I used to be a runner. A few years ago I wrecked one of my knees, oddly enough in a bizarre accident that involved neither horses or running. Ever since that accident (and after the 'successful' rehab) my left knee has objected strenuously anytime I've attempted to start running again - interestingly riding does not bother it much. Once or twice a year I would try to get back to running, with the knee screaming in pain. I finally just gave up and had not even tried for a couple of years, and then a couple of months ago I had the urge to try one more time.
Things seem to be working out better this time. I'm seven weeks back into a regular program and so far it is working out and the knee seems relatively happy. I'm sure at this point you are wondering what the heck this has to do with horses? As I run along (actually I should say plod as I'm creeping along at 10 minute miles) I have lots of time to think about the similarities between my re-introduction to work and bringing a horse back into work.
I have made sure I have really focused on my form this time around. I have not allowed myself to run in bad form and constantly have "form, form, form" going through my head as I run along. It is very tempting to allow myself to get sloppy but I've stayed firm. I go only as long as I can with good form and then I stop. It has driven home to me how important correct work is when riding. If we want to give our horses the best chance to stay sound we are wise to encourage them to use themselves as correctly as possible.
I have also done my best to not give in to the temptation to want to go too fast or too far. In other words I'm legging myself up slowly. It really bothers me on some level that I'm actually forced to be happy about being able to do 10 minute miles. I can't even call myself a runner, just a plodder. It takes me 30 minutes to go a whopping three miles. A couple of weeks ago I had one run where I picked up the pace to what I felt I "should" be able to do comfortably. This ended with me sitting on the couch the next three evenings icing my throbbing knee and wondering if I had just stopped this train in its tracks again. I've decided I am like the horse with the chronic suspensory injury. I can do easy trail riding and some low-level flatwork but jumping is out for me at this point. And this is after a couple of years of being turned out!!
I've also realized that I am a lot like my horse Bonnie. When I ride Bonnie I've learned to not ask anything of her for the first 10 minutes or so. I let her walk, trot and canter around the arena on a loose rein, only asking that she stretch her topline some. I realized some time ago that Bonnie needs time to mentally and physically warm up. Some horses come out ready to work from the moment you sit in the saddle. Bonnie is not one of those horses, and I'm not one of those types either. My first half mile is always ugly. I feel unbalanced, I have no rhythm, and I basically feel like I am torturing myself, probably similar to how Bonnie feels about the first few minutes of work (Sky on the other hand feels ready to work from the moment you mount up). After about a half to three quarters of a mile I finally start to hit my stride, and at about the two mile mark I hit my runner's high and feel like I could run on (plod on) forever.
I now have a lot more appreciation for the very conservative rehab schedules that our vets prescribe for our horses after a long layup due to injury. Hopefully my knee will remain happy and I won't have to be turned out again. I keep reminding myself not to overdo things and to take baby steps.
I asked Jason a couple of weeks ago what he thought about me training for a marathon. He looked at me like I was utterly and completely insane. Now part of this is because he thinks anyone with a desire to run 26.2 miles is nuts, but part of it is also the fact that I do have a wrecked knee (or chronic suspensory injury!). I know he's right, if the knee is barely staying happy at 3 miles it should be obvious how it would be feeling after weeks of training to cover 26.2 miles in one run. I revised my question down to a half marathon and his look was still the same. Finally I said what about a 5K, I already cover that distance anyway?? He gave me a nice pat on the head and agreed that running a 5K sounded like a nice plan. I'm continuing on with my three mile runs (plods) and hoping I can manage a few 4 and 5 milers from time to time. I will admit I spent some time looking up marathon training schedules last night . . . my knee feels like it is on fire just sitting here thinking about it but you never know . . .
Rampal and Rocky