The ever evolving runner: RT Journal by Stephen Dinneen: Top read returned

When I decided in 2009 to persist with running after major surgery at the age of 30, I knew my lifestyle needed to change. If I was to achieve my goals, there were certain sacrifices I would have to make and I would need the help of others to make these changes. It was at this time that sat down and wrote out a list of what needed to occur for my journey to continue on down the right path and be successful.

Mentally I was in the right place. I wanted to run, my previous 3 years had shown I was 100% committed. No longer did I want to be side tracked from my running by playing football or cricket. Travel and socialising would now have to fit into my running program and not the other way around. Running was my major priority because I wanted it to be.

The first challenge was to find the right coach, and my previous coach Keith had been terrific. He had taught me so much about running, training, what my body responded well to and what it did not. Keith was instrumental in helping figure out what I needed from a coach. Due to his health issues at the time, he was not able to continue coaching while he focused on getting his own health back on track. Thankfully he is well down that path. There are lots of good running coaches in Australia and finding the right coach for me was not as simple as picking someone out from a list. I needed a coach who not only understood running, but also could help me find what would work for me and adapt with me around my particular situation.

I had been running for 3 years seriously before my surgery and had learnt a lot through trial and error, and persistence, what did and did not work for me. How much I could push my body and the type of work it could handle and respond well too. So I had a good idea what I would need to do to get the most out of myself and be the best that I could be. I didn’t have all the answers, but I had a rough idea and knew from this my coach would need to be on a similar page with my training and racing. I wanted a coach who would help set my programs and be available to watch my key weekly training sessions. Keith had coached me via the internet and phone calls as I lived in Melbourne and he was in Bendigo. Most of my sessions were done solo and I think in the 2 years Keith had coached me, he had probably seen me train and race maybe 10 times. Not ideal, but somehow we had made it work well. I will be the first to admit that when it comes to self-management – like knowing when to back off – I don’t always get it right, so having someone to intervene and take a controlling hand when required was going to make a difference that would be good for me.

Fortune was on my side when I came across Patrick Ashkettle who is now my coach. I was on a walk one afternoon just weeks before my surgery was booked in when I bumped into Patrick in the car park of a local athletics track. I had met him before and even referred Matt Coloe to him for a chat when Matt was looking for a new direction in his running. He has been coaching Matt since that time. After chatting again, about running, training methods, my personal goals, some interests outside of running, I discovered Patrick knew and ran with Keith back in New Zealand, I knew I had found my coach. Fast forward 8-10 months, my surgery had gone to plan, my body had healed and I had returned to jogging. I had my coach and was ready to continue on with my running journey. Once we got to work it was a gradual process and Patrick outlined a plan that wasn’t about the next few weeks or months but about the next 3 years. So I needed to be a little more patient, make changes to a number of things outside of training and rebuild a strong aerobic base through an uninterrupted period of consistent training.

A key element in my running since 2009 has been the ability to establish a consistent and solid routine. Osteopathic work has been tough on my running at times as it involves being on my feet 5-6 days a week doing a physical job with a large patient list. This often meant I didn’t get the recovery that my body needed and was well apart from that of the elite runners I was trying to compete with who either did not work, worked part time, studied and/or had a desk job. At the start of 2013 I stopped working on Saturdays in order to get more recovery and changed my start and finish hours during the week so I could take a longer break during the day. It meant that I could run on my preferred trails rather than the Melbourne streets on dark, cold and wet winter nights. It also meant that I could relax in the mornings before Saturday races and not find myself racing straight from work to make the start line struggling to get in a suitable warm up. Working less hours obviously has financial consequences but it doesn’t leave me wondering “what if?” In January 2014 I will line up for my debut marathon and I know if I had not made these changes this couldn’t happen, or at least I couldn’t be so confident about the way I am preparing for this challenge.

Training with Patrick has also given me with the opportunity to be a part of a great training group which is continuing to grow and develop. The number one rule for our group when getting new athletes is no idiots. Quality people first, the athletes ability and development come after that. Our group varies in age, ability, middle to long distance, guys and girls, new to experienced. But what each of us have in common is a mind set to work together and support everyone to do better. We have a lot of fun but Patrick has a catch cry about focus and discipline so there is a shared sense to train hard, stay committed, follow direction, give it our all on race day, and encourage each other at all times. We also bring a smile to sessions, have a laugh, celebrate each other’s success, support their failures and remember there is more to life than winning or even running for that matter. Though it’s very nice to win occasionally, personal bests and sometimes get your flight cost back in prize money!

My training group has been terrific and has helped make what can be a very individual and isolated sport into a great team activity. We have the same team environment at my club, Box Hill Athletics Club, and amongst my social running friends who I jog with on recovery days. No wonder I love to run and have been able to do it consistently!

Injury prevention has been a key area in my overall success and consistency. I was very confident that I would be able to manage my body to stay injury free with my background as an osteopath and personal trainer. I knew with the right training, preventative treatment and adequate recover that my body could stand up to the demands of elite level running. Testament to this is that I have only missed 5 days of running in the past 3 years from a soft tissue injury and a handful of days due to illness in the Melbourne winter months over that same 3 year period. The key has been more attention to preventive strategies. I have had on average one osteopathic maintenance treatment monthly, a weekly massage and intermittent self-treatments using dry needling, heat packs or ice pools after big sessions or races. Having an osteopath and masseur who understands running and the effects training and racing has on the body has also been a great aid in getting my body injury free. Other areas that have been important in my injury prevention and recovery has been sleep, diet and general rest. I now get at least 8 hours sleep most nights and love the opportunity to get a nana nap in during the day if possible. I’m continuing to work on and improve my diet as I find the right blend for my individual needs. Maybe in a later blog I might talk a little bit more about diet for athletes to help with training, recovery and racing. Diet plays a greater role and becomes more important as you get out to the longer distances and with a marathon on the horizon I’m giving it more attention. As for general rest, I am one of those people who typically tries to do a million things in one day. If I am not doing something, I am getting ready to do something! With my work, running, social life, helping out family and friends, hanging out with my partner Mel and then everything else in life. I rarely stop to let my body and mind rest, relax and recover – until its well past the time to do so. My partner Mel and coach Patrick have been very good at getting me to slowdown, relax and sometimes just do nothing. I now sit on the couch after a training session or big day at work and put my feet up to watch a dvd or listen to music. This is not a natural thing for me as I could not sit still for longer than 5 minutes. But I have learnt that I need to do this so I can recover and now see this as part of my training. Further, just after the mid-year I installed an altitude tent in our bedroom, the benefits of which I believe are still weeks and months away.

The past 4 months has seen me focus more on developing my core strength to help with my running. Since taking up running at a serious level I have avoided gym workouts and upper body weight exercises because I tend to bulk up too easily for a distance runner who needs a good power to weigh ratio. No help carrying extra kilograms. I have lost 12-13km of muscle since my football days and found if I did a couple of light body weigh sessions a week would put on at least 1-2 kilograms of muscle on in a month. But in avoiding the gym, I also dropped off on the important core work which helps maintain my posture and technique while running. So I am back address that.

My running journey over the past 3 years has been forever evolving as I look for areas for further improvement in the way I do things in order to get the best out of myself. The next phase of my journey has me focusing and looking forward to my debut marathon in January 2014. The remainder of 2013, 2014 and into 2015 will see me continue on working hard on improving my personal bests from 5,000m on track to the marathon. There is no doubt that I will still be making slight adjustments to my training, recovery, diet, cross training and lifestyle in order to get the best out of my body as I continue to learn.

If you would like to follow my journey to my debut marathon in January, you can follow me on Twitter @stevedinneen or on my Facebook page ‘Stephen Dinneen – Osteopath, Running Coach, Personal Trainer & Athlete’.