You know, I was ready to accept yesterday's calf injury as just one of those things that happen to 42 year old men that write checks that their body can't cash. Then someone asked me what I thought I did wrong. Had I ramped up my mileage too quickly? Was my body overtrained?
At first I was taken aback. What!? Me? Nope. I did everything right. Then I started explaining my program and what great care I've been taking to ramp my mileage slowly and give my body plenty of time to recover after ramping up mileage or after running hard. And as I confidently described my program I kicked myself as I realized that I did NOT follow my program last week. In fact, I made what I realize now was a critical mistake with perfectly predictable consequences.
Here's my program. It revolves around a weekly long run on Sunday that is done at an easy pace. I started out at 10 miles and added one mile a week until I worked up to 16 miles. After that I would only increase the mileage one mile every other week and on the other week would run less than the previous week. This created a cycle of one week with slightly higher mileage than two weeks before followed by a week with lower mileage to allow my body to recover.
I take Monday completely off as a rest day and then run on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Tuesday is always done at an easy pace to allow my legs a chance to recover from Sunday's long run. On long weeks it is a short run of 3-5 miles. On short weeks it is 6-8 miles. Wednesday and Thursday are quality runs run at a harder pace. The quality runs are either tempo runs, long runs with accelerations, or interval workouts at the track. After two hard days I take Friday off to let my legs recover. Then on Saturday I do a short, easy run of 3-5 miles depending on how long the next day's long run is going to be.
So, what did I do last week? I ran 14 miles on Sunday which is short for me since my long run is now 20+ miles. But I missed my Tuesday run because I had to get up at 5:00 am to go to San Antonion and watch my sons perform in the state marching band contest. Since I didn't get home until late I didn't get up and do my Wednesday run either. I was worried about missing over 10 miles of running and how that would affect my long-term fitness so I decided to do my planned Tuesday and Wednesday runs on Thursday and Friday. I ran 7.5 miles on Thursday at an easy pace. On Friday I did a short interval workout at the track with two easy miles followed by two hard 800 m intervals at 6:40 pace and an easy cool down mile. It all seemed reasonable. That way I'd only be missing the 7 mile run that had been planned for Thursday that was supposed to include accelerations. So, I figured I'd actually be doing less than I planned and I'd be fine for Sunday's race. In fact, when I went out for an easy 3 mile run on Saturday I felt great. I felt even better on Sunday morning for the race. I felt perfectly rested and prepared.
So, you can see where I screwed up, can't you? I ran three days in a row without a rest day in the leadup to a grueling half marathon. One lesson I learned is that you can't always feel the accumulated damage and micro tears in your muscles that accumulate from training. Despite feeling great, I'd torn down the muscles without giving them sufficient time to repair and rebuild themselves. Instead of coming to the race with strengthened muscles, I'd started with muscles that were on the edge. That's why my training plan calls for planned rest days at regular intervals and regular easy weeks.
Lesson learned? It's better to skip a planned run than a planned rest day. I violated the one rule I've been trying to follow this year: train to rest. In other words, train hard so that your body can rebuild itself stronger when you give it sufficient rest.
The good news is that my calf is feeling much better today and I'm not limping so badly.
BTW, thanks Matt for making me think. You asked the right questions and forced me to not accept my self-justifications.