A Runner’s Homework and Information Overload

I am not a happy bunny.

I have half a dozen blog post ideas rattling around in my head, but have I had time to write them? Have I hell. Someone has gone and done a runner with my last two weeks of November and now here I am on December 3rd – for crying out loud – wondering whether my blog should be taken out into a field and put out of its misery.

But fear not fair reader – I enjoy wanging on about my running far too much to give up that easily. I will just put aside watching Stranger Things until these thoughts have found their way onto the page (screen).

So, I am now three appointments in to my time as the sponsored athlete for the Cambridge Half Marathon in collaboration with Saucony, Progress and OSB Events. And boy oh boy have I been set some homework (you can see my first interview with Progress where I look about 60 with a double chin here).

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Gif from Giphy

So on my first appointment with Lauren over at Progress, she had me doing all kinds of squats, planks, intervals on the treadmill and lunges, all to get an indication of what she’s got to work with. The answer? Someone who is more than a bit wonky. Turns out that my left side is significantly weaker than my right, which goes some way to explaining why about 90% of my injuries have occurred on my left (except for the current weird grumbly foot). My calf strength is also at about 50% of what Lauren would expect to see in a runner. It’s a miracle that I manage to stay upright to be honest.

So I came away with a handful of exercises to do, including calf raises on each leg where I have to do them on a step, going right up on to the toes, and lowering my heel below the step as far as I can go, keeping my leg locked out the whole time. I should be able to do 30 on each leg, but I’m managing 16/17 max. I also have to do planks whilst lifting alternate legs off the ground for as long as possible, side planks and dorsiflexion lunge tests. And these are just the exercises Lauren has set me.

I then made an appointment to see Hannah for my first sports massage last week. While part of me wondered if perhaps I should save all of my appointments with her until closer to the race, I rationalised that I have a problem now that is impacting on my training, so I may as well take advantage of her expertise. Now I know Hannah socially as she’s the partner of my colleague Matt (the fitness industry is a small world in Cambridge) and she is one of life’s thoroughly lovely people, as well as being – like Lauren – exceptionally knowledgeable. After she gave my foot a thorough looking over she didn’t find anything to concern her, gave the inside of my right ankle a real hammering (my fascia there was “sticky”), told me to lay off the running for a week and ease myself back in with a steady flat run and then uttered the immortal words “ask Matt about some glute strengthening exercises”.

Now, anyone who knows Matt knows that his training is BRUTAL. His classes at the sports centre are legendary in their toughness and his MetCon class is the only one that I’ve come close to vomiting in (if that’s not a recommendation I don’t know what is). So when I told him that Hannah wanted him to come up with some exercises for me, his little face lit up, and a few days later I found myself in the Team Training Room with him, wondering what the hell I had let myself in for as he showed me my new S&C programme. It’s a crazy mix of a mini circuit of 5 exercises repeated 3 times round, 3 pairs of strength exercises again repeated 3 times round, and another mini circuit of 5 exercises repeated 3 times round. Confused? You bet your (weak) arse I was confused. I’ve got val slide leg curls, banded kettlebell swings, Romanian deadlifts, Bulgarian split squats, pull ups, 20kg suitcase carries and a plethora of other exercises that I can only assume he extracted from the bowels of hell. FYI, I’ll be doing this twice a week. So far I’ve done the programme all the way through once, and I must have muttered “I’m going to bleeping kill him” more than a dozen times. Had I had enough strength left in my arms I might have managed it.

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Notice the evil in his eyes and the cry for help in mine.

I then saw Hannah again two days ago to report back on how my foot had coped after a slow steady 4 mile run and a 9 x 150m sprint session at the track. The answer is pretty well, but I’m now wondering whether the tweaks I’m feeling in my foot are “real” or whether I’m obsessing over the injury and creating a pain that doesn’t actually exist. When I explained this to Hannah I thought she might think I was mad, but she totally got it and started telling me about how the brain interprets pain, and is going to give me some reading recommendations on the subject. She then made me hold a squat for about half an hour (aka 60 seconds ish), watched me run on the treadmill and showed me a routine of foot/ankle strengthening exercises that she’d like me to do every day. Turns out my squat would be the envy of many, and my right foot is hyper mobile which although it not a bad thing, could go some way to explaining the current grumble (hence the need for foot and ankle strengthening).

Flipping heck. As I’ve been typing this I’ve been feeling myself getting slightly overwhelmed by how much information has been thrown at  me and the sheer volume of work I have to do. A daily foot and ankle routine, twice weekly S&C sessions and thrice weekly planks and calf raises, not to mention day to day foam rolling and actually getting out and, you know, running.

During my last appointment with Hannah I think she could tell that I was in the middle of information  overload and she said to me “there will come a point where you’ll want to tell us all to bugger off for a week, and that’s totally fine” and I could have kissed her. Not that I’m at that stage – far from it. But it’s nice to know when I really can’t face my homework I can just run off into the distance for a while (grumpy foot permitting).

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).

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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.