VLM Training Update – No Distance Left To Run

After four good weeks of training for the VLM, spirits were high as I began week five. Monday morning saw me run 10km on my familiar out and back route through Grantham’s three parks. From the off I felt fresh and very comfortable for a recovery run – indeed the final four miles were all run without difficulty in under 6:50 per mile. I stopped near the end to chat to Scott, who was doing his rounds. We commented on how well I’d recovered from injury and how my average pace over the training runs was, without really trying, the quickest it had ever been.

That evening I had the opportunity to train, guilt free, on the elliptical trainer, so I put in a very easy hour. The following evening it was marathon heart rate run time – the key session for the week. Now my training partner Janis had gone to Norway for a few months, it was back to me pacing myself and my music player as my companion. Despite the lack of company it was a good run, possibly the best marathon heart rate run I’ve ever done. There was a touch of shin pain in the first mile, the left knee ached a bit too from where I’d accidentally whacked it against a door. Other than that everything felt good and relatively easy. For the 10.5 mile run I averaged 6:13 pace – this included a 6:57 first mile and then three miles at sub six minute mile pace. The music was a good motivator – Blur’s No Distance Left to Run came on at three miles. Normally I skip these slower tempo songs but, for some reason, I decided to let it play and then thought no more of it.

Wednesday morning firstly saw me knock out an easy recovery hour on the elliptical trainer. My training notes indicate no issue except a touch of tightness in the left Piraformis. I then headed out an hour or so later for a 10k recovery run. Once again this felt good for a run the morning after a tough session, averaging 7:10 per mile. The left Piraformis ached ever so slightly, as did the left hip. I also got one sensation of some tightness right in the base of the spine. I thought nothing of any of this however as the aches felt very minor – I’ve run through aches 100x worse.

Thursday morning and I was on the elliptical trainer for another easy hour which saw no issues. That evening I headed to the running club for what I hoped would be a fairly casually paced run with a big weekend of training planned. All was going well, but as we neared the top of Somerby Hill and passed the barracks, the ache in the left glute / Piraformis, which was an occasional affair the day before, became more pronounced and more uncomfortable. As the run continued the discomfort intensified. It was still nothing that I hadn’t run through many times before, but it was disconcerting.

As we returned to Grantham near the end of the run, I instinctively quickened the pace and ran back alone. Passing the local triathlon club runners at the end of the run, I still felt discomfort but nothing too disturbing. The run complete, I waited for a few minutes for the rest of my club mates to return. We chatted for around ten minutes and then I set off to run the mile or so back home. Alarmingly I found that in standing around for a few minutes I was now no longer able to comfortably put my weight on my left leg. This felt alarmingly similar to last October when it transpired I’d fractured my sacrum on the right side of my body.

I walked for a hundred yards or so then attempted a slow jog. Somehow I managed to make it home, but the pace had dropped from around 6:30 per mile to 9:00 per mile. Once home I showered, but found I could barely move. I had to resort to crawling around the house. I was in agony. Something was very amiss. I couldn’t stop singing that bloody Blur song: It’s over, you don’t need to tell me… I’ve got no distance left to run…

The following morning and I was still resorting to crawling around the house. My wife, who last time this happened had wanted me to head straight to A&E, this time put her foot down and literally drove me to the doors of the Grantham branch of this much maligned NHS service. I must have looked in pain, for the moment the assessment nurse saw me, the first thing she did was offer me additional painkillers to the ones that I’d already taken, with little effect, at home.

I was fortunate to be seen by a doctor who is a keen runner and who saw that I was given a CT scan there and then (Well an hour or two after being seen, but this is pretty amazing for the NHS). The results came back negative but he was quick to stress that a stress fracture would not appear this quickly on a scan; if the pain was still significant in 10 days or so I should return to request an MRI scan.

I was already doing sums to determine whether, if it was a fracture, I could still participate at London. My initial thoughts were no way! and part of me still believes that, but at the same time, the romantic in me really wants to be at the start line, even if I may be in no shape to achieve the kind of time I was looking for at the start of the year. Saturday and I dragged my pained body onto the elliptical trainer, where I managed a painful hour. I was mindful that this was thirty minutes more than I’d managed at the same stage back in October, which brought optimism. I also rode ten minutes on the turbo trainer to see how things were on that. I was expecting it to be less painful, was surprised to see that it was nearly pain free.

With that in mind I headed to Witham Wheelers on Sunday morning to take part in their Reliability Ride. I could barely walk, but on the bike I was at around 85% capacity. I couldn’t really accelerate nor stand on the pedals, but could happily spin the pedals with the merest of discomfort. I managed the 65 miles at an average of 18.6 mph which I was pleased with, especially as I was dropped from the quickest group at around 45 miles, but managed to dig in and claw them back in the final miles.

Monday saw me on the elliptical trainer for two hours. It was a laborious affair – the first hour was on the threshold of being too painful, the second less so, but unable to put too much power through the leg. The only solace was that the session was less painful than when hobbling around the house. I rode for an hour on the turbo trainer on the Wednesday, it was nearly pain free but so interminably boring that I decided from then on to concentrate as much as possible on the elliptical trainer, with an hour straight after the turbo trainer completed.

I decided that day if I was going to get any positives out of this injury and if I wanted any chance of being able to run at London, I needed to train at a level similar to what I was doing in December last year, where I tried to be on the elliptical trainer for two hours each day. Thursday saw a day off through work, Friday and Saturday saw two hours on both days, spread over several hours and numerous stops as I covered the F1 test. Sunday saw me still working, but a quieter time in Barcelona allowed me a run of three hours broken into two chunks and a long lunch break. It was the first time I’d managed three hours on my elliptical trainer since 2001 – it was so painful back then that the memories are still firmly etched on my mind. I was relieved that today was a far more pleasant affair, albeit with the left side still sore.

Monday saw an hour on the trainer in the morning before a trip to A&E, which after several hours of waiting, allowed me to allow my GP to make an urgent request for an MRI. The pain was still significant, still very similar to what went before me a few months earlier. The comfort is that I know this inability to walk properly should diminish significantly in the next couple o weeks. I then need to know whether there is a fracture so I don’t make any efforts to run before I should.

That evening saw my first swim in many years. It was hard going – the left leg unable to effectively kick in the water, but I managed a km, timed and monitored by my Gamin for the first time (It made for fairly depressing reading). Making full use of my recently acquired leisure center membership, I then put 40 minutes on their elliptical trainer, finding myself able to reach heart rates far higher than my creaky machine at home.

Tuesday saw two hours on my elliptical trainer at home. Wednesday saw an hour at home on the trainer in the morning followed by 4×20 minutes on the gym elliptical trainer at approximately marathon heart rate. Quite sore in the back and glute area, this was a real challenge as to attain those heart rates required some rather rapid cadence (Around 120rpm). I was pleased though in how aerobically strong I felt, very frustrated in being unable to translate this into running at present.

F1 testing resumed on Thursday and bringing us up to date it was three days of two hours on the elliptical trainer, each session taking considerably longer thanks to gaps where work had to be done… I was tired on Thursday, Friday felt easy, Saturday was feeling distinctly fatigued.

Things are still pretty painful but at least for the last few days I’ve been able to sleep undisturbed and walking is improving slowly but surely on a daily basis. Thanks to some amazing work by my GP I was given an MRI scan on the Friday – hopefully I’ll have the results in a week or so. Once I have this information I can better decide my strategy training wise. Currently I am assuming a 6-8 week layoff from running, which will allow me 2-4 weeks of running before London. This is a tall order but I’m keeping it as an option to keep me motivated to train. If it isn’t a fracture then I’m very much at a loss as I’ll then have no idea what the injury is. So perversely I am kind of hoping it is the same injury as last time but on the other leg, that it heals stronger and that will be the end of it. Time will tell.



75 Days to VLM – Week 4 Training Summary

After the most pleasing run on Sunday evening there was a bump down to earth come Monday night. After I finished work and helped get the kids to bed, I changed into my running clothes and opened the front door, only to see that it was snowing heavily! I’d not looked out of any window for an hour or two and how the weather had changed.

It may have been a snow shower that only lasted an hour or so, but it wreaked a little havoc with my run. I had on my well worn pair of Nike Lunarglides, which have never had the grippiest of soles and are now almost entirely slick. As the wet snow began to settle, traction became tough at times and I was unsure of my footing. Moreover the inside of my left shin, which had nagged occasionally on the previous couple of runs, now hurt a little more persistently. There was also the right glute/piraformis which wasn’t feeling great and nagged in a manner that wasn’t dissimilar to how it felt a week or so before the sacrum fracture of last year. I hadn’t planned on running far, 4.8 miles was all I managed before calling it a night.

Tuesday evening was scheduled to be nine miles at marathon pace (HR). The left shin had continued to ache sporadically through the day and I wasn’t going into the run with the greatest of confidence – especially as the right glute still didn’t feel great. I was scheduled to meet up with Janis again; I just finished work in time to join him as planned. The first few miles didn’t feel too bad, but it was noticeable I was triggering my marathon HR max alarm rather more frequently than the previous week. After a 7:00 opening mile, we ran 6:18; 6:18; 6:14 and 6:11. Although the pace was quickening I was becoming more and more anxious about the run. The left shin was aching more than it had done at any other point, and, as the temperature plummeted, the accumulation of ice was significant to the point where it was dangerous in places.

The pace slowed to 6:32, then a 6:46 seventh mile, my struggles not helped by a somewhat dodgy stomach. As I continued to feel like I was treading water and as we were running past my house, I made the decision to call it a day at just shy of seven and a half miles. Janis, who was a natural on the icy roads and paths, continued on his way. I disappeared into my house dejected.

Tuesday night and Wednesday morning I made a bid to halt the seemingly relentless onset of serious shin pain. I massaged the pained area and the calves. More importantly I ran through a number of exercises – walking on my heels, writing the alphabet, balancing on one leg with my eyes closed (Much harder than it sounds). Early in the evening I went on a short run – just two and a half miles, to assess the state of the shin. The conclusion was, that with a slight nagging pain for around half of the run, it wasn’t prudent to attempt running any more that evening, and so I put in a steady hour on the elliptical trainer.

Later that evening my training partner Janis messaged me to let me know he was heading off to Norway on Saturday for a couple of months! I think we were both disappointed we weren’t going to train together for a while, but the opportunity for him to earn more money in a beautiful country with more favourable working conditions was a no-brainer. So, after a couple of weeks enjoying the company of a talented runner, I was back to where I had been for much of the past eighteen months or so.

Thursday had been planned as a three strong intervals session with myself, Janis, and 2:32 marathon runner Alastair Pickburn. Janis had pulled out as he had been scheduled to work a night shift (although ultimately he could have run in the evening after all). Alastair and I had pinged back and forth numerous messages on Strava, worked out a session and a place to run it, only for Alastair to cancel on the Tuesday because his scheduled work trip had been cancelled.

With the weather still cold and icy, especially in the evening, I opted, now I was running alone, to do the session mid-morning. Running with the dodgy shin was a calculated risk, I opted to wear a shin compression sleeve I’d bought many years ago and worn occasionally, and with the seldom worn Nike Lunarknit trainers (they seem to promote Achilles discomfort). Which one did the trick I’m not sure – maybe it was the stretches and massage – but the shin barely grumbled over the session which came in at half a mile shy of ten miles.

The reps, now known as the Pickburn Session, were held in conditions hovering around freezing point and in sleety, icy cold rain. The reps were 1 mile, 2 miles, 2 miles and 1 mile, with two minutes recovery between each rep. The first mile was covered in 5:37 and felt pretty comfortable considering it was in the slightly uphill direction of the A52. The first two mile rep was also fairly comfortable, completing it slightly faster at 5:36 pace. The second two mile rep was more challenging, running on lactate filled legs for the closing mile. It was therefore pleasing that it was covered in 5:38 pace. Struggling to recover, the final mile was a battle to the finish, it felt horrible and slow, but was happy to see it took just 5:31. The session over, the run home felt easy in comparison. I was encouraged to see that with minimal effort, I ran a 6:08 mile and a 6:20 paced final half mile. The first interval session of the year was a success.

Friday was scheduled to be a rest day, but I felt that, because of a lack of mileage, I should try and do some exercise. As the shin felt still a touch sore, I opted for another hour on the elliptical trainer, which seemed a good compromise. A double school run and an impromptu trip to the bike shop (To collect the wheel I couldn’t get the tyre on last week), meant around nine miles of walking too, so not that much of a day off.

The long run for the week was again on the Saturday, and, with Janis now departed, it was a run alone. The plan was 18 miles and to hopefully run at below seven minute mile average. I opted to run in the Nike Frees and again wore the compression strap as it had appeared to work well on Thursday’s session. There was thankfully no snow, conditions were fairly benign, although with temperatures only just above freezing, there were small patches of ice here and there.

I knew from the second mile that I was on for a good strong run, the legs feeling like they had plenty of power. The first mile (7:26) and the second mile (7:00) turned out to be the only miles that weren’t sub-7 minute miles. This included the third and fourth miles which included the long climb out of town, I knew that once this was tackled the rest of the run would feel easy in comparison. The miles seem to tick by with little in the way of effort. The only drama came in some unexpected shin pain. The inside of the shin was absolutely fine, the lower front part of the shin though began to ache at around nine miles and gradually grew in intensity. This was probably caused by the strap being a little too tight and compressing the shin a little too much. Thankfully, despite the discomfort, it wasn’t slowing my pace – the fifteenth mile being the quickest of the run at 6:24, and each of the miles from 13 to the end covered in less than six minutes forty seconds.

The eighteen and a quarter miles were covered in an average of 6:44. I was very happy, although the shin was very painful to the touch. The fact that I was able to walk quite normally meant I wasn’t overly concerned – I was happy that the inside of the shin was pain free and moreover the right glute/piraformis was also pain free, thanks, I think, to the Piraformis stretch which has you lying on your back doing the trick.

Sunday was a return to the Witham Wheelers reliability rides, a 46 mile hilly route was the order of the day. The rear tyre, now fully inflated and brand new, pumped up without issue just before I left. The front tyre though had it’s pin snap in the pump as I attempted to put a little extra air into the tyre. With no time (Or desire) to change the inner tube I made a quick decision that no air was leaving the valve and the tyre was pretty well inflated. I decided to risk the ride.

It was cold for the first hour or so of riding, but I knew that with sun due to make a welcome appearance it would warm a touch. I went out in the quick group, which were scheduled to ride between 18-19mph, but were touching 20 mph at the 20 mile point. I spent most of the ride sitting somewhere near the back, feeling a bit the efforts of the Saturday run, which I had expected.

At 20 miles we caught the slower group and there was a brief merging when horses caused a rapid slowdown. I took the opportunity to try and open the packet of jelly beans in my jersey pocket. As I struggled with this simple task, I lost the back wheel of the group, and with their pace increasing again as we hit a slight headwind I soon realised I had no chance of catching them. I thought there were several riders from the slower group ahead and expected them to drop back. As it happened there were just two and only one opted to join me in keeping up the pace as best as possible. I wasn’t riding particularly well and struggled at times even to sit in the wheel of the other rider, but i didn’t give up and was happy to come home in an average of 18.4 mph.

After a brief stop for tea and coffee cake, I rode home and donned the trainers for the now familiar post ride 5k brick run. Oh boy, did the legs feel like jelly! This was going to be a tough few miles. Pleasingly, despite feeling terrible and nowhere near as quick as two weeks ago, I was still knocking out sub 6:40 miles after the initial 6:51 mile. Even the rubbish miles were still relatively swift – and there was no shin pain at all.

With the ups and downs of the week, just 45 miles were covered. They were though covered at an average pace of 6:40 per mile, which I believe is the quickest weekly average I’ve ever had. The intervals on Thursday and especially the long run on Saturday indicate that if I can control the injury niggles, things are definitely heading in the right direction and anything could happen in a couple of months time. For the meantime it’s hopefully more of the same – running, elliptical trainer, strength and conditioning, and a little cycling. It seems to be working well at the moment, so why change?

82 Days to VLM – Week Three Training Summary

Week three of Virgin London Marathon training began on Monday with a rest day, albeit with seven miles of walking on the school run and a strength and conditioning session. Not exactly the Kenyan style of rest, but about as good as it gets in the real world.

Tuesday evening saw the first run of the week and, like the previous Tuesday, it was to be a marathon paced effort (eight miles) set to a maximum heart rate. This week however I was to run it with my new club mate and, for the time being at least, training partner – Janis. Although I was very grateful for the company – running at pace is so much easier when you are running with someone else, I was aware that setting pace to a heart rate can be problematic when not alone. The beeping of the watch alerting you to a HR violation is annoying to yourself and especially others, and the remedy to stop the beeping – to slow the pace, is not necessarily beneficial to your running partner. Fortunately Janis explained that he isn’t currently in training for any particular event and was happy to accommodate my disruptive changes in pace. He didn’t quite say it so eloquently – his English is improving, but still rudimentary, I nonetheless appreciated his generosity to rabbit me when required.

After a couple of miles warm-up (Most of it run solo meeting up with Janis), we leaped into marathon pace with a 6:15 mile. After a solid start we improved to 6:05, the beep on the watch figuring a few times as I hovered perilously close to my marathon HR maximum. The next three miles were metronomic – 6:11; 6:11; and 6:14. Entering the eighth mile of the run I began to struggle a touch – clocking a 6:25 as I tired a little and suffered with a pair of ferociously tight calf muscles. The next mile was slower still at 6:34, but it contained a fair stretch of uphill. The final mile of marathon pace conversely was either downhill or pancake flat and was covered in 5:57. This, Janis pointed out, was the sort of pace he would run his marathons in.

There followed a couple of miles warm down at easy pace (6:55 and 6:53) and the key run for the week was done. I was happy with the run, not so pleased with the tightness of the calves and a little ache in the right Piraformis. Happily though the left shin didn’t grumble at all.

Wednesday morning saw a proper recovery run with the legs very stiff from the night before. Breaking eight minute miles was tough as the left calf remained very tight and the hips ached – along with the left shin on occasion. At least the final mile was the quickest of the run, indicating that the recovery element of the run had worked.

Thursday was meant to have me out running in the evening, but snowfall during the day and then a harsh freeze which rendered the slushy bits to ice, meant that running would be too dangerous. I took instead to the turbo trainer, which I’d bought a day earlier and had fitted ready for this probable eventuality. I ran half an hour on it in the morning just to check it worked, then 25 miles in the evening, which took one hour twelve minutes. I wouldn’t pretend to say it was thrilling, but I could feel that it gave a damned good workout as I battled to keep the average above 20 mph. Moreover the still-tight left calf appeared to self-loosen, which was most pleasant.

I did though during the exercise render the rear tyre useless for any further use – the slow puncture it had became a full blown puncture and the worn rubber began to show ominous signs of canvas. On Sunday I attempted to replace the tyre, an event that predictably ended in failure and an enforced trip at some point in the week to the bike shop to sort out my woeful efforts at the most rudimentary form of bicycle maintenance.

On Friday morning and because of some pressing work matters it was necessary to attempt to run back home after dropping my daughter off from school. Not usually an issue, this was made significantly more challenging by the treacherously icy conditions for much of the 1.7 miles. Thankfully I was able to locate the studs that I’d used a couple of years ago to put over my running trainers. These gave excellent grip, so much so that I heard numerous people questioning how I was able to run so effortlessly on terrain so slippery.

Aware that the ice and snow was not long for the ground and that a slush / nothing at all combination is far worse to run on with studs than mostly ice and snow, I headed back out as soon as I could to continue my morning run. I headed out to Belton Woods and House, via Gonerby. Some parts were already free of snow and I struggled on the tarmac. The bits that remained white underneath were enjoyable, yet challenging, to run on. The pace of the 7.3 miles was hardly outstanding, but the effort put in was greater than a regular run and, once again, the right Piraformis was quite tight.

The long run for the week was again scheduled for Saturday, not this time because of a bike ride on Sunday, but because February 1st heralded the start of F1 testing and a long day behind the desk. Janis was up for an early morning (8:40 am) run of my choosing and I chose the Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon course, because 1. with the extra miles from my house it comes in at 16 or so miles which is the distance I had in mind to run, and 2. I thought Janis might like to see the course of a local race that he’d have a very good chance of doing well at should he wish to enter it.

Like most of last year’s long runs, I hoped the average would come in at or just under seven minutes per mile. This was going to be made a little tougher by a heavy snow shower during the run which made the going tough underfoot for around half of the course (I’d gone out without studs as the conditions were good as I’d left home). What the weather made tougher the companionship of a talented runner more than compensated – a third mile of 6:54 and the fourth 6:31 felt near comfortable. Janis commented on the good pace as he showed excellent aptitude for converting minutes per kilometer pace into minutes per mile and vice versa. He also reckoned I looked in shape to run 2:39 over a marathon. This was a big boost to morale!

The first big climb of the run, on Cliff Road up to Fanny’s Wood, was potentially revealing as I – for the first time – dropped Janis halfway up the climb. This was probably because I knew exactly what the hill entailed and knew how much effort to put in, but also showed that I am getting stronger. The subsequent Strava analysis proved this – it was just five seconds slower than my quickest ascent – set in September last year when I was in top form. On the long gradual descent into Denton, the snowfall battering Janis and me reminded my new Latvian friend of his homeland in wintertime. I couldn’t decide whether this was an endorsement of the Baltic country – it certainly made for challenging running conditions.

The next mile or two was one of those what doesn’t kill you moments as we faced heavy snowfall and a bracing cold northerly wind. The fact we ran a 6:44 mile was pleasing indeed. We then had the final challenge of the run – Casthorpe Hill. A layer of wet snow on the road made the climb harder than it already is. Janis this time took the lead up the hill and I settled in behind, doing what was necessary to stay tucked in behind. At the top Janis agreed with me that the Newton’s Half is a tough old race (this hill comes in at ten miles). At home Strava confirmed that I had equaled my quickest time for the ascent of the hill (set again last September). This was most encouraging as I felt I’d not put in that great an effort and the conditions were definitely not favourable.

The Newton’s Half does though enjoy a long gradual descent to the finish and after a 7:01 mile (Which included the Casthorpe Hill ascent), we enjoyed a similar downhill conclusion to our run, with 6:21, 6:27 and 6:29 miles back into Grantham. It was a most satisfying Long Snowy Run – 16.36 miles at an average pace of 6:45, and aside from a brief moment of shin ache, no physical discomfort.

For Sunday I’d originally planned to do a bit of a duathlon effort using the turbo trainer, but the puncture and subsequent failure at replacing the tyre put paid to that plan. I did though finish work a little earlier than expected so I headed out with an open mind as to what I was going to do. From the off the legs felt fresh, almost bouncy, and after the first mile and a half, it felt very easy to run under seven minutes per mile. After around five miles I felt good enough to reckon I could run the same amount again – so I did, finding myself near effortlessly running the final two miles in 6:34 and 6:28, averaging the 10.66 miles at 6:54 pace.

I seem to recall saying to someone last year that I prefer to judge my form not on how well the hard sessions go but how comfortable the easy sessions feel. This felt far more comfortable than any of the post hard run sessions I’ve done up to now in this training block, so I was happy with that. What I wasn’t so pleased with is that the left shin ached in the final mile and, more pressingly, the right Piraformis ached for much of the run and nagged well into the evening – clearly that muscle, or something around it, is irritating the Sciatic nerve. I wouldn’t normally be overly concerned except that this is in the ballpark area of my fracture problems of last autumn and I’m very keen not to repeat that experience again.

In conclusion, a good week of training in sometimes trying conditions. The week ahead will hopefully see more of the same but could be tempered over concerns with the right gluteal area. Only time will tell what pans out.