Can running mean too much?

Yep, I’ve been quiet on here. And sadly it’s not due to getting out and enjoying my marathon training plan and the easing of restrictions here in the UK.

Just two weeks after my blog post about getting a place in the London Marathon, my stupid plantar fasciitis (thanks shitty tendons) made a screaming comeback like an attention-seeking toddler having a hissy fit. Honestly, the timing was almost laughable. Twelve weeks later and I’m – finally – tentatively sticking a less than happy toe back into the water whilst I wait for my long-awaited for osteopath appointment to roll around. I know that its recurrence is due to a number of factors. Pre-lockdown I used to have monthly physio MOTs and it’s been 14 months since my last appointment, I’ve been working from a sofa all year due to the size of my house and having two adults working from home, and I’ve been doing online workout classes on a non-sprung floor. That’s all going to add up.

To be honest, London isn’t massively on my mind at the moment. I need to start my training plan in earnest in June if I’m going to make the October start line, and since I only just started running again two weeks ago and am at 2.5 miles, realistically that’s looking super unlikely. And I know some people think that London shouldn’t be about the time and you should just enjoy it, but I don’t even have any longer run foundations to build on right now. I’ll be starting nearly from scratch, and even getting around and enjoying it, regardless of time, feels like too big an ask. So I’m just waiting for them to announce their deferral process so I can get that sorted and not need to think about it.

But in these last few weeks, I’ve realised just how much of me is tied up in running. So much of who I am is wrapped up in this pastime of mine that I feel like I’ve really lost my way – and part of who I am – in the last few months. I’ve had to block notifications from my running club on Facebook as I couldn’t bear to see people sharing their virtual race results and sharing photos of themselves back at training. I’ve had to temporarily mute messenger conversations from close friends when the talk turned to running as the jealousy became too much. I’ve had to block notifications on Strava when I kept being told that any segment or “local legend” titles that I held had been snapped up by someone else. Everything just felt so negative and there’s also another argument here for stepping back from social media, but that’s another conversation for another time.

I have thrown myself into cycling, both on the turbo trainer and in the real world, and the racing side of Zwift has helped me to scratch my competitive itch, but nothing makes me feel the way running does. Nothing fits me like running does. I bumped into Ely Runner Kath just yesterday, and she summed it up beautifully. She told me that to her, running is meditative. She has come to know her local routes so well that she has one for nearly every mood. It’s not quite like cycling where you have to have more of your wits around you 100% of the time, looking out for potholes and being hyper aware of cars. With running, you can pick a quiet trail and switch off, and in Ely we’re lucky enough to be able to be in the depths of the countryside within minutes, with nothing but bird song and maybe the distant rumble of a train for company. It’s soul food and I feel like I’m starving.

Although I’ve been injured before, it’s quite an overwhelming thing to be injured during a global pandemic, when your biggest coping mechanism for good mental health is suddenly taken away and access to the treatment you need to get back out running is harder to come by. We’re all coping with so much change and uncertainty already, and to lose the one thing you rely on as a constant is gut wrenching. I’ve cried at friends who haven’t even been able to hug me and tell me that of course I’ll be back. That I’ve been here before and it’s part and parcel of being an athlete. And deep down I know this. But I think over the last 14 months my capacity for any mental strain has diminished, and to be a running blogger who can’t run, to be known as Girl Running Late online but have nothing to say about it means that I feel like without running, I’m nothing.

But I have to say, that alongside my husband, it’s my running friends – both old and new – who have kept me going. There are those that drag me out for bike rides just so that we can try and find Justin some random tat on the side of the road and make up even more nicknames for each other (sorry Bethan), those who turn up with flowers and chocolates just because they know I’m having a bad week (thanks Rach and Ann), those that let me cry at them and help me to see the bigger picture (thanks Pete) and those who offer to come out for a walk when they would normally be out running (Charlotte, Janet, Shaun, Emma, Emily) just so that we can laugh and vent about anything and everything (sometimes with a bonus doggo and/or baby). It’s meant more to me than they probably realise (even if Justin did beat my Mill Hill segment on a bike ride, the git).

So what next? I see Melissa at Spritely Osteopathy in less than 2 weeks, and I know that her treatment is going to be the first step in getting back out there. I’ve been doing a lot more pilates to work on my glutes and core, the twin engines of a runner’s body, and I’ve signed up to Fiit, whose huge number of classes and points based workout system keeps me motivated. And as for the running, I’ll keep taking it very steady, restricting myself to a short run every three days and not deviating from that plan, and knowing that if my foot flares up again I’ll need to stop. For now, that’s enough for me. I’ve realised that even running a mile is restorative, and makes me feel like myself again. Yes, a lot of who I am is defined by my running, but it’s also given me the people who have kept me afloat both during this injury and during the whole of the last 14 months. So maybe it’s ok that it’s such a huge part of what makes me, me. Because without it, my support network would have been a hell of a lot smaller. Just don’t be offended if I don’t like your long Sunday run on Strava. I’m not quite there yet.

Was my Injury Actually a Good Thing?

Did I mention that I’ve been injured?

Megalolz. I’m only messing you with you. If you follow me on Twitter or you’ve been lucky enough to find yourself within earshot of me within the last four months you will have heard me banging on about my “posterior tibial tendonitis” (try saying that after a few drinks). This has been without doubt the most stubborn injury I’ve had in the last few years, and I’ve had some really low moments during the seemingly endless weeks of stretching, physio, osteopathy, acupuncture, yoga, foam rolling and self medicating with cake.

But now that I’m finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, I’m beginning to wonder if maybe this happening was a good thing. Yes I may have missed some of my favourite races and my preferred running season (trust me to be fit and healthy in the summer when trying to run outdoors is akin to running in soup) but I’ve been forced to be more creative with my fitness and as a result have seen my perspective shift in some interesting ways.

First of all, there’s the bouldering. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know I’ve found a real affinity with clambering up walls (despite being sweaty of hand and afraid of heights – go figure). I’ve reconnected with friends over climbing, have seen my shoulders develop in a way that makes me want to flex like the hulk whenever I walk past a mirror, have spent time with my niece and nephew at the climbing centre and have enjoyed the encouraging vibe between other climbers. It gives me an adrenaline hit but in a more controlled way than the adrenaline I feel on a start line of a race in a sometimes unfamiliar environment. Having said all this though, being on the verge of tears, stuck at the top of a route with my feet on a hold that looked disturbingly like a large pair of testicles was not one of my finest moments. But the good of climbing massively outweighs the bad.

Look! I’m a GIF! Thanks Oli…

Secondly, when I was deciding how on earth to find something that would get my heart rate up as much as running and Zumba (another exercise form that seemed to be aggravating my injury), I decided to wander into Elyte Fitness and see if maybe they were the gym for me after feeling less than inspired by the other local facilities on offer. Within 10 minutes I was sold on the sheer passion of the owners Lewis and Dawn and I signed up on the spot. I’m so glad I made this decision, as they are full of ideas and plans for the gym, and they’ve built an amazing fitness community. Every time I go there I feel like I’m with old friends and I’ll be writing a separate post on my Elyte journey so far as there is so much I want to say about it.

Because I was finding myself feeling so down about the state of running, I also decided to fire up my Headspace app again.  I’ve flirted on and off with Headspace for some time, but never seemed to manage more than 5 days in a row. Even though they always say not to worry if you miss a day, I would always take that as a sign of failure (competitive, moi?) and end up walking away for another month or two. But I’m currently sitting at 21 days straight of at least 10 minutes of meditation a day, and I am feeling slightly calmer in a general kind of way. I’m not going to claim that I am in some kind of zen like chilled perfection of existence (no one would believe that), but I think the clearest sign that I’m more relaxed and able to see “the bigger picture”, is the fact that I decided to transfer my Cambridge Half place, and I felt completely ok about it. Even though missing races you love sucks, setting back a recovery that has taken 4 months for the sake of one medal is madness. I would have spent the next 6 weeks fretting about building up from 4 miles to 13 miles, constantly wondering if my tendon could take the strain and I would have become unpleasant to be around. So to me it just seemed like such an obvious thing to do.

Another positive to come out of all this is that I feel like I know my body better, and I have a new found respect for it. I’m still making time to stretch and foam roll, and I try and do a little yoga every day (I manage it about 80% of the time). And as a result of my injury I’ve been told by my physio and my osteo that my foot functionality and balance is the best they’ve ever seen (proof that putting the effort into your rehab works!). And really, I’m just so excited to be running again, and am looking forward to getting stronger and building up to my best again. I’ve done a parkrun and a track session and loved every minute as you can see my inane grinning face above. Feeling my lungs fill with that gorgeous icy air is the ultimate tonic to me, and I’m just so grateful to be out there again. It’s lovely to be back with my running family, and I’m going to take my time and build up my distance slowly, and maybe look to do an autumn half marathon. Then again – maybe not? Maybe I’ll just keep doing whatever I like whenever I like, with no pressure, and no expectations.

 

 

Looking for Rainbows and Stars – An Athlete’s Analogy

So here’s a summary of my health so far in 2016:

  • Death cold from hell
  • Eye infection
  • Mild groin pull
  • Allergic reaction to medicine
  • Bad back
  • Locked joint in foot
  • Hit by a car and knocked off my bike
  • General despondent attitude

Looking back over this, that seems like a lot in the space of 2 months. I’m just going to wait here while you all send me vast amounts of sympathy.

Waiting 3

No? Ok then.

As someone who had only taken 1 sick day in 2 1/2 years (yes, that is a humble brag. I was properly proud of that) having this start to 2016 has seriously knocked me, not just physically but mentally as well (and this was before I made friends with concrete, which only happened yesterday after I’d started writing this post).

I don’t know about you, but I use running to cope with my stress. If I’m having a bad day, a 30 minute run in my lunch break can work absolute wonders. So that fact that I haven’t been able to properly get my teeth into my training at all yet in 2016 means that my stress has been building. But I can’t run to get rid of it. I hate not being able to run. So then the stress builds some more. But I can’t run……… So round and round we go like a dog chasing its tail, except that it’s way less entertaining for those around me.

Stress 1

So what’s a girl(runninglate) to do? I can either wallow in my bad luck, or I can just accept that quite simply, this is life. Who said it would always be plain sailing? Admittedly I’ve had an abnormal run of fails, but as one awesome runner liked to say, “when it rains, look for rainbows. When it’s dark, look for the stars.” I know in other circumstances this could sound like cheesy inspo you’d expect to find on Instagram, but it couldn’t be more fitting right now.

When I dropped out of the half, my brilliant friend Alice sent me a link to an article about Jessica Ennis when she had to drop out of the Beijing Olympics with a fracture in her right ankle. I imagine that making a decision like that is approximately 1000 times worse than having to drop out of a local half marathon. But look at what she has since gone on to achieve. Injury is part and parcel of being an athlete. It’s how you deal with the setbacks that shows how strong you really are.

And yes. I now consider myself an athlete. I never used to call myself that before despite the fact that Alan always has done. I just thought of myself as a runner. It was only at one of my many recent trips to Spritely Osteopathy that I called myself an athlete and Melissa picked up on it. The conversation went something like this:

“You called yourself an athlete.”

“Huh. So I did.”

“Good. You are.”

This short exchange showed a shift in the way I see myself, and it gave me a little boost during what has been a difficult time. It’s not much, but the little things count.

So I’m going to focus on how lucky I am to walk away from being hit by a car (my brother called me a double-hard bastard which is one of the best compliments I’ve ever received) and focus on the future. Anytime I can’t run I’ll work on my pull ups. If my legs need some rest I’ll go for a swim. If I need some downtime, I’ll do some yoga. Plus I’m going to dust off my Headspace app and set aside 10 minutes a day to get some more Yin in my life (because all this Yang cannot be good for me – thanks to Sigrist Acupuncture for the brilliant talk on Chinese medicine earlier this week)! There will always be options.

Enough of all this. I’m going to go and look at the stars. Bugger off clouds.

Thumbs Up

 

 

The Universe vs Girlrunninglate

I’m beginning to think the universe has it in for me at the moment.

The day after my last post, I was at work and my back went. Yes, you heard that right. After the groin pull and allergic reaction to medication in the lead up to the Cambridge Half Marathon, both of which I had mostly managed to recover from, my back went. What was I doing I hear you ask? One armed pull ups? Kickboxing? Wrestling a bear?

No, fair reader. I turned. Yup. I made the fatal error of turning around.

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At first I was in denial. I just thought “nah, that hasn’t actually happened. I’ll Taylor Swift it and just shake it off.” But as I walked down the stairs from my office, I knew I was in trouble, and this was then followed by a Bridget Jones-esque 10 minute sob in the toilets. Nicely handled Thomas.

The next day it hadn’t eased up at all, and when Alan called to ask me how I was doing in the lead up to the half, I told him what had happened, and he asked me “do you think that maybe your body is trying to tell you something?” I then burst into tears again (2 days running – excellent!) and told him that I wasn’t ready to quit yet as I had physio and osteo appointments lined up later that afternoon. By 6pm I had the information that my L3 joint had locked up, probably because I have a terrible habit of carrying my stress with me all the time, and it had been an incredibly tough 10 days, both physically and emotionally. It was nothing mega serious, but I was uncomfortable and in pain.

It was probably my conversation with Stacy that really pulled everything into focus. She knew how emotionally invested I was in this race as I wanted to #RunForMarcus so badly, but as an athlete who has had her share of injuries in the past, she said “look at the bigger picture. If you run this, how much is it going to set you back coming out the other side? Will it mean a whole month off just because you’ve put your body through something it wasn’t strong enough to do? Also risking further mechanical injuries by running with a technique that protects your back. If you knock your hips out of alignment etc. it could be weeks before you’re back running again. Could you cope with no exercise?”

I hate it when she’s so flipping sensible.

My choice was, which will I regret more? Not running this particular race, or running it and injuring myself in a way that could take me out for a potentially long period of time?

When I then woke up yesterday morning with my back still painful and stiff, I knew my decision had been made.

crying

I look just like this when I cry

It’s so hard to let something go when you’ve worked so hard for it. Especially when I felt like I had already come through so much to be ok to run it. But sometimes things aren’t meant to be, and sometimes you have to just be sensible and make a tough -but ultimately right – decision.

I then decided that rather than wallow at home, I was going to go and support my friends and cheer them through it. The race was going to happen whether I was running it or not, and I knew I could at least be useful by being a fleece-holding cheerleader, so I got up at silly o’clock and headed to Cambridge with four of my friends who were running.

I’m not going to lie. It wasn’t easy standing there at the start line and chatting to Andy from Ely Runners as he commiserated with me, watching all of the runners bubbling over with nervous energy and wishing I was one of them. But as the starting horn sounded, I cheered everyone off and then scuttled across Jesus Green to the Round Church where I hoped to see everyone at the 2.5 mile mark.

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All the super-fasties at the start. The eventual winner, Aaron Scott (1:06:47), can be seen in the dark headband with his head lower than everyone else’s.

After witnessing a scuffle between an impatient cyclist and the marshals (he wanted to cross the road just as the first – very fast – runners were approaching and when politely asked to wait he started ramming them with his bike before throwing punches), I managed to spot loads of people I knew and cheered them on as loudly as I could. I then crossed over to hang around outside Trinity ready to catch them when they looped back and hit the 11-ish mile mark. My attempt to catch Aaron on camera failed miserably (TOO FAST!) but I managed to catch local writer and all over stupidly fast person Liz Fraser, as well as my awesome friend Pete:

I then just started cheering on random runners, shouting out their names as they ran past (putting their names on their numbers is the BEST idea) as I remembered from my own experience of running the Cambridge Half that hearing people cheer you on by name is a brilliant boost.

After I was pretty sure I’d spotted everyone I knew, I headed back to Midsummer Common to get to the finish. I again spotted Andy from Ely Runners and managed to give him a congratulatory hug on his incredible PB before being told that as a non-runner I was NOT allowed to be in that section (way to kick me when I’m down!) and instead I walked around to the end of the runner’s funnel to meet everyone.

It was at this point that I lost it slightly. The sight of all of the jubilant runners and the excited chatter of PBs just hit me in a way that left me almost emotionally winded, and the sheer disappointment just came out and I burst into tears yet again. But I was also so, so happy for everyone who had just achieved something utterly incredible. I just wished I could have been a part of it.

But you know what? I was. I cheered people on as loudly as I could, my throat sore from my efforts. There is something brilliant about being able to give people the encouragement they need when there are still 2 miles left to go and their legs are shouting at them to stop but they’re mentally battling to keep going. I may have missed out on an awesome medal, but this race just wasn’t meant to be for me. I’m going to properly get over everything that’s happened in the last couple of weeks, get some emotional and physical balance back, and then come back better and stronger. And quite frankly, I’m done with crying.

Ugly Crier

How I actually look when I’m crying

 

Finding Focus for the Cambridge Half

Sometimes, things don’t always go to plan.

Take the NYE 10k. I had a miserable time of it, and it really threw me. It was mentally and physically difficult, and I felt weak and my confidence around future long races took a serious hit, leading me to doubt whether or not I even wanted to run long distance anymore. It felt like the joy of it had completely gone.

This Sunday (the 28th February), it’s the Cambridge Half Marathon. As training, I’ve done one 7 mile run, two 8 mile runs and two 11 mile runs. These training sessions have been spread out and sporadic, not helped by the three weeks of training I missed due to the awful cold-afflicted time I had of it at the end of January. Most of these runs have been tougher than I’m used to, because at the moment I’m probably only at around 65% of my peak fitness. This also means that I’ve picked up niggles along the way, including a “grumpy” knee and a pulled groin as recently as last week. All of this piles up so that I stress out and run in a tense, stiff posture, making myself more likely to get hurt. It’s a vicious cycle. In addition to this, I’ve been struggling with my hydration due to medication, and this weekend have also developed an allergic reaction to something that has covered parts of my body – including my feet – in a sore, uncomfortable rash. Awesome (and attractive).

theplague

So I admit that I’ve been tempted to bail on the Half on numerous occasions. At times it felt like the universe was telling me to. I knew a PB would be hard to come by, and I was worried about doing myself more damage on a long run that I was unprepared for. But then something awful happened that made me snap out of my funk and regain my focus.

A fellow local runner and blogger Marcus Gynn lost his fight against cancer on the 11th February. Now I know Marcus for a variety of reasons. My other half grew up with him, and had always told me stories about Marcus, mostly based around his Duke of Edinburgh shenanigans, including being chased by a bull in his bright orange high vis jacket, and setting fire to himself so that his fellow DofE buddies had to roll him down a hill to put him out while he laughed his head off. Since then I’d bumped into Marcus at a variety of races, due to his sheer love of running (his medal haul was pretty epic) and the fact that we ran at a really similar pace. I remember how tickled my OH was when he saw this race from the 2014 Cambridge Half and Marcus and I were the only runners in the photo:

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Marcus would have loved to be running the Cambridge Half again, and here I was whinging that it was hard. Of course it’s bloody hard sometimes. If it wasn’t we’d all be nipping off for a 13 mile run before work. So I’ve completely reassessed why I run. I started doing it because like Marcus, I loved it. If I’m not at peak fitness I don’t have to push for a PB. I can just enjoy it. So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to run with my friend Rachel, soak up the atmosphere, and run it for Marcus. I’ve sorted my niggles out with some epic osteopathy sessions with miracle-worker Melissa at Spritely Osteopathy and with an intense sports massage from Megan at the FAST Clinic (damn my stubborn glutes!) and I’m trying to get a handle on this rash. But if I have to slather my feet in Vaseline or even crawl this run, I’m going to do it. Unless anyone’s up for giving me a piggyback?

An awesome Twitterer has also set up an account in Marcus’ memory, @runformarcus1. The aim is to raise as much money for Marcus’ family’s chosen charities as possible, and in return you get a wristband with #runformarcus on it that you can wear on all your runs so that a part of him is always with you, cheering you on. If you’d like to donate £5 (to cover the cost of the band plus ensure a decent bit for the charities) or more you can do so here. Please also have a read of his blog if you can. It’s a joy to read and his bravery in the face of his illness is awe-inspiring.

I’m going to #RunForMarcus on Sunday. I really hope you’ll join me.