Join the Running Dog Cult

I should have titled that last post “Meet Pat, the Cause of INEXPLICABLY LINGERING PAIN FROM Running Injuries THAT ACTUALLY HEALED A LONG TIME AGO; but that’s too long and less likely to have hooked you in to reading the post. I wish I could say I wrote that title intentionally, but the truth is it was just lazy writing. When I write a post, I’ll create a title to sort of get me going, then go back and change it to better suit what I wrote. I just forgot to go back and change it. For instance, right now the title of this post is JOIN MY RUNNING CULT AND NEVER GET HURT AGAIN.* Will it stick? Probably. I kind of like it, and it has income-earning potential.

Anyway, this is the post where I’ll tell you, in my great and unattainable wisdom, how to avoid running injuries. Here we go.

So you want to be a writer. What’s the advice? Write EVERY DAY. So you want to be an artist. Art EVERY DAY. So you want to be a tuba player. Tuba EVERY wait, really? Huh, okay, well, tuba EVERY DAY (just find a practice room. Don’t do it in a small two-bedroom apartment in Queens when the landlord lives downstairs and your roommates have ears. Thanks!). So you want to be a runner. Run every once in a while, but not too much, because all that pounding isn’t good for you. In fact, do a bunch of other exercises so you can avoid running as much as possible, and therefore be able to run a little bit without falling apart. If you’re training for a marathon, don’t build a base or anything, just start running twenty-milers once a week and then spend the other six days never fully recovering and just feeling awful. So you want healthy gums. Floss EVERY DAY.

In case you don’t see what I’m getting at, let’s try a mental exercise. So you want to be a fish. What would you do to start this impossible transformation? Even though you’ll never grow gills and scales and eyes on the side of your head, you certainly could take steps (“steps” because you have feet, not fins, you weirdo fish-wannabe) to become more fish-like. For starters, you should swim EVERY DAY. Let’s face it, that’s as far as you’re going to get in your fishy quest. However, swimming every day isn’t impossible, at least for most people. Even if you’re not a very good swimmer, you would start off little by little, some days swimming more, some days swimming less. All you need is access to a lot of water.

If this sounds possible to you, even if like me you have no desire to be a fish, how possible is it do you think it is to become a running ape? Oh wait – THAT’S WHAT YOU ALREADY ARE! If you want to awaken your dormant running apeness, make like a fish and RUN EVERY DAY.

I’m not saying you need to put on your skimpy running shorts, get all garmin’d up, and put forth an effort worthy of a DailyMile post. Run for the reason that fish swim. Why do fish swim? This isn’t a deep question here. Fine I’ll tell you: to get over there.

This fish thing is too much of a stretch, isn’t it? You’re right. Let’s consult a different animal, one that’s more mammal: my running coach, the Sun Beast.

Run like a dog.

The Sun Beast.

The Sun Beast isn’t trying to run. She isn’t thinking about form. She isn’t doing it for her health. She certainly isn’t concerned about Pat. (Morgan Freeman Voiceover) She is running to get over there, quickly. (/Morgan Freeman Voiceover)

Do you at times need to get over there, quickly? Or simply get over there? Trot on over. Don’t saunter, don’t lolligag. What would the Sun Beast do? Trot. Make running a part of your transportation life, not just fitness. If running is constantly reinforced on a daily basis to be a utilitarian mode of transportation, Pat will learn her/his place and not be an overbearing neurotic killjoy. In fact, a chill Pat is a good teammate, slapping you upside the head when you push it too hard but doesn’t overreact by chopping off your legs like some kind of Stephen King novel.

Okay, that’s easy enough. Now we’re all running around like a wild pack of family dogs,

… what about training for a marathon, because you can’t be a REAL runner if you’re not training for a marathon, right? I say run whatever and however far you want, but here’s the rule for marathons: training doesn’t start until you run six hours a week, every week, for at least six months. WHAT?!? Yup, that’s right. Suck it up, buttercup. Running takes patience, and there’s a whole lot of unlearning for you to unlearn and becoming to become. With our modern life we’ve been a fish out of water for most of our lives, and you know what happens when you throw a fish that’s been out of water for most of it’s life back into the sea: it sinks, because it’s dead. Because it can’t breathe our air. What I’m trying to say is it takes time to make the transition from modern man to ape man, and to run the marathon distance well and minimize the risk of hurting yourself you need to have Pat on board.

Oh, and about that six hours a week: no run should be more than 25% of the total weekly time. Meaning, no run longer than an hour and a half. Also, four of those runs a week should be no more than an hour. Here’s a tip: it’s MUCH easier to get that running time in if you run every day. Of course, if you do the math, you’re running no less than six days a week. Sound like too much work? Then you should reconsider your desire to run marathons, unless feeling destroyed afterwards and risking injury is part of the fun for you.

As far as training goes, let’s be generous: no run longer than 33.3% of your total weekly time. That means if you want to run a twenty-mile long run, you’re looking at no less than sixty-mile week.

By the way, these aren’t my equations. This is classic Arthur Lydiard stuff. You know, the guy who coached during the era when the average marathon time was close to three-hours and runners got injured a fraction of the time as they do now.

In summation, here are the three rules of the Dog Running Cult:
1. Run like a dog: less distance, greater frequency, more spontaneity. This will get Pat used to the idea of running being no big thing, just part of the day and a part of what you are.
2. Do not cross-train. EVER! Sure, go swimming, ride a bike, throw weight around, whatever you want, just don’t call it cross-training. Do it for fun or because you’re shallow and like to look at yourself in the mirror. If you call it cross-training, that tells Pat that running is dangerous.
3. Less shoe, more you. Hey, this is still a barefoot blog. What do you think a “protective” shoe tells Pat? Running is dangerous! Much better to go barefoot, develop a friendly relationship with the ground, and show pat how not-dangerous running is.

For those of you currently dealing with either Pat or a real injury, I’m afraid I have no answers. Maybe my experience with a BRIEF prescription of NSAIDS would work for you, but I’m not one to tell people what to put in (or not to put in) their bodies, especially when it comes to drugs. I mean, I love beer and think it’s a great post-race recovery beverage, but I don’t feel like I’m qualified to recommend one of the most potentially addictive and destructive substances out there to anyone. So that’s on you. All I can say is be gentle with yourself (physically and emotionally), and when you’re feeling better start running like a dog.

*As you see, I’ve changed the title a bit to deflect the responsibility of my advice from me and on to the canine species. I can’t afford any lawsuits.

Meet Pat, the Cause of Running Injuries

Wow guys, I’m in way over my head here. I have NO business making this absurd proclamation, but I think I figured out what causes running injuries. Yeah, I know, I’m totally unqualified, and if the discussion starts to involve anything sciencey I’ll glaze over like a donut. Man, I’d love a donut right now. As in the eternal now, like, always. I would always love a donut.

Alright, FOCUS Josh. Pat is the unisex name I’ve given to the Central Governator (unisex because I don’t want to be accused of either misogyny or, uh, mrogyny). That’s right, the same Governator that Noakes says prevents us from running as fast as we can. Pat could also be an acronym if you’d like; how about Pain in the Ass, Totally. As for the word, “Governator,” Ahnold has forever changed that word for me.

Pat is also what makes placebos work. Taking a sugar pill, or putting on Hokas, or even running barefoot (gasp!), anything that makes Pat think action is being taken to make something better causes Pat to do his/her job, which is pull the levers and push the buttons in the brain that releases all the healing magic the body has to make itself better.

Oh boy, this is getting bad. Should I continue? I’ll continue.

Pat is a drama queen, as is evidenced every time we try to run a fast 5K. “OMG, we’re gonna DIE!” cries Pat. You say, as calmly as you can, “Pat, we’re only going a little faster for a little longer than usual. Just chill,” usually to no avail. Pat puts the squeeze on the lungs, zaps the legs, and even tries to make you throw up. ANYTHING to make you stop. Ugh, stupid Pat.

So here’s the thing: if you get hurt while running, even if only a little bit, Pat gets real panicky and might decide to shut the hobby down entirely. “No more running for you!” says Pat, pushing the inflammation button as you step out of bed. You can rest and ice and yoga and rub healing crystals all you want, Pat has made up her/his mind. Even if you’re COMPLETELY FINE, Pat says “Too bad, we’re playing it safe, stay on the couch and eat another donut!” basically duck taping the inflammation button down in the ON position forever.

Mmm, donuts.

Where is this all coming from, you ask? Well, last year about this time I was in a severe funk. I was in the middle of a self-imposed running hiatus due to a pain in my right calfachillankle. I was in a bit of denial, as you will note if you read the link. Basically, in mid-April of 2012 I was on a run with the Sun Beast when out of nowhere a sharp pain in the bottom part of my calf made me limp to a halt. The pain showed up randomly, with greater regularity as time went on. I took it really easy, assuming it was my achilles about to snap. The pain was kind enough to not appear during the remaining races I had signed up for, but once I was done with The Scream Half in July I stopped running, started eccentric stretching, and hoped for the best. After six weeks and no improvement, I did something drastic: I went to a podiatrist.

I stacked the cards in my favor, of course, and picked a doctor I knew was barefoot friendly. He was on a barefoot/minimalist running and injuries panel discussion with me a year prior. Still, I expected him to tell me my achilles was about to rupture, no doubt caused by too much (gulp) barefoot running, here put on these heel-elevating shoes for the rest of your life and shut down your silly blog.

That’s not what happened. He put me through some exercises, and seemed a little puzzled that I was able to stand on my toes without pain. It also didn’t hurt to the touch. “Oh, I can make it hurt,” I told him. “All I have to do is point my toes and push my heel like this,” I demonstrated. “OW GODDAMMIT. See?”

“Wait here,” he said, as if I was going anywhere. He left and came back with a plastic foot skeleton. “See this little knobby bone here?” he pointed to a little knobby bone on the heel. “For some people, part of this bone never adheres to the rest when all the bone thingies happen when you’re a baby.” That’s not what he said, but that’s how I remember it, probably because donuts. “I can’t say I’m 100% sure, but I’m about 90% sure you have a little pebble bone that gets caught up in the ankle-bending equipment, causing pain. People can go their whole lives without ever knowing it’s there, but if you suffer any kind of ankle trauma like spraining or twisting, it can aggravate it. Have you twisted your ankle recently?”

“Uh, yeah, like every time I run on a trail. Stupid roots.”

“That would probably do it,” he said.

“So is there anything I can do to fix it?”

“Well, I could scoop it out, which will involve cutting you open and risking I mess something else up real bad.” Again I’m going from donut memory. “But, I think there’s a simpler solution. I want you to take a high-dose of NSAIDS three times a day for a week. Oh, and you need to run a lot.”

“Like, barefoot?”

“Of course, unless you’re really one of those “barefoot” barefoot runners.”

I pretty much cried. “OK, explain the NSAIDS thing to me,” I said between blubbery sobs. “I hear they eat your tendons like um, donuts.”

“Only with prolonged use blah blah blah blah” I confess I didn’t really listen very well. He not only said I COULD run again – he said I SHOULD!

“So why do I need to start running right away, instead of resting?” I asked, pushing my luck.

“To trigger the inflammatory response,” he said, then paused. “Look, what I’m about to tell you has not been clinically proven; it’s one of those things that seems to work but no one really knows why. Here’s my guess: your body has developed an overactive inflammation response (PAT!), so that every time you try to run it acts like you’re injured. The NSAIDS will counter that response and retrain your body to allow you to run again. Therefore, you need to do what triggers the inflammation so the NSAIDS can work. If it hurts, keep running – you’re not causing any damage. I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure this should work. I see no reason why you shouldn’t be able to run.”

“Why would my body sabotage me?”

“Because your body is a wussy jerk.” He may or may not have used those words.

So I did what the Doctor ordered, ingested a lot of Advil and started running again. I ran sixteen miles in five days – the most I had run in MONTHS. The first couple of runs caused a little pain, but not as sharp as before thanks to the Advil. Each day the moment of sharp pain grew duller and duller. After the end of the Advil regimen, the pain continued to recede until it went away completely. A week after that, I ran forty-two miles in a day at the Hinson Lake 24-Hour Classic. You know, for science. Oh who am I kidding – for joy.

Take that, Pat.

Think of all the running injuries out there – they make no sense! The honest doctors shrug their shoulders and say who knows; most are getting cash under the table from Pat and tell you to quit running. A real solution should work for everybody, not “whatever works for you.” If accupuncture is the answer, it should work for everybody. It doesn’t. If Hokas are the answer, they should work for everybody. They don’t. If BAREFOOT FREAKIN RUNNING was the answer, it should work for everybody. Seeing how almost all the barefoot running advocates have bailed ship, it’s safe to say that’s not it either. The answer, in my ridiculously overestimated opinion, is CONTROL YOUR PAT.

How? That’s the next post. This one is too long. You’re not going to like the answer. Or maybe you will. Who the hell am I to say?

Next Up: Hinson Lake 24 Hour Race, 42!

Ha ha ha. No, seriously. I mean, I’m not going to try to run 24 hours. Or, I don’t plan to, at least. Sure I’m out of shape from the long hiatus, but not as much as I thought I would be. So here’s the plan:

Since I imagine the overall pace will be slow, there’s a good chance I could pretty easily hang with the leaders for an hour or two. Long enough to make them a little nervous. Once I feel done enough, I’ll take off the Garmin and hang out at the tent we’ll have set up on the course, and eat brunch. Then a nice stroll around the lake for a few laps, maybe running a bit with friends and whoever. I could probably do that for hours, since it rather mimics my day at work. After that, who knows. probably a few more runs, then done for the day.

Assuming we stay the night, I’ll wake up early and run some more, then hike until the 24th hour.

I figure this should net me a grand total of, oh why not, 42 miles. Both for galaxy-hitchhiking and palindrome reasons.

The surface is clay for the most part, and looks quite barefootable. I might be wrong, though – that path could be uncomfortably gritty. If that’s the case, I’ll be bringing a few footwear options. Because, what’s a barefoot blog without some mention of shoes? Since there’s really no reason not to, I’ll be bringing almost every shoe I own:

Merrell Road Gloves
Xero Shoes (formerly known as Invisible Shoes)

Those links, by the way, go to my review of each shoe. You should (re)read them, because I just went through all the trouble to find the links. It’s the least you could do. Like you had anything else planned for the next few hours.

Obligatory calfankilles/Talus with Malice update: it’s pretty much fine. Not perfect, what with the little bone pebble and all, but totally tolerable and not damaged. You guys must think I’m psychosomatic.

It’s good to be running again.