Thursday, 22 February 2018

Nowhere to hide

There comes a time in every runner’s relationship with her support team when it becomes clear that they know her so well that they can predict what she is going to do before she does it.  For example, that’s why Adam knows to precisely define what ‘taking it easy’ means when he is giving instructions for looking after niggles and injuries.  He knows that I have my own definition of that and I need to be explicitly told what to do.  Merely telling me to be SENSIBLE doesn’t work, but it took him ages to figure that out.

Ben’s understanding of me has now officially reached the mind-reading stage.  I had let him know that Adam wanted me to ‘take it easy’ on Tuesday and Wednesday (apparently that did not include doing the scheduled threshold session even at a slightly slower pace, or even doing the 40-minute easy-effort run; what Adam actually had in mind was me doing those sessions at the gym on the bike or the cross-trainer), and I duly reported to Ben after Tuesday’s gym session that I had done it but hated it.  Mainly because I had forgotten my earphones and so had to listen to the gym’s choice of techno music for an hour.

Wednesday morning rolled around and I had convinced myself to give the 40-minute easy-effort session a miss because, really, what possible difference would that make in the scheme of things?  I was in the process of coming up with a plausible excuse to give to Ben when what should ping into my inbox but an email from him.  ‘What are you doing?  Get out there and do that session.  I don’t care how miserable you think it will be, go and do it and then complain to me later.’  Bloody hell, how did he know???  It kind of freaked me out but it did make me put on my running kit and get out the door.

The gym was fine, mainly because I remembered my headphones.  And I didn’t even complain to Ben afterwards because where’s the fun in complaining if you’ve been given permission to do so?

Sigh.  I am now officially an Open Book.

Monday, 19 February 2018

If the stone hurts...

I thought that I had escaped Saturday's 4-hour run unscathed and, in most ways, I did.  Immediately after the run, my legs felt stiff and achey but that was to be expected, and within 24 hours they felt fine again.  What I didn't expect to find, however, as I prepared for bed on Saturday night, was a bruised and swollen section across the middle of the sole of my right foot.  It didn't hurt during the run, it didn't hurt during the rest of the evening, but it was very tender when I put some recovery arnica cream on my feet before bed.  Weird.  And it was still there Sunday morning, along with a couple of little bumpy nodule-type things that hurt when I pressed them.  So I iced and arnica-ed and compression socked myself for the rest of the day to no avail.  It still felt like I had a huge bruise across the bottom of my foot and all that I could think was that this had been caused by running across numerous sections of sharp stones, which I felt even through the sturdy soles of my trail shoes.

On Saturday afternoon, I had magnanimously given up today's appointment with Adam so that Bassman could be seen instead (having sustained his first running-related injury a few days previously).  On Sunday afternoon, I clawed back part of that appointment for my own use.  Nothing like the fear of plantar fasciitis to squash my altruistic tendencies. 

Adam was his usual sympathetic and supportive self, although I could tell that an eye-roll when I mentioned PF wasn't far off.  He had a feel of my foot and yes, it hurt.  IT HURT A LOT, especially when he pressed on the spot where the nodule-type thing is.  He thought that there was a bit of swelling but that the main source of pain was the nodule-type thing, which he thought felt like a cyst.  And then, in between him doing his job of causing me so much pain that I didn't even have enough breath to curse, we tried to puzzle out what else this could be besides a cyst.

Bastard stones.
Adam thought that my hypothesis of sharp-stone-induced-bruising was a possibility.  Funny, though, how pain clears your brain.  After a particularly excruciating manipulation, I had an epiphany:  I suddenly remembered that for at least the last 3 miles of the run, I had a couple of small but painful stones rattling around in my shoe and that they kept getting stuck under my arch until I managed to dislodge them permanently down towards my toes.  Adam just looked at me as I disclosed this and I said it before he could:  I'm such an idiot.

So, yes, my nodule-type thing could well be a cyst or even Plantar Fibromatosis.  But it's far more likely at this point that it is bruising and trauma caused by 1) running across sharp rocks without due care and attention and 2) being too lazy to stop and de-stone my shoe.  Sigh.  I've now learned why the ultra rule of 'Take care of the little things before they become big things' is a rule.  I won't make that mistake again.

I am trying not to be the Other People.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

It’s a whole new world

One of the benefits of having a running coach is not having to think about what I’m doing or even why I’m doing it.  Gone are the days of obsessing for hours/days/weeks over which training programme has the best chance of getting me to the start line uninjured.  Now I have Coach Ben, who sends me two weeks of training every two weeks and who is available by phone, email, and text to answer any questions, discuss strategy, and basically calm me down when I panic that I’m injured (‘It’s just your body getting used to the new training volume’) or that I can’t do whatever run he has set me (‘It’s supposed to be tough, now get out there and do it!’).  I focus on one run at a time and don’t really pay attention to how it all fits together or to my progress.  That’s Ben’s job, and I trust him.

Because I just get on with it and don’t look at the big picture lest I freak myself out, I’ve pretty much felt over the past 6 weeks like I’m doing marathon training which is fine because that is familiar to me.  I’m vaguely aware that I’m now running 4 days/week and that a lot of my runs are now on consecutive days and that the volume has been creeping up, but I don’t think about it a lot.  A run is just a run.

Today, though, I couldn’t ignore any longer that I am doing Ultra Training.  Yesterday, I ran for an hour.  Today, I ran for four hours.  When I saw this in my training schedule, I sent Ben an ‘OMG, I can’t do that, it’s too hard, you’re trying to kill me’ text.  He replied that he had expected that reaction from me (yep, my first reaction is always an overreaction) and that it didn’t matter how much I whinged, I still had to do it.  He did reassure me that the four hour run was just about time on feet and that I was expected to do a run-walk and that if I managed 13 miles, that would be fine.  13 miles???  I could walk that in four hours...

We negotiated a run-walk strategy for the first three hours, and he left it up to me what I did with the fourth hour.  I could even walk the whole hour if I wanted to.  And so I set out with absolutely no idea what to expect.  I was supposed to run sloooow, and if I had gone any slower I’d have been walking.  I did 15 miles in the first three hours and my legs were feeling fine, if a bit tired, but then I had a panic that possibly doing 20 miles in total would be Entirely Too Much so increased my walking breaks and finished up with 18.75 miles.  And this after doing 6 miles yesterday.

I’m in completely new territory with this.  I’m taking a bit of time to feel pleased that I ran for 4 hours and that my legs are already starting to recover, and I’m taking some time to acknowledge how far I’ve come from the days when 3 days/week and never more than 15 miles/ week were all that my legs could manage.  But tomorrow I’ll be back to head in the sand and one run at a time, with no acknowledgement that I’m actually running towards an ultra at the end of March.

Complete and utter denial works well for me.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

There's always a bright side

Yesterday's threshold run fell into the 'just get out there and get it done' category.  There had been snow on and off all day and the wind had been gusting to 50mph but by 5pm, the skies had cleared and the wind had dropped to 20mph.  Just in time to squeeze in my run.

So I bundled up in my winter jacket, windproof tights (I had forgotten that I had these - what a joy they have been to wear!), gloves, buff to keep my neck warm, and headband to keep my ears warm and set out for a 10 minute warm-up, 4x8 minutes at threshold effort, and a 10 minute cool-down.  I tried to find a route that minimised the impact of the wind but I'm in Shetland this week, which means that no matter what direction you face, you're facing into the wind.  Oh well.  Mental toughness, right?

And I was tough - I kept my effort at threshold level into the wind, up the inclines, and even when I had to dodge pedestrians who got blown into my path - but then, two minutes into the last interval, it started to hail.  Fortunately this didn't last long; unfortunately, the hail changed to sleet, which changed to snow, which changed back to sleet again.  In case you were wondering, 20mph wind and sleet are not a good combination.  It felt like the skin was being flayed from my face.  I had to stop (pausing my Garmin, of course) to transform my buff into a balaclava in an attempt to protect my face from the elements.  And then I had to stop again 30 seconds after that because I couldn't see where I was going due to white-out conditions.  Once I could see enough to stay on the path, I finished the interval as quickly as I could without sliding off the path into the loch.  Phew.  Only a 10 minute cool-down run back to the house was left.  It sleeted the whole way.

I was very thankful to step through my front door, but then I caught sight of myself in the hall mirror.  My hair was iced over and had frozen to my head but more alarming was my fringe, which had frozen at a right angle to my head and looked like a windsock.  Oh, the horror.

Still, it could have been worse.  I could have had to do this run on the treadmill. 

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Trial and error (and more error)

One of the many Rules of Running is 'Do not wear anything in a race that you haven't first tried in training.'  My last couple of runs have flagged up just why this is important.

They're in here somewhere...
Sunday's 120-minute off-road run saw me pair my Brooks Glycerines with Feetures socks.  I always wear my Balega socks with the Glycerines and the Feetures with my Sauconys - I have no idea why, it's just become a habit - but it was the Feetures that I grabbed from the running sock drawer first (yes, I have an entire drawer just for running socks) and I couldn't be bothered to rummage around for the Balegas because I was already setting off later than I had planned....and they're just socks, right?  How much of a problem could they cause? 
A fair bit, as it turned out.  Within 30 seconds of starting to run, the right sock disappeared into my shoe and rucked up under my foot.  Sigh.  I stopped to sort it out, thinking that I just needed to pull it up a bit higher but again within 30 seconds of running, it snuck back under my foot again.  Sigh and several swears.  I wasn't about to spend another half-hour going back home to get more functional socks and I wasn't about to spend a two hour run fighting with my right foot.  So I did what any impatient person would do and removed the sock and ran with one socked and one sockless foot.  I had feared developing blisters on the naked foot but it was in better shape at the end of the run than the other foot.  I'm not sure what this means for my Sock Future (do I dare to go bare?) but I do know that I'm glad to have found out now - and not at the start line of an ultra - that Feetures and Glycerines do not get along.

And then there was today's 60-minute threshold run (for those who find it interesting, it was a 10 minute warm-up, threshold intervals of 10, 8, 6, 4, and 2 minutes with 2 minutes recovery between intervals, and a 10 minute cool-down).  I had to start in the dark so wore my head torch for the first time in a couple of years.  'This will be good practice,' I thought, given that I'll be running/walking/shuffling/crawling during the night for at least the last couple of hours of London2Brighton.  I also thought that I'd experiment with wearing my compression calf sleeves to 1) keep my calves warm in the fierce wind and 2) give some extra support to my grumbling left calf.  I've only ever worn these for recovery post-run but lots of runners think that they really help during the actual running as well.  I'll take any help out there that might keep my weary legs ticking over, so practicing with calf sleeves in training can only be a Good Thing.

Argh!  Get these off me NOW!
Except that it wasn't.  I HATED the feel of them.  I kept interpreting the tight (supportive) sensation of the sleeves as being a tight (injury) sensation.  And even once I got my head around that, I HATED how hot they made my legs feel.  OMG, I just wanted to stop and rip them off but to do so would have meant taking off my tights first and, by then, it was getting light and I didn't think that the passing rush hour traffic would appreciate being flashed.  I toughed it out but I will NEVER wear them for running again.  EVER.  My calves will just have to cope on their own. 

And how did the head torch work out?  Well, it was comfortable and, with three brightness settings, very adaptable to changing light conditions.  I noticed that it had a fourth setting - a series of flashing lights which I thought would be good for increasing how noticeable I was.  I used that for a mile or so before I realised that the pattern of lights was actually the SOS signal.  Sigh.  No wonder some of the oncoming cars were slowing down to have a look.  Just as well I figured that out now and not in the  middle of the night near Brighton after the rescue services showed up.

Running.  There's always something new to learn.

Friday, 26 January 2018

It's (still) all about the shoes

Triumph 9s.  So lovely.  So missed.
My recollection of this blog's previous life is that I spent a lot of time obsessing about shoes, running and otherwise.  So it won't be a surprise to anyone that today's topic is, of course, shoes.  Running shoes, to be specific.

Glycerine 13.  Pretty.
I still mourn the disappearance of the Saucony Triumph 9s, as none of the Triumph's other incarnations have suited me.  I've literally rubbed along with the Saucony Rides (blisters and bruised toenails from a too-narrow and too-shallow toe box) for the sake of their 8mm heel-toe drop, but eventually I was A Very Brave Runner and tried the Brooks Glycerine 13s.  The toe box was still a bit too narrow to comfortably run more than 8-10 miles and the drop was 10mm, but at least my toenails stayed attached.  However, when it came time to start training for the Florence marathon, I knew that I had to find shoes that allowed my poor feet to stay blister free. 
Ghost 10s.  As comfy as they are beautiful.

Hello, Brooks Ghost 10s!  Their 12mm drop makes my calves ache, but the toe box is nice and wide and there were no peeps from my (thankfully ex)blisters throughout training or, indeed, during the race.  A trade-off that was well worth making.

But now, my Glycerine 13s - my short and middle distance shoes - are at the end of their useful life.  I have a new pair of Ghost 10s waiting in the wings for my long road runs but they are too soft for comfortable trail running (I can feel every stone through the soles and, indeed, ended up with bruised feet following the Aviemore HM last year) and, because both of my pending ultras have trail components, Coach Ben has instructed me to do all of my long runs on trails.  So what is A Very Brave Runner to do but rock up to the local Run4It and spend 1.5 hours trying on pretty much every road and trail shoe in the shop? 
Ride 10.  Purple.

Leaving the lovely and very patient salesperson in a state of exhaustion amidst a pile of empty boxes and scattered shoes, I eventually decided on the newest model of the Saucony Rides.  My previous issues with the toe box seem to have been addressed and they do remain a 8mm drop shoe, which seems to suit my calves better than a 12mm drop.  At the very least, they should be good for all but the LONG runs.

That still left me with finding a trail shoe.  The lovely and very patient salesperson girded his loins and brought out yet more offerings.  The only trail shoe that had more than a 4mm drop was Salomon but they were so tight and uncomfortable that it wasn't even worth trying them out on the treadmill.  It took my calves months and months and months to adapt to an 8mm drop when I got my first pair of Triumph 9s, and I am extremely doubtful as to whether I'll ever be able to adapt to 4mm in time for the first ultra at the end of March...but being Very Brave, I'll give it a go.
Peregrine 7.  Also purple.

Welcome, then, Saucony Peregrine 7s!  They were in the sale AND they are purple AND they were very comfy during the treadmill test.  What's not to love?  I will, of course, need to be sensible about transitioning to them and I have arranged a phone call with Coach Ben next week to get his guidance about this, but perhaps it's time to allow my fear of Different Shoes to go the way of my fear of Running Too Much.

I'm not the runner that I used to be.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Developing mental toughness, whether I want to or not

It’s only Wednesday morning, and so far this week I have:

  • experienced the most terrifying flight EVER - storm force winds at Orkney meant an approach to Kirkwall that was simultaneously up & down like a roller coaster AND barrel-rolling from side to side.  Not fun.  Not fun at all.
  • taken more than 20 hours to get to work in Shetland because it was even windier in Shetland than in Orkney, so the Shetland leg of the flight was cancelled and we had to spend the night at a hotel in Kirkwall.  I had room service and watched Lord of the Rings on the telly, so that made up for a lot.
  • twinged my lower back when I tried to heave my overly substantial bag onto the weighing belt at the airport.  It’s not painful, just stiff and aches a bit.  Sigh.
  • had to rearrange Monday morning’s appointments for later in the week, which has eliminated most of the time that I had set aside to do admin, which means early starts and late finishes in order to get everything done before I leave on Friday.
  • had to deal with a low tyre pressure warning light on my hire car.  The only tyre pressure pump in Lerwick was out of order so I had to take the car to the car hire company’s garage, where the mechanic took one horrified look at the tyres and said that the tread on both of them was illegal.  I obviously wasn’t allowed to drive the car away and had to hang about at the garage while another car with functioning tyres was found for me. Which, although inconvenient (I could have been using this time for admin), was actually a Good Thing, because it had been sleety haily not-quite-snowing since the previous day and the roads were icy, so some proper traction was welcome.
  • had to run yesterday’s threshold run (10 minute warm up, 5x5 minutes at threshold effort with 90 sec recovery, 10 minute cool down) on the treadmill because the pavements were so icy.  I tried to convince Coach Ben to let me move that run to today, citing the icy pavements as well as the -1c temperature, the 17+mph wind, and HATING the treadmill but was clearly told ‘Complain all that you want, you’re still doing the run.’  
  • enjoyed the treadmill more than I expected.  Having a bit of structure to the session makes it more interesting than just plodding at the same pace for what feels like forever, as I used to do. I should know by now that Ben is always right.
What does that litany of whingeing have to do with running, I hear you ask?  Well, apparently if we only run in good conditions and only when we feel like it, we never learn to persevere in races when the going gets tough.  We never learn to push through discomfort and tired legs and we never learn to ignore that inner voice that says snuggling under a blanket with a cat on your lap and a piece of cake is better than going for a run.  That determination to get out there no matter what your head is telling you is what gets you to the finish line.

For me, then, making myself run yesterday ON A TREADMILL after those stressful couple of days, is one more thing that goes into the Mental Toughness Bank.  Ker ching!