Wednesday, April 25, 2018

My pre-event ritual

Original Wednesday blog text:

Which event of mine is not preceded by medical drama? My first half marathon had me preparing my mum for the possibility of an emergency call. The Rotorua half last year was preceded by a strained arch. The North Shore Half was preceded by the dodgy knee (that still bothers me now). The Auckland Marathon had IT band syndrome just weeks before and now we come to this event.

After the optimism of my last post, I went on one good run, a fast 5km for the Garmin fun run at Cornwall park on Sunday, and felt fine. I'd planned a good taper week with pace but less mileage. I rested on Monday and prepared for a pacey week. On Tuesday I got up early, 4:30am, and prepared for a run. My warm-up wasn't the best with a few cranky tendons but I'm used to that now. I started up for my usual 15km easy run route but after less than 500m the my lower front shin felt tight. I ran over the base of Mt Eden but it didn't go away and felt close to pain. I came to a stop after 1km, rubbed it, stretched and tried to run a bit more but it remained. Walking back, it still felt tight and sore. The sensation plagued me the rest of the day when I walked. Today I woke with my legs feeling fine so I tested them with a light jog but stopped as soon as I felt the tightness coming on. It returned on my longer walks later in the day.

So ten days before another event I'm worried about the extent of an injury. Shall I just wait patiently for a few days without testing or should I still do test runs? One interesting piece of advice you hear a lot is that if it isn't a bone, or painful, don't stop running. Not running doesn't fix a great number of problems. I'll probably plan something in between. I'll have another day off and then just see how it feels with a day of walking. I'll use a foam roller and do other strengthening exercises but keep running off the agenda until the weekend.

It seems to be the recurring story of my running life. It doesn't deter me. I just keep hoping and almost every big event has had me pulling through and exceeding the original expectations.


Saturday. Three days after the post above, seven days before the Rotorua event, the sun didn't rise in the morning. After a week of good weather during which I haven't been able to run, the weather was a depressing, dreary, thick smearing of cloud. I had a terrible sleep centred around some of my work anxieties. I got up at 6:45am and made a coffee and got myself ready for a run.

Outside there was a sudden downpour. Weather apps and rain radars are wonderful but there was nothing about that on them. There was to be light rain that would become heavier from 8am onwards but there is nothing as accurate as that for Auckland weather at this point. I prepared nonetheless.

I had reason for hope. After my failed Tuesday run, I tested myself on Wednesday morning as mentioned above and I chose caution. I kept myself completely away from my running shoes on Thursday but already there was an evident change "afoot". This niggle felt a lot of tendon tightness and tenderness early on. By Thursday, the sensation wasn't in the muscles but now below the skin. The area felt swollen to touch but I had no trouble walking or even doing short urban jogs to cross the road. I got up early Friday feeling fine but after the warm-up I had enough reason to suspect it wasn't completely over. Which brings us to this morning.

By the time I went out that downpour had already ceased and it was just drizzle. I warmed up as usual and started to run. Perhaps it was confidence that these changes clearly were in my favour. It was after a kilometre that I remembered that this was technically a test run, and I noted to myself I hadn't found any discomfort. In fact I was rollicking along at a rather rapid pace. I stayed close to home in case the weather got too nasty but by the time my running shirt was saturated and I returned home, I'd completed 13.7km without much of any physical problems. (My knee had chimed a couple of times.) In the process I ran my fastest 10km (45:43) since resuming in 2018. Looks like the show is back on the road.

The next seven days are a little tricky. I do want to make up a little for lost time but also keep things shorter and pacey, but with lots of recovery. I'll hopefully have a window of better weather tomorrow morning to do a 15km run with a 5km half-marathon pace section. Then a rest day and a 10km time trial so I can estimate for one last time the best pace to run.

Fingers crossed I can roll into the event without any further surprises. (The course is a little bit of a surprise, but I'll leave talking about that to a later blog.)

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Two weeks till Rotorua

I did countdowns to events last year and I thought I may as well repeat it this year. The next event on the calendar is the Rotorua Marathon (half marathon event). There's been something of a phoenix-from-the-ashes element to it. Five weeks ago I ran, struggled and walked in the Coatesville Marathon, feeling broken and flat. Despite some obvious physical issues that have not gotten better or worse, but have transformed, they haven't obstructed any of my progress.

Last week I expressed my consternation that what came easily last year was strangely not coming out from a much more structured, planned training programme. The difference of six days is significant: I packed four workouts into a crucial week and with some easy running tomorrow I will have done 70km for the first time since October in the lead-up to the marathon. What have been the workouts?
- Tuesday: Hill sprints - I ran 12.5km including 6 sprints up local "hills".
- Wednesday: 10km tempo run at Shoe Science Run Club - I ran within myself but still ran almost as fast as my 10km TT last week. I finished without feeling overly tired.
- Thursday: 15km 3 x 2 mile intervals (in this case: 1 mile easy, then 2 miles fast, then 1/2 mile easy, and then 2 miles fast and 1/2 a mile easy and then 2 miles fast and then easy to finish). The important thing from this run was that all three intervals were hard out runs but each time I recovered well enough to still go hard out.
- Saturday: 20km easy + 5 km fast. I managed to slash 3 minutes off my run of the same route from 2 weeks ago and most importantly felt the 5km fast easy enough to do - I managed to stay under 5 minutes per kilometre on tired legs. And I didn't feel tired after the run.

Of the four runs, I noticed clear improvements in three runs. Tomorrow I'll run slowly easily and only exert myself a little at the Garmin 5km run tomorrow. Two weeks is the recommended length of a taper for a half marathon and I'll look to do this "by the book". I'll do two time trials in this period to double check my fitness and estimate the pace that I'll do Rotorua. I believe I should be fast and fit enough to equal or better 1:38:45 from last year. There could still be some "progress" made but consolidating the gains, healing what can be healed and keeping sharp is the order of the fortnight ahead.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

When it rains it pours

Being of British ancestry I do tend to talk about the weather a lot and the last 12 months have really stood out as extraordinary. We had a long baking summer, three cyclones and just recently an apparently mild weather system produced unpredicted category 2 cyclonic winds that brought down a large number of trees in Auckland and cut the electricity supply to some for days.

Though my mouth talks about the weather, weather rarely intrudes on my mood or my plans. I've been running as much now as I have in the past, although it must be said that a lot more caution has been required in the last few weeks with some suburban blocks completely dark after sundown and before dawn, often with branches of varying sizes blocking the footpath. (In isolation either one of these wouldn't be too bad but together you could be running into a tangle of branches before you know it!)

Following up my last blog, the tendon problems I mentioned are slowly going down though not completely; shin pain has returned and my knee still checks in to say it's still there from time to time. But I am running and running pretty well. In the last month I've run more than 200km and gotten some of my speed and endurance back. With three weeks to go till the Rotorua Half Marathon I'm still trying my best to get in important training, raise my mileage and test my limits.

Last year I ran Rotorua and achieved a lot more than I had expected. I ran 1 hour 38 minutes at a time when I hadn't broken 1 hour 40 minutes at any stage. And although my training relative to its lead-up was solid, it's nothing compared to what I've managed to do after it and even in the recent weeks. For some context, in 2017, in the same set of 4 weeks I ran only 120km compared to 224km this year. But there is a little mystery for me in this. Mileage does have an affect and should raise performance. I am doing work-outs that should help me run faster and longer, the kinds of work-outs I didn't even know about last year. Yet I did my favourite 21.1km training run and did it 2 minutes slower than last year. To give myself a little consolation, this morning's route was slightly different to last year's route as we moved house and there is a little bit more "uphill" than before; and it was raining for the last 10km, although I was already behind the 8-ball when rain started to fall. The strange conclusion is that I was a stronger faster runner at this time last year with less running.

Although I'm now following the advice of the running experts online, I definitely wasn't back then. Last year, I was still trying basically to go as fast as possible on all my training runs but not running many back-to-back days. Looking back on the titles or descriptions of those runs, one of the most common phrases is "badly timed", that is, I'd often misjudge the speed I should run out and feel the burn by halfway or three-quarters of the way, and have to try to survive till the end. Quite possibly that is a short cut to fitness (if one avoids injury) because the body has to quickly adapt to the demands of ridiculous work-outs. As a result of running fast and holding on I had PBs of 45:00 for 10km and 21:00 for 5km. I'm nowhere near that right now. I'll persist with my plan until after the Rotorua Half and then evaluate. Many of the work-outs are said to take 10km to show effect and I'd like to give it a chance to make me a stronger, resilient and eventually faster runner.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Starting blocks

What does it mean when it's easier to run than jog? What does it mean when it hurts less to run fast than to even walk? Those are questions that it pains me to ask. During this period that I've been running I have had a lot of niggles, even mild injuries but none have been more confusing the my two feet right now.

While I was in China, just when my knee was coming right, something went wrong with my left foot. It was painful just below the point of my ankle. And it should have because I'd ignore discomfort and still decided to run 8 kilometres. "You should listen to your body!" they say. But I've never listened to my feet. Half my runs in 2016 started with tight, sore soles that only loosened after running. (I realise now that I had plantar fasciitis for much of my twenties and thirties.) So I ignored a little tight discomfort on one run and struggled to shake it even with extended rest. And just as it started to show signs of improvement, my right foot mirrored the symptoms. Now I've got two terribly frustrating feet. 

But, there is a silver lining. The physio said it was my tendons and tendons improve through putting work through them and using them, that is, running. So on painful feet I start my warm-up, fearing that I might make things worse. I jog in agony. And then once I begin, the previous pain fades. And the rest of the day is fine.

The best measurement of tendon healing is how it feels in the morning. By that standard, it's getting better but still not near better. Mornings make me walk like an arthritic old man. But better is... better.

My running plan for the next year is clear in my head. Even with these niggles I'm running more and more strategically than I did at the same time last year. I'm looking forward to a good 10km race on 15 April with which I'll judge my fitness, which will lead to an estimated time for me to do a half-marathon on 5 May. 

The first step is rest. Tomorrow there is no running. And then on Sunday I'll aim to run 25km. If and when I do, it'll be the first time I've done that since the marathon. I hope I can do it on painless feet.