Alu Runs a Quarter-Marathon
Updated: May 15, 2020
It was only around 2 years ago that I thought I might never run more than a quarter of a mile straight. I had dealt with enormous amounts of acute and chronic injuries throughout my life, and a few had finally caught up with me and prevented me from running as much as I wanted to.
I never loved cardio, and I especially disliked running, but it did bother me a great deal to physically not be able to run as much as I desired. By the time the treadmill read ‘0.25’, my right ankle always seemed to get so tight and painful that I’d be forced to disembark, long before I felt that it was any sort of cardio workout. A few years prior, it was my right knee and hip that didn’t feel right when I ran. I had hiked a few miles up a mountain and then back down the next day with a heavy ruck, and I clearly did not warm up enough before the climb (I didn’t warm up at all, actually). As for the ankle, it was likely the remnant of a major injury I sustained in around 2016. In short, I rolled my ankle as I was taking off with one foot on a layup while shooting around with a basketball alone, tearing at least two of my three lateral ankle ligaments. It healed pretty well, but the vert jumps on asphalt (I was also training to dunk) and the running still gave me some issues in 2018 and 2019.
I made a conscious decision to give my right ankle the full ‘Axel-Rehab’ treatment. I am obviously not an orthopedist nor am I a physical therapist, but I had a decent plan and I figured that I would learn as I went along with the process.
Firstly, I increased the length of my warm-up, especially for my ankles. It was already fairly extensive, but I made sure that before I ran, I was 100% warm and could do anything in the world with my ankle, from gymnastics to powerlifting to vert jumps. I also did some stretching/theraband work. If you have any sort of resistance band, it’s pretty simple to create resistance in every direction for each ankle, and then do a few sets of each workout.
Before, during, and after workouts, the key is to increase perfusion (blood flow) to the injured body part. I think that this is the most underrated part of the rehab process by so many people. I do not believe that ice has any place in this world other than for pain control and for swelling control in potential compartments syndrome (massive injury/swelling within a given muscle group, generally seen only with high-speed car crashes or other major trauma cases). I am not an expert on cryotherapy, so I will not comment on that form of cold therapy. In general, I go with heat nearly 100% of the time.
When rehabilitating from an injury or soreness, massage/stim may be a good idea, too. I like it, and I think that it may help.
As I was doing this rehab, I was increasing the distance I’d run on the treadmill by around a quarter-mile per week. Before I knew it, I was running a mile. I began to gain confidence and focused on running faster and longer. Throughout 2019, I increased my length and pace of running. I was exhilarated to finally be running like so many other athletes had been able to do while I sat on the sidelines for years. I was glad to see that my right knee and hip felt fine, too. Finally, I was getting off the treadmill when I couldn’t breathe instead of being forced to get off due to ankle pain!
However, I am human, and laziness and excuses threw me off countless times. In February, I began training at a proper boxing gym, and that has been a huge motivator. It’s simple: When I spar, I hate getting beat up in the third round due to being too tired to fight properly. My coach mentioned that my cardio needs to improve one night after sparring, and I was grateful for the kick in the ass that provided. I ran 4 miles the next time I was at the gym, which was the longest single run I’ve had in my life. I stretched that to 5 miles in just under an hour at my very next workout. And then the gyms were locked down by order of state law due to COVID-19. That zapped my motivation to run and killed my progress. I had a procedure, and it involved being inside of a gym, warming up, hitting the bag, maybe lifting a bit, and then running. I did not want to run outside. I would have to warm up in my house, it was around 40 degrees outside (remember how much I love heat and hate the cold?) and running on cement is much more stressful on joints. The boxing gym was also closed indefinitely, meaning no sparring or boxing training for me anytime soon.
How could I possibly get motivated?
I’ll be honest; those cliche motivational videos of Dwayne Johnson happily describing his 4AM workouts and Joe Rogan talking about hard work leading to success worked wonders for me. I warmed up, ran 3 miles outside, and then let Kate kick my ass with some mittwork, sparring, and abs. My next workout stretched out to around 4 miles of running. Last week, I ran 5.2 miles outside in around an hour. I was able to run mostly on mud or grass, and only used cement when there were no other options. The cement did place enormous pressure on my joints.
Yesterday, I got back from a 37 hour shift, and I knew that I needed to nap and then work out during the afternoon so I could sleep before my 24 hour shift. I planned to increase the distance from 5.2 to 6.6 miles, which would be a quarter of the distance of a 26.2 mile marathon. I woke up, got some work done (read: procrastinated) and then mapped out a 3.3 mile course. I would run there and back.
I finally got out of the house at around 5PM. I was bundled up decently, but it was cold. Forty to fifty degrees is plenty cold to make my hands feel like ice and my body feel like crap. The cold also made my brain second guess my decision to run. The excuses were flooding in before I even hit a half a mile.
“It’s too cold to run….I’m not doing my joints any good”.
“Let’s turn around and go home….I could do cardio inside if I really focus”
“I’m never going to make it to 6.6 miles….my quads are already feeling it!
“My left Achilles hurts, my calves hurt, my hamstring is tight…”
I fought back against these thoughts by calling them out for what they truly were: Excuses.
I knew that failures find excuses and winners find reasons to work through adversity. I smiled and picked up the pace as I began repeating to myself: “It’s not easy...I don’t like easy. I like hard work!”. I thought about winning boxing matches thanks to my great cardio. Before I knew it, the pains had disappeared and the negative voices were disarmed. I powered through to the halfway mark, stretched a bit, and headed back. The run back home was much easier. I was already totally warmed up, the pains hardly bothered me, I had hit my stride, and I felt faster. I was enjoying running and the blasting metal in my headphones made it even more fun. I think I was falling in love with running! I never understood how people could enjoy such a monotonous and unpleasant hobby - until I became one of those people.
I made it home from the halfway mark in 33:08, which was a half minute faster than my first half. As is customary for a Bayside Commodore football player to announce after a particularly challenging or proud accomplishment, I shouted “Too easy!” when I opened the door and heard Kate ask how my run went.