When it comes to the subject of tapering, running coaches will often say “the hay is in the barn”. What they mean is that there is very little you can do in the final weeks to become a faster runner intrinsically, but you can ruin your chances of running at your full potential by messing up the taper phase. Correctly tapering for a goal race can lead to a 2-8% improvement in race time. You can read the science behind this all over the internet. In that past, I have written about the madness that is the taper ; as I taper for the Richmond marathon, let’s revisit and dig a little deeper into this important training phase.
Runners who don’t care about getting faster DO exist. Some runners just run for fun, others run for hundreds of miles in ultramarathons and the distance matters more than the speed, some runners are simply out there to lose weight or get stronger. But there are many participants in this sport that toe the line at races looking for personal records, train all year for time goals, and who are looking to get faster.
I started focusing on running around 2010/2011, and, at that time, I ran a 9:30-10 minute mile on easy runs. Now my easy runs hover around 7:45. I’ve cut 30+ minutes off both my half and marathon times and am now looking to break a 3 hour marathon and a 1:25 half. My first 5k was 28 minutes; now it is 19 minutes. How did I get there?
Running is a unique sport when it comes to the physical demands on the body. Unlike during swimming, rowing, and biking, your body must support your entire weight while you run in addition to handling the forces associated with each time your foot hits the ground. Many, and I might hazard to say most, runners will eventually have to deal with an injury.
My first injury was one for the record books. I had trained hard for the 2015 Chicago Marathon throughout the summer; I had PRed the 5k distance and run two sub 1:30 halves in miserable weather during my journey to a sub 3 marathon. During the race, I held an exact 6:53 pace for 15 miles when I felt what I would later describe as
“an explosion in my hip.” I stubbornly ran on to mile 22, realizing I could still get a sub 3:05 and PR if I just could manage my way a bit further….
But I couldn’t go any further. I limped to the medical station at 22, and my sub 3 dream was over for a while. I had a strained gluteus medius; however, these pictures were taken a mere 3.5 weeks after my initial injury:
I have been told many times that I heal incredibly quickly, but my healing time was actually right in line with what my doctor said it would be “IF I followed my healing plan.” And, as we all know, telling a runner not to run and to follow some kind of plan that involves no running is a tall order!
Here is a breakdown of what I feel are the most important aspects of returning from an injury. This is my “Strong and Smart” list (a little mantra I came up with as diligently followed my plan).
The first step to injury recovery is to stop running. There are various opinions on when to stop, but I feel Pete Pfitzinger’s advice is pretty sound. You should stop running:
-“If you’re limping, then your running mechanics are thrown off”
-“If you have a specific pain, and that pain is increasing progressively during the race [or run]”
I ignored a pain that qualified under both of these points; it both threw off my mechanics and was specific and progressive.
GET A DIAGNOSIS
Before I go on here, I want to distinguish between a medical diagnosis and a physical therapy or other kind of diagnosis. A medical diagnosis is given by a qualified physician; it is a determination of the source of the problem. For me, my medical diagnosis was a grade 2 strain of the gluteus medius (side note: SPRAINS are tears in ligaments, STRAINS refer to muscle with or without tendon involvement). This diagnosis differs from the diagnosis a PT or other professional might give, which deal with how the injury is affecting the body. “Decreased flexion at the right hip” could be a Physical Therapist diagnosis, and then that therapist could give direction on how to increase the movement and bring it back to baseline.
It has been my experience that certain professionals will give a medical diagnosis when they have no qualification to do so. Your chiropractor may not be qualified to diagnosis the basis of your injury, and the movements and stretches they may perform could further aggravate the problem. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I strongly feel that injuries should be diagnosed before visiting physical therapists, chiropractors, or any other profession.
If you have a stress fracture, a PT or like professional will not be able to diagnose you. Seeing these professionals before your primary healthcare provider may lengthen the time you are unable to run because it is time lost from the ability to heal from the actual source of your injury, as opposed to treating the “side effects” of that injury, like muscle soreness and decreased range of motion.
I understand that this is not the case 100% of the time, but it is a time I would err on the “better safe than sorry” side.
HANDS UP AND SLOWLY BACK AWAY FROM THE GOOGLE
Step away from Google. Just do it. You will drive yourself insane thinking the worst is happening to you. If you must google, stick with pages that talk about return to running instead of diagnosis. I googled my injury A LOT before my doctor appointment and here is the list of problems I convinced myself I had:
As you can see, none of these were correct and I was freaking myself out for no reason.
GET A PLAN AND FOLLOW IT
My doctor gave me a very specific routine to follow: 10 days of a slow release anti-inflammatory medication, wait 2 days and then begin a stretch routine 3x a day followed by ice, on the 5th day slowly add in 5 very specific strength exercises preceded by heat and followed by ice. My discharge papers had the specific reps to do, detailed instructions on how to increase resistance for the strength exercises, and follow up appointments to track progress.
After the initial course of medication that brought the swelling down, he gave me this direction:
“You may ride a stationary bike but avoid spin classes, running, jumping and lateral movement sports until your symptoms have resolved”
I followed my plan exactly. I did not do more or less activity than my instructions told me to. I think this part is key. When I wondered if “x, y, z” activity was OK, I called and asked. Could I pool run? No, because of the hip movement and water resistance, he wanted me to wait 2 weeks until I was showing good progress on my strengthening exercises. I also tried to stay smart about my activities that were approved. He wanted me to limit the strengthening exercises to every other day, so I did. I also knew that, while I eventually was OKed to stationary bike, I knew that biking 2 hours would probably not have been ok.
RETURNING TO RUNNING
There are a ton of plans you can google for rebuilding mileage and returning to running in a smart and strong way. Here is one from Pete Pfitzinger. And another from the folks over at RunnersConnect .
I followed a plan that had every other day running in the first week, but not more than 20-30 minutes each run. I kept all these runs easy and resisted the urge to “test” myself. In the second week, I upped mileage and time, but I, again, kept everything easy. I actually cut back my mileage in the 3rd week and then ramped it up to near normal numbers in the weeks that followed.
By committing myself to a smart and strong recovery, I was able to train for the Tobacco Road Marathon and run it pain free just 5 months after my Chicago Marathon disaster.
I, like many runners, have always loved the concept of Nuun: a tab you dissolve in your water that gives you all the electrolytes you need without all the sugar, carbs and calories that are in Gatorade or other sports drinks. But the reality of Nuun can be summed up in this picture:
I have never met a Gu I truly liked, and certainly there has never been one that I would even consider eating outside of running and racing. Heck, I often look for ways to fuel during runs and races that don’t involve the sticky, overpowering and thick, fake taste that is Gu Gels. I have tried other brands with much the same result.
But! Recently I had the opportunity to try Huma Chia Energy Gels, and I absolutely love the taste. So far my favorite flavor is cinnamon apple. And I am happy to report that these gels contain the same carb content and electrolyte profile to Gu and similar gels. Here are some pictures to compare as well as the company site for Huma.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece on how to set a workout on your Garmin Forerunner watch; today I will introduce you to another feature that many Garmin users are unaware of: the lap button, which is located in the lower right side of most Garmin watches. It’s that little loopy arrow down there.
When your watch is in GPS mode and you are running, the auto lap alert will go off every time you hit the distance that the alert is set for. If you have never changed it, the auto lap alert will go off every mile that you run, basically it’s just the beep you hear every time you hit a mile. You can change this setting inside the activity menu and make the alert go off every half mile or every two miles.
But! You can also change the lap alert as you are running. Every time you hit the lap button, the watch will give you a time since the last time you hit the button. It will then go off one mile from the moment you last hit the button. So what does this mean?
Let’s say I wanted to do a workout that was 2 miles warm up, 4 miles tempo, 2 miles cool down. I got to mile 2 and realized I wanted to add another half mile of warm up. I could hit the lap button at the 2.5 mile mark and the watch would reset the mile lap alert and I could go into my 4 tempo miles knowing my exact pace and distance for the tempo. The lap alert would then be at 3.5, 4.5, 5.5, and so on.
You can use the lap button for fartleks and strides; begin the interval by hitting the lap button and press it again once the interval is done or when it’s time to rest or recovery. You will be able to see the pace and time you ran in that interval on your Garmin Connect read out:
You can use the lap button to get your time and pace for track workouts. If you program an 8×800 (400 rest) workout into your watch and go run that workout on a track, your intervals will be slightly off, GPS is just like that when you are running around and around in an oval. But, if you are on a track, you can use the measurements on the track itself and simply hit the lap button to begin each 800 and press it once more when you cross the 800 finish line, giving you a more exact time and distance.
So get out there and start lapping!
I feel like there is just no beating the Triangle area when it comes to running routes, and the following photo tour is my absolute favorite in this area. It has a little of everything: road, trail, bridle path, greenway, lakes, creeks, hills, and plenty of water and bathrooms stops along the way. A runner cannot ask for a better route!
You are what you eat. If the furnace is hot enough, anything will burn. You can’t outrun a bad diet.
There are plenty of catchy sayings out there concerning nutrition. There are plenty of books and blogs and articles. But it comes down to experimentation. What will work for you when it comes to deciding what to eat before, during and after a run? You can’t know until you experiment.
And, if I know anything about experimentation and running, it is this: always know where the porta potty is located on your route.