On Running, Recovery, and India

Have you ever had your identity just pulled out from under your feet?

Like you spent years building yourself up to be someone only to see someone else in the mirror the next morning?

I have. And a running injury was the turning point.

What seemed like a career ending injury has turned out to be a blessing. And I didn’t even know until I came across the world here to India.

By about this time of the year, runners are preparing themselves for a fall marathon. The last two weeks before a marathon becomes a really important time for recovery and rest.

This article will share some essential tips I’ve learned from years of doing marathons and more importantly, from coaching marathoners.

First a little update on my whereabouts: I’m traveling around Asia, currently in McCleodganj, India, the home of the Dalai Lama, and one of the most spiritual places in India. The brand of spirituality around here is Tibetan Buddhism.

The Dharma runs deep here. Saffron clad monks walk mindfully through these streets (that with cows, dogs, spaced out tourists, and lots of Indians hustling to make a living). Monasteries are all over this Dalhousar mountain range.

I’m having a profound and deep spiritual experience. And still recovering from a running injury and a serious case of RUNNER BURNOUT.

Marathoners don’t realize the impact on your body that running for three to five hours causes. Here’s just a sampler:

  • Thousands of foot strikes. So if you’re not landing correctly like I was, wear and serious tear can occur.
  • Massive OXIDATION in your cells. This means you’re creating lots of free radicals that can oxidize and prematurely age your cells.
  • Lots of pollutants coming into your body from the Air especially in a city like Los Angeles or Long Beach.

The fact is, many people don’t continue doing marathons for a long period of their lives. It’s difficult and puts a serious wear on your body.

Yet marathoners just keep on going. We’re generally tough, goal oriented people. We like difficult challenges, it gives us purpose and makes us feel alive. The idea of slowing down and taking a rest is not something that appeals to our characters.

In addition, with good coaches like Steve Mackel of Solerunners, we learn many ways to keep going even though the body is telling us to slow down. Ways like ChiRunning, good nutrition, message, sugary goos, mental training, yoga, and even lots of post run celebrations.

Toss in a good heaping of pride, your inner drive, the competitiveness of your team, the investment of your race, talk about pacing…and you create an inner drive that ignores what your body is telling you, over and over, again, until…

The body forces you to stop. That’s what happened to me. A running injury. I haven’t written about this before on SoCalRunning.com. I kept it my little secret. I was a running coach. My pride refused to let me admit that my own coaching advice had led me to an injury.

It was a double blow, to my identity and to my body. But now with some distance between that coaching life of mine and where I am right now, I feel I can be very honest with you.

Enough about me. Let’s get down to business. This article is about you. And how you can avoid the same mistakes I made so you can prepare and run your marathon taking the best care of your body.

Here’s some things that will help your recovery in the weeks leading up to your marathon and beyond:

1. Get lots of Rest. Eight hours of sleep (or more) is essential. Cut out the caffeine. Drink herbal teas. Cut off the TV and computers early in the evening. Take days off running after a long run. Don’t run if possible the week before your marathon. And seriously consider taking some time off running after you finish your marathon. Even professional athletes don’t train year round. Don’t push yourself on every run. Learn to take it easy. For me, burning the candle at both ends and not taking at least one six month break from marathoning in five years really put a toll on body that lead to an injury. Getting lots of rest and recovery will make you a faster runner in the long run.

2. Get SuperNutrition. Your regular diet is just not enough to compensate for the demands of marathon training. Runners seem to think a long run is just an excuse to pig out on the weekends, booze hard, and eat what they want to eat. Then they think that loading up on a bunch of carbs the week before the race will get them ready. When Steve and I interviewed Luanne Pennesi and Gary Null a year ago, it was a rude awakening on the nutritional needs of an athlete. And if you’re training for a marathon, YOU’RE AN ATHLETE. You need lots of antioxidants, supplements, juices, and proper rest. If you want to learn more then consider purchasing the interview series called Optimum Performance Athlete.

3. Slow Down. The way I see it. There’s two main ways you can run your marathon. One is to go out there and hammer it for a certain pace, shooting for Personal Record (PR). I’ve done this a bunch. But it takes serious training at that pace. In other words, you need to be close to that pace during all your long runs. Most marathoners way overestimate what they can do on race day (especially as they get fitter and fitter). So if you’re getting super nutrition, lots of rest, and doing long pace runs, great! Go for it! But if not, I simply recommend slowing down on race day, and making your race a CELEBRATION. In other words, make your race into a party. Slow down, interact with the runners and the crowds, and enjoy yourself. Even better, try to help some runners out on the course with good jokes or good Steve Mackel advice. The most enjoyable marathons I’ve run were the ones where I said, “Screw the time, I’m having a good time!””

4. Get Professional Care early. For about a year, I knew something was wrong with my left foot and ankle. It really bothered me during trail runs and long runs. I hoped it would just go away. It didn’t. It just got worse. I didn’t even think of seeing a doctor. Why? I had a long training run to do, or some race, or a track workout. Anything but to face the reality of what was occuring in my body. And all this running on a minor injury, finally caused a MAJOR INJURY. Finally, I saw a podiatrist, good chiropractor, and then a physical therapist. Between all of them, I pieced together a pretty good picture of what happened to my foot. And more importantly, how to treat it. If you’re in pain, you must stop what you’re doing, and go get some professional care and advice.

Hopefully some of my experiences can help you in the weeks and years ahead as a runner.

It’s very typical in Western societies to overwork, under rest, eat poorly, and then just tough it out. Thinking that this hard work will all pay off. It does, sometimes. But the cost can be high for our lives and the health of our bodies.

There is a different way. Get rest, learn proper nutrition, slow down, and listen to your body.

And if you do get an injury. Maybe it is a signal to take a little time off running. Reassess your life. Try something new. That’s what happened to me. I realized I had accomplished almost all my running goals. So it was time to pursue some other lifetime goals, like seeing more of Asia, particularly the Himalayas.

Which is where I am now.

I still run. My running is much slower and more deliberate now. I run a couple times a week here in India, do lots of rehab for my foot. But more than anything, I’m learning to slow down in all areas of my life and live much more in the moment.

The fast lane is only one lane of the freeway.

God Bless,



One Response to “On Running, Recovery, and India”

  1. Sherry Asa on October 10th, 2010

    Thanks for the advice on running the marathon, Gary. I look forward to the marathon and will be taking my time. At this point setting a record is not my main goal, but to have fun and finish healthy is all I want! It’s really nice to be part of the Sole Runners and see them running on the same course. Your trip sounds amazing. Take care, Sherry Asa