Backing off

Even as I posted “Back on track (metaphorical)”, I was anticipating a 1500m at Norman Park track a few days later and revelling in my wit in titling the accompanying post “Back on track (literal)” thereby confirming my place in the blogging firmament.

The following day I ran an easy 10k, but experienced some knee pain from about 9k.This was frustrating. I concluded the most likely cause was worn out shoes; the pair I wore had covered 475 miles and I typically retire shoes at 500. I switched to a pair with only 100 miles on them and ran another 5k season’s best a couple of days later at Dulwich parkrun on Saturday 11 June . The next morning I set out for another easy 10k. I experienced similar knee pain and again from about 9k. This was annoying.

I had to conclude that I had been overdoing the mileage. Even as I wrote “my mileage has returned to what I consider ‘normal’; around 30 miles a week”, in the masterwork that was “Back on track (metaphorical)”, I had just completed two consecutive weeks of 34 and 32 miles and was about to complete a third of 35. Even though I didn’t include it in my post I had committed myself to maintaining a strict ceiling of 30 miles per week for at least a couple of months before making tentative increments. (Throughout the last four months of 2014, I averaged 30 miles per week and ran fast and injury free. Then in January 2015, I averaged over 38 miles per week; and I now think this precipitated my subsequent injury affected year.) I doubt I am the only one who, when fit and strong, enjoys running so much that it is easy to run too much out of sheer exuberance.

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Even as I wrote the masterwork that was “Back on track (metaphorical)”, I had just completed two consecutive weeks of 34 and 32 miles and was about to complete a third of 35.

Trying not to repeat previous mistakes; of continuing to run at the same level and ignoring, rather than treating symptoms, I stopped running after last Sunday’s recurrence. Self-control was particularly hard because my anticipated 1500m was scheduled for the Monday evening. However, doing the right thing was made easier by a viral infection that made me feel nauseous and I did stay at home. I am also treating my symptoms with ice, compression and anti-inflammatories.

I didn’t run again until yesterday rationalising that a parkrun after five rest days definitely constituted backing off. I was pleased to run 19:29, just six seconds outside last week’s season’s best; again at Dulwich. I have race commitments this coming week, but apart from the races themselves I am not going to run. Beyond that, I am going to gradually return to running 3, 4 and then 5 times a week over the next three weeks and again gently increase my mileage. This time genuinely observing the 30 miles a week ceiling.

I am looking forward to my races this week; the inaugural Dino Dash, a 3k trail lap relay, on Wednesday and a 10,000m at Orion Harriers Fast Friday. (On Friday.) The latter, you will notice, is also a track event. Assuming this week’s exuberance doesn’t result in race-ending injury it seems the wit-revelling is not going to have to wait too long.

Brinkmanship (ii)

I have been out on another four runs since my last post. Most importantly, the latest, this morning, was the first in which not only did I experience no pain or discomfort in my right knee during the run, but I have also experienced precisely zero pain or discomfort post run. Hopefully, this is the last post which I will need to tag ‘recovery‘ for some time. 😉

Across my eight runs so far this year, I can see my returning cardiovascular fitness reflected in my generally constant average HR, notwithstanding the increasing distance or reducing rest days. I plan to be running every other day soon.

date distance average pace average HR rest period since previous run
5 Mar 7.0k 5:00/km 141 2 days
2 Mar 6.0k 4:59/km 140 3 days
27 Feb 6.0k 4:58/km 144 2 days
24 Feb 6.0k 5:00/km 139 4 days
19 Feb 5.5k 5:00/km 139 5 days
13 Feb 5.0k 5:10/km 145 10 days
2 Feb 5.0k 5:18/km 139 2 days
30 Jan 5.0k 5:20/km 148 3 months

I have some way to go though to return to levels of fitness of early 2015; on 29 January that year I ran 16.1k, averaging 5:00/km and HR 126, and that was my fifth consecutive running day. It is not co-incidental that, just a few weeks later, was the last time I achieved a significant PB. (I recorded a 5000m PB in April 2015, but, in only my second participation in the discipline, there was little likelihood of not recording a PB that evening.)

There are a couple of other brinks that need manning too …

My weight. Having returned to close to 70kg by Christmas I’m a bit frustrated by my disappointment, in not running in the first quarter of 2016, being expressed in weight gain. At 72.3kg today, my first goal is to return to sub 70kg by late Spring and then, hopefully buoyed by ongoing fitness and some racing success, to press towards something close to 66kg.

At 72.3kg today, my first goal is to return to sub 70kg …

Finally, my RunBritain handicap is now languishing at 7.9, its lowest value since mid 2012 when it was still rising following my return to running at the beginning of that year. I don’t have absolute goals in mind for my handicap, but would enjoy a return to my previous peak of 5.1 recorded in December 2014.

caoption

My RunBritain handicap is at its lowest value since mid 2012 … I would enjoy a return to my previous peak of 5.1 recorded in December 2014.

Brinkmanship (i)

Writing my last post, having completed my first run in almost three months just two days before, and anticipating the second the next day, I dared to suggest that I might “start tinkering with 12 week marathon training plans” for my planned first marathon in Brighton. All the same, I knew even then that choosing not to run Brighton in April would be a better decision.

My run the next morning made it easier to make that decision. From around 4k, my right knee became significantly sore. I completed the final kilometre, not least because I needed to get home, but I was distinctly disheartened. My condition seemed to be getting worse; throughout the several months of my knee being swollen, I had never experienced significant discomfort during a run before.

I will now definitely be deferring my Brighton Marathon 2016 place, which at least affords a 20% discount on a 2017 entry. What would have been a preparatory half marathon at Silverstone in mid March has no deferral option. My only other advance entry is the Thames Path Challenge 50k in September which I hope to run, but only if I achieve a full, sustained recovery over the next six or seven months. The 50k also has no deferral option, but since I entered all three events well in advance my total entry fee loss will be under £100. It helps if I rationalise that this is a little less than the cost of two physio sessions!

I took ten days rest before running again. During this period, the swelling on my knee reduced significantly and my third run of the year was comfortably uneventful. Following a further five rest days, during which period the swelling on my knee disappeared completely for the first time since October, I set out on the fourth run of the year nervously hopeful …

It too was essentially comfortable and uneventful, I even ran an additional 500m over the planned 5k! Inevitably I was hyper-sensitive to the possibility of returning injury and so was very aware of every sensation as I ran. I did feel several moments of fleeting discomfort in my right knee, but couldn’t really define these in a specific way. Most significantly there was no return of swelling on my knee during or following the run. Manipulating my right knee I can feel that it is still ‘not quite right’ in comparison to my left, but this is minimal enough that I am looking forward to my next run, tomorrow, much more positively than I have for more than four months.

On the brink

Last Friday, I had the fourth in series of physio appointments directed at resolving an ongoing problem with a bursa on my right knee. In the few days preceding the appointment I had been reflecting on the minimal improvement in my knee since the previous appointment two weeks earlier. I had decided that, unless my physio had a much more positive perspective than I did, I should expect to start yet another month as a non-running runner and would have to defer my Brighton marathon entry; race day is now less than 12 weeks away. I had already accepted a few weeks ago that I certainly won’t be racing my Silverstone half marathon; that race is now less than 8 weeks away.

Fortunately, my physio’s perception of progress was more positive than my mine. He was confident that cumulatively the swelling had improved significantly and that I should try an easy, flat 5k and review the effect of my knee after that.

And so it was that on Saturday I went for my first run since the last day of October. In normal circumstances my easy pace defaults to around 4:50/km and although on long runs I try to run significantly more slowly, 20 seconds per kilometre or so, I often end up averaging within a few seconds either side of 5:00/km. I wanted to run closer to 5:30/km and was mildly concerned that my natural rhythm and enthusiasm would push me along too quickly. I needn’t have worried. Three months without running, or any significant exercise, meant that my cardiovascular system ably limited me to an average of 5:20/km. And my quads, hamstrings and bizarrely, albeit to a lesser degree, my biceps have been noticeably stiff over the two days since.

As for my knee; although I can sense some swelling – perhaps a slight increase since the run – there doesn’t seem to have been a catastrophic relapse. Having said that I am currently sensing this through a layer of tape – my physio has applied tape at each of the last three appointments to offload some of the stress on my knee. I am going to repeat Saturday’s run tomorrow morning – Tuesday – with the tape still in place and then remove it immediately afterward. I will then have a further two days rest to review any reaction in my knee. If all seems well I shall repeat the run again on Friday. And then probably start tinkering with 12 week marathon training plans …

Zero

In November and December I ran precisely zero miles.

This period began in an entirely planned way at the beginning of November when I had a scheduled procedure to remove two kidney stones. The general anaesthetic procedure went well and I hoped the enforced bed rest would promote improvement in the fluid on my knee which had been troubling me since September and had become ever-present by the time of my last run on 31 October. As I returned home, with zero kidney stones, the fluid had all but disappeared and I was hopeful that the further rest I had planned, to recover fully from the procedure, would enable my knee to recuperate too.

The first two weekends of November I volunteered at Crystal Palace and Dulwich parkruns respectively as part of my recovery plan. In so doing, I increased my #50at50 count to seven … I have added nothing to it since.

Unfortunately simply avoiding running has not resulted in the full recovery I hoped for. Whilst my knee is rarely painful – I am reminded now as I type at a desk that the most uncomfortable activity seems to be precisely this, but even so the sensation is only a very slight burning sensation, pin prick sized, at the left of my kneecap – the fluid swelling increases at the slightest provocation. A long walk or even a short jog to avoid getting wet on the way home after dropping my daughters at school cause it to increase and, since perhaps mid October, it never disappears entirely.

Having re-learned the lesson that passive recovery is rarely enough I returned to my physio just before Christmas and will be seeing him again in a few days to have my knee taped … I am hopeful, but not anticipating an especially quick return to running. This is particularly frustrating because I should have just completed week one of my marathon training in preparation for my first marathon.

As it is this week zero limbo seems endless. I find the absence of running debilitating, even more so at this time of year when the days are short and grey. It is not entirely the absence of running itself, and hence the practical lack of content, that has resulted in zero blog posts over the last two months. The darker emotions make it difficult to present my running life as positively as I want to; or indeed at all.

mileage 2015

Fit for fifty

Suddenly my fiftieth birthday is less than a month away! I have been so busy being concerned about being injured that the day seems to have crept up on me. Recovery wise I am now feeling much better both physically and mentally. Yesterday I ran just over eleven kilometres – the furthest I have run since mid April – without incident and later had a physio appointment which also went well. As I type I am just home from swimming 800m and looking forward to my next run on Thursday when I plan to run a kilometre or so further than yesterday.

My fiftieth birthday also heralds the imminent start of my #50at50 calendar which, when I first thought of the idea back in January, was conceived as a joyful celebration of my fiftieth year and my running. Whilst my fitness does seem to be returning, from today’s perspective it looks a little less joyful and little more daunting. We shall see.

Understandably, the Cyclist has also expressed doubts about my abililty to participate in 50 events in a year and still be available for family life; not least because of the inclusion of both my first marathon and my first ultramarathon. We shall indeed, see!

50at50_header

Real recovery

At last I have started to recover from the tendonitis that was first properly diagnosed in July. With the benefit of hindsight I now think it was certainly in its early stages by the time of my successful Brighton Half in February and may well have started during my exceptional mileage during January or maybe during my very long run in December 2014. Certainly when I return to running around 130 miles a month, as I did in each of the last four months of 2014, I will be wary about increasing it further quite as recklessly as I did, it now seems, in January.

Since the nadir of June – the only calendar month since my return to running in February 2012 where I have failed to record a run – I have made some progress. In parallel with continuing physiotherapy I have been running twice a week for three weeks now and cautiously extending the length of each run; sometime in the next few days I will run beyond 10k for the first time in over four months. I have felt entirely comfortable, at least as far as my recovering right ankle is concerned, throughout all my running of the last few weeks. My general fitness though has certainly declined though I have offset this somewhat by swimming twice a week for the last two months.

recent monthly mileage, August 2015

The nadir of June – the only calendar month since my return to running in February 2012 where I have failed to record a run.

On Saturday I decided to parkrun at Crystal Palace and, in so doing, do my first run at anything other that easy pace in over three months. I started out steady partly to ensure that the increased pace didn’t trigger a problem in my ankle and partly because my fitness is still at the level where it is hard to believe that I’ll ever be able to run at my race paces again. I had it in mind that I certainly wanted to run faster than the easy pace of 5:00/km, 25:00 for a 5k, that I’ve been using recently. I felt sure that I should be able to run inside 23:00 and perhaps within 22:00 notwithstanding the significant elevation changes at Crystal Palace. Having completed the first uphill kilometre in around 4:40 and the second, mostly downhill, in around 4:00 I felt confident that my ankle was going to be fine. Fitness wise though I was breathing hard and wondered whether 22:00 would be beyond me. As I completed the second lap and so neared the end of the downhill section for the final time I saw that my average pace was just outside the 4:24/km required for a 22:00 time. I worked hard over the final uphill 500m and sprinted for the line confirming my maximum heart rate is still over 170bpm in the process! I stopped my watch at 21:55 which, whilst well short of my course best of 19:43 set in November last year, I was very happy with.

My ankle was a little sore yesterday, but I am fairly sure it is just tiredness rather than damage.

I am a runner! 🙂