Getting the Best Out of a Layoff

Pity the vulnerable runner. It takes no more than a sprain, a cold, a sore Achilles – and the runner is down.

Why does the universe hate runners? We train hard, run our best, and bam, a cruel cosmos puts us on our backs.

At those times, I’m tempted to think, with no small irritation, “What is the meaning of this!” “Yeah,” I think, “what is the MEANING?” Looking back at the layoffs I’ve endured, I realize that each has been meaningful.

What’s the best way to thrive during a layoff? I suspect it’s by applying the same principles that guide our training.

If you’ve read Fitness Intuition, you know I believe there are five tools of a runner: body, heart, will, mind, and soul. The best results come by using the tools “expansively.” During a layoff, the best medicine is to keep training. In other words, continue to find ways to improve physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and in resolution.

Two weeks ago, I emerged from a layoff that lasted four months. My training was going well. After fiddling with various training systems, I had concluded that the best one, for me, was Arthur Lydiard’s.

In a recent article, I describe how I’d felt intuitively guided to train the Lydiard way. But I wasn’t fully persuaded. I wasted years dabbling with other systems – Phil Maffetone’s, John Douillard’s, and a mish-mash of ideas from books, articles, and friends.

Even after I decided to follow Lydiard, I got tempted to run in a way that completely contradicted his advice. I enjoyed running very hard for 15 to 20 minutes at the end of my long runs, and I resisted giving it up.

Lydiard believed that doing anaerobic running during the aerobic endurance-building phase interferes with aerobic development. Lydiard pointed out that runners can develop their anaerobic metabolism to the greatest extent in just 4 to 6 weeks, but that aerobic metabolism can be developed almost endlessly, over many years.

Lydiard believed that aerobic endurance is the key to racing success at all distances, including 800m and 1500m. His runners, who trained 100 miles per week at a medium to high aerobic pace, simply blew away the interval-trained runners of the 1950s and 1960s. Lydiard believed this was because their aerobic development gave them with more energy at the end of their races. He believed that it made no sense to compromise this important ability with ill-timed fast running.

The universe showed great patience with me, kindly answering my prayers to know the best way to train. But when I stubbornly comprised that guidance, I got sick.

I got a bronchitis that simply refused to go away. I’ve had bronchitis many times, and no amount of traditional or alternative medicine has ever helped. At best, I found some herbal formulas that stop the coughing so that I can sleep. Antibiotics don’t work; no matter what pills I take, the bronchitis lasts three weeks.

This time, as soon as I felt better, I ran two hours and promptly relapsed. Three weeks later, I felt well enough to run for an hour, and I got sick again.

I Googled “chronic bronchitis” and was unimpressed by the counsel of “modern” medicine. “There, there,” the doctors said. “Chronic bronchitis is incurable. However, we can help you have a good quality of life until the end-stage. We will sell you bronchodilators at $150 a pop, and we’ll schedule many expensive doctor visits. In the end, we’ll help you spend your dwindling funds on oxygen tanks and nursing care, and we’ll put you in the hospital and administer expensive tests and smile sympathetically while you die.”

I decided, as on other occasions, that the best scientific, proactive response to modern western medicine is: “Stuff that for a lark.”

I recalled 1984 Olympic marathon bronze-medalist Lorraine Moller’s experiences as a pre-teen runner. Moller suffered from a very serious, persistent kidney infection. After years of doctor visits and prescriptions for ever-more-powerful antibiotics, Moller’s family had resigned themselves to watching her die.

Moller’s mother then secretly took her to an alternative healer. A color therapist, she did an alternative diagnostic technique known as muscle testing. The healer asked Moller to hold her arm to the side, and to resist while she pressed down on the arm. The arm was stronger under certain colors of light.

Moller’s mother began secretly lowering her heavy doses of antibiotics, while she continued to take her secretly to the color therapist. Moller immediately began to improve. The doctor was delighted – the antibiotics were working at last! Moller’s mom soon stopped taking her to the medical shaman.

I knew there absolutely had to be a way to help my body fight off the “chronic” bronchitis. I reasoned that there could not be an infection that couldn’t be cured. Above all, there was absolutely no way that I would give a single penny to the doctors.

I decided to follow my intuition, which had been telling me to fast. I fasted for 10 days and felt better; but then I drank a glass of orange juice, despite my spiritual teacher’s advice to avoid citrus during colds and bronchitis. I relapsed slightly but rebounded quickly. I ended up fasting for 28 days, after which the bronchitis was under control. The infection is still present, but my resistance is greatly increased.

Earlier, I mentioned the five tools of a runner, and how the key to successful training and healing is to do whatever makes each of the tools stronger, while avoiding anything that weakens them. Fasting strengthened my body’s ability to resist illness. It also did amazing things for my mind, leaving me feeling optimistic, cheerful, and able to think more clearly.

I won’t go into the details, except to say that, even after 28 days on juices and vegetable broth, I was eliminating vast amounts of poop daily, with the help of double enemas in the morning and evening. (Yes sir, yes sir! Two bags full.)

If you consult the Internet debunker websites, you’ll learn that the notion that the body “burns” useless materials and toxins during a fast is witchcraft. Yet my daily sessions on the floor with my head down and a rubber tube up my butt persuaded me otherwise, as did the wonderful feelings that followed the fast. (If you’re interested, here’s the link to an article I wrote after a 30-day fast.)

I ended the fast two weeks ago, and continue to feel strong. I’m running an hour or longer 2-3 times a week. I’ve lost some muscle adaptation and aerobic capacity – everything is a bit slower at the same heart rate. But my recovery seems excellent, and I’m enjoying the runs. Paavo Airola, the fasting advocate whose methods I’ve used with great success over the years, recommends repeated fasts of 7-10 days for chronic bronchitis. I’m looking forward to the next one.

The point I want to make is that I came away from the layoff feeling stronger and more energized than before. The break gave me time to reflect on Lydiard’s methods, and how “right” they are for me.

I no longer have doubts about the right way to train; and I’ve got a better body to train with. My mind is clearer, and my perceptions of nature’s beauties are sharper and more deeply felt.

The layoff wasn’t the end of anything. During the time off, my life went on in wonderful ways. During the fast, I enjoyed long trail hikes with Mary Ellen. I read good books and sang wonderful music with friends. The layoff was an opportunity, a chance to improve. I’m grateful.

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