What I learned this week

It’s been quite the week.

If you live in Missoula, or really anywhere in the northwest, you know we’ve had quite a bit of snow over the last several days.    It’s been really beautiful to look at, but not so much fun to shovel.  As someone who doesn’t own a car this is one of those times when I feel fortunate not to be tied to the idea of driving.

Regarding my training this week: I ran on Monday as planned, and my knee and ankle felt fine during and after my run.  I also ran a mile further than my previous longest run.  I ran again on Thursday and even though I felt like I was going slowly and carefully, in deference to the conditions, I went just as fast as I did the week before when I felt like I was putting forth greater effort.

Wednesday was the big learning day of the week, however, as that was the evening of Jeff Galloway’s free presentation at the Doubletree.  It was really interesting and I’m very glad I went, in spite of the crazy weather and road conditions.

As a speaker, Jeff seems like an incredibly friendly guy who really loves running and wants to share that with as many people as possible.  He seemed very focused on newbie runners in particular, which I appreciated since I am one.  His presentation touched primarily on injury prevention and motivation, with a little bit on nutrition and a smattering of other topics.  I’m honestly not sure what to make of his take on injury prevention.  Part of it makes absolute sense to me but part of it seems completely counter intuitive.

First, he recommends preventing overuse injuries by not running faster or longer than you can, especially not faster.  This makes a lot of sense to me, as someone who has been working at improving slowly over time rather than trying to push myself really hard.  He didn’t exactly say that we should “listen to our bodies” but I think that he would have been comfortable with that idea.  That aspect of his recommendations fits right in with what I’ve been doing since I started on this path back in June.  I work at improving slowly over time but I don’t push myself too hard or overdo it.  In that respect, I think the Galloway method is a perfect fit for me.

On the other hand, Jeff’s take on stretching baffles me and will require some research.  He asserts that stretching causes injuries.  He says the science backs him up on this, so clearly some research is required.   I’ll admit that I’ve heard a few things about yoga related injuries lately but I keep wondering if these things are happening to people who push themselves too hard.  When I do my stretches, many of which I’ve learned from yoga dvds, I don’t strain or push.  I relax into the stretch and let the muscles release their tension slowly as I breathe.  I’m curious to know if this is drastically different from what others are doing.  Are people really striving and straining too hard and hurting themselves?  Or does stretching actually cause injury?  Until I’ve had time to do more research on the topic, I will probably be very conservative and careful about my stretching, but it’s hard not to do it when it helps reduce my soreness and just plain feels good.

As to motivation, I gather that he writes fairly extensively in his books about motivation and  mantras.  He suggested using mantras to take control of the mind when it is stressed and doesn’t want to go out and run.  At this point, I’m not finding that to be a problem with respect to running, myself.  Rather, I am finding that I get irritated and even upset or angry when I feel as though I can’t/shouldn’t run.  On the other hand, I do struggle a bit with motivation to do my core training on non-running days, so perhaps I can use his techniques then.

With respect to nutrition, there were a couple of important things.  First, whatever you find works for you during training, stick to that on race day.  Race day isn’t the time to experiment.  Honestly, I think that is sort of obvious, but maybe it’s not obvious until you think about it.  Secondly, he says that during a long race like a marathon, the body needs water and sugar and can’t really digest anything else. Even electrolyte drinks, he says, can upset the stomach and cause the runner to puke.  This will also require some research on my part before I’ll totally buy it.  But make no mistake, the man has been running for longer than I’ve been alive, and competed in the Olympics two years before I was born, so my guess is that he’s figured a few things out along the way.  I’m just a skeptic by nature, so I need to take some time to see what evidence there is to support his claims.

An audience member did ask about cross training and I found Jeff’s answer to be entertaining as well as informative.  He said that first and foremost, exercise is good for you, and therefore we should all do whatever strength or cross training we want to do.  However, distance running isn’t a strength sport.  He said that there are only two exercises that really make any difference in distance running (besides running). He recommends crunches and weighted “running arms”.  These strengthen the abs and the back and help the runner maintain his or her proper form.

When asked about running form, Jeff seemed to me to indicate that in most cases, the body will figure it out and that it’s best not to over-think it.  I am not sure my body has figured it out yet, but on my Monday run, I did notice some interesting changes in my form, so perhaps I’m headed in the right direction.

By the end of Jeff’s talk, I was once again fortified in my belief that I can actually do this marathon thing.  I need to be diligent about my training and I need to continue my policy of being very honest with myself, but I can do it.  I really almost feel like the Galloway method was made for me and is a perfect match for my current mental state.  I’ve got 169 days until I find out for sure.

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6 thoughts on “What I learned this week

  1. On stretching: I’ve heard that stretching can cause more harm than good for runners, especially if they stretch before doing a warm-up walk/jog. In my pre-yoga days, we were taught to really push into the stretch, and I can see how that can cause injury.

    • Yeah, I’m not sure how clear I was in my post but he was really talking pretty specifically about distance runners, with all of this info. I do tend to agree that stretching before warming up seems like a bad plan, and I always warm up first, usually by dancing around my living room so that I warm up my whole body. But he also said that your muscles are still active in some particular way for 30 minutes or so after a long run and that stretching during that time can be a bad idea as well. I think he suggested stretching before bed, but I’m not sure if the muscles are warmed up enough at that point.

      It was funny, though. He said back in ’72 when he was in the Olympics none of the runners stretched. He said stretching came about for runners when Football coaches started coaching track and brought stretching with them.

  2. I’m wondering about what he said of stretching. The times I’ve done a lot of stretching it helps pull the muscles out and increases limberness, helps relax, but the muscles are actually just a smidge more prone to spasming for a while after, especially if I’m a little overly aggressive in stretching. It might be that the kind of stretching that we’re used to doing for yoga and the rest partly works by pulling tense muscles out but partly does what other strength training does — introduces very tiny microtears. The tissue nearly always grows back stronger and larger in the muscle when we do that, so that’s functionally beneficial, but _not_ just before a long strenuous activity like distance running. So… he might be entirely right and there might be _no_ right way to stretch before distance running. Maybe some light stretching afterwards to keep the cramps away, though?

    I _do_ know that every distance runner I’ve encountered has eventually discovered and swear by those stiff foam rollers. They hurt to use, apparently, but the so does pressing out a muscle knot. And, basically, that’s what you’re trying to do with them. Watching one runner recommend the _idea_ of the foam rollers to another runner, he was practically ecstatic in his enthusiasm. No need for an expensive one, just one that’s actually stiff enough to do the job. (Many runner’s toys are needlessly expensive, though I’m told good shoes that really fit right are entirely worth the price.)

    About gait and form, I’ll second what he said: from the marathoner in my home, she learned that you can overthink your gait while you’re running. It can cause problems in a couple ways. One is that you can end up tensing up a bit more by being so focused on every movement, and that leaves you more open to injury. (Really, most of the job should be handled by your cerebellum, not your cerebrum. It’s good at repeating the same motion over and over, and won’t even complain when you ask it to do that. Your cerebellum wants to experiment and try to make adjustments or even make up reasons to think that something needs adjusting. Then, whoops, you’ve hypercorrected yourself into a problem gait instead of running naturally.) Moreover, she was told later that pretty much no one matches the “correct” form in practice, everyone deviates a bit. Probably because everyone’s body is slightly off from perfectly symmetrical in every aspect, and for some people the canonically perfect gait is actually the problem rather than the cure. If there really is something about your gait that’s a problem, you’ll know, because you’ll be hurting and eventually it’ll stop you. I’d go into more detail on that, but it doesn’t sound like I need to because it doesn’t sound like that’s been an issue for you.

    • I am probably mis-remembering at this point, but I believe that, with respect to distance running, irritating the muscles via stretching would cause them to become injured eventually. If I understood correctly, stretching is much more appropriate to strength training than to distance running. They’re different animals and people have been treating them too similarly for a while.

      A number of people have recommended the foam rollers to me, and I will probably get one at some point. Right now I have a stretch that does the trick in that same area (pigeon pose), but as I start going longer distances, it seems wise to be cautious about doing that. I’m still under 6 miles for my longest run, so I don’t qualify as a distance runner yet. But I will. 🙂 I’m not concerned about the pain of using one. I have a high threshold/tolerance for that sort of thing, and I’m pretty good at recognizing the good pain vs the bad pain.

      And I try not to think about my form too much. Even just walking, I managed to hurt myself for a while by trying to walk “right”. Specifically, my walking gait includes quite a bit of ass movement from side to side. People commented on this and I was embarrassed, so I found myself trying to hold my butt steady as I walked. This did terrible things to my lower back and hips and caused me a lot of pain. So I’m not going to let that happen with running. People who tell me I’m not doing it right or have bad form will be referred back to Mr. Galloway and his take on form, or possibly told to watch my ass while I walk away. 🙂 My body is certainly sill figuring it out, though. Towards the end of my Sunday run I found myself holding my chest up and open in a way that I hadn’t done before, but that made sense in terms of breathing deeply and getting lots of oxygen.

      Class starts in the morning! I’m excited and trepidatious at the same time. 🙂

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