“If I had my competitive career to run over again, I would change some of my attitudes to injuries. I would show them more respect. Because after all, injuries weren’t some unknown barrier that I was trying to crash through. Injuries were simply my body telling me that something wrong was happening.” These words are from Derek Clayton, quoted in “Lore of Running.” Clayton was the first marathoner to break 2:10, which he did back in 1967. It’s a terrific quote, and I have a feeling that just about every distance runner who has been at it for a number of years can empathize with Clayton’s hard won wisdom.
In a previous post I mentioned an old ultra running friend, Gary Hilliard. He was the poster-boy for the faulted approach Clayton admitted to. At any given time his tremendous weekly mileage numbers (he told me he would peak at 160 miles per week when preparing for certain ultras) would give rise to numerous chronic pains and problems.
I knew about his mileage levels and once asked him if he had any advice for hamstring troubles—at the time I couldn’t shake the effects of a tear in my left thigh. I was running track at the time, focusing on the 1500, and the tear sidelined me the same day I’d PR’d in the 1500 when I came back to run an 800 leg in a distance medley. I remember a grinding feeling rounding the first turn after getting the hand-off. I finished the 800 and knew the damage was done. I spent the next two days swapping out huge bags of ice but it was to no avail. It was right about then I talked to Gary, who seemed invincible.
“I’m not the one to ask about injuries,” Gary said to me on the sales floor of Hoy’s Sports in San Francisco. He went on to explain his basic strategy: run through them.
It wasn’t long after that he went into battle against a severe case of sciatica while preparing for a six-day ultra (as many miles as you can accumulate around a 1-mile dirt loop. I seem to recall that one year he averaged 112 miles a day). True to form, he simply grit his teeth and tried to smash through it. Thinking back, it would have been nothing short of miraculous if he had shed the injury. He didn’t-his body shut down and forced a vacation from the sport (Gary is now the race director for the Mount Disappointment 50k/50 miler in Southern California).
I tried to run through injuries but never got very far. I adopted Clayton’s conclusion and showed them more respect. I even took up aqua running, strapping the Aqua Jogger belt around my waist and going absolutely nowhere in the deep end of the pool at the Koret Center at the University of San Francisco. Sometimes fellow runners—Kevin Cruikshank and former Olympic 10K runner, Lynn Nelson among them-would help break the tedium by jogging nowhere with me. Sometimes Kevin and I would do interval workouts. I still remember trying in vain to get my heart rate over 100 beats per minute.
At any rate, this recent commitment of mine to get back into a state where I can honestly refer to myself as a runner again has brought with it the same annoying battle with injuries I always had. Although I can truthfully say that I am employing what Clayton argued for. But it’s still a high-wire act. I managed to keep training by using the treadmill, proper treatment and patience, all the while knowing that I have to expose my legs to running on pavement so that when I start the NYC Marathon I don’t shatter into pieces.
Follow former 2:38 marathoner, and current editor-in-chief of Inside Triahlon magazine, TJ Murphy as he trains for his return to the marathon at the 2009 ING New York City Marathon. TJ will be getting “back on the bus” of marathon training with the guidance of elite coach Terrence Mahon under the Asics Editor’s Run NYC Marathon program. Learn more about Terrence, his athletes and his programs at www.runmammoth.com.