by Morgan Windram

[Morgan Windram may be State College’s premier ultramarathoner. She has participated in numerous races across the running spectrum, from the Indoor Mile to 5Ks, marathons, adventure races, and especially ultras, where she has distinguished herself. She has done 100 mile races, 24 hour races, and Tussey. Morgan grabbed the female course record at Tussey in 2002, and broke her own record again in 2003, coming within 20 minutes of the men’s record at that time. She was out to do it again in 2004, and was on pace to possibly win the event against national competition, but had to drop out just past the halfway point because of an inflamed tendon. But after her recovery, no doubt she’ll be back at it again!  Here is her story of challenge and recovery. Even the best runners need a day off! - Ed.]


Reconstructive foot surgery has given me a much needed break from running for three months, so in between sessions of thesis-writing, paper-grading, and swimming, I had the chance to read Marla Runyan’s book, No Finish Line, My Life as I See it—and to add a plug to the “Gift list for Valentine Runners,” I would highly recommend it.  Along with several other life lessons earned from various coaches throughout her career, I think the most valuable one, that has also given me a lesson came from Dick Brown, a first rate coach known for his work training Olympians.  He once told Marla that, “training is stress to your body.  It’s challenge to your system, but if you rest and recover your body will adapt to the challenges that you give it.  You adapt stronger than you were before.  It’s a delicate balance of challenge and recovery.”       

Every now and then we need a break from running and racing. (Yes this is coming from Morgan who can’t go a day without her two hours of solid foot pounding on pavement, trail, or track).  Some of us are blessed with the ability to know when we need a break, and actually schedule a ‘day-off’ each week.  Others of us, who are not so lucky, come to this revelation when our body or mind wears down to reveal the threads of overtraining, like stress fractures, slower times, or decreased motivation. 

Interning in Washington DC this past summer, I became familiar with the metro system and being the frugal grad student that I am decided to save the bus fare to and from the metro everyday—so I put my god-given legs to use, and ran to and from the metro (a total of 6 miles) for three months.  This on top of my daily 12-15 miles logged after work, and then an hour or so of lap swimming, gave me more than 20 miles a day of running and 4+ hrs of exercising, this summer.  I worked very hard at my training, but coupled with a hectic long work day and commute, my eating schedules and portions were erratic and lacking.  I finished my first 100 miler this summer at the end of May, ran a few races in July, then ran a PR at a 5-mile race in July and didn’t schedule another race until Tussey in October.  I planned to train my body to oblivion that summer in preparation for the world-class competition that was expected at the National Championships.  Come October, and 25 miles into the race, I felt a painful burning in my left outside leg running from my hip to my knee.  I knew immediately that my iliotibial band was inflamed.  I tried to walk but couldn’t; I tried to run but couldn’t.  Halfway into one of the most important races of my life, holding a strong second place, I dropped out, wishing I had taken just one rest day out of those last 5 months. 

This injury made me realize that the body needs time to heal after you challenge it.  I stopped running for a week, and began using my bike and the pool more as cross-trainers.  November and December were some of the best months of running for me.  I did a few good long trail runs, but no racing in November.  Some strength training sessions allowed me to build some muscle back after a summer of no weight-bearing activity.  An epic race was set for December 11th.  This would be the last before my scheduled foot surgery at the end of December.  Hellgate 100k in Lynchburg Virginia is a race I wanted to try, so I entered.  I finished this race feeling like someone took my quads and ran them through a meat-slicer, but I finished strong and fast, within minutes of the second place female, top-notch ultramarathoner Bethany (Hunter) Patterson.  I was more than satisfied knowing that my rest and cross-training over the past few months had paid off more than I could have expected.  This was the best way I could think of to end 2004 and ring in the New Year.            

I knew I ran too much this summer—I heard it from people regularly.  My favorite training partner, Steve Cohen never failed to tell me that if I stopped racing so much it would do me some good.  I knew I didn’t eat well and enough or sleep enough.  Weekends were made for long training runs, or traveling to races, not for sleeping in or lounging by the pool!!  But all I could think of was if I was taking a day off, there was someone else out there logging miles, and I couldn’t bear that thought.  I believed all my hard work would make me faster, and stronger, when all it really did was break me down.  So if you’re feeling a little unmotivated, or tired or weak, take a look at last month’s running log.  Did you remember to schedule an ‘off-day’?  Did you have a few days of non-running, cardiovascular activity be it biking, hiking, swimming, or roller-skating?  If January is the month for resolutions, then my vow is to find this delicate balance between challenge and recovery and to teeter there as long as possible.   

Updated 01/10/05