Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Wed, 3 May 2000 09:35:06 -0400

Feel Better Fast

(from RC 302)

Rich Englehart is my kind of runner. I've liked him ever since reading that he ran through a knee injury by leaning on a shopping cart to take pressure off the injured leg. Desperately trying to keep going, I've made some weird moves like that.

Rich is one of the best writers I know who earn no paychecks for his words. These often make my newsletter pages. He recently wrote, "My lower back is chronically tight and sore. But over the last three weeks I've had no problems with it.

"Oddly enough, during this stretch of time I've been running at a much higher level of intensity than I had in ages. I'm wondering if the slow, short strides I take when running easily were the culprit. It makes sense because I can't walk very much without my back killing me."

My reply: "The inexplicable and illogical keep this activity of ours fascinating, even after all these years. I suspect that adding a different stress to the mix has eased pressure on your back somehow. Various of my aches have responded this way to a small dose of speed, which good sense should tell me to avoid."

One of my most healthy years ever was the last one when I truly raced. That was 1980, when races were regular and below six minutes a mile for distances up to 10-K. (I've also broken myself down with TOO MUCH racing, but that's the subject for another column.)

First to go when I started to hurt was the racing, then anything resembling fast training. All remaining running was at the same slow, flat-footed, short-striding pace.

The slower I went, and the longer without anything fast, the sorer I sometimes grew. At these times I wasn't hurting from too much speed but too little. This is one of the best reasons I run a faster mile most weeks.

As we discussed the oddity of speed curing rather than killing, Rich Englehart said, "I think that when we were young and had coaches who hammered us with intervals and time trials endlessly, we decided that the answer to any running pain or fatigue was to go slower and easier. I've learned, and forgotten and relearned, that sometimes speeding up helps.

"Often on a really sluggish run,I find that a two- or three-minute surge makes the rest of the run easier. That shouldn't surprise us, as we know that sometimes on a day when you feel too exhausted to run, the best way to revive ourselves is to run."

Rich added, "Back when Ed Ayres was still putting out Running Times, I remember a piece he did in which he described a sort of intuitive approach he'd taken to running. He thought that he knew instinctively when to push and when to ease off, but that he couldn't really describe how he knew these things. He mentioned that there were times he'd feel a pain and know the best thing to do was push through it, and other times when he'd feel a very similar pain and know it was trouble."

Speed can cure, but only as a prescription item taken in small, well-timed doses. It doesn't come with simple directions as to when and how much.


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