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Just a wee bit of growth

Posted Apr 14 2012 10:40am
Years ago if someone would have told me that I would be 28 years old and enjoy running high mileage weeks where my favorite race distance was a double digit number I would have roared with laughter right in their face and called them a liar. While I've always enjoyed running, it wasn't until I was in my early 20's, nursing injury after injury because I was to stubborn to train my body smartly, that I begun to appreciate what being a distance runner really is. In my early running years as a naive high school teen, I would burst out in an emotional hissy fit when my track coach would put me in the 2 mile thinking that this would get me out of the dreaded fate of 8 loops around the track, but it never did. I ran that distance far more times then I wanted to and was often lapped by the speedsters. How I got from there to here sometimes boggles my mind.

In my 16 years as a runner I've done some pretty dumb and completely irrational things.

I would run 7 days a week for weeks on end thinking that rest was the devil.
I would head out my door everyday with my stopwatch to run the same route seeing if I could do it any faster then the day before. I would neglect self care and early signs of injury coming along. I would conveniently forget to nourish my body appropriately skipping more meals then I would care to admit. Basically, I would spend every day of my life for several years pushing my body so hard to compete with myself that I was never able to think logically.
Then my body slowly begun to break down.
Tendinitis. Shoulder problems. Crippling knee pains. Incapacitating daily migraines.
It wasn't until my left knee gave out on me in the early stages of my Boston 2008 marathon training that I was really able to step back and look at the havoc I was wreaking on my body. While I never was able to admit that there was something seriously wrong with my knee, wrong enough to seek a professionals opinion, I know I tore something. For almost 9 months I could barely walk and my knee was unable to bend, running was completely out of the picture but I still "ran" Boston.

My body eventually healed from the mess I put it through and, other then a few minor tweaks, has been injury free since 2009 which is no miracle or coincidence. The years of set backs I had hosted some of the most challenging moments my life has ever seen, but I wouldn't trade them for anything because they gave me appreciation and perspective. Learning how fragile the body is a lesson an athlete needs to learn through their own trials in order to understand what a blessing movement truly is. The strong and powerful runner I am today is because of each and every one of those setbacks I had, and I am grateful for every last one of them.

From the err of my ways I have learned that:

Strength in the glutes, hammies, hips, and core cannot be overrated.
Embarrassingly I admit that it wasn't until I begun to have some leg and hip discomfort in the late stages of my Chicago marathon 2011 training that I realized how valuable these muscles are to a runner. In the past 6 months I have done more dead lifts and squats then I ever thought imaginable and can feel a difference in my running. My knee drive feels the most powerful it has ever been and for the first time in my life my bum doesn't feel squishy.

Legs feeling stronger then ever

Proper fueling is the foundation to any successful training plan.
The days of meal skipping and grazing my cabinets for potato chips and cookies for lunch are a thing of the past. In my early 20's I ate a lot of junk. Frozen meals, prepackaged snacks, highly sugared treats, these were staples in my daily diet. Years ago I switched over to consuming the bulk of my calories from whole foods which are minimally processed, and have felt the world of difference in my energy level ever since. Processed items aren't really food, instead they are chemical compounds made to resemble food which most of the time don't even taste good and provide little nourishment to our precious bodies.

In the words of author Michael Pollan
"Don't eat anything incapable of rotting" and "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants."
If you haven't read or heard of this book, I would highly recommend it.
Completely changed my relationship with food.

Progression must be done slowly in accordance to the demands your body can take, other people don't matter in this process.
This was a tough lesson to learn, but one of the most valuable. I've spent the past 3 and 1/2 years post 2008 injury building up my mileage to what it is now. My body hasn't always been able to handle 70+ miles weeks for months at a time, in fact there was a period of time when it couldn't even handle mid 20 mile weeks. The thing that made all the difference for me was to embrace and work with what I had and not compare myself to anyone else. Looking at my bigger picture and what I was working towards help me to adjust my workouts slowly over time so that my body could strengthen at a rate it could handle.

Rest is the most important ingredient to any athletes perfect recipe.
Contrary to popular belief, the body doesn't make strength gains when it is being worked. Instead this is when muscle fibers are being stretched and torn which leaves them weakened. When the body makes the most strength gains it is resting, allowing those tiny muscle tears to repair themselves and be stronger then they were before. Neglecting rest just continues to weaken these fibers, and can inevitably lead to burn out. Now I embrace rest days and look at them as a sort of reward for all of the hard work that I've been doing.

Gotten pretty darn good at the resting thing,  but I think the pups enjoy it more then me

Variety, variety, variety.
Our bodies are a lot smarter then we give them credit for. Doing the same thing day after day won't lead to any progression because the body begins to develop muscle memory and will eventually plateau. In order to continue to make strength gains the body needs constant change in stimulus. These days my workouts are rarely ever even remotely similar from week to week, and I like it like this. Keeps things spicy and makes training more interesting.

Isolation is STUPID.
Years ago I used to think that if I wanted abs my only option was to get on a mat everyday and do crunchies until I was blue in the face, likewise with every other muscle group in the body. After tens of thousands of crunchies later, I now realize how silly this was. The body rarely ever works in isolation, and crunchies are nothing more then spinal flexion where they do little for muscle growth and strengthening. Dynamic movements are where it's at. The days of thinking that I possessed the power to tell my body which muscle groups would strengthen and when are long gone. I haven't seen a crunchie in months, and ironically my abs begun to appear the moment I stopped.

No crunchies were harmed in the making of these abs.
Have fun, work hard, and don't take it too seriously.
We all like to set the great big hairy goals for ourselves and spend our free time chipping away at them with high hopes of greatness. If there is anything I have learned in the past few years it's that life isn't always about the destination, sometimes it's about the journey and the experiences we have along the way. Goals are fun to work towards, but the achievement of them isn't always a life-or-death situation. Sometimes you'll have a hit and surpass your expectations, and sometimes you'll fall way short and come no where near expected.

But... Every time you fall down and get back in the race, one more small piece of you starts to fall into place.
Sometimes the clock reflects the hard work, the pain, the frustrations, and the challenges that we over came through our training...and sometimes it doesn't. Either way, there is a lesson to be learned in anything and everything if we allow it.


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