DIARY: Injury Recuperation: More Thoughts

As I wait for the orthotics that will allow me to start running again within a week or so (if you can call 3x15min per week "running"), I've had more time to contemplate the nature of my recuperation and what is has shown about the cause of the injury and my current state of recovery.

I believe some of these empirical observations (self-observations in this case obviously, so take them for what they are) could prove at least anecdotally interesting to other runners.

Over the last two months since I stopped running, I have invested my newly freed-up time into two main activities (on the running related front, I have rekindled my interest in the cause of Richard Dawkins and the other secular humanists, as well as started practicing the guitar):
  • Upgrading and updating my knowledge on running
  • Engaging in a strength/flexibility program
I'd like to address the first activity today and the second in a later update, but firstlet me say that being injured gives you a new appreciation of your old hobbies, perhaps showcasing that a balanced set of interests serves the serious athlete better than complete single-mindedness.

Running Knowledge
My inquiry into truly modern and serious running theory started with Adriele Pirlo's marathon talk at Crusaders where I became aware of "The Lore of Running", widely regarded as the definitive resource on running.

The work derives its usefulness not only from its encyclopedic nature, but from it's presentation of breaking-edge theories. "Lore of Running" will give you the ability to read through the myths and dubious scientific claims found in some running books and on the internet and critically evaluate them.

One thing I learned from reading this book, and my subsequent reading of other newly published books (I particularly recommend "Brain Training for Runners"), was that running, as a science, consists of two major empirical worlds: one in the laboratory and one of the "real world."

We can learn more about how the body responds to different types of training, stimuli, conditions etc. by performing tests in a laboratory. You can also learn these things by simply doing training and testing how you perform as a result. In a way every training session is an experiment, it'll either fail or it will not.

Because of this, you don't need doctor's in white robes to tell you what to do. An observer (read: coach) with a scientific mindset will be able to make many of the same predictions as a trained exercise physiologist.

You can also do this yourself with the added caveat that self-observations can be more difficult than working with a coach.

This brings me to my main advice for any runner, however, it's not so important exactly what training programme you use, as long as you're:

1. Aware of why you're doing what you're doing
2. Employ latest advice from books and coaches on how to get started (e.g. don't start blindly)

The underlying logic is simple: To fully optimise your success, you must treat your training as a scientific hypothesis, e.g. "An idea or statement that must be tested before it can be stated as fact."
Or in more practical terms: "I'm doing this to achieve that." This means you need to do regular "checks" to assess your improvement against set targets (this also implies you need precise targets, this is indeed a must). I recommend, again, "Brain Training for Runners" on advice how to continually assess and evaluate improvements.

Just as a scientists in a laboratory, you also need to continually assess the factors, outside of your training programme, that may affect your "test results" (e.g. illness, stress, bad weather and any other factor that can be reasonably assumed to affect your running).

This will avoid the pitfall of misinterpreting bad test results not caused by any failure on part of your training (e.g. the classical example of overtrained people having a poor race, thus concluding they are not training hard enough, then adjusting their mileage upward and further confounding the initial damage).

The Multiple Programme Conundrum
Many who have read my blog on multiple occasions, will notice I make various claims on what I believe to be the best present training programmes and techniques, but also that I have changed these views over time (some may be tempted to say more "fuzzy" and altogether less concrete).

I accept this as a valid criticism, but would like to explain it because it touches on an interesting phenomenon inside the world of running that makes it very difficult for people to identify exactly what training programme is the "best".

One thing to get out of the way before I go into more detail is this: Running programmes need to be customisable to be truly effective. While the laws of physiology are indeed the same for everyone, people are genetically diverse enough that they respond widely different to specific types of training techniques nad training volumes.

With that said, training programmes are actually a lot like diets. It's interesting to note that the majority of diets out there on the market actually work, despite the fact that they are based on often contrary evidence: E.g. , they can't all be right, or can they?

The scientific answer is "no" (and most diets are probably if not outright fallacious, at least scientifically dubious), but there's another trick at play: All, diets put structure on your eating habits and forces you to consider what you eat. This alone is almost undoubtedly a factor in their success.

So it is with running training. I often hear "But this programme works perfectly well for me" when I confront someone with the fact that their training is based on older principles (there's another factor at play here which I'll return to shortly), or "my coach tells me to do this and this and he's been very successful".

So here's the crux: Any training programme is better than no training programme because of the structure it provides, especially when guided by a coach (because a coach will force some element of assessment, and positive pressure into the programme).

That doesn't mean that it's the best training programme, however, or even the right one. Your training programme may have allowed you to run that sub-3 hour marathon, but you have no way of knowing if following a different (superior) training programme would have allowed you to run even faster? And certainly that would have been preferable?

So, I argue that all runners must show the utmost scepticism towards training programmes being presented to them as the Israelites did the Ten Commandments brought down by Moses from Mt. Sinai.

As with any other discourse in our community, your safest bet is to reference the latest material available on running, the newest theories, and the one's that have the best track-record over time. This includes consulting with the right coaches and other specialists. But always ask "why" you're doing something and never do any session unless you know exactly what it's purpose is.

The other factor I was alluding to earlier is that the newer theories currently on the market have not obliterated the existing training programmes. The activity of running is very adaptive, and practices that don't work simply don't get assimilated permanently into the running community. which is why almost no one drinks their full weight loss in fluid during a marathon despite this being the official advice of many athletics bodies. This was based on a catastrophic misinterpretation of the existing scientific evidence by these athletic bodies and caused the death's of a number of runners from the condition known as hyponatraemia (low blood sodium). These athletics bodies have yet to take responsibility for this, another deplorable, if unrelated fact.

Point is, though, that if something doesn't work practically, runners won't adopt it, and drinking that much is simply uncomfortable (indeed the fastest marathon runners measured after races where also the most dehydrated). The scientific reason for this is that negative side-effects of heavy fluid consumption outweigh the benefits of fluid replacement.

Most of the trusted techniques of the last 20 years, are still fully workable and useful despite the new evidence that has come to light (and, among other things, shattered the old Energy Depletion Model and Cardiovascular/Anaerobic Models and replacing it with the, admittedly developing, Central Governor Model). What you should change therefore, to my view, is not your whole training, but you should put serious thought into why you do certain sessions. What's their purpose? What does the new theory say their effect will most likely be? And then you should go about critically testing this on yourself.

Your training will benefit, and I feel confident when saying "I guarantee it."