I recall having a toy as a child. It was nothing special. In fact, it was fairly unsophisticated by the standards of the day. There were no bells and whistles or lights and explosions. But this is what made it so intriguing to me. I could not help but be drawn to the simplicity of its workings. The toy consisted of a metallic figurine, holding a convex dumbbell-like object across his chest (for the sake of argument, let’s assume it was indeed a male). His feet were pointed as though they were golf pegs, perched and balanced on a perfect tee. When upright, you gently swayed the object and initiated its mesmerising shift. Back and forth it went, remaining perfectly balanced and in total equilibrium. It swayed like this, almost hitting the surface at each end of its journey, under its own force and weight until eventually falling to the end of its initial momentum and coming to its standing rest. As a child it was amazing to witness this. It seemed to defy many of my intuitive (and apparently unfounded) understandings of gravity and balance.
Recently this memory came to mind when thinking about my running as of late. After an o-so-brief period of subdued running-performance and a slight lull in mileage and intensity I have been building over the past 6-weeks with my next running goal in mind. What many will refer to as a sort of condensed ‘base-phase’ the objectives were simple: reacquaint the body to the higher mileage; introduce a steady amount of interval work coupled with strength/ speed sessions; and lastly, to build up the muscular-skeletal capacity to bash pavement for a considerable period of time. At face value I must say that I believe I have approached a certain level of success on most of these points. Firstly, I have maintained at a minimum of 100km of total running a week. Secondly, I have consistently embarked on at least one form of interval session per week including a set of shorter strides or hills for strength over the same period of time. And lastly, I have run the majority of these sessions on roads or compact dirt paths. This period has felt comfortable and in many ways invigorating. The personal revitalization that a new form of challenge or goal can have is always significant. Even if the ultimate goal itself is never actualized I find the motivation that merely setting it as a purposeful target uplifting at a minimum and empowering at a maximum. But I digress.
Through this period I have had a pronounced internal dialogue with my body. Likely because I have been exposing it to things it has not had to respond to for some length of time (speed and longer intense sessions near threshold; roads; etc), this conversation is ever so marked. Over the past week I have noted some familiar yet disdained aches and pains; remnants of past injuries rearing their ugly head. But I was quick to take the appropriate steps and managed to quell any of these concerns. Like the metallic-figurine of my childhood, I swayed back to the side of safety and found my balance once again.
But inevitably, other issues have arisen. Nothing that would cause me to immediately halt my steps, but the type of pain that reminds me I am not invincible and must always be conscious and connected to my body and its desire for a state of equilibrium. That is, the balance between training at capacity to maximize improvement while warding of injury, exhaustion, and the detriments of over-training. Finding this is not easy. Indeed, it is one of the most challenging aspects of developing a training regime. How often do I run, when do I run hard, when do I run easy, what even is easy for me today… the questions are endless but critical. I envision this process as nicely represented by the toy from my childhood. We as endurance athletes are constantly flirting with the prospect of injury or over-training but at the same time, must always be approaching this point to extract the most from our training. It is a fine balance no doubt. It is about learning what we can ignore and mostly “push” through, as being distinct from what we must react to. To bring the point full circle, this Wednesday I headed out my door at 4:30am for an easy 6 miles. The previous evening’s effort was solid but nothing that left me for worse. On my morning run I did not feel superb. My left leg was having some peculiar nerve-like sensations but I was mostly able to ignore them. By the end I was just OK physiologically but perhaps more importantly, awakened and buoyed by a beautifully lonesome early morning run. After a day of work, I headed back out the door at 5pm to the track for a session of half-mile repeats. I had not done this particular workout for a few weeks and was pining to see some improvement. And indeed, the improvement was there. Without a greater perceived effort, I was knocking 10-15seconds off my previous half-mile times; more than I was expecting and vastly encouraging. But this was not without its detriments. By the end of the session my left leg was revolting and I had a few moment were it was essentially going completely “dead”. I knew it was a nerve, just unsure exactly what. As I trotted the 15+minutes back to my apartment the discomfort subsided and was essentially nonexistent but my mind again drifted to the image of the swaying metallic toy. I thought, perhaps my metaphorical figure was in full swing and tilting its way to the side of injury. Perhaps I needed to give myself a day or two to reorient. In retrospect, I have run the most miles I have ever run before this year and have not taken many days “off” this fall. The dialogue has been pronounced and I should heed the words. With that, I sit here feeling much better after a day of rest and a painful treatment of fascia release. My metaphorical toy has relaxed and is hopefully on its way back to equilibrium and findings its state of harmony.