take a PhD to recognize that I had set myself up for a massive problem. And sure enough, one of those little niggles (a tight calf) eventually became a more severe problem. I had a bruised fat pad on my heel and a minor case of plantar fasciitis, coupled up with a spasming calf. Eventually, somewhere in mid-February, I caught myself hopping from the bedroom to the living room to get to the foam roller when I got out of bed. I had gotten to the point where I couldn’t walk when I got out of bed in the morning. I finally admitted to myself that I had a real problem, and was one of those 80% of runners who were getting hurt this year. I called my buddy Troy Ketchum, and scheduled a PT visit to get it straightened out.

After getting my calf needled (which wasn’t nearly as bad as I was expecting), investing in a TENS unit, and spending a week or two NOT running, I gingerly got back into easier running. I discovered that a lot of eccentric loading on the calf (i.e. downhill running) resulted in the calf being really tight the next day, and the foot being really sore. No hard workouts. No hill work. Just easy miles. I don’t think I even did any runs more than 12 miles again until I got to Boston. Needless to say this didn’t bode well for the race. I fully expected to not be able to walk for a couple of days, but I didn’t have anything else on the docket after Boston so I planned on taking a “planned” break afterwards to allow the foot and calf to fully heal up.

I’ve always said that it’s okay to make a mistake, as long as you learn from it. In the spirit of learning, here are the big lessons from my own … lapses of judgment… during my year of playing.

1) Run the workout you need, not the one you want

As the heel of my foot was getting more painful, and the calf was getting more spasmy, I should have listened to my body and NOT done the higher intensity work. The workouts I needed to do were lower intensity and flatter so that the calf could relax a little and prevent the fat pad from getting bruised. Doing the wrong workout often leads to injury.

2) Training plans and workouts need to be based on current fitness informed by goals, not based on goals and never mind your current fitness.

It is really common to build a training plan by starting at race day and working our way backwards, choosing the mileage and paces for each workout based off our goal paces. I did successfully take into account my fitness level at the start of the training block (i.e. the paces of particular workouts weren’t based on a specific goal time). What I failed to take into account was the relative low mileage I was sustaining in the three months prior to the training block. I didn’t start the training block with a high enough weekly average to allow the volume of higher intensity training I had planned, so the ratio of hard work to easy effort was way out whack.

What this means is that the workouts I did at the front end of the training block were too long. I wanted to do more repeats, miles, etc. at the harder efforts. The workouts that I needed to do were lower volume. The lower weekly average I had going into the training block meant that the longer “quality” workouts I was doing were blowing my mileage budget to be able to do enough low intensity work to stay healthy. This is a great way to get hurt.

3) Love the process

While race day, especially Boston, is an amazing experience, we hopefully spend much more of our time training than racing. So we have to learn to love the process of getting better. Of training. I won’t lie, I love racing. And I did a decent amount of it last summer and fall while traveling around a lot. I wasn’t really training, but I was racing HARD 5k’s and 10k’s. While I needed a break from the grind of dedicated training, I probably (definitely) raced too much given the limited amount of easy running I was doing. The long and the short of it is that I wasn’t really paying attention to the process and just running HARD a lot.

4) Take in the experience.

While it wasn’t a mistake I made this year, it’s definitely been one I’ve made in the past when I made the decision to throw in the towel on racing a race (as opposed to running a race). When it comes to big races like the marathon, especially ones like Boston, it’s really easy to get inside your own head and have a really crappy day. Which is quite silly if you think about it, since the whole reason we do this crazy ridiculous sport is because we enjoy it. So even if you end up having to take a 26.2 mile foot tour of some town instead of crushing the competition on race day, soak it up. Every last drop. Because any day you get to lace them up and head out the door is a good day.

Taking a planned break is important, just make sure you don’t jump into a training block that you aren’t ready for afterwards. Have fun. Go play. But you still need to do the proper recovery work. You still need to follow Lieutenant Dan’s second rule: Don’t do anything stupid. Don’t be like me. Follow Rule Number 2.

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