If you’ve been living under a rock, I guarantee you haven’t missed much. At least not in respect of the last five months since I lasted here. I’ve not had much to talk about. But now I do. Because while you were busy enjoying your summer, doing what it is you do whether it be running, cycling, swimming, family pursuits, the good life, etc., my summer has been defined by an injury struggle that after numerous minor scrapes in months gone by, has caught up with me and for the first time, as someone who considers themselves a serious amateur runner, has left me in a bit of a pickle.
As I trained for a 10K in July with intentions for a sub-35 minute shot, I was going great guns. I even had one interval run where I hit 2:47/km pace. I was roaring! But I was getting aches in the arch of my left foot around 30 minutes into a run. And these were beginning to become more and more prevalent through May into early June when, out of regard for my wellbeing, I started cutting back on my weekly run routine. Five runs a week went down to four. Four down to three. Then down to two. Then just once a week. And mostly every now and then since. The glow of summer evenings were becoming a rarity, and my explorative tendencies were now inhibited. The Sunday long run disappeared, the most I managed after the Manchester Marathon was an eight miler where I had to stop and stretch my arch twice after a dull ache came on. I couldn’t manage more than the occasional five miler home from Halifax on a Tuesday night. I had to try and sort this out.
After seeing one of my local GPs about my problem, he recommended I carry on with what I told him I was doing – stretching, icing, resting it, taking/applying ibuprofen, foam rolling – and to get my gait checked. Time passed and eventually I got a secondment with work over in Leeds. Fifteen weeks out of my usual role in Huddersfield, getting on the train and learning tricks of the trade further downstream. The wonderful thing about this is that running shops are proliferating in Leeds. And so I managed to get my gait checked for free in one of these shops, which showed my left leg pronating to the left, as though to compensate for the problem area. By now the ache wasn’t so much emanating from the arch, but from the ball of my foot, and so what I had self diagnosed as plantar fasciitis was all of a sudden not so certain. The man in the shop recommended I see a podiatrist and gave me some other tips on how to take care of it. And they say you can’t get anything for free!
I went back to another GP, a lady who examined my foot and quite snidely said my feet ‘aren’t mechanically built for marathons’ (thus ignoring that it wasn’t the April marathon that did the real damage, but the May/June mileage instead). Still, this got me an appointment with a podiatrist on the NHS, and after several weeks of waiting, I finally got to appointment day on Friday 28th August.
I briefly discussed what I’d told to several family members, friends, colleagues, online forums, Facebook, shop assistants and even the odd ignorant doctor. The podiatrist asked me to sit in, well, the podiatrist’s chair, socks and shoes off. She jammed her thumbs into an area just below the ball of my foot. This jolted the top of my foot as I’d begun to increasingly notice. ‘There’, I said. And within seconds she’d found it.
“You’ve got sesamoiditis”.
And the months of frustration finally had an element of understanding. These sesamoids, the two little bones in the ball of your foot, were inflamed, and thus the source of irritance that was reducing my ability to run unhindered. My big toe sits a couple of millimetres lower than the other toes on my left foot. I took both my current pairs of running shoes, still getting my money’s worth from them for how underused they both are. The podiatrist did an arch profile on both and has ordered me custom insoles which, she said, would be ready within 4-6 weeks. Because they have just one man who makes them.
Well, I can’t really fault my local NHS Health Centre for what they’ve done for me, and I don’t have enough cash to go private, so without question they’re doing me a great service here. I’ve been told to carry on with all the same stuff, including ibuprofen gel, eccentric stretches, and come late September-early October, I should the insoles. But in the meantime I’m out on my own, feeling on edge because any run at all is a risk. I don’t feel any discomfort from walking but running is frustratingly beyond me when we start talking long distances – since Manchester the longest run I’ve had measured around 8 miles, and on that run I must have stopped three times to try and stretch my foot.
You’re probably thinking this is the end of the bad stuff. Not quite so. Though I have taken up swimming lessons post-aquathlon, eight weeks in they went on hiatus for the summer holidays. No lessons for four weeks. To my chagrin the local swim club seemed to hoover up all available evening time at the local pool during this time, which meant I only got one swim in around four or five weeks in that period, using a voucher gleaned from the aquathlon to go swimming at The Edge pool at Leeds University. I was decidedly ropey and felt quite inferior to the more athletic and trim students who were clearly excellent in comparison. It left me in some sort of a rut which in turn spurred me to do something for the better.
I felt like I was trapped at home, able to walk around absolutely fine and eating what seemed to be worse than my less than perfect, worthy healthy efforts; yet unable to run seemingly for fear of making it worse. I could easily go for a walk somewhere, or just stop snaffling biscuits for once. Mentally I was feeling more and more negative, borne of frustration and feeling like my fitness was slipping away. This wasn’t a few days off, it was a few weeks and increasing and one by one I was cancelling plans to enter local races as the realisation grew I wouldn’t be ready for them. I didn’t know where my next run was coming from, and I didn’t even have time to fit swimming in. My summer was falling into ruin in this respect, and so, all too aware of what was happening, it wound up with me finally making a decision on something I long planned to do.
After a year of procrastinating over how I was going to afford the damn thing, I finally purchased a road bicycle – an Eastway R4.0 Sora – through Wiggle, on a finance agreement, around three months ago. So sick was I of being stuck in doors and feeling like I was losing fitness and indeed my positive frame of mind, the bike was sweet relief and I soon had all the important kit to get going with it. That said, my first steps back into cycling haven’t all gone to plan. It’s been a nervous few rides not helped by self-inflicted calamity – whether riding into a bush attempting to practice signalling and gashing my right leg in the process, or getting nervy riding between a metal barrier and lamppost and wobbling into said barrier, slamming my right arm into it, bruising my upper arm and spraining my wrist. Luckily my bike remains undamaged and in one piece, even if I don’t. In the last couple of weeks I’ve been good to go again and bit by bit I’m getting more confident, particularly on the roads (on Sunday mornings), although I tried taking on some of Sowerby Bridge’s steepest hills far too soon and ended up walking up and down the hills with the bike. In the wrong gear and too weak to try and power up the hills, terrified to hurtle down them! I certainly still have much to learn, but I’m happy to say I’ve started to take to the two wheels and its scratched my Sunday long run/ride itch!
So the upshot of purchasing the bike is that I now have all three basic components required to do triathlon. But I’m still a long way off ever calling myself multi-sport – still a no-go until my swim technique is developed and my endurance hardened. And until I can sustain myself on a bike and of course, be able to transition smoothly between all three disciplines.
Right now the biggest challenge is to get myself ready for the prize that running a good-for-age time at the Greater Manchester Marathon brought.
That’s right. I’m going to London baby!
Without question that was the brightest spark to emerge from this summer, giving me something to aim for. Because London will be most likely a one off experience, given the expense of it all, but one that will completely unmissable. So much so I’m determined to ensure that I’m fighting fit to carry out marathon training again. And so much so that even if my sesamoids don’t behave, whatever state they’re in, I’ll run that race, because just to say I’ve done it the once – that would be something, wouldn’t it?
As I end this chapter now (because its been brewing for a couple of months), I’m still suffering the knock knees, sesamoiditis is still very much a real thing, the bruise on my arm has also gone and thankfully I’ve not come off the bike again. Although I shan’t be going anywhere near 20% uphill/downhill gradients again in a hurry. I’m still at swimming lessons (and probably will be for the foreseeable future), and I’m now trying out my new orthotic insoles. With that I hope not to leave it too long before the next update as I’m sure things are going to pick up whether it be in the water, on two wheels, or out on the streets and trails of glorious Yorkshire.