The Running Balloon

I’ve already stated I’m no longer running the Monumental Marathon as my goal race to lower my PR. The race is in two weeks and I’m nowhere near where I should be to run a marathon, let alone break my PR. My latest injury hit me at the worst possible time in training and took out such a huge chunk of fitness that I could never build back up and back off in time to race. It’s just not physically possible. It’s not physically possible, no matter how much I want it to be, because running is like a balloon. Hear me out.

When you first start building up your training it’s just like blowing air into a balloon. You start off slowly with minimal effort and the balloon slowly fills with air. A little more training and the balloon fills to the point that you start to see it grow and expand. A little more training and suddenly you have a large balloon filled with the effects of your efforts. You take a step back, look at the work you’ve done and feel pretty satisfied at the size of your balloon. Then you start blowing more air into it, but suddenly it’s much harder and the rewards aren’t as great. It’s only growing a little bit at a time. Still, you’re putting in the time and work and slowly pushing that balloon to it’s limits and then some. That, you can understand, if your PR and the work to surpass your PR. It’s hard, but if you keep pushing at your limits you can get there.

Then you get injured. Not INHERENTLY, of course, but for the sake of argument.

And your balloon starts to deflate as you’re no longer putting air into it to keep it’s shape. And this is the part that sucks.

You want to believe that all the time you put into inflating the balloon would be equal to the time it takes for the balloon to deflate, but you know that’s not the case and running fitness is the same way. You work and work and work, but as soon as you stop working, everything starts to deflate rapidly. That balloon doesn’t slowly let air out and gently flutter around the room for awhile. Oh no, it nearly collapses, pushing all the work you put into it back out as it rockets through the air, bouncing off all the walls and making that funny puttering noise before it lays dead on the ground.

That, unfortunately, is how running fitness works.

You can put 6 months of training to get yourself into PR shape, but get injured to the point that you can’t run AT ALL and it doesn’t take 6 months to get you back to where you started. Oh no, I’ve read articles that estimate fitness is lost completely within 3 WEEKS. Ugh. That hurts. Now, there are benefits we get from backing off and we never start from scratch once we take a break. Certain muscles and other systems are built to a certain baseline and basically stay there, ready to be activated once we start running again, but that level of fitness you achieved right before the balloon slipped from your hands is mostly lost. And again..

That sucks.

So, in my specific case, although I hoped the injury would correct itself and I could get back to training with only a minor setback, as if I was able to grab the balloon before all the air escaped, that just didn’t happen. I was completely down for, I think, 2 1/2 to 3 months. That’s complete fitness deflation.

I’m currently trying to reinflate the balloon at this point, but my leg is still pretty precarious, so I’m holding back, not pushing the balloon too big in fear it will slip from my hands again. I’m psyched to say my fitness has remained relatively strong, which I attribute to a lot of bike riding, but I’m still only just starting putting in a lot of work and ramping my miles back up slowly. I lost such a chunk of training time leading up to this race that I have no choice but to look towards the spring for another go at my PR. All the while I’ll keep inflating the balloon and hope I have the lung power to get it bigger than last time.

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7 responses to “The Running Balloon

  1. Good luck dude! I will be waiting for that springtime post race blog entry with kudos in hand I’m sure 🙂

  2. That’s a rather fitting analogy. I feel your pain, as I’ve been suffering from a problem for some six weeks now. I did run a marathon PR (but only just) during that time, but now I’ve had three weeks off running, (almost) completely, and there’s no sign of this niggle going away.

    I have to say though that “complete” fitness loss in three weeks sounds silly. Your muscles and aerobic fitness won’t just disappear, especially if you do other cardio, like cycling. If you have a good base (like you most certainly do!), I think that in two or three months you can get back to or close to the shape you were in before. Of course, it may be another three months of hardcore training after that before you’re in PR shape, with added risk of injury, but that still means that by next summer you could be smashing your records! Here’s hoping that I can do the same…

  3. Tuomas, injuries are so confusing and when you think you’ve been away long enough….sometimes you haven’t. And when you think you’ve done everything right…sometimes the pain persists. And then when you give up…sometimes it just goes away. I don’t know, I don’t get it either.

    And yeah, I didn’t mean to imply that ALL fitness goes away…just the greater portion that made you feel like a superhero. I can already tell I’ll be back to where I want to be in a month or two, like you said, that is if my leg continues to cooperate.

    Here’s to full recovery for both of us!

  4. I don’t believe that three week fitness loss at all! I’ve gone several weeks without a single run, and within a couple of runs, I’m right where I was before the break. Take time off to heal and when ready, get back to it. You’re body will bounce back sooner than you realize,

    • I wish that was right James! 3 weeks may not completely wipe your fitness out, but a month or two and there is no way I can complete successful progression runs under 5:20 pace, etc. etc. I’ve already been nailing a bunch of workouts lately, and the turnaround has surprised me for sure, but the deflation of fitness is certainly noticed. Anyways….working on filling that balloon back up!

  5. The balloon analogy is most fitting and I’ll remember it for the rest of my days. I too was planning on a PR at the Monumental next week and then last Friday disaster struck me as well in my right foot. I’d already peaked at least, now I just need to nurse it and get well in time for race day.

    Good luck on recovery man. You ever need somebody local to ride a bike with you for support while you run hit me up.

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