Day 103–Room For Optimism?

As soon as my day was done working on the Malaysian Grand Prix, I changed out of my work clothes and into my summer running gear for a make or break long run. With the temperature in the high teens and the weak sun trying to shine, I was determined to test the body to see if it is even worth persisting with the dream of making it to Rotterdam two weeks from now.

The opening miles were not promising. For better or worse I decided to abandon the prescribed two minutes walking, two minutes jogging, two minutes running for fear of going delusional if I were to keep that up for the best part of two hours. Whilst the actual pace was not that bad the effort to try and ignore the nagging, consistent pain in the thigh was starting to get the better of me.

At four miles I was actually ready to call it a day and head home. I stopped and, in desperation, did a deep hip flexor stretch for thirty seconds on the left leg. I resumed running and, to my surprise, found that much of the pain in the thigh had disappeared. Were tight hip flexors to blame for all the discomfort?

I decided to revert to plan A and go for it. The long run was back on. I headed to the canal and ran the four and a half miles out to Woolsthorpe. Every ten minutes or so I would stop and repeat the 30 second hip flexor stretch. The pain continued to stay at bay and the legs were running freely, shown in the pace which, before long, was coming down reasonably close to marathon pace. I was beginning to enjoy running again, relishing the pleasantly warm conditions and scenic surroundings on a tranquil Mother’s Day.

At Woolsthorpe, I returned and even though there was the merest headwind the pace, if anything, picked up Any discomfort was coming in the side of the hips and was of the sort that was easily bearable. Only in the final couple of miles did things begin to ache, but I think I was rapidly tiring, being short on sleep and low on energy reserves.

The run over the legs soon stiffened over the course of the evening, but I was at least happy to see that it was possible to run. A lot can happen in two weeks, but I was a lot more optimistic than I was a few days ago. There is now the prospect of taper hell to endure. In some ways being injured makes it easier as I don’t feel as guilty about reducing the mileage. The body is enjoying the rest, for once.

Day 102 – Hanging On By A Thread

The run on Friday never materialised. Up at 1:30 am after around 2 1/2 hours sleep to cover the Malaysian GP, I managed another 90 minutes fitful sleep around lunchtime. I thought that if there was any chance that the injuries were caused by burning the candle at both ends during the Australian GP weekend (And there is a good chance that there was) then I wasn’t going to take any chances today – especially as things were still generally hurting.

The left leg felt even a little worse through the day on Saturday, thanks probably to a lengthy self massage session attacking numerous trigger points up and down the back and legs. I hesitated about running but decided I should at least try, even if it ended up being aborted after a minute or two. Indeed that is very nearly what happened as the first moments of the run were a pretty sore, limping kind of affair. Thankfully, a little like Thursday, the pain largely subsided.

I did what the Physiotherapist ordered once again: two minutes walking followed by two minutes jogging and two minutes running. The running was the least uncomfortable of the three activities, the jogging sometimes uncomfortable. Keeping close to home as there were a few moments when everything appeared to tighten up and I didn’t fancy a lengthy hobble home, I managed six miles before the sensible side of the brain called a halt to proceedings. Better to finish the run in one piece and be in with a slim hope of racing in two weeks rather than risk all for the sake of an extra mile or two.

The post race ice and exercises were positive – I was able to climb the stairs without pain in the thigh for the first time in nearly two weeks – whether that was because it was numb from the ice packs is debatable – but I’ll take it as a positive sign. I need to try and stay positive, ignore the pitiful weekly mileage and hope that things continue to (Very slowly) improve.

Day 100 – The (S)Hip Went Down

I tried a run on the Monday, the day after the Coventry Half Marathon. It was just over a mile and was effectively abandoned after a couple of minutes of running, my left leg feeling for all the world like the running equivalent of trying to drive a car with a couple of tyres shaped like a 50 pence piece.

With less than three weeks until Rotterdam I called a physiotherapist right away and was able to get an appointment for the following day. I took a punt on them being top of Google when I put in appropriate search for being injured in Grantham.

The next day and I spent an hour on the physio’s bench, a lot longer than I was meant to. Purely assessment, it seems things were potentially complicated. To surmise, the left leg is broken because bits of the right leg were broken first: the lower back isn’t bending properly; the SI joint or something near it isn’t moving as it should; and the right glute isn’t firing properly or maybe not at all. These all putting too much stress on the left leg and causing a raft of problems.

Several pounds lighter in the pocket, another session was booked for the Wednesday. Running was verboten, for now. Just as well that the continued fighting off of sickness from everyone else in the family was continuing to leave me sufficiently sub-par to not particularly care about the loss of exercise.

Wednesday’s physiotherapy session was largely consisting of loads of exercises to try and get the glute firing again, increasing flexibility in the thorax and improving core stability. There is though the nagging problem that whenever I tried to put weight on the left leg when climbing onto or off a step, there was a fairly noticeable pain. Despite this and other woes, the physiotherapist did at least allow me to commence exercise before I saw her next in six days time. The instructions were: two minutes walking; two minutes jogging; two minutes running – and repeat. I headed home, no run for me that evening, but ready to test the leg the following day.

After working through the early morning and up past lunchtime on Malaysian Grand Prix preparations, I had lunch, a little rest and headed out for the fartlek session. My hopes were not high for a successful run, given that walking around the house was still fairly uncomfortable. However after two minutes of unrecorded walking, I commenced the run with four minutes of jogging, the left thigh was a little painful, particularly at first, but then less so. Then after two minutes of walking and another four minutes of jogging and another walk, I began the run proper, with a two minute jog then a two minute run. I tried not to notice the rather lamentable average pace figures, slow because a fair chunk of the mile was spent walking. Little things like this shouldn’t matter, but I couldn’t help but try and at least walk a little faster.

A bit like an F1 designer taking a rule book then interpreting the rules to push them to an inch of legality, the definition of two minutes running could be taken many ways. I, for better or worse, decided to take two minutes of running as pretty fast running. I did this for two reasons: 1. walking every two minutes in six is pretty frustrating and for my peace of mind running two hard minutes at least makes the session feel worthwhile. 2. As I’m convinced the IT Band is causing a fair chunk of the discomfort, as some piece of work floating around on the internet suggests, running fast is actually less uncomfortable than running slowly.

So I ran pretty quickly, and as the run progressed the leg was less painful. Still noticeably uncomfortable, but not enough to consider stopping and almost good enough to consider running a little further than planned. In the end I decided to stick to plan, partly because now the right hip was beginning to show signs of distress. I’m almost glad it is because in my my mind its showing where the root of the problem is and hopefully all the phantom pain in the left leg will disappear. Wishful thinking most likely, but at the moment I am very much clutching at straws.

Coventry’s half marathon–Sunday 23rd March 2014

I was like a bear with a sore head for the day or two leading up to Coventry’s half marathon (Which for the remainder, where applicable, will be referred to as the Coventry Half Marathon, dropping the possessive apostrophe – which, bizarrely, was the theme for the finishing medal – and resurrecting the redundant capitalisation). My left leg is not a happy bunny, it has been prodded more often than a fussy five year old’s unloved dinner, and is not responding well to massage and stretching. As with most of my injuries  – I’m sure the origins lie somewhere in the back, and until the sweet spot is found, a cascade of soreness and tight bits proliferate. Three weeks or so ago I was looking at a near sure-fire HM PB; now I was unsure of whether I’d even finish. Miserable doesn’t even begin to describe my mental state. It’s ridiculous but the life of a running addict can literally swing from boom to despair on the tweak of a tendon.

Back when I was a Coventry resident, the Half Marathon was less than a mile from home. I revelled in being able to leave home around 10 minutes before the off, jog to the race start and be off racing minutes after arriving. Now living in Grantham and with the race kicking off at an ungodly 9am, it meant an early start and rushed preparations in order to get out of the house in time. This led to the biggest mistake of the day when I failed to notice the kids’ car seats were in the back of the car I was taking, which wasn’t much use for the wife who was set to drive them to a party in the other vehicle. The error only dawned on me as I hit the M69; luckily for me the venue for the birthday bash was within walking distance.

I parked up around two miles from the start to allow the warm up to be the run into race HQ. Trialling my new running rucksack for the first time, this was pleasingly comfortable. The left leg, in particular the thigh, was less so. But at least it was bearable. The pain was forgotten briefly as I passed my old home, looking exactly as I left it save for two To Let signs in the miniscule front garden, which were infinitely more aesthetically pleasing than the (presumably broken) Nescafe vending machine that took pride of place in the garden a few doors down. The house that always gave trouble had truly excelled itself with the most bizarre piece of house furniture they’ve ever left outside.

I reached race HQ just 35 minutes before the start, which is around an hour less than I usually allow. It was hence a fairly rushed affair changing, stretching, pit stopping, dropping baggage etc.. It was a shame that I bumped into some fellow Kenilworth Runners literally as we were about to head to the start line. Never the chattiest at the best of times before a race, there was little in the way of meaningful conversation other than the most basic of pleasantries. My mind was focused on the impending doom I felt certain was going to strike me somewhere down the road during the race. That was a great shame as I was really looking forward to meeting old friends again, and time and circumstances sadly conspired against us.

I got to the start line just four minutes before the scheduled depart. I spotted fellow Kenilworth Runner Connor Carson, who is the club’s leading runner based on WMA age grades. He talked down his expectations for the race; I should have known better for he ended up finishing with a one second PB and an agonising six seconds away from breaking 75 minutes. Still, another 84%+ WMA performance is something to be pretty proud of, one that I’d be willing to a fair few creature comforts for.

The first mile was a fairly quick affair, although the 5:36 opening mile my Garmin clocked up I reckon was a touch enthusiastic on its behalf as the mile marker came around 15 seconds further up the road. That opening mile saw me hang on to Connor’s coat tails and even pass him at one point, but that seemed to inspire him and he soon eased himself away into the distance.  I settled into as best a rhythm I could, trying my best to ignore the persistent ache in the upper thigh and a myriad of other weird pains in the left leg.

At around three miles I was in a group of four which I considered sticking with to take advantage of sheltering from the headwind. They weren’t however quite running fast enough so I pressed on. As we passed through Allesley and continued a protracted drag uphill, there was some impressive crowd support which spurred me on a little. The legs felt a touch heavy, no doubt from the heavy mileage, but I was moving reasonably swiftly. In the distance was the unmistakeable frame of local legend Garry Payne, who in his heyday won more road races than I’ve probably entered. Fifty seven years young, the man can still knock out a swift half marathon (He won the Coventry Half as recently as 2011), and I was particularly pleased to catch him, run with him for a mile or two before easing away at eight miles (I was even more chuffed when he came to congratulate me on my run at the end of the race – that was definitely a highlight).

Miles 5-8 were tough. Exposed and into a headwind as we tackled the greenbelt land near Corley, we climbed to the highest point of the race at eight miles. Thankfully I knew once we turned right onto the main road back into Coventry it was going to be as near as dammit all gently downhill to the finish, with the added bonus of being aided most of the way by a strong tail wind. With Garry dispatched it was now a lonely race, with just a couple of Godiva runners to try and chase down in the distance. All I had to spur me on was trying to reduce my average pace which, after the opening mile, had slowly slid to just outside six minutes per mile.

The average pace over the next five miles came down, but not by as much as I would have liked. The left thigh ached just enough for me not to be able to run flat out. This is shown in my heart rate which was pretty much on my marathon threshold and should have been a fair few beats higher during the closing stages of a half marathon. I battled on as best I could whilst not wanting to risk everything by overdoing it. The long downhill stretch was rudely interrupted by a slight rise at 11 miles then another in the final mile. At least the crowds were cheering in the final miles to will us to the finish, and the PA at the end was plenty loud enough to hear my name called out to the crowd as I came home in 14th position.

I knew I was outside my PB; 1:17:32 should be a pleasing result given the circumstances, but I left Coventry a little disappointed. Twisting my thoughts full circle I was then enthused that I should be disappointed with a 1:17, showing that my standards have risen in recent times. But ultimately I felt a bit flat.

Fearing my leg would stiffen and knowing I had a run back to the car and a journey in it to survive, I had my first second ever post race massage (I’ve just remembered I had one after my first ever half marathon, when I couldn’t walk for a week afterwards). God bless the numerous and very enthusiastic students of Coventry University, who gave their services for free, but I received, without a shadow of doubt, the most ineffective massage ever.  I was requested on several occasions to let them know if the pain of the massage became unbearable; at times I had to turn my head and see if they were actually touching my legs – for they felt nothing.

I jogged back to the car, running more slowly than on my warm up on a longer route, retracing parts of Coventry I ran most often as a resident. The leg didn’t feel too bad considering, I had to consume a Snickers on the way though, suffering from a bit of hunger knock as the cyclists call it. Back at the car I no doubt bemused the residents of a part of Hipswell Highway as I changed outside their house out of lycra and into regular clothes. From there it was onto Warwick and a chance to catch up with some more club mates, some of whom had taken part in the Warwick Half Marathon. I would have spent more time with them had I gone to the right pub in the first instance though…. Time flew by and before I knew it my two hours of gratis parking on the expensive streets of Warwick was up and my time to head home had come.

It was fun racing back in Coventry but the race there left me with no regret over leaving. The warm down especially had me wondering how I was able to train efficiently when I was stopping every mile or so to cross a road or be dodging errant pedestrians. There’s now less than three weeks until marathon day. A cure for the leg woes is urgently required….

Split Summary
1) 1m – 5:36(5:36/m) 151/164bpm 79cal
2) 1m – 5:49(5:49/m) 166/172bpm 95cal
3) 1m – 5:55(5:55/m) 167/171bpm 97cal
4) 1m – 5:55(5:55/m) 168/172bpm 97cal
5) 1m – 6:09(6:09/m) 168/171bpm 101cal
6) 1m – 6:13(6:13/m) 167/171bpm 102cal
7) 1m – 6:16(6:16/m) 168/171bpm 104cal
8) 1m – 6:18(6:18/m) 166/169bpm 104cal
9) 1m – 5:46(5:46/m) 165/167bpm 93cal
10) 1m – 5:41(5:41/m) 166/167bpm 92cal
11) 1m – 5:40(5:40/m) 165/167bpm 91cal
12) 1m – 5:41(5:41/m) 165/171bpm 90cal
13) 1m – 5:43(5:43/m) 165/169bpm 90cal
14) 0.18m – 51(4:46/m) 168/171bpm 13cal

Days 93 & 94 – Trouble In The (S)hip

Thursday’s effort was one of the odder runs. I had a really painful massage in the morning. Loads of things wrong with the left leg, all emanating around the hip. Not totally sure that I came out of the torture room any better off than when I entered it. Hopefully everything is really inflamed and will settle in a couple of days; as it is my body feels battered.

I left at around six for my familiar pre-run before heading to the club. The left leg ached for a bit but wasn’t actually too bad. At times on the 3.5 miles there was no pain at all on the run. The weather was miserable though and near the end of the run I definitely had a couple of dizzy spells that left me a little disorientated.

There is a plethora of bugs and illnesses flying around the household at the moment. I am currently the only one who hasn’t gone down full blown sick (Although I am still not 100% from the cold I picked up a couple of weeks ago) and I think the body is just doing all it can to fight the infections. I pfaffed around a bit at home until it was just about too late to make it to the club in time. I left and ran a few yards, but a bit of pain in the left hip stopped me and I returned home to call it a day.

The next morning and after packing the kids up ready to be taken to school, I changed and got myself out to kind of complete the run I didn’t quite manage the day before. The sunshine brought a better mental attitude and although there was plenty of discomfort in the left leg – the thigh in particular, I was determined to not let it stop me. Health wise, I am feeling around 70%; there is definitely something in the system but not enough to yet stop me.

The leg grumbled to around five miles when I prodded the bit around the Piraformis a bit and a lot of the discomfort disappeared. If I could just have a permanent elbow in the backside I’m sure I’d be running just fine. I brought the run to an end at eight miles, not wanting to overdo it before Sunday’s half marathon, but at the same time not totally sure whether I will race on Sunday – the left leg is that bothersome. Tomorrow will hopefully be better…