(This entry focuses on training from February 24-March 16, 2020)

Week 5 of training became a challenging week for myself. With the focus being to increase mileage it was to feel like I wasn’t really getting very far. First there was track session with my club, on a track that was waterlogged at various points along the inside lane. It was a bitterly cold night, and running fast was an issue owing simply to how much air I was extolling from my lungs during recoveries. The biscuit was taken when it began sleeting towards the end. I was fed up at this point and admitted unenthused about flying around the track another couple of times. So I took the final two reps slightly easier, and elected to head back to club house rather than stay out in it. It was pancake day, and hear I was, getting somewhat annoyed I’d subjected myself to this. It wasn’t that bad, honestly, but imagine my chagrin when I managed to burn the one pancake I tried to make myself later that evening.

My pancake disaster!

I then had to postpone my Thursday run commute as my brother-in-law was over for his birthday. As such I decided to rejig my plans to do a rough 6 or 7 miles at a good tempo on the Friday, ditch the hill running for a recovery run, and then do my 16 miles that Sunday. The first part went to plan, but I slept in on the Saturday for the recovery run. I would have got my exercise walking around Manchester for the day, but my wife fell ill in the early hours and we had no choice but to cancel and explain why to our very disappointed (but eventually understanding) kids.

The 16 miles went ahead, agreeing to stay close to home in case of any further bouts of sickness and I would run out and backs of the flat main road from the large Tesco to the crossroads at Bailiff Bridge, the last village before heading uphill into Bradford territory. And it seemed to go supremely well – it gave me opportunities to practice picking up water bottles, and I ran the whole thing non stop in around 1:56.

Then the toe injury I mentioned last time out returned. Not as obviously, but it was evident that running long would seemingly stir it into action every time I lifted it up. But this time it wasn’t apparent with every step. However I had a half day off on Tuesday and I elected to run commute home at an easy pace, rather than go training with my club. I wanted to save myself for Thursday’s trail run group, who were to carry out a headtorch trail run starting somewhere both closer to my home address than usual, and on a bus route to get me home as well. And there was a post run pint of beer in the end of it too!

We started from the Halifax Steam Brewery, located in Hipperholme, a village a couple of miles from Halifax town centre. There were eight of us in total and we began as night fell at 6:40pm that evening, over a wall on the opposite side of the road and into a very muddy field. The headtorch helped us navigate around the various puddles and potholes in the field, that was until we needed to bear right and navigate around a very sticky outy, brambly tree that overhung a vast puddle of muddy water. Try as I might, I couldn’t escape it, and finally, not wishing to hold up the remaining runners behind me, told myself ‘get on with it lad!’ and went through. My shoes, my socks, and my feet, soaked, not even half a mile in. We soon made it to the first area of woodland to negotiate, and then it hit. The severe coldness wrapped my feet and my toes as it set in, almost a shock-like sensation. It would improve though, and the ensuing run took myself and the group through woodland trails, across fields, the Calderdale Way, the Calder Hebble Navigation and eventually up and back down Hebble Brook which included a slightly terrifying descent down a cobbled, rocky and very slippery section known as the Magna Via. Needless to say, after all that, the post run pint was a magnificent reward.

Halifax Harriers headtorch trail run route, 05/03/2020

It was downhill after Thursday, when I attempted early Saturday morning to run 18 miles. I took it easy for the first few miles, given I had a few hills to navigate, heading out towards Halifax but then towards Southowram to run down the steep rush of Trooper Lane, all 19% gradient of it, then back into Halifax briefly, before heading out towards Hebble Brook. I was starting to get into my stride and going well. Then, around 7 miles in, shortly after the underpass at Salterhebble, I felt a cramp in my right calf muscle. Immediately, I moved over to a nearby bench. A scenario I’d played out thousands of times in my head was now coming to fruition – what if I got injured mid run, miles from home?

A quick web search later, I realised I was basically suffering from nothing more than basic calf cramp, and the advice seemed to be to shake it off or give it a stretch, and to shorten my stride. I gave it a quick stretch, and then on we went, me and my charley horse.

Thankfully I held up quite well heading back to Brighouse via the canal, and I felt like I would be able to keep going beyond that. 11 miles in, I decided to try and run the remaining seven. I got through another three, managing to get off road for a bit, however trying then to do out and backs on the main road. My cramp started to worsen slightly, and that was it. I turned around and ambled back towards home. 14 miles in the bank, the rest of the morning would be spent hobbling around the house, me and my charley horse. Oddly though, no sign of the toe injury.

My next run home was Tuesday lunchtime, an easy run commute home. The next run wouldn’t be until Friday, but before that, I got more bother in my right foot. It seemed my walking shoes weren’t doing them much good and I wound up doing a lot of toe stretches and cross friction massages to try and relieve the tension. I got out for a 5 mile run that Friday afternoon, making sure I got off road again to try and give myself the best possible chance of not making it worse. Thankfully it seemed to do the trick, but I’d be lying to myself if I weren’t to acknowledge that the minor injuries I was accumulating across my training were starting to build and it was a battle of my willpower to both keep going, and to apply common sense.

The last week or so felt like a battle to keep my training on track. I was a designated easy week in my training plan, but I just haven’t been catching a break. And yet, it seems very real that one may be imposed upon me, and not through my own pursuit of keeping the training going through pleasure and pain.

It won’t have escaped your attention that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, as COVID-19 has now shifted taking a foothold in Europe and with the UK seemingly cancelling major events and mass gatherings at frequent pace. As it stands, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Liverpool Marathon on May 24 is still on. By the time I next write something on this page, it might well have been postponed, or even cancelled. With other major marathons postponing their events until the autumn, it seems inevitable that Liverpool will follow suit. But as it stands, it’s still business as usual until such an announcement is made. And so, how did I go about training this past Sunday?

I slept in. Oh well. But I did make it out the day after, running a half marathon distance along the River Calder and the Huddersfield Broad Canal to Aspley Basin and back. My toe behaved itself, largely, and my calf problems were firmly behind me. It was a lovely day for running, and I got reconnected with the trails once again.

The view looking back from Aspley Marina, near Huddersfield, 16/03/2020
The start of the Huddersfield Broad Canal
Looking towards Cooper Bridge, where the River Calder diverges into the Huddersfield Broad Canal and River Colne

It may all be academic though. The situation is fast moving and with the UK government withdrawing emergency support for mass participation events it seems near certain that the race will be, at the very least, postponed. But with no news coming from the organisers since March 11 (when they stated plans hadn’t changed), all one can do right now… is wait.

And to think I was having a “bad time” a few weeks ago!