An inner athlete's manifesto.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Hot Lessons from the Queens Half-Marathon

Each summer, I run the Queens Half Marathon in July. It is always a scorcher, and since I recognize that I tend to wilt in the heat and truly run at a snail's pace, I vow each year to do better than the previous year. This requires more training time in the heat, and early on this summer, I realized that was not going to happen. I just hate anything above 80 degrees.

Here's where I went wrong: Confidence. Since I have done several half marathons, some more prepared than others, I thought that I could run this race fairly easily with a bare minimun of distance training. I knew the course was fairly flat, and I was prepared to sweat through it. I thought running twice that distance would give me enough training elasticity to make it through anything.

I was wrong, friends. Painfully wrong, even though I wasn't necessarily running for prize money or anything. Training is crucial, and though I am a master at holding myself up mentally, I simply lacked the amount of physicality needed to finish this race without any sort of injury. (Really, preventing injury should be more of any runner's focus, but let's get real--how many of us just zip out there day-to-day, ignoring pain, because it feels good to know we put in a good six miler? A show of hands, anyone?).

Now here's where I went right: Confidence. I knew I didn't train enough. I also knew I needed that race as part of my 9+1 to do the marathon next year. I was going to finish the race, carefully, by setting a good pace for myself the first few miles. I made a plan. Learning how to make a plan is an important step for any runner; subsequently, I would argue that knowing how to adjust that plan is crucial to being a successful runner. Within five miles of the race, I saw two ambulances alongside the course, helping runners already overcome with heat exhaustion. This is a wake-up call--take it easy, I thought. I adjusted my plan to run (slow) through the whole half to running to mile 8. At mile 8, I was going to see how I felt, then maybe continue to mile 9. I had to re-adjust this plan after mile 7, when the heat was taking its toll on me. I walked for five minutes, then picked it up again. I had to keep adjusting my plan this way as the race went on.

As I rounded the corner to the finish line, I felt it--something in the top of my left leg being torn, pulled, wrung out like a wet rag--and I knew I had done it. I injured myself.

Egads, this is not a fun injury. I am not even sure what exactly I injured. It could be a fussy I.T. band, maybe my gracillis or TFL...either way, it is something that crosses over my hip and possibly my knee, and it hurts like all hell during hip extension. I thought for sure it would be fine after a few days of rest.

WRONG AGAIN: I went out for a leisurely six miles five days later. I knew I was pushing it after mile four, but my route was an out-and-back, and I did have to get, well, back. I did, painfully, and now I am done. This, friends, is when cross-training and rehab come in. Officially. Technically, they should be there as a preventative measure for runners. Train all the muscles so that your primary movers have something to fall back on when they tire. Stretch. And KNOW WHEN TO QUIT. Now, I definitely have to take a break from my kicks and settle for something different in the ways of sweat, or I am going to further injure myself.

For other runners who have been put-out of the race for awhile (and for those who don't own their own pool for water-running), here is a list of exercises to try during your break from the soles (Ahhh, puns galore!): *

For cardio
Spinning, clycling, elliptical, stairmaster, jump rope, and jumping jacks. A fast-paced, light resistance, circuit-type weight routine can also elevate your heart rate to ideal aerobic conditions. Take a dance class, try some zumba, do whatever you can for that cardiovascular high.

For strength
Side steps, lateral and medial lunges, step-ups, pilates, yoga, push-ups and other core work (planks, side planks, etc). Try focusing on your upper body strength for a change, instead of your gams--buy a few dumbbells and rock it out at home.  Balance it out.

Returning to running slowly. You do not want a groundhog's day injury.

Good luck in your new endeavors, and stay tuned for a shoe update.

*These exercises are NOT injury specific, and some may make things worse depending on your injury. They are BROAD, general suggestions/alternatives to running if you can't get your run on. If you have a serious injury, only a doctor/physical therapist may accurately and safely give you a guide of exercises and therapy to try.