The five dumbest things I’ve done running

This week’s workouts (Hybrid running machines): 60 minutes total

I’m running smarter these days, carefully easing into runs on my local roads and doing a majority of my workouts using non-impact fitness machines. I haven’t always exercised good judgment when running and that has led to some bad outcomes. Here are the five dumbest things I’ve ever done while running.

5. No warm-up full-on sprint at the track. I had only been running a few months and I decided to see how fast I could run 100 meters. I don’t remember my speed, but I do remember waiting over a month to get over a groin pull.

4. Tripping on the edge of my driveway at 4:30 AM. I had finished my morning run and came off the road where my toe caught a slight rise and I hit the ground hard. Lots of cuts and scrapes, a possible hairline fracture of one finger and scars on my knee that didn’t fade for three years. As bad as that was, I was running again the next day.

3. Getting completely lost on a trail run. I was running at Muttontown Preserve when I found myself caught behind a large fence that separated me from the trail leading to the exit. It was freezing and snowy and I had to bushwhack between thorny bushes to get to a barbed wired fence that I was able to climb over and then jump down six feet to the ground.

2. Running a half marathon with a knee injury. I’d hurt my knee the week before the LI Half and decided to run it anyway. My knee was sore at the start and getting sorer every mile. I considered dropping out at the four mile mark but chose to continue. I had a bad race and spent months running on that injured knee. If I’d DNS’d I would have avoided a long, frustrating recovery period.

1. Continually re-aggravating my current disc injury. I’m not sure if I caused my original problem by “racing” a neighbor who was also doing a neighborhood run. I have no other explanation but every time I was close to recovery, I managed to do something to make the injury worse. Usually that involved turning a good run into a bad one by pushing my speed too far. I’m hoping that cycle has finally been broken.

I’ve had two decent workouts this week. Today’s session (on a hybrid machine) came the closest to running that I’ve ever done on a piece of gym equipment (not counting a treadmill). Tomorrow I plan to do another outside run. My hope is that my form will continue to improve and the residual discomfort will lessen.

The lessons that taught me commitment

Back in 2008, when I returned to running, I needed to view it with absolute commitment. 15 years prior to then, I was running regularly with a friend who was very passionate about the sport. At that time, my running was a novelty. I didn’t really embrace it as a lifestyle. When my friend left NYC for a few weeks on business, I found every reason not to go out for my daily run. When she returned, I told her I was no longer a runner.

Like anything that’s beneficial (but hard) full commitment is the key. But commitment is a slippery slope and my earlier efforts as a runner failed because I did not commit to the required discipline. I carried the lessons I learned from that earlier experience through my first weeks as a re-engaged runner:

  • Run at your own pace, not other’s
  • Run only on clear roads or trails, it’s far better than dodging pedestrians or traffic
  • Cover only the distances you can handle
  • Use the right gear, wear the right shoes
  • Benchmark your progress
  • In for a penny, in for a pound

It took me months to finally take one rest day every week, because I feared the slippery slope. After three and a half years of serious commitment, I know that every day I rest is merely a temporary respite from the work I’ll be doing the next day. I’m currently experiencing some symptoms of a cold that has dragged me down a little. I chose to rest today instead of doing my morning run. Tomorrow I’ll go out for 10 miles. Why? Because I’m committed.

The path of enlightenment is cold, wet and muddy

I learned a few things on Sunday about my level of conditioning. They weren’t happy lessons but they put my fitness into perspective. The XTERRA crowd was different than the typical mix I’ve observed at other races. This was a purpose-driven bunch, young, lean and intense. I would have been very intimidated had I participated in this event a year ago. After six races last year I understood what to expect and that my best strategy was to start at a moderate pace and just run my race. Yesterday was both an affirmation that I can run with this crowd (I really was worried about finishing far at the back of the pack) and a reality check that, perhaps, I’m not completely recovered from my pneumonia.

I was prepared to go out for 4.75 miles of tough trails and when they said they’d cut the length to 3.7 I said “easy.” I would not have allowed myself a DNF but I also wouldn’t have maintained 9:20 on those trails if I’d needed to cover another mile during the race. I truly understood the sensation of lactic acid buildup in my legs as we went from hill scrambles to abrupt descents to rising switchbacks. There were times when I told myself I just couldn’t make another hill but I managed to talk my way into pressing on. Sometimes I used the crowd of runners behind me as motivation and other times I told myself  “One way or another you’re getting out of the woods so you might as well do it running.”

I did make good decisions prior and during the race. I wore warm outer clothes as close to the race start as possible and handed them off to my wife when we assembled for the start. I wore running gloves and noticed many didn’t. The gloves helped regulate my body temperature and gave me security that I had protection in the event of a fall. I refused to let the other runners intimidate me as they drafted closely behind on narrow trails and I left room on the left for those who wished to pass. I took the time to enjoy what was happening around me and took note of the course for future training. Next time I run at Stillwell I’ll take on the black trail and not shy away from the tough stuff. There will be another Stillwell race in June, this one full length, so I’ll need to be better prepared if I choose to participate.

Lessons from my first race

I indulged myself this morning by skipping exercise. It’s not that racing 4 miles yesterday really required me to rest today. I considered going on the elliptical but then I decided to create separation between my first race and my second: the LI Marathon 5K on May 2nd.
Tomorrow I will start my training for that event and while the distance is shorter I am not assuming the race will be easier. Despite reading articles, posts and comments online and hearing first hand from friends who race, I didn’t fully understand the experience until it happened. Here’s what I learned:
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1. There’s a lot of positive energy on race day. Everyone is competing but mostly with themselves.

2. You need to ask a lot of questions: “How do you attach your bib number?” “Where are the bathrooms?” “Where do we line up for the start?”

3. No matter how cold it is at the start, it’s worth dressing lightly because you’re going to get very hot very quickly.

4. It’s really hard to drink water from a paper cup while running. It’s also hard to grab a paper cup from a table while running.

5. Hill training is not an optional technique if you plan to compete.

6. Familiarity with the course is more helpful than just knowing distance in terms of gaging progress.

7. It’s amazing to see people who you’d never guess could even run around the block pass you, quickly.

8. The toughest 100 feet are those leading to the finish line.

9. The cheering, fatigue, heat and crowd at the end is very disorienting. I forgot to stop my Garmin so it continued to record long after I had finished the race.

10. You may get very hot during the race but you’ll cool off fast. Put on more layers as soon as possible.

Those are the things that I remember the most. I’m sure, after my next race, that I’ll have a few more to list.