The pain of progression

The past handful of weeks have marked a solid return to dedicated training with mileage consistently in the 90’s and workouts that have pushed me to my threshhold, but I noticed something different in the way I’ve felt this time around. I didn’t hurt. Even when I did 20 miles on a treadmill one night and followed it up with 10 the next day, save a few blisters I was still able to start up fresh. 2 weeks ago I put in 95 miles with some speed, but instead of the difficulty I once had getting out of bed after a week like that, I was still able to hop up and start my day with ease. During the days my legs weren’t tight and restrictive and going up and down stairs all day at work wasn’t problematic at all. I was actually feeling pretty good about all this.

I thought, “Man, I don’t know what is different, but I’m recovering from the efforts like some sort of machine.” I was quite hopeful about the situation and anxious to put more of a load on.

Then I stepped back and thought about what might be going on. Sure, I’ve been eating better and that might be a factor. I’m also working off last year’s base fitness and so my body is probably more accustomed to these stresses as well. I’ve also come off an injury and so getting up to consistent 90 mile weeks is great, but it’s still a slow buildup, letting the body adjust to the efforts and once I settle into that routine I might start feeling the effects. Then with a little less positive spin on things I started to worry, “Wait, what if I’m NOT recovering as well as I’m percieving and actually what is happening is that I’m not TRYING hard enough?” What if I just haven’t been running fast enough to push my body to that point where I’m slowly breaking it down, so that it can build itself up even stronger. That’s the basis of this whole distance running thing anyways, isn’t it?

The last type of runner I want to be is a slow distance runner that can run a marathon every month, or even every week. I’ve come across a number of runners who advertise themselves as superhuman machines because they can perform back to back endurance feats, which certainly is awesome, and although I start to think I might be a less fit runner than them, I then remember that they run significantly slower and in the process don’t stress their bodies enough to bring on the debilatating fatigue. Running back to back marathons is certainly possible for any fit person doing 10:00 minute miles the whole way. Again, I’m not being down on people like that, but just trying to keep perspective for my own purposes.

For suddenly, that machine-like recovery period has now started to disappear for me….and that gives me relief. Slowly, but surely, picking myself off our ground level bed in the morning has taken a bit more effort than in the past few weeks. The stairs at work taunt me as I climb them repeatedly, my legs weakening at the top as if I hit elevation. Specific muscles and joints make their presence known with specific movements I have to make during the day.

All this aching and muscular moaning is a good thing though! This means I’m progressing. It means I’m putting in enough of the efforts to stress my body, to push my systems just enough past their limits to cause temporary breakdowns that will build back up into stronger components. I know it sounds weird, but this how the body develops. In converse to sitting in a la-z-boy letting our bodies sink into a gelatinous mess of fat and apathy, we actually create strain and small tears in our muscles through physical activity that then get repaired bigger and better. It’s why we physically hurt (tolerably, of course) when we exercise after long periods of sedentary living before our bodies adjust and we can take more loads. We know we are progressing when we feel that pain.

So although it’s good to feel strong and recovered all the time, which is why we have “recovery” runs throughout the week, it’s GOOD to hurt. It’s good to feel lasting effects of your workouts so you know your aren’t half-stepping it, so you know you’ve run to your temporary limits previously, so you know you’re moving forward and not back. Just make sure to keep recovery in your plan and don’t push yourself TOO far. It’s a fine line and one to take serious heed of, lest you are relegated to that la-z-boy on terms not of your own.

So if you see me moving slow during the day, unable to bound up and down the stairs, or maybe even with an uneven walk that can’t hide the favoring of a sore leg muscle, don’t be concerned. This is progression!

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