Snakes and Ladders


Too many snakes

I was nearly there. After patiently doing the rehab, I had built up gently running 1 mile, then 2 miles, then 3 miles. Saturday I ran/walked 9 leisurely miles and didnt feel any worse.

Monday evening after work I set out to do 5 miles. The first 2 miles felt great, no pain at all. This was the best my achilles had felt and I was enjoying just jogging round feeling injury free. Then for no obvious reason the achilles started to feel a little sore. By mile 4 it was feeling stiff and by mile 5 it was very stiff and a big bit sore.

Major fail and major ensuing depression.  Decided to cancel the accommodation booked for the Moray marathon as there was now no way I would be fit for it.

On reflection I probably changed too many things at once on that Monday evening run. I wore my Brooks Pure Cadence which have a slightly lower heel drop than the big sturdy shoes I had been rehabbing in; I ran entirely on the pavement rather than the softer grass or trail and despite not intending to I was running much faster than I had been up to this stage in my rehab. I would probably have got away with any one of those things but to do all three was a bit careless. I was too impatient. I suppose it just reinforces the old adage about when you think you are ready, wait another day…..

So I am back at the bottom of the board again. Back to the physio and with instructions to use a weighted jacket while exercising to build up strength in my achilles.  After 4 days of being really sore and stiff and not being able to do anything at all, I am on the move again.  At the moment I am only rolling 1’s and 2’s but at least I have managed to move forward a couple of squares by doing some bouncing and some heel drops.  I am hoping that if I can be dilligent in doing the right things I will hit a ladder sometime soon which will shortcut me back up the board. Unfortunately there aren’t too many ladders in recovering from an achilles injury and an awful lot of snakes.

The only good thing is that there is a tried and tested formula for coming back from an achilles problem. Here is my  recipe:

General Principles – DO NOT move on to the next stage unless you have completed what you did yesterday again and have NO reaction.  If you have a reaction have a day’s rest or go back a stage. Shoes with a heel help. Minimalist shoes aggravate the injury in the early days of rehab.

Ice –  especially in the early days. I use disposable ice cube bags as a wrap and also a polystyrene cup of ice for massaging the achilles

Ibuprofen – these are bad things but at least initially the anti-inflammatory does help a little

Compression –  I find that compression helps. I wear compression socks and alternate with a compression bandage round my ankle.

Massage –  physio and self massage help. Gently rubbing a heat rub into the achilles helps reduce the inflammation and get the tendon moving in the sheath.  Foam roller and general stretching also helps.

Calf raises –  these are the first exercise I can manage. Repeat every 30 minutes or whenever I get the chance throughout the day. Start off with using both legs and work up to single leg as the achilles repairs/strengthens. Sets of 10 reps at a time

Heel drops –  these are the exercises which do the job of repairing and strengthening the achilles. Dropping of a step, starting off with two legs and working up to doing it one legged. Build up to sets of 3 x 15 with no pain before proceeding to running. I do it on the stair so I can hold on to the bannister.

Bouncing –  on a mini trampoline, run on the spot. Start with a couple of minutes 3 times a day and build up to 20 minutes or more. When the achilles is nearly ready pushing vigorously with each leg will feel fine..

Running – start by jogging really slowly and walking on short grass no more than 20 metres at a time. Build up to 20 minutes of this.

Progress to the football pitch. Jog the short side, walk the long side for 20-30 minutes.  Do this for 2 sessions with no reaction afterwards. Then move on to jog the long side, walk the short side. Again 2 sessions with no reaction afterwards.

Jog/walk – run 2 mins walk 1, then run 3 mins walk 1, 4/1, then 5/1. Build up time on feet from 30 mins to 1 hour.  Repeat each level at least once  before moving on if there is no reaction.

Run continuously – 2 miles, then 3, then 4/5. Only move on if no reaction.

Run on harder surfaces –  repeat 2, 4, 5 mile runs on pavement.

Finally, start introducing speed but only at 30-60 seconds / mile at a time. No jumping from 12 minute miles to 8 minute miles.

This whole process takes a long time. There is a minimum of 3 weeks in this programme and more likely 4-6 weeks depending on how disciplined I am.

Patience is most definitely the key.

Once running again, it is then time to work on the stability and strength exercises which will correct the biomechanical imbalances which tend to be at the root of achilles problems. I find that if I am going to the gym regularly my achilles is fine. I also suspect from experience that my achilles problems are caused by my computer. I am right handed and slouch when using my computer. This compresses my right hip and gives me tightness in my Glutes, Hip Flexor and SI joint on my right side. This in turn causes tightness and restricted movement when running which I suspect results in compensating movements in the opposite corner from my right hip which is of course my dodgy left achilles.

One thing is certain, an achilles niggle is the most frustrating of injuries.

Going Nowhere Fast

Thus spake the man who has just been doing intervals running on the spot on the trampette 🙂

For folks of a certain age, the trampette will be remembered as that little bouncy thing you jumped on in PE class before *vaulting elegantly/getting stuck halfway/ landing on your head ( *delete as appropriate) over the big wooden box horse.  As someone whose grace and poise is inversely proportional to his effort and enthusiasm, this usually resulted in me being catapulted violently over the box, occasionally the right way up, before landing with a thump on any part of my body except my feet. Sometimes I even landed on the mat.

My recollection is that the box seemed massive though like many things from your childhood, including Creme Eggs and Yorkie Bars, I suspect they may seem smaller nowadays. I assume the big box horse has disappeared from schools, cursed by health and safety or PE teachers too unfit to demonstrate how to do it. Either that or they will have realised that the kids might have watched a black and white war film and realised that they could use the Box to escape.

My only other recollection of the trampette was that watching the senior girls with their wobbly bits doing gymnastics was a popular and educational activity engaged in by junior school boys and male PE staff alike.

I digress.

My achilles is slowly getting better.

After being told by the physio that my chances of making my first marathon of the autumn were slim and none, this encouraged me to redouble my rehab efforts!

The trampette is a great rehab for the achilles and calves. You get strengthening without the impact. If you have a high boredom threshhold you can even do an extended session on it to get  race fit. I once did a 2 hour run on the trampette in a previous injury.

So far I have done a weeks worth of bouncing building up to 20 minutes.  I have started gently reintroducing running back into my programme.

You can see from the table I have been building up gently. I have been running on short grass and ash path trying to avoid pavement and hills.

06/08/2013 Easy 3.5 mi 32:16 9:12
05/08/2013 Easy 2.8 mi 27:17 9:54
04/08/2013 Easy 1.8 mi 22:11 12:41

Yesterday I had no pain at all when running, but when I woke up this morning I had a bit of stiffness and soreness, so am being sensible and not running tonight.

Hopefully a bit more ice, stretching and ibuprofen will see me able to get out for another run tomorrow.

Recovering from an injury like this is a really good analogy for training generally. It is all about stress and recover. With the acuteness of an injury it accentuates the need to stress just enough to encourage healing without stressing so much that the injury gets worse or the recovery time is too great.

Ever the optimist I have written a program which take me from 1.8 miles  to 26.2 in the space of 3 weeks. Realistically I probably wont be fit for what I am christening the Dean Martin marathon (“that’s-a-Moray” sic.) , but I can at least give it a go.

Having started this post by running fast and going nowhere, I shall close it by sharing that in an effort to kick start my metabolism so that it eats some of the lard round my middle which seems to be going nowhere, I am in the midst of a 24 hour fast.

This water is mighty tasty…

Oh Flax! Ouch. Grumble. Mutter.

Flax! Flax! Flax! or words to that effect
Flax! Flax! Flax! or words to that effect

That’s the thing about being a glass half empty sort of person – while running is not really an enjoyable experience,  NOT running is an even worse experience.

I am injured. Nothing serious, but bad enough that I am NOT running. My Achilles and its eponymous niggle has flared up again.

I have had this injury several times before and I know how to rehab it. Unfortunately this takes time, patience and NOT running.

It is bad enough that I finished the West Highland Way Race with my glass filled nearly up to the top and a real enthusiasm to get out and train for my Autumn marathons, which are now approaching at an alarming rate while I am NOT running.

What is even worse is that the reason I am NOT running is because I am STUPID. I finished WHW in fine fettle and recovered well. I started doing some speedwork and all was well. I picked up a wee bit of soreness running on the Clyde Walkway.  Instead of taking some rest, I followed this up with two consecutive days of hard runs, and after the second one I couldn’t run at all. This was Wednesday. Arran Half Marathon was Sunday, so stayed off the foot until the Sunday and managed to warm up, but was a bit achy. STUPID mode kicks in. It’s a race, I am here, what is the worst that could happen, after all my plan is to take it easy and just use it as a training run, especially in the heat.  Gun goes, off goes STUPID, a full minute a mile faster than plan. By 2 miles it was getting sore, but being STUPID I assured myself it was just a bit stiff and would ease out as it warmed up. By 4 miles it was so sore that I had to stop.  Police car stops while I am stretching against a telegraph pole and asked if I was ok or did I need help? STUPID says I’ll be fine and just stretch it out.  Police car drives off and STUPID determines that he is as well continuing because it is too far to walk back now.  Next, STUPID tries to make a bandage from his calf sleeve doubling it over until the ankle is supported enough to get going.  Eventually after much hobbling STUPID made it to the finish in 1 painful hour and 41 STUPID minutes.

Two weeks later and I am still NOT running because I am STUPID. And because I am NOT running it is making me frustrated, tetchy,  fed up, and even more grumpy than usual. Or so I am told!

I will admit to being just the teensiest less jolly than usual, while my stomach swells up to the size of a bloated gas-filled dead water buffalo and my legs become as stiff as the legs on the aforementioned maggot ridden corpse.

I am missing my daily dose of pain.  So now I am miserable because I can’t get my daily misery fix because I am STUPID and NOT RUNNING.

Grump. Grump. Wanders off into the distance muttering something about Flax….

Running from Drymen to Tyndrum

It was the first properly sunny day we have had this year and though it was a wee bit warm for running, the views along this section of the West Highland Way were stunning today. 41 miles run and felt okay. Not sure I would have fancied running another 55 today but feel that after all the missed training and the bugs, at least I am back in the game.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Listening to your body

When your body’s had enough of me. And I’m layin flat out on the floor…..

As runners we are supposed to listen to our bodies. Mine has taken a bit of a beating recently so I dragged it out for a 9 mile run this morning and kept an ear open to hear what it was saying. This is what I heard

Feet: My left foot was fine, no problems at all. Little toe on my right foot was nipping a bit from the wee corn on it so that needs some attention. My slightly swollen big toe joint settled down and didnt cause too much bother thought it just feels wrong still need to continue icing it.

Calves: bit tight but not too bad. no special attention needed

Hamstrings: tight, tight, tight. maybe a bit tired after some weights work midweek. Feel like they need lengthened. Must get into some mat work to remedy

Hips: tight right hip, and sticky SI joint, mean I am not moving smoothly. Too much sitting at a computer and not enough stretching.

Stomach: Too big. Still need to shift the weight I put on after Boston.

Chest: still a bit sticky from recent infection. not quite as recovered as I would like to be. Cardio is good though, heart and lungs seem untroubled.

Shoulders: way too tight. been a busy stressful week with a lot of time hunched over a machine. Should know better.

Mouth: Dry. Do not drink white wine night before a run. Muppet!

Nose: snot hanging around my sinuses. remnants of my cold or is it just hayfever season?

Head: still got a missing mojo. must try to generate some enthusiasm

Overall, performed a bit better than I expected. Legs wanted to run fast but couldnt. Feel my endurance is good but my speed has completely vanished. There is fitness in there somewhere, just need to coax it back out.

My Big Toe

Close up Hi-Res Image of my Big Toe
Close up Hi-Res Image of my Big Toe

My big toe is niggling. It isn’t really sore but it doesnt feel right. It is a bit tender if I press it and feels slightly swollen.  It doesn’t stop me running, but it is uncomfortable and I am worried that it is altering my gait which in turn will lead to some biomechanical issues.

My toe issues are real, but they may well also be a metaphor for how I feel about my West Highland Way training. For various reasons I haven’t managed to do some of the training that I wanted to. I am still getting back to fitness after a few weeks down with the lurgy and I am worried that I am running out of time.  The support network on Facebook is great but it can also be slightly intimidating as people post updates on their latest million mile mega long run which just fuels the fear of not having done enough. I am not alone, there is a good description of the ups and downs of WHW preparation over on the Beirut Taxi blog.

With only a little over a month to go I have only a couple of weeks training left to build more fitness and more confidence. If only my big toe would stop niggling……

Kintyre Way – A nice wee trail ultra

The Kintyre Way Ultra and Relays is a 67 mile ultra which runs from Tarbert to Campbeltown along the Kintyre Way. My plan when I entered this race was to do the full thing, but having been struck down with a bug for a few weeks my sensible head prevailed and I changed to the 35 mile option instead.

Kintyre Way China Mugs
Kintyre Way China Mugs

I had got back into some proper training over the bank holiday weekend which I wrote about in my last post, so taking on a race 4 days later seemed liked a good way to get some miles on tired legs.

I had been less than enthusiastic about this race, mainly because work has been really busy and the logistics of the Kintyre Way are a wee bit complex so I ddint really have the motivation to get it all sorted in my head. Despite my reservations we managed to finish work sharp on Friday and headed off for Tarbert with me in a grump as we got stuck behind every slow driver on the 3 hour drive down the road in the rain.

The scenery lifted my spirits a bit as we drove over the Rest and Be Thankful and we duly arrived, checked into our B&B, registered for the race and headed for the Tarbert Hotel for dinner. Margaret, Alastair, and David who were taking part in the Relay with Helen, were already there, while James and Sheela were en route. You sort of knew it was going to be one of those places when we discovered that Margaret had a shopping bag containing milk and dog biscuits, because her landlady Isabella had asked her to pick some up from the shop while she was out. It got even more bizarre when the milk ended up in the Hotel fridge courtesy of Mairi who was working the bar and was Isabella’s best friend. We had a really nice meal and a few pints of liquid carbs, even though the service was incredibly slow.

Early morning runners gather
Early morning runners gather

Race day dawned and Helen and I headed off to watch the 67 mile runners head off in the pouring rain, before heading back to our lodgings for the obligatory full Scottish breakfast.

Helen dropped me in Tayinloan and after a delayed start (Kintyre seems to operate at that pace) we were off, Race Director Rob Reid running the first few hundred yards to guide us through a couple of streets before heading down onto the beach.  Half a mile or so of beach and bog and then we hit the first hill which continued straight up for approximately 4 miles rising to a height of 1100 feet.  About half way up I caught up with a lady who was running the hill by zig zagging a traverse from one side of the road to the other. I jokingly made acomment about running twice the distance which I think she must have taken umbrage to, as she muttered something which I didnt quite catch and stormed off up the hill leaving me behind!

Undulating apparently
Undulating apparently

After a bit the rain eased and eventually the sun came out and it turned into a lovely day for running. I crested the top of the hill, past the windfarm and eventually after many ups and downs arrived at Carradale for the first checkpoint 15.5 miles in 2 hours 30 which I was pleased with considering I had allocated 3 hours for this leg..  I had a quick bathroom stop, munched down a rice pudding and then explained to a slightly bemused Marshal that yes, a scotch pie really was a good thing to be eating 15 miles into an ultra race!

As I set off again he said “the next bit might be tricky because the tide is in, and the tide isnt normally in for the race. Just stay as close to the cliff as you can” Words to send you off with confidence or what!

Through the little coastal village of Carradale the views were idyllic in the sunshine. Pristine beaches, blue skies and sparkling sea for as far as the eye could see. Then the path disappeared.

The tide is high…

He hadn’t been joking. There really wasnt a path. It was every man for himself, clambering and hopping over seaside rocks while trying to persuade your hip flexors that just because they had run up and down a hill for 15 miles was no reason not to pretend you were a 5 year old enjoying a day at the seaside. Eventually after much cursing, dry land was reached followed by an ankle deep dance through a bog, some circuitous navigation and an abortive attempt at straddling a barbed wire fence, the main road was reached and it was time to head inland once more.

The good weather had decided to bugger off and the wind was whipping up as the path headed into the hills once more. The bizzareness of this leg continued with a massive climb, followed by a wee slalom through a dense forest, some bog hopping, burn crossing and an overgrown path through a large deforested  hillside. Eventually I made it to the second checkpoint at Ifferdale farm, where the lovely people there filled my bladder and made me a cup of coffee!

At this point I was going through my obligatory 20 mile slump. I changed into my compression shorts, pulled on a warm base layer, swallowed 2 paracetamol and headed out again.  Out of the farm the heavens opened and it started to pour. As the path climbed I was passed by a couple of relay runners who were the first runners I had seen for several hours. I was still feeling pretty low and was trying to make progress up the hill into a headwind (why is it always a headwind?) . As luck would have it every time I managed to coax myself into something resembling a trot I had to stop to cross a cattle grid, open a gate or one occasion tell a nice lady on a bike that no I hadnt seen number 29.

The climb seemed to go on forever and as the path opened out on to the top of the hill it is hard to describe just how horrible it was on the exposed hill with torrential rain and a howling headwind. The rain I can cope with, but the wind was just soul destroying.  I was conscious that I was starting to feel a bit better and was pleasantly surprised to notice that I had gone through marathon distance in 5:07. With the wind howling and blowing hailstones into my face I was trying to do calculations in my head. Did that mean it was only 9 miles to go? If so why did I keep adding on 14 because 14 was the leg length not the distance from where I passed the 26 mile point.  And if I could run it at 10 minute mile pace what finishing time would it get me? etc etc such is the random nonsense which goes through your head when you are stuck in the middle of nowhere with screaming quads, stinging skin and wind swirling round your head. Eventually the path started heading downhill and I started to pick up so by the time I hit the relatively flat section alongside Loch Lussa I was actually running reasonably well.  The route description says that from here to the end in Campbeltown is “undulating”. No shit Sherlock! Undulating as in up a f*@king big hill then down a f*@king big hill, then up another even bigger hill and then repeat!

On one of these sections Paul Giblin the race winner trotted past me in his very distinctive running style looking fresh as a daisy after 63 miles of running. This gave me a bit of a boost and I found myself almost smiling as I picked up pace and even started running the ups again.  By this stage the wind and rain were of Biblical proportions and I was so grateful for my OMM Kamleika smock ( though if Mr and Mrs OMM and the wee OMM elves could do something about the cuffs saturating that would be much appreciated).

On to the main road into Campbeltown and it did occur to me that I couldnt see any of the distinctive arrows which had highlighted the route through most of the way. Remember at the start I said that I couldnt really be bothered preparing properly for this? So of course I didnt bring my map, hadnt read the instructions for the last bit into the town and assumed there would be signs pointing to the finish. Wrong! Despite being within 100 metres of the finish I proceeded to run straight past the road junction before doing a tour of Campbeltown while trying to get a map on my phone. Slightly shame faced I finally made it to the finish at the Aqualibrium arriving from completely the wrong direction.

spot the idiot missing the finish line
spot the idiot missing the finish line

Even with my detour I made it to the finsh in 6:57 on my watch which I am grumblingly pleased with even though I would have preferred not to add on an extra mile!

I collected my bag, had a hot shower, headed to Tesco to buy some beer and then met up with David, Margaret and Alastair and was pleased to learn that they had had a good day out and had all enjoyed good runs.

We enjoyed the free Loch Fyne beer while we waited for Helen to finish her relay leg. She came storming home in a really good time of 3 hours having braved some horrendous weather.

It wasn’t until sitting afterwards sharing a few beers with ultra legends George, Karen and Lorna that I realised that my grumps had gone, something had shifted physically and mentally.  Funny how a day filled with pain, solitude and pissing rain can do that for you.

Overall, despite my reservations this turned into a really good weekend with good running and good people.

Lessons learned

this is a good event, run by nice folk, but a wee bit more organisation and the addition of a proper finish line would make it into a great race.

I am getting better at running hills.

I still shouldnt run up hills in the first few miles just because I can. It comes back to bite later on.

Pies are indeed the perfect ultra food.

OMM jackets are the dogs bollocks.

Wind is depressing.

Miles 26+ are much easier than miles 20-26 so dont get depressed and just keep going.

Pure Grit shoes shed water better than anything else I have tried.

Despite being unnatural and pervy Injinji toe socks do in fact keep your feet comfortable and blister free

Don’t know whether it is the beer or the endorphins, but ultra runners do seem to be an unfeasibly cheerful bunch.