I have found one of hardest lessons to learn when training for ultra's is judging when a niggle is heading towards injury or whether it'll melt away as the miles pass. While on twenty mile run this weekend I stepped over the line of fatigue into injury, thirteen miles in what had been a mild niggle in my right soleus calf muscle suddenly became painful with tightness spreading to the whole calf. The acute pain and tightness subsided after a few steps of walking, it didn't feel like cramp, and after a few tentative steps was back running, the calf didn't feel 100% but then I have run through more discomfort, sometimes to no ill effects but other times causing a more serious injury. I was torn on whether to continue and complete the last seven miles, or wise up/whimp out and head home.
Part of the function of our training is to prepare our bodies for high levels of fatigue, both physically and mentally so there is a certain allure to just pushing through discomfort. It might even be trademark of an ultra runner, not in macho way but simply one learns not to be intimidated by a bit of short lived pain. Another aspect driving oneself on is trying to keep to training schedules, be it running a single distance in one day, week or month, not hitting a target can be frustrating and can easily erode ones confidence, conversely targets can also help inspire one to get out on rainy days and help make regular exercise a healthy habit and when hitting targets confidence soars. There is also the simple pleasure of just running and being out in wild.
So there are plenty of reasons to just get out there an run plenty of miles, to push through the niggles in the hope they won't turn into anything more. Over the last four years that I have got back into running I have had rather a poor record in avoiding injury, my ability to push through discomfort seems rather more adept than my bodies ability to recover so have overstepped the line rather too many times. What makes it difficult is when you out there, perhaps miles from home with endomorphisms and adrenalin in full flow ones perception of pain can be quite out of kilter, sometime only once I have stopped running does my body seize up, it can even be the next day before I really know whether I've screwed up.
I had gone out at 6:50am, deliberately skipping breakfast and my morning cup of tea to train for running with low glycogen so two hours in I was aware or lowed level is the blood suger, and modest levels of general fatigue so even started consider whether my subconscious was just looking for an easy way out, especially as I just half away from home and about to head out for a another loop.
As I gingerly ran along I weighed up all these factors. I was torn, going between keeping going and heading home. My junction and decision time came up and yards before I finally to be head home. I knew that whether I was wimping out or wising up would only be clear in subsequent days.
I have now rested for a couple of days, my wife Julia has expressed surprise in me not heading out such has the running bug got me - going just two days without running is out of the ordinary. My calf isn't quite right but so far it looks like it's not a serious strain. I have done a two mile walk yesterday and today as form of active recovery. Today I have done three sets of twenty one legged calf raises and completed them only a little discomfort in my right calf. A half mile jog was required to get to school in time to pick up my girls and this went fine again without much pain. While I don't feel ready to jump back into full training it looks like I have got away with it.
If my calf feels comfortable tomorrow I will head out for 4 mile recovery run, the current sunny weather is sure to entice me out. Or is resting just two days too little time to heal? So I guess the converse on 'knowing when to stop' is 'knowing when to start..'