12. Restoration and Maintenance

After losing much of last week’s running due to family commitments, commutes gone awry and finally a scare in my right foot, I felt as though this week I had to get back on track with the business of tapering (properly) and actually do some running as the days whittle down towards the Snowdonia Marathon. Indeed, the title of this post can be described as quite apt, in the way that much of my week’s running was to pan out.

It would start on Tuesday, my first swim session of the week, the Improvers class, is now preceded by time spent in the 25 metre pool. I had 15 minutes this time. I managed 200 metres before getting out and ready for my lesson. This time it went much better, doing the front crawl calmly, the dolphin effectively (if not perfectly) and even copying another swimmer in doing an exercise of breathing every second arm pull – as in every right arm, or every left arm. The lesson itself worked mostly on dolphin and breaststroke. Judy now no longer runs the classes and instead its a member of the pool staff, whose name I can’t remember and whose methods I once disliked but have grown to accept are fine, even if its not quite the same any more. All in all, a good swimming lesson, but once I was out of the water, I had to prepare for the run. Now at this point, I was back on ibuprofen gel and using it on the particular point in question, right at the top of my arch on the right foot. It didn’t seem to affect me when walking, so I opted to stick to the bus route just in case. And thankfully, it went fine. I wad rigorous in looking after my feet when I got home, but all in all, a healthy five miles in the bag.

Next, a 5am run complete with my headtorch, out for the first time this post-summer, a brisk 4 miles or so of Wellholme Park. Its had a new guide track marked down the edges to help parkrunners every Saturday in following the course. When this was announced, I did worry it would spoil the park’s appearance, but in actual fact, its pretty much the equivalent of marking a football pitch. It doesn’t detract at all and it may well prove helpful, not just in following the course, but in avoid the boggy areas when it rains heavily – this turns parts of the park into proverbial moorland – it was designed as a flood plain after all. Again, no issues, despite the fact the sensation on the arch hadn’t disappeared. I could go to work on Thursday mind refreshed, and feeling like I was back in the swing.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been attending a second swim class, titled Stroke Skills, at my local pool on Friday nights. So far, it’s gone alright, although it isn’t half a test of stamina at times, I feel as though it will benefit me in the long run. This particularly Friday I clocked around 600 metres in the 20 metre pool, doing numerous different techniques including being asked to try one arm breaststroke. I’m barely adept with two arms, never mind one! 

The Calder-Hebble Navigation, 08/10/2016

For Saturday, I was planning, as per the training guide, to run 17-18 miles. I’d never run that far three weeks from race day, but I’ve felt committed to the plan and in good shape considering recent tough runs across 19-22 miles in the previous month. Having taken on so many hills, I decided I’d avoid them on this occasion, and instead headed for the place I feel most at home running – the canal towpath – namely the Calder-Hebble Navigation. It was here that I’d largely cut my chops as a runner, and briefly last year as a cyclist. That was before the Boxing Day Floods of 2015. Aside from losing Lemmy, seeing what happened to the region I lived in was traumatic. The images of Mytholmroyd submerged, Elland Bridge battered, homes and businesses across the Upper and Lower Calder Valley ravaged, had caused immense damage to the Calder Valley and pointedly so to key bridges that line the canal towpath as it progresses. Crowther Bridge, halfway between Brighouse and Elland, was damaged, closing off part of the footpath for some time. There were further problems at Park Nook Lock, where a nursery and a pub had suffered, and most crucially of all, Elland Bridge, carrying gas pipes and a key link for traffic to cross into and out of the town centre, was weakened and partially collapsed. The bridge was deemed a no go area, although a walkway was put in place to allow pedestrian access from one side to the other. Put simply, it was the most devastating flooding locally I’ve ever witnessed. I’d never seen flooding in my home town before – Brighouse is fairly low lying but rarely gets the brunt of such weather – it suffered its fair share but not quite on the scale of the towns and villages upstream. Recently, however, access at Crowther Bridge was recently opened up, crossing into the nature reserve and down a small track down to the other side. It meant, for me personally, the entire first three mile section of the towpath was open again, and so it felt right to go ahead with a long run on there for what must have been the first time in a long time.

The Calder Hebble Navigation, 08/10/2016

My route marked a first full run from Brighouse to Luddenden Foot, going across the Calder-Hebble Navigation from Brighouse to Sowerby Bridge, and then onto the Rochdale Canal from Sowerby Bridge as far as Luddenden Foot, before doubling back. I’ve often talked about running this route in the past, but in the context of what happened and how the area is rebounding, its worth putting into context. 
I set off at brisk pace – around 7:20/miling, and soon reached Crowther Bridge, which is currently a quick up and around the towpath at present, but is coming along nicely. The towpath was looking particularly scenic in the autumn sunshine. Moving on, I encountered a bit of traffic (ie families, dogs, etc) as I approached Elland, and had to slow down a little. I reached Elland Bridge. Or indeed, what’s left of it. Now, I didn’t get a great picture of the ongoing work, and whenever I got closer, I had workers on the bridge in the shot, and didn’t fancy faffing about for the right shot, but here you get the gist of the scale of their task.

Well, work is really underway now. For months, one side of the bridge has been amass with scaffolding, but the work they’re carrying out suggests progress is being made, and before long the bridge may well be reopened. That sounds blatantly obvious, but this has been a bridge that’s been out of action for well over nine months, and its a long time for a vital transport link to be that way. When its open again, it’ll be grand. This bridge often marks the next section of my journey, whether I’m going out

But having clocked a 7:52, I endeavoured to keep to sub 8 minute mile pace. I would keep this up as I ambled under tunnels, viaducts and through a bustling Sowerby Bridge town centre. The Rochdale Canal towpath becomes more of a light trail at this point, and also more rural. You do get a good sense of wilderness going through this section, occasionally seeing the signs for canal goers on the distance to, say, Summit, or Manchester. As I approached Luddenden Foot, the hills of the moorland in the distance became visible, a beacon, at this point for the halfway point of the run. Not far off 9 miles, I ran up onto the Station Road bridge and allowed myself a breather, around 64 minutes into the run. I took a little to read up on a little history of this industrial corner of Calderdale, before setting off again.

An artwork titled ‘Fender, Pool & Splice’ by Josh Smith. Found beneath the Station Road bridge, Luddenden Foot

Its worth a mention here that I opted not to run in a race vest, and so only carried a 500ml water bottle with a carb based drink, in order to simulate my marathon plan, and a mini Chia Charge flapjack. The drink was pretty much empty by halfway. But having run without water as far as 15-16 miles, I felt well hydrated and OK to make the return leg all the way home. Well, something was about to feel amiss. I kept on at the comfortable sub-8 pace and the miles ticked by, but around seven miles from home, I started to a tiny bit light headed. I eased up a little but still kept on with the pace. I couldn’t fathom it – the temperature was almost perfect for running, and I might have expected problems if I’d run sub-7 perhaps, but I couldn’t place it. I reached Copley village on the towpath and decided I was going to eat the salty Chia Charge then. This was on plan, but initially it didn’t kick in, and I was beginning to feel the strain. I didn’t want to give in. I didn’t feel I was going too fast, but maybe I was suffering a little with dehydration having run out of water. What if my body has got used to having access to water as I do when I have my race vest? Such questions seemed pertinent but I had to keep going. I felt I had to.

The Rochdale Canal, towards Sowerby Bridge

The Chia Charge snack alleviated whatever my body was doing for about a mile, and then it was back to the grinder. Finally when I got up off the towpath to head to Elland Bridge, I got to the main road and paused the Garmin. I stopped, crouched down, trying to catch my breath, trying to calm and restore myself. Three more miles. That’s all I had left. Just take it nice and steady. The gaiter was off my head and onto my wrist my now. Trying to retain heat probably didn’t seem a good call. Up I got, and onwards towards Brighouse. I sustained my pace and clocked the 17th consecutive mile, according to the watch and not including stoppages, in under 8 minutes. I completed the final fraction of the run finally at a significantly slower pace.

I don’t think I’d ever had such a close shave with this sort of light headedness, I drank enough prior to the run, was sufficiently fuelled, and I had taken water, a carb based drink, which ran out after an hour of running, not far short of halfway. The Chia Charge snack briefly enlivened me, but by the end I felt to be hanging on grimly. Perhaps I’d been too forthright in pursuing a run at my target marathon pace for the duration, but I felt in good shape. By the time I stopped outside my home town’s iconic Ritz Ballroom, I was hands on knees, heavy breathing, with people walking around but with not a word to say. Not that I was after their concern. I hoisted myself upright and walked home, in search of water, electrolytes, and indeed, salt. I was right again about an hour later.

Later that evening, my old enemy, sesamoiditis, seemed to be brewing in my left foot, though it reacted well to ice and I’m pleased to say it doesn’t seem to have recurred beyond the weekend. These little scares could well be ‘maranoia’, but foot problems seem to be the wicked thing that stalks my hopes. I do everything to look after them, warming them up, stretching first thing on a morning, post-run, metatarsal doming. After sesamoiditis, I don’t leave any stone unturned. I didn’t think I would be bordering on the ‘wobbly horse’ as Jonny Brownlee said after his burnout in Cozumel. Particularly in temperatures barely a third of what they had that fateful day in Mexico.

Nonetheless, despite all that, I think I’ve come through another week unscathed. What seemed a bit uncertain at the start of the week at least ended with a good solid collection of miles and conditioning. Indeed, a bit like some of Calderdale’s waterways and bridges, I restored a degree of progress, a particular certainty back into my tapering phase having come off that really busy week of practically nothing. The trick now is to keep the engine oiled. Keep it purring, and not to waste those joints or be profligate to my overall condition. I want to be ready and raring on Saturday 29th October, and the closer it gets, the more I happily get anxious for the holiday to arrive, to get down to Llandudno, surround myself in the North Welsh air, and leave the horrible commutes, the stress of daily life, and for one week, just relax, and get race minded. It’ll be soon. Very soon.

*Featured image is of the start of the Rochdale Canal at Sowerby Bridge