I finally feel like I’m making some real progress in my running.

During September, we had lots of volunteers and I ran at Lloyd parkrun three times. I’m pretty sure I’ve never managed so many parkruns in one month before. The last one I finally made a small improvement in my run time. The first Saturday in October I went down to Bushy Park for the Bushy parkrun Tenth Anniversary, which was amazing. I wasn’t pushing to run fast, and slower down several times to take photos, but I still dipped under 24 minutes on the flat course, making me 502nd finisher – out of 1,705!

All 13 of the people who ran in the very first Bushy Park Time Trial were there, as were the first volunteers. Paul Sinton-Hewitt started the run and turned out to be one of the volunteers barcode scanning – by chance I was in his queue. A little way behind me in the same queue were two Cardiff parkrunners whom I last saw when I ran Warszawa-Praga parkrun! It was a fantastic morning and felt really privileged to be there and taking part in it.

Last Saturday I took part in the Surrey Cross-Country League and helped Striders of Croydon to fifth place out of 29 teams in the B division. I didn’t feel that my running was great, and I had to slow down for a while due to gut cramps, but my ankle didn’t hurt during the race, even on the uneven ground. We were supposed to complete a short loop and then a long loop but a marshalling error meant we were sent off on the long loop first.

On Sunday I extended the 90-minute club run with some extra running in Lloyd Park, ending up with 14 or 14.5 miles under my belt (I’m not sure of the exact distance because I accidentally stopped my Garmin for one part of the run). It was particularly pleasing to find that, for the first time since the accident, I could enjoy the long downhill sections without getting ankle/foot pain. I also felt like I was running a lot more freely. Based on the pattern of the pain I had been getting and it becoming suddenly sharper then disappearing, I think it likely that a bit of adhesion/scar tissue has broken down. I will be extremely pleased if I can keep improving.

We’ve got lots of volunteers lined up for this Saturday (not surprising with the Croydon 10K on Sunday), so hopefully I’m going to run, which should take me to 37 parkruns (of course, I’ve also volunteered on 185 occasions).

Stepping Stones

The last few months my progress has felt very much “two steps forward, one step back.” I’d progressed to running the full hour with my running club, Striders of Croydon, on Wednesday evenings and was wanting to reach 90 minutes on the club’s Sunday run. I started by adding 10-15 minutes onto the hour run on the Sunday and possibly did too much, with the ankle twinging at the end of the run. Gave it a couple of weeks of gentle running and was just about to start increasing the distance again when, walking around the house on the Friday morning, I caught my left big toe in my right trouser cuff and pulled it sideways, hard.

The next day I had lots of volunteers and the chance to run my parkrun for a change, so I did. By Saturday afternoon the strained toe was informing me that had been a really bad idea; as for running 90 minutes the next day – forget it! A couple of weeks of rest and I started back gently again…

Apart from the stuttering progress in increasing my running distance, I’ve really been struggling on the hills the last few months and haven’t been improving at all at parkrun, seeming to be stuck at 24.57 to 24.59 (more than 2.5 minutes behind my pre-accident PB). The last week in August I was in Edinburgh for a conference and was based very close to Arthur’s Seat so I took the opportunity to go running up the hill every other morning. There’s something about having a specific goal in mind which can really improve motivation. The first morning I went up the “front” of the hill and had to walk a lot of the last third, going up stone steps and the final rocky scramble, before stopping on the top to enjoy the view for a few minutes, scrambling back down off the craggy top then running down the wide grassy slope on the far side of the hill and back down the road. The second morning I trotted round and up the road and then, heart pounding, ran to the top of the grassy section without stopping, before the final rocky section to the summit and my reward: clear long-distance views in all directions. The third morning I extended the run, turning left rather than right when I came back down the grassy slope and running the rest of the way round the hill to return to my starting point. By this time my quads and glutes, which had really been complaining after the first outing, were beginning to settle down and I’ve certainly felt that the hills have been a bit easier since I returned home.

While I was in Scotland on the Saturday I enjoyed running Tollcross parkrun with one of my nieces. It’s  definitely an undulating course, with three uphill sections on each lap. I wasn’t pushing and was content to come in just under the 25 minutes again. At least I’m being consistent!

Last week I finally ran the 90-minute Sunday club run – the fist time I’ve managed that since the accident and it felt really, really good. This Sunday I was able to do the 90-minutes run again, so I’m finally making some progress on the distance.

Additionally, I took part in a cross-country relay race for the club on Saturday afternoon and the ankle held out for that as well. As for improving my parkrun time? I’ll just have to wait and see.

Not quite the marathon…

On Sunday I participated in the Vitality British 10km London Run, having been lucky enough to be offered a free place by SOS Children’s Villages.

I hadn’t been in a mass participation race since the 2011 Royal Parks Half-Marathon and I’d forgotten what it was like – the crowds of runners looking to drop their bags, the queues for the toilets (not too bad, actually). Surrounded by thousands of runners walking down The Mall, St James’s Street and finally Piccadilly, what struck me was this: every Saturday, about THREE TIMES this number of people participate in a parkrun in the UK. It’s just that, spread over the 250+ venues, the crowds are not nearly so obvious.

The start was anticlimactic. We stood, shuffled forwards a bit, then stood again. The start gantry was just about visible way down the road. Then there was a roar from the crowd and runners became visible approaching us on the other side of the street. The leaders flashed past, followed by a motley crew of runners at varying speeds. Meanwhile the part of the crowd containing me shuffled and stopped and shuffled. About 20 minutes later we crossed a bridge, walked, jogged and finally ran through the start.

Standing in the crowd, it had appeared that I was near the back, but now as we ran back up Piccadilly it was evident that thousands were still waiting to start.

I was there to run, not to race; no PB chasing. I settled into a steady run – or at least as steady as possible in the circumstances, constantly picking and weaving my way between slower runners. Up Piccadilly, St James’s Street, Pall Mall… along Victoria Embankment to upper Thames street and some odd bits in tunnels under the road and looping around, then back down the Embankment to and half way over Westminster Bridge.

I exchanged a few high-fives while crossing back over Westminster Bridge, although many people sadly ignored my outstretched hand. A final stretch down and back up Victoria Street, round Parliament Square and half way up Whitehall to the finish.

We were very fortunate with the weather. Rain was forecast for the Sunday morning, but the first light shower didn’t arrive until about 9.20 am and the temperature was warm enough that it did no harm – very different from the inaugural Greater Manchester Marathon in 2012 (four degrees centigrade before wind chill, gale force winds, heavy rain, and hail). A few other showers developed during the race, which were pleasantly cooling.

The water stations were well marked and it was warm enough that I accepted a bottle at the 3K mark, drinking a couple of mouthfuls but pouring most of it over my head and down my back – not enough cooling showers!

My ankle was fine for about four miles then twinged a bit so I slowed down until it quit twinging, gave it a few minutes then speeded up again.

Queues to get back into the baggage area appeared massive and unmoving, until I discovered that the bulk was a queue for the “Help for Heroes” tents and the rest of us could squeeze past that bottleneck. Bag, medal and a pair of bright red, white and blue shoelaces in one hand, water bottle in the other and I headed off to get the train back home.

Not exactly a proper substitute for my cancelled run in the London Marathon, but at least I’ve done ONE race this summer!

parkruns and progress

Yesterday I ran 4.5 miles in 40 minutes. A whole 4.5 miles! I only need to multiply that by eleven times or so to return to 50-milers…

Both the slow pace across the ground and the slow pace of progress in increasing mileage are frustrating, but I’m being sensible (amazingly sensible for a runner). I keep reminding myself that after six months of no running I have to expect to be slow, and that to give my injured tendon the best chance of adapting back to full use, as well as to avoid overstressing foot muscles which have done very little work while I was wearing the ankle brace, I must not increase the distance too rapidly.

However, there’s great progress in that I can honestly say that the foot didn’t ache during or after the run and is not aching today either, which is fantastic. I’ll be sticking to three runs a week for a while longer but hopefully I’ll soon be able to run with my running club again.

This last month has also seen a running first for me: I ran a parkrun on an amazing four consecutive Saturdays – unheard of for me and taking me to a grand total of 25 parkruns spread over more than three years – although I have volunteered on more than 160 occasions over the same period. The first two were at Lloyd parkrun, my home event; both weeks we had lots of volunteers so, as Volunteer Coordinator, I took myself off the volunteer roster and pulled on my running shoes. It was hard work and very good really for me to be reminded that when you’re just starting running, three miles is a LONG WAY – a perspective that it is too easy to forget when you’re running ultras. I also got fantastic encouragement from the other runners.

The next week I was away at a conference and skipped the first few papers on the Saturday morning because Eastleigh parkrun was just a few miles away and it seemed too good an opportunity to miss. I enjoyed running the course and chatting to people before and after (and eating cake – Eastleigh parkrun is famous for dressing up (they were wearing tutus for International Dance Day) and for trying to maintain “calorie neutral” status by eating cake after the run). I did have one heart-stopping moment when I miss-stepped and slightly turned my left ankle on the downhill section on the second lap, but it didn’t hurt and I was even able to go for a sprint finish.

The following Saturday we had cancelled Lloyd parkrun to make it easier for the European Disc Golf Championships being held in the park. We have a variety of parkruns in the local area so I suggested to our runners that we split up into “Lloyd parkrun on Tour” in a variety of locations; I took the opportunity to run at Banstead Woods. The bluebells I am told were past their best, but were still carpeting the ground quite brightly. I finished in 25.00, which was pleasing.

It’s still early days but I’m now feeling more hopeful that I’ll be back to long trail runs later in the year – if not quite ultras.

Actual run

Extra volunteers at Lloyd parkrun yesterday, so I took the opportunity to pull on my running shoes again.

Conditions were near-perfect for running, firm underfoot, warm enough but not too hot. I started slowly as usual and reminded myself to stay slow. Did speed up a bit more than I should have done probably, but was fairly sensible, and finished in 28.56, so 9.19 per mile.

I have to admit that it felt slow and at the same time was harder work that I had expected – but then, I haven’t run for six months so really I should not be surprised. Bit of an ache in the inner side of the left foot arch for about 20 minutes afterwards but fine later in the day, and no twinges from the actual tendon so that’s good.

Now to make sure I stick to my plan of running no more often than three times a week and not more than the 5K distance during the rest of April.

First steps (on the road to recovery)

On the Wednesday after Ladybower 50, I had a cycling accident, during which I tore my left posterior tibial tendon. Result: six months of enforced rest, five months of that spent wearing a posterior tibial tendon ankle brace – I woudn’t recommend it if you don’t absolutely need it. Irritating and painful.

This has been a boring time during which I’ve not posted because well, no running, nothing really to report. However, I was recently “signed off” by my orthopaedic consultant, allowed to remove the ankle brace, warned not to try to return to running too soon and told that if it goes really bad again and surgery is required, I have only a 30% chance of long-distance running after that. MRI shows tendon degeneration and a tear, so I will just have to see how it holds up.

So: I’ve been patient, I’ve rested. I want to RUN!!!

During the whole of the winter I’ve been swimming and doing Pilates. Once the brace was off, I started physio. A few weeks ago I walked one lap (so 2.5 K/1.55 miles) of my local parkrun. Last week I walk/jogged the parkrun in a “personal worst” time of 38.55 (but it felt great to be out there), and this week, when I was Run Director, I went out after we had processed the results and ran the course gently in about 33 minutes.

I’m still a long way from thinking about running at a decent speed, or returning to long-distance trail running. Obviously I didn’t get to do my intended two-day race at the start of February and my plans to run London Marathon (next week!) and Comrades this year are toast. However I’m daring to hope that I WILL get back to running reasonable distances within the next year.

Lastly – Ladybower!

Ladybower was the final race in my “5 x 50-milers at 45” challenge. I’d chosen this race as a deliberately “easy” run: almost no-navigation (keep the reservoirs on your left and you can’t really go wrong) and flat to undulating terrain.

The lead up to the race was not ideal, as I was at a three-day meeting away from home Wednesday to Friday and we had a six-and-a-half-hour drive to a wedding on the Saturday, but I crawled out of bed in my stepmother’s house in north Manchester at 5.15 on the Sunday morning and drove over Snake Pass, arriving at the start/finish lay-by just after 7 am and bagging one of the last three car parking spaces there, which meant I could leave all my gear in the boot of the car and collect anything I wanted as I came past – only water, bananas and flapjacks were being provided by the race organisers, as they had warned beforehand.

The weather was unexpectedly good – clear, sunny and warm, reaching about 21 °C – quite hot enough for a long run, with little wind.

Given the excellent weather forecast, the looped nature of the race and the plethora of other people about (after the first lap, anyway), I carried little other than food, water, ‘phone and car key, which made quite a difference to the other races this year when packing warm layers and waterproofs was essential. Not sure why I bothered carrying the ‘phone, given the lack of signal, but I did use it to take a few pictures – the views over the reservoirs were pleasant, and the paths were mostly wooded (giving pleasant shade from the hot sun), if also mainly hard-surfaced.

We started with a short lap around Ladybower reservoir, taking  the left path (marked and marshalled) cutting across below the Derwent Dam to return to the start in 5.5 miles, before heading back out on the trail through the woods. This time at the four-mile mark we took the right hand path and continued round Derwent and Howden reservoirs to make a lap just over 15 miles which we then repeated that twice more (my Garmin made the whole course 51.34 miles).

On the first long lap I ran for a while with Rob, a Runners World Pirate. Good company, but despite digestive system problems he was aiming for a  sub-9 hours finish and I decided he was going too fast for me, so told him to go on while I slowed to a more manageable pace for my aim of sub-10 hours. Later I passed him, walking and trying to eat but apparently having a bad time.

Came back to the car, stocked up on Kendal Mint Cake, sorted out one of my socks which had become uncomfortably folded up under my toes, went to the race tent, got checked in, got my water bladder filled (many thanks to the lady who had finished the 20 and helped by holding the bladder while I got the Elete out) and set off again.  Going through the first wooded section I nearly got cut off at the knees by the extensible lead on a dog – it would be nice if people using those took care not to get them stretched out across the path. It did seem to be my race for dogs trying to trip me up, with five or six in all who tried to do this by running across or stopping directly in front of me!

From early in the lap I was shadowed by Jane, and from about half way round we ran together. It was nice to have company, particularly over the upper section with lots of long climbs, uncomfortably stony paths and then long stretches of tarmac; when possible I got off the tarmac onto the worn path in the grass alongside the road. Towards the end of this lap Jane’s husband arrived on a bicycle and she sent him back to the car to get another pack ready with all her drinks in it. Lucky Jane! She was off on the final lap several minutes ahead of me as I had to get my drinks bladder filled with water and add some Elete (and the taps on the water containers only gave a trickle of water, so it was slow).

Really tired starting out on the third lap and was passed very early by a group of three runners, with another runner passing me a mile or so later. This was definitely the mental/emotional low point of the race for me, with my mile splits creeping upwards. However, I chatted a bit with a runner (not in the race) who was doing some heart-rate based training,  ate some Kendal Mint Cake and started feeling stronger again, managing to keep going and even pick up the pace on the flat/downhill sections, while walking all the uphill sections as briskly as possible. I now ate a piece of mint cake about every three miles, and was definitely feeling stronger. Overtook a couple more runners and then I was at 46 miles – just a couple of parkruns to go! From here I pushed myself to go faster. Saw some other runners ahead and was determined to pass them, particularly the West Bromwich Harriers who had passed me at the start of the lap!

I did that, kept pushing and gritted my teeth to run the final slope up to the finish, clocking in at 9.50.40.

 Jane was sitting in the finish tent, having come in only about 10 minutes in front of me. One of the helpers gave me water, and there were some cold chips which tasted delicious – this was the first time I’d done a 50-miler without some savoury food and I’m not intending to do that again.  Collected my bright yellow “Labybower 50-miler “ T-shirt, ate some more chips and cheered in the next few runners, including the Harriers. It’s always great to cheer in other runners, although I thought the guy who did a big sideways and upwards leap as he finished had way too much energy after that distance! Hobbled down to the car to put on some warm clothes, and a very nice lady who was there supporting one of the other runners, and had been cheering each of us as we passed the finish and as we passed the four-mile point, kindly took some photos of me.

I made a slow, painful trek down to the main car park where the toilets were, and discovered that the food kiosk was still open; the cheese and onion toasted pannini, vanished before I’d finished shuffling back up the hill to the lay-by!

The last runner I saw finish was Rob-the-Pirate. Unfortunately I was just too tired to get out of my car and walk back up the length of the lay-by to congratulate him properly, but I did pause as I passed the finish tent, wind down my window and call my congratulations; it takes real guts to keep going when it’s all gone wrong.