Friday, July 25, 2008

Take a Break for Safety's Sake

It used to be, in high school, that I denied every ache and pain during my runs and workouts. Like many young runners (not pertaining to literal age, but instead your “training age” in terms of seasons) I was naive and thought I could run through it all. R&R was not an option to me. I didn’t accept the fact that recovery is a key element to training. Without it your body starts to break down and burn out. I would train for cross-country and straight through indoor and outdoor track. There was the 1-week off in between that coach asked for...but I thought that would only hinder my ability to achieve the goals I set for myself. (I wanted to go to college for free. Not for the education mind you, but instead to be on a Div.1 team and receive all the perks - told you I was naive).

I didn't realize the importance of rest, in the way that my tendons, ligaments and bones could take a beating but also recover, heal and continue to grow. My junior year was full of tendonitis that I just ran through. Eventually I couldn't compete the way I wanted. I was forced to take time off. Senior year I didn't learn from that lesson...I finished that season by dropping out of the 1500m at the Indoor Track NY State Championships with less than a half mile to go and so many watching. Several coaches and athletes expected me to finish at 3rd place or better.

I thought I could redeem myself during my last spring season. I still had that lingering tendonitis in my ankles from the year before. But just thought it was better to run through that. However, tendonitis can put a lot of stress on bones as well as muscles. The tendonitis got so bad in my left ankle that the muscles started to compensate for it until my tibia just hurt to the touch and pain radiated from my ankle to my knee. My solution was to get it taped instead of resting. For those of you who may not know: taping offers stability of the ankle making it less susceptible to sprains/strains, also decreasing the severity of an injury...but I was already injured!!

So after weeks of long runs, workouts, double days, weekends, races, etc., my times eventually suffered and I started limping around the hallways of my school. I still thought I could muscle through the season! It took some time but I finally gave in and got an x-ray. Sure enough there it was; a stress fracture along the base of my tibia. The doctor asked me how I was still walking. I explained that it was more of a hobble. Then I cried. I knew I couldn't complete my very last high school season.

After high school and a few collegiate tribulations I can finally say that I've learned my lesson. IE: Brendan and I ran a 5k race on the 6th of this month and it was terrible for us both. We were experiencing fatigue, muscle soreness, our form was falling apart and our racing strategies went out the window by mile 2. This year was rugged due to switching our training style in the middle of the year and our legs were paying for it. So, afterwards, I did what I never thought I would do. I suggested 2 weeks off. Sure, I have taken the necessary breaks since high school and college, but this was different. This was a realization I discovered on my own without the aid of a mandatory training schedule or a coach. I had to tell Brendan, and myself, that enough was enough. We were going to burn ourselves out if we kept this pace up. He agreed and thought it was the best solution. It’s been 5 days since our first day back from our 2-week break. And we are feeling great.

Sure I believe in muscling through now and again…it all depends on what kind of pain you are experiencing. Is it muscle ache from a workout you haven’t tried before? The burn you feel when you push closer towards the finish? Or is it an acute flash of pain that comes around when you pound on that pavement step after step? There is such a thing as healthy pain. It lets you know that your body is working hard and giving you feedback you need so you don't seriously injure yourself.

Then there is the pain that’s telling you that its time for a break. It has to do with your tolerance and as you know; everyone is different. But the point is that you should learn your own limitations and what your body can handle. I'm not saying that taking 2 weeks off is necessary for every pain you experience. I'm saying to play around with the idea. Take a day or two off. Go for a swim or bike ride instead. Take a light jog on a field of grass rather then going out on those roads or unstable trails.

Change it up before you decide to take a break. But if you are sure that taking an unplanned break would help you with that nagging knee problem then don't be afraid to do so. It would be so much more worth it than it would hobbling across a finish line...if in fact that nagging pain will allow you to reach it at all.

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