Isaac Updike of Team Run Eugene, a former standout runner at Eastern Oregon University, said this running season was about staying healthy.
His results last week at the USA Track and Field Outdoor National Championships indicate his health is at a good level.
Updike won the preliminary race in the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase at last week’s USATF meet in Des Moines, Iowa, with a personal best time of 8:25.82.
A lengthy delay in the lead-up to the final race two days later may have been a factor that kept him from placing. He took 14th in 8:40.22.
But despite the final setback, he was still quite pleased with the time in the prelim, one that puts him within striking distance of some of the top runners in the world in that event.
“It’s crazy. Running 8:31 (or) 8:32 is good,” he said, indicating the range his previous PR was. “(With) 8:25, I feel confident if I get up in the right race I could run 8:20 flat. That 10 seconds changes from trying to make finals to competing at the finals.”
He mentioned Evan Jager, the champion at USATF’s last week, has a personal best that is still some 25 seconds faster than his own top mark. But that gap is closing.
“It’s still setting in that I can compete with them,” he said.
It’s perhaps shocking, too, considering a year ago he suffered a torn right posterior cruciate ligament during a race about two weeks before the 2017 outdoor championships. It not only kept him out of that event, but was severe enough that it caused him to endure a months-long recovery, one with several setbacks along the way.
“That was my first real running injury, to be honest,” he said. “I never had any wear and tear.”
Updike said “weird movements” that put unwanted strain on the PCL kept him from making the progress he wanted in the initial months after the injury.
One, for example, was a time he caught his foot on a laptop cord.
“I wasn’t doing anything dumb or reckless,” he said. “I had two or three weird instances like that.”
Jerking his foot up to keep from falling was one of the movements that added strain.
“That lifting motion is exactly what you don’t want to have happen,” he said.
As a result, the doctor at a check-up roughly two months after the injury said he was only in about week three of recovery.
“The doctor said it was still malleable,” Updike said.
Even as he got to where he could begin to run again, he still felt pain after a couple workouts, which further lengthened the recovery process.
“It was a lot of take one step forward, two steps back through the winter. I would run on it, get a week’s worth of running in and then it would hurt,” he said.
Updike said he started to think he would need surgery, but a platelet-rich plasma injection in February changed the game.
The procedure, which has mixed results according to several health journal articles, draws blood from a patient and spins it in a centrifuge. The plasma from the blood, as a result, has a high platelet count, according to an article from sports-health.com. The plasma concentration is then injected into the injury. Using the body’s own healing abilities, the high concentration of nutrient-rich plasma can help speed up healing, according to an article on spinemd.com.
It helped Updike immensely. He was off his feet for a couple of weeks following the shot, but began training in March and building up his endurance.
The success, and that Updike is indeed healthy again, were both evident last weekend.
He credited the coaching and training staff, the training program and a couple of weeks of high-altitude training at Flagstaff, Arizona, for helping him get back in top form.
“You just live, breathe, eat and run,” he said of working out in Flagstaff, which he did with a handful of other athletes. “There’s no work, no nothing.”
The success also helped him meet a second goal of gaining other coaches’ attention with Team Run Eugene coach Ian Dobson set to retire, he said.
“That was the other aspect of it: Show yourself that you’re (working) to earn a contract,” he said. “That was the goal, and I am talking to a couple other teams.”
For now, he’s in Belgium, preparing for a handful of summer races on a European circuit since racing in the States is limited in the coming months.
“It’s kind of the next step in competing in a professional level,” he said. “I have three, and maybe a fourth (event) lined up.”
And coming off his best run ever, he has his sights set on faster times in the near future.
“I’d love to try to break that 8:20 mark,” he said.