It’s National Running Day, and I’m hopeful that this entry will mark my triumphant return to actually blogging about running again. I’ve signed up for my first race since the SI joint injury last year. I’ve continued to run throughout that time, but I cut my mileage back significantly, added strength training, and have been doing a lot more hill-walking in an effort to take the stress off the joint and allow it to heal. I’ve been mostly pain-free for a couple of months now, but I’m still getting some lingering achiness. I suspect that this may be as good as it gets, though, and I’m anxious to start a training plan again. The race is just a 5K on the Fourth of July, but it will be great to pin a race bib on again.
5K’s have never been my forte, and given my months of easy pacing, I’m not out for a PR this time. I do want to run this race with intention, though. In the time I’ve spent working through tis injury, I’ve reflected a lot on my approach to training, both mentally and physically. One of the most surprising things I learned during the down time was that despite my drastically reduced training load, I maintained a higher level of fitness and endurance than I ever would have expected. Despite the fact that I had replaced my nightly 5-mile runs with a walk one, run three, walk one regimen, I could still bang out the occasional five or six-miler with little difficulty. I always had a looming fear that if I dropped my mileage for even a week, I’d instantly lose the endurance. Recovery weeks seemed, while not exactly pointless, like a frustrating stall in the pursuit of constant improvement. I hate to embody a cliché, but we all know where that got me.
The other unexpected benefit to the changes I’ve had to make in my training has been finally finding and sticking to a strength-training routine. I picked up Jillian Michael’s 30-Day Shred used on Amazon a few months ago, and was shocked at how it destroyed my quads the first few times I did the workouts. I was a runner after all. A runner with strong, slightly unladylike quads. That my legs were somehow unequal to a workout DVD on Level 1 was unthinkable. I was also unprepared for how much harder the cardio was when it was alternated with strength training. I kept at the workouts twice a week, though, and was delighted to see (and feel) the results after only about a month. Aside from curing my runner’s knee (which is in no way insignificant), all the weight training I had ever done at the gym had never produced visible results. I was floored when after only a few weeks, my massage therapist took one look at my back and asked if I’d started swimming. I feel stronger than I ever have, even at the peak of my marathon training.
Suffice it to say, given what I’ve learned in the last few months, I’m rethinking my mileage junky approach to training. I know that for longer races I’m still going to need the training volume. I always see a sharp improvement in my fitness when I hit the 40-mile-a-week mark. Still, I can clearly afford to give up the recovery week paranoia. I think the real lesson in all of this has been that I haven’t really missed racing at all, but I’ve very much missed the focused training. I’m religious in my training, and as a result I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself to perform in races. If I didn’t, I felt like I had let myself down (which may be true), but more than that, I had wasted all the time I spent preparing. The realization that the preparation is really the fun part for me takes a lot of that pressure off. My goal this time around is to relish the things I love about training, and to embrace the race for what it is—simply a deadline that lends structure to my running calendar, and an excuse for brunch with cocktails.