Thursday, October 17, 2013

Five minutes

On Tuesday, I ran for five minutes.

It was exactly five minutes longer than I've gone in over six weeks. I haven't been running seriously in over two months.

To clarify, it was actually a ten minute "workout," alternating between one minute of walking and one minute of running. So I have yet to even run two minutes consecutively. This is a precipitous drop from eighty mile weeks of the past.

When my physical therapist told me last week I could attempt running this week--and then revealed my plan--I was simultaneously overjoyed and disappointed. At my first appointment, the prognosis was that I'd be running again within 4 weeks. (I was even told I could still compete in the Philadelphia Marathon, but I abandoned that idea.) The four week deadline came and went. The appointment the week before was bleak: I was to tack on additional appointments and running still wasn't on the radar. But armed with new exercises, I seemed to make a turnaround. I could run.
Back in five... 

But five minutes? Really? I didn't know I would be starting so slowly. In the past, no matter my fitness, I have always assumed a baseline of four miles. I can not workout for months (namely in college), but I can always struggle through and make it four miles. But this isn't a problem with my fitness. This is a very real injury, and caution is key.

And so, I embarked on my Big Run:

Minute 1: Sheer bliss. It may seem like an exaggeration to be so enamored by running that one minute can transform you, but that is how addicted I am. Just speeding up from a walking pace to a slow jog felt amazing. Damn, I've missed this. I knew I did, but this reminds me how much.

Minute 2: Still feeling great, the morning is just breaking. The weather is perfect autumn, shorts and long sleeve tee weather. I make it to the trail, there are leaves underfoot, pure joy.

Minute 3: Geez, it's already time to turn around. Oh wait, what's that? My hip?! I feel it, working. It doesn't feel like sharp pains like it used to, but I feel something, and I'd really rather feel nothing at all.

Minute 4: My hip feels like it does when I'm doing my exercises. Maybe it's just out of shape and/or tired? After all, that's the point of the exercises, to get it working again. In the old days, it was letting the surrounding muscles (quads, hamstrings) do the work and that was the beginning of the problem. It doesn't feel like it did when I first realized I was injured, so that must be progress, right?

Minute 5: Almost done. The hip feels as it did in minutes 3 and 4, no better but no worse. I'm still loving the running, as the early minutes, but the carefree attitude is gone. Everyone told me that coming back from injury would be filled with paranoia (among other not-so-pleasant emotions), and they were right. It's starting.

My physical therapist was clearly right to be so cautious, if a quick five minutes can begin to trigger something. It was certainly a mixed bag of emotions and a reminder--as if I needed one--of a long road ahead. But overall, it does seem like I covered all the bases of a solid run: both pure joy and discomfort, both moments of doubt and moments of triumph. Okay, no triumph with that run, but maybe when I tackle ten minutes.

Dream big,

Friday, October 4, 2013

Science Friday: The Ten Percent Rule

As I recover from an injury the questions loom: What caused this? Will I make the same mistake again? Was  "too much, too soon" to blame? I've admitted before that I sometimes break the ten percent rule. Is that where I went wrong?

The ten percent rule--that the safe, injury free way to increase mileage is by ten percent each week--is repeated often by running experts and in training books. It's simple, concise, and easy to remember. But is it true? What does the science say?

Unfortunately for ten percent rule advocates, the science isn't on their side. There aren't many studies that examine the rule, and, to date, none that agree with it. The study that is often mentioned as the best test of the rule was published in 2008 by a group in the Netherlands. 

The participants in the study were 532 novice runners that signed up for a four mile race. The researchers divided the runners into two groups, carefully accounting for past history of sports and previous injuries. The control group was assigned a "frequently used beginners training program" that was 8 weeks long, with an average weekly increase of 23%. (The increases each week varied greatly and included a down week.) The intervention group was assigned a more gradual program that was 13 weeks long, and carefully increased the time spent running by ten percent each week. (One week had only a 2% increase but the rest were pretty consistent.) Both groups were to run three times a week.

The injury rates were shockingly similar. In the control group, 20.3% of runners became injured. In the intervention group, 20.8% were injured. A gentle ten percent increase didn't help.

(Not entirely relevant but interesting: They followed up their work with another study looking specifically at a preconditioning program. Prior research suggested that people who participate in sports that involve jumping and pounding to the joints (soccer, basketball, or volleyball) get injured less often when they start to run than those who participate in sports with less pounding (swimmers and cyclists.) They designed a four week program that simply included a few sessions of hopping mixed with walking. The preconditioning/hopping program was completed before the running program began. The hopping had no effect on running injuries, however, as the control group and the hopping group were injured just as often.)

Recently, a smaller study was published using GPS watches to track increases in mileage. The authors wanted to do away with the subjectivity of subjects self-reporting how far and fast they ran, so they gave them Garmins (Forerunner 110s), asked them to run for ten weeks, and tracked their injury rates. The Garmins couldn't lie: runners who became injured tended to have a greater weekly increase in mileage. But the increases--for healthy and injured--were higher than ten percent; injured runners increased mileage an average of 32% while runners who remained healthy increased mileage by 22%. The difference between the two groups' mileage wasn't quite statistically significant, however, which means that while it's interesting, it's not quite enough to make sweeping generalizations. They also calculated that injured runners had a large (and significant) jump in their mileage the week before symptom onset, with an average increase of 86%*. It may be surprising to the ten percent folks that people can get away with greater than 20 percent increases and remain injury free, but injury following an 86% increase isn't terribly shocking.

The authors of the GPS study summarize nicely: "No clear evidence for safe progression of weekly volume exists." The ten percent rule may be convenient, but it's not accurate. In fact, some people can safely increase weekly mileage over 20 percent and remain healthy. But others (1 in 5 in the first study) get injured even with an increase of just 10 percent. It seems like it's up to you to know your body and what it can handle, which unfortunately is learned by trial and error (and injury.) It's probably best to err on the side of caution, and maybe not try to bump up by 86% in one week. 

Dream big, 

*It should be noted that the number of participants in this study was small, and the number of injured was even smaller, only 13. So while this may seem like a high number, it's probably because of the small number of people. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Injury Is A Pain In The Butt

Fall is my favorite season, mostly for the perfect running weather. Yes, the overabundance of all things pumpkin flavored is delicious, but it's that other smell in the air that is so inspiring. It smells of cross-country season, of marathon season, of running season. 

But, for me, it's biking indoors season. My hip is not yet healed enough to run, and although I am still thrilled I don't need surgery and thankful it isn't a worse injury, I'm not exactly enjoying my time away from running. I try to keep my head up and continue to look forward, but I do have some observations to share. Okay, they are mostly complaints, but perhaps other injured runners can share in my misery. 

One unsurprising discovery is my jealousy when I see other runners running. They don't know how good they have it as they trudge up that giant hill, red faced, struggling in sheer desperation to get to the top. Oh how I miss that agonizing delight. I want to jump in and jog alongside them while raving, "Isn't this wonderful?" (The irony is that this does not mean I don't want to go to races. When invited to cheer on friends in a November half marathon—the same weekend that I was to run my marathon—I couldn't say yes fast enough. If I can't race myself, there's no place I'd rather be than cheering others as they race, even despite my jealousy.) 

What was unexpected—to me, at least—was how much seeing my running routes would make me jealous. I run some of the same paths all the time, to the point of monotony. But now, I'll drive past one, and the grass has never looked greener, the path never more inviting. That cross-country/marathon season smell wafts in through the window, teasing me. I want to be out there! 

Since I'm biking to stay in running shape, I use very low resistance and very high RPM. Most experts would say that's a dangerous recipe for runners (i.e. inexperienced bikers) to get seriously hurt on the roads. So I'm stuck indoors, watching terrible television and cursing the inefficiency of biking. To get a similar workout to running, you have to bike about 1.5 times longer. But it's awful, particularly because it's incredibly boring and early morning television is the worst. I can't watch the Kardashian sisters fight over something blown out of proportion one more time. (Oh, but there's a marathon on, with new episodes? Okay, then, well I just want to see what happens with Khloe and Lamar...)

Fortunately I have a wonderful husband who listens to my complaints,
and, instead of getting annoyed by them, draws motivational pictures.

And dieting, forget it. There are many reasons I run and one of them is I really love cupcakes. Biking doesn't allow me the same gluttony. (That'd be too many Kardashian episodes to handle.) But despite working out at a fraction of what I'm used to, I still want to eat everything in sight. What do you mean I don't deserve a large stack of syrup covered pumpkin pancakes?! I ran a twenty miler six months ago, that doesn't still count?

Even chores are harder. Living in the city, sometimes it's just easier to run somewhere. On weekends I run to work or to do errands. But now I take some combination of buses and subways and can't help but calculate how much faster it would be to run, and how much more enjoyable. 

But the most tangible problem with biking is the bike seat. The bikes at the gym have wide, cushioned seats; although they aren't exactly Lazy Boys, they are much more comfortable than what true cyclists use. But thanks to kind triathlete family and friends, I currently have a real cyclist's bike with a real cyclist's seat set up in my living room. The first day wasn't so bad. This is so convenient! The second day, if I even tried to shift one inch, a wave of pain went through my butt, punishing me for anything anti-biking I've ever said. If this is some cruel torture device to force me to have more respect for cyclists and triathletes, congratulations, it worked. (Thank you family and friends??)

Of course, there are psychological struggles, too: the questions of getting back to where I was, how far behind I'll be when I can run, if the injury will return, how the recovery seems to be taking longer than originally anticipated. But it's simpler and easier to repress those worries and to focus my anger on that bike seat, because it's a serious pain in the butt. 

Dream big,