Monday, January 16, 2012

Training: The Buildup Phase

As the word "buildup" implies one has to be in a state of atrophy or degradation before you can "build up". Unlike so many dedicated superhuman runners who seem to never allow themselves to fall into disrepair, the rest of us mortals find those occasions where we have slacked and given our shoes a chance to air out and de-stink a bit, and our tummies time to expand. This means that we must start the training process over again. How much you have previously ran, length of running hiatus, and your abilities as a runner, will determine how smooth or painful this stage of training is.

It begins the same as all things running, with a single step. The difference is that this first step often adsorbs the added impact caused by the extra pounds gained during the holidays (darn those chocolate oranges). Unlike the last time you ran fit and well, this step reminds you just how out of shape you let yourself become. The first system to tap out tends to be the lungs. This initiatory run seems to cause the lungs to revolt and sear with pain and all the huffing and puffing just falls short of filling your oxygen quota.

It is a good thing then that your pace for this first run falls somewhere between snail and tortoise. Now the mind kicks in and begins to scold the runner with such thoughts as "how come you took a break" or "this pace is pathetic, I might as well be walking laps at the mall", or you begin to sound like a fogie reminiscing about the good ole days like "I remember it only took me 17 minutes to get to this point during the summer". After the self-flogging you start to settle into some sort of a laboured rhythm.

Then for some of the more unfortunate runners, their pulmonary system has an unpleasant surprise in store for them. All the millions of capillaries that we had spent the previous year growing for maximal blood flow, had spent the hiatus sealing themselves up since they were no longer needed. Now that the body is having to work, it decides it is time to open up the old capillaries and move some blood to the surface of the skin to aid in the cooling of the over-insulated machine. This may seem harmless enough but for anyone who has experienced the burning and itching associated with running after a break, knows the torture I am talking about. No matter how hard you scratch your ribs, stomach, and thighs you can't begin to quench the fire from within. Millions of rusty pipes being flooded with blood for the first time in weeks or even months. All that can be done is a half trot half scratch lope down the trail or road (possibly even whimpering) until you finally have had enough training for one day.

With run number one out of the way you are able to start the next run knowing you have at least ran once previously and so you start again. This time things work a bit better, not anywhere near comfortable but at least the itchy capillary thing is over (it tends to only take one run and the phenomenon vanishes until the next time you run after a hiatus).

Now starts the phase of building up some fitness momentum. Unfortunately, fitness follows Newton's first law all to well, in that an object at rest wants to stay at rest and an object in motion wants to remain that way. In many ways fitness is like a gargantuan iron steam locomotive. If neglected, it kind of sits there in all its ginormous glory, and rusts to the tracks. In order to get your fitness moving down the tracks in the right direction again you first have to use some superhuman strength just to get it to budge. This is really what the first few weeks of a new training program are all about. Getting that fitness in a state of motion and moving in the right direction. With dogged perseverance and consistency you find your fitness on track and moving in the right direction.

It is at this point that we are the most prone to injury. The lungs and heart have finally figured things out and found that they are still capable of providing the oxygen necessary to fuel the furnace. Herein lies the conundrum, with your new found fitness, and zealous impatience to achieve that fitness level you once had you begin to ignore such basic laws of running like the 10% rule. Why not increase distance this week by 25 or even 50%? Now it is your legs who tap out. Up to this point your limiting factor has been your respiratory and pulmonary systems, now that they are working, and you are logging some impressive miles, you start feeling some pain along your shins or perhaps a slight twinge of something on the side or lower knee. Now is the time you must exercise extreme caution because you can kiss all those previous weeks of training goodbye if you make one wrong move at this point. You are on extremely thin ice. You now must let up a bit and let the legs catch up to the lungs. This interim stage usually takes a few weeks of tip-toeing the knife edge between too much and just enough. If you listen to your body and try not to get too greedy with mileage your legs eventually turn the corner and you begin increasing your mileage again, a little wiser from that close call.

You are now running consistently. You have lost some weight and your mental state has improved. You are positive and seeing great improvements. You can run 4-5 times a week with little problem. Your pace has progressed from tortoise to something a little quicker. Your long runs are at the half marathon mark no problem. You have made it through the buildup phase, it is now time to turn your attention to an entirely different beast, the long run, but that is a whole different story for another day!

1 comment:

Tim said...

Very nice write up about building up! It can be a very fragile thing when you try to get back to where you were to quickly. LUCKILY I think if you have had a base in the past, the risk seems a little less than someone who has never ran and wanted to go run 30 miles next week.

Additionally, HOPEFULLY the experienced runner will be aware enough not to push it to much to fast and get injured. I do believe there are some who think because they have logged 50 mile weeks, they could get back to that distance in a month, then the result of this thinking is someone getting injured.

It is a VERY important part for us mortals to keep our buildup in the front of our minds, and always try not to go to much to fast. Lastly, and probably most importantly, always listen to your body. (I think we have both learned this the hard way a time or two. Great write up