Chester Marathon: Weeks 3 and 4 of 17

It’s Sunday morning. A mile into my run I’m climbing a hill up towards where I work. But it’s not work that I am heading for, it is part of the bike course of Ironman UK.

I should have been one of the competitors.

Instead, I’m puffing my way up the hill and my mood vacillates between annoyance that I’m not one of the riders coming up the hill the other way, and sheer relief that I made the choice to defer so long ago. I have a place for next year and that is good enough for me.

It’s been a frustrating time of late. Despite being more motivated to work hard than I have ever been, my body, or more specifically, my left Achilles, just will not conform. The repeated cycle of inflammation and settling has caused Haglund’s Deformity. I’m following a regime of my own devising to alleviate the pain and discomfort. This is working well and most of what I now do is becoming a positive habit. The lump is less swollen, less vividly red, and less painful than it was earlier this year when I was forced to defer my IM entry until 2023. But it’s still not completely healed, and the energy that is required to simply stop it from getting any worse is immense.

Here’s what I’ve done so far:

  1. Wear Crocs as much as possible, including at work. This has made a HUGE difference. Having nothing pushed against the tendon is such a relief.
  2. Cut the back out of some older shoes. This allowed me to run and walk while it was settling down without causing further irritation.
  3. Wear appropriate shoes (when not wearing the ones above). New Balance Fresh Foam Vongo and Hoka One One Bondi 7 are exceptionally stable, well cushioned, and have plenty of room around the heel and Achilles.
  4. Stretch. Not just the obvious Achilles and calves, but everything. I’ve done this as much as possible.
  5. Strengthen. I’m 47. I can’t be strong enough. The chances are, you can’t be too.
  6. Lose the excess. I’m carrying an extra 18 pounds since my last marathon. Without Ironman training, it seems difficult to shift. I’ve lost 4 over the last few weeks. 14 to go.
  7. Ice. I find this helps before bed.
  8. Walk. Moving my foot through a full range of movement on a full range of surfaces has really helped to maintain my sanity and the routine of running.
  9. Swim and cycle when I’ve been totally pain free. 
  10. Stay positive, look to the future, give back to others. It’s not all about me and my foot.

At the end of week four of this marathon block, I’m up to running 11 pain free miles at 9:15 MM pace. I’m immensely grateful for this.

Training for a marathon while working round such a problematic injury might seem counterproductive. I have always said that the moment that my recovery stalls, or at the slightest sign of exercise induced pain, I’ll stop. I have always got to balance the mental health benefits that running brings, the improved recovery that exercise helps with (I totally seize up during rest days and have done for the past few years now), with the potential for any running to cause further injury (or for it to halt the recovery). It is a balancing act, but it’s one that I feel is working well. Besides, some thinkers on the subject suggest that Hagund’s will never fully go away.

My run ends some 90 minutes later. By that time my resolve to not just compete, but to do well next year in Ironman, is as strong as ever. It has been great to see so many people that I know on the course. Later that morning, I’ll be back out for the rest of the day, this time with my family.

Life is good.

Total miles for week 3: 19 miles

Total miles for week 4: 33 miles

Total miles for this block: 85

(Other training: a 48 mile ride with Gareth. By mile 10 I’m in trouble. I have so little energy that I know the rest of the ride is going to be a struggle. I finish, 38 miles later, very relieved. There is a lot of work to do.)

Chester Marathon: Week 2 of 17

The Stanley knife cuts through the heel counter of my New Balance with ease. One moment the fabric is there, the next a neat rectangular piece of foam and fabric resides in the kitchen bin. As first, it looks a little odd. Then I remember that I have been wearing a pair of Crocs at work for most of the week. Who cares? 

I’ve got Haglund’s Deformity on my left Achilles. Without shoes on I have pain-free, full range of movement. With shoes, or rather with shoes with a stiff heel counter, it hurts. A lot.

So for now, it is customised shoes for the win.

Adapted shoes to accommodate Haglund’s Deformity

With the modified New Balance I manage a very easy 10 mile run on the paths and trails where we live. I film some of it and chat to myself about what I am trying to achieve over the next block of training. I conclude that I am still unsure. I’m happy just to be able to contemplate running 26 miles. 

On Sunday I’m back in the saddle for an easy couple of hours. We’re out for a social coffee ride and as the miles glide by I’m filled with a deep gratitude that despite my troubles this year, I have my health, my family, my work. I often experience this when I’m breathing deeply, and in many ways this is reward enough for committing myself to a marathon. I’ve no idea where the next block of training will lead to, but I am determined to use the time wisely to reflect on just how lucky I really am.

Total miles for this week: 26

Total miles for this block: 52

(Other training: 35 miles of cycling; so much stretching that I dream I’m an elastic band on Tuesday night)

Chester Marathon: Week 1 of 17

It is Saturday and I am attempting to run round Bolton parkrun. I managed 28:40 last week without causing my Achilles to grumble, complain, or scream at me. This was progress. A week later, and importantly a week without any significant pain, and I’m back again. In my head, I think that progressive miles of 8:30, 8:00, and finally 7:30 are doable without causing any damage. As I jog through a warm up and complete some drills, these are the paces that I settle on.

I start towards the back of the field. The course is quite congested at the beginning and this means that I’ll have no option other than a steady start. The other benefit is that it will mean that there are plenty of people ahead of me to pick off as I change the pace slightly as the run increases. It is a strategy that works really well and I am rewarded with miles of 8:24, 8:01, and 7:26. My heart rate climbs predictably high on the hills, but even though it tops out at 181, it does not feel as painful as it might. The effort is hard rather than maximum, and although my lungs burn a little at the end, my foot does not and I walk home feeling really pleased with the morning.

Bolton Parkrun 11/06/22 – A pleasing morning

Sunday morning was an easy 8 miler with Mark and Linda. It felt great to be back into the habit of a slightly longer run at the weekend because these long runs are, undoubtedly, the backbone of a successful marathon. My foot was stiff when I woke up, but this very quickly subsided once I started walking around. One of the things that I am going to need to work out is the difference between pain and stiffness.

Other than these two runs, everything else was simply very easy running including a few miles around the park with a runner from Bolton that I recently connected with on social media. It was great to get a run in and chat about where all of these miles might eventually take us: me to a faster marathon, him to an ultra at some point in the future.

Total miles for the week: 26

Total miles for this block: 26

Can I break 30 minutes at Bolton parkrun?

It is my first week back training after a very painful and debilitating bout of Achilles tendonitis. I’ve been walking, doing foot exercises, stretching, massaging, and looking after my injury for months. Now it is time to run. I know that I am unfit. As I walk around to parkrun, I ask myself: can I break 30 minutes?

Why am I talking to myself?

As runners, self-talk is part of what we do. There’s hardly a single run, session, or race when we don’t listen in to ourselves. Sometimes that self talk is helpful, sometimes it hinders.

It feels very odd to be running, talking, blogging, and generally feeling self-conscious as I chat into my camera. If any aspect of running is making you self-conscious, give me a shout. I coach lots of people for lots of reasons. We can make progress!

I give up

A few months ago, I gave up.

The Achilles tendonitis that I had suffered from since the second of the Sale Sizzler 5K races last July had finally beaten me. I got out of the pool with a pain so intense in my Achilles and foot that I, perhaps rather dramatically, thought that I had done it a serious mischief. A few days later some rather spectacular bruising came out. I gave up.

The most painful injury I’ve ever had

Until that point, I’d tried to manage my training through a mixture of cycling, swimming, and some running. Nothing odd there: I was, after all, training for my second Ironman. But I also had an element of denial. Each time my Achilles stabbed in the early morning, or ached throughout the day, I lied as I told myself that it would somehow just get better.

It didn’t.

The drive home from the pool filled me with despair. There was no chance I could do an Ironman if I couldn’t use the clutch pedal. I deferred my entry until 2023. I sulked for a couple of days. I gave up.

That’s when things started to improve.

I knew what I couldn’t do, so I concentrated on what I could. My first goal was being able to get down stairs properly in the morning. I made the deliberate choice to recover the health of my tendon. Pain-free life had to be the priority. With very gentle stretching each time I got in and out of bed, I could negotiate the stairs within a week. From there, walking. Then, walking on a range of surfaces. Next, walking using the full range of foot movement. I added in strength work, stretching, and more walking. I used my Garmin to turn the number of steps I took each day into a game. Over the course of a couple of months, I started doing what I couldn’t. Last week, I swam for the first time in several months. 

Giving up means that, sometimes, we have to accept things as they are. In our endlessly Instagrammed world, we are constantly bombarded with content that tells us that we should ‘smash it’ and ‘beat yesterday’. As a teacher and coach I, I get it. We have unbelievable levels of potential and we should, in our laughably short lives, work on bringing this into the light. We are more powerful than we think. But we are also human. We have our failings and our weaknesses. The act of giving up means that we acknowledge these. Once we stop fighting against what is not meant to be, we can focus attention on what we can do instead.

Giving up is sometimes the first step towards getting better.

Will I ever run again?

It’s Saturday morning. I haven’t set my alarm. My daughter is away with school; my son doesn’t have a football match. I can’t run. Sleep wins. Or rather, my body clock does: I’m awake by 6:30, anyway.

I walk round to Bolton parkrun. The plan is to walk, and, if I have no pain at all from my Achilles, I’ll jog for about a mile. This has been the case for the last week while I’m still recovering from a serious bout of Achilles tendonitis. I’ve been struggling with this for the last nine months and this morning I’m not about to wreck the huge progress I’ve made over the last ten weeks. My rehab routine involves lots of foot strength work, calf strengthening and stretching, lots of walking, but no running.

It also gives me thinking time: will I ever run again?

I focus on embracing the uncertainty of being so badly injured. There is little point wallowing about and feeling sorry for myself. I acknowledged the deep disappointment of having to defer my Ironman entry until 2023 a long time ago. Today, I’m just grateful to be able to walk without pain. I’ve been pain free for a while and so I decide to jog a little.

It feels great.