Joining the injured runners club.

It had to happen sooner or later. Training was going well and optimism was high. Just 4 miles in to my 19 mile run last weekend I pulled up. My right knee wasn’t having it. At first it felt like my knee just needed a good stretch to get things moving so I dutifully tried my best to loosen it off and set off again. A few sore steps followed, for a moment I contemplated pushing on and trying to run it off, but common sense made a surprise appearance and I stopped. The sensible part of my brain winning the argument with a reasoned “you’ve got 15 miles to go on this run and you’re already in pain, stop now or you’ll only make it worse”. So I did. Luckily this struck at a point where I was only half a mile or so from home so I didn’t need rescuing (good, as my wife doesn’t drive). I made my way towards home, occasionally grimacing and clutching my knee as cars passed so they knew I was injured and not just taking a break. Yeah…. I know. (On the plus side I resisted conjuring up a run name on Strava to justify my poor showing; “Aborted Long Run” perhaps, or “Long run – knee gave up at 4mi”. It remained as “Morning Run”, an unprecedented double victory for the sensible side that morning).

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So much for the long run – not quite the 19 miles it was meant to be.

Deflated I made it home, still battling the idiotic side of me which was determined to just run it off. I explained to my wife why I was back early and received some much welcomed reassurance that there was still plenty of time to the marathon and just to rest for a few days. I sat down to sulk and quickly turned to Dr Google to figure out what was going on. Symptoms entered in to the search bar returned a monumental list of articles and forum posts, all along the same theme – Iliotibial band syndrome.

“ITB syndrome can result from any activity that causes the leg to turn inward repeatedly. This can include wearing worn-out shoes (nope, they’re still ok), running downhill (yep, that’s when it kicked in) or on banked surfaces (I’ve been trying out off-road running recently, that might not have helped), running too many track workouts in the same direction (nope), or simply running too many miles (we have a winner).”
http://www.runnersworld.com/tag/it-band-syndrome

I’ve never heard of the iliotibial band before, it seems as though this is the runners equivalent of the metatarsal bone which David Beckham helped to popularise in 2002. Now I know what it is, it looks like there are iliotibial bands flaring up everywhere.

I did worry that I was pushing it too far with this training plan. Running six times a week, clocking up some pretty hefty weekly miles would push me towards a decent marathon time, but did carry a risk. It looks like that risk has been realised. Following the diagnosis, Dr Google has subsequently prescribed a break from running and stretching exercises. The exact length of this break wasn’t clear, so I initially took this to mean a day and set off for a nice and steady run on Monday evening to test things out. I managed around 1km before realising this was a mistake and turned back to home.

By listening to that sensible side again I’ve rejigged my training plan to give me an entire week off running. That was hard, and in all honesty sticking to it will be a battle with the idiotic side still chirping away telling me I need to go for a run. It’s disappointing, not least of all because training has been going well so far and I was finally starting to feel like running a marathon was an achievable goal. The main thing now is making sure I’m fit enough to actually run on the day, because above all else this run is about raising money for charity. If I can‘t run at my best on the day, I’ll be disappointed but I’ll cope. If I can’t run at all on the day then I’m letting down a charity and missing out on running with E on my chest again. Hopefully, by telling myself that this rest week is part of my training plan to get me to the start line then I can be disciplined enough to stick to it.

 


 

This setback has come at the end of a trickier week all round. Another birthday rolled by recently and once again, as with any milestones, brought out all those emotions that are kept sealed away on a “normal” day. A thoughtful birthday card from my wife on behalf of E was a little too much and while emotions were just about kept in check in the house, the subsequent car ride was soundtracked by one of E’s favourite albums. I’d gotten better at listening to this album in the past few months, but with the heightened emotions it was a little too much and tears flowed for the first time in a while. Thankfully this was before my introduction to the iliotibial band so this was one thing I could run off.

The Return of the Long Run

27 Mar 2017

The Sunday long run. A recurring marker in the diary that makes sure your Sunday starts early, and your Saturday stays honest. As the training weeks tick by and the Edinburgh Marathon draws nearer those Sunday long runs are starting to get longer. This weekend gone brought with it a 17 miler, officially the furthest I’d run since my 2013 marathon attempt (I think I was still running at 17 miles, but only just). I was a little apprehensive on setting off, and still so around 5 miles in. However by the end of it I was a changed man. This marathon was going to be mine.

Ok that’s maybe going a bit too far. Putting this in to context this was a 17 mile training run benefitting from fresher legs after a week lost to illness. But it did feel good. It was a challenging route, more so than the EMF2017 route looks, but I got round without wanting to stop. This run felt like a turning point, like I can finally let go of that miserable marathon effort from 2013. The marathon that effectively ended my interest in running for two years and has dogged me ever since.

I left the 2013 Yorkshire Marathon wondering how anyone can run a marathon at anything resembling pace. Throughout this training plan to date that thought has remained. I’m genuinely nervous, and that never happens before a race. I know the day itself will still have another 9 miles to add on top of this latst run, but I won’t be running 8 miles the day before EMF. Plus my training still has 3 lots of 20 mile runs to come to help bump up my endurance. I’m starting to think I could actually become a marathon runner.

One big thing that went right on Sunday was the fuelling, another mental hurdle I’ve had to overcome. Although I’ve been merrily getting through my stash of SiS gels for a while now I have doubted whether or not I could make these work over and above the half marathons I was running last year. I’ve been worried that a) they wouldn’t be enough to stop me hitting the wall again, or b) I’d overcompensate, take too many and get stomach cramps (tip: extra gels can’t rescue a half marathon you’re running two days after getting back from an all-inclusive holiday you’ve definitely got your money out of).

My plan was to keep it light and go for two gels over 17 miles, one after an hour and one more 40 minutes later. This seemed to work for me. I felt ok at the point I took the first gel, but knew I’d be needing it soon so took it whilst the going was good. The second was perhaps a little delayed as I started to struggle around 13 miles, however shortly after taking it I picked up again and managed to up my pace for the next 3 miles or so. This gel is the one that’s boosted me. The difference it made was certainly noticeable, something I have questioned in the past. Just before I took the gel those doubts were starting to creep in as I plodded along “You’re over 13 miles now. You don’t like running further than this. Stick to what you know, you’re no marathon runner”. The gel silenced these. My legs got going again, my form returned and my breathing settled (or more accurately I remembered to breath). As I upped the tempo along a familiar and dull stretch of road I was growing in confidence and started to see how I could keep a decent pace for 26.2 miles.

By jove I think I’ve cracked it – finally putting to use the free SiS gels (good marketing folks, you’ve roped me in now).

As I got closer to home I could tell my energy was dropping again. 17 miles is probably the time for gel number three, one to try out on this weekend’s 19 miler. At this rate I’m expecting to be on four gels for the marathon itself, maybe with one spare for emergencies.

Next week’s  19 miler, the three lots of 20 miles, and the marathon itself are no longer daunting (well, maybe the marathon still is a little). I know if I keep going with the training I’ll be able to run 26.2 miles. Yes it feels like a lot of running at the moment (partly because it IS a lot of running), but it’s going to be worth it.

 


 

One of the main challenges in these long runs is going to be making sure it doesn’t take over our weekend. Because of our work patterns Sunday’s are often the only day we get to spend all together. I want to train properly for this marathon, I want to run a good time, both for me and to do E proud. She’ll be pinned to my vest after all. But I also want my family time. Running for 2 hours plus every Sunday, with the added time back home to recover and refresh could become a bind. So far I’ve been able to drag myself out of bed early enough to get out, run and be back in time for family breakfast (A has at least two “beckfasts” these days so even when I miss the first I can catch the second). Hopefully that continues. The warmer weather should help. And it’s not like I’m bothered by having to keep my Saturday’s alcohol free, we rarely drink anyway so that’s no challenge. In fact with my hangover record, I’d lose more of my Sunday after a Saturday on the beer than I would from a Sunday long run. This is just another reminder to myself to keep things in perspective and keep one of the promises we made ourselves after we lost E – whatever happens we won’t let losing her affect the way we bring up A. I probably wouldn’t be running if E was still here, as much as I enjoy it now I didn’t have the motivation to get up and run before. This marathon is for E, but it won’t be at the expense of our family time.

 

The spreadsheet isn’t always right.

28 March 2017

Week 6 of the EMF2017 training plan turned out to be the one where things fell apart. Ok, that’s a tad dramatic, but it was a pretty poor week for training. Of the 70km or so I was meant to run I managed the grand total of 18km over two runs, and that’s with some rounding up.

The week started as it should with a 5km recovery run, much needed and now fully appreciated after earlier moans from me of this being a wasted activity session. This would be the peak of the week as things quickly went downhill.

My wife is also in training mode with a half marathon coming up in May. She too is going all out on the training and doing one hell of a job given, as she herself admits, she doesn’t really like running. After commenting on “not feeling right” before her Monday recovery run she set off regardless, keen to not let the training plan slip, and ran the prescribed 5km. This did not aid recovery. That night she became more and more unwell and as a result spent much of the following two days in bed. With nursery unable to take A an extra day this bought me a day and a half off work, and also meant no running for me for two days. Up to this point I’d been strict in my training and stuck to every run, squeezing in pre-work runs where possible when evenings weren’t going to be an option. However I was getting tired, my legs were still struggling to recover from the previous week’s exploits. An extra rest day or two to stay on call at home was most welcome.

As my wife recovered and was well enough to look after A, it was time for me to run again. Admittedly I didn’t feel great, but as I’d missed the last two days training I decided I had to stick to this one and set off to the Thursday club run. There’s no structured training at these, it’s just a run with the group around the area at a reasonable, but comfortable pace. Things did not start well. We live approximately 1km from the club meeting point and about halfway through my run to club I was struggling; 500m in to a gentle warm up I stopped running and walked. I told myself it was down to a lack of running over the last two days, and that I’d soon pick up once we got going properly. In short, I didn’t. The following hour and a bit was torture. I usually keep a reasonable pace on these runs, pushing up the hills to keep pace with the quickest folk and circling back down to regroup with the rest of the pack. This time I stayed with the rest of the pack. In fact I was the tail of the pack. My stomach was cramped, my breathing was short, my legs just weren’t interested. If I’d been out on my own I’d have turned back, but not wanting to lose face with the group I kept going. At one point I looked at my watch and saw we’d only been going 20 minutes, my heart sank. I was struggling, and we weren’t even half way through yet! I just about made it to the end of the run, the worst run I’d for a long, long time. I mumbled some goodbyes and sloped off home to collapse on to the sofa.

In hindsight I should’ve listened to my body as I got ready for the Thursday run. I didn’t feel great because I was getting ill (albeit my wife had it much worse than I did). The following three days were complete and utter write offs for training and worse, meant my day with A on Saturday (whilst my wife works) was perhaps one of the most boring days of her life. I had no energy to play with her and we spent a lovely sunny day getting through until Mummy got home. I regret that Thursday run. Whether it exacerbated things or not is hard to say, but regardless I shouldn’t have run. I was so het up over recovering an already slipping weekly training schedule I ignored what my body was telling me and made it work harder than it wanted to for an hour. An hour of such poor quality running that it can’t possibly have had any positive effect on my training.

Being relatively new to training plans, certainly of this intensity, I’m learning as I go and the key lesson here is to pay more attention to what your body says than what the spreadsheet on the fridge says. Yes, there are times when motivation drops and you need to force yourself out on a run, and I’ve found the printed [not laminated I hasten to add, I’m not that bad] training plan is a good stick to keep myself going. But it’s important to recognise those times when forcing yourself out on a run isn’t the best thing to do, something we both now understand after a miserable few days preceeded by runs we both knew were mistakes. A 16-week training plan has enough give to afford the odd missed session to cope with injury or illness, or just a break. If the quality of the runs is deteriorating then what good are they doing? Get yourself right and go again when you’re back to your best.


This week was always going to be a bit higgledy piggledy in terms of training, with Mother’s Day on Sunday. The long run would’ve needed to be brought forward to Saturday evening, something I’m quite glad my illness scuppered. Evening running is never the same, and two hours of it just seems unnecessary. Even under normal circumstances I would’ve wanted to make sure my wife got the Mother’s Day treatment she deserved, instead of disappearing for a couple of hours at sun up. However for us, days like this aren’t exclusively a day for celebration. They’re a jolt to remind you what’s missing, and require that bit more focus to make sure we all get through. These are days to stick together, and take full advantage of the smiles and laughs from happy A to keep right. Sunday must have been hard for my wife, it was for me, but she never showed it. It looked as though A enjoyed herself which always helps, stubbornly refusing to be carried as we walked up quite a sizeable hill in a local park (she obviously doesn’t share my dislike of hill work). All in all Sunday was a nice day, a nice day that didn’t involve any running.

 

 

To donate or not to donate? What about the training….

20 Mar 2017

A slightly longer blog this time, not to make up for not posting last week, but to sneak in a bit about my blood donation. Fear not, this isn’t a blog talking through the donation itself. That was as straightforward and uneventful as always. However this time I went in to my donation from the mind-set of someone training for a marathon and trying not to let the training plan slip.

Before I get in to it, I’ll start with a confession. In the days leading up to the donation I had considered cancelling. Not because of work, or childcare commitments, or because I was unwell and unable to donate. Nope, my sole reason for wanting to cancel was to ensure my marathon training was unaffected. Now I’ll add to this confession, I have moved donations by a week or two to fit around imminent races. Donating does slow me down and, although I’m only racing myself at these things, I do go in to a race wanting the best time I can get. I can just about excuse this by booking in to donate straight after the race, coping with the heavier legs and heaving lungs on some easier runs until I get back to normal. However moving a donation to keep training going, when training still has another 11 weeks to run? That’s harder to justify. A donation cycle is 12 weeks so in effect I’ll be skipping a donation, not postponing.

I didn’t cancel. This was only donation four for me, after 15-plus years of not taking the opportunity to donate I still have a lot of catching up to do. To my shame I’d never even considered donating until E was in hospital. But seeing everything that was thrown at her to try and save her you see just how important these things are. It shouldn’t take something like that to make you donate, but for me it did. Thankfully there are plenty of people out there who haven’t needed that prompt and do their bit regularly.

Back to the start of the week. The donation is booked for Wednesday so Monday and Tuesday’s training can go ahead as normal. Wednesday is down for four miles, and knowing that you’re not really meant to do much exercise immediately after donating I opted to run to work to get the run in before donating. In hindsight this may not have been best idea, particularly after a pretty tough Club session the night before. The day after donating was a struggle, much more so than previous donations. I woke up with a banging headache and zero energy. I’d already mentally rejigged my training plan to make Thursday my rest day if I needed. I did. I rested my arse off.

The rejig left me facing three decent sized runs in three days. 8 miles Friday, a pacey 8 miles Saturday, and 15 miles on Sunday. Although I felt better by Friday I knew this was going to be an effort. My past experiences of running after donating told me that I’d be slower. The hills would feel steeper, the recovery would take longer, the breathing would be heavier. I decided to just take my Friday evening as it came, set off slow and see how the run goes. If I need to stop, stop. Just get some miles in and get the legs working. The run was hard, harder than normal, but I got round and I was pleased I had.

Saturday would need to be an early start to fit a run in before my wife went to work. This was a struggle. My legs hadn’t recovered fully from the evening before (truthfully they hadn’t recovered from Tuesday’s hill session at Club). The first two miles or so felt like a monumental effort, the next two still being a sizeable effort. This was supposed to be a run at pace, it most definitely was not. Thoughts turned to my Strava postings for the last two days, “my average pace is gonna look slow”. As I turned back for the final four miles I tried to figure out a run title that would light heartedly justify my loss of pace without coming across as an excuse. For someone who doesn’t really “do” social media I was inordinately worried about my appearance on Strava. A swift and well-deserved telling off followed “grow up and get on with it!”.

Sunday was another early start. I knew I didn’t fancy anything too hilly, which isn’t easy around here, so I decided to run to the canal towpath and do as much as I could on there. 15 miles roughly broke down in to thirds; 5 miles to the canal, 5 miles of gradient free bliss, then 5 miles back. Surprisingly I felt good on the way out. It was windy, it was wet, those hills were still there, but my legs were working. I got to the canal in reasonable shape and set out for my first towpath run. After five pleasant miles filled with many “good mornings” to the countless runners, cyclists, dog walkers et al. that were all out braving the conditions, it was back to the pavement and the return leg to home. The gradient returned almost immediately and with it came the petulant protest from my legs. They liked the flat, why couldn’t they stay on the flat? Sadly the canal doesn’t run near my house, so I had no option but to head up hill. It quickly became clear I hadn’t thought this through properly as this particular hill was approximately 3km with some pretty drastic climbs (you dont notice the length when you’re running down it). The headwind didn’t help, there were parts where it felt like I was just jogging on the spot, unable to make progress up this never ending “hill” (see also: mountain). My legs had nothing more to offer, the pace wasn’t going to improve but I couldnt stop, just get yourself home. Eventually as I hit the brow of the hill (not the fake brow that appears about 2/3 of the way up just to break your spirits as the remaining 1/3 reveals itself around the corner) I let out the last of what had become a slew of grunts and obscenities (it’s a quiet road, no-one was about) and began my recovery down the hill back towards home. 15 miles done, training plan hit for the week even with the donation. What was I worried about?

I’ll end this week with an appeal to anyone with the same doubts I had about donating this week. I did plenty of reading in the days leading up to the donation, looking at articles and forum posts from runners talking about blood donation whilst training. A lot of the advice was not too, which for a while was fuelling my desire to cancel. However, what’s that going to achieve? What’s the harm in me struggling a bit more than normal for a week or two when a blood donation could potentially be a life saver?

BDM

Although I’d like to think otherwise, I’m not an elite athlete. My performance isn’t the be all and end all. If I can’t run at full pelt for a bit then who’s going to notice except me? Yes, training for the last few days has been harder than it would have been otherwise, and will be for a good few days to come. But I’ll recover. I’ll get back to normal and by the time Edinburgh marathon comes around my body will be virtually ready to donate again. More importantly, in the next few days I’ll receive a text message from the NHS to say where my donation has been used and that means more than any race time. Those text messages alone make donating real and I implore any runners having the same doubts I had this week to donate. Training can be adapted, donating is far more important. Speaking as someone who saw blood brought in to an intensive care ward regularly to try and save the lives of child after child, it’s important not to take for granted that blood is available when it’s needed. It’s a life saver, and it’s only available if people donate. If you’re worried about donating whilst training for a marathon, don’t be. It can be done and when you get that text message you’ll know you’ve done the right thing. I’ll be back in the donation centre again in June, just as the training for the Yorkshire marathon gets going. I might just plan in a couple of extra rest days this time.

The start of 2017 training

A realisation struck recently; I still had a live blog that hadn’t been updated in a while. On inspection while turned out to be 11 months. I remember writing the last one, on the train back to Edinburgh to meet the hospital staff whilst A slept on my chest in the baby carrier. I wasn’t great then, the blog was supposed to be a release be in reality it wasn’t. However by the time I wrote that I was taking literal steps to help me cope, I just hadn’t noticed yet.

When I wrote my last blog post in March 2016 I was running again. I’d run before, never seriously or with any great ability, but I’d done a handful of races and Parkruns. In 2013 I ran the very first Yorkshire Marathon, enjoying the atmosphere of my first marathon for the first 18 miles or so, then finding the lure of St John and his fine fleet of ambulances increasingly difficult to resist as my legs set firm and every part of my body begged me to stop. In the following two years you could count on one hand the number of times I went out for a run. Running was no longer for me.

However, in the grief fuelled haze I was trying desperately to ignore I needed to do something positive. My wife had already taken the initiative and signed herself up for some runs to kick start her sponsorship drive for charity, with friends across the country following her lead and forming their own army of fundraisers. It didn’t take much persuasion to get me involved, I was signed up for three half marathons before long and these would be my contribution to E’s army, raising money for charity and running three lots of 13.1 miles with E’s smiling face emblazoned across my chest by way of the customised running tops.

Over the course of 2016 three half marathons eventually became six, with a supporting role in the Yorkshire Marathon to boot (my wife ran her first marathon and a place became available for me to run with her). By the time I’d finished the first half marathon of the year I was a runner again. Hooked on the thrill of race day yes, but this time there was more. I was running these for E. I wanted to do well for E. Her face was carrying me round the route and we were connected again.

I’m not sure when it clicked but during my training I noticed a significant change in my mood. Yes I was still low, and yes it was still shit, but I was lifted. The exercise was making me fitter in my body, and also in my mind. I was less prone to breaking down when I was on my own and the distractions keeping the sadness at bay were absent (usually on the dark walk back home from the rail station, or when sat feeding A in her dark, quiet room before bed). Any gaps in training would bring about predictable lapses in my resolve, those bedtime tears creeping back out (thankfully A was only 4 or 5 months old when these were at their worst and never seemed to cotton on), so training took on greater importance. I was training to run quicker, feel better, and be stronger for those around me.

Skip forward to 2017 and I run more than ever, having joined a local running club towards the end of last year to make sure I kept active over winter. Even when I was running for pleasure pre-2013 I never ran over winter, the cold is not for running in. It worked. I’ve kept up my physical fitness and I haven’t had a serious lapse in some time (not counting Christmas and E’s birthday which no amount of endorphins could get me through smoothly).

So far there are two races in the diary for this year, both marathons, significantly one being the Edinburgh marathon. That’s where we lost E, in the Edinburgh children’s hospital, and where we try to do the most good to help those experiencing the worst of times imaginable for a parent. It will be emotional to be back there, and in my energy depleted post marathon state there will undoubtedly be tears at the finish line, but I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to pushing myself again. I’m looking forward to meeting members of the Sick Kids Foundation and being part of their team for the day. And I’m looking forward to running 26.2 miles with E on my chest again. She’s going to get me round and make sure St John and his ambulances don’t start to tempt me in again.

Today marks the official start of my marathon training plan for Edinburgh. A gentle 3 miles to start off the programme will follow A’s bedtime tonight. Touch wood, neither of us have shed a tear at bedtime in some time. Alongside the latest running goal I’m also going to aim to make better use of this blog. When I set it up I thought it would help me deal with everything that was whirling through my head. It didn’t, but running did. However I wish I’d kept the blog going this last year, purely as a log of how I was doing. I enjoy the running geek nature of tracking and analysing every step I take through Strava. I love seeing how I’m progressing ahead of each race and scoff at how long it took me to run up ‘that’ hill this time last year. Perhaps this is where the blog can fill the gap and make sure I keep it up to date. This blog will be my Strava for grief. Looking back at the brief history of this blog I can already see how much progress has been made since last year. Let’s hope 2017 sees that trend continue.