Registering for the Boston Marathon in September was the first time I had to put my “age on race day” as 30. I celebrated the big 30 about a month earlier but honestly I still think of myself as 25 so seeing 30 on the form was kind of shocking. My goal for turning 30 was to be in the best shape of my life. Instead, I was barely mobile, had gained 15 pounds of post-surgery-unable-to-move-depression weight and was seriously thinking I would never be able to run the same way again. I am nowhere near racing shape but I have gained back a lot of my base fitness and I would argue I have increased strength over the past couple months. I attribute my fairly rapid recovery to that fact that I am far more aware of my body now than I was at 20. Let me explain.
At 20 (and at 25 and even at 29) my approach to training was to run lots of miles, some of them faster than others. What I didn’t really understand until the past couple of months of re-building is that it takes a lot of work not on the road, trails or track to be a happy and healthy runner. I have seen the articles about the benefits of strengthening exercises on Runnersworld.com and they made sense. They just never applied to me. Even when I developed what I eventually self diagnosed as bursitis in my right hip, it still didn’t sink in that just taking time off wouldn’t really solve the issue.
Fed up with constantly feeling slightly beat up, and trying to understand my knee pain I eventually sucked it up, paid $300 and went to the RunSafe clinic at UCSF for a full diagnostic – which I highly recommend to anyone who has chronic issues. Seeing yourself run in super slow motion is enough to whip anybody into shape, let me tell you. Despite the somewhat horrifying experience of nit picking over my running form in slow motion in a room with 4 other patients, what I did learn reinforced what I knew deep down inside, but didn’t ever admit to myself: I had a lot of work to do and none of it involved running.
So, now I am 30 and I am pretty much starting over. But its kind of awesome. I have a clean slate. Instead of jumping feet first into running 6 days a week I started by alternating running and walking in 1 minute intervals (probably one of the most emotionally painful things a runner can do) and focusing more on strengthening my quads, hips, butt and core. Now that I am actually running I am still prioritizing my non-running workouts and I see and feel the benefits when I do get brave enough to push it on the trails. While I am really excited about where I am, I am also very aware that it took a lot longer to get here than I thought it would. Maybe its because I am 30 and not 20, but even when I accepted that I needed to do supplemental strengthening, I thought I would feel the difference in a week. In reality, it has taken about 6 weeks for me to feel the difference in my running and most specifically in my ability to push it further without a sore knee the next day. The biggest lesson I have learned over the past several months is that the body can do amazing things, but you have to respect it and take care of it. Running is awesome but it does put a lot of wear on joints and ligaments. Reward your hardworking limbs with yoga, massage, rolling-out and strength training and your limbs will reward you, possibly with a new PR.