Crash: The Perils of Contractive Training

(Written in the mid-1990s)

After the first month running with a heart monitor, I was feeling so fit and healthy that I increased my mileage.

Inspired by former marathon record holder Ingrid Kristiansen, who believes that limiting long runs to two hours delivers maximum endurance benefits with minimal risk of overtraining, I quickly ramped up to 2 to 2 1/2 hours, four times a week, for a total of 50-55 miles.

This was quite an increase, and as my mileage climbed, my knee began to hurt. But I soldiered on, hoping the knee would adapt.

Halfway through a 2 1/2-hour run, the knee began to hurt bad. I hoped that by running on a dirt trail by the railroad tracks, I could limp home. But an angry railroad guard chased me off the tracks, and I was forced to run the last four miles on pavement. And that’s when it all went downhill. (I could have walked, but that would be have been unworthy.)

Where there had been knee pain, there was now severe pain in my quads, hams, buttocks, and Achilles. I was hobbling, my body sending a message: “If you won’t take care of that knee, I will make you stop!”

From books by Bonnie Prudden, a renowned sports-rehab authority, I had learned that the body “hardens” around an injury, creating an inflexible area to prevent further damage. When I ignored my body’s signals and continued to abuse the knee, my body’s higher wisdom simply shut down the leg from hip to toe.

I had violated the first law of training: “Make haste slowly.” Nature abhors sudden leaps – and in sports training, it abhors them with a vengeance. Healing the knee took six months, during which I could only run “uphill” on a treadmill.

How can I experience the inner joys of running, unless I’m willing to conform to its outward laws? My mistake was following my “wants” instead of the body’s impersonal wisdom.

On a run shortly before the leg gave out, I noticed that my thoughts were crabby, a sure sign of overtraining. My body was disintegrating, my fitness eroding; and my mood reflected the negative trend.

I can reduce all of my experiences as a runner to a simple formula. There are two kinds of running: expansive and contractive. When I run contractively, I reap confusion and pain; but when I run expansively, I enjoy health and inner harmony.

Perhaps “expansion” and “contraction” seem like other-worldy concepts, but the results of contractive running are painfully real.

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