Recoiling The Engine

AJWs TaproomI made a big decision this week. I will not do any ultramarathon racing in 2015.

For some people, this may not be a big deal. But, for me, it represents a step in a new and I hope more mature direction.

I ran 10 ultras in 2014. That was probably two or three too many. By the beginning of December, my body was beaten down and my will to train was low. Nonetheless, I plugged away and finished ultra number 10 in mid-December. About a week after that, once the initial pain of recovery subsided, an old injury reared its head. The same deep hamstring strain that I suffered through in the fall of 2013 had fired up again. It was time to shut things down for awhile.

Over the Christmas holiday, I began to reboot but something inside me continued to gnaw. Maybe I needed more than just the standard six-week recovery? Maybe I needed a real break?

You see, I have known something was not quite right for about a year. While I know that a runner’s deterioration into his late forties is a real thing, I feel like my deterioration has been more abrupt and more severe than most others in my age and stage of life. I began to wonder if it was something more than just the inevitable wear and tear of 3,000 miles a year for 12 years that was bringing me down. Maybe there was something deeper? Something more holistic?

I began seeing a new physical therapist in early January. He stretched me physically and mentally, and it began to sink in that I really needed to invest fully in total recovery. I needed a psychic break to refresh and renew. I needed to recoil my engine.

Of course, this is hard. Very hard. Coming to grips with aging and the inevitable slowing process messes with my mind and my body. Questions and doubts emerge. The process of acceptance takes work. Rejecting the appeal of denial is a real challenge. Perhaps more than hard training, hard recovery takes deep listening. I am committed to that now.

So, what does this all mean in real terms?

Well, first I contacted the race directors of Black Canyon 100k, Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, and Bighorn 100, and told them I would not be coming this year.

Mostly, I am swimming, cycling, and hiking. I am receiving physical therapy twice a week. I am working to increase my flexibility and develop more core strength. (I basically have none of either.) My years of running and running only are over. In order to run into my sixties, I need to take control and diversify. Like racing, that will require patience, focus, and persistence. My race for this year is a race to recover. That’s it. I’ll report here from time to time.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week is a great recovery drink. In keeping with the theme of this week’s column, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s Nooner Pilsner is a great choice for folks wanting the original session beer in a crisp, hoppy, classic package. It’s the kind of beer that has me dreaming of summer!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Have you come to grips with a major issue affecting your running, one that mandated a very long recovery like AJW is experiencing? If so, can you describe what that was and what your recovery involved?
  • When and how did you realize that being able to do the running you love also involves cross training, strength training, sometimes physical therapy, and more?
  • Do you have any recommendations on ways that AJW can get through this time emotionally and psychologically?

There are 35 comments

  1. olgav100

    Oh, boy. Sorry to hear about it. Welcome to my world, but not in a good way. After over a year down, I am just about feeling I can somewhat run again, slowly (key word) picking up pace and miles. It was an extremely hard transition, when all you know is that training and racing life. It felt wrong for a year, and when I didn't pay much attention and was stubborn/stupid/obnoxious/playing invincible – it hit hard and for a long time. I am glad you were able to step back and are listening to your body. Remember your article back in a day? What would you pick: being able to run 3 miles a day for the rest of your life or a win at WS100? What did you pick? All the best, Andy.

  2. ClownRunner

    Dude, you CAN'T break down now….you just can't….I've lived vicariously through you for years now….DAMN IT ALL! You were the beer-swilling, goofy trash-talking, family man adventurer who ate hamburgers and chugged cokes and engulfed ice cream and knew every inch of every ultra course there was. What the hell is wrong with this planet??!? This ain't right. Don't just "report from time to time"….Keep reportin' ALL the time, we need you! Ultra running isn't just about running ultras, we all know that…it's the spirit that counts, not the body.

  3. Emir

    Great stuff AJW. Wise decision, and just think about all those other runners that will benefit from you supporting them as you give back. Get well, strong, and come back soon!

  4. Hillrunner50

    Andy, I think you write the most helpful columns for iRunfar. It takes strength to admit you did too much and to say enough for now. In 15 years of running ultras here and there, I have seen quite a lot of people overtrain year after year, ending up metabolically screwed or crippled beyond repair. I see it happening to many runners now and I feel bad for them. I hope many runners become inspired and heed your honest advice rather than continue down a potentially unhealthy path.

  5. @tucsnheatrunner

    I'm still in my 20's and I'm beginning to understand that one day I may not be able to run like I do now. I am actively working on slowing down, taking it a little easier and cross-training, just to make sure I can keep running much later on. It's tough to do, and be patient is important. Sure, you may not be able to race the same way anymore, but you can keep doing it, so that's good since it's really important to you. Keep up the cross-training! :)

  6. chase_duarte

    I'm with you brother. My 47th year of age and over 25 years of mostly competitive running has caught up with me too. Meniscus surgery, flat feet, etc…For the first time since I really can't remember when, I am not signed up for anything this year. Take care AJW and maybe I'll see you sometime soon on the eastside.

  7. @runwillt

    One of those advantages of having your Hardrock qualifier good for 2 years. I think this will be a great year that you look back on fondly. Enjoy the freedom of doing what you want when you want.

  8. totops1

    Hmmmm…..for some reason I don't really believe this. No racing for 2015 ? Let's see if that happens or not!

    I think your article is a great lesson for all of us runners (or ultra-runners). It's a lesson we should remember, that to run long, not just distance-wise but "years-wise", we should all do some cross-training, core strengthening and never forget to REST. I have never really believed in "running only and only"
    At least, I am trying to put that in place. Now some of my acquaintances call me "weak" or "not tough enough" for not running all year long a TON of miles but I say I'm wise for caring about my body and my mind.
    In an era where ultras are flourishing and where social medias calls everyone to pile up miles ((no need to look further, just see the article under yours called "Forty-Plus Races In His Fortieth Year: …."), it's also good to see people who look over and actually reflect on that.
    Good luck "recoiling the engine"!

  9. lisafarr

    First, thank you so much for hooking me up with your awesome PT. His expertise and focus are exactly what i need right now. Like you, hoping to get off of the injury cycle, which is requiring a lot of recovery time and deliberate attention to imbalances, not to mention acceptance. I admire the decision you made and your clarity about it. It's tough to have that clarity….being injured and feeling like an aging runner can both cause a certain franticness, right when patience and acceptance are needed. I have the feeling you will gain more than you give up this next year. Thank you for sharing your insights and experience. Many other runners will reflect and benefit. Lisa Farr

  10. @RuhnauSteve

    After starting to run again 6 yrs ago at 51 and entering Ultras 4 years ago, I'm so far down the performance scale from you… but your decision to recoil resonates even with us mid and back of pack runners. Although I love the competitions, the thrill of running trails to reach far flung beautiful places is more important… and the love of this running is even more important. The balance that you are seeking is so critical to sustaining that love of running. Training 2… sometimes 3… days a week is what my body and my mind can tolerate. Best wishes to you in finding that balance. I'm sure your results will continue to inspire.

  11. Steve Pero

    Great post and good for you to recognize this while still young ;-)
    Coming from a 60+ runner who's been competitively for 40 years (mid 16's 5K to a sub 20 100), I came to terms with the lack of recovery at age 60. One book that turned me around, but that I won't get into is Scott Jurek's "Eat & Run" (yes, I gave up meat for good in 2012).
    Another article that really turned things around for me is below. I am now a regular every other day runner and I think it's working! I'm entered in a mix of races from 5K to a 71 miler to keep things fun this year.
    Good luck! Here's the article that changed my running for good.

  12. RunningStupid

    I can only imagine how tough this decision was, AJW!! It's great that you are taking care of yourself and keeping an eye on being able to run in the future! While we may not see you on the course, I know that you'll still be a huge part of the community you love! Heck, something tells me that we'll be seeing much more of you since you're not racing!! ;) Please keep the Tap Room going regularly! You have a ton of experience to share and you're in a great position to offer a unique perspective from the sidelines this season!

    All Day!

  13. JHoltTrail100s

    I'm 48, and while I was never close to your caliber of ultra runner, I did my share. For me, it was my heart (afib episodes) that decided for me that it was time to pull back on things. These days it's 6-8 miles a day on varied terrain at an easy pace that keeps me good. It's a tough reality, having once been a 75+ mpw guy who liked to run fast. I'm content, though. I guess I have to be. Anyhow, good luck with it all, you'll work it out.—John Holt

  14. @grimatongueworm

    As a 48 year old runner (full time job, son in college, disabled wife) who logged just over 1600 miles last year, your decision resonates clearly with me. For me, I think 2014 was the year that chasing ever-faster time goals became secondary to just the sheer enjoyment of running in the woods. The only time I got hurt in 2014 was at the finish of a road 10K. I won my age group, but ended up with a knee issue that nagged me off and on the rest of the year. Yeah, I got a plaque, but I soon realized that I get much more enjoyment out of an easy 15-20 miles on the A.T.

  15. ncrrunner

    Yoga. I do 4 classes a week; a mix of Hatha, Yin and Power. I can touch my toes and still put in 50 miles/week of running. The best part is that it's family friendly so doesn't take away from time with my wife.

  16. Raiderxc

    I'm now 52, and started doing ultras at age 50, while still mixing in track, road and cross country. I run now purely for the fact that I enjoy it. Still very competitive, yes, and I love the fact that I can still break a 5-minute mile, or run a 50k if I desire. The key to remaining competitive is two key things, both of which you have covered. First, listen to your body. Know when you need that long break from the seriousness of the sport, whether for physical reasons or purely emotional or psychological. We pour ourselves into this sport just as some pour themselves into a career, and burnout can come along at any time.. Second, stay strong. Even during your break. Keep your core strength. Most lower limb injuries are due to a weakness in the core area, and this is something I struggle with daily. I get injured almost yearly, and generally, it happens when I haven't paid attention to my core in a while, usually at the end of a season, or even when I've stretched a season a bit too long. Another good thing to do is find another aspect of running to love. Run some Masters track, get your speed back. Get back to your roots for a while. You'll be yearning for the trails and mountains again before you know it.

  17. annettebednosky

    I get it, I really do. I didn't run from July 2012 until November 2013. See:

    From 2003-mid 2012 I'd run more than 80 ultra's and dozens of shorter trail races and halfs and marathons. I had to stop running to deal with a nervous system condition and was so depressed and lost at first. I felt like I was lost and abandoned and missing out and would never catch up.

    What helped me stay sane, instead of just surviving and holding my breath until I was healed was:

    -Getting involved with another fun, positive community (for me it was community theatre)
    -Using money that I would have spent on registration and travel to "better myself"(I started working with a personal trainer and took an online class).
    -Step away from racing mentally as well as physically for a little while. ( I took a break from reading about ultras and race results, etc)
    And do all physical therapy assigned.

    I do hope you'll keep this column going-would love for you to share what is sure to be a rich, though tough journey of self-discovery. I wish you all the best:)

  18. sdjackie

    Sorry to hear that you stretched yourself a little too far. The body and mind are amazing and strong but must work together. The ego needs to be ignored sometimes. Yoga has been very helpful for me, I try to go at least once a week. Weight lifting, core work, enough sleep, and the correct shoes are key items that I include in my training as well. Best of luck to you!

  19. @williamgread1

    I can relate to what you are going through. I am 57 years old and have run regularly for 42 years and with the exception of sprained ankles have been injury free until recently. Just shy of my 53rd birthday I started doing calisthenics training pushups at first. At this time I was running about 40 miles a week and I was starting to feel a bit of discomfort in my Achilles tendon but it did not interfere with my running per se. As I began to to spend more time on calisthenics I was running less about 10 miles a week and that was to get to the school where I could do my pullups and rope climbs. I gained about 15 lbs mostly in the upper body I think but the Achilles thing stayed the same. Although I am not an ultra runner, I like to follow it and decided to signup for a trail race last summer. I started to train for it which meant running in the mountains and some track workouts to get some speed. Back. My weekly mileage increased to 25 miles and much of it run at 7-8 m/mile. I also maintained my calisthenics training. My Achilles pain really flared up and now running became painful and unfomfortable for me. My trail race was cancelled and I stop running hard and the pain subsided. I had insertional Achilles tendonitis. At the end of the day I think age is catching up with me. I have since found out that as long as I keep the pace slower than 9 m/mi I can run pain free. I can also do a one-off hard effort without a problem but that is today, it might not be five years from now. I think what you may need to do is to find that effort/volume threshold and try to stay well shy of that and you will probably be able to run efficiently for many years to come. On a positive note, all this calisthenics training has enabled me to learn a new skill called a muscleup and all my running friends want to do it now. So even at 57 years old I can still learn a new trick.

  20. debbielivingston

    I have come to realize (after 16 years of ultra running) that we can't be "on" all the time. A body cannot keep pounding out the ultras year after year without substantial time off (especially as we get older). Yes, we may cycle a month or two off every year but a whole year off can work wonders for your longevity in the sport. It also gives you permission to try something new or focus on something you always wanted to put more time into such as rock climbing, snowboarding or learning an instrument. Get some big family trips in too!

  21. tellick

    AJW, I hope you'll be reporting here more than "from time to time": 1) because I really enjoy reading your columns, and 2) because your posts give rise to interesting discussions and anecdotes from our virtual running community. For a neophyte who only began running ultras less than two years ago, you've been an inspiration!

    1. ajoneswilkins

      tellick, the column will continue every Friday for the foreseeable future. By "reporting back from time to time" I mean I will give everyone updates on how my year is progressing.

  22. @RustyLikesToRun

    I am pretty new to this community and have thoroughly enjoyed reading your articles, I wish you the best in your recovery period. What sort of advice could you give to a young runner (I'm 24 years old) that you wish you knew at my age? Best of luck!

  23. @ultrarunnergirl

    Glad to see you addressing this topic. We all know the light-hearted jabs we trade about running too much, but the effects are no joke. Through the little injuries I've endured over the years, I've learned to appreciate slowing down, stopping at those wineries near my favorite running trails, the pleasures of an easy hike and catching up with friends you wouldn't normally see very often.

  24. Andy

    Well, here we are a week later, on Friday morning, and there's no AJW column. We 50+ year olds are creatures of habit, you know, not just with running but with our weekly reads, too.

    As kids, the only way we survived the portions of the season when the show stopped was … re-runs! Bryon/Meghan — maybe some re-runs (no pun intended), or "best of AJW," here on Friday mornings? Otherwise I'm gonna have to switch to UHF …

      1. Andy

        Wow. No need for re-runs! Just gotta go to the source, I guess. Thanks Andy.

        And all the best for the coming year and beyond. The "race to recover" is way longer than any ultra; it's a lifelong journey. Pace yourself and enjoy the trip!

        1. Meghan Hicks

          Andy and AJW,

          I’m not sure why a couple folks weren’t able to see AJW’s article this week on some devices/browsers. Everything was fine on our back end, and hopefully it’s all cleared up on your ends as well. Browswers reloaded and go! ;)

Post Your Thoughts