Sunday, November 18, 2012

What's Working, and Why?

I just wrapped up my first 30-mile running week since late July of 2010. I also just reached day 65 of my current running streak. It still seems like I'm writing about some other runner as I type those words. I won't rehash my entire story of returning to running in 2009, building up to—and finishing—my first marathon in May of 2010, then succumbing to a serious heel injury that I've spent over two years trying to come back from. I've successfully beaten that horse to death in many previous blog entries (no wonder I can't make him drink when I drag him to water…)

One might argue, even though I've managed to return to running, that my "comeback" hasn't been all that successful, considering how long it has taken. My defense would be that there were several times during the process where I was pretty sure I'd never be a regular runner again. It would seem I was making marginal progress, then I'd have a setback that would affect me as much mentally and emotionally as it would physically. Most of us can only tolerate so many of those teases before throwing in the towel.

But I didn't. I don't say that in a noble, bragging manner, either. I was a wimp much of the time. I whined, if not out loud, at least inwardly. I pretended not to wallow in self-pity. While I wasn't constantly drowning in depression, I had plenty of periods where a serious attitude adjustment would have been justified.

The reason I didn't throw in said towel is simple: I LOVE running. It's a big part of who I am. I wouldn't go so far as to say it defines me, but I feel much more whole when I'm able to train and race as desired. Sure, I'm probably addicted to it, and I don't say that in shame. If only my ability as a runner matched my dedication and zeal...

So, aside from my addiction-driven dogged stubbornness, what else has made this tentatively-titled comeback possible? BTW, I say 'tentative' because, even though a lot of my running friends have suggested that I'm "back," I still feel like I have a long way to go, and the comeback is still on shaky ground. I hope I'm wrong, but I've learned to be VERY cautiously optimistic during this process.

In no particular order:

1. Patience. This should go without saying, but we runners are rarely patient. It was forced on me a few times, when I tried to rush the process and the pain returned and shut me down. Aside from the many months where I did zero running, I kept my runs, mileage and pace very low for a prolonged period.

2. Strength work. During my marathon training, I was putting in enough mileage that I felt too worn out to do any additional exercise. That was a mistake. This time around, I'm doing strength and core work on a regular basis, and it noticeably benefits my running.

3. Stretching and ice. Again, things that are easy to neglect when the training load is high, but very beneficial, in my opinion. I use ice packs when needed, and try to take one ice bath per week, after my long runs. I admittedly need to stretch and use the foam roller more consistently.

4. Good diet. Yes, I intentionally "bulked up" a few times when I wasn't running. I reverted to weight lifting and, in an effort to gain strength, also got sloppy with my diet. I've since cleaned it up quite a bit and I feel much better for doing so. I'm also keeping my weight down, which makes running less stressful on my joints. I don't plan on getting as light as I was leading up to my marathon, though, since I lost too much strength in the process.

5. Consistency in training. I spent many weeks doing no more than 3 runs per week, keeping the mileage very low. My heel didn't seem to be getting any worse, but it really didn't seem to be improving, either. At the time, it was obvious that longer runs definitely disagreed with my heel. But—as counterintuitive as it seems—I began wondering if more regular running would actually help to strengthen the muscles around the injured area. I didn't set out to start a running streak, but that's where that approach has led me, 65 days later. And, ironically enough, my heel and Achilles feel better than they have since before my injury. Not that I never feel pain—because I do—but the pain appears far less often and is far less intense. And it doesn't scare me like it used to. I now know from recent experience that, if it flares up, it'll subside in a day or two.

6. Shoe rotation. I have no scientific data to back this up (as if I do with any of my other points!) but I'm convinced that part of the reason my heel has accepted my recent buildup of mileage and speed is due to the fact that I'm currently rotating four different models of shoes. Not just four different pairs, but completely different models. Consequently, my foot never gets into a rut from the exact same motion or fit day after day. If you're curious, my current shoes of choice (all Brooks) are the Defyance 3's, Adrenaline 12's, Ghost 4's, and the Launch. I'm going to add the Cascadia 5's soon, assuming I can resume a small amount of hill training on a local dirt & gravel trail. I also have a couple of 'minimal' shoes waiting in the wings (Pure Flow and Pure Cadence) but I'm holding off on those just a bit longer.

7. Positive attitude. Don't give up! Even when it appears that there's zero hope, do whatever you need to do keep you on track for a return to running, one tiny step at a time. It might take weeks, months or years to get back to running. Our bodies…and minds…are incredible, amazing things. I believe—no, I know—that we can achieve far more than we think we can. So even when it would be so much easier to give up the fight after being beaten down countless times, stick with it. You may have to change directions and alter your process, but once you figure out what works, the payoff is more than worth the long, tedious battle.

8. Encouragement. A lot of you have supported and encouraged me during this process. I've come to realize how invaluable that is. I can't thank you enough.

My heel bump is still there. The resulting scar tissue in my Achilles tendon is still there. Even with all that I've written here, I'm still amazed that I'm able to run even like I currently am. Humbled and very thankful, but still dumbfounded and amazed. And that amazement and anticipation of what's next is part of what keeps me going.

I'm still a long way from being able to train for another marathon, or even a half. But for the first time in over two years, I have a glimmer of hope of doing both again.

Now…let's go run.


  1. Really great Colin. Your perseverance is paying off and you are reaping the results. Well done, you deserve it.

  2. Excellent post, Colin. I think you've got a lot of very valid points and I agree with you all the way! I especially think that #5 and #7 are the biggies, but also strongly agree with #6. I even rotate between shoe brands to really keep changing things up. Anyway, fabulous post and great news! Good luck with continuing the streak!