TRAINING: Getting yourself back

When a runner get's injured, he needs to give himself as much rest as possible while also taking any step necessary to maintain fitness.
During my injuries, this always invariably means finding some sort of running that hurts less, as I simply don't really enjoy other sports much. For the sprained ankle running on flat surfaces for a while has been helpful, for the plantar, avoiding too many hard surfaces (the observant reader may see that these two injuries together provide quite a headache for running venue). If running hard or downhill hurts, then don't. Slow running will get you a long way, you won't be exactly race ready, but at least your base stays uneroded.
Incidentally, you can almost always count on good grassy fields as your last resort, and I've managed to do some good speedwork on grass over the last few weeks. Not racing has done wonders for my training, and even the hard training does not inflict the punishment of race day, so injuries have mended well.
Gradual Testing
As with training increase, you want to plan your return to full-on racing gradually. Stretches and strength exercises to injured areas are helpful, but you need to take yourself out for runs that will simulate race day as well.
When my meniscus was torn, I started running slow first, then normal, then good downhills, and then finally technical downhills. Step by step, my body send signals that it was returning to full strength.
Likewise the speed sessions have told me that my body is recovering from the Three-Peaks ordeal. First speed session I did was sluggish, but satisfactory. The next was quicker, the third marginally quicker again. The day after the last, my legs were so fresh I couldn't contain myself on my long slow runs and ran at an intensity bordering the Anaerobic Zone (high-end AT2, or Aerobic Threshold 2, also known as Zone 2, one of the two base zones for training).
I've preliminarily dubbed these sessions "semi-tempo runs", and can't wait to do more. Stretching after these has been great too, flexibility in my hamstrings is better now than I ever remember, recovery is speeding up again, and my heart feels less laboured.
Djouce - Swept in the Wind
Today, I did a 16k run from Djouce Woods car park to Djouce and back again with Aoife, and it was a lovely run. Despite the strong headwind going home, we did decent pace, never exerting ourselves too much, and doing the final very steep kilometre to the peak of Djouce in less than 9-and-a-half minutes. I wasn't running my guts out, but the nature of the incline still meant that my heart rate snuck up to 182 at one occasion. I have to run a speeds bordering 17kph to generate that time of pressure on my heart on the flats.
Gravity, and the mountains, looming old and patiently in front of us rushing hill runners, are a mighty force indeed.
Prince Willie's
There wasn't a single moment of pain from my ankle, only a slight soreness as I came back to my flat later. Signs are so good, I'm seriously considering Prince William's Seat on Wednesday as my "return race". This would theoretically allow me to complete the Leinster League if I complete all seven. This would still be unlikely though, as some races are close to some of my higher priority aims. Every runner must make a decision with him or herself if they want to run two races at 90% (or worse) or one at 100%. It's not an easy decision.
Prince Willie's was one of my poorer outings last year, but I did have some memorable moments (as my race report from that last year will attest). I finished 58th in 40:33, this year I'd fully expect to break 34 minutes for the course, injury or no injury, and I will sit down an make a detailed analysis of the route based on last years run to prepare for all eventualities.
I'm not doing Carrauntoohil, so with the welcome break in the Leinster League, it would be a nice race to get in as final preparation for the 20k run that lies ahead of me as I am committed to do Leg 7 of the Wicklow Way Relay. Being very runnable, there's little to fear from an injury perspective. My heel does flare up now and again, but my trusty golf-ball and ice-pad always put it back in place. I miss the days when the heel was normal like my right heel, but it's been 10 months now, so it's turning into a faint memory.
20k is just about my optimal distance, I was at relative ease pacing Aoife to 1:34:07 in the Connemara Half, felt strong on the Wicklow Way Trail, and had very strong first 22k at Three-Peaks, despite my bad fall.
So the dark storm clouds that had gathered some weeks back have been blown away by consistent stretching, loads of exercises and sensible running (good quality training). Now all I have to decide is whether Prince William's Seat is sensible to run or not. The morale boost would be welcome, even if I cannot expect to do as well as I'd like. At this stage of the season, though, it's time to get race fit as well as get the sharpness. I don't have that edge at the moment, so races can be used constructively to gain the mental and physical edge back before the bigger tests (the Trials and Snowdon).
They need to be raced wisely, though, so I have to learn that no matter how much it hurts, sometimes you must throw a battle in order to win the war. You cannot kill yourself for the sake of a few positions, if it means damaging your long-term training. Whether or not I can walk that line myself, I doubt, but I'm willing to put it to the test. First you run with your brain, then your legs, and only then should the heart come into play....

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