October 19, 2012

Knowing when to pull the plug

Skiing Conundrum Couloir (June 2009)
A few years ago, my friend Ben and I decided to pull the plug on a climb of Castle peak in Colorado. We were trying to ski Conundrum and Castle in the same day (the Trip Report is entertaining to look back on - this was my second day ever of backcountry skiing), and after a successful and very fun ski descent of Conundrum, we were halfway up Castle when we got a bad feeling about the snow conditions and decided to abort our summit push. Chances are we would have been fine, but we didn't feel like it was worth the risk. The following spring we went back and skied Castle on a spectacular day.

Over the next couple years, as I spent more and more time in the mountains (hiking and BC skiing), I felt like I got pretty good at listening to my intuition about when things didn't "feel" right and turning around when I got those apprehensions. Part of it was because Andrea was always my partner in crime, and I was especially unwilling to put her in a potentially dangerous situation. My philosophy on skiing is that if you err on the side of caution (even in situations where its probably OK) to push on, you'll live to ski for a lot longer. Sometimes you have to alter the plan (which still usually ends up being a lot of fun!) and if you're patient... you get the big payoff.

The same thing applies to running and training. I had plans of shifting my focus to two big half-marathon races this fall. But my body is just not cooperating with that plan right now. During the TOU Marathon, I pulled my hamstring 15 miles into the race, which means I ran on an injured hamstring for another 11 miles! This past week, during a tempo workout, the hamstring flared back up, and in turn my back has tightened up. In the past, I probably would have just pushed through and stuck to my original plan. Alter a few workouts, then get back after it. Chances are I'll feel fine in a couple days.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized this was one of those situations (like in skiing) where it just doesn't "feel" right. How am I going to get to the next level as a runner, and get off this 1:05-1:06/2:21-2:22 plateau? Well, I don't necessarily have the exact answer, but I have some ideas, and I also know I'm unlikely to make another jump by just pushing through all the time. The body needs a break every once in a while, especially after what I've been able to do in the past couple years. I've run 500 miles a month for 2 straight years... the fact that I haven't gotten an injury during that time period is almost a miracle. Thanks to some fantastic support and encouragement from friends (seriously, Fast Running Blog is an incredible community) it became pretty easy to see that the best thing for me right now is a break from hard training and racing.

So I'm going to give myself some downtime, get this hamstring / back issue healed up completely, let the body/mind completely re-charge, and be ready to attack 2013 with a vengeance. I want the major breakthrough, not just the incremental improvements. Sometimes you have to alter the plan to get the big payoff.


  1. This is something all of us runners need to hear... a lot. These are definitely some wise words and I commend you for feeling this situation out. I am starting to prep mentally now for the post marathon blues/down time.

    1. I've always dreaded the downtime... I hate starting to feel out of shape... but you just have to do it sometimes, or else you just get stuck at that same level. This time I've approached it knowing this is going to allow me to work HARDER in the future, so I know I need to get my body ready to handle that. I'm actually kind of enjoying the "challenge" of not pushing myself for a while.