Saturday, March 12, 2016

Remembering What It Was Like at the Bottom.

So you've listened to your Doctor ( or Husband)  and you have followed their advice ( mostly) and taken the last three months off from running.    Your injury is now completely healed and you are ready and eager to get back out there to start pounding the pavement once again.    You're ready to  burn up the roads with your blazing speed and amaze and inspire your audience with a new PR!

Only,   you suck!  

That is right!   After an entire year of training,  with several dozen races, two Marathons, several age group awards, and a steady improvement on your own personal records....you now are slower than a turtle dipped in molasses during the winter months.  All of that previous training and conditioning....is gone.

Everyone who climbs a mountain,  eventually has to come back down.  But there is a difference between walking down and getting knocked off.    Runners that fall off that " peak of running performance"  have to understand that they are, once again,  going to have to start from zero.

Well,  Maybe zero is a little harsh.  It is possible that an injury was not major, and that the road to recovery was short enough so they can begin at half way.   In other words, they have not fallen too far.    Your legs and cardio quickly get back on track and you can race back to the top in no time.

But for those who have lost serious conditioning,   this is a major blow.   The blow is actually more mental than physical.   Physically,  they are able to get back in the saddle with a fixed leg.    They just have to run around to get it back in the shape it once was.  But the mental strain comes from remembering what it was like being on top;  and viewing that from the bottom.  They can't remember ( Or don't want to!)  what it was like when running 9 minute miles was an achievement.    And a training run over 8 miles was historic!   They only remember the 7:45 minute miles over the 26.2 mile course.   And THAT was the pace there wanted to improve.   They want to skip ahead to that level before the injury.  But, there are no shortcuts, and running is an unforgiving sport.

It's difficult to know the limits one should push to reach those heights again.   Push too hard and risk re-injury.    Start too slow and you run the risk of quitting running all together.   It happens.   Several promising distance runners have retired early, believing that they will never again be able to climb back to those former heights.  So why even bother running at all?

So then, what do you do?

The Treatment?   Amnesia!    Or,   selective memory loss.   You have to forget what it was like to be "good".   No small task!    Forgetting something can be almost as difficult as trying to remember something.   Try to remember what you were like as a kid and I'm sure your perception differs from those who were around you.   Luckily,  we have forgotten all the dumb things we did back then when learning to tie your shoe was a major victory!  ( Well, it was for me anyway)    You have to remember that it took time to gain the conditioning that allowed you to achieve those milestones.  And you have to forget  that 6:45 mile that helped damage the leg to begin with. ( well,   Not completely.   Just keep that as a goal,  not the standard.)   There was a time when any time under a  7 minute mile was unimaginable.  You have to go back there.

That is not to say that you will never get there again.   It's simply a way to change your perception.   Think of this as an opportunity to climb that mountain again...from the beginning.  Only now you have a better understanding of the paths to take. Rebuilding things back to their former glory can be just as rewarding....and fun!   And you know, in the back of your mind,  that you can and will achieve that level again.   (Well,  at least until you get too old.  Everyone has to retire sometime.)

The key is to not become discouraged and quit running all together.  Running is fun, right?  Remember that!  It gets you to travel and see new sites.   You have a reason to be outdoors and the side effects are a healthy body, strong heart, and clear mind.   And you look really good in athletic clothes.

So screw the fast times!   You're a runner!   Not a sprinter.  You go for distance and experience over a lifetime.  Not some short spurt of speed.   Life is short enough.    And as odd as it is to say this:  running helps you slow down to enjoy life the longest.   So keep running!   Farther and farther...