Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cognitive Dissonance: Where I have been

The last two months have represented a significant period of struggle. Looking back, it was on December 15th, 2010 where the first notable signs of trouble began. After an easy 7miles in the predawn morning, I felt an almost indiscernible ache in my left hamstring. I had to specifically focus to really notice it, so naturally I did not think much of it and merely chalked it up as some morning tightness from the previous evenings run. So after a day of work I headed back out later that evening for a scheduled track workout in what was a typical Vancouver winter mist (for some reason I can recall daily weather conditions quite well; it is one of the things I tend to tune into when running). Things started well and I actually recall feeling quite spry. But as I worked my way deeper into the mile repeats I was losing push in my left leg. Like it was falling dead, I was getting sporadic twinges down the leg. But this would dissipate as I continued into the stride and thus, I progressed on. The following morning there were remnants of this similar nerve-like sensation and I found myself with the ability to recreate them via certain stretches/ movements. Clearly there was something not right.

After a couple of weeks of IMS and Fascia release coupled with reduced/ easy mileage I felt as though I was coming around. I was far from 100% but as long as I kept my stride easy I was able to keep the nerve under control. Unfortunately, during this time I felt growing tightness along my left ITB. In retrospect this was undoubtedly a by-product of the surrounding muscles having to react to a less-than-fully-functioning left leg; picking up the slack so to speak. Finally, my bull-headed stubbornness caught up to me and I was reduced to a pathetic limp after ascending/descending 3000feet of vertical in snowshoes and running 12miles the day earlier. I knew I had screwed things up. Since then there has been very sporadic/ little running and a lot of cross-training. My day has been reduced to something like this:

AM: 5:30am Gym: Medicine Ball warm up (20* hay-bails, 20* single leg squat/ pistol squat, 20* double leg squat with full extension at top, 20 * 90degrees to 180degrees, 20* Russian twists- I do two sets for all of these). ITB rehab: taken from here. Pedestal Routine: taken from here- with my own slight modifications. Quick session of upper body work. Stationary High Knees with resistance-band around ankles: 30seconds on 15seconds off for 3minutes. Stairclimber 30minutes or alternatively 45min pool running (vary throughout the week). Total time 1:30-2hrs
PM: Yoga + another set of ITB rehab and pedestal. I have now built up to walking for 45min to 1hour followed by 10-15* 50meter strides on grass surface followed by lunges and side-steps.

During this time I was still attempting to run every odd day but I usually had to get on the mill and run for 30-45min with an incline of 6-10% to reduce the strain on the left ITB. Eventually, after pushing it a little too hard on one of those runs, I resolved to the fact that this was not doing me any favours and I have now taken a more measured approach. I am finally seeing the progress I was seeking over the past week or so. It is coming around and I am actually feeling pretty strong (dividends of hours in the gym and the X-work at home I suppose). Running of any real significant is not an option yet but I am at least moving in the right direction. It is frustrating because my leg is a compete non-issue throughout the day and during regular routine/ cross-training, but as soon as I try to break out in to a lengthy run, the pain slowly kicks back in.

It is easy to sit back, retrospectively ponder, point out the mistakes and dwell. Should I have taken 2-weeks completely off in December? Would I have avoided all of this? If I had taken some time off this fall would I have started the year off fresh and fit? Intuitively this seems like the appropriate thing to do. When you make a mistake you are suppose to learn from them. Naturally, this involves giving them a certain amount of thought and consideration as to what went wrong. And indeed I have. But while I agree with this approach, I find it problematic to over analyze. I know I made some mistakes but it is a futile endeavour to continually nurse these notions. I recognize them and now it is time to move forward.

In a similar vein, I often read other runners approach as they go through periods of injury (read: non-running). A common theme is to justify in a sort of after-the-fact method. This is a usual psychological tactic that we as humans engage in within a variety of settings-I believe it falls closely under the confines of cognitive dissonance. Psychologists have done numerous studies outlining this concept wherein they ask participants to rate their likeness for let’s say 10CD’s. They then offer them one of these CD’s as token for taking part in the study. Later, they measure the same participants likeness for the CD’s that they were given and find that it has gone up a statistically significant level from before. Essentially, despite all other variables remaining consistent, they have suddenly developed a stronger like for the CD that they were given. Applying this to the case of not being able to run there are two conflicting ideas: wanting to run and not being able to. This leads to a strong sense of dissonance and resulting uncomfortable feelings; hence, we are motivated to reduce it. We do this by offering up a variety of different forms of reasoning that justify the conflicting ideas or simply that reduce the dissonance. For instance, I needed the time off to recuperate, the weather has been terrible, it’s the middle of winter why do I want to run anyways, this time will give me the opportunity to build strength and cross-train. While indeed all of these may be accurate and actually how one is feeling, they are spurred by the fact that one cannot run. If one were able to, they would not have such feelings.

What’s the point of all this? Not much, other than to show the applicability of psychological concepts to the everyday life of runners. And to gain some grasp on the feelings I have been having as of late. However, no matter how much I try to reduce the dissonance, at the end of the day I just want to run. It has become so innate to my self-concept that I feel unlike my “self” when I cannot, as cliché as that may sound. In a lot of ways, I feel a lot less like me. As will be obvious from this, I will not be running the Birch Bay Marathon this weekend. This is disappointing but I will get over it. At this point I just need to get healthy and be smart and measured in my progression back to significant running.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


It was approaching 8:00pm. I had been at the university since 7:30am that morning when I first walked up the long set of steps with the rising sun perfectly framed by the stoic cement building of Arthur Erickson. Although controversial, I came to develop a fond appreciation for the integrity of his design and his commitment to his architectural principles. But I digress.

By this time in the evening my focus was surely non-existent. The intellectual vigour that I started the day with had morphed into a disfigured blob of haze, barely recognizable as a inanimate entity itself. Seven plus hours of lectures and tutoring can do that to you. But it was on this evening that we studied Heraclitus in my Philosophy class. And it is one particular proverb that he is credited with that to this day stands firmly in my mind. “One cannot step twice into the same river”.

The idea behind this proverb is fairly rudimentary but also brilliant. Since the waters that compose a river are forever changing as it flows, it is a different river each time you step into it. Taken to the extreme, rivers then as we ordinarily conceive them do not exist. If there is a Colorado River for instance it only exists for a fleeting moment before it becomes a completely different river. This is obviously a ridiculous proposition but the message that Heraclitus was attempting to promote is most definitely valid. Broken down to its essence, there is nothing that is truly stable and permanent; rather everything is always in flux or change.

I have held onto this notion dearly for the past month. Like a child desperately grasping their favourite stuffed-animal, I have taken this idea wherever and whenever I go. Each time I lace my shoes, and step out the door I am a new person, I remind myself. With a new cellular structure, and a new chance to get it right, perhaps. Remember the message of Heraclitus I dutifully posit: the world is always in a state of flux. I try to convince myself that my ITB won’t hurt as much this morning and that I will not be relegated to a few measly miles and another week of the pool and elliptical.

I turn the corner, hop-stepping over the chipped curb with a damp rain soaking my body. I am only thirty minutes into my run and my mind is racing; hyperactive. Increasingly, I become ever conscious of the growing ache above my left knee. I try to block it out, put it in the cage as they say, relax and feel the stride and just breathe. I tell myself that it will fade. It works. Momentarily. But that is all.

Frustrated. I turn around and follow my footsteps home. My stride has become awkward and unpleasant as I complete the necessary final miles, not wanting to submit to what my mind is telling me to do: walk. I cringe as I approach the undulating slopes that aggravate the already worsening situation. The time crawls by as I juxtapose this to how easy the miles felt a short time ago. Where it took me forty minutes just to warm up and find my stride before I began to click off the hours. Everything is in flux.

As I make my way back up the steps to my apartment, wet from the hazy mist on this early Saturday morning, I cannot help but feel a growing sense of displeasure. Displeasure with myself and my body that has so obviously let me down. But in nearly the same exact moment, the words of Heraclitus enter my mind as I gently remind myself that things are changing. Whether for better or for worse remains to be seen, but I grasp at the sense of comfort that these words provide. Knowing that stagnation and stability are just a fleeting moment and flux is the true principle of control.