Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Four F's of Poor Running

As I was finishing up my fellowship and beginning my job hunt, my mentor told me that when evaluating an employment opportunity, one must consider the four F’s. As it applied to the job market, these stood for: Fame, Fortune, Fun, and Flexibility, with fame not really referring to actual fame, but more the prestige of the position, respect from peers, ability to help you move up, etc.

Along these lines I have come up with the four F’s of poor running: things to consider if your running is not going the way you feel it should be. They are: Fitness, Fatigue, Function and Frazzled.

Fitness- I think as athletes, when things aren’t going well, fitness is the first thing we question. Yet in my experience, this is rarely the cause of a stretch of poor running. I routinely take two weeks off or very easy after big races with no major impact on my overall fitness. Missing a workout or two (or even a week or two) is unlikely to have a major impact on your fitness. I think fitness may impact your hard workout times by a few seconds per interval or mile, but if you aren’t feeling good on your easy runs and you have been pretty consistent with your training, it is likely not fitness. However, if you are new to running, are running significantly harder/longer, or have taken an extended time off, a lack of fitness may be leaving you a little low on your runs.

Fatigue- I think this is a major cause of feeling “blah” while running, especially amongst ultrarunners, particularly because ultrarunners aren’t good at taking recovery. Heck, we celebrate runners who pack races close together with little recovery! Think of revered feats like the Western States/Badwater Double or the Grand Slam. We hold these types of runners as exemplary “Badass” individuals (indeed they are!), but it does propagate the notion that a quick turn-around is not only possible, but something we should strive for if we want to be “badass”, too. I am not necessarily chasing a “badass” image, but rather I am excited by so many events and I definitely suffer from a bad case of FOMO, which can cause me to pack races closer together than would be advisable. Fortunately, the cure for this is straightforward: take time off. But for neurotic ultrarunners with training logs to fill in, this is often easier said than done! (trust me, I know!).

Function- If you feel “off” when you run, maybe you are having functional issues, either injury or a biomechanical issue that needs to be tweaked (I am sure that is the official PT term!). This is especially true if you are having pain, your gait feels sloppy or unnatural, or your issues seem to be asymmetric, with one side bothering you more than the other. My primary strategy for dealing with injury is ignore it and keep running. ;) That is certainly NOT what I recommend, though! Figure out what is wrong, which may include internet searching or a trip to your favorite diagnostician, and then come up with a plan to address the issue. On the occasions when I can't keep ignoring an injury, I am always surprised by how much just a few days of focused therapy will improve the situation.

Frazzled - Life happens and sometimes it happens even when you are supposed to be doing peak mileage. Don't discount how much the non-running stressors in your life can impact your training. A friend of mine is in the process of moving and remodeling a new house and she said was surprised how much those things were impacting her training. But mental stress takes a toll on your body and leaves you with less energy to put toward physical endeavors. Other things may make it harder for you to find time for training, such as a tough work schedule or children's schedules. And of course, illness can sap your energy and leave you feeling drained when it comes to running. It is important to accept these life stressors and modify training as necessary to accommodate for these events.

Nine days ago, I found myself contemplating something along the lines of the Four F's above, as I struggled through a Saturday morning workout. My friend Mike was doing a 13 mile marathon pace run (6:45) and I agreed to tag along for 8 as part of my planned 22 miler. I met Mike after 7 miles and joined him for part of his workout. 6.5 miles into the tempo portion, I was dying! I managed to finish my 8 (and marveled at Mike for doing all 13) but I felt like I had nothing left to complete my planned run. I walk/jogged 2 miles back to the car and was done at 17 miles. My first thought, of course, was "Oh my god, I am not in shape for marathon pace. I have gotten too slow from running ultras." Fortunately, I was able to do a bit of a reality check: I had a 6 minute PR at the Condor 25k the weekend before, so I knew my fitness was good. But, oh yeah, I had pushed myself hard at that race, not to mention my workout with Mike was only four weeks after Run Rabbit Run - maybe a couple of tiny reasons I was still feeling fatigued. Plus, the workout was the end of my call week - something that leaves me frazzled. 

The week following the bad workout there were two more issues to compound the problem. First, last Tuesday we had another "Life Event", or more specifically, a lice event! Liam's itchy head turned out to be a critter infestation and Megan had a rare bug, too. YUCK! But beyond the yuck, lice is a huge pain in the ass (or should I say neck??). We spent hours shampooing, cleaning, laundering and putting toys and blankies through the dryer on high heat. By the end of the night, we were worked! 
Nothing out of the ordinary here. Just Mac shaving my naked son's bug infested head on our front porch at 9pm.
Then Thursday I fell on a very easy five mile run. Even though the pace was easy, the impact was not and I banged my knee up good. Friday, it was completely swollen adding an improper function to my list of F's. And so last weekend, I did not run a single step despite a training plan that called for 40 miles in those three days. And this week I felt great! I feel like all my "F's" are back in line, and to that I say "F-yeah!" :)

I am hoping this pans out well for a good race this weekend. I am headed to the nearby Autumn Leaves 50 miler. While this race is primarily for training and having fun (I'll be in a costume again), I am hoping for a fast time, especially since the weather should be ideal instead of the usual dreadful rain. While the race doesn't boast of a highly competitive field, I often think the clock is the stiffest competition a runner can have. Last time, I'd say it got the best of me as I ran 6:30:44 to my goal of sub-6:30! I am hoping the good weather and well rested legs are worth at least 45 seconds!


Ronda said...

Great write up Pam. I stink at all 4F's. Thanks for outlining it. Kick butt this weekend!

Shelby said...

Loved this...thanks for sharing your wisdom!

Gretchen said...

"Ignore it and keep running." Sounds like perfect advice to me. Usually, that's my game plan!

Pam said...

Gretchen - as asinine as that plan sounds, it is surprising how often it works! It's not really an injury unless it hurts for more than three weeks! ;)