Training, Page 4*
In the spring of '97 I ran my 800m PR of 2:09.75. Nothing special, but a breakthrough nonetheless. That summer, I sort of hit the wall, motivationally speaking, and took a bit of a break. It wasn't until sometime in September that the spark returned. For the first time in eight years (not counting my freshman year of college), I decided to skip cross country and focus on track. I was determined to break 2:00.
My basic approach was that to run under 2:00, I had to be completely comfortable with sub-60 second 400m pace. Everything I did had to be at least that fast. I would begin with whatever distances I could hold sub-60 pace for, and gradually increase the distance and quantity of intervals. Beginning the last week of September, I began a routine of intense speed and strength work, training with a 49 second 400m runner. Training consisted of mostly 200's, 100's and 300's, 100m hills, endless form drills, and about an hour and a half of heavy weight lifting every other day.
During this time I started taking Creatine as an experiment recommended by a health food specialist. While I wonder to this day if it had anything to do with my subsequent injury, it did seem to be quite effective. In a month of taking Creatine, paying special attention to high intensity weight work allowing 4-5 minutes between intervals for maximum creatine reabsorbtion into the muscles, and following the directions (not doubling up on doses, taking it with a mixture of grape juice and grapefruit juice, etc.), I gained 10 pounds, yet I felt lighter and faster than ever. During that time, my leg press increased from a max of 10 reps at 320 pounds, to several sets of 20 reps at 800 pounds!
After three weeks of this training, I decided it was time to test the progress. Yes, it was time for a 400m time trial. So what if I was in dismal shape three weeks beforehand and my longest interval in months had been 300m? I might add that we had intentionally limited mileage outside of the speed work. Apparently, there is some sort of hormonal response to slower running that limits the potential gain of speed and strength work. Obviously I don't completely understand the details. Anyway, my 400m PR was 57.3, and the fastest I had run the previous track season was 58.0. I coasted through the 200m in low 26 (matching my 200m PR!), hit 300m in about 40 seconds (on pace for 54ish), then experienced complete quad-lock with about 80m to go. If you've never felt this, it's quite an experience. I literally could not bend my legs for four or five strides. I imagine I looked somewhat like a penguin. So I stumbled through a 17 or 18 second last 100m and literally crawled across the finish line for a 57.5, narrowly missing my PR. Not too bad considering the level of conditioning.
I'm pretty sure that with another month of training I could have held pace through the last 100m and knocked three seconds off my 400m time. This would have put me right on pace for the sub-2 minute 800m I was seeking, having set a target of 54 seconds for 400m by the start of the track season and 53.0 by the end. However, it was not to be. A week and a half after the 400m time trial, on a cool early November day, I tore my hamstring on the first of four 200's. Creatine is thought to lead to dehyrdration and muscle cramping, possibly even tears, thus my current hesitation in recommending it. I would never wish this sort of pain on anyone, not even my least favorite people.
With the help of my friendly health food and nutritional consultant (who enjoys discussing my digestive system with anyone who will listen), I embarked on a rehab program with natural supplements designed to rebuild the tissue faster. The supplements I took, as best I can recall, were:
Grape Seed Extract
Arnica montana gel (for external use) and pills -- homeopathic
Ruta graveolens -- homeopathic
I list these merely because my later experience indicates that they probably helped, despite claims that there is no research to support their usefulness. After a couple of weeks, I progressed from gentle walking to light bicycling and by three weeks I had gotten back to doing some light/medium intensity intervals. In hind sight, maybe this was too soon. But it felt OK at the time. I am told that nine weeks is the critical period for avoiding reinjury. I made it through with flying colors.
I spent the next few months rebuilding my strength, conditioning, and confidence. In early February, I ran a 200m time trial and shaved two tenths of a second off of my PR. Two weeks later, I tore the hamstring again. This time it was during medium intensity intervals in the middle of a circuit training (drills) workout. The injury felt much like the first one did, but this one took much longer to heal. In fact, as I write this a year later (February, '99), I am still trying to break free of the rehab phase. It is worth noting that I did not take the supplements mentioned above for the second injury. I did this for two reasons: a) they were rather expensive, and b) the fact that I reinjured myself led me to question whether or not they really worked. Now I'm pretty sure that they did.
My immediate goal is to get healthy and remain that way. I have never made it through an entire season injury-free. Heck, I've had pretty much every injury short of a broken bone. ('05 update: Broken bone, check.) I'm probably well qualified to write a book on the subject! However, of all my injuries, this has been the first one that I have been afraid of it lingering. In the past, once the pain has subsided, I've been able to resume training and hardly think about it. My physical therapist told me (indirectly) that I will have to baby my hamstring for the rest of my running days. I'm still trying to figure out how to do that and rekindle the racing mentality of ignoring pain.
2007 Update: After a couple years of lingering hamstring problems, I finally had luck with a highly recommended deep tissue massage therapist. He was able to solve the problem in only a couple treatments, despite half a dozen previous therapists having limited success. Unfortunately, by that time, my competitive days were in the rear view mirror.
*Please note: All exercise, training, health, and nutritional information on this page and throughout Run-Down should be treated as educational in nature. Unless explicitly stated as otherwise, all advice contained within Run-Down's pages is non-medical opinion. Please consult a doctor before embarking on any exercise or training regimen. Run-Down and Dan Kaplan do not assume responsibility for any physical harm that may be caused as a result of advice given on these pages.