Those lucky enough to attend heard Dr. Connors speak about the prevention and treatment of the most common running injuries we all encounter from time to time. The point was well made that being able to identify an injury at it's initial stage will allow the athlete to understand and treat the issue before it becomes a chronic problem thus minimizing down time and more complicated cures.
Rather than recounting the various injuries discussed, I wanted to highlight a couple of key points Doctor Connors made that are meaningful to all of us.
Many injuries begin with some form of musculature imbalance. Put another way, we have reciprocating muscle groups that collaborate to allow us to complete the movement in an efficient manner. Those groups are each intended to carry a certain % of the work load, no more, no less. When one of those groups doesn't carry it's intended weight, the others have to pick up the slack. Over time, this extra work will likely result in injury. In addition to getting hurt, we also run the risk of peripheral injury because the inefficiencies we're experiencing will begin to affect other areas.
In many cases, a physical therapist is brought in to assess our mechanics in an effort to identify the problem and to create a treatment protocol to strengthen the offending muscle group. Dr. Connors explained some of the more common imbalances but his message was clear that by working on our core strength, flexibility and balance BEFORE we have problems goes a long way in keeping us healthy. Dr. Connors emphasized how much time, effort and importance world class athletes give to their pre and post-race care. The stretching and strengthening aspects of their training are as important as the running. By prioritizing this prep work, they not only minimize the risk of injury but equally as important, they develop the means of performing with the maximum amount of efficiency.
While the professional athlete is surrounded by a team of therapists, coaches and trainers, we amateurs must rely largely on ourselves. A well designed lifting program that focuses primarily on multi function exercises will go along way towards building up our strength and lean body mass, aka muscle. By 'multi function', I mean exercises that bring into play a number of muscle groups. As an example, doing a simple push up brings into play a surprisingly large group of muscles. We work the chest and shoulders along with the all-important core. The effort of holding our body rigid while lifting ourselves from the ground fires up our abs, lower back and glutes. Doing a simple pushup requires all these muscle groups to get involved. On the other hand, sitting in a chest press machine requires only that we push the weighted bar away from ourselves so all the aforementioned muscle groups aren't brought into play to support and balance our body. Sure, we work the targeted area but we don't get the added benefits. There are numerous basic exercises that can be done with no added weights or equipment that over time will build our bodies into efficient engines.
Dr. Connors touched on another point that should ring loud and clear with all of us raising children involved in sports, the burn-out syndrome. Years ago, kids learned to play a particular sport largely by playing it at local parks and community gyms. Sure, there was Little League and other organized events but most of the time, you were playing the sport with kids in the neighborhood. If a kid chose to give more effort and priority to a particular sport, it was based on the simple desire to do so.
Nowadays, kids have the benefit of private coaching, specialty training centers, off-season leagues and other forms of coaching. If a parent can afford it, a child can have almost all the support noted earlier as being available to the pros. While this help might be the thing to get a young athlete to his potential best, it can also take the fun and enthusiasm out of the sport and make it a chore. A child blessed with all these advantages can begin to feel the pressure to excel not only for themselves but in addition, to not let their parents and family down. Throw into the equation the odds of a child getting a college scholarship or making the pros being somewhere in the neighborhood winning the lottery.
Dr. Connors reference to the above phenomena was not intended to vilify parents who want their kids to have every opportunity to succeed in athletics. Rather, the subject was brought up to point out why he has had to treat athletes in a significantly younger age group than past generations experienced. We as adults love to point out that kids can get away with almost any form of body stress that would put us in the hospital or worse. While 'youth' is a great benefit in avoiding or minimizing injuries, those same physical characteristics weren't made to endure all the stresses being put on them. Parents should closely monitor their young athletes relative to any aches or physical complaints they may be experiencing. Catching a potential injury in its initial stages will prevent chronic afflictions down the road.
The "burnout" I refer to comes when the sport a child participates in becomes so overwhelming in the time, discipline and personal sacrifice it requires that it loses the appeal that engendered the interest to begin with. Dedication to a sport teaches a child many things about team work, commitment and fair play but it comes with a price. Pressure to succeed comes from all angles, be it parents, coaches or trainers. Many kids simply don't have the coping skills to deal with these pressures. This can ultimately lead to a kid quitting the sport entirely as soon as the opportunity presents itself. I think it boils down to the simple axiom of letting kids be kids.
The Jersey Shore is a hotbed of New Jersey running and it has been for quite some time. Our miles of scenic boardwalk, numerous trails through woods and along rivers and our wide roads through some of the prettiest towns you'll ever see makes running so much more than a form of exercise. It seems only fitting that our area in southern Monmouth County spawned the iconic "Spring Lake Five Mile Run".
The SL5 was unique in its concept even from the beginning. There were no age-group awards, the T shirt bore no sponsor's names on the back and the focus was always on fun as opposed to competition. While the aforementioned characteristics were planned, the race also benefited from decisions like simply switching the race day from Memorial Day Monday to the Saturday of that weekend thus insuring its title of the "unofficial start of summer".
There's a reason why the SL5 is called a 'run' rather than a 'race'. While a very small group of very skinny fit looking people toe the line looking to win, the vast majority of runners are running for the fun and experience of it. Many a person who is getting up at 5 AM February 1st to register is doing so based on a bet made during the Christmas holidays. It is not uncommon at all to see three generations of family members running together on race day.
I know of no other race that engenders the amount of anticipation as to what the race shirt will look like. From that design comes the logo on the pint glasses given to every runner along with a calendar. It's safe to say that if you visit a runner's home in our area and ask for your beer to be in a glass, it'll be from the race.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Spring Lake 5 is the precision and organization in it's staging. There are still some procedures being used from the first years but it's been an evolving process that is scrutinized yearly with an eye towards constant improvement. Some of the folks involved have either run it or worked on it since its inception and, in some cases, have learned the hard way. What's that old saying?? "Good judgement is the result of experience, experience is the result of bad judgement". I spoke with a runner after this year's race who was staying at the Essex and Sussex which overlooks the heart of the race. She had the unique perspective of watching the whole set-up transpire in the morning, took part in the race and after returning to her room, watching the complete break-down of the area to where Ocean Avenue looks like nothing ever took place. This transformation takes place in a matter of hours.
Next year will bring the 40th anniversary of the Spring Lake 5. I'm sure the race organizers are already planning a suitable commemoration for New Jersey's most iconic race. It's gonna be hard to top what they've come up with for the 39 SL5's be
The question will vary in its wording or in the context in which its asked but the message is the same, 'why'.
Let's begin by acknowledging the legitimacy of that question. Hell, if I wasn't into this stuff, I'd be asking the same thing. Why would someone put themselves through a grueling training schedule followed by an event that can literally bring you to your knees not to mention that the cost of these events has grown to sky high levels. Add the fact that when completed, there is no great reward or acknowledgment other than a medal, a T shirt and maybe a finishers certificate.
I've come to believe that people equate the legitimacy of any extreme endeavor with the reward. Let's say I was at a party having recently completed a marathon and I'm speaking with someone who has asked 'why'. I have two options. I can say "well, I find marathons to be a test of my commitment to push myself to the limits of my physical and mental capacities". Just try and imagine the looks I'd get after THAT spiel. My other option might be "well, I was at the reading of my uncle's will and when it came to my inheritance, my uncle's statement was 'and to my no-account nephew Jay, I establish a trust whereby a payment of $100,000 will be made to him upon the completion of any marathon he does. Maybe this will motivate him to get off his duff and actually accomplish something'. Now THAT would be an explanation someone would understand!
In actuality, it's not really an 'unanswerable' question as much as a question who's answers can't be easily understood. NOBODY is going to set a goal that requires months of training in often difficult circumstances followed by the actual event that you know will push you to your limits without reasons for doing so. Those reasons will often be the only thing that gets you out the door for a 20 mile training run in 15 degree weather knowing that if you blow it off, no body will be mad at you or find fault. It is only for those reasons that you DON'T blow it off. Being able to articulate those reasons to those that don't see things as we do is the challenge and quite possibly, no matter how well you state your reasons, they still won't understand.
Truth of the matter is that there are as many reasons for pushing ourselves in these sports as there are people doing them. We all have our own story that is unique to us and intertwined in that story are the reasons we do what we do.
I've gotten to the point where when faced with the "why would you subject yourself to that kind of commitment and pain" question, I respectfully say to that person "you wouldn't understand even if I told you".
As a footnote to this question of commitment and those that pursue it, congratulations to our own Lisa Caucino who turned in a great Boston Marathon performance. The race conditions were terrible and she had to train through one of the worst winters on record. Maybe she had a rich uncle that remembered her in his will but somehow, I doubt it.
A RUNNER FOR LONGER THAN I HAVEN’T
Long ago, I came to the realization that if I was going to enjoy running and find fulfillment in it, it would have to be for reasons other than fast times. Not only would I never win a race or for that matter, win my age group, I was never going to post stats that would engender the slightest bit of awe from my running contemporaries. I was the quintessential ‘middle of the pack’ racer…at best.
This point was cruelly driven home to me years ago while living in New Hampshire. There was a 10K being held in the town in which I lived so naturally, I planned on running. There was no pre-registration so I got there about an hour before the start to sign up. I filled out the app while staring at a table full of trophies and plaques and when I handed over the form with my fee, I was told that so far, I was the only registered runner. My losing streak was soon coming to an end, thought I. Not only was I going to win this bad boy, I was going to set the course record as it was the inaugural run. The lead vehicle was going to be leading ME! Gabriel, blow your horn, this dog would have his day!
Well, as it turns out, a few others showed up and as we toed the starting line, there were 19 registered runners out for glory. Maybe I wouldn’t actually win but as the age group hardware went 3 deep, I was feelin’ good! Flying along the course, I gave it everything I had for fear that letting up even a little bit could mean the difference between first and second in my age group. There’s no ‘dog’ in this mud turtle so I kept the hammer down.
I finished 5th overall, 4th in my age group. FOURTH IN MY AGE GROUP!!! The fact that there were only 4 people in my age group also meant that I came in LAST IN MY AGE GROUP! Every single person in that race got some form of award except me. At the end of the awards ceremony, there were trophies left over yet there I stood empty handed. The organizers felt bad for me so they offered to give me the unclaimed award for ladies 50-60, 3rd place. I declined but darned if I didn’t think about it. It was at this singular moment that I knew that awards and yours truly were never destined to meet.
A couple of years ago, a fact came to mind that practically stopped me in my tracks. I determined that based on the day and year I started “jogging” (don’t you hate that term?), I have been running for more than half my life. In other words, I’ve been a runner longer than I haven’t. While never having attained any level of success based on race results, I’d excelled in perhaps the most difficult category in which to succeed, longevity. There’s irony for you; in a sport where every standard is based on how fast you can finish, I’d succeeded by NOT finishing, at least not yet.
In retrospect, after almost 39 years of being a runner, I wouldn’t trade that longevity for all the trophies in the world. Sure, it would be nice to toss out some impressive PR’s while talking about my career but right, being able to say I’ve been a runner longer than I haven’t is all the bragging I need.
Spring is here! I know this as I just saw the first Robin. He was frozen in a bird bath but nonetheless, he's here.
Spring means the end of "excuse" season. No more justifying our inactivity with reports of coming snow or record breaking low temps. That ship has sailed and with it, any reasons to remain on the couch. No sir, it's time to do an honest assessment of our fitness and what needs to be done.
To those of you who managed to work out and stay active throughout the winter, well done. By staying fit and finding activities that kept your body firing on all cylinders, you're ready to slide into the next phase of your program. When the coming warm weather invites you to shed those winter clothes, you'll be ready to proudly show off that lean physique. Life is good!
I would dare say, however, there's a fair amount of you that didn't feel compelled to get out the door this winter. The theory that if hibernation is good for bears, it has to be good for you seemed quite sensible these past few months. It would be hard to argue with the soundness of that logic but it probably means that pile of innertubes with ears staring at you in the mirror looks familiar. There's nothing left to do but brush its teeth and resolve to change things.
An honest assessment of your fitness level should be just that, honest. Just because you were cracking out 5K races throughout the summer and fall doesn't mean you're ready to hit the ground running if you haven't maintained your conditioning all winter. Coming back too quickly is recipe for injury which is hardly the way to kick off the season. If you've remained fit all winter, by all means keep it up but always remember to build your workouts gradually. Even going from a treadmill to the roads requires a bit of adaptation as the change of surface will stress our legs differently.
After assessing your conditioning, it's smart to look at the condition of your shoes. Running shoes that have a couple of hundred miles from the Fall followed by a couple of months of inactivity should probably be replaced. The foams will dry out and lose their responsiveness which means your legs will be bearing more pounding than they'd like. Unhappy legs will make the rest of your body unhappy. Who needs that?!
Above all, keep this in mind; nothing will derail or otherwise defeat a fitness plan quicker than unrealistic goals. You set yourself up for failure when you set goals that you have little or no chance of reaching. Let's face it, the vast majority of goals center around weight loss which is all well and good but when the scale is your only gauge of success or failure, you walk a slippery slope. Instead of telling yourself you want to lose X lbs per week, commit to losing a sensible amount by the start of summer. If you exercise smartly and eat right, you WILL lose the weight but as important, your commitment to doing these healthy things will improve your sense of self while benefiting things like blood pressure, cholesterol and sleep quality.
Look at Spring as a second chance for healthy resolutions. Instead of a "new year", it'll be a "new you" resolution. Even better, this resolution will take place in the warm weather instead of January and February and that's a good thing right?
-written by Jay Russell (visit Jay on the weekends at Miles Ahead!)