Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Breaking down, getting healthy, and getting stronger, Part Deux

I have been leaning toward letting this blog die but since my last post on my injury recovery was the 2nd most read/linked post ever, I feel the need to provide an update.

A lot has happened in my running universe in the last five months and nearly all of it has been good. Shortly after that post, I came down with pneumonia shutting me down for most of September. It took a long time to recover my breathing and I had to keep all runs really easy and the mileage on the low side through October. Even still, I did run my first ever cross country race (Mayor's Cup) at the end of October. My time was slow, but it was a lot of fun and I decided I would run more cross country that fall (a whole other story.)

At the end of October, recovered from pneumonia and with my hamstring feeling good, I was fully healthy for the first time in well over a year. I had finished the 7-week rehab routine that I outlined in my previous post. I had reassessed to find that my hip flexor mobility had improved noticeably and my hamstring pain was all but gone. At that point, I came up with a much shorter routine of core/stability/mobility exercise to do 2-3 times a week for maintenance, and occasionally reminding myself to always maintain good posture, but that's about it. I continue to do these things now.

The few exercises I do religiously, 2-3 times per week are:

  • pigeon hip extensions,
  • lunges knee-to-instep,
  • push ups,
  • knee drives,
  • foam roller to my hamstrings, calves, hips.

I add to those basics as time permits or as I feel like I need something else, but those are the standbys that I do every single time. It takes 10-15 minutes most of the time unless I add to it or spend extra time on the foam roller, and it makes a noticeable difference every time.

Also at the end of October, I began doing a weekly hill workout, as well as doing most of my long runs on hilly courses. Hills provide really good feedback for whether I'm running with good posture--something I still need to stay conscious of so that none of my bad habits come back. And hills are really good for strengthening the hips, glutes and hamstrings. Every Tuesday, I run one of two hill loops--both have uphills that are moderately steep (about 7% grade). One is about a half mile loop with a hill that gains about 70 feet in about .16 mile with a gradual downhill around the block back to the bottom. The other is a mile-long loop with a hill that gains about 108 feet in .3 miles and also has a nice gradual downhill that loops around back to where I stared. I alternated every Tuesday doing either 10 x the short loop, or 8 x the longer loop plus warmup and cooldown for about 10.5-12 miles total. I plan to gradually add a few more reps to each of these workouts as I get deeper into my Boston training.

I run the uphills at a steady but not brutal clip. These are not sprints. I focus on running tall, straight back, bringing my heel up to my butt, landing with my foot under my center of mass, and driving from the hips. On the downhills, I don't back off the effort completely but rather focus on turnover and remaining fluid while running pretty quickly downhill. It's really easy to feel good form on the uphills and so I use that time to drill into my brain over and over what good form should feel like. It's really easy to let your form get sloppy on the downhills so I use that time to practice maintaining that good form when there is a lot less feedback. It's a great workout and good mental practice. Both the uphills and the downhills are important.

Here's a map and elevation chart of the run I did this morning and every other Tuesday:

The results have been way beyond what I was expecting.

Not only is my high hamstring/hip continuing to improve, I am, at age 44, apparently about as fit as I have ever been. Without going into great detail, I ran a bunch of races at the end of the year, each one went better than the one before it and better than expected. Then on January 4th, I ran 9:42.92 for 3000m at the 3rd BU mini meet. It was a last minute decision to enter and I certainly had not done any specific workouts to prepare for it. I just wanted to get some turnover and see where I was fitnesswise. By most calculators, that 3000 puts me roughly in lifetime PR shape ... in early January ... off of 60-70 miles a week, a weekly hill workout, and not much else. And I feel really fresh.

A big part of it is probably just running with two healthy legs for the first time a very long while. But it is also true that the hills are making me really strong. Everyone knows that runners should do hills but I have never put in such a consistent block of training in which hills, and specifically these hill loops, were basically my only workouts. I am a believer.

I was hesitant to even write this post because things are going so well that I don't want to talk about it for fear of jinxing myself. But given the feedback I got on the first post, and given how well things have gone since then, it felt like a follow up was in order.

The plan is to keep doing what I'm doing. I've stretched out my long runs and already have a couple of 20's in the bank as I turn my attention toward Boston. The only races on the calendar right now are the Grand Prix races: Jones 10-miler on February 23rd, New Bedford Half Marathon on March 16th and An Ras Mor 5k on March 30th. New Bedford will be a big check point because it was that race last year that forced me to admit I was injured.

Then of course there's Boston on April 21st.

So if you haven't already, get a copy of Anatomy for Runners by Jay Dicchary. I don't know how many copies of that book I've sold but, suffice to say I wish it retired part of my annual quota. And keep the faith--you CAN fix yourself and come out the other side better than before.

Onward.