Attacking from the Flank: Part 1 of 2

“The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” – Archimedes

If you want to run faster, then you have to run faster. Or, to get better at running, you have to run more. Seems like this is patently obvious. I mean, practice makes perfect, right?

Yes and no. There have been other life areas when attacking the problem head-on has seemingly made sense, but then my experience has shown that sometimes, instead of going at It more and harder, The Problem will sort itself out (or die of neglect) by backing off or turning my attention elsewhere. Now that doesn’t mean to say that I’ve ignored these problems or the tasks that were necessary to address them minimally, but focusing on more indirect aspects has also solved problems and without so much stress on the brain.

Well, in an attempt to get faster race times, I have indeed run more and run faster. Only I may have hit the tipping point where to attempt to do more of either at my current fitness level leads to my body breaking down. The latest injury is a piriformis issue, and on a broader scale begins with the tensor fascia lata (TFL) muscle; however, like the IT band issues I had, it stems from my weak ass glutes. It would seem that running more at this point will not only not get me faster, but will simply continue to cause me nagging injuries. So how the heck am I supposed to get faster?!?

While I had already planned to bulk up the other areas of my training, this latest injury has given me no choice but to do so, and for the past four weeks I have been doing little else but cross-training. I know that I mentioned some cross-training in former blog posts, but I clearly wasn’t doing it with any type of intensity. I mean, I thought I was, but I think I was just really giving myself a participation trophy for getting to the gym. Not to say that it doesn’t count for something, but in comparison, well, I’ve been doing one hour sessions with Trainer, and each time I pretty much sweat like I’ve gone a few rounds of sparring. I’m no longer given the luxury of using a lighter weight or doing an easier exercise, and I am generally sore for 1-2 days afterwards. I never used to get sore – not even when I did 20-mile long runs!

Pre-workout. Smiling and not such a hot mess.
Pre-workout. Smiling and not such a hot mess.
On some level I wonder if in an effort to be responsible and mindful about being in my late 40s and that “Hey, let’s not do anything too crazy” voice, I’ve been babying myself. There’ve been a couple times when Trainer has had me do exercises that I would NEVER do. Like those back extensions on that contraption where you hang upside down for a second. While holding a weight. I never got on that thing because I have a bad lower back, and I’d just do easy stretching for that area and stay away from that shit. As I was hanging upside down holding that weight, I thought “Well, that’s it. Now my lower back is going to be ruined.” It was super hard…but surprise. I wasn’t ruined at all.

Some days we do upper body and core, and the other days it’s legs and core. In both cases, we rarely use weights. For legs, we do drills – some could be called “running” – that address balance, quickness, and strength. I hesitate to call it running because it’s more footwork and the longest distance I’ll run is 10 yards.

Turns out I'm very good at running backwards.
Turns out I’m very good at running backwards.
Anyway, I’ve been doing this for about three weeks now, and last week I finally tried running three miles. I committed to myself that I’d do my best to stay light and on the midfoot for as long as I could. Up until now, the longest my body would hold up in this form was .5 miles at a time, and generally after 1-2 days of this, my calves would be exploding, leading me to quit and go back to my usual form. Friends, I did all three miles on my midfoot! In fact, I did 3-mile runs three days in a row with no serious calf issue. Now, these are not easy runs. I can’t zone out, and I definitely have to think about it. I feel my running. But it wasn’t that bad, and my body was up for it…So I guess that inadvertently I got stronger as a runner. Even though I’m not running!

Frustratingly, the butt problem is lingering, even after one week completely off and two weeks of relative rest. It’s the most random thing. Whether running or post-glute workout, the annoyance can feel like a “2,” but it can also completely disappear or be a “1.” (I guess it never truly disappears because I know something is there.) I’m not sure if this is a get stronger in other areas and this goes away type of problem. It’s quite unlike the IT band problem where I just couldn’t run because it was too painful. If it really is sticking I may have to take off a couple weeks completely (I’m going to Europe next month so that won’t be a problem.)

Anyway, since the rear is still problematic, my mileage (ha!) is staying low. But I’m not really minding because I can feel my entire body getting stronger, and I feel like ultimately this will benefit my running. And it’s not like I just “feel” this way. Being able to run those nine miles on the midfoot was a real surprise and triumph. I never thought I’d be strong enough to do that. Also…see below. Trainer and I went out to the track again after I got the green light from ART guy, and I have to say, even I think my form and speed look better. OK, it might just be that Trainer is a terrible cameraman and took a blurry video, so that I look like a Brown Flash, but I don’t think I look as hobbity as I did in the first video.

So basically, by doing cross-training and not running for two weeks, I may be getting stronger as a runner while NOT running?! This seems crazy, but it kind of feels that way. I have now gotten used to being sore, because I know I’m pushing myself. And I like not being soooo careful with my body and treating it like it could break at any minute. So, for now, I’ll keep addressing my running via non-running means and hoping it will eventually translate into faster times. Or my Trainer will kill me. I’m still not sure how this will go. Stay tuned.

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