Running – How Far Can I Go?
At the moment – not very far!
While I haven’t mentioned running here much it has been a part of my life for the last few years. I started running consistently around January 2010 and in October 2010 entered the Cardiff Half Marathon setting a pretty good time of 1:43. Since then I haven’t done much on the competition side but have continued to run 2-3 times a week, though I have seen little improvement in speed, technique or distance since then.
Training for the half marathon was riddled with teething problems – notably problems with my calves. After lots of research I managed to find a way where I could run the weekly distance required to train while keeping my calf pain at bay. This did the trick and feeling cocky after the half I decided to start training for a marathon and entered into the 2011 Wales Marathon in Tenby along with a couple of friends. This turned out to be too much of a reach for my body (and my friends) with the amount of milage needed to train causing injury after injury. We all decided to back out of the marathon and I decided to shelve marathon aspirations for the time being.
Shortly after I started suffering from a rare condition called Tietze’s Syndrome which is a painful swelling in the chest cartilage and is aggravated by movement. For me this meant any form of exercise – even walking caused severe chest pain (the pain is often misdiagnosed for a heart attack) which stopped me from walking more than a few hundred meters and put running on hold for six months. This was not a nice time for me, exercise has always been an important part of my mind-body balance and I tend to get very grumpy when I am not able to do it. Not being able to run made me realise how much I enjoyed it and I couldn’t wait to get back out there again.
When I was able to run again I started building up my fitness again slowly, worried at any moment that my chest pain would return. After a few months of a twang here and there the pain didn’t return and left me to build up my fitness.
In February 2012 I made a huge discovery – trail running. Combining two of my favourite things – running and hiking in the hills I left the pavements of Cardiff and ventured into the surrounding countryside. I soon discovered that this was the kind of running I wanted to be doing, challenging and beautiful I love every minute of being out on the trails, pushing my mind and body. I was soon out looking for hills, finding that running to the top of a big hill drenched in sweat was even more rewarding than hiking.
Rather hot after running up the Garth with my friends Phil and Hazel
In July 2012 I moved to Comox Valley, B.C, Canada and within two days joined the local running club who at the time were doing trail runs every Thursday. A great bunch of people and during my first chat with Frank, the trail running organiser he said that Comox Valley was a “trail runners paradise”. I knew coming here was the right choice! I was soon discovering the local trails for myself whilst attending Tuesday training at the track. It was great to be out running in such stunning scenery and over the months I had been slowly building up the distance I was able to cover.
I was running around 10K twice a week and occasionally doing as much as twice this. It felt good to be fit again, but there was a problem – my legs were starting to complain and I wasn’t yet doing the kind of distance I wanted. As far as I was concerned I was only just starting to get my fitness back but pain in my calves was telling me to slow down. What was I doing wrong? Wasn’t 18 months of gradual build up slow enough? I wasn’t even running that far! I decided to stop running for a couple of weeks till my calves stopped screaming at me whenever I ran.
Around this time I read Born To Run, a fascinating tale about ultra runners and the origins of running – not only as a sport but in evolutionary terms. The book introduced to me the world of endurance running, talking about some of the best runners in the world and tribes for who ultra running is not just a sport but a way of life. The book’s author Christopher McDougall writes with similar questions as me – why do I keep getting injured when I run? Covering running topics far and wide this book really opened my eyes to endurance running, bare foot running and pushing a body to it’s limits. It made me wonder if I would ever be able to get my body to do such amazing things. I love going on a 16km trail run, imagine the feeling of being able to do a 50km/100km/further run! How would my body feel? How would my mind feel?
But this is crazy! I’m not able to run more than 20km a week without hurting myself, so how can I even start to think about increasing my distance without getting hurt? But Christopher McDougall managed it – he went from being a below average runner suffering from constant injuries to a ultra runner capable of running 50 mile runs through mountains terrain. I needed to find out what I am doing wrong and correct it.
Being part of the Comox Valley Road Runners I sought advice of some of the elders on our online forum and I got some interesting replies. Instead of stopping running for weeks at a time in order for my calves to heal, I actually needed to run more. It seems that by only running twice weekly I am not covering enough distance to allow my body to get used to the larger distances that I was occasionally putting it through, as Keith from the group writes “Our bodies have an amazing ability to adapt to sensible increments of increased mileage. In fact the more we run, the less likely we will become injured, provided we do not overdo it.” he continues to explain that consistent daily runs with help “flush” my calves and alleviate the problem. The thought of daily runs really appeals to me but has been something I have stayed away from, from fear of over doing it. Could I of been so wrong?
So back to present day, armed with advice from Keith I am going to slowly increase the amount of runs I do in a week until I am running daily. Once I am used to this routine the plan is to increase my ‘long run’ distance in-line with my weekly distance as Keith explains “Generally if we increase our weekly mileage by 10% and also our long runs by the same percentage, we should be ok” while making sure that the long run does not exceed 30% of my weekly milage as he also explains.
Distance increases aside I still have a lot to learn. I am also going to be reading around the subject in the hope that I can coach myself to run better – more efficiently and more enjoyably. I am far from being an endurance runner but I am looking forward to finding out how far I can go.