Real World Running Rehab

The Endurance Corner Archives are being cleaned out.

Here is an article from a few years ago — the article has helped a lot of people so I’m saving a copy here…

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PART ONE

After two running injuries last fall, I asked our team doc, Jeff Shilt, for a running rehab program. He shared his elite athlete rehab protocol, it was an excellent program:

  • Drills
  • Functional strength
  • Flexibility
  • PowerCranks
  • Gradual ramp of load and intensity

Considering the time commitment required for Jeff’s program, I knew there was zero chance that I’d be able to execute it. Rather than fail, I searched for an alternative plan.

So I asked Jeff, “What is the minimum running load to derive a structural benefit?” He wasn’t sure so I pulled 20 minutes out of the air.

Knowing that it takes me four to six weeks to injure myself I gave myself a target that would take at least three months.

My plan was to insert 20 minutes of slow running with excellent technique. I would handle my aerobic fitness via bike training. I would handle my strength training in the gym.

Over 12 weeks, I managed 50 easy sessions of 20 minutes. I ran mostly on a treadmill with a 1% grade and max speed of 10 minutes per mile. My rehab speed was more than three minutes per mile slower than what I can deliver in a 70.3 race. While I have always been willing to run slow to achieve my goals, my previous goals were closer to 100 mile weeks than quarters!

The 50×20 protocol seems to have worked and my next phase is five-mile runs every other day for 12 weeks. I continue to run slow but have increased my pace cap to eight minutes per mile. I’m off the treadmill and happy to be back outside.

Phase two will take me to June when I’ll shift back to two-mile maintenance runs while I prepare for the Leadville Trail 100 bike.

As an aside, I’m applying the 20-minute target with my reintroduction of swimming. It is early days and a typical workout looks like:

  1. 500 easy with pull buoy
  2. 4x alternate 100 IM no gear with 75 Choice with pull buoy

I managed to keep my large muscle swim strength in the gym but suspect that my little muscles, particularly around my scapula, have atrophied.

Like most of us, my athletic memories and prejudices can cause me to injure myself. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to experiment with slow and steady rehab. I came very close to quitting running and am glad I kept trying to come back.

When more stops working, remember to try less.

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PART TWO

Let’s recap Part One.

  1. Start by completing 50 runs of two miles — took me three months
  2. Shorter of five miles and an hour — every other day for another three months

The above will progress you to 7×45 minutes per 14 days. This works out to about 2:40 per week and will give you a base of about 160 minutes per week that you’ll want to repeat for at least six weeks before adding my tips below.

Once you’re ready to add load, you’ll find that 8-16 minutes worth of threshold/VO2 (combined) per week gives you a performance benefit with very little biomechanical risk.

Adding duration doesn’t give you much — keep every session under an hour. I’ve yet to run 10K.

Adding frequency via supplemental, easy, two-mile runs would make sense if you were a runner, rather than a triathlete. Aside from a couple of back-to-back run days (when traveling), additional running means I swim less. I need my swimming more than I need slow running.

So my recommendation is increase running load by adding intensity wisely. Here’s how:

Create some 5K and 5-mile route options. For my basic running, I prefer flat routes. For my weekly dose of intensity, I prefer hills.

Look for two types of climbs. The first is a climb that flattens at the top. The second is a climb that steepens at the top. Both climbs should be 6-12 minutes long; my preference is 8-10 minutes.

Alternate the climb that you use by week:

  • For the climb that flattens, build pace with the goal being 90 seconds Very Quick at the top.
  • For the climb that steepens, build effort with the goal being 90 seconds Very Intense at the top.

For both climbs, be patient, if you’re recovering from injury then you’ve proven that you can hurt yourself. You want to create a new habit of healthy running.

For both climbs and the descents focus on a quick cadence. Achieve speed via quickness — you should feel like you are taking baby steps.

Follow each day that’s biomechanically challenging with a light day. I’ve been traveling weekly so my total volume (SBR and strength) is down. Therefore, my intense running is done on fresh legs.

A weekly dose of 10 minutes of fast uphill running will give you what you need.

Six months of smart rehab will contain five to eight of these sessions in the final two months. At that stage, you should be better off than you started and ready to incorporate intensive aerobic training (Mod-Hard) as well as extending the duration of your longest run.

Replace the habits that lead to breakdown.

 

Aging Athletes on the Kokopelli Trail

FullSizeRender 2I spent early October riding the Kokopelli Trail in Utah.

I enjoyed the trip more than I expected and want to share ideas to increase your athletic satisfaction as you move into, and beyond, middle age.

High performance is not about health, but long-term athletic satisfaction is most certainly correlated to health, strength and mobility.

As a cohort, our group of 40 to 60 year olds was the healthiest population that I have ever trained alongside. I am using health in a classical context – body, mind and spirit.

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Here in Boulder, I see many friends “age-down” their training partners, seeking younger and younger peers. Heck, we even race our kids as soon as they are fast enough to give us a push.

If you feel compelled to hang onto your youthful performances then be sure to try the opposite, at least some of the time. Age up your pals, teach children and be kind to beginners. Pay close attention to how this makes you feel.

As one of the the “youngsters” on the trip, I learned a lot from listening to the veteran athletes talk about their lives.

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Usually, a training camp involves a 5:30am alarm, wolfing down a breakfast, training all day, eating two massive dinners and sweating myself to sleep. Repeat for six to ten days.

Dropping into a guiding company that was celebrating 25 years of trips, I realized how little I knew about what (normal) people want.

On the first morning, the guides had a chuckle when I arrived in the lobby with my helmet, shoes and full riding kit. It was POURING rain and they gently broke it to me that we weren’t riding for a while.

2015-10-05 11.32.21This pattern, of gently breaking it to me, would continue for the week. Eventually, I capitulated and decided to (attempt to) be a model guest.

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I was surprised by the aspects of the trip that I enjoyed the most — the relaxed mornings and evenings.

I commented to a friend, “This trip is a good workout spread across a great day.”

2015-10-09 08.18.50Bottomless coffee and massive fruit salads in the mornings. As Wes-the-guide can attest, there is something truly satisfying about eating out of a mixing bowl.

FullSizeRender 3Casual dinners and beers around the campfire in the evenings. Our guides taking a well-earned break after a 13-hour day taking care of us.

FullSizeRender 5Stunning camping venues. Wine and cheese at a remote desert campsite.

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I should remember that the health, strength and mobility required to enjoy unique experiences in nature is FAR less than what’s required to train alongside high-performance athletes that are half my age.

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Old habits die hard.

I’m changing slowly.

Less Little Lies

bear2A friend asked what it has been like to step back from athletic competition. Much of what follows applied when I left jobs, peers or habits – any of which might not have fit my life anymore.

The immediate impact is usually relief and a realization of the unnecessary cost my choices where imposing. Quite often, the relief is followed by sadness at leaving old habits, even negative ones.

In terms of “what’s it like” to compete less – it’s exactly the same, just less fatigue and soreness. All my “issues” follow me wherever I go!

What is available is an opportunity to look at the impact of a competitive, or corporate, lifestyle.

I often cloak a selfish reality with talk of benefits outside myself. Shareholder value, national prestige, competing on an international stage, earning money for my children… these little lies are repeated until they become my reality.

Fooling myself isn’t necessarily a problem. I spent my teens and twenties solely focused on my personal outcome. It worked at the time.

In my 30s, I broadened my circle to help other people assist with achieving my personal outcome. It still worked for me.

That lifestyle was a form of greed – more more more.

With a spouse and kids, the lies have to increase to justify continuing the choices of my youth.

Long-term competition isn’t a problem. The problem is the thinking that results from turning away from my spouse, my kids, my family and my community.

We tell ourselves that we will change when we have X, or achieve Y, or become Z.

What I’ve done is tell myself…

I’m going to look directly at my flaws, a diseased friend, a homeless beggar, a hysterical child or a demented hospice patient.

Whatever it is that scares me. I’ll look at it.

I’m going to acknowledge that I can’t fix the situation but I’ll try to do something small to make life better.

Working towards overcoming the difficulties of my inner life is similar to the pleasure of overcoming others through competition.

The reward is just as sweet and others do not pay a price for my success.

 

Managing My Endurance Passion

G-BoraRecent media reports have linked “extreme” exercise to shortened lifespan (versus moderate exercisers). There is not an agreed definition of what constitutes extreme but, even at my current noncompetitive level of activity, I qualify.

My endurance pals have responded like Charlton Heston at an NRA rally.

If you want me to change then you can pry my fitbit from my cold, dead hands…

Ultradistance athletes are the true believers of endurance sport (links to classic book).

Many of us have replaced a previous passion, sometimes a negative addiction, with endurance sport.

Some of us are managing our “bad habits” via exercise.

All of us are terrified about the implications of change. Listen to our thoughts about anyone with a normal BMI.

Having watched friends revert to previous lifestyles, and having no desire to make a return myself (!), I thought I’d offer some practical ideas for managing our passion.

As always, I start by asking myself questions:

  • Where can things go wrong?
  • Is a multi-decade strategy to continually rip the legs of my aging competition wise?
  • What’s the minimum change required for maximum harm reduction?

Hands down, the worst thing that can happen to any aging athlete is losing the ability to train. Physically, strength losses are slow to return. Mentally, we are prone to depression via inactivity.

I’d be willing to compromise quite a bit to protect my ability to keep on trucking!

You are not going to get a lot of lifestyle modification by telling me that “strenuous” exercise isn’t good for me.

Not going to happen!

You see, I know how I was living without exercise in my life.

You might get me to change a little by pointing out the risk of:

  1. Dying via bike crash
  2. Orthopedic damage
  3. Concussion risk
  4. General malaise from soreness and fatigue

In fact, you didn’t have to bring it up. I see it all around me and have modified my lifestyle to take the above into account.

  • Highway riding avoidance
  • Adding front/rear lights for improved visibility
  • Rarely train in a group
  • No more bike racing
  • Main bike is full-suspension mountain bike

These small changes have improved my risk profile but I have ignored them when training for an event that required them, and when spending time with friends that could care less.

So, like any behavioral modification, my changes are only as sticky as my ability to choose wisely with peers and events.

I’ve written about low standard deviation training HERE and HERE.

Here’s what I’ve been doing:

  • Aim to train every AM and PM
  • Workout defined as leaving my house
  • Focus on frequency (AM/PM), not duration, not load
  • Wide variation in effort, from walking to max
  • Lots of hills
  • Don’t measure (other than a weekly weight check)

I end up with 11-14 doses per week and remain inside the “extreme” segment of recent physiological studies.

I’d estimate my current plan at 30% less hours, 60% less load and 90% less fatigue/soreness.

I exercise a lot, but less than I used to. I suspect the taper will continue as I age.

The small changes have improved my risk profile and increased the non-competitive benefits I receive from exercise (mood, motivation, creativity, sex drive).

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I don’t expect you to change…

…but this is an alternative that reduces the chance you might have to shut down your endurance passion

…or end up replacing it with a prior negative addiction!

In times of injury, stress, divorce, despair… I hope you will remember this article.

Exercise has been a very good friend to my family.

Better Than Expected

tea_partyLast week, a speedy age-group athlete asked me why I hadn’t been racing much.

I’ve been thinking about my answer. What was said, and what was unsaid.

Here’s what I said,

“You have to remember that I was far better than I expected to be.”

The peace I feel with regard to sport is something that I didn’t expect.

Part of the serenity comes from the experience of giving my absolute best for many years.

Another part is understanding what was required to exceed my expectations, and realizing that’s not advisable.

I have been thinking about my attitude of “better than expected” for YEARS.

I’ve noticed it is spreading into other areas of my life.

  • My marriage… better than expected
  • My kids… better than expected
  • My day… better than expected
  • My life situation… better than expected
  • My health… better than expected

Some of my serenity can be traced to a long-term campaign to jettison anything that stresses me. However, living with preschoolers is stressful and they don’t seem to be spilling into the rest of my experience anymore.

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What was unsaid was the insanity of spending time, and a lot of money, reinforcing the worst aspects of my personality.

What do I mean?

At the edge, I discovered narcissism, sociopathy, isolation and a disregard for long-term health.

In addition to endurance competition, I have the potential to be very good at all of the above!

These attributes are everywhere in society. However, they are easily seen in people at the pinnacle of their fields (even narrow niches). Indeed, many champion athletes would see these traits as necessary, and desirable.

As a true believer, it was extremely valuable to lock onto athletics. It strengthened much of what’s good in me. It’s one of many paradoxes in my life.

I’ll end by paraphrasing a coach of mine…

Sometimes, the best thing you can do for someone is to give them the confidence to leave.

…and life has been far better than expected!

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The Middle-Aged Athlete

ec_hatLast weekend, a bunch of my pals were in Hawaii for Ironman. Watching from a distance, Ironman is a reminder that the human body can do some incredible things. While the race is neat, what’s most impressive is the training load that the competitors put themselves through. The physical output, over many years, is impressive – sitting here, I can’t believe I was able to do it!

I’ve had success coaching men between 40 and 75 years old (as well as women from 40 to 55 years old). Interestingly, it’s the guys who are most prone to saying, “I wonder if I’m getting old.” Top amateur women just keep on rolling, about the only thing that slows them down is injury and illness.

On the other hand, guys get really tired. I like to joke with my wife that I get Man-Fatigue – like man flu – it’s a whole different level of fatigue from what she experiences.

What follows isn’t for my pals, who are still crushing it. Keep doing what you love for as long as it makes sense. I miss those days, and you will too! It’s for the rest of you – particularly, if you were a top athlete in your 20s and 30s.

When it comes to aging, I hear this a lot…

  • Age is just a number
  • You’re only old when your age is an excuse
  • 40 is the new 30

These sayings are linked to the first phase of aging – holding on against the natural progression of time. I’m more fond of saying, “this is what 45 looks like and it’s not so bad!”

In my peer group, characterized by exceptional will, a few can extend the “holding on” phase into their 50s and, extremely rarely, their 60s. You can find examples of these special humans (!) on the Big Island each October. I know a few and they are amazing people.

What lies hidden is the psychological, and physical cost, from living an unnatural life. When we put ourselves together in a peer group, that consists of much younger 1%’ers, we’re left wondering… what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be like XXXX? Am I getting old?

I used to think that I’d be hanging on. Now, I’m not so sure. At first, I thought it was my kids making me tired but there seems to be something deeper at work. Time will tell. Maybe I’ll get a second wind in my 50s! 🙂

When I catch myself thinking that a return to my 20s/30s will improve my life – I say…

  • It’s amazing how much exercise I was able to do
  • I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to compete at a high level

Wonder and gratitude are effective antidotes to mourning the past.

Another thing that I’ve noticed is I get an excellent mood response from small doses of exercise. I have to remind myself of this A LOT so I don’t fry myself.

With exercise, generosity, novelty…happiness links better to frequency than intensity, or dosage.

How do you know if you’re holding on too tight?

  • Ask the people closest to you
  • Pay attention to frequent orthopedic injury
  • Pay attention to frequent depression, or anger

If you aspire to performances that were extreme when you were 10-25 years younger then be sure to spend time with people your own age, as you age.

Trying to be the 1% of the 1% can lead to a rough ride as the years roll on.

Choose wisely.

It Wasn’t Good For Me

gnomeA number of my pals triathlon’ed from Vancouver to Calgary over the last two weeks. They did the journey as part of something called Epic Camp and I highly recommend Scott Molina’s blog about the trip. I’ve been chuckling along as the crew drill themselves daily across the Canadian Rockies.

In reading Molina’s diary of their adventure, I’ve been feeling three emotions…

Joy that Scott is able to keep on trucking. The guy’s 54 years old and he’s still able to love training at the edge of human endurance. Epic Camp is about the mental component of performance and Scott personifies joy from suffering.

Continuing amazement at what people can accomplish. It’s tempting to put ultra-athletes into a separate category as genetic freaks. The reality is most ultra-athletes are fairly normal physically. The differences arise in their capacity to embrace obsession and the way they experience fatigue & suffering.

Finally, I experience a deep sense of gratitude for my life in Boulder. When I was living my life of extreme athletic performance, I couldn’t see the cost of my status quo.

By the way, lots of people talk about the health risks of extreme exercise. I think that you are right but you’re missing the point. See the camp for what it is… a binge. I’ve always enjoyed a good binge. It’s something I need to watch. Also, so long as you don’t go banana’s with the running, the main short-term risk (to your kidneys) is limited.

Scott knows, and shares, the requirements for athletic success. He’s far more open than any other triathlon writer, myself included.

What’s yet to be published is the total reality of seeking our ultimate triathlon potential. Outside of triathlon, Sam Fussell gave it a shot with bodybuilding. His book, Muscle, is an entertaining account of the life of a full-time amateur (AKA a life similar to most tri-pros). Leaving the extreme drug use to one side, the parallels with my life are many.

I’ve often wanted to write the “whole truth” about my life. I’m most open with the non-racing spouses of my training pals. They know enough about my world to be entertained but aren’t so invested that I challenge their identities with my observations.

I looked deeper into my motivation and saw a desire to protect my children from my near misses. However, my children’s obsession is certainly going to be different than my own and they will resent being told what to do by their, ultimately, sixty-something father.

Here’s where Sam’s book comes into it’s own. The hero in Sam’s book is his mom. She keeps the lines of communication open, accepts Sam for who he his and frees him to change his mind on his own timetable.

As we ascend to the top, we can lose the goodness of our youth. It’s no accident that the highest-achievers had very difficult childhoods. It’s a rare person that becomes more kind under extreme stress – at Epic Camp, Bevan James Eyles is the best example that comes to mind. He was always part of the solution. The rest of us acted like wolves, or hyenas.

What helps everyone is encouragement to hold onto a piece of goodness and stay open when the little voice says, “this isn’t good for you.”

…and while I have no idea who is doing the talking… I know that following that voice has led me to a wonderful life.

Lex