Do as I say…

not as I do!

Some of you may know that I ran in the Relay for Life in Luxembourg last weekend. Some of you may also know that I haven’t run at all since the same event last year. I may have run for buses and trains a couple of times, but I avoid doing even that because then if you miss it you feel like a complete tool, and also because I seem to think I walk faster than I run (factually incorrect).

Now, you might think not running for a year and then trying to run for an hour and a half would be a really bad idea. I covered about 17 or 18km, so it’s very nearly like running a half marathon off no training. So yes, you’d be right, it is a terrible idea.

And that’s why I thought I’d share my experiences with you all. I know a few of my clients read this, and a few of those clients have trained for running events with me, and have been subjected to heaps of calf work, foot strengthening, hip stabilising, glute and hamstring bullet-proofing, and fearmongering about going too hard, too soon. That is the sensible way to do things. The thing is, I don’t pay me, so I’m allowed to injure me without fear of legal or moral repercussions.

Relais pour la Vie

What they don’t tell you about running on a track

So the first thing is – I ran 17 or 18km on a 200m indoor track. That means I turned left 20 times per kilometre, or at least 340 times in total.

That all means that my right foot, right leg, and right hip will have had to stride and push a little further and a little harder than my left foot each time. The outside of my left foot and left ankle will have taken a little bit more of my weight almost the entire time. My right hip probably sat a little bit further forward of my left hip, trying to straighten me up. Goodness knows what my core, arms, and neck went through.

The first thing that happened when I stopped running was that the outside of my left ankle totally seized up. 24 hours later, I could barely put any weight on it as it was too sore to contract and stabilise me. At that point, my right calf tightened up so it felt like a taught elastic band at all times. I really should have seen that coming.

What they don’t tell you about running with hundreds of strangers

I’m no germophobe (the 3-second rule only very loosely applies to most things in most places), but when I think about a couple hundred strangers sweat and pant in a warm, confined space, I already start to feel my throat get scratchy and my eyes start to sting. And yet, that is exactly what happens in these environments.

I’m sure everyone was healthy and clean, but when you perform long-duration cardiovascular exercise, your immune system is getting trodden into the ground. Get a bunch of people together with low immune systems, throw some extra moisture from sweat and heavy breathing into the mix, then get them all to slump into their seats on the sidelines when they finally finish running, before letting them wander outside into the cool night air. Ensure they only get a few hours of sleep until they have to get up the next day, and then count how many end up with the sniffles a few days later.

Thus far, no sniffles for me (touch wood), but certainly a lot of fatigue. I’ve learnt not to push my luck; as much as my muscles have recovered, there is no need for me to train hard right away.

What they don’t tell you about running in the middle of the night

I think we are all guilty of forgetting that we are animals at the root of it all. Just because our mind can be kept awake with various stimulants and/or mental focus, our bodily processes are very finely tuned to our biological clocks. Get peckish at 4pm, or need to feast late at night? That’s all our biological clock switching certain things on at various times!

So, try to eat a bigger/heavier/later meal in order to stay up later and exercise when you would normally be sleeping, and your body goes a bit nuts. Digestion may not happen at the same rate it does for your usual pre-workout meal; heart rate may be lower or higher depending on when you usually train and go to sleep; fluid in your joints may be more or less abundant, and so on.

I’m usually pretty good at eating before training, but I did forget that my usual evening meal ends up being more generous than earlier meals – so when it came to running, I felt I had come nowhere near digesting it. The discomfort I felt as a result of that totally overshadowed how well I ran and how good I felt doing it.

Relais pour la Vie

What they don’t tell you about fitness

I’m normally accustomed to cardiovascular and muscular endurance training for over an hour at a time, when I’m practicing jiu jitsu or any of the other conditioning I used to do alongside it. In the past, I have seen that although I might not run, my martial arts training keeps me fit enough to run for longer durations whenever I decide to.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to train for the last few months, which means I haven’t actually done any cardio for more than about 15 minutes in the last five or six months. So I was freaking out a little bit beforehand, certain that I would gas out after 20 minutes which, as a personal trainer, isn’t something I would ever want to happen.

I had no trouble with my actual breathing and muscular endurance at the event! The only reason I stopped to walk for about 10 minutes was because my ankles were getting seriously tired and I knew that if I pushed on further, I would either injure myself or have to walk for the final portion of the run (or both), and I didn’t want to finish on a walk – so I made a strategic decision to stop, knowing I would then finish off the last 20 minutes fairly safely.

This is great news for people wanting to run in a race or other running event, but who are wary of their physical integrity (e.g. concerns about knee health or lower back pain). You don’t need to run as often as you think you do, if you make the right choices with your strength training and short cardiovascular work!

I’ve certainly learnt some valuable lessons here – the bottom line being listen to your body and respect its needs. Prepare it smartly and specifically for the task at hand. Don’t think that because you know things are going to be a little different on D-Day, that it knows. And don’t think that because sometimes I make bad choices, that I don’t know that they are bad choices!