Ok, so maybe not wasted, exactly. But certainly more painful than it needed to be. I have battled calf and shin pain in my right leg for over a year. At one point, I had the spongy shin that Topher had in Karnazes' book. If you pushed on my shin with your thumb, the imprint would stay for a few minutes. Kind of gross! I've used neoprene sleeves to get through races. Taken weeks off from running to heal, only to have the pain return the second run out. Spent a ton of money on doctors, physical therapy, acupuncture, cryotherapy, massage, shoes, inserts, supplements... You name it, I have tried it. As DB Sweeney says in that figure skating movie, "So just send me to Mexico, shoot some shark piss up my nose, and I am cured, right?". I did all of this, and more. What I needed was a coach.
At the first of July of this year, I saw an ad on Facebook, in the Jester's group, for Sunshine Endurance Coaching with Andy Noise and Alison Sunshine Chavez. I knew of Andy, because he has killed at Across The Years a couple of times, and that is my current goal race. Oh, and he has covered 3217 miles so far this year, and it's only August. Alison has completed a little race called Western States, after whooping cancer's ass, as well as Chimera. Her story is here. I signed up with them on the spot. Both are amazing people, and I am looking so forward to running Cal International Marathon with Alison and Across The Years with Andy this December.
The first thing they taught me was Rule #1: Don't talk about.. No wait, wrong Rule #1. (Thanks, Andy...) Rule #1 is "Get or Stay Healthy". Since I was a mess, that was no small feat. I had strained the top of my right foot during the Gold Country Half, so that, added to my perpetual shin and calf pain, was really hampering my running. KT Tape can only hold you together so far...
So, my first order of business was not to run at all. Get healthy. Then, ease into it. SLOWLY.
The next thing I learned was that I run too fast. Well, not in the sense that I am fast. We have established the fact that I am not, in fact, fast. No, I learned that I run too fast in training. Even my LSD (Long, Slow, Distance) runs, were run too fast-paced. I needed to slow down to my forever pace or Endurance Pace (EP) to put the miles on my body without trashing it in the process. It's tough at times- you feel good, you are cruising along, and look down and are two minutes\mile faster than you should be. I literally tell myself, out loud, "gotta slow down"- at least a time or two during every run. It feels so slow. But, slowing down allows me to put more miles in without tiring, speeds recovery, and doesn't beat my body up so much in the first place. As Andy says: "Be a race horse, not a practice-pony.."
The biggest "A-ha!" moment, though, came when we talked about cadence or turnover. How many steps a minute are you taking? Turns out I was a "plodder"- slowly pounding out the miles, and pounding on my body at the same time. To make any progress at that slow pace, I had to reach way out in front of my body with each step, heel striking, coming down hard, and putting tremendous stress loads on my body, especially my shins and knees. Increasing my cadence brings my feet back underneath me, almost in a shuffle, allows me to "sit" more into my stride, and strike the ground much more lightly, with the mid-part of my foot coming down first. It's an actual audible difference, if I am on the treadmill. I go from that annoying "slapping-the-shit-outta-the-treadmill" guy next to you to just another runner padding along quietly. More importantly, though, it doesn't hurt. And it doesn't hurt the next day. I went from running three days and averaging 17 miles a week to running six days, and up over 42 miles a week in a month's time. I am sore, but I am not injured. I can tell when I get lazy and my form gets bad, because I start to hurt again almost immediately. A quick adjustment to my cadence, and the pain is gone.
So, what is a coach going to do for you? I don't know. Maybe nothing. Maybe you have it dialed, and a coach is redundant. But I see that even a lot of the best Ultrarunners in the world have coaches, and they have surely helped me. Try one out, even for a month. Even though they don't live in the same city as me, my coaches schedule my runs, offer advice and encouragement, accountability- (can't tell you how many times this has made me run when I may have rather ate a doughnut and watched TV), and in my case have actually offered to travel to races to help me run my first ultra. I also am lucky enough to be scheduled to run some of the same races as they are this year, so I will get some eyes-on advice and encouragement. I am actually bummed that I didn't sign up a year ago, it could have saved me an awful lot of pain and misery.
Check them out: Sunshine Endurance