My spring marathon is about five weeks out, so I'm in my highest mileage phase right now. I'm pushing 60 miles per week and, frankly, am worried I might wind up with an overuse injury.
So far, so good. But every little crimp and niggle that I feel anywhere on my body during and immediately after a run leads me to strapping on the ol' ice bags as a precaution. This morning, after a recovery run, it was a four-bag morning -- heel, calf and both sides of my sacroilliac. I'm at work now and feeling fine. No real pain. I have faith that ice and preventive exercises will see me through.
But I'm a worrier. And I talked with enough runners to know I'm not alone. (Give it to me straight in the comments section if you think I'm a head case; I've got a thick skin.)
I do have ample reason to worry, though.
A quick rundown of my injury history, just since 2005: right sacroiliac, acute kidney failure during the Boston Marathon (that's a story for another day), right shin splints, left groin strain, left hamstring strain, partial right tibial ligament tear and left sacroiliac sprain. None of those injuries proved majorly debilitating, though the left lower back injury did keep me off the roads for eight weeks last summer before my wife-and-husband ortho doc (Dr. Gina Lokna) and chiropractor (Dr. Ron Rudometkin) team healed me.
Since last August, though, I've been injury-free.
Now, here I am at age 50 running more miles per week than I ever had. I've completed eight 50-plus weeks in this marathon training cycle (mixing in two max-effort half marathon races, as well) and so far my body seems to have adapted.
I've been taking the advice of several running coaches whose philosophies I've encountered, most notably Joe English (see video above). Basically, I do three hard-effort runs a week (significant distance with most of the workout at or below goal marathon pace) and two recovery runs. That's five days a week of running. Plus, I add two to three swimming workouts in the evenings after the hard runs. (In previous years, I've done more cross training, but I'm experimenting by laying off the road bike until after May's marathon, the theory being the bike might trigger my lower back issues.)
So this means I've been taking two days off -- no running, no cross training, and blissfully sleeping late -- a week. So far, it's worked. My times have improved and my various bodily troubled spots haven't flared up too much.
Now, some people might consider the two recovery runs (ranging from 5.4 to 7.3 miles, but at a s-l-o-w pace) to constitute so-called "junk miles." Who knows? They may be right. Could I get rid of the muscle waste products, post-long runs, with cross training and avoid pounding on my legs? Yes, but I find that the cross training doesn't improve my fitness as much as running -- even slow running -- does.
This goes against conventional wisdom -- including what English mentions in the video -- but as a running acquaintance of mine is fond of saying, "We're all a sample size of one."
The great thing about running is how, through trial and error, you can experiment and eventually find what works (or doesn't) for you. But what works is always changing, depending on age and fitness level and scientific factors way above my knowledge level.
Come to think of it, this may be the answer to the question non-runners are always asking us. To wit, Isn't running boring? No, it's like a giant physical puzzle you're eternally trying to solve.