Three lessons from my difficult summer

Last week, I mentioned that I had a difficult summer where I made some mistakes. The difficulties were self-inflicted and I wanted to take a few moments this week to discuss my mistakes, with the hope that some of you can hopefully learn from my mistakes and maybe avoid making similar ones yourselves.

So what did I do that went so wrong? Essentially, I didn’t listen to my own advice. As you read what I’m writing below, if you are a runner who has ever been coached by me, the lessons will probably sound familiar. I was not doing a good job following my own advice, something I’m ashamed of and I pledge to do a better job of going forward.

Lesson 1: If something doesn’t feel right, back off

The start of my issues came in May. I was gearing up for an early June race day that was going to include a 5 mile race, followed shortly after by a 2 mile race. In order to prepare for this race day, I was doing mix workouts of mile repeats with short recoveries, followed by pretty aggressive half mile repeats with longer recoveries.

These workouts started out going great. I was making some very solid progress and feeling outstanding. On my planned second to last one of these workouts, I put up some very solid times but I also was feeling the grind. I backed off the training in the coming days but, when the time came for the final planned big workout, I didn’t back off even when things were not feeling right.

I pushed through, even though both before and during the workout I had concerns. I can’t describe the before workout feelings, other than I just didn’t feel totally right. During the workout, on one of the mile repeats, I felt some tightness in my left hip. Still, I pushed through.

Then, in the last 100 yards of my last half mile repeat, the hip locked up on me. I hobbled through the remainder of the workout and my plans for the early June race were over.

In short, I had at least three opportunities to listen to my body and back off before something bad happened. I failed to do so every time the opportunity presented itself. The lesson out of this: listen to your body and, if something doesn’t feel right, back off. I would have been far better off skipping one workout than starting a cycle that would ruin my whole summer.

Lesson 2: When coming back, don’t rush it

In June, I was starting to feel better. After taking some down time to let the hip get better, I was building back up. Wanting to get back to where I left off quickly, I went from an 8 mile week made up of two 4 mile runs to a 16 mile week made up of 4 runs with a longest of 5 miles.

Had I carefully built from that 16 mile week by moving into the 20 mile range with a longest run of 6 or 7 miles but only one run over 5, I probably would have continued the successful return. Instead, I tried to go for 5 runs of 6, 5, 7, 6 and 8 miles. This was entirely too much and I strained my right calf muscle on the 8 mile run. In hindsight, of course I did.

Then, just to top things off, I was beginning to feel better in July, right before a family trip to Colorado. I got too excited about being in the mountains and again tried building up too quickly, all while spending a lot of time hiking in the mountains. I strained the calf again. Fortunately, it didn’t affect the family activities but, running wise, I was on the shelf again.

In short, I tried to pick right back up where I left off. I rushed back too quickly. The lesson out of this: when returning from a layoff, especially but not only if the layoff is due to injury, don’t rush back. I would have been far better served had I taken my time and worked back more gradually.

Lesson 3: What worked in the past may not work now

Why was I not following my own advice? Because I had many years of experience suggesting that the “normal rules” didn’t apply to me. This was probably never completely true to be honest. I just had a higher training capacity than most people so I could stretch things a bit.

However, circumstances change. While, for most runners, this means you build more fitness and generate a higher training capacity over time, there is another side to that curve and that’s what I’m experiencing. I’m not in my 20s anymore and I’m not training at the same level I did when I was in my 20s. I needed to adjust to this reality but didn’t do so quickly enough.

In short, I didn’t account for changing circumstances and changing fitness levels. The lesson out of this: always consider your current fitness level in what you do and never assume you’re invincible. Nobody is invincible and changing fitness levels can mean you are able to do more or, on the flip side, you have to be more gentle on yourself than you had to in the past.

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