A fantastic essay came out in the New York Times this week about distance running that I suggest anyone read, especially people who think that they can’t participate in endurance sports: The Honorable Clan Of The Long Distance Runner.
In it, the authors, Burfoot and Hirsch, basically contend that distance runners are not some kind of elite superhuman, but merely regular people with the desire and the will to put in the time and training it takes to reach their distance goals. I guess what they’re trying to say is, If you want it badly enough, you will succeed.
Thirteen miles I’ve pulled off without too much of a hitch. I had run 12 hilly miles before the Disneyland Half Marathon, earlier this month, and, in spite of an annoying foot injury, I managed to finish in 2 hours and 19 minutes (four minutes less than I thought that I would finish, but also, given the stabbing foot pain, I was happy to have finished at all).
Back at practice, I have had my ups and downs this month. Last week, I attempted to run 16 miles, but started out way too fast with a group of runners that outmatched me, at an 8:45 min/mile, and my legs died. I felt defeated, hitting only 14 miles, but I was determined to make it up this week, in spite of the fact that another heat wave was fast approaching, and we were running the same, blazingly hot beach course.
The same “Speedy McSpeedsters” decided to join our group again. I GRRR’d inside of my head at this, but, at least, this time, I had one other pace-matching person on my team, so I wasn’t the odd-one-out this time around. My run buddy and I kept in sync, while the speedy ones sped off, a steady 15-to-30 seconds ahead for the entire route.
Our route was a mixed bag, between the multi-odiferousness and eccentricities of Venice Beach, the Herbalife Triathlon, and local beachside people traffic. As soon as the sun started to scorch the sands, people were out to put their toes in it. Running in crowds requires agility, patience, politeness, and, often, a bullhorn. My buddy and I must have called out, “Excuse us!” three or four times to one young woman on a Venice sidewalk, and she still stepped in front of us, as if we were invisible. Venice is full of space cadets.
Mile 10 must be my unlucky mile. Everything was going fine, until my hamstrings started their meltdown again. Ugh. My buddy’s hip and feet were bothering her, so we slowed down a hair. I felt myself going into this broken record-like spiel of complaining.
“I have got to stop complaining!” I told my buddy.
“Imagine yourself finishing!” my buddy replied.
Not finishing was not an option. Mentally and physically, I had to hunker down to rally against the pain that was telling my body to stop. We took one slightly longer than usual walk break, and kept pressing on.
My buddy only had to do 14 miles that day, meaning that I had to do the last two miles alone.
“Is there anything that I can get you?” My buddy asked when I had to leave her at the finish.
“Just, good luck,” I huffed out.
“Good luck!” She responded.
With that, I set off on my two-mile solo journey. A half-mile in, I stopped to stretch my hamstrings for a few seconds, hoping that would help to give me the longevity I needed to finish. My legs ached and ached, but I pushed myself, weaving through throngs of annoying tourists who never watched where they were going, or just stood idiotically in the middle of a walk or bike path. All I had to do was get to a bright neon pedestrian walkway sign, and run back, and, magically, before I knew it, the sign appeared. Oh, joy!
Just one more mile, I told my body. Somehow it perked up at that prospect. It gave up fighting for a little while and just moved robotically as I neared the steps to get to the final finish area. One more short hill climb, and about 50 meters, and I was done!
I heard my teammates cheers as I neared the finish point. I made it! My legs burned so much that I couldn’t even stand still without doing a million stretches. Luckily, that day, a few people from L.A. Sports Massage, were there to give us a 10-minute kneading. What a perk! My masseuse, Paula, pressed and stretched my hammies out so well in that 10 minutes, that I am convinced this is why I am not hobbling like an old woman today.
My at-home ritual was cold soak (it’s really only horrible for the first few seconds), warm shower, then more stretching and a nap. That California beach sun takes a lot out of a person. I was pretty lazy for the rest of the day, getting up to walk the dog and that was about it.
I did manage to do some research on fatigued hamstrings. It looks like a lot of it may have to do with my running stride, as a lot of distance runners, in an attempt to conserve energy, pull themselves along the ground, using their hamstrings. The article I read recommended range-of-motion leg swings for the hip flexors, and step-ups, with an emphasis on using the hip, quad and glute, in addition to the hamstring. It also said that readjusting one’s running stride to incorporate larger muscles, such as quads and glutes, can help. Using more of a bounding stride, swinging more forward from the hip, and pushing through the back of the stride more, can help to reduce fatigue in the hamstrings. I’m going to try that method on one of my midweeks. Here is the article, in case you’re curious: http://www.sportsinjurybulletin.com/archive/hamstring-injuries.html.
Getting to the point: I ran 16 miles, yayyyy! Now for 18 next week (10 of these miles running alone–booh). If anyone has a good run playlist, send it over!