Headwinds are a training blessing in disguise

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I’ve spent a busy April mostly off the grid. I am running the Vancouver Marathon in 8 days. Since muscle damage takes about 14 days to fully repair and quality training’s benefits take about 10 days to manifest in your running, I am done with high volume quality training or any tough workouts. Now it’s about maintaining conditioning and resting up for the marathon.

After getting sick a few weeks ago I had to abbreviate peak training, and I ran a final 17 mile peak run last weekend. The 20 miler I ran in mid-March would be my only one this training cycle, and the 40-45 mile weeks I had that month would be as high as my volume would get.

So, that final long run. Due to weather forecasts and other needs, I had to run it on a Friday right after work. Even though it was the best possible weather of any time I could run that weekend, I had to do most of the run into a stiff 25-30 mph headwind.

In fact, several runs during the previous few weeks featured a stiff crosswind or headwind. The wind would calm late in many of those runs. Despite being tired, running without the wind actually felt easier than running with fresh legs in the wind.

The 17 miler wasn’t much different. The wind was from the north, and much of my run due to location had to go directly north, directly into the wind. Only during the final 3 miles or so did I have wind at my back, and sure enough the wind calmed toward the end of the run.

I run through wind much the same way I do speedwork or run up steep hills… without the emphasis on speed of course. I shorten my stride and focus on turning my legs over, no matter how little lift or distance my push-off gets. I may be moving slow, but it’s a consistent slow. The negative push of the wind almost becomes irrelevant to my effort. I’m not going to move fast, but I can keep moving without herculean strain if I maintain consistent rhythm.

Don’t get me wrong: Keeping upright in stiff wind, let alone moving, takes a lot of effort from muscles that don’t typically work while running. My hamstrings and quads, usually ancillary contributors to the running motion, have to do serious work to maintain my balance while moving forward. Those hamstrings, more than anything else, were my key sore muscles for the next couple days.

This sort of thing is actually a key reason that effective running technique de-emphasizes using those muscles for power (focusing instead on the glutes). Those muscles, like the core, are needed to maintain dynamic balance. If they’re also being used to power your running, they’re doing double work. And then you’re wondering why you keep getting leg injuries or burning out.

By focused my effort through my glutes, I was able to utilize that leg strength to maintain my form and balance throughout the entire windy 17 mile run.

But also, the run’s required effort effectively turned that 17 miler into a strength training workout equivalent to a longer run. In fact, I imagine an actual 20 miler might not have required as much work as running through that stiff wind for 14ish miles did.

A 20 miler may have tapped out my glycogen stores a bit more than this 17 miler. But muscles that typically wouldn’t have worked hard had to work consistently hard for hours during that 17 miler.

In effect, the stiff wind that Friday was a blessing in disguise, just as the other windy days in previous weeks were a blessing. I could not run the high volume that runners need in the endgame of marathon training. But the wind found a way to make up for it, and provide quality endurance-strength training I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten.

Add in the other runs where I fought heavy crosswinds and headwinds and, on top of my aerobic endurance, grooving the habits of good running form, and the base neuromuscular fitness from those long runs… I’ve developed additional strength that will help keep me moving in the final miles (… kilometers; this is a Canadian marathon!) of this next marathon.

Thankfully, the forecast for Vancouver indicates the weather will be much more mild.

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