Friday, 25 March 2016

Breaking out of jail.....

Having been "good" (and actually taken time out to rest and recover) for what seemed like forever, I am over the moon to be back running again, though I'm "trying" to be sensible and listen to my body/tendons to prevent a recurrence or flare-up.

Although I'd pulled out of my Spring marathon, there was a 20mile race that I'd entered prior to my injury. I hummed and hawed about whether it was a stupid idea to try running it - yes, I'd been able to run again in the few days leading up to it, but I'd hardly hit double figures. However, I'd never run the race, some friends were going to do it (so it was a good excuse to catch up with them), and I knew from the course map that there was one point you passed at 4 different times, which did give me the opportunity to stop without being too far away if I felt any niggles at all. Having finally made the decision to run, you'd think that I would have slept well...but instead I worried about whether I was being stupid and would actually set myself back on the road to recovery. 

Looking round the prison
Registration was slightly unusual - not just in that it involved climbing a steep hill up to Lancaster Castle, but because the castle was used as a prison until relatively recently (I was told just 10 years ago) and so you could wander in and out of the cells and have a good look around! Unfortunately there were no routemaps available, and no obvious start or finishline either. Following the directions of a few marshals, we walked down a steep slope to a narrow path below the castle. Somebody living on that hill had had the unfortunate idea of having a bonfire that morning so there was a lot of smoke and ash in the air. We were then told to gather into 2 fields (1 on either side of the path) and told that we would be told where the "finish" was by the race director in his pre-run briefing, though I'm not sure I actually heard him say that we would have to run all the way back up and into the castle itself (though it's possible that I just blocked this out!).

And they're off......
Dropping back from the boys...
As the start was announced, we all poured out of the fields and onto the narrow path. It didn't exactly feel like a "downhill start" but some people certainly flew straight off - they must have known that within the first halfmile there were 2 bollards in the middle of the path (that could only be passed by 1 person on each side at a time). I decided to try to stick with a couple of guys I recognised as they had set off in a decent group, but when they went through the first mile in under 5:50, I realised that the pace was too tasty for me and dropped off the back. There was a large field in the race so I had thought I would have company on the run, but it was clearly not to be ;-(

My lonely run
Having doubled back I passed my first "drop out point" without feeling any niggles so happily carried on across the river. I soon recognised that I was running along a stretch that had been the route of the Valentine's 10K, so I have to confess to feeling a slight moment of disappointment that I was not going to finish after 6 miles but instead carry on a lot further. I had some brief company as I caught a guy up, but unfortunately he suddenly felt some pain in his foot and so decided to stop and stretch it out.

As I passed back across the river I picked up a gel from a friend and he told me that I had had a decent gap on the next lady when he'd seen me at the 3 mile point so I just tried to relax into the run. I gave my legs a mental once-over to ensure no niggles were developing - my tendon seemed to be doing just fine, though I couldn't quite say the same for the rest of my legs, as they were starting to protest at running further than they've become accustomed to!

2-way traffic on a nice wide path

The next 11 or so miles were a long out and back section.....and did it ever feel long as I tired. Every rise and fall on overpasses away from the riverside felt like a big incline and the turnaround point seemed a long time in coming. I couldn't remember exactly how far away it was, but figured that I would get an idea of the distance still to run when I saw the race leaders coming back towards me. Unfortunately, it wasn't an exact turnaround as we were sent away from the path and up onto a parallel road at the far end, hence the reason I hadn't seen any speedsters coming back.

After a while we left the road and rejoined the path again (unfortunately this didn't cut out any of the rises on the way back!) which was a real mental boost as it meant that you could see runners coming the other way. I got a lot of support from ladies running the other way, and when I passed my friends, they gave me an idea of the gap that I'd had the last time I'd passed them, and they also told me my overall position in the race. By the time I was into the last couple of miles, I felt like I was running through treacle, but as I still had no shin pain, I just kept trying to keep moving forward as fast as I could (admittedly a lot slower than I'd started!). I could now definitely appreciate that it had been a downhill start as I now had to ascend the gentle incline to it. The sting in the scorpion's tail came after running through the start line as it turned out that the finish was actually inside the castle itself. 

Coming into the castle

A lovely (and unusual) prize!
This meant a climb of over 100feet in the last 1/4 mile. I don't think that the climb was so bad in itself (though the guys who finished in front of me all said that it made their last mile 30s slower than any other mile), but we had to run through the smoke and ash of the bonfire again (I admit that I'd totally forgotten about that). A final turn and I was onto the cobbles running into the castle itself, so happy to have got through without any flare of the tendonitis (though my quads and glutes weren't that impressed that I hadn't dropped out). When I spotted the clock I realised that I'd run a much better time than I'd thought I would do which just goes to show that running without time pressure and expectations can work wonders!

Now.....I just have to be "sensible" again......

Thursday, 3 March 2016

"Do as I Say", don't "Do as I Do"...

It's only when you cannot do something that you realise how much it means to you. I think of running as a hobby I have, but as I've been injured and not able to run at all this week, I have come to realise what an important part if my life it is. It's not the lack of training or the fact that I can see my race targets disappearing off into space, but more the fact that running is my "de-stress" for the rest of life. It enables me to switch off from work and other dramas, and also gives my week a bit of structured routine. I've almost found myself lost as to the days of the week when I've not been running. 

I've been trying to be good and rest my leg, but it's not been easy, especially as Dumfries definitely lacks the facilities for any rehab/cross training. The sports/leisure complex was closed for emergency repairs over 18 months ago and there's no sign of any work actually being done on it. This means that there is no real public gym to speak of, and the "temporary" pool which was constructed in a carpark is only 1.2m deep, hence aquajogging isn't possible. I fully admit that this set of circumstances, along with the usual pressures of GP work, has got me down and probably made me a bit of a nightmare to know over the past few weeks.
A random Maltese statue

I had originally planned to run the Malta halfmarathon as a target race. I had wanted to find a good spring marathon which wasn't going to be cancelled due to ice/snow and so it seemed ideal. Unfortunately, 2 weeks of not being able to run (and indeed walk for some of it) isn't quite the same as a planned 2 week taper. I'd already booked and paid for my flights and accommodation so I decided to go and enjoy a weekend away in the warmth anyway (and sneaked in my running know...."in case").

My leg had been gradually improving and it was no longer painful to walk around (well, not too much anyway), and I knew it would be really tough to watch everyone else race and not take part......and, let's face it, I wasn't mentally strong enough to do I picked up my race number on the Saturday night.

Using ice hadn't really been helping (apart from making my leg cold) but warmth had, so I got up early on the Sunday morning, soaked in a got bath, dosed up on painkillers and headed off to meet my friends Alister and Jacquie for the 7:45am bus to the start. Jacquie had also been injured and in two minds about running, so we couldn't believe we were actually going to start and see how things went. It was forecast to be about 22 degrees so we knew that if we had to stop running and just walk to the finish, then at least we wouldn't get cold. 

Yeay, back in running gear ;-)
As we waited for the buses, it did seem rather windier than expected.....there were whitecaps on every small section of water between boats in the harbour. This meant that hanging around for an hour (the buses dropped us off an hour before the start) at the highest point on the island was rather chilly.

There were no specific pens/corrals, but I found my way to the front and made sure I was at the edge of the crowds as we started the race. Luckily for me, we started with a bit of climb, which slowed down some of the "chargers" and I didn't get pushed around much. I was dreading the fact that it is marketed as a "downhill race" as my leg had been much more sore when walking down hills than up them.

Maybe it was the painkillers, or maybe it was due to the 2 weeks of rest, but as we started the first steep descent I didn't seem to be in pain and so smoothly passed the other ladies. If it had been any other race profile, I would think that my first couple of miles were way too fast, but I thought that holding myself back would probably do my leg more damage so I just tried to relax into the descents and let myself go at whatever pace felt comfortable. 

For a downhill course, there were still a remarkable number of uphills, but the main thing that slowed everyone down was the incredible strong wind. The problem with the race being a point to point race, was that we had to battle a headwind for most of the run. It was little comfort to be told that the wind usually blows the other way and has assisted runners in many other years. The wind direction also meant that it was coming from Africa so it also held the heat and the sand from the direction of the Sahara. 

I'm used to running on my own, but on a couple of occasions it really did feel like I just had to put my head down and fight to move forwards at any speed at all. I knew that I was leading the ladies' race, but I still found myself blocked and cut up by male runners at various points over the course. The full marathon had started 1hr 45 mins ahead of us, and the routes converged, so before long we were weaving in amongst them as well. 

The last few kilometres around the waterfront seemed to take forever, but finally I spotted the finish line up ahead. I struggled with my leg pain on the final steep descent to sea level, but by that point I wasn't going to let myself DNF. I passed a lady accompanied by a cyclist and realised that she must be in the top 3 of the marathon, but I didn't think any ladies in my race had overtaken me.

Just happy to make the line!!!
I heard my name announced as I ran in, but that was all the ceremony there was, so I didn't actually get confirmation of my position until the award presentation that evening. I got my finishers medal and was then escorted to the medical tent as I was limping. They gave me some lucozade thinking that I had cramp, but I didn't stay long as I wanted to go and cheer Alister and Jacquie in. Being handed a hot Quorn meal and a fruit smoothie right after finishing was a definite first for me (and it definitely didn't agree with the codeine I'd taken as me had severe stomach cramps later) but at least it lined my stomach in preparation for some post-race anaesthetic refreshment with the others!

I'm definitely suffering leg-wise for having run ("do as I say" rather than "do as I do") but I did enjoy actually getting out there and running, and my woes were all put completely into perspective that day - as my thoughts go to the family of the English man who collapsed and passed away just before the end of the race.