Back to square one

Three weeks ago I was looking forward to running my 50th parkrun on the Lloyd parkrun 250th event, followed a week later by the Croydon 30 and then to some nice long trail training runs in preparation for Ladybower 50 in September (plus the final running of The Jog Shop Jog 20, plus Beach Head Marathon, plus…).

Then I walked down a damp grassy bank while talking with a colleague, my left foot slipped and I fell. The foot went sideways with all my weight on it. It hurt.

I was non-weight-bearing immediately but thought/hoped I had a bad sprain. Unfortunately, X-ray showed that I’d broken my ankle (in more technical terms, I had a Weber B fracture of the lateral malleolus (distal fubula) with some displacement and some disruption of the joint space).

To say I was gutted is an understatement. I’d just got back to decent long runs and being able to really enjoy my running without worrying about my ankle, after the cycling accident that tore my left posterior tibial tendon three days after Ladybower 50 in 2013 and here I was, right back to square one.

A week after the accident I had surgery (open reduction, internal fixation) to repair it. I don’t yet know what hardware has been put in place; I should find out next week when I see the surgeon again.

Yesterday I had my first day without pain or serious discomfort – not from the break itself, but from the cast and the swelling. It made a nice change.

I also tried for the first time my “iwalk 2.0″. This is basically a high-tech peg-leg with a padded shelf facing backwards on which your injured lower leg rests. You adjust it to fit, strap yourself in… and walk! It’s amazing. I’m going to be careful not to use it too much, because I’m still having some circulation issue (associated, I think, with bruising and swelling due to oedema (fluid in the tissues) under the cast, but it is so nice to be able to stand and to use my hands while standing.

Official timetable for recovery, if all goes well, is:

  • Six weeks in a cast and non-weightbearing following the surgery (one week down, five to go, I hope);
  • Six weeks after that of rehabilitation – physio, exercises, gradually increasing partial weight-bearing and then full weight-bearing.

After that, hopefully, I will be able to start trying to run short distances and, if all goes well, start working up the distances. Again.

A tale of two Croydon Half Marathons

In 2012, while training for my first marathon, I ran the Croydon Half Marathon, organised by my running club, Striders of Croydon, in a PB of 1:40:24. Last weekend, I ran the Croydon HM again. It was my first half marathon for three years, because I’d spent 2012 working up the distances to 50 miles, and 2013 running five 50-mile races, before the tendon injury from my cycling accident prevented me from running for six months.

My time last week was 1:46:42, a PW for that distance! I did however manage 2nd Fv45 and was part of the winning women’s team for my club.

Looking back, I’ve found it interesting to compare and contrast my state of mind during the two races.

In 2012, I remember feeling nervous while driving to the clubhouse, because in my previous two HMs, in October 2011, I’d not run as well as I’d expected. Then, just before I arrived at the club, I had a revelation: since I’d been training for and run a 50K (London Ultra) and was now training for a marathon, 13.1 miles was no longer “a long way”. I could just set off as fast as I could and really go for it – and I did, taking a good three minutes off my previous PB. It was good, hard running the whole way, really pushing it up the hills, throwing myself along the downhill sections, and I finished very tired but really .pleased with my time

This year, I arrived early to help registering the runners, leaving that task with only about 10 minutes to go before the race started, to change into my running shoes, shed excess clothing and dash to join the crowd behind the start line. In the past few months I’ve regained my ability to run long distances, working up as far as 27.5 or 28 miles, but the only fast running I’ve done has been the occasional parkrun and a few cross-countries. I had only made the decision to enter the race on the Friday and I suddenly realised that I hadn’t the slightest idea what time I wanted to try for or what pace I wanted to run – as well as being still a bit uncertain whether my healing (healed?) tendon would cope with relatively fast running for that distance.

I set off quite conservatively and decided that I would be fine if I came in no slower than 1:50. The course consists of a mini-lap followed by two much longer laps. About halfway through the first full lap, I had something of an epiphany and switched from thinking “only one more time that I have to run up that hill” to “I only get to run up this hill once more in this race!” I felt myself grinning. I was running, in an actual HM, after all those months when I hadn’t been sure I would be able to race, or even to run, ever again. I was so LUCKY to be able to do this! I found myself feeling sorry for the many people who wouldn’t ever feel the delight of a proper long run or long distance race. I started to really have fun.

In the last few miles, while regretting that there was such a short time and short distance of the race remaining, I started to push on a bit, overtaking a few people. For some time I had been able to see two women a few hundred yards ahead of me and now I set my sights on closing the gap. One of them was evidently tiring, even walking for a few strides on the section up Sandilands, and I overtook her with about half a mile to go, then I started to gain on the other woman, speeding up, sprinting from about 200 metres out and accelerating towards the finish line, to complete the race as eighth woman overall.

Looking forward, I do hope to regain some more of my previous speed, as well as to move out again to 30-mile and 50-mile races, but I hope that as I do so I will remember, at all times, how marvellous it is to be able to run like this, how lucky I am to do it – and that I should always, always, have FUN!

26.2!

Every year, Striders of Croydon (my running club)  offers a series of marathon training runs to prepare for the spring marathon season. Starting in early November at a mere 10-12 miles, and initially every fortnight, they become weekly from January and work up to 21 miles.

Last winter of course, unable to run due to my tendon injury, I missed the lot. The previous year, training for specific ultras, I ran some but on other Sundays was off reccing the courses. This year I’ve been enjoying running the majority of these training runs with my clubmates.

Because I wasn’t sure how well or fast my posterior tibial tendon would heal, and to minimise the risk that I would push myself too far too soon and re-injure it, I haven’t entered for any spring marathons.  This has meant that I could back off in training if I felt I needed to. However, I have gradually been increasing the distances I’ve run, returning to running, rather than cycling, to and from the clubhouse for the Sunday runs, which adds a little under three miles each way onto the run.

Last Sunday I ran a total of 24 miles and felt tired but reasonably  comfortable, and I decided then to extend the following run to reach 26.2 miles. When I made that decision, I had forgotten that I was running the fourth and final Surrey Cross Country League match on the Saturday, so I came into Sunday with tired legs. However, I told myself that was excellent training! This was also the first week that the training group I was in decided to include a 1.5 mile section, after about 10 miles, at a faster pace – and I ran that stretch at about 8.15 per mile.

I have to admit that my legs did feel tired throughout, particularly from about miles 20 to 22, that my time wasn’t great (4 hrs 30 mins running time, longer including breaks at the club house etc.) and that I had to resort to Kendal mint cake, jelly beans and green-ear (vegetarian) Percy Pigs for energy (a contrast to last week when I ran 24 miles on nothing but my breakfast cereal and one vegetarian Percy Pig at about 22 miles). However, I -did- reach the 26.2 miles and that felt really, really good.

It’s nice to have been rewarded for my slow, sensible approach to returning to long-distance running. To have come through a weekend of a muddy, slippery five-mile cross-country race – much of it on a camber – followed by a marathon-length long steady training run, without overstressing the recovered posterior tibial tendon or any of the other tendons and muscles in my left foot and ankle, is just fantastic.

I still have quite a way to go to return to my previous level and speed of training, but now I have much greater confidence that I -will- be back on 50-milers within the next year!

40 parkruns!

Yesterday I ran my 40th parkrun. I ran my very first parkrun in January 2011, so it’s taken me nearly four years to get this far and I’m clearly going to be into my fifth year of parkrunning before I earn my 50-club T-shirt. That’s okay; I’ve also volunteered 192 times, according to the system (actually more, as I volunteered several times before anyone mentioned that this activity could be noted on the old Volunteer Management System) and I’ll easily reach 200 volunteering weeks before 50 runs.

The last three months I’ve run at Lloyd seven times, which is more frequently than I’ve ever managed before. That’s due to more people stepping forward to volunteer, which is great to see. I’m also grateful to Jenny Booth (my right-hand woman at Lloyd parkrun) for sometimes taking my place as Run Director on a day when we have extra last-minute volunteers, so that I can run.

Recovering from the injury (posterior tibial tendon tear in a cycling accident) which stopped me running for six months over the winter has given me additional appreciation for the chance to run the 5K of the parkrun. It has also reminded me what it’s like when five kilometers is a long way to run. Given that I ran my first half marathon in 2009 and my first ultramarathon in 2012, it’s easy to forget this and good to be reminded just how amazing it is for beginners to complete a parkrun.

parkrunning this often also has helped me to the realisation that I honestly like volunteering at parkrun as much as I like running in it.

I love the chance to push myself in the run, trying to creep back up towards something like my pre-injury speed (I’ve managed to pass 65% age graded three times recently, but I’m still a long way from my previous best of 70.24%).

Equally, I love watching and encouraging everyone during the run, seeing all the different running styles, the individual efforts and personal triumphs which are much more visible when you volunteer.

The cameraderie is great in both roles, but again there’s a difference in the feel between running, passing and being passed by other runners, calling out encouragement on the hill and perhaps being pushed on by someone on your shoulder – who in turn may be using you to “pull” them along as they try to catch you – and the chatting and banter between the finish line crew during the run, with the chances to briefly congratulate each runner on the finish line or as you scan their barcode, or to encourage every runner as they pass while you’re marshalling. I really enjoy both experiences.

And a final note: the first time I ran a parkrun I was one of 7,511 runners at 51 events in the UK, with 7,643 runners at 55 events globally. when I ran this Saturday I was one of nearly 49,000 runners at 300 events across the uK and globally, parkrun is exceeding 500 events weekly with 75,000-80,000 or more runners. Being part of that is amazing!

Coulsdon Run

My running club, Striders of Croydon, puts on a series of marathon training runs from November through to the big spring marathons, gradually increasing in distance. Today was the run back from Coulsdon, having taken the train there. I remember being absolutely gutted to have to miss this run last year due to my tendon injury, so I was really looking forward to it this year.

This run is a huge contrast to the Beckenham run – the first of the series of runs, a fortnight ago. After a short road section we cross onto Farthing Downs and head southwards before veering around and heading northeast back towards Croydon, basically following the London Loop.

There are a few bits of road along the way’, but most of the time we were off road: Croydon really is greener than you think! We went through the site of Riddlesdown parkrun along the way and returned to familiar territory near Selsdon Wood Nature Reserve, taking one of the usual Sunday run routes in reverse from there back to the Lloyd Park and the clubhouse.

In addition to the much higher proportion of off-road running, this route is much better supplied with hills than the Beckenham run. The first hill comes just as you hit Farthing Downs (somehow I’d forgotten about that) and there’s a big and steep hill up by the quarry after about five miles. There’s a very steep scramble version to get up there, but half of our middle-pace group went for a longer but more runnable route.

The hills reminded me again that I really need to start some proper hill training. This is something I’ve been noticing on the occasions I’ve run Lloyd parkrun recently (including yesterday – thank you, all the volunteers) and during cross-country races. Additionally, the last two weeks I’ve moved up from the third to the second speed group on the Striders’ Wednesday evening runs and although generally keeping up pretty well (even if at or near the back of the group most of the time) I’ve definitely been trailing on the hills. It’s definitely time to get the glutes fired up and do some hill repeats.

I felt quite tired from about nine miles in, so I extended the run only back from the club house to home, giving 15 miles in total. Last week I ran 19.5 miles, two more than the previous week, and those were my longest runs since the accident last September, so a drop-down was probably a good idea. I’m not getting any pain in the inside of my left ankle during or after these runs, which is fantastic. In fact, I realised after yesterday’s parkrun that I’d just done the whole run, including slipping and sliding in downhill mud, without thinking about the ankle at all – amazing!

We were very lucky with the weather – cool but dry throughout the run, if a bit damp underfoot. I remembered to rinse the mud off my shoes (Trailroc 235s today) as soon as I got back and they’re presently on their second stuffing of newspaper.

Many thanks to Paul for leading our group today – and well done Robin for catching up with us after the runners he was leading decided to drop back to the slower group.

Good weekend

It’s been a good weekend.

On Saturday it was Lloyd parkrun’s 4th Anniversary party. All went well and everyone appeared to be having a good time. The regular Lloyd parkrunners had clubbed together to get gifts for those of us on the core team, together with a huge card which many of them had signed. They are all amazing and the messages in the card were heartwarming. It’s a real honour to be the Event Director and I get out much more than I put in. Watching people’s development is extremely rewarding.

As usual I wore a witch’s costume. However this year I had to RUN wearing it and I’ll admit I ditched the long skirt in favour of full-length black running tights. The academic gown was rather heavy and warm to run in, particularly in the unseasonably mild weather, and the pointed hat wouldn’t stay on unless I held it, but it was great fun! However warm I was I realised that Colin, wearing a gorilla suit (with his running club vest over the top!), had to be much hotter.

Sunday was the first of my running club’s marathon training runs. Striders of Croydon puts on a series of these every year from November to the big spring marathons (London, Paris, Brighton etc.). This one was supposed to be about 10.6 miles, heading into Beckenham and back, via South Norwood Country Park, Cator Park and Kelsey Park. I ran to and from the club; including looping this made it into about a 17.5 mile run. It’s traditional in our club that periodically those at the front of each group loop back behind those at the back, so nobody gets left behind and no runner is at the back all the time.

It was a good run with pleasant company, although I did miss the woodland trail sections of Striders’ usual Sunday runs. Heading into Beckenham meant that it was rather flatter than most club runs. Thankfully the rain mostly held off until near the end and when drizzle strengthened into proper rain I was only a mile or so from home, so I arrived back soaking wet but not chilled.

I’d also decided it was time to start getting used to wearing a running backpack again so I took my Salomon pack with about 700 mL water in the bladder plus my windproof running trousers and jacket, my waterproof running jacket and the usual odds and ends I always carry when on long runs (emergency food, sticking plasters, a little tin of Vaseline, tissues, mobile phone etc.).

I didn’t actually drink any water until we got back to the club, and then only a few mouthfuls, and I didn’t eat at all. Retraining up the distances has been hard work and I’m still nowhere near back to my previous speed, but it’s nice to discover that at least some of the adaptations for long distance running have stayed with me. When I first started running distances further than half marathon, three years ago, there’s no way I’d have managed a seventeen-mile run without eating a handful of jelly beans or a few pieces of Kendal mint cake, and without drinking more than a few sips of water.

I considered running six miles or so today to start back towards back-to-back long runs but decided not to push things. My legs feel okay today so I’ll try for a run with a bit of speed work tomorrow.

Progress!

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 slowed 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).