I won the Bolder Boulder 10K in May of 1987 after being virtually certain I wouldn’t even be able to participate in the race until the moment I stood on the starting line.
I had sprained my ankle badly during a training run over two weeks earlier, on May 9th. Not wanting to change my workout schedule, I had done my planned workouts on May 11th (11K on grass in the morning, a hard track workout in the evening) and on May 14th (10K on grass in the morning, a long track workout in the evening.) After the latter workout, I was forced to admit that my ankle was “very bad.”
When I went to the physiotherapy clinic at York University the following day, the trainer shook his head and gave me a grim prognosis; he didn’t think I’d be able to run for weeks. I was pretty upset. The organizers of the Bolder Boulder had already sent me a plane ticket; I was super-fit from my training in Brussels, and greatly looking forward to the trip and the race. When I told the Boulder people about my misfortune, they encouraged me to come anyway, saying they could give me a job on the press truck.
I didn’t even try to run for the next ten days, except for one 2-mile run, during which I noted that my ankle started hurting after five minutes. I arrived in Boulder a couple of days before the race and bought an elasticized ankle support at the drugstore. I decided to start the race on Sunday morning and see what happened.
Once I got into the race, I noticed only a little pain in my ankle and felt great otherwise. Since the race was on pavement, I didn’t have to worry about difficult terrain that could turn my ankle over.
The Bolder Boulder was a race with an exciting competitive twist; in addition to prize money for the top 10 finishers, it offered $100.00 “primes” for the male and female leaders at every mile mark. It was an especially dangerous strategy to go for these primes in Boulder, though, because of the altitude there. Most people ran between 90 seconds and 3 minutes slower than their normal 10K time on the Bolder Boulder course, and starting too fast could backfire in a deadly way.
So, running cautiously with both the altitude and my injured ankle in mind, I held back a little bit for the first two miles. In the third mile, I noticed that Rosa Mota, the pre-race favourite, seemed to be having trouble.
(Mota, one of the top marathoners of the 1980s, won gold both at the Rome World Championships in 1987 and the Seoul Olympic Marathon in 1988.)
In fact, Mota was suffering from severe side stitches or cramps. In the third and fourth miles I passed all the other female competitors, including Mota. The rest of the primes as well as the victory at the finish line were mine! It was the only time I ever beat Mota—not a fair win, but still sweet. My time of 33:59 (about a minute and a half slower than my “average” 10K time that year) compared very favourably to the extremely slow times achieved by most of the elite runners that day. I was over a minute ahead of the second-place finisher. Mota had run around 34:00 to win the race each of the previous three years.
The altitude gave me a violent post-race headache, and my ankle was a bit sore after, but within a few days I was back into my normal running routine. My point in telling this story is that often great races come after an unwelcome period of rest days. Many elite runners train so hard that their bodies will benefit more from rest than anything else. Over a week off running had done me no harm at all, other than the psychological distress of thinking I wouldn’t be able to race.
Careful readers will notice that this week’s Training Log (see below) includes only two running workouts (though they were hard ones!) However, one of those workouts was notable: I set a PB on the 10-mile+ course that Paul and I had been running flat-out, regularly, for over a year. And when did this happen? After eight days without running (other than a very slow 2-mile jog the day before.)
Positive thoughts about rest days
- Your body needs rest days from running not only when you’re injured, but to repair the microscopic muscle damage that occurs during a hard workout. It takes time for your body to refuel your muscles with carbohydrates, too.
- Run with a purpose and rest with a purpose. “Junk miles,” the ones you do obsessively just to reach a certain number in a week or a month, can be very destructive if your body is crying for rest.
- When you’re injured, have confidence in the hard workouts you’ve already put in the bank. Taking a couple of days off when you have the early signs of an injury can prevent that injury from getting worse and forcing you to take weeks or months off.
- Consider making one week in four a regular “easy” week. During your easy week, you can do the same number of running workouts as you normally do, but scale back both your distance and your intensity. It’s hard to do this, but it’s really good for your body. When I followed this pattern in my training, I didn’t like the easy weeks; I felt sluggish, impatient and eager to do more. Yet, invariably, I ran well the week following my easy week. My energy levels and enthusiasm surged and my times dropped.
Olympic Training Log Jan. 9-Jan. 15
January 9, 1988
AM: Bike ride 1 hr including 8 loops around lake. Push quite hard. Later did hard 10½ min burst on bike at track and more riding during Paul’s intervals.
PM: Weights. “Push-endurance” with situps, hyperextensions, side leg-raises. Arms collapsing by 4th set. Foot still improving.
January 10, 1988
PM: Did 2hr10min bike ride including 4 times up and down paved road near Von Karman.
January 11, 1988
AM: Swim 50 lengths 39:38. Pool crowded, googles leaked. Jogged home—feel heel very slightly.
AM-2: Weights—”pull-strength-endurance.” Worked hard 64 min. Added snatch, squats, leg curls & extensions, abdominal exercises.
January 12, 1988
AM: Did 10-mile run at Von Karman with Paul—he gave me 1 min. head start and couldn’t catch me. I ran PB 63:09, Paul 63:06. Felt good—splits fast from start but not straining. Foot hurting a little.
PM: Did bike workout at track. 15 laps, 1 min rest, 20 laps. Breathing quite hard. Did 4 x 100m strides.
January 13, 1988
AM: Swim 50 lengths 38:50. Legs tired from yesterday but felt good.
PM: Weights—”push-strength-endurance” plus situps, leg extension, backward leg push on Universal, hyperextensions. Worked hard 65 min.
January 14, 1988
AM: Started run with Paul, ran with him for 33 min of 10-mile course, ran 4 more min. Pushing very hard especially first 2 miles. Then did 7 x 1000m. Times: 3:32 (up), 3:22 (down), 3:33, 3:24, 3:33, 3:25, 3:33. 1 min rest. Exhausted at end. Felt heel a bit. 11 miles.
PM: Bike workout at track. 32 laps in just under 30 minutes. Short break, then 10 laps as fast as I could go. Felt good.
January 15, 1988
AM: Swim 50 lengths 39:50.
AM-2: Weights—“pull-strength” + leg curl and extension, squats, cleans, situps on mat & Universal, side leg raises. Worked hard 64 min. Heel a bit sore today.
This week: 21 miles running, 4 bike workouts, 4 weight workouts, 3 swim workouts.