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The Bridge is My Track

September 3, 2011

For the last few weeks, as I described, Little G and I have been following the new, 3-runs-a-week schedule prescribed by her PT. We do intervals one day, bridge repeats a second day, and a long run on Saturday. I mentioned in an earlier post our first concern about the schedule: it’s a departure, in both frequency of runs and total mileage, from the way we usually train.

We had other concerns. First, the long runs seemed to build up very slowly. The schedule had us running 8 miles every weekend for the first six weeks or so, which seemed like overkill to us. Little G and I work diligently to keep our long runs into the double digits each summer, so we felt that after two or three eight-milers we’d be ready to start pushing the long run distance. We made plans to tweak the schedule, especially since Little G is planning to run the Houston marathon in mid-January, which leaves her only a few weeks after the 13.1 to extend her long runs.

Our second concern was the tough hillwork. We know from earlier experience that climbing bridges tends to aggravate my shinsplints. The last time we tried to run a bridge, I was on the bench for several days, and I was still in active physical therapy then. So to be frank, I was nervous about purposely running—no, sprinting was the word on the schedule—up the bridge. Repeatedly. But I understood the place of the hillwork on the schedule. Hillwork helps build strength in your legs, and is, after all, “speedwork in disguise.” In addition, the 13.1 course actually goes over essentially two bridges, and I certainly don’t want to face them after having trained on nothing but flat ground. I gave myself over to the schedule and prayed for good results.

I am happy to report that good results are in. We’ve done a few weeks of these repetitions now, and I can honestly say that both Little G and I were a little sad to see that we’ll no longer be visiting the bridge for our weekly torture sessions—starting this week, our second run of the week is a tempo run instead. Sadly, the bridgetender will have to look to other places for his amusement.

My shinsplints have not been aggravated at all by our weekly sprints up the bridge. I’m convinced there are a few reasons for my pain-free legs, some carrying more weight than others. Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. I’ve been taping both my left knee and shin. The left leg is quite definitely the weaker, and as such seems to bear the impact of the run much more. Bracing the tendons with KT tape seems to help, especially on runs where it’s asked to bear an especially difficult load—like sprinting up hills.
  2. The schedule was created to build up the stress slowly. The first week called for only four sprints up the bridge, the second six, the next eight. Each time, our instructions were to walk down the hill. I am absolutely sure that avoiding the run down the hill was a giant source of protection for my legs, since downhill running is a much bigger impact—it forces you to brake yourself and therefore applies all kinds of stress on your joints and ligaments. Our last hill workout, this week, called for five uphill sprints with walking dowhill recoveries followed by five downhill runs (not sprints) followed by uphill walks. In each case, mixing running with walking saves injured legs, both my knees and calves and Little G’s still-weak foot.
  3. Both Little G and I are much more diligent than we used to be about stretching and cross-training. We have the most random tools lying around our houses now—marbles, foam rollers, exercise bands, the Stick. And we’re rigorous cross trainers, though our chosen methods vary. She’s enrolled in once-weekly Pilates and Zumba classes, and credits them with increased core stability and ankle strength. I’m not a joiner, so I’m doing my core workouts guided by an app on my phone and biking and rowing weekly.
  4. I hate to say it, but I’m convinced not running every day is working. After pushing the pace on a set of 800-meter repeats, I’m off my legs the next day, biking or rowing. And every time I’ve done the hill repeats, I’m resting my legs the day after, not having another run until 48 hours later. The difference is palpable. I’m running fresher—and faster.

Now, there’s a caveat to all this—of course.

I miss running.

I miss the purity of five-mile runs at the break of dawn, in the solitary, quiet, unspoiled moments before the neighborhood wakes up. I miss the miles that would pass as I ran alone, with no end in mind, no purpose to the run but to sweat, and put distance under my feet, and circle the neighborhood. I miss the shadows, and that sense of quiet grayness that exists only for those who wake before the sun. I miss starlight and the way the sun seemed to always rise to welcome me home after a good run.

I miss the joy of running for running’s sake. On this schedule every run has a purpose, a goal, a distance, a pace. I mourn the loss of the way I used to run—for the run alone.

But old, tired habits must give way to new ways of doing things, and I’m ready to give up what I want now for what I want long-term. What I want is to run, successfully, into my 60s and beyond. What I want is to keep lowering my race times as long as possible, and to run fast without injury.

And I admit, this is working. After a few weeks of running those same old 8-milers, we set out today for our first long run with a pace component: we were asked to run the last three miles “at race pace + 15 seconds.” Well, since math isn’t our strong suit, especially on the run, we blew it, running 9 miles instead of 8, but I’m happy to report that we hit our target pace dead on, running those last three miles progressively faster until we were running sub-8. The best part was how easy that pace felt for me—even in September, easily the worst month in terms of heat and humidity in southeastern Florida, I felt like running at that pace was supremely comfortable, and that was on a week when I’d done a tough set of 1200s, 10 repeats on the bridge, 30 minutes of rowing, 45 minutes on the bike, and mowed the lawn. I’m hopeful that after a couple of weeks of taper, on a cool morning in November, I can hold my own for a good thirteen miles.

So the high-mileage runner must yield her pride, for now. But I’ll do it gladly, if I get to cross the line happy and sub-2 (dare I hope it—sub 1:48?) on November 13th.

As for Gasparilla, yes, I’m registered, and already looking forward to running 30 miles in 2 days on healthy legs.

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