Having been appointed as the International Ambassador for the Comrades Ultra Marathon and also an official pacer for the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon has brought me a certain amount of recognition amongst my fellow runners. Writing a motivational book, Dare to Run, also brought on some added notoriety.
The consequence of all this is that friends come up to me and ask for training advice. Friendly advice is easy to give but can have dangerous consequences especially when given by a runner of my limited ability and knowledge. Most of the time my sole aim while running is to finish the race without dying in the process.
I remember that a few years ago after having missed a long training run for Comrades, I was in a state of panic and so decided to seek advice from none other than Bruce Fordyce, the nine-time Champion of the Comrades ultra marathon (I had not even met him at that point but knew him only from our e-mail exchanges).
Bruce Fordyce is one of the nicest men on earth. Bruce offered the best advice he could give in view of his total lack of any real personal knowledge of my physical, emotional and socio-economic background. All he wanted to do was to help and he did that with the best intentions in his heart.
Later when I read about his training routines in his book, I realized that he lives and trains on a different planet. His natural ability and capacity to train is so different from mine and his commitment to train hard and win the race is so different that I realized that besides the love for running, we share nothing in common. And I wondered how difficult it must be for a man of his ability to give advice to a man of my ability! Our frames of reference are so totally different. Of course, a man of his experience has a fantastic amount of wisdom and one has to be simply grateful that he is willing to share it.
Runners love to share and there is lots of advice which is generic in nature which can and should be shared. A lot of the problems which novice runners face are of the generic sort and most of the time other runners have already faced the same problems. Therefore asking your fellow runner is a great, good and easy solution. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. There are also so many fantastic books written for runners of all abilities and those are also a great way to start and help you along the way.
But again, every runner is different and every runner’s body and ability is different. And that makes asking for and receiving specific advice when faced with specific problems a very tricky business.
When one does go to coach or fellow runner to ask for advice one should be sure that one conveys all the relevant personal and physical details, so that the coach or fellow runner can make an informed decision.
A few days ago, as I was working out in the gym, an old acquaintance walked up and said that he was having problems with his left knee while he ran. He said that after about 5 km his left knee starts to pain and he does not know what to do. He said he wanted to increase his distance.
Between sets, I advised the following:
1) Consult a sports physiotherapist
2) Check Shoes
3) Warm up before the run
4) Stretch after the run
5) Do some knee strengthening exercises in the gym
6) Take walk breaks before the pain comes
Between sets, he explained that he had been going to the physiotherapist and he stopped because it did not help, he said that he had tried changing shoes and was doing gym exercises. He said he will now try taking walk breaks.
A week later as he walked up to me, I could see from his smile that he was very happy. He said that he had started taking walk breaks and could now run for about 12 km without left knee pain. He said that the tingling sensation however had not gone from the knee.
“What tingling sensation?” I asked. “Oh, about 5 years ago I had fractured my left knee,” he explained. “The surgeon has installed a metal plate to hold the knee in place and whenever I touch that part of the knee, I get a tingling sensation.”
I almost had a heart attack. I had given this guy some random advice based on my limited knowledge and that was further compromised by his not having told me about a plate in his knee! I had spoken to him about leg curls and leg extensions without knowing that he had a plate in his knee.
If I had known he had a plate in his knee, I would have told him to listen to his body and go to the surgeon and/or the Physiotherapist. I would have then kept my mouth shut.
I felt faint! This advice business is very dangerous.
Sometimes, it’s like two men trying to help each other find a needle in a haystack...in the night...without a torch... and without moonlight...in a 1000 acre field full of hay...moreover both men are blind... and complicating that is the fact that the needle is not even there.
The experience reminded me of a story that I have heard. Once upon a time, two farmers meet on a street. “Hey, Jed,” says one, “I have got a mule, sick with distemper. What did you give yours when it had that?”
“I gave him turpentine,” replies Jed.
A week later, they meet again and the first old farmer shouts, “Hey Jed, I gave my mule some turpentine like you said, it killed him!”
“Funny,” replies Jed, “it killed mine too!”
Both the giver and receiver of advice need to be very mindful!
Caveat emptor, Caveat venditor –Buyer Beware! Seller Beware!