The Risk/Benefit Ratio
Memorial day weekend just passed, summer is coming in full force, and thoughts of fall marathons are creeping into our minds. Training plans are being written, and the question is: what is the BEST way to achieve my goal without getting hurt?
Balancing injury risk and gaining fitness (read: racing speed), is a challenge. Just look at the injury rates among runners; it’s one of the highest across all sports. Then you have to account for individual differences. What works for one person won't necessarily work for another, no matter how close their race paces might be.
As a physical therapist, this is something I deal with on a day-to-day basis. It's constant decision making; taking into account clients' goals (i.e. PR at the NYC marathon this fall), injuries he or she is working through, and any injuries he or she might be at risk for. For these decisions, I have a mental image of balancing scales with injury risk on one side and fitness/training benefit on the other side. Whether you are picking a training plan, making a plan with a coach, or doing your own thing, it's helpful to "weigh" the risks and benefits of each decision.
For example, if you are trying to determine what your longest run should be before a marathon (i.e. 20 vs 22 vs 26 miles), consider the following:
1) What am I getting out of this? Some possible answers include confidence, increased aerobic endurance, practice with nutrition, and pacing strategies.
2) To what degree does my injury risk increase? To answer this, think about these questions: Will you fatigue and fall into bad, risky running form? Do you have a history of impact or overuse injuries? Have you run this distance ever before? Are you already running higher weekly mileage than you ever have? Have you been physically rundown or fatigued recently? Have you been allowing for proper cardiovascular and musculoskeletal recovery? All of these will increase your risk of injury.
Notice how the questions to assess injury risk become extremely individualized. Unfortunately that's how it goes. Injuries, injury risk, and how injuries occur can vary widely from person to person, so you must consider your own "Risk/Benefit Scale.” Are the weights for injury risk piling up? Or is your scale tipping towards gaining fitness/benefits? Challenge yourself to continuously tip the scale in your favor in order to gain fitness and move closer to your goals!
“What is your goal?”
We stand by this question as the cornerstone of our treatment and training planning here at Custom Performance. Sometimes it is a short-term goal, like “run the Brooklyn Half.” Sometimes it is a long term goal, like “run a marathon someday.” My goal? "To enjoy running forever."
Yep, that’s it! Call me old, call me lazy. But I call me realistic and self-loving.
I have run all distances from the mile to the marathon in the past two decades. I loved every single race I have ever run in some way (except the Manhattan half in January; come on with the frozen water cups).
I have no intention of stopping, and have every intention of setting new goals as I age.
Running, like life, goes in cycles. Sometimes you have tons of time and energy and motivation; sometimes life weighs so heavily that you can barely get out of bed in the morning. The key? Understand that life goes this way and accept it! It’s the same with running. I’ve probably taken a month off, maybe more, because I need a break. I need time to reset my life sometimes. Do I give up running? Do I beat myself up over it? Hell No!
I suppose that my ripe old age, plus the added “benefit” of a myriad of both physical running injuries and mental struggles, allows me to understand that you can always come back to running. Even if it means beginning at a 30 second run/walk. That is still running. With life, just as with running, you can always start where you are, and you can ALWAYS begin anywhere.
“I wish the women would hurry up and take over.” -Leonard Cohen
I used to hate the idea of “masculine” and “feminine.” I thought, “Whatever! Everyone is the same to me!” I truly believed everyone was equal.
Then I became a female entrepreneur. I voted for a woman for president. And now the flaws in my “modern” thinking are being challenged by society almost daily.
When I started my career (and life), men and women seemed equal. The first time I dealt personally with sex discrimination was in dealing with our building management. They unequivocally told me that I didn’t know what I was doing and asked to talk to a male in charge.
What?!? It was the first incident, but it wouldn’t be the last.
I recently heard the story of Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer who created a fake male co-founder for their business. (https://www.fastcompany.com/40456604/these-women-entrepreneurs-created-a-fake-male-cofounder-to-dodge-startup-sexism) Sadly, I can understand why. New York City is cutthroat, no matter your business. As a strong, independent woman, I consider myself pretty badass and cutthroat. Turns out, theres a MAJOR societal problem with this. Instead of positive, strong adjectives, I often get another: “bitch.”
Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined that my true grit would translate so negatively! To be blunt: It sucks.
How sad it is that women have to cower under labels like this? If I am clear, I’m “opinionated.” If decisive, I’m “bitchy.” And God forbid I display strength, lest I be considered “overbearing.”
Like Penelope and Kate, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we had a male co-founder, or at minimum a male representative, from the very beginning. Would it have affected our business trajectory or speed of growth?
For a few years, Custom Performance had an entirely female staff. It was completely unintentional. I hired the most qualified, passionate individuals I could find. I believe our company grew from our hearts and hard work, which don’t have sex labels. So are we successful because of, or in spite of, our women-run team?
Greg Laraia has been an invaluable employee to our company since February 2017. Based on his qualifications alone, he has been titled “outreach coordinator.” With his new title, he’s on a lot of administrative emails by default. Was it a power play? Nope. But I can’t help wonder what unconscious influence it elicits in cyberspace.
So when will the women take over?
In my decade-old naiveté, they already had. But it turns out, we still have a long way to go. In the meantime, I’ll continue to lift up women (and men) who lift others, and to morally outshine my “bitch” label.
HOW NOT TO "PR"
All runners have a “personal record” or a “personal best.” By default and definition we have a PR for every distance we have ever run. The quickest we’ve ever crossed the finish line! Our personal victory! Our glory days!
The internet is flooded howwith advice on “How to PR in the 5k” and similar. To me, that answer is fairly simple: increase core and glue strength first, lift heavier, integrate posterior chain quickness and explosiveness next, and train with graduated speedwork. Voila!
Even though I have run for several years, when someone asks me my PR, I physically cringe. That question to me pinpoints a one-time moment that does not at all define me as a runner. It's like consistently highlighting my "A" in high school Chemistry. Instead of always shooting for a number (and missing it every time but once), let’s look at the lifetime of a runner on a grander scale! I propose the following terminology:
Non-PRs (NPRs) aka consistency. Nothing makes you a runner like the days on which you do not PR. Consistency makes a runner a runner, and is far more important than a one-time race. Dragging yourself out of bed on the regular makes you a runner, not one great race on one day.
Magical Runs (MRs) aka gratitude. You have legs! You can use them! To Run! Virtually anywhere in the world! Two of the most amazing realities of running are that all you need is 1) a body to move and 2) a place to move it. Think about the best run you’ve ever had. Was it a PR? Maybe so, but most likely not. It was probably in a magical place or with a great friend, and that is something you will remember forever. Let the gratitude from THOSE runs be your MRs!
Me vs Me Runs (MVMs) aka self reliance runs. Let us not forget that no matter what group you run with, at the end of the day running is completely personal. It is up to you to perform it, and allows you time to yourself. What a gift to yourself! You are with you, and you are the only one that can do the work. Self-reflection and personal development happen every time you lace up, and that’s worth acknowledging.
At Custom Performance, we are goal-based, meaning we set goals and work toward them daily. There is ABSOLUTELY nothing wrong with having a PR goal, and we want to help you achieve it! Just remember to keep in mind all the “other” types of runs… and enjoy every step.
THE GLORY OF RUN/WALK
Run-Walk: Don’t Knock it till you try it
When I was making my marathon program, I knew things wouldn’t be perfect, but I was really going to stick to the plan. First the most part I was doing just that, until I got pneumonia. Pneumonia is not something you can battle through, it totally stinks. As soon as I got sick, I knew my goals and training would have to change. If I was going to let my lungs heal but still train, I would have to try the dreaded run walk.
The week before I came down with the black lung, I had to do 14 miles. It was a struggle, everything hurt and I could not catch my breath. I ran a pace that was 36 seconds off of my goal pace but I felt totally defeated and that carried on in the days following. I had no interest in running my midweek runs. That turned into questioning myself about why I am doing this in the first place.
I had to take a week off of training and decided to try the run-walk for my first day back. My first one was an even ratio, 10 minute walk, 10 minute run. The goal was to test out my lungs. Even though it was only 4 miles I felt pretty good. Then I had to decide about my long run. I wanted to run as many miles without stopping as possible but I also knew I would need to set a plan before hand to stay motivated. I decided to do 15 minute run, 5 minute walk. I am now a believer.
Mental Benefit: Breaking it up into 20 minute increments (15 run, 5 walk) kept me focused on the task at hand. I wasn’t worrying about the next set until I completed one. I could not believe how fast time time went!
Physical Benefit: Walking at a quick pace allowed me to stretch my hip flexors, hamstrings, calves and cats my breath. When I would return to running, I hD less aches and i felt like my stride was stronger.
How to make it work: Like any training, you have to make a plan ahead of time. If you are thinking of using a run-walk come up with a set strategy before you decide to use it. It will not be as effective if you walk randomly so set a specific time frame to start with such as my 15 minute run, 5 minute walk strategy.
So in the end, I finishing 54 seconds off of my goal race pace! AMAZING! My legs felt fresh, I was proud of myself and I wasn’t mentally exhausted. Interestingly, I had such a better attitude going into the next week. You may read this and think I'm crazy but trust me, don’t knock it until you try it!
who are you running for?
Okay, so this week my training plan is 4 days totaling 30 miles. Perfect. I can go to Mile High with Jen on Wednesday and Friday; we really motive each other. I told Liz I would run with her long Monday for her 5 miler; it’s to raise money for her trip to El Salvador so I have to do it. Everyone from the team is going to be at track on Tuesday, I’ll go but lighten up the workout (unless Caroline is there, then I have to beat her). Mike is doing his long run Sunday but the new running group is doing 8 on Saturday and they are giving out free buffs, I can totally do both. It’s gonna be awesome, I just hope my Achilles holds up!
Sound familiar? We are so fortunate to have such a strong running community here in New York, but if you are the kind of person that has FOMO in life, FOMOR (Fear Of Missing Out on Runs) can be dangerous. Not only is it expensive and time consuming, it can also be very dangerous. Injuries occur most commonly on tired, overly-trained muscles. Each run in a training plan (especially one made specifically for you) has a purpose and is meant to keep you on track to achieve a certain goal. Any time you deviate or add-on to that plan, you are running away from your goal.
It can be very hard to say no or skip a group run in order to take a rest day or to run your own miles, but these are a few important points to remember:
Not only are miles strategically placed on a training plan, so are workouts, tempos, easy days, and REST days! Anytime you change any of that, you are making your training plan less effective.
Running miles on your own is the best way to train for your mental race. You are not always going to have your friends next to you during your goal race; start practicing now!
Anytime you add a distance to your training, you are putting yourself at risk for injury (especially a stress fracture)!
Jen, Liz, Caroline, Mike do not share the same race goal as you. Of course they want you to do well, but they aren’t running your race.
Every run should be to better yourself as a runner. So before you commit to that group run, sign up for a class, or volunteer for a relay, ask yourself: “who am I running for?”