I used to be scared of running. As recently as July, every race carried with it the risk of running out of gas (tangentially related video below! "You can't get loose, without that juice"). A too fast first mile, or a heart rate spike could doom my race before it even started. At Nationals in April, a 10:08 first 2 miles put me in the red zone, and extreme stomach cramps induced a DNF shortly after. I always attributed failures like this to the gluten allergy, or pre-race failures in preparation. In reality, it was so much simpler than that. It merely took a debilitating injury to figure it out.
At the Scar Top Mountain 12k in Colorado on July 4th, I placed third behind 2 runners on the US Mountain Running Team. It was actually a quality race (the header picture above is from the finish), but afterward I could not walk. My low back was so painful that I could not put weight on my left leg. Watching fireworks is one of my favorite traditions. That night, I couldn't even get out of the car.
What I thought was a fractured sacrum turned out to be a simple imbalance in my right hip that caused over-rotation on my left side, inflaming the SI joint and pinching a nerve. An outstanding chiropractor in Boulder, Dr. Larry Frieder, put me back together. What he said though, changed everything. After looking at my race results and seeing the first place finishes, he commented that the particular SI injury is usually only seen in beginners. What was my weekly mileage?
Simply put, I had been outrunning my training, and this led to injury and some horrific races. MOST MULTI-SPORT ATHLETES HAVE THIS PROBLEM! Our cardiovascular systems are so strong, and our aerobic engines so powerful from the other disciplines, that our bodies are not prepared for the relative pounding of running. After that diagnosis in July, I made a conscious decision to change my training approach. I had built a house on a bad foundation, and was attempting to apply window dressing without addressing the real issue. 25 MILES A WEEK IS FAR TOO LITTLE FOR A COMPETITIVE ATHLETE!
The lesson for me, and of this post, is to increase mileage. This means slowing down in training and focusing on form. Do EASY two-a-days where 4 miles take 30 minutes (or 35, or 40). Running is starkly different than cycling---you cannot fake running. I increased from 25 to 50 to 70 miles per week running, eliminating all real speed work in the process. The house I built was torn down, because the foundation had to be reconstructed. Yesterday, I did my first real speed work since the injury--6x800m in a 2:10 average. But even without the advantage of faster runs, I set the course record by 1:20 on the first run at American Zofingen, and ran a 15:41 5k. For most multisport athletes (like me), faster running is nearly unnecessary. (said another way by Tower of Power: Funk the Dumb Stuff!)
So the lesson of this post is to slow down. Focus on form. And most importantly, increase mileage. Training is not supposed to be a race simulation; training should PREPARE you for racing better. Run by feel. Lose the Garmin. Run organically, increasing speed when you feel good, and slowing down on bad days. Because the main thing with running is time on your feet. No matter what, do not waste time/risk injury fixing the roof if the foundation is crumbling.