The week began much like the week before ended, with not much of a hint I was carrying a potential strain in my achilles tendon, yet feeling ever more cautious when I ‘rushed’ for a bus, or every time I ascended or descended stairs. I was thankful for a quiet start to the day at work that I could fit in some cross-friction self-massage on my left calf before donning the compression sock again for the next few hours. Far from having a blue Monday, I was having a reasonably productive one at work. But the day missed out a key component of my training regime – the easy Monday run. I decided I wasn’t ready to go back out and run just yet, given the rather resigning treadmill run two days before that confirmed, to myself at least, I had a problem. But that wasn’t to say I had done nothing about it.
By the end of Monday night I’d really picked up the pace of getting this injury out of my system – constantly cycling between mere rest, icing, compressing, elevating, stretching and self-massaging. I steeled myself for a visit to the gym the following morning, fresh in the knowledge that if I felt my achilles again, I could at least switch to a different machine. Upon arrival, I headed for the exercise bike first, did around 4km on that in 10 minutes, and then moved over to the treadmill. I targeted 15 minutes. I started off at a walk, and then a jog and then a slow run. I normally go for around 12kmph for my minimum treadmill slow pace, but today it reached no more than 11.1. Every step felt tentative. I was relaxed enough, but I was in no mood to push it. There were some twinges here and there – were they just psychological? It was enough for me to put down the timer to 10 minutes and in the end I just sneaked over a mile. I moved onto a rowing machine, and rowed away whilst trying to make out the subtitles accompanying a Paula Radcliffe interview on whatever ITV show it is on a morning these days. After stretching off it all felt OK, and I toodled off to Tesco to watch my latest wage begin its fast escape from my account, before spending the rest of the morning preparing for work and getting in some more cross-friction massage and icing.
That very day I put in an order for a foam roller and some kinetic tape. As I waited for it to arrive I looked ahead to Thursday – a day off work and with the kids in nursery that morning a chance for a swim. Now herein lies an important development from my aim of learning to swim again last year. I went down to the local pool with my wife and upon entering we swam down to the other end. I went at my usual one-speed freestyle pace that currently is the only way I knew how. My wife could see how breathless I was. She swam breaststroke back down to the other end. I gave her a head start and then off I went again. And again, I was knackered after 25 metres. The session became less about putting myself through my paces and more about real basics. My wife tried to teach me how to do the breaststroke. I got the arm movements down. I got the frog legs working by the side of the pool. But try as I might, I wasn’t putting them together. It was here that the very flaw in my approach to swimming, which had been screaming at me in the face for months, became crystal clear. Tension. Of a different kind. I can’t even float on the water’s surface because I’m too tense. I just can’t let my body drift. So we literally spent the last 10 minutes of our visit with my wife trying to get me to float in the water on my back. By the end I managed it just holding onto my wife’s hand, but not hands-free. In any event, this became a much more beneficial session than what I imagined it would be – the monkey on my back had finally been flung, and in my wife I had someone with whom I could completely trust to guide me in trying to nail this most crucial element in the water – freedom. Feeling relaxed.
The day got better – the foam roller and tape arrived, and a couple of hours later I actually got my running gear on, avec compression socks, and went for a run. I headed for Wellholme Park, my local park which at this time of year, particularly following the wintery weather, is more like a bog. I eventually found an area at the perimeter in the park I could run around in circles, but after around 14 minutes I headed off towards the McDonald’s as my wife wanted what was indeed a well-earned frappe. I did just over 20 minutes, again fairly slow, covering 2.25 miles. I got through my leg stretches, got the frappe – and a smoothie for myself – and got back out in time to get the bus down the road, get through the door and finish my stretch routine there and then. All in all, the run felt good, despite some early tentativeness.
As evening arrived, I could feel only a slight bit of tension a bit lower down the calf, and so I decided it was time to get the foam roller out for the first time. A couple of instructional YouTube videos later and I was away. Lordy, it felt amazing! You can really feel every nook and cranny in your calf muscles when you roll that thing slowly back and forth.
With the weekend approaching, I had decisions to make. I didn’t know if I would be ready to attempt a planned 8-mile run covering a lot of trail on Sunday, but there was a 30-minute run in my training schedule on Saturday which I felt given my 10 and 20 minute runs during the week, I could make the step up. I had my compression socks on beneath my shorts, getting that stocking look for the first time, and after a quick visit to Huddersfield town centre after work I set off at a light pace. By ten minutes in, it was looking a bad idea – I was running almost entirely on concrete at this point and even at a light pace, my achilles was grumbling and it was getting to the point where if I carried on it was going to be a bus home and some fairly hasty RICE treatment. I decided to stop at a lamppost 14 minutes in and I stretched the soleus and gastrocnemius. I did a dynamic warm-up before setting off but not one involving stretching, which in hindsight was rather unwise of me.
I set off again at a light pace and started to pick it up again. There were more grass verges along the middle part of the route and I was utilising these. As I progressed, it felt really strange. All of a sudden, my motion seemed fluid again. I seemed to be coasting as I arrived at the top of Bradley Barr. I continued down Huddersfield Road and I felt a wave of positivity. I stretched my legs a bit. There was pretty much no sign of my achilles. What felt like the beginning of despair minutes earlier was actually now an incredible wave of relief and freedom. My running form felt free again. The stretch, it seemed, did the trick. By 30 minutes, I was still just under a mile from home. I continued on and clocked 36 minutes in total before stopping, reaching 4.28 miles. I got my stretches reeled off at home, and had a bit of a self cross-friction massage on the calf and tendon before having my tea with family.
I was keen to do the 8-mile run in my training on Sunday, but I deemed this a step too far. For now. I felt that rather than risk overloading my tendon with too much, too fast, I would take it easy for once, and actually get the bus into the office on Sunday instead of getting very muddy along the banks of the River Calder. My head had finally overruled my running heart. And you know what? I was pleased. I got to work reasonably early and I worked on trying to perfect some eccentric heel drops as recommended to me by a fellow runner over on Facebook. I haven’t quite got the technique right on those yet but I’m not far off and I have a cracking arsenal of stretches and exercises now to work on those muscles.
Saving myself allows me to look ahead to Week 5, which is when my training was really set to pick up. I’m considering a few amendments – Tuesday is a threshold interval session which I’m not sure is good going considering that’s how I duffed up my tendon in the first place. I may still do the interval, but at a more comfortable pace. And probably on the treadmill or on the grass. I have a 60 minute session on the Thursday which if I’m up to it, I will attempt. The route in mind will take me up to around 7.8 miles, which should set me up nicely for the following Sunday, which was billed as a 12-miler. I think ten miles is realistic and can be adjusted accordingly. It’s on my way to work again and I can expect to carry it out across a decent section of trail too which seems to be more and more my bag these days – as my knowledge of Calderdale and Kirklees’ public footpaths and bridleways increases, so do my options. I can work up to 11-12 miles the week after, and the following week after that is the Liversedge Half Marathon, which more and more looks like a training run. The rest of my long run training is being adjusted accordingly, and I feel happier progressing up to 20+ mileage gradually, as opposed to bouncing between 20 miles and 12/13 miles as the generic plan I took up originally asked for.
I’ve never put as much time into physio, strengthening and core exercise as I have lately, and that is a lesson I should take into all future preparation. Training is about to ramp up and this injury scare, which I’m hoping is in remission, highlights the importance of taking care of myself. I’m no longer a young, young man – I’m only 30 but you can’t stop time and so the rigours of this journey towards the marathon are one I shall continue to prepare for more than adequately. Lately I’ve been getting more sleep – I’m finally in what I could call ‘sleep profit’ since I started recording my sleep records last year – and despite lacking an oven, I’m finally free of biscuits at home and I’m eating reasonably healthy at the moment. Blimey. Who’d have thought I’d ever have chosen healthy food over biscuits?! As for Jantastic, well, I played my joker rather early last week, and as I can’t play another one this month, I’m out of the running to achieve 100% this year. It’s my second year doing it and I suppose at least this time I didn’t get so close to the end before losing out on such a record. It’s still a fun motivational challenge and it’ll be good to keep me going as I continue my recovery.
As Week 5 approaches, I’m cautiously optimistic. I hope to get back up to five runs next week but I’ll still be diligently watching how my achilles tendon reacts. And as well as a lesson in conditioning, the last two weeks have introduced me to that very position of trying to stay positive as an injured runner. It isn’t easy.
Before signing off, I’d just like to thank anyone and everyone whose offered me support, advice, exercise tips and general words of wisdom both in person and on the social networks too. You’ve all been excellent to me. And thanks as well to my WordPress followers, who seem to keep coming back for this – I’m glad you all take the time to read my lengthy entries and I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I do typing them up. Whisper it…I might be back on the road to Manchester.