ANGELS PERFORMING BALLET

by David Young 

Angels performing ballet. Unbelievable, I thought. This can’t be real.

I was lying on my side wrapped around a tree like a koala bear looking straight up into the eye of an F-4 tornado. And the debris at the top of thefunnel looked just like angels gracefully performing ballet.

How ironic. Those few seconds in the eye of the tornado may have been the most peaceful seconds of my life. It felt transcendental and sweet. That is, until the back wall of the tornado slammed against me, hurling two-by-fours, trees, and sheet metal at 200 miles per hour. Here I was caught on the trail in the middle of a tornado.

It was Good Friday, and my mind was distracted. A minister for a large church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, a few miles south of Nashville, I was thinking about the Easter program that had required so much preparation over the last several months. I should have been thinking about the Resurrection itself, but I confess that, instead, I was obsessing over the details of the upcoming service. We were hoping for 2,000 people at church, and there were so many things that could go wrong. It had been an exhausting week of preparation, and I just kept going over the program in my head. What I needed, I decided to myself, was a good workout.

I hardly paid attention to the weather reports this Good Friday. The broadcasts since last night had indicated that storms were expected to blow across Middle Tennessee around lunchtime. At around 11:00 that morning a local traffic reporter had warned Nashville to eat lunch early because of approaching storms. A tornado warning had even been issued 60 miles northwest of Nashville. Most people knew to stay off the trails for the next several hours. I should have known too. But I really needed to run, and somehow I convinced myself that the storms were all north of Murfreesboro.

I’ve been a runner all my life, though I rarely run competitively. I mostly run to manage my weight, to relieve stress, and to talk to God. Last fall I had trained for a marathon, but two weeks before the event, I accidentally swallowed a fish bone and ended up spending a week in the hospital with abdominal surgery for an acute abdominal infection. Recovery after that had been slow, and I was down from running 35 to 40 miles per week to running 15 miles or so. I was determined to build back up to a respectable distance.

Today was going to be a good run. In spite of the warnings, the weather felt great: mid 60’s and overcast. My energy level was up. My motivation was high. It was my day off, Easter was approaching, and I was eager to run off some stress. I intended to spend time in prayer, which I do in the form of an inner dialogue with God pretty much every time I run. My prayers sometimes take the form of memorizing Scripture or merely offering thanksgiving. More frequently, however, they take the form of character discussions with God. I talk to God about my weaknesses, and together we develop strategies for helping me to mature. I often preach to myself as I run, lecturing myself on the need to be stronger, more disciplined, and more like the One I follow.

I drove to my favorite running spot, a paved greenway that meanders four and a half miles along the Stones River in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Stones River is a small river, but it has a big history. It was here that one of the largest battles in the Civil War was fought a century and a half ago. Ninety thousand soldiers slugged it out on New Years Eve 1862 and on New Years Day 1863, as Federal troops continued their slow push towards Chattanooga, and, eventually, Atlanta, Savannah, and the Atlantic Ocean. A hundred yards from where I parked my car on Good Friday the battle had ended on January 2, 1863, as thousands of Confederate troops forded the frigid river and tried to climb the western bank, only to be slaughtered by Federal canon, canister, and grapeshot. Twenty-three thousand soldiers fell fighting for this river.

The modern greenway was opened in the 1990s and is a popular place for the people of Murfreesboro. Any given day you can find people walking their dogs, bicycling, strolling with friends, fishing, or running. When I parked my car and began my run, it was a couple minutes after noon, and there were several others on the trail walking. I had run six miles on the treadmill the day before, so I planned to keep it to a gentle four miles today. I was wearing a headset, a white headband, my favorite running shorts, and a new rain jacket.

The rain jacket was important, because I had just bought it in response to a near disaster that my buddy, Thad, and I had experienced backpacking a couple months before. We are winter backpackers, because we don’t like heat. We had gone up into the Smoky Mountains on a four-day backpacking trip back in February. It rained the whole way up the mountain on the first day. We arrived at camp just as the darkness came and as the temperature dropped to dangerous levels. A windstorm suddenly blew in, and all my raingear failed. By the time Thad managed to build a fire (against all odds), I was slipping into hypothermia in the freezing temperatures. I couldn’t stop shivering, and for ten minutes or so, I hovered as near to panic as I’ve ever been. By the next morning, I was mad at myself for being so ill prepared after years of winter backpacking. I was even angrier with myself for feeling panicked.

When I got home, I decided to buy the best raingear I could afford, but I also decided that, of all people, a minister ought not to panic, regardless of the circumstances. I began to talk to God about trust, and I began to read about others who had survived extreme circumstances. I looked inward and asked myself whether or not I have what it takes to manage an extreme situation. I have the kind of brain that can obsess over such matters (I get that from my dad, and I’ve passed it on, I’m sorry to say, to my son). So, I began to role-play disasters in my head every single day. I began to tell myself, every day for the last couple months, that I will never go down without a fight. I made a commitment to God and to myself that I will stay calm if ever confronted with disaster. I will trust God, act smart, and be a man. For me, this commitment was not an act of strength; it was a confession of weakness.

So, even as I left my car for my four-mile run, I wore my new rain jacket thinking about the severe weather I had endured in the mountains a few months before. As I approached the trail I mumbled something to God about the possibility of rain: let it rain, God. Together, we’re strong. Before the hour was over, the jacket wouldn’t make much difference, but the commitment to be a survivor helped me make just the right moves. Through my commitment to be calm God probably saved my life.

The first two miles of my run were uneventful. I wasn’t in a hurry, so I was clipping along at about six miles per hour. At the end of the second mile, I made a u-turn to begin working my way back to the car. As soon as I turned around, a gentle rain began to fall. I pulled my hood over my head and kept going. Thank you, Lord, I continued in my fixation, for my new rain jacket.

After several minutes, however, the sky began to look ominous, and it began to hail. I kept running, but I noticed that nobody else was anywhere near the greenway. I was on the most popular part of the trail all alone. Being alone gave me an eerie feeling — did everyone else know something that I didn’t know?

The hail continued to fall, but the hailstones were not that large, maybe the size of dimes. I was surprised that it didn’t hurt when the hail hit my body. I can run in this, I thought.

When the lightning started, however, I grew cautious. The first few lightning strikes were a mile or two away (I counted the time between the flash and the sound). Within a minute or two, however, the lightning was right overhead. I was in trouble, and I knew it.

I had been thinking about survival in extreme circumstances every day for two months. Here is my first test, I thought. Lightning may strike near me, but I can beat it if I position myself in the right place. I’m going to get a real test of my new survival skills, I thought. Okay, Lord, let’s test my commitment. I was actually pumped.

The first mile marker on the Stones River Greenway lies directly behind Thompson Lane—a heavily traveled road in Murfreesboro lined with businesses, offices, an auto garage, gas stations, and apartments. The parking lots of two of these businesses, the Greenway Office Building and the Stampede Saloon look down on the trail, which is about 15 feet below, but separated by a jumble of trees and bushes. From the trail to the river is another 10-foot drop off, also separated by a jumble of trees and bushes. If it weren’t for the trees, you could probably throw a rock into the river from the parking lots above.

Across the river is an established neighborhood on a rise of another 20 feet or so. The houses in this neighborhood are some distance from the river, and separated by tall, majestic trees.

When the lightning began to strike overhead, I left the trail and climbed down the bank to within a few feet of the river, crouching beneath some bushes. I was careful to keep my feet together and plant my hands on the ground, so as to create a circuit in the event that lightning struck near me. I was actually feeling pretty smart, and I was confident that the storm would blow over in a couple minutes, leaving me feeling good about my survival instincts. I thanked God for keeping me calm. I remember watching a stream of water trickle down the side of the bank, creating tiny waterfalls over the leaves and mud before finally reaching the river. I remember being proud that my jacket was keeping the water out. No big deal, I thought. I’m going to be fine.

Suddenly, after four or five minutes, the rain and hail stopped. It was odd—the rain didn’t slow down; it just stopped, all of the sudden. After ten minutes of lightning, of rain, of wind and hail, the silence was disturbing. But, hey, I thought, at least the storm was over and I could continue running. I stood up to climb back onto the trail.

When I stood up, however, something didn’t seem right. To this moment I cannot say what I felt, but I knew in my gut that something was wrong. I don’t remember if the wind was blowing, and I don’t remember much of what the sky looked like. Actually, I couldn’t see much of the sky. I could see the trail, which was about eye level, and I could see the wooded slope leading up to the parking lots, but I couldn’t see the horizon beyond that. In the distance I heard a low rumble.

The L&N railroad runs pretty close to the greenway at mile one, but my gut told me that the rumble I heard was not a train. It sounded like a train … I mean just like a train, but somehow I knew that it wasn’t. So I stood there for a minute, maybe even more, listening and hoping the rumble wouldn’t get louder. But it did. It got much louder.

At this point, I feel like I should confess that I was terrified, but the truth is that I wasn’t really scared. Events were unfolding too quickly for me to feel much fear. Besides, I had been talking to God for forty minutes about my ability to survive in any circumstance. So, rather than fear, I felt this adrenaline rush and this intense sense of challenge—my survival skills are going to be tested, I thought. This will be good for me. I actually felt some bizarre sense of appreciation that God was going to allow my faith to be tested in an extreme way. I know it sounds crazy, but all I could think of was how I wanted to pay close attention to what happened next so I could learn more about survival to pass on to my church. I was thinking that after I survived, I would be able to share what I learned with others, and maybe help someone else survive. Don’t get me wrong— I was not thinking about glory or fame. Rather, I was thinking that this disaster would give me a great testimony about the power of God as well as giving me lessons on survival that I could share with others. I was thinking that I could write about the story and share it with other backpackers to help them develop survival skills. Ever the preacher, I was thinking that I could use my experience in sermons to encourage Christians to face cancer, loss, or even death with trust.

God will take care of me, I said to myself. I can survive. And I really believed it. I think I nervously giggled at the strangeness of the situation. I never once thought of death.

The rumble was very loud by now, and I heard cars honking, metal screeching, and transformers exploding. Dude, I said jokingly to myself, you’re in a tornado. This is even bigger than Backpacker Magazine. You’re gonna be on Oprah. It sounds flippant now, but at the time, humor was my way of staying in control of my emotions, and it worked. Panic is the number one killer in survival situations. Presence of mind, a sense of purpose, and even humor are often the very elements that determine who will live and who will die in the midst of a disaster. By talking to God, by looking for a lesson to be shared with others, and by kidding myself, I was able to stay calm and to act smart. By the grace of God, staying calm and acting smart probably kept me alive. When I heard the transformers exploding, I had five seconds to decide what to do.

I quickly looked around at the options. Bunches of trees, the river, a small dock built by the park service jutting out into the water. Nothing else. The nearest tree of size was a few feet away. I quickly wrapped my arms around it at the base, laid on the ground, curled my body around the trunk, and looked up to monitor the situation. I asked God to forgive me of my sins, then, mumbled something like “let’s get it on!”

Within two seconds I saw the first pieces of debris flying over me. They were topping the trees above the trail, coming from the direction of the parking lots. I was impressed by how much debris there was and how fast it was traveling. It looked like it had been shot from a canon.

Then I heard the cracking of wood; not a little bit, but the sound of an entire forest being split at once. It is not a sound that you can ever forget—wood from a whole forest violently exploding. If you can imagine ten thousand baseball bats being wildly broken at the same time, you will know what I heard. I checked my grip on the tree, and thought to myself, “Here she is!”

Immediately afterwards, I saw the wall of the tornado top the crest of the slope and slam into me. The sound was amazing, and the power incredible. Everything around me, including the ground, was shaking. I could feel my tree groaning as it was trying to leave the ground. The whole forest heaved. Debris was crashing all around me. Static electricity made my hair stand on end. I saw what appeared to be a house fly right over my head, past the river and off into the wild.

Though I had curled myself around the tree, the tornado picked up my legs and extended my body into the wind. I suppose my adrenaline was working properly, because I never lost grip of the tree, even though my body was now off the ground flapping in the wind like a flag. I never thought I’d lose my grip; I was determined that I would not fail this test. I wanted to make God proud of me. I kept thinking that I needed to document the experience in my mind so I could help others. I never closed my eyes.

The front wall of the tornado was bad, but when it passed, I found myself in the strangest world I’ve ever seen. I was in the eye of the tornado, and I knew it. I dropped back to the ground and instinctively curled around the tree again. A lot of debris was still shooting across the river, firing across my line of sight like meteors. But now I also saw debris spiraling inside the vortex of the tornado. Close to me, it was traveling at lightning speed, racing around and around just like you’d expect.

But farther up, along the inside of the funnel, the debris was moving slowly, gracefully, almost playfully at the top. It wasn’t circling; it was dancing, up and down more than from side to side. I don’t know how far up I could see, but it seemed like miles. A strange light illuminated the inside of the tornado. It was totally surreal. It was peaceful, calm, and, I hate to say it, incredibly happy. I fancied that angels were performing a ballet just for me at the top of heaven’s ladder. So this is what’s inside a tornado, I remember thinking.

It is not possible to describe the feelings you get in the eye of a tornado. There is such a mixture of primal feelings—blood pulsing, mouth drying, eyes focused, heart racing, muscles taut. Everything that has been you, in my case for 48 years, comes down to one infinite point and freezes; your breathing calms and your mind seems to step out of your body and look around in amazement. You notice the smallest details: a leaf blowing past, a small sound, the strange illumination inside the vortex. You watch the inside of the funnel as though you were watching a movie. There’s a strange sense of detachment.

And you feel, at the same time, both all alone and totally immersed in the love of God. I mean that literally. In the eye of the storm, there is no one else, and as far as you can tell, the entire world is now gone. Nothing looks familiar, and you sense that you have already died and gone to heaven. The peace, the beauty, and the overwhelming view up the vortex above all lead you to feel an intimacy with God. I felt loved in the eye, and even now that feeling moves me to tears. It’s like going to heaven and seeing the book of Revelation. It’s like waking up in Alice’s Wonderland, Deep Space, and your mother’s womb all wrapped into one. There is no yesterday, no tomorrow, and no worries. Just peace, calm and incredible beauty. In the eye of the storm, you may not even be you any more.

To be in the eye of the tornado is unforgettable. I want to say to anyone who has lost a loved one to a tornado that, chances are, your loved one died far more peacefully than you think. Inside the storm the love of God is more intense than you can ever, ever, ever imagine. It is calm, peaceful, and overwhelmingly safe. Your loved one died in the loving arms of God, and I guarantee you that they knew it.

Being in the eye makes you thankful to God, and I remember murmuring some words of gratitude, at least in my heart, if not with my mouth. I was thankful for the three seconds—or was it an eternity?—that I spent in the eye of that storm.

Grateful, that is, until the back wall of the tornado hit me. The front of the tornado had been violent, but the back was even worse. Best I can tell, the front of the tornado had picked up trees and broken off large branches. Now the back of the tornado began to drop them all around me. Debris was slamming everywhere. Though I had been in the tornado only 10 seconds or so, it already seemed like a long time. The peaceful feeling quickly dissipated; now I had to ride out the worst. I remember thinking, “almost over; hang on; you’re going to make it!”

Meanwhile, stuff was dropping all around me. Two trees fell on me; I saw the first one coming. I remember thinking it was odd because it fell backwards away from the river. Most of the debris was flying across the river. The trunk was probably 5 or 6 inches in diameter, and it landed on my left leg, just above my ankle (which was curled up behind my bottom). I saw it hit me, but didn’t feel anything. I think I was too pumped. Immediately afterwards, a second tree fell on me from above. I didn’t see this tree coming. When it landed, it was on top of my body, and must have hit my head, since later I would discover a deep gash above my left ear. I didn’t feel any pain.

Then, just as quickly as I saw the tornado come over the rise, I saw it cross the river and leave. The back of it looked almost like a curtain; it was distinct. You could see where it began and where it ended. I remember as it crossed the river water danced upward, like a million little dancing fountains in Las Vegas. I watched the tornado move up the opposite bank into the trees and towards the neighborhood behind the woods. Then it was gone.

For me, the storm was over. I lay there a little while to make sure that there was no residual debris following it. I couldn’t see much because of the trees on top of me, but I just kept thinking, “I survived! I’m a survivor! We did it, God!” I remember giggling and saying thank you to God over and over again.

As soon as I knew the storm was gone for sure, I wanted off the greenway fast. To get off, I had to climb out of the trees that were on top of me. It only took a moment.

But, when my head emerged from the top of the downed trees, I stopped in my tracks. There before me, where only 30 seconds before had been beautiful woods, lay the remains of a nuclear explosion. You’ve heard it before, but until you see the destruction caused by a tornado, there simply are no words to describe the view.

Everything was destroyed. The trees were twisted, mauled, tangled over the ground. Huge sheets of metal were wrapped around many of them. Two by fours with jagged nails were lying everywhere. Entire sections of buildings, roofs, glass, twisted pieces of who-knows-what were everywhere. I gulped and realized that this was serious. Very serious. If anyone else was in this storm, I realized, they were probably dead. From what I could see, I assumed that the entire city of Murfreesboro had been wiped out. My heart sank.

I couldn’t walk on the trail, either to the left or to the right, as the debris was piled ten or fifteen feet high. So I climbed through the debris up the slope towards the parking lots I knew were above me. It took only a few minutes (I was really, really motivated to get off that trail). When my head emerged above the slope, all I could see was devastation. A three-story office building to my left had lost the top floor and half of the second. Directly in front of me a pile of trailers was stacked 20 or 30 feet tall in a twisted, smoking pile of angry destruction. Live wires and cables were everywhere, as were trees, broken telephone poles, and tons of debris.

My first instinct was to run to the office building to check for survivors. I assumed that if anyone had been in the building, they were probably dead. It is hard to describe how bad it looked. As I began to walk, however, I stumbled. I didn’t realize that I had been hurt. My left leg was beat up badly, and the gash on my head was bleeding. I was wearing a white headband, and though I hadn’t seen any blood, it was filling with blood (as well as mud from the storm).

Circling in the parking lot were four immigrant workers. I don’t know why they were there; I assumed that they had been landscaping nearby and ran over to check the same building I wanted to check. When they saw me, their faces grew white. I could tell by the looks on their faces that I must have looked bad, though, again, I didn’t feel any pain. One of them ran towards me, and as I took a step towards him, I fell. I think I was in a mild form of shock, though I never lost my awareness. He picked me up, threw my arm over his shoulder, and carried me towards a couple of pickup trucks that were pulling up at that moment. I asked him his name, but we were both in such shock that I can’t remember if he even answered.

“We’ve got to go to that building and check for survivors.” That’s all I could say as several men gathered in the parking lot. One of them was a rescue squad responder, who was putting on a firefighter’s uniform as quickly as possible. “I’m going in with you,” I yelled out. “No, sir, you are going to the Emergency Room. You are hurt.” We argued for a few seconds, as he continued to put on his uniform. Finally he put his hand on my chest, as if to threaten me, and yelled. “You’re injured and you’re going to the Emergency Room right now. End of story.”

A couple of guys from a landscaping business had pulled up in their truck. Turning to these guys, he asked them if they would take me to the ER. “Of course,” one said. “Get in the back of the truck,” he ordered me. I must still have been pretty disoriented, because I stumbled around trying to figure out what he meant by “back of the truck.” I fell again, though I couldn’t figure out why I kept stumbling.

The truck had a double cab, and they put me in the back seat. As we hurried off towards the local hospital, we turned onto Haynes Drive, a heavily traveled road dissecting one of Murfreesboro’s largest clusters of neighborhoods, including my own. We got a couple miles before we saw debris on Haynes—terrible debris. Trees were down, huge chunks of houses were scattered across the road, telephone poles snapped in two. It looked horrible. Only later would I find out that a beautiful young woman and her nine-week-old baby had just been killed on Haynes Drive only a moment after the tornado had shaken me. Haynes Drive was completely blocked by mounds of wreckage. We had to find another route to the hospital.

We drove around for a few minutes trying to find a way to get through the neighborhood to the other side of town, where the hospital is located. The men who were driving me to the hospital were anxiously trying to call their family members, but most of the cell towers were jammed. We only managed to get a few calls through. Because my wife and kids were, unbeknownst to me, crouching in the back of a grocery store seeking shelter from the same tornado, which they saw from only a few yards away, they were unable to answer their phones. For thirty minutes, we were out of contact, but I wrongly assumed that they were safe far on the other side of town, so I wasn’t worried about them. I only wanted to tell them where I was so they wouldn’t worry about me. Later I found out that they were all praying for me. Incredibly, my thirteen-year-old son, Jonathan, was anxiously pacing the floor of the store while a tornado was directly over his head, praying over and over again that God would save me. What others would call “luck” in my survival, I credit to their prayers.

It took some time, but eventually my new-found friends pulled up to the ER. I opened the door of the truck and fell out again onto the pavement. During the truck ride, my head had begun to hurt a little, but I still couldn’t figure out why I kept stumbling. I remember a handful of emergency personnel at the entrance of the ER; several picked me up and put me into a wheelchair. When they wheeled me in, a lineup of ER staff members stared at me with wide-opened eyes. They had already been told to expect the worst, and I was their first patient.

It wasn’t until they rushed me back to a cubicle and removed my clothing that I realized why everyone looked at me in amazement, as well as why I kept stumbling. My white headband was bright red, soaked in blood. My clothing had blood all over it. Soon the sheets on the hospital bed would have mud and blood on them. The gash in my head was pretty bad; all the way to the skull, and requiring 7 or 8 staples to stop the bleeding. My leg looked awful—bloody, cut up, and quickly swelling to a large size. Oh, I thought, this is why I keep falling.

I had a concussion and my leg was badly bruised, but I knew in my heart that I was okay. I knew that God had saved me; that I had lived through they eye of a tornado, that two months of prayers about trust had been answered in a massive way. Odd, but I felt euphoric; I couldn’t stop laughing. The morphine and the hydrocodone only made me more animated. I joked with the ER staff, who seemed more stressed than I was (they weren’t on morphine). I tried to encourage them to wheel me over to the side and prepare for an onslaught of seriously wounded people, but they were too professional and too kind to do that. Every one of them was super nice to me. Two different women, both named Jennifer, were especially kind to me; I remember thinking that Jennifer was going to be one of my new favorite words. I felt as though we were all in this together. I know I must have talked their heads off. All I could say, over and over again, was “I survived a tornado. Can you believe it? I was in the eye of a tornado. And I survived!”

I went home from the hospital with dear friends, who prepared dinner for me while my family went to see if we still had a house. Incredibly, our house didn’t have a single shred of damage or debris, even though scores of houses all around us were hit by the storm. By eight o’clock I was home with my family. We had no electricity, but we had all survived. God is awesome, we agreed, before saying goodbye to the wildest day of our lives.

The Good Friday tornado was one of the worst storms ever to strike Murfreesboro. To this date, no one is even sure how many tornados touched down in Murfreesboro. Were there two? Even three? The tornado that caught me cut a 23-mile path through Rutherford County, sometimes as wide as half a mile. Experts estimate that the tornado measured four on the Fuchita scale (an “F-4” tornado) when it passed over me; that’s a “Devastating Tornado packing winds between 210 and 260 miles per hour” according to the National Weather Service. Over 800 businesses and homes were damaged by the tornado, scores of them completely destroyed. Fifty-one persons were treated for injuries, some severe. Two precious people lost their lives. I suffered a concussion and a beat up leg. Thirty eight million dollars worth of damage was inflicted on our community.

But Tennesseans have a knack for bouncing back. The very next day, literally hundreds upon hundreds of people roamed the neighborhoods with chainsaws, shovels, food and water, helping neighbors clean up. A hundred-fifty people from my church gathered at 8:00 a.m. and spent the day helping their neighbors. To date, there has not been a single incident of vandalism. Instead, everyone is pulling together to help each other out. Our community has come together. We’re going to be okay.

Easter Sunday, 2009, was one of the prettiest Sundays I’ve ever seen. The weather was cool, the sun was beautiful, and the sky was perfect blue. It was an Easter unlike any other in my life. I had already planned to talk about the Resurrection, but now I had felt it. God raised me on Good Friday.

Our church had 2,307 in attendance, shattering our old attendance record. Across the stage we had over a hundred lilies, looking a lot like angels in front of the empty tomb. And there I was, hobbling onto the platform with my brother ministers, surrounded by the white heralds of spring, proclaiming that, no matter how dark the storm may seem, Christ is risen!

TR contributor DAVID YOUNG lives and runs in Murfreesboro. He would like to warn everyone to pay better attention to weather forecasts, and not to run in tornados. Although he knows there are better ways to train, Young believes that hanging on to trees, while an F-4 is overhead, does offer significant upper body strengthening.

Tornado Aerial Photo

ACHILLES TENDINITIS: WHAT CAN YOU DO?

by Mick Larrabee, PT, MS, SCS, EMT, CSCS

Even 4,000 years ago the Greeks knew a fair bit about the vulnerability of the structure that connects your foot to your leg. Today runners all over the world still feel the pain and vulnerability of Achilles. In fact, Achilles tendonitis is one of the most common running injuries accounting for about 1 in 10 of all running injuries. If left untreated (or improperly treated) this injury can become debilitating to the point where even walking is painful. Worse yet, you may end up on a table in the O.R.

This article will present a leading study that has tried to enhance our understanding of the condition as well as provide us with a few strategies to help prevent and/or rehabilitate the injury so that you can continue to train and have fun with running.

A team of researchers at Wake Forest University (2000) designed an experimental study to examine the causes of Achilles tendonitis (this was unique in that it was one of the first studies to investigate the causes by analyzing two different groups of runners). The purpose was to examine all possible biomechanical factors and activity patterns in runners with persistent Achilles problems and compare the results with similar runners with no injury problems. What did they find?

1. Number of years of running, training pace, and weekly mileage was all greater for the injured running group. This seems pretty logical, but doesn’t help us much if we want to keep running.

2. The first major finding was that the control group (C) showed much greater strength in the ankle dorsiflexors and plantarflexors when compared with the group suffering from chronic Achilles tendinitis (AT).

3. The second big finding had to do with the amount of foot motion between groups. At foot-strike the AT group rear foot is supinated more than the C group. As the body comes up and over the foot the maximum degree of pronation (and the velocity of that motion) is greater for the AT group. This means the AT group not only goes through a greater range of motion but it does so at a much faster rate (which is much harder to control). The consequence of this greater range and speed of pronation is that the Achilles tendon itself incurs a greater force as the foot hits the ground. As the rearfoot everts and the midfoot pronates the Achilles will “bow” or twist. The greater the “bowing” force the greater the strain on the tendon. This significantly increases the risk of exceeding tissue tolerance and injuries are more likely to occur.

DISCUSSION

What does all of this mean? First, you must be careful when trying to interpret the data for application to your particular circumstances. Every person is unique with different anatomical structures and biomechanical properties. In fact a case can be made that trouble at the Achilles can be directly related to poor eccentric control of the gluteus maximus and adductor muscle groups (a topic for another article). That is why general advice and programs must be taken with a grain of salt and one should proceed with caution. However, we do know that stronger muscles of the low leg can lead to a decreased incidence in Achilles tendinitis. Also we have found that those who pronate too much or too rapidly are at a greater risk. So where do we go from here? A great place to start would be to strengthen the surrounding musculature and make sure you are wearing shoes that provide enough stability for your foot type (may require orthotic intervention).

SIMPLE STRATEGY

The focus should be on eccentric strengthening of the gastrocnemius, soleus, and anterior tibialis. The following exercises target these muscle groups in a manner that is functionally related to running:

Ankle to toe walks – Walk with straight knees, using the ankle only. Start by pulling the toes up as far as you can. Softly place the heel on the floor and then actively control the foot as it rolls onto the floor. As your weight rolls forward, actively push up onto your toes and lift your foot. Repeat on the other side and continue walking for 20 steps on each foot for a total of 3 sets.

Heel walks – Walk with straight knees on your heels only. Pull toes up and keep them pulled up for 3 sets of 20 steps on each foot.

Heel drop and calf raise – Stand on two legs, bend your knees slightly, and stand up on your toes. Start by allowing your weight to drop down, letting your heel fall quickly to the floor. Then, just before your heels touch down, control the movement and immediately push back up on to your toes. Perform rapidly and under control for 3 sets of 20. May progress to single leg as tolerable (focus is on pain free control of movement).

One-leg knee bends – Stand on one leg with pelvis level and core muscles tightened. Allow the knee to bend, rolling it forwards over the foot (in line with, but not in front of, the 2nd toe). Then repeat the movement but this time allow the knee to rotate inward slightly as it bends (foot will pronate). Ensure that this movement is controlled. Both movements count together as 1 rep. Perform 3 sets of 10 on each leg.

Dynamic one-leg knee bends – Exactly the same as above exercise, but this time perform the exercise as quickly as you can (with control). The faster movement further challenges your balance and the stability of the hip musculature. Perform 3 sets of 10 on each leg.

Dynamic ankle jogging – Jog with straight knees using the ankles only. This means you must actively and vigorously pull the toes up when the foot is off the ground and rapidly extend the ankle, pushing into the ground during contact. Aim for a ball-of-the-foot contact with this exercise. Perform 3 sets of 20 on each foot. This exercise is not to be performed until your Achilles injury is “healed” and pain-free!

As with any condition, it is always critical to get an individual examination and a biomechanical assessment. With something as complex as Achilles tendonitis, there are no quick fixes or cookbook recipes for success – but, hopefully, the info provided in this article can provide a decent first line of defense.

MICK LARRABEE, PT, MS, SCS, EMT, CSCS IS A BOARD CERTIFIED CLINICAL SPECIALIST IN SPORTS PHYSICAL THERAPY AND A USA TRIATHLON LEVEL 1 COACH. HE CAN BE REACHED AT (865) 806-8911 OR VIA E-MAIL AT mike@optimalperformanceinc.com

 

WISDOM AND EVIL PERSONIFIED

by Chuck Young

As marathon season in Nashville looms into view, many of the local runners make their way to Nashville’s running Mecca, Percy Warner Park.  For those who have never ran the daunting 11.2-mile course, its long, steep inclines and pounding downhills snake their way through some of Nashville’s most breathtaking vistas.

As marathon season in Nashville looms into view, many of the local runners make their way to Nashville’s running Mecca, Percy Warner Park. For those who have never ran the daunting 11.2-mile course, its long, steep inclines and pounding downhills snake their way through some of Nashville’s most breathtaking vistas.

To some runners it may sound like a place to be shunned by the wise, but it is certainly a course to be revered by anyone who has driven it, and at least given thought to running it. At the “Y” recently, I overheard a couple of runners talking about their first jaunt through Percy Warner. The discussion sounded more like the build-up to a marathon than a long weekend run. Indeed, there is something very special about the hills, twists and turns which are appropriately framed by triumphal arches at the end of West Nashville’s Belle Meade Boulevard. It was on this sacred running ground that I was blessed with what I consider to be a peak running experience as I was preparing to run the Country Music Marathon.

On a warm weekend afternoon in March, I left the 11.2 course to more dedicated runners, and I opted for the shorter, less brutal 5.8-mile loop. There are a number of memorable landmarks and interesting sites along the way to Percy Warner’s welcome finish line. One of my favorites is the tall white church steeple that you always see from an overlook at a hairpin turn a couple of miles from the end of the run.

Maybe it’s just me, but it is nice to think that the Almighty might have orchestrated the placement of that steeple in order to inspire weary runners with a sign to “have faith, the end is just around the corner!” I can say this: I don’t think I’m the only one that has uttered a prayer at that particular bend in the road. It went something like this: “Just get me back to my car…please!” Another landmark that I always try not to miss is a site that I affectionately named “Duckhead Limb.” You pass by Duckhead Limb about two and a half miles into the run. The limb, which looks exactly like a duck’s head jutting from the side of a large old tree, is at the crest of a long steep hill, right after a ninety degree turn to the right. “The Duck” has been there for years, and has become like an old friend I see every time I run at the park. There are so many wonderful things to capture the eyes in this great runner’s haven: deer, squirrels, chipmunks, groundhogs, and redtail hawks galore. During my training run that morning, my appreciation of the park’s rich bounties was taken to a whole new level.

I was loping along a couple of miles into the run when I came up on another runner who was also enjoying the awesome weather that day. She and I exchanged friendly hellos as I went by her. Runners who happen upon each other at Percy Warner seem to share the unspoken camaraderie of knowing each other’s pain! I proceeded up the hill and smiled as I passed my ol’ buddy, Duckhead Limb. For some reason, I suddenly glanced up to my left and was surprised at what I saw.

Sitting on a limb about 10 feet off the ground, a huge owl was staring right at me. It was beautiful to behold, and unusual, because most owl sightings are later in the day. I had seen a number of owls at Radnor Lake over the years when I was out taking Sabbath hikes. I had only seen one owl at Percy Warner that I can remember, and it was in flight. That is also a whole other story. Of course, I had to stop and admire the rare siting and wished I had my camera with me. Finally, after I milked the experience for all it was worth, I launched forward to resume my run.

Then I froze solid as I glanced down. Right in front of me, two feet away, was a huge black snake. It was about four feet long, maybe longer. It probably wasn’t poisonous, but the surprise of it was enough to lock me in place for a second that seemed like an eternity. About that time, the woman I passed earlier ran up behind me and came to an abrupt stop when she saw the snake. I silently pointed out the owl in the tree who was now watching us all with great intensity. The woman seemed to appreciate the rare combination of incidents which had unfolded, as much as I did.

So we both just stood there, two strangers sharing a truly bizarre experience on an afternoon run. That it happened at all was special. That it happened so I could share it with someone else, even someone I didn’t know, made it more special. Then, before we took off on our run again, an interesting thought came to mind:

The universal symbol for wisdom is the owl. The universal symbol for evil is the snake. Suddenly, an applicable scripture came to mind that turned the experience into an object lesson I’ll never forget. I shared the thought and scripture with my momentary friend before we went our separate ways:
Job 28:28: Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.

TR contributor CHUCK YOUNG is a Nashville-based runner. He would like it be noted that no reptiles, birds of prey, or runners, were harmed in the production of this article.

EVERYONE POOPS

Everyone poops. It’s just that most people make it to an appropriate receptacle first.

Usually, when nature calls while I am running, my digestive system gives some kind of polite 10-minute warning. If toiletpaper-smallthat is not heeded quickly, it then sounds a more serious 5-minute warning, perhaps with a warning shot being fired off, before going to DEFCON 3, at which point there had better be a toilet within a quarter-mile, because an explosion is imminent.

Four miles into yesterday’s scheduled 9-mile run, and approximately three hours after washing down a breakfast burrito and a plate of hash browns with an iced coffee drink called a Mood Elevator, I felt a deep, seismic shift in my lower gut. But unlike on previous runs, there were no warnings. This was it. Judging by the cold sweat that had descended up on my brow, I figured I had maybe 30 seconds to find somewhere to unload the after-effects of my late lunch at a coffee shop that will – for the sake of its reputation – remain nameless.

I was almost at the end of a recently constructed section of the greenway along the Harpeth River when I realized it was, well, ‘go’ time. About a hundred and fifty yards away was a driving range, which I thought might have a bathroom. And just as I was entertaining the idea of a mad dash for said range, it happened.

Anal leakage. Before today, the term was confined to the side-effects of the over-consumption of non-fat potato chips with the wonder ingredient Olestra. Anal leakage was something that happened to other people, not me. But here it was, in a split second, before I had time to take evasive action, happening. To me. In my shorts. My mood was no longer elevated.

After the first leak, I knew there would be more, and I spotted a drainage tunnel wide enough for me to run in to. As fast as I could move while keeping my sphincter closed, I made for the tunnel, dropped my shorts, and finished what I hard involuntarily started. I glanced to my right to see the black silhouette of what appeared to be a car seat. A moving car seat? Wait! There’s someone on the seat. As he turns my way, I see the light bounce off the eyes of a heavy-set middle-aged bearded man sitting on the seat. He doesn’t say anything, but surely he sees the silhouette of a skinny, shirtless guy taking a dump in what appear to be his home.

I look around me for some paper. To hell with the potential bacterial infection! I need to wipe with something. But the old man’s house is remarkably free of litter and debris. Now even more embarrassed, I get up and leave the tunnel.

My run is going from very bad to worse. Anyway I slice it, I am four miles from my house, and at least 2 miles from the nearest fast-food restaurant, gas station, or other establishment at which I might be able to clean up. So, sticking to my originally planned route, I begin heading back home. Perhaps someone will have dropped some toilet roll along the way. You never know.

I pass a couple of runners along Sawyer Brown Road. Usually I make a concerted effort to make friendly eye contact and wave to my fellow runners, but on this occasion, when they look at me and nod, I act like I don’t even see them. I am too ashamed for human contact, even if it is just a visual acknowledgement. After all, I just took a shit in my shorts.

The smell is bad, but the chafing soon pushes the odor way to the back of my mind. Within three or four minutes, it feels like I am running with sandpaper and broken glass in my shorts. I try to run in a slightly bow-legged fashion in order to reduce the amount of friction in the affected area, but it is no good. My balls, ass, and inner thighs, aside from being coated in poop, are now on fire. What was a blissful early run on a picture-perfect spring evening has turned into a nightmare.

Bellevue, in my experience, has an inordinate amount of litter on its thoroughfares, especially along Highway 70, but in a sick twist of fate, for the next two miles, I cannot find a single piece of paper or cardboard with which to do some much needed cleaning-up.

I decide ‘to hell with it’, I’m going to ‘man-up,’ as much as a grown man who just soiled himself, can ‘man-up’ and just finish up the run. I try to think of a happy place, and picture myself on my couch, feet up, clean underwear, with a cold beer and my favorite sitcom “Two and a Half Men” about to come on. I begin losing focus after about twenty seconds and start wishing I had brought my iPod. Any distraction would, at this point, be worth its weight in gold.

I soldier on, bouncing along Highway 70, legs at 11 o’clock and 1 o’clock, and pass another couple of runners. I muster a forced smile and a ‘hi,’ because the woman is one I see running in my neighborhood quite often, and I don’t want her thinking that faster (than her) runners are snobs. But I give her a wide berth. I don’t want her thinking that faster runners stink either!

After 54 minutes of running (28 minutes of which came after the pooping), my eyes have began watering, and I realize I am dropping F-bombs every couple of painful steps. I cannot take it any longer. I stop running, and begin walking. And it feels sooooo good. I am not so much walking as swaggering, like John Wayne in True Grit. But not because I’m wearing chaps; it’s because I’m chapped.

About ten minutes (and a little over half a mile) later, I enter our subdivision, and started to fantasize about sitting on the bag of frozen peas I keep in our freezer to tend to post-track workout calf soreness.

Just as I turn on to our street, I see my ex walking our dogs. She has stopped to talk to two of our newest neighbors. They moved into the house kitty-corner from us about six weeks ago, but we haven’t formally met yet. She doesn’t see me, but Zola, our 55-pound Siberian Husky does and begins straining at the leash, annoying my wife, who still doesn’t turn to see me. I am in my driveway and just a few feet from sneaking into the house through the open garage door, when Zola pulls at her leash hard enough to make my wife turn and see me.

“Hey! Come over here,” Alisa yells.
“No! You come over here,” I reply.
Slightly embarrassed, she repeats herself “Come over here, Dave. Meet our new neighbors.”
“No. You come over here,” I insist, through clenched teeth.
“Why?”
“Just come over here,” I repeat, trying to stay calm, forcing another smile.

Our new neighbors must think I am rude and that we are a truly odd couple, but there is no way in hell I am going to be introduced to anyone over the age of two when I have no shirt on and have fresh poopy in my shorts.
She comes over, finally, and asks quietly “What’s wrong?”
“Trust me,” I say. “I cannot meet the neighbors right now.”
She catches a wiff of my shorts and then realizes exactly what the problem is.
“Did you poop in your shorts?” she asks, as if it is a regular occurrence.
“Yes. Yes, I did.”
“Okaaaaay then,” she says, with a roll of her eyes, and returns with the dogs to her unfinished neighborly chat.

Meanwhile, I head into the house, go upstairs, clean-up, tend to my wounds, and take the most painful shower of my life. I reflect on my run, and wonder what excuse Alisa offered the neighbors for my refusal to meet them. Dostoyevsky wrote that “suffering is the sole origin of consciousness.” If he was right, between this run, the morning run tomorrow and the slated track workout tomorrow evening, I expect to be truly aware, absolutely in touch with my being. But if the cold beer in my hand and the ice pack on my nuts begin to numb the edges of that consciousness, and a light mist develops at my mind’s periphery, trust me, I won’t complain a bit.

Besides, as one friend noted, it could have been so much worse. Women’s world record holder, Paula Radcliffe, was forced to take a crap on the course of the London Marathon in 2005, in front of thousands of spectators, and milions of TV viewers, and with the clock ticking. At least I had my privacy, except for the homeless dude, and no one was rushing me.

DAVE MILNER IS THE PUBLISHER & EDITOR OF TR. IN 25+ YEARS OF RUNNING, THIS IS THE FIRST TIME THIS HAS HAPPENED, ALTHOUGH HE HAD A CLOSE CALL AT THE 2004 HUNTSVILLE MARATHON.

WHY YASSO 800s ARE OVERRATED

Distance running, on the surface, seems like a simple sport. One puts one foot in front of the other in quick succession for a specific, often pre-determined, distance, and one usually does this, when a piece of waxed, waterproof paper with a number on it is pinned to our chest, as fast as we possibly can. With some training under our belt, we can usually predict how long it will take to cover those pre-determined distances. Run a 5K, and you can probably get a fairly good handle on how long it might take you to cover 10K. Run a 10K and you can probably figure out how long it will take to cover 10 miles.

Marathon running – extending those steps to a distance of 26 miles and 385 yards – brings to the table a myriad of confounding variables, such as caloric intake, changing weather, and, more importantly, the training regimen that preceded the race, and predicting one’s finish time becomes somewhat trickier. So when the writers at Runner’s Worldmagazine tell you that they have discovered a simple track workout that can accurately predict your marathon finish time, you sit up and listen, right?

Show me a marathoner who hasn’t heard of Yasso 800s and I’ll show you one that has had his head in the sand lately. Bart Yasso, a writer at RW, had been using a track workout consisting of ten 800-meter repeats with the recovery jog period equal in length to the time of the hard effort. He discovered, surreptitiously, that if he could run his 2-lap reps in 2 minutes and 50 seconds, working up to 10 reps, he’d be in 2 hours 50 minutes marathon shape, and if he ran 10 of them in 2 minutes and 40 seconds, he’d be in 2 hours and 40 minutes marathon shape. When he told RW senior editor Amby Burfoot about the workout, he was shooting for 2:37. Burfoot, intrigued, crunched the numbers and talked to over 100 runners of widely differing abilities (from a 2:09 marathoner to several well over 4 hours), and as Burfoot reported “darn if the Yasso 800s [as he coined them soon after] didn’t hold up all the way down the line.”

Bart begins his Yasso 800s a couple of months before his goal marathon. The first week he does four. On each subsequent week, he adds one until he reaches 10. The last workout of Yasso 800s, he advises, should be completed two weeks before the marathon.

Wow, the concept sounds great, doesn’t it? Want to run a 3 hour marathon? Train to run 10 x 800 in 3 minutes. Want to run a 4:00 marathon? Train to do the 800s in 4:00. Want to qualify for the Olympic Trials? Do the Yasso 800s in 2:22? What could be more simple than that? Read Runner’s World and you’ll be convinced that Yassos are the key to getting your marathon time goal. Of course, do your long runs, but definitely don’t skip the Yassos because, Burfoot writes, “this is the workout that will get you to the finish on time.”

And in some senses, Yassos seem to have some merit. Take a look at some online training pace calculators, even the the one on runnersworld.com, or have a gander at Daniels’ Running Formula, and you’ll note that a 3:00 marathoner’s suggested VO2max interval pace would be about 2:58/800. A 4:00 marathoner’s suggested VO2max interval pace would be about 3:56/800. That seems quite close, doesn’t it? Well, theoretically, yes.

But, unfortunately, as much as Runner’s World attempts to simplify an activity that has so many variables that can impact it, running – especially marathon running – just isn’t that simple.

There are a number of factors that need to be kept in mind when considering whether to put your stock into Yasso 800s. First, remember which energy systems the workout is stressing most and which energy systems the marathon stresses most. Second, note the differences in those paces. Third, ask yourself this: Is there a better workout you could be doing?

While we’re asking ourselves questions, try these ones:
What energy systems do Yasso 800s stress most? Answer: the VO2max system. What about the marathon? Well, that’s a primarily aerobic event, run at a pace lower than your lactate threshold. So, in effect, with Yasso 800s, one is attempting to determine performance potential at a stamina-oriented event by doing a much more speed-oriented workout. Still with me? If so, you’ll realize that this is not the smartest approach.

The simple fact is that most marathoners these days have not developed their aerobic systems nearly as well as they have developed their speed. You can approach maximization of your speed very quickly, but it takes many years to fully develop your aerobic system. For a good visual of the differences here, just consider the paces. Running 800s in 3:00 means you’re running about 6:00/mile. A 3:00 marathon is a little under 7:00/mile, over 50 seconds per mile slower than the workout. As your times increase, so does the spread. A 4-hour marathoner would be running Yasso 800s over 1:00/mile faster than goal marathon pace. That’s a pretty big difference in paces when trying to predict what you are capable of in one by doing the other.

That difference is very significant because most runners are far better trained for the shorter events, like 5K, than they are for the longer ones. Don’t believe me? How many 18:45 5k runners do you know who can run a 3:00 marathon? At the time of writing this there were 37 over-40 men in the state of Tennessee who had run 18:45 or better for 5K. Number of over-40 guys with a sub-3 hour marathon under their belt? Six. How many 5K runners with a PR of 25 minutes do you know who can run a 4:00 marathon? Probably not many. But those are equivalent performances, if one is equally well trained for both events.

But the truth is that most people are more well trained for the shorter events, and hence Yasso 800s, than they are for the longer events like the marathon. Need more proof? When training for my second marathon, for which I was aiming to crack 2:40, I did several Yasso 800 workouts, but because I was also capable of racing 2:00 for 800 meters at that time, running 2:40 halves was extremely easy for me. Not because I was a well-trained marathoner, necessarily, but because I had good leg speed and efficiency.

But Yassos still make a good workout, right? Of course. Are they the best workout that a marathoner can do? No, definitely not. A marathoner would be better served by doing longer repeats at around the pace of the Yassos, but of distances more like 1200-1600 meters, or longer lactate threshold pace repeats of 1 to 2 miles with short recoveries in between. Doing 800s at times in a training plan is not a bad idea, though. Sometimes, when our motivation is in a dip, 800s are about as much as our attention span can handle without having to reset itself. However, placing too much focus on Yasso 800s is taking time and energy away from workouts that can be far more effective in preparing for the demands of a long event like the marathon.

Moreover, there is a considerable body of evidence that suggest that Yasso 800s aren’t quite as accurate as RW would have you believe. Online über-coach, Greg McMillan, has reported that many people wind up running 5-7 minutes slower than their Yasso times. I know many runners who tried using Yassos to predict their marathon performance, and the typical result was that they fell 10-15 minutes short of what the Yassos predicted, sometimes even more.

So there is a good chance that if you go out at the pace that at which your Yassos predict you could finish the marathon, you will probably be going through the ‘half’ 5 to 10 minutes faster than you should be. That’s not good, since most 26.2-mile experts agree that, for every minute you are too fast at the half-way point in a marathon, you end up losing at least two to five minutes in the second half. Therefore, you could be costing yourself 10 to 50 minutes in the second half and 5 to 40 minutes overall. That adds up to two things: a time much worse than you were capable of and a whole world of hurtin’ on the back thirteen.

Want to avoid that painful second half and a personal worst that everyone will see when the results are posted online? This pearl of wisdom is simple. Don’t use the Yasso 800s (as prescribed by Runner’s World) as your 26.2-mile crystal ball. A better predictor, if you’re looking for one, would be to take your time at a half-marathon about 6-8 weeks before the big day, double it, and 6-10 minutes (depending on what kind of weekly mileage you’re logging in preparation).

Do Yasso 800s make a good workout for someone training for a marathon? In moderation, yes. Are they a fun, entertaining way to incorporate a little excitement and confidence boost into a speed workout? Sure. Do Yasso 800s make a good predictor of marathon performance? No, at least, not to the degree Runner’s World would have you believe. What I have found, in training groups of marathoners ranging in ability from 2:50 to 4:45, and using myself as a guinea pig, is that the better the runner, the less recovery should be allowed between the intervals in order for the Yasso 800s to have any predictive value.

ALTERNATIVES TO YASSO 800s

* Try the 10 x 800m with less recovery between (sub-2:45 marathoners: take 30 secs recovery; 2:45-3:00 marathoners: take 60 secs recovery; 3:00-3:15 marathoners: take 90 secs; 3:15-3:30 marathoners: take 2 minutes secs; 3:30-3:45 marathoners: take 2:30 recovery; 3:45-4:00: take 3:00 recovery).
* Try a ladder workout of 1000-1000-1200-1600-1200-1000-1000 (total of 8000m, same as original Yasso 800s workout) with equal time recoveries.
* Do 8 x 1000m or 5 x 1600m repeats at the Yasso pace, with equal time recoveries.

FIXING YASSO 800s

The main problem with Yasso 800s is that either the recoveries are too long or the repeats too short. With a little fine-tuning – that would make them less gripping copy on RW’s glossy pages – they can make for a great workout, and have greater predictive value.

Yasso 800s, whether Yasso realized it or not, are a VO2 max development workout. That is, they are intended to improve your ability to consume oxygen. Most experts concur that a runner has to be working at a high heart rate for between 3½ to 5 minutes. Then you recover for the same amount of time you just ran, and then you do it again. You can make the repeats shorter, if you also reduce the recoveries.

If you’re doing your 800s in 4:00 or over, then the Yasso 800s are probably okay for you. You’ll be working on your oxygen uptake ability for about the right period of time. But if you’re doing your 800s closer to, or under, 3:00, you should either reduce the recovery period or extend your Yasso 800s to 1000, 1200, or even 1600 meters, at the same pace (as long as the total length of the repeats does not go much over 5 minutes)

DAVE MILNER is the editor and publisher of Tennessee Running, and has run five marathons with a best time of 2:45:23. In his best adapted Yasso workout, he averaged 2:36 for ten 800-meter repeats with 30 seconds recovery.

FROM CIGARETTE DELIVERY BOY TO RUNNING ADDICT

Like most things in life that come to consume you, define you even, it started with a challenge. “I’ll time you,” he’d say. My dad would thrust a couple of pound notes in my hand and sent me off to the corner shop to get him a packet of twentycigarettes Benson & Hedges. They came in gold packets and looked fancy. Sometimes, depending on his mood, or level of nicotine withdrawal, I would get to keep the change, but he would always offer to time me. It was approximately three quarters of a mile to the store. On a good day, I could make it to the store, complete the transaction, and make it back home with the fags (yes, we really call them that over there!) in a bout 11 minutes or so.

It was Southern England. 1981. Sebastian Coe had just set the world mile record, eclipsing the previous mark by fellow Englishman, Steve Ovett. At the Moscow Olympics the previous year, this duo had swept the middle distance events, each winning what was considered the other’s specialty event.

I was ten years of age, skinny as a rake, with tremendous stamina. I never really got tired at the end of soccer games. I didn’t score many goals, but I was always ready for another 90 minutes, and never understood why everyone else was so exhausted.

Cove and Ovett had certainly piqued my interest in running, but I still firmly believed I would be a professional soccer player if I applied myself and grew about four to six inches. My new role as cigarette delivery boy was now putting my boundless energy to a practical use. As a by-product, it also provided, for the first time, some structure and tangible results to my running, which had previously been confined to soccer, self-transportation, and evading beatings – either from my brother, five years my senior, or at the hands of older or bigger schoolboys to whom I had mouthed off.

Shortly before my eleventh birthday I saw a BBC documentary on lung cancer. I supose you could say it really hit home, since, when my birhday approached, and my father asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I told him I wanted him to stop smoking. I could have asked for the new Atari video game system, or a new Sony Walkman, or perhaps a new Leeds United soccer shirt, but I didn’t. I didn’t want my dad to die of lung cancer.

As far as I know, he hasn’t lit up a cigarette since. He quit smoking, but I never quit running. He curbed his addiction with nicotine chewing gum. I fueled mine by joining the local Athletics (track) club.

At my school, I was still at the age where the girls were more developed than the boys. This would have been great if I were actually interested in girls at that age, but my world still revolved around the twin axes of soccer – mine (both ath the school and club levels), and that of Leeds United and whoever had a nice looking strip that season.

The fastest sprinter in my elementary school was my best friend, Robin Elstone. I had been finishing second to him at everything for years. He was the kind of kid to whom everything seemed to come effortlessly. The kind you loved to hate, but hung around with anyway, hoping his excellence would rub off on you. The second fastest sprinter was a girl, Elaine Quinn. My ego could handle being dusted by Robin, but I wasn’t sure it could withstand a whooping at the hand of the fairer sex. So I gravitated toward the 800 meters, at that time the longest track race on offer at school, and then, the following winter, cross-country (usually aorund 2 miles).

I remember my first ever cross-country race. It was the county championships – kind of a big stage for my first competitive outing. It took place across a series of muddy fields whose mud twice sucked off my shoes. I was so far behind the pack that I was convinced I was lost. When I finally finished, my heels were badly bruised from the lack of padding in what I later discovered were sprinting spikes. But I was relieved to see a couple of boys trail in after me.

It wouldn’t be the last time I would finish near the back, but gradually, with hard work and guidance, my finishes in the top half of races began to outnumber my finishes in the bottom half, and I even started to win a few races.

I continued to play soccer and compete in track and cross-country concurrently, but gradually the running began to displace the soccer. Why? Because in soccer I didn’t seem to be rewared fairly for my hard work. It’s not like in stats-obsessed America, Nobody pays attention to ‘assists’ across the pond. Often, only the goal scorers are remembered, and we had, on both my school and club teams, a kid called Luke Coleman. Luke had an uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time. He was a cherry picker of sorts, but timed his goalward advances so as not to be tripped by the opposing defense’s offside trap (for a great explanation of the offside rule, rent the movie ‘Bend It Like Beckham’).

The great thing about running, though, is that it is so objective. The results can’t be disputed. If you cross the line first, you’re the best runner that day. In running, there is no cherry picking.

Your results are pretty much a direct result of the work you put in. If you train intelligently, diligently, and consistently, you are usually rewarded with good results. If you train inconsistently, or don’t listen to your body, you race results usually go south. You won’t just happen to find yourself at the 2-mile marker of a 5K at your goal pace, just as a nice tailwind comes along and the two guys in front of you trip over each other. Things just don’t shake out like that in distance running.

Predictable? Yep. Boring? Perhaps. But I like the fact that there is a direct correlation between my preparation – good or bad – and my competitive performance. I am accountable for my successes or failures, and I like that. Luke Coleman probably wouldn’t like it so much, but I do.

DAVE MILNER is the editor and publisher of TR. Luke Coleman went on to play professional soccer for Bristol Rovers. Dave’s father completed his first half-marathon in 2003 at the age of 69.

LONG RUNS: HOW TO DO THEM THE RIGHT WAY

by Guy Avery

The long run has been a staple of American distance running since Bill Bowerman first brought the concept back from his conversations with legendary New Zealand distance coach and pioneer, Arthur Lydiard. Although popularized by popular running author, Joe Henderson in his early books, the “long run” remains an oft-confused concept by many coaches and runners.

When performed properly, regular long distance runs will pay huge dividends in your training progress and racing performance. The physiologcal benefits of a consistemt period of weekly or bi-weekly (every other week) long, easy run are significant indeed.

When runners (and their coaches) are reminded or made aware of the considerable benefits acquired from longer, aerobic endurance runs, they are apt to re-consider exactly how to perform them for optimal short- and long-term benefits.

PHYSIOLOGICAL BENEFITS OF THE LONG RUN

The scientific literature is loaded with observations of the evidence of the inner, physiological changes that take place with long, aerobic distance runs. These benefits include:

1. A major increase in capillary beds and development of capillary networks in the lungs and leg muscles to better take in and transport oxygen via the bloodstream.
2. A major increase in the number and volume of oxidative enzymes and mitochondria in the muscle cells to better process and utilize oxygen within the cells to make energy.
3. A significant shift toward economically sparing the body’s limited muscle glycogen as fuel, by utilizing a much larger percent of the virtually unlimited free fatty acids for energy, thus providing an ability to increase endurance and stamina.
4. Teaching certain versatile fast-twitch muscle fibers to gain the favorable endurance-oriented characteristics of slow-twitch muscle fibers, enabling them to participate more fully in stamina- and endurance-related tests.
5. Increased tendon, ligament and connective tissue strength, drastically reducing the risk of injury.

Ultimately doing your long runs the right way, will improve your performance at events as short as the 800-meters (half-mile) up to the marathon will increase your ability to take in, transport, process, and utilize oxygen and fuel more efficiently as well as improving the endurance capabilities of your muscle cells, fibers and connective tissues.

How much of these benefits are acquired by any given runner will largely depend on how they perform their long runs, and how well-balanced the rest of their training is with their long run.

GUIDELINES FOR RUNNING YOUR LONG RUNS THE RIGHT WAY

The following is a descriptive list of 10 guidelines about how to perform your long runs for maximum aerobic endurance gains:

1. Start out very, very slow

Start out literally jogging lightly for the first 15-20 minutes so your body’s systems can gradually become accustomed to the task a hand. It’s a long run, so why rush it or ruin it in the beginning and make the run feel any longer than it already is? Give yourself ample time to gently bring all your physiological systems up to gear and to a sustainable state. This allows the body to activate the use of its virtually unlimited supply of free fatty acids, as well as spare limited muscle glycogen stores and significantly lower your risk of injury.

2. Run on a relatively flat and even surface

Major changes in terrain or surface force the body to negotiate additional stresses and even enter an “anaerobic” energy running zone on hilly portions of the run. This will actually detract from the physiological intention of these runs as it will hinder the specific aerobic physiological benefits. It is still a good idea to vary your terrain and surface as much as possible on the whole during each training week in order to strengthen your feet and prevent the repetitive motion syndrome so common with distance runners. However, for the purpose of maximizing aerobic endurance, the more flat and more smooth the aerobic effort, the better results will be garnered.

3. Talk test

The ability to hold a conversation unimpeded by major breathing difficulties, is the best “effort” guideline for maximizing aerobic endurance from these runs. From a pure effort guideline, after that first 15-20 minutes of easing into the run, roughly 55-70% of perceived effort is a good range. From a heart rate standpoint, roughly 65-75% of your maximum heart rate will generally correlate with a 50-75% perceived effort.

4. How fast?

For most runners, from a pace standpoint, the following overlapping, general, pace-per-mile guidelines apply:

  • 30-45 seconds per mile slower than your marathon race pace,
  • 45-75 seconds per mile slower than your half-marathon race pace.
  • 75-90 seconds per mile slower than your 10k pace.
  • 90-120 seconds (1:30 to 2-minutes) slower than your 5k race pace.

Keep in mind, these are rough estimates only — as effort and heart rate guidelines are actually a better indication of whether the primary aerobic endurance energy system is actually being used. Runners vary considerably in the ratio of muscle fiber distribution and in general running economy

5. Minimum length

From a duration standpoint, a long run (in my terminology) is at least 90 minutes (1.5 hours) in duration of continuous running. Research shows that after 105 minutes (1 hour and 45 minutes), an exponential increase in the number and size of oxidative enzymes and mitochondria occurs. In addition, after about 120 minutes (2 hours) of continuous aerobic running, deep, microscopic capillaries begin to increase in size, and ultimately, in oxygen-carrying capacity.

6. Maximum length

Also, a good upper limit for your long run length or duration is twice the length or duration of your average weekly run. For instance, if you run 5 days a week and are running 30 miles total on the other 4 days a week, you are averaging 7.5 miles a run (30 miles divided by 4 running days = 7.5), then 15 miles would be twice your average weekly run, giving you an upper limit of your long run (2 x 7.5 miles = 15 mile long run).

7. How many?

The total number of long runs needed to maximize long run (or aerobic endurance) benefits is 6-10 total long runs. These 6-10 long runs can be performed on a weekly basis or every-other-weekly basis. In other words, 6 longs can be performed in a 6- to 12-week period for maximum benefit; 10 long runs can be performed within a 10- to 20 week time frame.

8. Mixing with ‘Steady State’ or ‘Tempo’ runs

If you are performing at least one weekly ‘steady state’ run (medium-length run at 80-85% effort) or one weekly moderate lactate threshold session (tempo run or “cruise reps”) then a weekly long run, or 3 long runs every 4 weeks with one race weekend every 4 weeks, is preferred. If you are simply laying an aerobic conditioning foundation or “base” period with very little other quality during the week, alternating a weekend long run with a weekend steady-state or marathon goal pace run may serve you better.

9. Be rested

Always go into a long run fairly well-rested and usually within 48-72 hours afterwards (easy recovery running), another intense workout can be performed. Notice, I did not say 2 days but 48-72 hours. For example, a Saturday evening long run would allow you to run another quality workout on Tuesday evening. A Sunday long run might have you wait until Wednesday for your next quality workout.

10. Recovering from long runs

What things facilitate post-long run recovery? First of all, the long run will deplete significant muscle glycogen stores but it does not have to be considered a hard workout if you keep the long run within the various effort, heart rate, pace and course guidelines. However, the depletion of carbohydrate stores is best replaced as immediately as possible with a carbo-protein liquid recovery drink within 15-30 minutes after the run when the muscles are most receptive to repairing themselves and absorbing energy stores. Fruit-yogurt smoothies (since they are easily digested) within an hour or so afterwards can speed the recovery process – as well as ample eating complex carbohydrates the remainder ofthe day – will re-stock muscle glycogen stores and enable much faster and fuller post-Iong run recovery.

SUMMARY

The long run is a cornerstone of better distance running training. If performed correctly, it can have profoundly positive physiological benefits for taking in and utilizing oxygen efficiently at the muscle fiber and cellular levels. It can also create a greater capacity to handle more quality sessions in your training each week.

The most common mistakes are starting too quickly, running too hard (from an effort or pace standpoint) and/or not focusing on immediate recovery measures.

Understanding your weekly long run as one integral piece of an overall balanced training program by using the above-mentioned effort, heart rate, pace, course and recovery guidelines will allow your entire training to stay in a nice overall balance and keep you making continuous progress in your training and racing.

RUNNING AIN’T EASY: DON’T MAKE IT HARDER THAN IT HAS TO BE

by Dave Milner

I freely admit that I’m a fan of humorous bumper stickers and slogan t-shirts. If I didn’t so frequently have a child in tow, I would wear such slogan t-shirts almost every day. Anything to give folks a laugh, or at least make them stop and think for a while.

I once saw a t-shirt that read ‘If running was easy, it would be your mom.’ It’s the kind of tenth grade humor that has – probably as a by-product of coaching high schoolers – grown on me! Whilst I don’t know your mom, and I’m sure she is (or was) a fine upstanding woman with sound morals, I can say, with some authority and assuredness, that running is not easy.

It may be easy to start, to make good on a new year’s resolution, perhaps, or in an effort to win a bet borne out of beer-induced bravado. But sticking at it, progressing, adhering to a well-thought-out training plan; these things are far from easy.

Whilst I am no newbie (2006 marks my 25th year of competitive running), I currently, as I write this, find myself, after my worst year of running to date, essentially restarting from ground zero.

I don’t like not being in shape. I don’t particularly enjoy seeing my friends and cohorts blazing a trail at local races while my running is stuck in neutral gear. But I’ll get back to where I was, and will, all being well, get to where I’ve always wanted to be. But there are some basic tenets to which I must adhere if I am to avoid setting myself up for disappointment, discomfort and distress. And the same principles that apply to me also apply to you, the beginning runner. Think of them as your nine commandments.

1. SET REALISTIC, BUT ATTAINABLE GOALS

Sit down with either a coach, or the fruits of your Google research, and establish short-term, intermediate, and long-term goals for your running. For example, you might want to, by the end of the month, be able to make it all the way from your house to the greenway and back without stopping to walk. Make longer-term, more challenging plans, but don’t focus on the next goal until the current one has been realized. Think Baby Steps!

2. MAKE A PLAN AND PUBLICIZE IT

After establishing your goals, create a training plan an then publicize it. Make yourself accountable. Print out your training schedule and put it on your refrigerator where everyone in the house can see it. You’ll be surprised how supportive your spouse or significant other can be if they are kept in the loop. Or, just committing to meet someone for runs can make it a lot easier to lace up and get out of the door.

3. GET THE RIGHT GEAR

Especially during the winter, having quality running apparel can be the difference between having a blissful hour to yourself in a winter wonderland and a miserable 60-minute slog with you being on the business end of mother nature’s foot!

Getting the right shoes and replacing them on a timely basis will not only reduce your risk of injury, but make your run that much more enjoyable. Go to a specialty running store and get kitted out.

4. EASY RUNS SHOULD BE EASY

The most common mistake I see among beginning (and somewhat experienced) runners that I have coached is that they do the bulk of their running way too fast, with their being little difference between the pace they run their Wednesday post-work 5-miler and the pace at which they try to race a 5K the next Saturday.

Running your aerobic (i.e. with oxygen; that means NOT in oxygen debt) runs at a comfortable pace is key to increasing your mileage without unnecessary injury risk. A good gauge: If you’re too out of breath to chat with your running partner, or accompany whoever is wailing on your iPod, you are running too fast.

5. AVOID HILLS IF YOU’RE TIRED

Much of Tennessee is pretty hilly, and you may be hard pressed to avoid hills where you live. But if you’re dragging somewhat, your Achilles tendon is tight, or maybe your knee doesn’t feel like it is firing on all cylinders, then consider looking for a flatter route, even if that means driving somewhere to run. Hills have their place, and can help you build strength, but when you’re below par, they can just erode the enjoyment you’ll derive from your run.

6. GET A TRAINING PARTNER

Most people are pleasantly surprised at how much more enjoyable and improved their running is when they have company. Training partners may come in both human and canine forms. You may find loyal, supportive companions from both species. Check the web for running clubs or post on the tnrunning.com message board announcing that you’re looking for a training partner.

7. MIX UP YOUR VENUES

Running the same loop, or variations on it, over and over again are unlikely to do much for your pre-run excitement levels. Try to run somewhere new at least once a month, and look for places that have soft running surfaces with good footing.

8. AVOID THE DARK

Whenever possible, run during daylight. Not only is it safer, but you have the option of getting off the asphalt and running on scenic trails that will be kinder to your joints. If, in the winter, you leave for work before daylight and return after the sun has gone down, consider running at lunchtime. If that’s not an option, running right after work (perhaps from the office), or before you leave for work in the morning, is often easier than running after you return home in the evening when your couch is giving you those come-hither eyes.

9. PIN ON A NUMBER

Sometimes, rolling out of bed to log your 6-miler is hard. Rolling out of bed to do your 6-miler with 200 other folks is usually a lot easier. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to go to a race.

Yes, there will be well-chiseled ectomorphs that look like they were genetically hard-wired to getfrom A to B with other-worldly speed. But there will also be folks just like you, and you will outnumver those speedsters by far. Running in a large group is fun. You will feed of each others’ energy and that of the event itself, and you will, doubtless, make new friends (and find potential training partners). You don’t have to race. Consider using your local 5K or 10K as a training run; where you’re not just running with Bob, or Mary, or even Fido, or U2, but 200 other folks who’ve made the same commitment as you.

DAVE MILNER is the editor and publisher of TR and has been running since the age of eleven. A USATF-certified coach, after a successful career coaching at the high school, NCAA Division I and NCAA Division II levels, he currently coaches 20 local distance runners privately. In his first ever race, a 2.5-mile cross-country run in southern England, he was so far behind the leaders, he was convinced that he had taken a wrong turn.