The only thing harder than training hard is not training at all

Today is the final day of the first twelve week block in my proposed thee year campaign to get fit enough to run a good marathon.  I had planned a total of 90 specific sessions over the 12 weeks: a mixture of running; elliptical cross training; resistance sessions and a weekly yoga session.  Over half of these sessions were intended to be quite demanding.  Early in the program I adjusted the target intensity of the elliptical sessions on account of accumulating tiredness, and on two subsequent occasions I opted for a shorter elliptical session because my heart rate suggested I was becoming over-stressed, but despite these minor adjustments, I have done 89 of the planned sessions.  In addition I did a few extra low-aerobic runs over Christmas, so overall, I have exceeded my target.  Today was to be the final session – a hill session.  I was looking forward to achieving 100% completion rate for the specific sessions.

However, another issue has intervened.  For the past 50 years, I have suffered intermittent mild attacks of inflammatory arthritis. The joints that have been most prone to these attacks are my right knee, my neck and the base of my left thumb.  The most irksome manifestation of disability has been several prolonged periods when I could not operate the release button on a car hand-brake on account of a sore thumb; the most dangerous has been a restricted ability to look over my shoulder when cycling due to a painful neck; though the most worrying issue has been evidence of some permanent damage to my right knee.  However, for the most part, I have escaped lightly, and in fact have had less trouble from the arthritis since recommencing running than during the previous decade.

Two weeks ago I was aware of increasing pain in my neck when turning my head, and a week ago there were some twinges in my left knee.  The twinges were slight and I decided to proceed cautiously with the planned training, with only a slight modification.  During the past 12 weeks, I have been working my right leg a little harder in the leg strengthening resistance sessions to compensate for the fact that my right leg is relatively weaker as a result of past episodes of arthritis.  So this week, it seems a good time to devote the leg strengthening session almost  entirely to the right leg    However, despite giving my left leg an easy week, this morning, my left knee was quite painful when flexed.  So a hill session would be a bad thing to do.

It is easy to see that the sensible thing is to abandon the final session.  In the long run, missing one hill session will make no appreciable difference to my ability to run a marathon in three years time.  However, producing permanent damage to my left knee might well do so.  So rationally, the decision is very easy.  But in fact I am finding it quite hard to overcome my disappointment.  I suspect the underlying reason for my acute disappointment is a lingering doubt about whether my musculo-skeletal system is really strong enough to allow me to achieve my goal.  To be forced to make even a small compromise in my first training block feels like the new building is beginning to crumble even before the first layer of the foundation is in place.

However, there is a different way of framing the issue.  There is no point denying that my 63 year old musculo-skeletal system has accumulated some weak links.  In fact, ever since infancy, I have had problems with my feet, and in my younger marathon running days, I learned how to adjust to deal with these problems.  Simply trying to pretend that the weak links do not exist is simply burying my head in the sand.  On the other hand, if I am going to achieve my goals there will be times when I will need to push myself a little harder than my creaking body wants to go. Simply stopping whenever I feel a twinge in a joint or muscle is unlikely to get me to my goal   So one of the biggest challenges for the next three years is going to be acquiring the judgment to know when a twinge is really a signal to stop.  Today is definitely a day on which to stop.

12 Responses to “The only thing harder than training hard is not training at all”

  1. Jim Manley Says:

    I think you made exactly the right decision about exercise session 90. But you are right that your judgment will be called upon many times in the next months as you train.

    I’ve set as a goal for myself to train hard enough over the next three months to improve my OwnIndex by 10-15%. This would be primarily through increasing cycling miles together with some running and hiking. I am thinking about the program and will be posting on my Lipid Watch blog. Increasing my OwnIndex is a part of a program to control cholesterol. That, in turn, is an attempt to control plaque build-up in my heart.

    How fast one can increase one’s OwnIndex is by no means clear, but the following site suggests that one could improve an OwnIndex of 40 to 45 in three months:

    I appreciate your postings on HRV and will be commenting on my own attempts to decipher this type of indication of heart health. I’m using the Kubios HRV which can import my Polar 810i monitorings.


  2. Simbil Says:

    I’m sorry to hear that Canute.

    I don’t remember how much recent background you have in running?

    If you have not run much over the last 2 years, I would think your best bet would be to perfect your running technique whist building time on feet (within the limits of your skill/technique).
    Strength should probably be added slowly – it’s easy to add quickly and will be well ahead of your connective tissue and bone. Better to keep strength progressing more conservatively so that you do not have false perception of resilience.
    Speed should follow a slow adaptation to your new found strength.

    A good indication of adaptation would be your long runs. Once you can run for race duration in your long runs (at sub race pace of course) without picking up significant niggles, you will know that the basic building blocks are in place. I too targeting a future marathon and long distance triathlon, but am not planning on entering one until I reach this stage. Also, I am not adding a time limit to this process – it needs to happen at its own rate and forcing a timetable to the adaptation is a sure way of causing trouble!

    Just by 2 pence, I’m not a coach 🙂

  3. canute1 Says:

    Jim and Simbil, Thanks for your comments. I am not sure what to expect for the future. My longest previous episode of arthritis lasted over 6 months – that time the most severely affected joint was at the base of my thumb. The only episode since I recommenced running three years ago affected my right knee, but fortunately lasted only one week. So for the time being, I need to be patient.

    Jim, I will be interested to see how your progress with OwnIndex.

    Simbil, thanks for your thoughts on training. With regard to the schedule I plan for block 2 of my program, improving aerobic capacity will be one of the goals, and I will certainly increase the volume of aerobic running. However, I think it is best to persist with some strengthening and some speed work. Over the past three years, I have mainly done aerobic running. Despite a modest increase in training volume each year, my speed over both short (eg 1 mile) and long distances (eg half-marathon) has steadily deteriorated. My fastest mile and my fastest half marathon were recorded in the first year. Thus it appears that with the time available to me (typically 4-5 hours per week) aerobic running alone cannot keep pace with age related deterioration, so I need a different strategy.

    About two years ago, I focused quite intensely on my running style. I have adopted something very similar to Pose. Despite my skepticism about Dr Romanov’s understanding of biomechanics, I think many aspects of Pose are good, at least for the amateur runner. The main aspect of the practice of Pose that I am uncertain about is foot dynamics. Even in this aspect, I think that my current style is not inconsistent with Pose. I land on the forefoot with a slight degree of plantar flexion and a fairly relaxed ankle. Because of the lack of tension in my ankle, the heel touches the ground lightly in midstance. While I think this is a fairly safe, I accept that this soft landing is probably not as efficient as landing with a slightly dorsiflexed foot and a little more tension in the Achilles (as discussed with Rick recently). Although I will probably do a bit more experimenting with foot dynamics, I do not intend any major changes in my running style in the near future.

    I am inclined to think that the most important thing to arrest the age-related decline is rebuilding my strength and power, though I am approaching this very cautiously. So far I have done only body-weight exercises, including a small amount of fairly gentle plyometrics. I have been having an interesting discussion with Mystery Coach about downhill running and I will explore that possibility.

  4. Ewen Says:

    Canute, sorry to hear you’ve been having a recurrence of those problems. I’d say it was a good decision to abandon that session. As you say, it’s never easy to decide whether to push through, do something different, or take a day off.

    Some days when I’ve thought of having a day off I’ve had a spectacularly good run. Other days I wish I’d stayed at home! You might need a slightly less rigid plan to get through the next 3 years.

    Also, I take it you’ve tried supplements such as glucosomine? There’s also another one which is popular down here –

  5. Simon (simbil) Says:

    Hi Canute,

    That all sounds very sensible and with 3 years of running behind you, a cautious progressive approach should have the best chance of success.

    Good luck

  6. SPR Says:

    Hi Canute

    Hope you get over the arthritis episode soon. I think your plan of strengthening sounds quite good. Could you still replace sessions with swimming while recuperating?

  7. Rick Says:

    Yes sorry to hear about your problem, my mother use to take cinder vinegar for her Arthritis and as far as I remember it did help.
    see this report frpm the Daily Telegraph

  8. Rick Says:

    Opps… I meant to say cider vinegar :]

  9. canute1 Says:

    Thanks for your comment. I like the idea of swimming. I would also have a second agenda, because at some stage I would like to attempt a triathlon but need to improve my swimming efficiency. However two practical things stop me swimming this week. First, this episode of arthritis started in the neck and turning my head is troublesome – so the crawl would not be feasible. Secondly, time limitations make swimming less feasible on account of the need to travel to the pool etc

  10. canute1 Says:

    Ewen and Rick,
    Thanks for the suggestions.

    In fact I have been taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for the past 5 days and they appear to be having a good effect – the pain is definitely decreasing.

    Overall, my attitude to medications and to health supplements is to take as little as possible. The effects of taking any substance that has not been part of the food supply that humans have thrived on for thousands of years are unpredictable. Even ‘natural’ substances taken in unusually large amounts are potentially risky, as is demonstrated by the occasional fatal outcome of water intoxication; or the toxic effects of too much oily fish. So the sensible answer is the rely on typical foodstuffs consumed in moderate quantities where possible. However, there are circumstances where this principle ceases to be sensible, and acute arthritis is one of them. Fortunately there is good evidence that anti-inflammatory drugs work. The side effects are potentially troublesome but are quite well documented – so it’s a risk that can be estimated, and I am confident that the balance in favour of the medication, at least for the short term.

    With regard to glucosamine I am intrigued by the possibility that this might be useful for maintenance of joint cartilage. The evidence of benefit is quite good, and as far as I am aware the long term trials have not revealed significant long term adverse effects. So I have not ruled out the possibility that I might take it in future, though my current problem is acute inflammation, and I am not aware of evidence that glucosamine is effective for combating that, so I will stick with the anti-inflammatories for the time being

    Rick, the link to the article on cider vinegar was interesting. That article was largely about osteo-arthritis whereas my problem is a form of rheumatoid arthritis. I would be interested to know what type of arthritis that Ranulph Fiennes suffered.

  11. rick Says:

    Sir Ranulph Fiennes: I beat my arthritis with a vinegar cure passed down from my mother

  12. rick Says:

    Biomechanics of Foot strikes
    Applications to Running Barefoot or in Minimal Footwear

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