A week away. Now hurry back.

As things were flowing nicely in preparation for Edinburgh marathon my body, specifically my right knee, mounted a minor protest at all the early starts and extra miles and demanded a rest. My IT band was flaring up and causing quite a bit of aggro whilst I was running. A quick Google check presented some stretching exercises that should help and recommended a period of rest until things settle down. Not wanting to cause any serious damage before the marathon I dutifully changed my training plan for the week, I gave myself a week away from running.

This has been a long week. At first it was quite novel not having to worry about whether it was better to do 8 miles before or after work, whether I could run home in time to collect A from nursery, or whether running club were going off road again (they were). However this relief didn’t last. I read at the start of the week that you can take a week off running and not see any real impact on your fitness. That’s as maybe but I found day five to be the point where I started to lose a little of my mental strength. 

It’s difficult to pin it exactly to my mini break from running, but Friday night was a low point. It’s the first time in a long time where I couldn’t sleep and my mind took me right back to that week in 2015, that room in Edinburgh, and sitting with E. All those numb, distant days that followed. Life didn’t really feel as if it was “just going on” it was quite the opposite, I couldn’t understand how life did just go on after this. Friday felt like this again.

A restless Friday gave way to a miserable Saturday. I can’t have been much fun. To compound matters A fell ill on Saturday. Nothing major, but her temperature spiked and immediately led to a tail spin. “What if she has a convulsion like E?” “What if it’s something worse?“. Both my wife and I struggled that night and I struggled to offer much support to her. In reality the dose of Calpol was enough to sort A out, but we checked on her constantly that night. I worry sometimes that we’re going to turn A in to some anxiety ridden germophobe when shes older, picking up on our over-the-top responses to her temperature. Hopefully she isn’t picking up any habits just yet, and maybe one day we can settle down with her. 

Sunday rolled round and enough was enough. I went for a run. My knee is still sore, but not enough to worry about. And after the few days that preceded a little bit of knee pain is nothing. I think it helped.

These few days have reaffirmed what I already knew, running is keeping me going. In one sense that’s positive, I can go about daily life without much fuss. But on the counter to that I may just be running away from grief rather than facing it and dealing with it properly. Am I setting myself up for a fall in the future when my legs can’t hack it anymore? I am aware this may not be the ultimate solution. I associated with the things Rio Ferdinand described in his moving documentary, I keep busy to get by but I don’t process my grief. And today Prince Harry spoke of his 20 year struggle to face up to grief, instead finding himself avoiding thinking about his mum instead. Thankfully I haven’t gone too far down that path this time, although I did when my mum died. I love to think about E. I love to talk about E. I love the many photos and videos we have of E and telling A about her big sister.

For the time being running is here to stay. There’s no magic solution that’s going to help me through definitively so I’ll stick with what’s working, sort of. Anything that helps keep me upright can’t be a bad thing, plus it gives me that headspace for a short time each day to refocus. Although, for the sake of my knees, this training plan may be downgraded ahead of the next marathon.

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.

 

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.

You can have it all!

The first week of my #emf2017 training is complete and so far all training runs have been completed, albeit with a bit of jiggery as to what’s run and what day. Granted, this is week one of sixteen, but this in itself feels like and achievement as half of my runs have been pre-work. Something I’ve avoided at all cost until now. I have no problem with early starts, I’m often in work for just after 7am. However this relies heavily on my ability, honed over years of snooze button abuse, to get out of bed and out the door in under 15 minutes. Throwing in an extra 30 minutes to run and subsequent shower time meant a midweek AM run never even seemed an option.

The first 6:30am run was only 3 miles, the first mile of which slipped by unnoticed as I plodded along semi-concious, but it was a revelation. Once I was fully corpus mentis and the sun made a welcome appearance above the horizon, I saw the light. Even Wednesday’s commuting run to work with the threat of the work shower at the other end was enjoyable. Far more so than the equivalent run home that I try to do once a week. Not only do you feel more awake as you sit down to start your days’ work, your evenings become your own and the struggle to fit in a run around bedtimes and tea-times is banished. My worry in all this training is I’d see even less of my wife as I go for more frequent, longer runs midweek after putting A to bed. This way I’m up, out, and back just as they’re getting up. I can train as much as I need to and still have family time. I am becoming a morning runner.

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“Let me sleep a while, ‘cos I cannot stand” – in hindight this album may have been about marathon training.

It may only be week two, but the enormity of the training that lays ahead has hit home. There’s a lot of running coming my way over the next few months. Before even starting to train I upped myself from an intermediate training plan to an advanced training plan, symbolic of a little bit of over confidence in my current fitness level, and reaffirming the fact that no matter how many times I tell myself otherwise I do want to run this marathon in a good time. Yes this is about raising money for charity, keeping E’s memory alive, and helping keep my own darker moments at bay. But as I continue down this running path, carried further by the folk at running club who seem to barely break sweat during those lung busting hill sessions, I start to think about PBs and becoming a serious runner. And so long as E stays central to it all, that can’t be a bad thing can it?

The definition of a good marathon time for me is still up for debate. My only other effort, albeit before a serious running bug took over, was 4 hours 13 minutes. At the time that was crushing. I’d trained for sub-4hrs and it was easily achievable. However I set off like a mad man, ran what was then a half marathon PB over the first 13.1 miles, then went careering in to the wall around 18 miles. I never got over the wall. I lumbered my way through the next 8 miles and my 4 hour target slipped by without a fight. But this time 4 hours doesn’t seem ambitious enough given what I’ve run in the last 12 months. Last year I finished a series of six half marathons with a sub-90 minute time (although Strava tells me it was 200m short – don’t take it away from me Strava!!!), and scaling that up in the surely reliable running calculators tells me I should be looking at closer to 3:10. Even at my most confident that seems unlikely. At the moment, a whole week in to my training plan, I think 3:30 is probably my target. Probably.

The internal struggle of how to pace myself on the day will inevitably continue right through until race day. Likely until around mile 18 again, after which its almost certain I’ll have no say in what pace I’m running. Other struggles are so far being kept at bay. Even a return to Scotland, where family, friends, and the surroundings all sing with memories of E, is proving (just about) manageable. I have my running gear with me. Partly to keep me on track for Edinburgh, and partly to keep me on track generally. Its tough staying with friends whose youngest, best friends with E, is only a couple of weeks older than she was. Seeing everything that E should be doing now is always going to be difficult. But it’s manageable. If anything, times like this become training for when A overtakes E in age and we’re reminded of the missed milestones once more.

Now to start training week two and make sure the running gear gets good use whilst we’re here (unlike the running gear that went on its summer holidays last year and never left the case). Time to dig out the old MapMyRun log in details and figure out some routes.