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.

The Waterbeach Running Festival – My Review

A couple of weeks ago, a mere 6 days after the behemoth (well, for me anyway) run that was the Wings for Life World Run, I found myself heading to the old army barracks at Waterbeach to take part in the 10km race that was being held as part of the inaugural Waterbeach Running Festival. The festival was being held in aid of the Waterbeach Toddler Playgroup, and when my friends Pete and Rach told me that they had signed up, I thought I may as well give it a bash myself.

After the scorching heat of the previous weekend, it was a bit of a shock to the system when we arrived at the barracks to a leaden sky and temperatures that were seriously struggling to reach double figures, as well as a less than helpful wind. The barracks themselves are also a little spooky – a great setting for a horror film for any keen amateur film-makers out there. Despite this, the atmosphere was buzzy and everyone seemed genuinely excited to be the first to take part in a new addition to the Cambridgeshire running calendar.

The festival itself was made up of four events – a 100m toddle for under 5s, a 2km fun run for ages 4+, a 5km run for ages 11+ and then the 10km for ages 15+. I have to say that when I found myself having a major internal battle regarding whether I should run in capris or shorts I did ask the others why we hadn’t signed up for the 5km. Sadly none of us had a sensible answer for that.

After we had grabbed our race numbers (a flawless process), we then ventured outside to do a highly necessary warm up. I did feel a bit sorry for the vendors who had pitched up for the fair, including the awesome Sweet Ally Scoops, because the freezing cold weather meant that ice cream wasn’t high up on people’s snack agenda. I imagine that if the weather had been nicer the whole festival would have had an awesome party vibe.

Once we’d warmed up we headed to the race start, which was about a 2 minute jog from the sports hall where we’d registered (not “miles away” as some worried looking folk were telling us as the start time edged ever nearer)! The race itself was a 2-lap course, set to start 15 minutes after the 5km runners had started. This meant that some of the faster 10km runners would find themselves catching up the 5km tail runners, but the path was so wide that this wouldn’t be an issue. There were around 100 runners taking part in the 10km, and after we had the usual housekeeping chat from the organisers, we were off.

To be honest, if you’re looking for a picturesque race, then this isn’t the one for you. It’s pretty barren, and the layout of the course means you can often see the runners who are way ahead of you, which has the potential to mess with your mojo. Plus I know runners have mixed feeling about 2-lap courses. Personally I don’t mind them (10km is 10km however you look at it), but I get that it can be mentally tough to finish 5km only to think “bloody hell I have to do that again?!” But the positive thing about this race is that it is flat. There is the occasional pothole and the surface is ever so slightly gravelly, but the upshot is that this is a course with serious PB potential.

When I started the race, I got ahead of the other handful of women at the start within about 100m. However, I regretted this pretty quickly as I started panicking that I had gone off too ¬†quickly and I had no idea just how close to me these women were. Were they just drafting behind me, waiting for the perfect moment to strike and zoom past me? At about 7km in, my left leg started to grumble a bit. After the 11 miles in high temperatures from the previous weekend, my legs didn’t really know what had hit them. As someone who averages 10-15 miles a week, after this run I would be at 24 miles in 7 days. That’s a pretty serious increase, and I started to wonder if my leg would hold up. At 8km I had no choice but to walk for about 10 seconds, which annoyed me immensely as I hate it when I don’t manage to run an entire race. On the plus side however, I managed to look over my shoulder and see that there was no other woman in sight. This gave me the mental boost I needed, and I dug deep and completed the race as the first woman, something I’m still in shock about.

Waterbeach 10k Podium

I completed the race in 43:55, which is not a time I’m particularly proud of (my PB being 42:41) but which I suppose wasn’t bad on tired legs. In even more exciting news, both Pete and Rach managed PBs, which considering the windy conditions was blooming awesome. Hopefully these results will put as all in good stead for the season, and put Pete on his way to finally achieving his sub 1:30 half marathon.

Waterbeach 10k Medals

Unfortunately my leg has been grumpy ever since the race. Every time I run, I feel good during the session but the next day it completely seizes up. It’s my own silly fault for upping my mileage so much, but I don’t think it’s muscular as a physio appointment and some epic foam rolling and stretching hasn’t eased it much. I’m seeing my fab osteopath Melissa at Spritely Osteopathy at an ungodly hour on Tuesday morning, so fingers crossed she’ll be able to pinpoint the root cause of the problem. Wish me luck.

As far as the races goes, I can’t recommend the Waterbeach Running Festival enough. It was smoothly run, the organisers and marshals were friendly, encouraging and professional, and the course is ideal for anyone hoping to smash their 5km or 10km PB. Every runner gets a medal, and my trophy is so gorgeous. Fingers crossed this becomes an annual event, and that next year we get ice cream weather.

Waterbeach 10k Trophy

 

 

 

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

 

 

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:

fb_img_1455367689066.jpg

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.