Sunday, 30 March 2014

Manchester Marathon: Final Training Sessions!

So here we are: in the final lead-up to my first marathon!

My training thus far (which started back in December 2013) has been somewhat hap-hazard for a number of unforeseen reasons. I had a 16 week training plan and, if I have to be honest, I've probably only trained for around 7 weeks and, out of those 7 weeks, only around 4 weeks of being injury-free. The main causes of the disruption to my training schedule have included (but not limited to):
  • I had a severe dose of the flu just after Christmas and was out of action for 3 weeks (2 week in bed)
  • Even when back running, I was still suffering the after-effects from the flu
  • I had a nightmare when I changed my trainers, which interrupted my training
  • I damaged the tendon in my ankle which meant I was out for quite a while and, even though I'm now running, I am doing so on a damaged tendon (which is having a impact on the amount and intensity of training I can do)
  • My mum was rushed into hospital and was quite serious, which meant taking time out to be with her

As I write this blog entry I am just about get ready to head up to Manchester knowing that:

  • I haven't done the right amount (or type) of training to fully prepare myself for my first marathon
  • I have the uncertainly of not knowing how my tendon will react to the race, as it could become painful (or at worse, rupture) at any given point, resulting in me pulling out of the race (it is not something I will run through!).

Psychologically this is not a good place to be in. However where I am is where I am. On the positive however, I've had 3 weeks of good training leading up today...and it's that training that I'd like to share with you on this post. So here goes...

Hard Slog Runs
On the 12 March I ran a 12km route from Wash Common along the A339 and then up through Greenham Common before returning back to Wash Common. I was happy with my pace of 5:38 min/km although my HR left something to be desired at a rather high 171 bpm average. Still, the run felt good.

After take a few days off to rest the tendon, I then repeated the run with an average pace of 5:34 min/km and an average HR of 174 bpm (again, my HR was too high). I have to be honest I struggled with this run. Not from a physical perspective but more from a emotional one. I had concerns over my tendon and this was playing on my mind. I just wanted to end the run and get home.

A warm 26km on Greenham Common
The day after I attempted a medium run. I'd planned around 26km but had to stop after 19.5km. My tendon felt very sore. This was evident by my average pace of 5:57 min/km. I was feeling quite low at this stage and had to call my wife to come and pick me up. I'd never been picked up before. I put some of this pain down to the new insoles I'd been wearing. I therefore decided to ditch the insoles and rest my ankle for a few days before then tackling my next run.

Things Looking Positive!
On the 19 March I was working from home in the morning and decided to do a 10km run (the Wash Common - Wash Water loop twice) before heading to the office at lunchtime. I was 3km into the run and decided I only really had time for 5km. I looked at my watch and I was running a reasonably fast pace (for me). I therefore carried on at that pace and when I finished I realised I'd just run my fasted 5km since I got my 5km PB in July 2012, and the route I'd just run included a bugger of a hill! I ran the 5km in 25:03 mins, averaging 5:01 min/km. I was happy with this little run, and it gave me confidence! My HR was a steady 173 bpm.

Later that evening I ran with the Newbury Runners for their Wednesday night run. I'd not run with them for a long time, but it was good to be back with them. I ran 10.39 km and averaged a 5:22 min/km pace and a HR of 169 bpm. On the 7th, 8th and 9th km I ran a 4:41, 4:33 and 4:43 min/km pace. It felt comfortable, and my confidence was starting to grow. That had been two runs at a reasonable pace (not my usual plod).

Friday 21 March brought me a medium length run where I wanted to test out my marathon pace (MP). It was an evening run in the dark, which I now prefer to run in. I set off from Wash Common and headed to Greenham Common, before then running two laps and returning back to Wash Common. Total distance 19km. I felt great on this run and looked to try and run slightly faster than the 5:35 min/km I have planned for the marathon. The only thing I could see on the Common was a little spot on the floor where the head torch was shinning; but that was great, because I could not see the daunting straights! I looked at my watch as I hit the 10km mark and realised I wasn't far off my 10km PB. I eventually ended the run in heavy rain, but managed to complete 19km in 1:43:54 with an average pace of 5:38 min/km and HR of 171 bpm. If I'd continued at that pace for another 2km then I would have smashed my Half Marathon PB, and this was just a training run! I was mega happy with this run and it was a huge confidence-builder!

Lap 3 around Greenham Common
Two days' later on the Sunday I had planned to run around 35km (approx. 6 laps of Greenham Common, plus commuting distance from Wash Common and back). However, unlike the Friday evening when there was little wind, on Sunday there was a horrible headwind. I saw a few Newbury Runners along the route, and nobody was really enjoying the conditions. In the end I ran 3 loops and headed back - I'd just had enough of running into the headwind and the run was no longer enjoyable. Despite this I still managed 26km with my average HR down to 158 bpm. Pace wasn't a factor as it was a slow run. But for those who need to know, I was running 6:19 min/km. The main thing here was distance - and I was happy with another 26km in the bag!

Newbury Runners' - 22km
Wednesday 26 March brought another Newbury Runners Wednesday night run. They were planning on running 10km but I wanted to add a little more distance. I therefore ran to the Regency Hotel in Thatcham from Wash Common with Andy Woodman and picked up Greg Filmer and Jason Tillen on the way. By the time we reached the hotel we'd covered 7.50km. Along with 20 other Newbury Runners we did circuit around Thatcham. I was looking to keep a reasonable pace, but did loop back and chat to a slower runner for around 0.5km before then heading to the front of pack and running with Jo Amor until around the 8.5km (of the planned 10km circuit) mark. It was good chatting to Jo - however rather than heading back to the hotel only to have come back on myself to run home, I tailed off and headed back to Wash Common. By the time I'd finished the run I'd covered 22km and even the final couple of kms up Andover Hill didn't seem that bad. I really enjoyed this run and completed it in 2hrs and 5 mins with an average pace of 5:42 min/km and average HR of 166 bpm. This was my last middle distance run before Manchester, and I was really pleased how it went.

After taking a few days off to rest the tendon I decided to run parkrun. As many of you know I'm not a huge fan of running fast, but decided that with the times I was getting on my training runs then I should be able at the very least to get a sub-25 min for the 5km. My PB is 23:46 but I got that back in July 2012 before I damaged my knee, and I haven't been sub-25 mins since. To be fair though, I don't really go to parkrun nowadays, and this was my first visit in 2014. I started well with my first 3km averaging 4:30, 4:40, 4:50, but then I wanted to stretch the tendon, which I did a few a few times by having to stop. I completed the 5km in 24:45 (official time 24:43). I was really pleased with this as it was the sub-25 minutes I was after. If I hadn't kept on stopping to stretch the tendon, then you never know, I may have gone sub-24. Maybe next time!

And so it came down, after 4 months of an interrupted training programme, to my last two training runs before my first marathon. Rather than doing one middle distance run, I decided to have a little fun and have two completely opposing runs (with a combined distance of 16km or 10 miles). So on Sunday 30 March I headed out to Greenham Common from Wash Common at a pace that was a lot faster than my planned marathon pace. I ran to the 7.50km (which was at the most eastern part of the route) and then stopped. I clocked a time of 41:52 and with an average pace of 5:20 min/km and average HR of 167 bpm. It felt good, despite still feeling the effects of the curry and bottle of red the night before. I then reset the watch and began a slow sub-155 bpm run. I ran back to Wash Common and then did the Wash Common - Wash Water loop. This second run came in at 9.50km with an average pace of 6:49 min/km and average HR of 151 bpm. In total I ran 17:35km and was a rather enjoyable and relaxing way to end my training....

End of Training!
So there we have it - the end of my training. I now have a week until the Manchester Marathon. In that time I will be eating healthy (with some pasta and other carbs), cutting out the booze, drinking lots of water and generally trying to relaxing and rest. I'll do a few gentle jogs (of 20 mins or so) to keep the legs moving, but that's about it. As I write this my right knee is a little sore, but I suspect that will clear up over the next day or so.

Obviously I wish I'd managed to stick to the training plan I was following 4 months ago. However that wasn't to be for the reason outlined above. I've done my best and hopefully prepared enough to get me through my first marathon. As I sit here typing, the following is on my mind:
  • Assuming there are no issues with the tendon during the marathon, then I think I've done enough training to at least complete the marathon (in a slow time)
  • The goal I set myself 4 months' ago of doing it in sub-4 hours now has a huge question mark over it, given the lack of training and lack of long distance runs. I will be running the marathon at a pace that will get me sub-4 hours, but how long I can keep it up I don't know (I'll be amazed if I do it!)
  • My biggest concern is the tendon. I have no idea how it will react to a 4 hour run. It could cause me some pain (in which case I will stop and pull out - it is not something I will run through) or it could just rupture! It's a huge risk and gamble...but psychologically it is (and will do in the race) play on my mind.

All I will say is that I will give it my all. I am both nervous and excited.

Bring it on!!!!!

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Running with a potentially serious injury...

As runners (and sports people in general) we all get niggles and pains and, although annoying, it is possible (with some changes to the training scheduled and intensity of runs) to continue training. It may mean taking a few days (possibly a week or two out) but on the whole there is little disruption to the wider picture. I've had my fair share of these, but there are occasions when injuries can just knock you out; stop you in your tracks; hurt your body; and basically fuck with your confidence. I've had these types of injuries before. Most notably with my right knee a couple of years' ago when I was out of action for 10 months with a knee injury. It was a horrible period that I never want to repeat. Nevertheless, although the current injury to my ankle is not as severe as the knee (when I tore my cartledge), the outcome of pain is the same.  

After seeing the doctor numerous times and having an x-ray, I was told I had posterior tibial tendonitis. At first glance some readers may say "well that's not too bad Mike; rest, recover and then get back running". However that is not the whole picture.

My 2014 running schedule only finishes in August. I have a number of key long distance races lined up, which I am trying desperately to train for. Taking time out to rest the tendon (2 -3 months) is not an option. I would miss the whole season. Although I'd be back running before the season ends, I won't be fit enough to run these long races. My doctor understood this when I told him, so he sent me to see a physio. So after almost a month of not running I saw the physio and she indicated that I could run; that it wouldn't make the problem worse; and that in the meantime she would help me strengthen my tendon. This was just the news I wanted to hear. I had been very depressed for almost (as my Facebook friends will testify!), and so to get the news that I could now run was a huge relief.

No sooner had I left the room than I went out for a short 10km run. It felt good to be running - however the Silverstone Half Marathon (my first race of the season) was only 2 days away, and there was no way I was fit enough to run that. I could easily run the distance, but my time would be slow, and I figured it was too far to travel just to plod around the track. I was gutted but needed to think of the bigger picture this year - the marathons and ultramarathons. I did a couple of more tester runs and the foot felt fine. Yes, I can feel the pain when not running - but when I am running, and as long as my foot is stable and relatively flat on the floor, then I can run.

The "Hills & Cleres" - 20k hilly route
The following week I gave it a real test. On the Friday evening I ran a hilly 20k; this was followed on the Saturday morning with another hilly 20k (same route); and then on the Sunday morning a mixed elevated 17.5k. Although my general fitness left something to be desired, the tendon seemed to hold up fine and I didn't suffer any after-effects. I must stress once again that I am running on an injury, but managing it the best I can. 

The "Hills and Cleres" is a slow route due to the number of long (but gentle) hills. At one point you are running up hill for approximately 6k. Not great if you are suffering from a small injury to an Achilles tendon (which is what I am, on my left foot. Despite this, I really enjoy this route - especially when running it at night.

Wash Common - Thatcham Loop
The 17.5k run described above is a nice loop between Wash Common (Newbury) to Thatcham and back (via Greenham Common and the Kennet Canal). A fairly pleasant run. My tendon felt fine, and I had some fun running through knee-deep water along the canal due to the flooding. The water was freezing and it certainly woke me up that Sunday morning! The run up Andover Hill at the end wasn't as bad as I thought it would be...
Wash Common - Thatcham Loop Elevation

So having demonstrated to myself that I can still run, I revisited the physio to give her the good news. However, after I explained what I'd done and how I felt, she then hit me with some bad news - news I really did not want to hear!

It seems that when I left her office the first time, she then spoke to a consultant in London who advised that I did not run until I'd had an MRI scan. There is a risk that by running I could rupture the tendon. When asked what this meant, she simply told me: you won't be able to move you ankle or walk; will need an immediate operation; this will then be followed by 10 months of intensive physio, whereby I won't be able to put any weight on the foot for at least 2 months, meaning no driving or going to work. This thought scared me! It also shocked me and I became instantly depressed again! In theory the MRI scan would determine if I'd compromised the structured of the tendon. If yes, then I need to take time off from running or risk a rupture; if no, then I could continue as is. Suffice it to say I was totally depressed when I left her office.

I cannot afford an MRI scan privately, and even if the doctor were to refer me, there is no guarantee I'd get one on the NHS and, even if I did, there would be a 4 month waiting list (which would wipe my season out should it come back in the all clear). So now I had a decision to make - and a bloody big one!!!

I'm one stubborn fucker, and I've come too far and trained too hard, and come through a number of shit obstacles this year not to run the Manchester Marathon. I therefore made the decision to try and get an MRI on the NHS and in the meantime to listen to my body but continue training (all be it reduced training). As soon as the tendon feels sore I will stop training. If I am racing, then I will stop as soon as I feel a twinge. I know every step I take is a risk....but my running season this year finishes in August (which is not long away). The longer races (ultra-marathons) and races off-road are going to be more tricky, as they punish the feet and ankles. However I've decided to take one race at a time, whilst also realising that my training will be curtailed (i.e., won't be able to put in as many miles as I should).

Let the risk taking begin..... wish me luck, as I'm going to need it!