Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Project 35

After a bit of any injury scare, slowly but surely I've started to refocus my body and mind back onto the goals I set for myself at the start of the year.

At the start of the month I identified that I had without a doubt peaked. Not only when my performances not getting better with training sessions getting more and more difficult to get through, my body was taking strain, creaking in all the wrong places. I took some time off with running off my brain, and  splurged in a big(ish) way. While I have been pretty restrictive over the sort of food I eat and partying and that sort of thing, for the first time in over a year I wasn't concerned about being fresh for a quality session or optimally prepared for a race.

After two weeks I laced my shoes again and went for a run. It was horrible. After two weeks off I managed a run that was many times worse that the previous run. The complications of the previous two runs were more than just fatigue and overuse...I was injured. During those five horrible kilometres, under the gaze of moon, with the suburbs barely awake, I thought really hard about what I feeling and trying to think of a way forward. And when I got home and doing a bit more reading on the net, it was pretty clear that I was afflicted with illiotibial band syndrome.

Each of the last three runs had started the same. I use the gentle drop that leads away from our complex into the valley as a warm-up, 500m and then the next 500m rise again before hitting some level ground. That part always feels a little bit challenging but once on the flatter part I usually start to work into a rhythm. And then the run gets better and better. These last few efforts however started to get progressively uncomfortacble until at 2-5km, the throbbing pain on the outside of my left knee would start. Within 5 minutes it was sharp and vicious, another 5 minutes unbearable. And each time I tried to run through it but was always reduced to a run/walk strategy to get home.

This injury was in fact not new at all but such has been my desire to keep on running that I had completely ignored a similar experience that happened in Cape Town that I mentioned briefly as a niggle. If only I had been more aware then of what the sharp pain 3km into my tempo run had meant. Then a little rest had helped as three days later I was able to put down a 29:01 8km PB.

So the next step was to begin to rehabilitate it. To cut a long story, in the last 12 days I started off with some stretches, literally just doing the first thing I found and have now progressed to some strength work focusing on the glutes and quads, and hip focused mobility work. I often read that if you want to be a better runner you have to run, simple as that. This year I have foolishly cut the fluff from my exercise and focused all my energy on running. The image below illustrates exactly my approach this year. I endeavoured to rein in control of my diet and get enough sleep to allow me to run at  my best.

The pieces of the puzzle
Interestingly from the second half of last year, my rise in mileage and frequency of running was associated with an increase in supplementary training. It was basic at best but I was doing this simple routine from Runner's World that addressed flexibility and a core workout with five simple moves. As I said, basic, but in retrospect there was no doubt that this contributed to the fact despite running over 200km/month for most of the second half of the year from a very low base I experienced very few niggles. I've never been flexible (I can't touch my toes reaching ~10cm below my knee) or particular strong so I think just doing those two sessions after my runs improved my whole condition a whole lot. This experience with my IT band issues has given me a fresh perspective on the importance on doing a bit more, and importantly not to replace running workout but as a complement. So now my new outlook looks something like this:
Now with a base!
To help deal with the IT band, I stumbled upon a great website run by running coach Jason Fitzgerald called Strength Running and found the ITBS rehab routine that he developed for himself. I initially found the exercises very challenging and still struggle with the pistol squats, again a sure sign of where my weakness lies. Through information from his site I have a plan. I need to rehabilitate my IT band so I can run comfortably, the do the preventative work by getting my core strong, stronger than it was last year and get my flexibility and mobility up. To do that I have started doing some of the routines that another coach I follow on twitter Jay Johnson. Specifically there is an eight week general strength progression that was featured in Running Times. I've already started doing the Myrtl routine and the Lunge Matrix. I'm going to start the 8 week program from the first week of June, which will tie in nicely with my running program. Six of the eight weeks will run concurrently with my base phase and I'll finish the progression two weeks into my speed development phase right when all that work will come in handy. Of course I won't stop and will continue to use the routines through out my training. The great thing about all the routines I've found is that they form a fully complementary warm-up and post run exercise routine.

Back to the running. I went for a 5km  run this morning and was able to run with freedom for the first time this month. I know I'm not 100% and for the rest of May and the first week of June, 25 minute runs every other day, adding a little bit will be the order of the day. Thankfully this is the start of the base phase and I can afford and should start to build slowly again, as my best running is hopefully ahead.

The plan for the rest of the year is simple really as I just hope to keep running faster times over 10km. While I was delighted with the times I clocked, running more 36s (4) than 37s (2) and 38s (1) combined this year, I'm hopefully that I can drop into the 35s once I start racing seriously in September or so. Even better would be to get that one magical sub 35:00 performance, hence the title of this post, which is my goal. I have redefined that goal a bit. Project 35 is not a once off goal but a mission statement. My ultimate goal is to become a regular 35 minute and better 10km run in the way that a hypothetical Project 40 has been achieved. When I broke 40:00 for the first time at Zwartkops last year in July (incidentally that race is on my calendar again this year), my father did stress that the key now would be to make running under that milestone a habit. And indeed in 13 10km races since Zwartkops, 11 have been under 40:00 and I haven't run slower 38:32 (Kosmos) since Tom Jenkins on 24 November 2012, a string of nine consecutive sub 39:00 runs.

So Project 35 is a long term affair looking at two to three years, into 2015 and beyond, cementing my 10km running before moving on to half marathons and then returning to marathon running. I don't know how fast I can and will go but it's why I've started looking at all the other details, the strength work etc, and logically arranging my training with periods and built in rest, to give myself a shot at being the best and fastest runner I can be. No more fluff, and now I mean no half marathons, 2 hour runs that don't fit the picture.

I'm as excited as I've ever been about where my running is going!

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