Wednesday, February 24, 2016

When Recovery Time Seems Like Purgatory.

If you are a lazy slug like me,  being told by a doctor that you should stay off your feet and take it easy probably sounds like an order to take an "at home vacation!"  Having a legitimate excuse for laying on the couch, eating potato chips and watching re-runs on the History Channel sounds like Heaven on Earth time to me.   And although it may be a liberal interpretation of the doctor's directives,  I would imagine that the basic premise of "getting better by resting" would be understood.

However,   for runners,  being told not to run for any duration of time is akin to being told you are being sent to prison.  Actually,  More like  Purgatory!   That place where the only thing that separates your soul from the flames of Hades is a thin mesh screen. They thought they lived a good life and made the right decisions....Why this?   Similar to a pilot being grounded, or a ball player being benched during a game,  the runner wants to run,  even when shackled by an injury.  How can this make any sense?

For those of us who are reasonable,   we recognize that playing with an injury is bad for everybody involved.   It's bad for the team;  bad for the fans;  and most of all,  bad for the individual athlete.   We non-runners understand that running on an injury will simply make it worse, and possibly could end your "career."  What is so difficult to understand about that?  We understand...because we are not runners.

But step back a moment.   If the runner in your family has spent time and energy to develop a good  habit,   that person is not about to let all that effort go to waste.   We are told to get off the couch and run by pretty much everyone these days.   And,  even though we know it is good for our health, most of us flip the channel while reaching for another beverage.  Bad habits and hard to break, but good habits are even more difficult to maintain.  It can't be overlooked that a degree of panic sets in when they are told they have to break their good habit for "health" reasons, even if it is for only a limited amount ot time..  The risk of digressing back to being a couch potato is a nightmare they would rather not re-live.

So how should we as supporting spouses support our spouses?  Locking them in their room is not the answer, although it might sound cool at the time.  And letting them run as much as they want with an injury will only keep them in that "death spiral" of re-injury.   Rather,   suggest other ways to stay in shape that do not require all that "hard pounding" and "heavy breathing".....Like walking!

Walking is still an exercise.   Think of it as a form of running....just much slower.   They still use their legs and have to put on the proper exercise gear.  They still get to travel the trails and sidewalks to enjoy nature.  They may even allow you to keep up with them without your bicycle.

If they don't want to do that, there are other things: Swimming,  skiing, biking, yoga....and if all else    Shopping is a risk for several reasons.   Besides the drain on the bank account,  there is the risk that she may only desire to run MORE now that she has new shoes or clothes to try out.  Even still,  if it keeps them from aggravating the injury,  all the better.  (Besides....she needed new shoes anyway.)

As with every suggestion,  find out what works.  I'm sure there are more out there.   Perhaps you or your spouse can come up with a compromise activity that allows her to keep the healthy habit, while still allowing her injury to heal.  It's a tricky time for both parties involved.   Runners might simply want to be able to run again.   But we supporting husbands have to figure out a way to keep them from unraveling their recovery while not unraveling our marriage!

So buck up there!   And know that you are not alone.   Supporting a runner can be a full time job,  even if it only looks like you are only along for the ride. Think of it as being a manager of a prize fighter.  They have done a lot of training to get to this point, And have to get in the ring and fight the fight.  But it is up to you to know when the fight is over.  And sometimes,  that is not simply when the bell rings.

Monday, February 22, 2016

When Should You Listen to Your Body?

Your poor body has a complicated network of communication called your nervous system.... Unfortunately,  it only has one way to communicate a message to you:  PAIN!
Cheryl, my wife the runner, has been dealing with an injury for the past several months.  It happened at a race and the initial signs were faint.   However,  as she attempted to return to her normal running schedule,  she immediately got a slightly firmer message that things were not as they should be.

This brings up the question: When should you listen to your body?   As  children we are told by parents and teachers to "Stop crying!  You're not even hurt!"   When you obviously are!   Your skinned knee or bruised elbow tells another tale.   And there is no denying the pain message your body is sending to your brain.   A message  you can understand loud and clear as a child.

As teenagers who are into sports and other physical activities,  you quickly learn it is not "cool" to bawl your head off over ever bump, scrape or bruise.   Your coaches reaffirm the earlier message that "Pain is Weakness Leaving the Body!"   In many ways, this is helpful in pushing through the pain of physical exertion to reach a level of conditioning that helps you attain a goal.  Young adults tend to give up too quickly the moment their muscles ache or their breathing hurts.   They need to be shown that the pain of training is worth the price of victory.

But then we all eventually become adults.   By this time,  either we get the message to push ourselves to achieve greatness,  or we simply refuse to try.   We have learned that, in many cases,  the physical pain is not always worth the price of victory.   However,  there are still those seeds that were planted deep in our psyche when we were children.   The message to ignore pain.

So adult runners,  conditioned to "push through the pain" are at risk for causing themselves injury.   An injury that may affect their performance in the bigger picture of things.  Muscles ache and joints groan over the course of any run.  How is a runner supposed to distinguish between the "normal training pain" and the "I think something is seriously ****-ed up! Pain?"  

As with everything,  I would guess training is key.   Training inflicts a certain level of pain that allows you to overcome and recover over time.   As you gain experience and conditioning,  the physical pain is able to be endured longer and over greater distances.   Sometimes runs that used to cause you great distress no longer even register on your body's pain threshold.

Education helps as well.  Reading up on various injuries and how they can be prevented can prove invaluable.  It also helps to hear that injuries can happen to anyone, even pros, at any given time.  And, in most cases,  the cure for these injuries is simply to not run.    Allowing your body to naturally recover is the best way to heal the injury and get back out there.

Lastly:   Experience!    Newbie runners may push themselves too far, too fast.   They might lack the experience to know the difference between normal training pain and "something is messed up" pain.   To them,  all runs probably feel like "I'm about to die!" pain.   As you run longer miles,  inevitably you will learn to distinguish between the two.  And, if you are lucky, you may forever avoid any serious or reoccurring injury from ever happening.

This all sounds good on paper,   but how is it in practice?   My only case study is limited to my observations of my wife.   Oh, sure I have a little bit of Army PT runs to bring in,  but watching how my wife handles her injury is quite telling.   I would describe her as a "Go Getter!"    one who focuses on what she wants and achieves it.   With her new found passion for running, her attitude has allowed her to make great strides in a short amount of time.  In less than one year after her first 1.5 mile run,  she was able to qualify for the Boston Marathon on her second Marathon attempt!   Not bad for a newbie....  However,   with every attempt at a new PR ( personal record) she ran the risk of hurting herself...And eventually, her luck ran out.

So now she has been in recovery mode for the past three months.   Unfortunately,  she wants to run and often attempts to run before fully recovered.   She listens to her body, ( Hey!   I still feel some pain there...) and decides to ignore it.   But then her body tells her, in a not so friendly voice, ( See!  I Told You!)  that she is going to have to go back to the recovery room for an additional two weeks.  It's a frustrating cycle that I , unfortunately, can't help with much.   Like her body, I offer support and reassurance that she can take longer to recover properly....but, like her body,  I am often ignored.

So how do you undo all that deep seeded pain repression to know when your body is actually broke?   Who knows?    Doctors have probably been laboring over this question for centuries.  It is really up to the runner to change their understanding of the pain and the messages that are being sent.  As for the spouses and supporters of these injured runners,  all we can do is reaffirm the doctors orders and hope that they will not injure themselves further.  Bear in mind that the loudest you can possibly scream is probably nothing compared to the volume levels their bodies are sending.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Running on Roads vs Running on Trails.

Trail running vs...
To run on trails or on the road...that is the question for many runners.   A perplexing question, because  there are advantages and negatives to both.    I imagine you could skip the question all together and simply choose to run inside...either on a tread mill or on an indoor track.  But this question is for those runners who enjoy the Great Outdoors and the feeling ( or struggle) of the wind in their faces,  sun on their backs, and earth under their feet. Or those of us too poor to afford an expensive Gym Membership.
Road Running...Beep Beep!
So which one should you choose?  What are the perks?   And what will your choice say about you as a runner?  Let's examine them individually for just a bit. Shall we?

Not the best location in the road
First:  Running on the road.   By road, I of course mean somewhere on the shoulder of a road.   It would probably not be the wisest decision to run in the middle of a road that is shared by fast cars, big trucks, and "less than attentive" drivers.  Running along side a road has it's share of hazards, but also offers a large and groomed network of paths to train and enjoy.  Some roads even have paved shoulders so you needn't worry about loose gravel or large rocks to run or trip on.  The options for varying distances and new and different routes are endless.  And, best of all,  if you ever find yourself in need of help,  Civilization is literally passing next to you at any given moment.  Easy enough to flag down a motorist or have a friend come pick you up.

Arrested for running?
Of course the negatives are probably obvious:   Fast cars, big trucks and "less than attentive" drivers.  It may even be illegal in some states to run along busy highways.  Organized Marathons are nice in that they close the roads ( most of the time) for several hours so the runners can enjoy the full surface.   But simple training runs on your own, force you to be on constant guard for vehicles and bad drivers. Even around careful drivers there are still stray rocks, dust and car exhaust that can make your running frustrating.

Wow!   Beautiful!
Next,  let's compare that to trails.  Trails are great for several reasons.  The most obvious being that there should not be any scary vehicles on them.   That being said, they still have some issues that runners may not like very much.

First let's talk about the good.    Trails are beautiful!   They are usually cut through a state park or national forest area that offers breathtaking views and glimpses of wildlife and nature that may not be as obvious from a road.  Some offer challenges in that they vary in terrain and elevation,  so your workout can be varied more than just a single flat strait path. I mention they are beautiful?
And Cold...

The down side to trails is that many are isolated.  Meaning:   If you find yourself in need of help...there is no easy way for a rescue.  No phones, no cars, not a single luxury...
And Muddy...
Trails in the north  are seasonal.   Rain makes them muddy and slippery,   Snow makes them nearly impassable!  Very few are maintained, even during the summer!  (Except by certain volunteer groups and organizations.)  So it is possible your favorite trail could have wash outs, fallen trees, or overgrown areas that will make your run feel more like  Rock Climbing, Hiking or Wading instead of a comfortable, carefree jog.
 Many trails come with limits for distance.  This may not be a problem if you only run for a couple of miles;  But if you seek longer runs over 14 miles,   you may have to travel a serious distance just to find a trail that can accommodate.

Cheryl's ready to run!
So which is the right one?   The answer is probably a bit of both.   Cheryl and I first started out running along local gravel roads.   However,  the dust, rocks and even sporadic traffic helped force us to find a different location.   Luckily,  there are a number of paved bike paths around the city  24 miles away.
Perfect Mix of Trail and Road
They are maintained during the summer and even have bathrooms in a few locations!   However, during the winter,  the trail snows in and is not cleared for runners.

Great running even when wet...
That trail is also limited in its distances.   For her longer runs, we are forced to travel to another small town that has a 14 mile stretch of train track that has been converted to bike trail.   This trail, though nice, is not paved nor maintained very well. (Even during summer!)  It is a pleasant experience when the weather is nice, though.

Yet close enough to civilization
Cheryl has resisted the label "trail runner" because it brings a certain level of baggage with it.  However,   we find ourselves running along trails and bike paths more often now than along any road.  We are fortunate that there is at least a small section of trail that has all the bonuses of a road,  (paved, maintained, near civilization..etc.) but none of the hazards or dangers.   Best of all,  it is free!  No parking fees, entrance fees, or  memberships.

Running here feels....GREAT!
So if you are new to running and are looking for a place to run without putting your life in danger or health at risk,  I would suggest looking around your local area first.   Perhaps your local roads and residential areas are perfect for joggers.
Is this a Road?  A Trail?  You decide...
Maybe there is a gem of a trail just one small town over. Part of the fun is seeking out new places to try out.  And as the seasons change,  so might you in where you desire to train.  Just be aware that there is no single right answer...just different places to run.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Definition of an Ultra-Runner.

As if a Marathon was not long enough already, there are some folks out there who insist that 26.2 miles has to be longer for them to value themselves as runners.   Who are these people?   Well,   You  could simply label them with all other runners.  You could even call them "marathoners" because, I'm sure many of them have run a 26.2 mile race somewhere in their running lives. But the people I'm focusing this post on are the ultra-small, Uber-elite folks known as ULTRA-RUNNERS.  These people feel that there is no distance too great; no mountain too high; no hardship too painful.  They push themselves and their bodies to their limits.  Break those limits!  And then search the ends of the earth for new ones.

Cheryl, in her never ending thirst for knowledge ( and all things running) has purchased and read countless books about these people.   You would be amazed at how many Ultra-Runners actually have books out there.   You would probably also be amazed that many of them seem to follow a formula that seems to be a defining characteristic in  the building of these Elite Machines.  Oh sure, there are details and anecdotes that are unique to every human being.   But,  as a Mathematician, Statistician, and former Fisheries Biologist,  I try to find patterns and correlations in just about everything that I find interesting.  ( Even when it fails to make much sense.)  So let's try to shed some light on these constants that are found in the formula for an Ultra-Runner.

So I have boiled down a few things that I find  as common threads tying these people together.  First:  You have to be old!  At least over thirty.   Over forty is better.
  Perhaps it is a mid-life crisis thing, but it seems that many of the ultra runners don't even seriously begin running until after they turn thirty.  Some for health; others for sanity; perhaps it is that moment in life where they feel a change is required, And since most people would Never think of running as "fun",  they choose that.   Or maybe because a pair of shoes is cheaper than a Gym Membership.

Next:  Stuff in the Basement!   I love this category because it sums up many things.   A troubled childhood, a lost love, a tortured past, Drug or alcohol addiction.  This possibly is linked to age because young people have not lived long enough to reflect on the hardships of their youth and wonder what they should have done better.  These problems and issues are things that no amount of money can solve. Time ticks by and youth disappears with every moment.    I can only speculate about the  reasons why this is important for Ultra-Runners.  Are they trying to run away from their problems?  Are they trying to build themselves up so they can gain a sense of overwhelming confidence?  Or  are they simply trying to run themselves to exhaustion so they can exorcise the demons and stop thinking about the things in life that are troubling?

Third:  Health nut!  Not because they care about any deep political or moral  cause.  Nor for any longevity or "healthy living" reason.   They only reason they do additional  exercises  or  watch what they eat is so they can run faster!  Seems dumb, right?   Shouldn't running be enough?   Doesn't running allow you to eat anything you want?  Not to these guys....   Issues like Runners Knee, Plantar  Fasciitis, and Tendinitis are all problems that can be helped or prevented with certain exercises.   And Eating certain plants reduces recovery and healing times, while also helps to prevent injuries.  Running extreme distances takes a toll on ones body simply be being long.   Add in their desire for speed and you had better forge a body out of iron.

And lastly,  Beards.  Mostly because these guys run not for hours; but days!  Or even Weeks!   In that time, you are bound to develop a lovely Forest Gump type beard.  Now I know this is not universal.   Besides women,  there are a few guys who somehow manage to shave for every camera that takes their picture.  ( Scott Jurek and Dean Karnazes  are a couple of examples)  But if you check out any picture of an Ultra Start line...there are beards....Lots and lots of beards.

So there you go.   If you have ever wondered if you have what it takes to become an Ultra Marathon Runner....Check off the boxes.   Are you over thirty?   Has life dealt you a losing hand more than once?   Are you sporting a beard that belongs on Duck Dynasty?   Well,  you may have what it takes to be an Ultra-Marathoner.  Now all that's left for you to do is run...a LOT!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Haruki Murakami! The Man Who Started it All!

"So who is Haruki Murakami?"  You may ask.  And how did this guy manage to inspire my wife into becoming a runner when I could not?   The answer is very simple:   He is a Japanese Author who likes cats.   Oh!  And I guess he runs a little.  
Now, if you are like me,  you probably are wondering how an author of fiction could possibly inspire someone, who never considered herself an athlete, to take up running.   Oh, those wily authors with their seductive ways of writing.   Novelist and poets have long known ways to woo  women with mere words and phrases that any football player would never even fathom. I should know!  After all, I am trying to become one. ( An author, Not a football player)   I, however, am motivated by the much more noble goals of self recognition, fame, and fortune.   Inspiring people to take up a cause or goal for human betterment is beyond me.   So perhaps we differ slightly in our focus.  

  He is also Japanese.   I can understand this a bit.   Cheryl,  has been infatuated with everything Japan for quite some time.   And why not?   Japan makes Sushi, Anime, Sony Electronics, Robots,  and Subarus!  So it makes sense that one of her favorite authors comes from Japan as well.  (They also have Ninjas, but that might be just something I find attractive.)  I'm not sure if Haruki Murakami has any ties to any of those things,  but being born in  Fushimi-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture must make him some how connected.

He also likes cats.   Anyone who likes and writes about cats can not be all that bad, right?   I mean,  I like cats and I'm kind of awesome.  Cheryl tells me he puts cats ( And Subarus!)  into many of his novels frequently.   Sometimes as background, other times as characters.   Cats are one of those pets that have an independence  and self reliance about them  that many people might find annoying.  Anyone who finds this quality alluring is OK by me.

And lastly,   I guess he runs Marathons.   Occasionally,  he runs Iron Mans and Ultra Marathons.  Now you may be asking, "Why would an author of fiction feel the need to run at all?"   Cheryl tells me he answers these questions in one of his books.   Apparently, running is healthy for your brain and helps you with writers block.
  I should have taken a page from that lesson when I was trying to write back in November.  This book he wrote seems to have done the lions share of the inspiring for Cheryl,  since it was shortly after reading that book that she considered giving running a go.  Having  the ultimate goal of completing a Marathon at the end of a training season seems to have pushed the right button in her Psyche.
 If I had known that years ago,  I possibly could have pushed that button sooner.   But the truth is I have never run farther than a 6 mile Eagle Run in the Army.  Running in a 26.2 mile organized event was something I had never considered.  Even now,  I would find that distance daunting.

So even though I'm suspicious of his motives,  I have to hand it to  Murakami San for accidentally inspiring my Wife to take up running.  I have yet to read one of his books,  but that is on me since I'm not much of a reader.  Sometimes a simple spark is all it takes to create a devastating explosion.   So I'd like to credit Mr. Murakami for providing that spark that has unleashed Cheryl's unbridled energy.