Monday, November 1, 2010

(Re) Learning Old Tricks

My 10th half-marathon was not only a dismal event but a huge cosmic butt-kick. Yet another reminder that in running, as in life, there are few short-cuts.

If my three decades of running have taught me anything it's that I am constantly re-learning the basics. The kindergarten rules that new runners need to keep in mind are not just for newbies.  They're also for seasoned runners like me who think they know it all and can just coast on that knowledge.

This was the third time in four years that I participated in the hilly Run Like Hell Half-Marathon in downtown Portland. Leading up to last year's race I used a 14-week training program that helped me achieve a solid performance of 1:46. I intended to use this same program this year.

Key word being "intended." I kept meaning to do all of the workouts but life seemed to get in the way.  Or that's what I told myself.  Instead of incorporating runs of up to seven miles at my projected half-marathon pace, I found myself cutting those down to three or four. Sometimes I just didn't have it in me.  Other times I had my mind on something besides the run.

My daughter's wedding took place three weeks before the race but not in our neck of the woods.  Carol was married in South Carolina, a daunting 3,000 miles away.  This meant travel by airplane, a grave insult to my lower back. Not to mention the stress of the event, albeit a happy one.

When I lined up with 1,100 other folks last Sunday morning it was rainy and windy.  Yet another excuse to cling to. But three miles into the race at the point where I usually begin to feel the groove, it wasn't happening.  I felt stiff and locked. Later I would tell my massage therapist that it felt as though someone had welded a metal plate the size of a mass paperback into my lower back.  My top and bottom halves were moving but my hips felt frozen.

I finished in 1:52:48, a full six and a half minutes slower than last year. A full 30 seconds per mile off last year's pace.  The next day my back and hips were killing me.  My legs? They barely registered the effort.

It would be easy to point to Mother-of-the Bride stress, nasty weather and poor training as the culprits. But when I looked back over my training log, there was one big hole in it - over a period of two months I had almost completely ignored my core work and stretching.

No push-ups in over seven weeks. Some crunches from time to time but not a plank in sight.  And stretching? Forget about it.

New runners are taught to start slowly and increase both mileage and speed with caution.  They are advised to stretch after each run and pay attention to any ache or pain that doesn't fade away.  And to place core strengthening hand in hand with a running program, thereby decreasing the chance of injury.

One week after the race I am back on the floor.  Gently prodding my stiff back and hips into pigeon pose. Making sure I stretch after every single run, even the recovery ones, and on my off days I'm focusing once again on core exercises.

Relearning what I've known for several decades as a runner but lost sight of in a matter of months.