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Wednesday, March 23, 2011
New Runners and the Dennis the Menace Syndrome
This past Sunday was especially entertaining. There was one blond headed little boy sitting at the bottom of the steps just behind the prayer rail. This Dennis the Menace reincarnate, had spied something of interest, so I watched to see what his keen eye had uncovered. Just behind the rail was a small glass communion cup that must have fallen off the rail from a previous communion Sunday. He picked up the delicate little cup and held it up to his eye like a monocle. As if at the opera, he peered though his makeshift spyglass at the congregation. I could tell something was wrong. As he turned toward my direction, I saw the problem. The bottom of the glass was smeared with some remaining sticky grape juice. Well, you could immediately see the wheels turning beneath that little blond mop. I looked over at his parents sitting at the other end of the pew. Their look of horror on their faces, was priceless and I knew they too were aware of what was coming next. Down came the monocle and in went a curious little index finger to the bottom of that glass, then out of the glass and yep, right into the kid's mouth. At this point, I heard a low groan from his mother. My wife and I could hardly keep the pew from shaking due to our internal giggling. As "Dennis" removed his finger from his mouth, he spotted the piercing eyes of his mother and he quickly returned the little glass and directed his gaze upon the face of the children's sermon leader.
New runners often have a little "Dennis" in them when it comes to their new activity. They see where they want to be in their running and sometimes are tempted to take a few injury-promoting risks to get there.
One of the most satisfying things about being a running coach is helping new runners. It's kind of like when I taught 5th grade and I'd see the light finally come on for a kid struggling with a concept. When a struggling new runner sticks with it and gets past that initial hump and really begins to enjoy the run, it warms my heart. A very cool moment to share with a client.
It often takes a couple of months of running before a newcomer feels good with his/her first couple of miles. Once they finally get to a point where they're feeling good on their runs, they're kind of like that little boy in the children's sermon. But, instead of wondering what that dried grape juice tastes like, they're wondering what running further feels like. So, one day instead of they're regular 4-miler, they'll run 5. That's good. Nothing wrong with adding a mile. But, Wow! that felt really good, so on to mile 6. That's not too much of a problem, right? Well probably not if they stop there. But sometimes that awesome euphoric feeling of going further can get the better of a new runner and that 4-miler all of the sudden becomes an 8-miler or a 10-miler.
Most seasoned runners can probably relate to this. We've all pushed it too far at times. The problem is that the further you push past your acclimation point, the higher your chance for injury. It will also take you longer to recover from the run.
Remember those couple of months it took to get to that "feeling good point?" That same building process needs to continue as you increase your mileage. While you may be able to run 4 or 5 miles past your regular 4-miler, that's not the best thing to do to your body. And, if you continue to push the limits (coupled by not taking enough rest), then overtraining and injury can be lurking in the shadows just waiting for the opportunity to pounce on you.
So, to avoid the Dennis the Menace Syndrome, gradually up your mileage. A good rule of thumb is to increase your total weekly mileage by only 5-10%. Usually this increase is added to longest run for the week. For example, if you typically run 5 miles four days a week, your weekly mileage will be 20 miles. So the next week you could increase your weekly mileage by 1-2 miles. So, you may do 3 five-mile runs and then for the long run do 6 or 7. This gradual progression will allow your body time to acclimate and recover as you build.
It takes about 4-6 weeks for your body to acclimate to a particular distance. That doesn't mean you have to keep running the same 6-miler for 4-6 weeks before you move on, but it does mean that the first time you run that 8-miler, your body is probably acclimated to 5 or 6 miles, so you may feel the extra mileage. But, if you stick to the gradual adding of miles, then by the time you get to 10, you'll be acclimated to the 8 and so on. If you jump from 5 miles to 12, you're asking your body to handle and recover from 7 additional miles that it's not accustomed to.That's asking a lot.
So, even though it may be temping to"taste that grape juice" resist that urge and build your mileage slowly and safely. You seasoned runners coming back from an injury or from being away from running for several months, you need to heed that same advice. Come back slowly. Your body will thank you.