It is easy to lie with statistics. It is hard to tell the truth without it.
― Andrejs Dunkels
Last year I failed miserably on running my first marathon. Severe pain from shin splints forced me to stop running completely while training for Berlin marathon 2012. I really tried to continue running but that was probably the worst thing to do. Finally I realized I had to take a break. I stopped running completely for about three months.
Having to do so was disappointing of course. But it also was an important lesson, an opportunity to learn. I thought about why my body shut down. What did I do wrong? Here are three things I learned:
I started endurance training about 16 years ago. That’s more than half my life now. I never was fast though, nor was my performance really outstanding in any way. However there is one thing I can do better than most people I trained with: Pushing myself beyond my limits.
You might call it skill or talent, maybe it’s rather an addiction or sheer craziness. I don’t know, but going on when it gets painful is what I actually enjoy the most in sports. Of course I don’t mean getting hurt, but to go beyond your own endurance limitations.
That’s a great attitude for an endurance athlete, right? Indeed it is! But there is the obvious danger of overdoing it. You simply can’t push your body beyond it’s limits endlessly. Going beyond your limits has it’s own limitations so to speak.
During my last year’s marathon debut training I pushed too hard. The progression towards longer distance and higher speed was just too fast. Result? Ending up with shin splints due to overtraining.
Suffering from shin splints badly, I visited a doctor and an orthopedic. Their suggestion was getting foot orthotics (of course). I got those and started to get used to them.
However it just felt wrong. I mean not just in the sense, that I was not used to them. But I truly had the impression this wasn’t the right and sustainable solution. Luckily I also visited a running shop in Berlin and talked to people there. Very proficient long distance runners who did super impressive stuff like the Transeuropalauf shared their very own experiences with these kind of injuries with me.
They have been at the same point like I was. And they also started to use orthotics afterwards. But all of them told me in the long term they were injured again and had lots of trouble with the insoles.
This really reassured the impression I already had: Orthotics was not the way to go.
Instead I read and learned about running injuries, what causes them and what might help to prevent them. Quickly I stumbled upon articles about running technique and barefoot running.
My shin splints resulted from over pronating. I read that a better running technique might help with that. To improve my technique I got a pair of Vibram Five Fingers and started to do very cautious and easy runs with them. Right from the beginning it felt very, very good.
Just a little bit later I stopped to use the insoles (in my normal conventional running shoes) at all. Instead I progressivly did more and longer runs with the Vibrams. While doing so, I also paid attention to my running technique: I did shorter strides, ran with a higher frequency and an upright posture.
I am pretty sure improving my running technique really helped with overcoming my shin splints! Furthermore it feels like running far more efficiently which pays off especially in long runs. Minimalist shoes really helped with that, but the important thing was to get the technique right!
This is rather some kind of meta lesson, but maybe the most important thing I learned: Having failed with the marathon debut and having to stop running completely for several months did not mean the end of running for me.
Yes, it was mentally painful and very inconvenient not to run for such a long time. But eventually I was able to start a new training schedule. Having a better, less aggressive progression and getting back to marathon distances is just great!
So in the end, it comes back to mind and body: My will to run a marathon overcame the limitations of my body. Being injured did not stop me from pursuing my dream.
I ended up with a much better running technique, a better sensitivity for my body’s warning signals and an even stronger mind an willpower.
These are excellent take aways, aren’t they? I am looking forward to make good use of these lessons. Berlin marathon 2013? I’m in! 🙂