A Love Letter to the Lido

I thought of the Lido again this morning, as I woke up with my hair sticky against my neck after another hot and restless night. I thought of that moment of standing on the edge of the water, literally dipping a toe in and instantly regretting it as the icy shock made me question my life choices and ponder the preferable option of a coffee from Fitzbillies instead. I quickly learned to never hesitate when visiting this outdoor pool. Plunging in is the only way to fly, even if all of your internal organs scream in unison when you first hit the water. It’s worth it.

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I’ve never regretted a trip to Jesus Green Lido. Even when the season rolled towards its end and the temperature of the water would be so low that I would emerge after a 30 minute swim with blue lips and the feeling that I would never know true warmth again, I would spend the day in the most amazing mood. An indoor pool has never been able to come close to replicating that feeling. It feels so soulless somehow, like the roof prevents the magic from hitting the water. I like hearing the trees rustle when I swim, sweeping away fallen leaves and the occasional disgruntled insect and bobbing bird with my broad, clumsy strokes (a natural swimmer I am not). I like feeling the breeze on my shoulders as a squirrel scampers across the grass, all accompanied by the low hum of traffic from Chesterton Road, mixing with the birdsong. I like squinting into the low sun in one direction and feeling the relief between my eyes as I change direction for another 91 metres.

Yes, you heard that right. For anyone who doesn’t know, Jesus Green Lido is 91 metres long and just 14m wide. It’s one of the longest outdoor pools in Europe, designed in such a way as to mimic the feeling of swimming in its neighbour, the River Cam. The deepest part of the pool is in the middle, something I find oddly reassuring (after a tiring length it’s pleasant to be able to place your feet on the bottom, regardless of which direction you’ve swum in). The changing huts are comfortingly retro, made from wood with a sizeable gap at the top and bottom, and there is something freeing about the unabashed way my fellow female swimmers use the communal showers and chat about the weather. When you’ve seen each other in minimal amounts of form fitting lycra, nudity suddenly seems like a very minor next step (something the Brit in me has generally felt uncomfortable with, but strangely not at the Lido).

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With Covid-19 having shut the lido for much of the 2020 season, when I heard that it was opening again, I didn’t feel excited. I felt sad, as I knew that due to my discomfort around the pandemic I was going to miss the entire season. I’m not ready to get on a train again to get there. I’m not ready to be near so many people. And I’m not ready to see the lido in such a different way. I’m not ready to book an hour-long slot for my swim like some strange forced fun and spend the entire session with one wary eye on my belongings on the side of the pool due to the gloriously old-fashioned basket room being closed. I’m not ready to rush. Jesus Green lido was made for lazy social swims (only one third of the pool is usually reserved for “fast” swimmers), relaxing under the surrounding trees and generally experiencing a feeling of nostalgia for simpler times.

So instead I’m looking forward. Jesus Green Lido will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2023, and what a glorious celebration that’s going to be. I (hopefully) have many summers left in me to set a stupidly early alarm so that I can be in the water by 7.30am. And in the meantime I’ll reread one of my favourite books, The Lido, by Libby Page. I’ll browse the lido collection by artist Lou Taylor and maybe treat myself to that brooch at last (or even better, that silk scarf). I’ll google “1930s lido” and fill my boots with fabulous images and feel a moment of sadness for those that have been long since filled in. If there is any risk of the pandemic bringing about the closure of Jesus Green, I will play whatever part I can in ensuring this doesn’t happen. I would happily donate the £5-£10 a week I usually spent on my swim to the Lido if it needed it, as it’s given me so much happiness that extends far beyond this.

Maybe I’m romanticising Jesus Green Lido. But this is a love letter after all.

How I’ve Managed my Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar Fasciitis. Two words that send a shiver up the spine of any runner. As dirty a pair of words as shin splints. And exactly what I’ve been dealing with for the last few months.

I’m not going to lie. It’s been miserable, and painful, and I don’t have a quick-fix, miracle cure for you. And just because it worked for me, doesn’t mean it will work for you. But I thought I would share with you what I’ve done to try and get over this miserable affliction effectively, because if just one of these helps with your recovery, that’s got to be a good thing, right?

REST

First and foremost I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to lay off the running. But you knew that didn’t you? You just didn’t want to hear it. I feel you.

If there is pain, don’t run on it.

It doesn’t matter what races you’ve got planned or how long you’ve been training for them- I had to miss out on 6 different events from 5ks to half marathons whilst dealing with this injury – it’s better to take 3 months off now, then run on it and end up having to take double that off (or worse). There are other sports you can do instead. For me, that’s been spinning and swimming.

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GET DIAGNOSED

If you’ve got pain that is mostly in the heel, and it’s at its worst first thing in the morning when you get out of bed, chances are it’s plantar fasciitis. But the root cause of the PF could be due to tight calf muscles or any number of things, and it’s best to get a professional to take a look at you so that they can help with the best course of action. I worked with Megan from the FAST Clinic, and one of the best things she did for me – other than be endlessly patient and tell me that yes, I will get out running again – was tell me that it’s not enough to just rest tendons – they need to be strengthened as well.

STRENGTHENING

Once Megan and I had established that mobility and flexibility weren’t the issue for me, she gave me a few strengthening exercises to do at home. One was standing back from a wall and falling towards it with my hands out to catch myself whilst keeping my legs straight and my feet flat. But the ones that I feel made the greatest difference for me were adapted heel raises. Rather than just standing on a stair and going up and down on my toes (dropping the heel below the height of the step as far as I’m able), I was going up on both toes, but only down on the bad foot. I also had the toes of the bad foot stretched upwards on a rolled up towel as I did this. After a while, I started adding weights, first with a few plates (around 4kg worth) in a rucksack on my back before moving to kettlebells up to 10kg (you’ll need a hand free to hold on to a rail, otherwise you WILL stack it). Once my foot had become used to being loaded up again (when you run the force through your foot is considerably more than your body weight) it was time to think about running again.

REHAB

Most people who have had PF will tell you that you should roll out the fascia (essentially the mid foot area) on a tennis/golf/cricket ball, and I’ve found this to be great advice. My ball of choice is a lacrosse ball as it’s a good size but smooth on the skin, and I got mine off Amazon. You can also roll your foot on a small bottle of frozen water as ice can help with the inflammation.

I also went to see a sports massage therapist in Ely called Becky Case-Upton. I know Becky from my gym, and she has this infectious energy for life, and a serious appetite for learning about the human body, and after Justin from “You’re Running What” had raved about her I knew I had to see her, and I am so, so glad I did. Becky is a phenomenal therapist, and I feel like seeing her was the final missing puzzle piece in my recovery. I’ve been recommending her to everyone, which I may live to regret further down the line when I next need to see her and find she has a waiting list from hell, but if you’re struggling with an injury she should definitely be someone to consider seeing.

ADDITIONAL SUPPORT

I tried a few different other things to help with my PF including a boot to wear at night which I ditched after 3 attempts as I decided that even if it did help my PF, I still wouldn’t be able to run as I’d be too exhausted from waking up every time I rolled over when I wore the horrible thing. Others have found these to be useful though. Instead I’ve just been going to bed wearing a support sock on my foot. I’m not sure how much difference this has made to be honest, but it certainly hasn’t hurt.

I put innersoles or heel inserts into all of my shoes, and I was lucky enough to be gifted a pair of OOFOS recovery sandals that I have been wearing around my house non stop since they arrived around 5 weeks ago. Usually I potter around my house in flat slippers, but the general consensus with PF is to avoid being flat footed wherever possible. Although flip flops are generally frowned upon if you want to look after your feet, OOFOS are flip flops in looks only. They are so, so comfortable, and as their website says better than I can,  “their patented biomechanically engineered footbed helps to increase circulation and provides superior arch support”. I’m planning to get a pair of the rose gold ones to take on future travels.

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PATIENCE

I’m sorry, but with PF, you’re going to have to be patient. It’s not an easy injury to recover from, especially if you want to recover from it well, not just manage it enough so that you can keep running. I first started struggling with this in June, and now in mid September I’m finally getting out there again, starting with just a mile at a time.

I’l be honest – I’ve had some really down moments, none more than when I had to pass up my place in the Round Norfolk Relay – that was the one that caused tears. But I had more time to blog, I visited my local lido more, I supported my friends by acting as bike support on their long steady runs or cheering them on at races and I kept busy by trying new things. There are positives that can be found from being injured, including getting into good habits and being more aware of your body. And those last little runs I’ve done have been absolutely amazing.

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If you’re currently struggling with PF I really hope you find this post useful, and I hope my recovery will make you feel a bit more optimistic that you’ll get through it too. Let me know how you get on.