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).

Learning to Love the Track

Ok, so last week’s blog post was a little bit “woe is me, this running malarkey is so hard!” First world problems right? But sometimes it is cathartic to get your thoughts out there and have people empathise with you and discuss how track running is a much greater mental challenge than trail or road running. I’m glad it’s not just me. Getting your pacing right over different distances takes practice and patience. Those who know me well know the latter is a really strong point of mine. Ahem.

But last night, something seemed to click in my mind. I knew I was meeting Alan for a session today and I wrote on Twitter “I’m actually looking forward to my track session tomorrow. Do you think this means the coach has finally taken full control of my brain?” I don’t know what the difference was (if only it were that simple), but I was relishing the challenge and being far more pragmatic about it. I can only ever do my best, and if a session is tough a) it would be pointless if it were easy and b) there will be many more sessions if for whatever reason this one doesn’t go to plan. Even the wind today didn’t break my spirit. It just wobbled it ever so slightly…

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For a little while I thought I might be facing the 4 x 1 mile session myself, but after doing my warm up a voice boomed across the track and there was Alan on his delivery bike (he’s working for the University Exams Syndicate at the moment). Although I was preparing to take on the session alone (I know he can’t always control his working schedule), I know that I’m not going to be as tough on myself as Alan will be so I was pretty pleased to see him.

It was going to be a challenge – only a minute rest between the first two miles, followed by a 6 minute “rest” (Alan’s rests aren’t exactly known for being relaxing) where I’d do 9 goblet squats with a 20KG KETTLEBELL and then the next two miles with only a 30 second rest in between.

Can I just take a moment to mention that I’m 53kg? Ok, carry on.

Clueless Bugging

As per usual I went off too fast, completing the first mile in 6:36. Not a mile PB, but I wanted to do each one anywhere from 6:30 – 7:00 minutes, while Alan was just after sub 7:00 for each one. At least we were on the same page. The second one came out as 6:43, and then after 6 minutes and the evil squats, I was back out there. I then did a 6:46, and finished on a 6:54, which I was a bit disappointed with, but I slightly blame the fly that decided to take a swim in my eye, and the wind had started to take its toll a little.

The most important thing of this session is the fact that I enjoyed it. Not the physical process which was tough and demanding, but the fact that I took control of the situation, kept my head up and used my arms better than I have done before. Alan said “you’re not doing much wrong Lauren.” RESULT.

Happy Tina Fey

It felt great, and I hope the track won’t hold quite as much fear now, although I’m aware there will be plenty of tough sessions ahead. I did my usual barefoot lap afterwards (apparently it massages the feet Maria!) and as I put my trainers back on, I got a ticking off and a 5 push-up punishment for not undoing the laces and crushing the backs of the heels. And it was all going so well………