Today I finished week four of a twenty week half marathon training program. I signed up to work with a running coach to finally figure out a way to run a half marathon without getting injured. Finally, I came to terms with the fact that I had to learn to run with the body I currently have. My body has its own unique mechanics and issues. Just because I push harder doesn’t mean I can force it to do something it’s not ready, or able to do. In fact, the harder I kept pushing the more I got injured. After major ankle tendon surgery and a femoral stress fracture, my body got my attention. I think I finally got the message.
I’ve always been a very driven, never say never, stubborn woman. The more you tell me I can’t, the more I will dig in and do something. Anything I put my mind to I was generally able to accomplish. I am willing to struggle and put the work in, but I am not willing to not have success. I’m a reader and researcher and always seek to figure out how to do things. I refuse to lose as they say and will keep pushing through when the going gets tough. They call it perseverance these days, I call it stubborn. Part of what I’ve learned these past four weeks is that every body is different and responds differently to the demands we place upon it. Just because one body can show up and run a marathon with minimal training, doesn’t mean my body can. But, that doesn’t mean I can’t meet this goal, rather it means I have to regroup, slow down and build a better foundation.
Enter my friend Christine O’Brien, a fellow runner. She had been speaking highly about this training program she was participating in. Her enthusiasm got my attention and I decided to join her in working with Coach Mary Katherine Brooks Fleming and Dimity McDowell Davis. Their running club, also known as Train Like a Mother Club, is a lifeline to runners, like me, looking to stay healthy, in the race and on the road. I joined the Heart Rate Challenge Half Marathon group on a twenty week journey to run the Runner’s World Half Marathon at their yearly running festival. I agreed to follow the rules of their plan, not easy for me as I’m a real rule stretcher – shocking I know. I also agreed to leave my ego at the door and accept where I am at this moment and learn what my body can do if I build a strong foundation and base.
The first conversation I had with Coach MK she put me right in my place. She is a tell it like it is kind of lady and doesn’t want to listen to any of my sh-t. She basically told me I had no idea “how to train” and that I needed to trust the plan and stick to it. I immediately realized I was overtraining which likely caused my injuries. Strapping on a heart rate monitor is a truly humbling experience. Being told to keep your heart rate at under 140 bpm was like a bitch slap to the ego. The first day I wore the strap, prior to starting the plan, I ran my regular pace. Shockingly my heart rate stayed up around 175 – 180 bpm for the 40 minute run. I didn’t feel like I was exerting myself and my pace wasn’t any faster than I normally run. Yikes, 165 had been the maximum heart rate I had been given in the past and I was running well above that. The first day of the official training plan I had to walk because every time I tried to run I was over 140. Heck, I don’t think I made it to my corner before I was above it! The second run I figured out a way to shuffle along that would keep me under 140 but it was a real struggle. I called MK and whined and she put me right back in my place.
Four weeks later, I’ve had a lot of slow, easy runs and lots of time to process this plan. Pushing myself to go faster when my body was not ready is where my injuries came from. Your body is amazing and will overcompensate and try to do what you are asking, causing imbalance and stress. For example, if your muscles are not properly developed to support the runs you are doing, your bones will absorb the impact. In my case a stress fracture resulted from this. Running faster than I was ready for caused me to sacrifice and not develop proper form causing a torn tendon in my ankle.
This slowing down process has given me lots of time to think on my runs. I was no longer putting all my energy into just surviving the workout and waiting for it to end. I was actually enjoying the moments and had the mental capacity to think about things. As I ran, I began thinking about this health journey I am on and how most of us just rush and race through it without building the proper foundation. It’s the same cycle really, rushing through the process without building the proper “health muscles” often causes us to rely on the wrong ones, like fads and quick fixes. These will lead us to quick success that just as quickly falls apart causing failure, or worse sickness. The process TLAM Club is teaching includes everything from strength training, rest/recovery, nutrition and accountability. There are no shortcuts, just good old fashioned hard work. The same principles should and must be applied to our health journey. Faster is definitely not better as it is often a foundation built on cards that will collapse and cause stress on our bodies. Working hard and taking it slow allows us to tap into the amazing engine that is our body which with the proper foundation is capable of doing amazing things.
In conclusion, fast is definitely not better. Slow and steady wins the race is once again an important moral to learn. Something, this impatient girl needed to be reminded of.