Friday, July 31, 2015

Cautious Optimism

18 years ago Niamh dragged me all the way to the altar.
It's the same news as for the last few weeks: things are getting better, but very, very slowly. I saw Derek again on Tuesday; he reminded me that 3 weeks ago he predicted 4-6 weeks of healing time and so far it looks like he was right. He also thinks that the Spartathlon won't be happening for me. I, on the other hand, haven't completely given up hope yet. Someone who is daft enough to sign up for a 153 miles race in the first place might be stupid enough to try and run it even without the necessary training done, and I might even treat it as a recce for next year. I've signed up and paid the full price for the race and the flights already, so I'll definitely head for Greece, assuming the country is still around in September (signs for that are encouraging at least). As Anto pointed out, the worst case scenario is one extra night in a 3-star hotel on the beach. If you look at it like that ...

With Derek's permission I have slowly, very very slowly, started to increase the mileage again but I'm still only running every second day. I did 4 miles on Wednesday, which is less than I would even consider getting out of bed for under normal circumstances but still longer than all the previous runs. I felt reasonably good on the run, similar to Monday though it's hard to be sure. The hip injury is still very clearly noticeable. I was perfectly fine immediately afterwards but the hip felt rather stiff once again after lunch time.

That evening I dug out my little bike trainer that had been gathering dust for almost five years in the attic and set it up. Derek wants me to start doing hard intervals on the bike, which would be too dangerous to do on the road, and I wanted to set it up and test it out first. I also figured 30 minutes on the bike would loosen up the hip again. Things worked on both fronts; it's a very basic, simple ans sturdy trainer, which meant the previous 5 years did no harm to it and the hip did indeed feel better again afterwards. The one downside is that I noticed how quickly the tyre gets worn down on the trainer - now I'm paranoid to take the bike back out on the road in case the tyre is worn thorough and will fail me when I'm miles away from home.

I have some little tests for the hip. Balancing on one leg while putting on a sock on the other one would have been utterly impossible 2 weeks ago, still required something to lean against until last Sunday and is now perfectly doable. It might sound silly but if I can manage that then I feel I can manage to run a few miles as well. Getting up from a chair and walking around for a minute is still a very good indicator; the only problem I have is to figure out if the stiffness is better or worse than the previous day. Changes are small and therefore rather subtle.

Anyway, after that successful test on Wednesday evening I did an interval session on Thursday, a short one because you have to build up slowly - after all, building up too quickly was what got me into this situation in the first place. I do hope it will get my system going again so that I can reap some benefits once I am able to return to running properly again. Who knows, I might even come back stronger eventually - you have to live in hope!

The 5 miles I did on Friday morning were the longest run I've done for several weeks. The hip felt good first thing in the morning so I more or less knew that this would go reasonably well. Indeed. it was probably the best run I've had since getting injured. I'm not sure why the HR was so high, maybe it's because of the fitness I've lost over the last few weeks, but that's a very minor concern right now. As long as the hip behaves I can extend it to 6 miles on Sunday and if that goes well I can start running every day again. Hallelujah!

The Tralee 100k will be on tomorrow (Saturday). My heart is bleeding. Good luck to all the lucky runners; I'll be at the Brandon this evening for a short talk unfortunately but I won't be joining you on the course.

29 Jul
4 miles, 33:36, 8:24 pace, HR 149
31 Jul
5 miles, 41:25, 8:17 pace, HR 153

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Light

I probably should have stayed away from Facebook the last few weeks. Reading about all those races my friends were doing broke my heart every time. However, I was delighted to see Fozzy Forristal win the 100k in Courtmacsherry on Saturday, and in a very good time as well. The next time Marcus Howlett introduces me as Kerry's best ultra runner he may have to qualify that statement. Well done indeed, Fozzy!

I awoke on Saturday morning with the thought that there were now less than 9 weeks until the Spartathlon, which did not exactly fill me with joy. Even if I were able to return to training sooner rather than later, I have missed so much training that it may well be too late already. Last week I ran all of 8 miles, which is about 92 fewer than I would have done had things gone to plan. I did cycle a few more, though that doesn't even come close to compensating.

I'm not dissing cycling, it's actually quite fun; certainly a lot better than sitting at home feeling sorry for myself. I'm working fairly hard on the bike and hopefully my cardiovascular system will remain somewhat intact, though I'm not quite sure how much of that translates into running. Of course, nothing makes up for the fact that I need to get my legs used to the pounding on the road.

I was quite surprised to see just how much more popular cycling is on strava compared to running. There are way more segments and they are way more competitive. I own a few local KOMs in running even though every single one of them is rather soft - I will never even come close to a single one in cycling, I think we can be pretty sure of that.

Anyway, on Saturday I made my way around the lake road for an hour long trip. Initially I was planning on turning around after 30 minutes until I realised that a full loop would take me pretty close to one hour, so I decided to do just that. However, just after the halfway mark I encountered a fairly big group of cows on the road. Initially they started moving away but then a big bull stopped dead in his tracks and started eyeing me suspiciously, at which point I decided to get back to the original plan and turn around after all. Shame, I had been looking forward to the 3-mile climb I had only just started on.

On Sunday morning I immediately noticed a big change in my hip as soon as I woke up. It felt a lot better than before, though there is the distinct possibility that this was down to the ibuprofen I had taken the evening before rather than a genuine improvement in my injury. It was raining, so I decided to go for a flatter route because I did not fancy descending on narrow, twisty, pothole-strewn roads in wet conditions. The last thing I need is to acquire an additional injury from a bike crash. Cycling felt fine, an hour passed very quickly and I got home without incident. The hip continued to feel okay and for the first time in weeks I was actually looking froward to my next run, full of hope that things were finally getting better.

Well, I did my by now customary 3 mile  run on Monday morning. For the first time in a month I felt like I could actually stride out properly, though the injury was still clearly noticeable. However, the discomfort level was now down to a 3/10, better than ever before, and the level my physio told me would be acceptable to continue running. I ran a little bit fast once more because I have lost my ability to judge pace and effort, though that's a minor issue for a 3-mile run.

I think I can finally see some light at the end of that far-too-long-already tunnel. Let's hope it's not the oncoming train.

27 Jul
3 miles, 23:55, 7:58 pace, HR 152

Friday, July 24, 2015

Wrong Sport

If I weren't a runner I would think I am no longer injured by now. The discomfort after sitting is virtually gone and even the chairs in the office's meeting room that were just pure poison on my hip only a week ago are now perfectly tolerable. Unfortunately there is still one activity where I can clearly feel the effects of my injury, and that just happens to be running.

After 12 miles had turned out to be too much last week (well, running 4 and 5 miles on consecutive days was too much) I have been much more careful this week, just running 2 miles on Monday and then 3 on Wednesday and Friday. I cycled on the other days and since cycling does not cause any discomfort (in fact I feel better after it, though that's probably down to endorphins) I got permission to extend the duration of the cycling, so I did a bit over 30 minutes on Tuesday and about 40 on Thursday, with the plan of cycling for an hour on the weekend. I expected the cycling HR to be lower than what I usually do when running but I averaged as much as 151 on Thursday. This may be down to a loss of fitness; I didn't think I had been working particularly hard. When running a HR of 151 would probably be a tempo run and my cycling effort was definitely not an equivalent of that.

Cycling is actually quite fun at the moment, I do enjoy it, especially after being starved of exercise over the past few weeks. How much of that exercise will be relevant to running remains to be seen. I know there is a certain amount of cross over, but the specific fitness to run at a high level can only be gained by running.

I almost certainly ran too fast on Wednesday. I was too pre-occupied monitoring my hip to pay much attention to anything else, and by the time I realised I was breathing rather hard I was almost back home. There is a silver lining in that as well - a 7:47 miles might not have been a good idea in my present state but the mere fact that I was able to run a 7:47 miles is actually a sign that thing are improving - last week I barely managed 9-minute pace! However, the one number that jumped out at me was not the pace but the cadence - a whopping 193, at least 10 steps per minute faster than normal. It's because I cannot (or at least I subconsciously feel that I cannot) stride out properly and stride length is well down, so the cadence is up in compensation. Friday was a little bit calmer, with a cadence of 190 - this time I made sure to take it a bit easier.

I keep doing my exercises, though I am wondering if they are a waste of time, especially the isometric ones, because they feel so easy. I will see Derek again on Tuesday; let's see what he says.

My weight keeps shooting up. I'm not sitting on the sofa all night pigging out, but I've already gained more than 5 pounds since the start of the month!

Shit, it's only 9 weeks to the Spartathlon. Things are not looking good.

22 Jul
3 miles, 24:22, 8:07 pace
24 Jul
3 miles, 25:03, 8:21 pace, HR 148

Monday, July 20, 2015

Insane In The Brain

I would do just about anything to keep me sane at the moment. I was already wondering if I had suddenly developed a severe case of mid-life crisis but I think it's more likely that the absence of running and even exercise in general is driving me nuts. That's probably a good thing because a mid-life crisis would suck big time: I can't afford a sports car and if I ever had an affair and Niamh found out I would not want to be in the vicinity!

Thanks for a couple of suggestions.

The possibility for heat training is severely hampered by the lack of heat in this part of the country. Less than half a continent away they might be suffering from a severe heat wave but here in Kerry we're still delighted when on the odd occasion we managed to spot a gap between the clouds. It's too early for heat adaptation for the Spartathlon anyway. In a month that will become more important but not yet.

Pool running is problematic due to the absence of a pool in my vicinity - I'd have to drive half an hour each way to get to the nearest one and that's just not going to happen. I stopped attempting triathlons mainly for that very reason and I can't see myself sacrificing an hour for something as abhorrent as pool running.

I begged Derek to let me at least go for a cycle and he partially relented but set the upper limit at a shockingly low 20 minutes. I did two easy 5 mile cycles on the weekend which took maybe 17 or 18 minutes. That felt comfortable and the hip did not bother me at all (a genuine 0/10), so I think he's erring at the side of caution but that's almost certainly a good thing of course.

As soon as I woke on Saturday I immediately noticed a big improvement in the hip but that may have been due to taking some anti-inflammatory tablets on Friday evening rather then a genuine improvement in the condition. Up to now I have avoided taking anti-inflammatory drugs because inflammation is part of the body's natural healing process and taking tablets to suppress that will increase recovery time rather than help, but Derek advised a short course so I took some over the weekend. I have now stopped that and the hip still feels better so I do live in hope.

Because I felt so much better I went for a very short run this morning, only 2 miles. That's hardly worth getting changed for but it's all I'm allowed after 4 or 5 miles turned out to be too much last week. I can feel a big improvement but the hip is still bothering me as soon as the road starts climbing even by a minuscule gradient, so I need to be careful.

I managed all of 12 miles last week and it turned out to be too much, I sure hope this is going to improve further sooner rather  than later. I need to run. Not for the Spartathlon - for my sanity. And Niamh's.

20 Jul
2 miles, 17:43, 8:51 pace, HR 143

Friday, July 17, 2015

No-Progress Report

There are no less than 3 races on this weekend that I do have an interest in.

The Ras na Riochta might be an Adventure race, which clearly isn't my main focus, but I can see some of the race course right from my house and it forms part of some of my regular and favourite running routes, most notably the Kerry Way section toward Windy Gap.

The Killarney Marathon is one of my local races. I even signed up for this race; I got the number in the post on Tuesday. Opening that envelope was a sad moment. I seem destined never to run this race - I've signed up twice now and this is my second DNS! And since the date coincides with the third race this weekend, it will always be only a backup option.

That third race is of course the 24 hours race in Belfast. This has become the most important race of all to me, after my epic run last year that qualified me for the Worlds. This year it is going to be epic. I can't wait what some of my friends are going to do in their debut on that race format, most notably Grellan, Andrew Greaney and Thomas Klimas. All should have the ability to mark a really serious distance, certainly top of the national level, but 24 hour races have their own rules and you won't know for sure until you try it - we'll find out very soon, of course.

As for me - well, I know I titled this post no progress, but that's not the entire story. During the day, I feel better, getting up from a chair no longer causes pain, it doesn't really hurt (more stiff than painful) and at times I feel almost no issue at all. However, my run on Thursday morning did not go well at all, it was worse than Monday and Tuesday and the hip never loosened up at all, so I cut it short, went home, and am now wondering when I can run again at all.

A week or two ago I said I am not worried about the Spartathlon. This has changed as I gradually realised just how long recovery is taking. The race is 70 days from now and I should be doing some serious training right now. I am missing the Killarney marathon tomorrow and I cannot see how I could possibly make it to Tralee in 2 weeks, so that's 2 of my most important training runs gone without replacement. Even if I manage to get healthy again in a reasonable time, the training I have lost is a serious problem.

Meanwhile, I'm sitting here getting fat, unfit and crippled. Just what you need before a 153 mile run!

16 Jul
3 miles, 28:33, 9:31 pace, HR 133

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

First Steps

The first steps are wobbly and uncertain. Thankfully I have yet to fall over and my stability is slowly increasing, though the operative word here is slowly. There is no pain but it all feels very awkward and all I can do is take tiny baby steps, high cadence, low distance. Striding out is completely out of the question.

At the outset I'm hunched over but I gradually manage to right myself up and get closer to proper running form. It takes about two miles for the hip to loosen up entirely and I can start taking on a form that vaguely resembles running. I don't know what it looks like and quite possibly an untrained eye would not spot the difference in my stride, but I can certainly feel it.

I ran 4 miles on Monday and 5 on Tuesday, as directed by my physio (or so I thought - he wasn't sure about Tuesday). The good news is, and this is actually proper good news, there is no pain. Not during the run, not immediately afterwards and not hours later either, so I'm not doing any damage. Looking at the strava file for both runs is revealing - on both days every mile is faster than the previous one, coming down from almost 10-minute miles to about 8:30 pace at the end. The perceived effort did not really change, this is all down to the muscles warming up and loosening up - and I guess endorphins are playing a role as well.

So, after a long hiatus, at least I'm back running again, though there is still a very long way yet to go. Not only does my hip have to improve, after not running for 10 days my fitness has taken a hit as well, though that will be rectified in just a couple of days, assuming there are no further setbacks. The Killarney marathon on Saturday is obviously not an option. I jokingly mentioned it to Derek just to see his reaction but I guess he knew I wasn't serious.

We'll just have to see how this goes. The improvement since last week has been encouraging but there is still a very long way to go before I'm back to full fitness.
13 Jul
4 miles, 36:15, 9:04 pace, HR 139
14 Jul
5 miles, 45:25, 9:05 pace, HR 141

Friday, July 10, 2015

Next Injury Update

Things are getting better, but they're not good enough just yet.

I have been doing my prescribed exercises religiously 3 times a day, and I have been doing a 3-mile walk every morning (I'm not counting those towards my mileage). There is no pain during the exercises but there is some discomfort when walking, though that has been improving every day.

The most significant improvement is noticeable when I get up from a chair. On Tuesday I was grimacing every time and it took a minute of walking around every time for things to loosen up. Today I can get up and feel some tightness in the hip but no real pain, and after half a dozen steps it feels more or less okay. I can walk down the office without attracting some comments, which is a bonus.

There is still no running, not today and not over the weekend. A short run might happen on Monday, provided things keep improving at a steady rate. I'm not worried about losing fitness, there is still plenty of time until the end of September. I do miss running a lot, though. I saw a couple of runners during my morning walk and really, really, really wished I could join them. At least I'm not in danger of overtraining at the moment and it's certainly better to get injured 3 months before the race rather than a week.

This is by far the longest rest I've had to take from running for many years, for any reason other than recovery from a target race. I have been lucky over the years and on more than one occasion got away with things that are generally frowned upon. I guess inevitably I pushed my luck once too often. Ah well - sh*t happens.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Injury Update

4 days of no running. Counting by the hour, actually - 59 at the time of writing.

I went to see a physio in Tralee today. Derek is a very good runner himself (one of the top dogs in the local scene), which did give me a lot of confidence in him and he was recommended by a friend.

He isolated the hip flexor as the root of the problem, not the adductor. He thinks the hill drills were the main reason for my injury; the parkrun might just have been the last straw that broke the camel's back.

After not running for more than 4 day the pain has actually gotten a lot worse. Rest is overrated, I'm telling you. I was hoping he would tell me to run at least 10 miles a day to use the magic powers of running to heal my injury but that hope, always rather small, was dashed. There is to be no running for at least another few days. He gave me a few exercises to try out and I am to do a brisk walk of 3-4 miles to see how that feels.

I really hope I can get back to running sooner rather than later. Not because I would be worried about the Spartathlon; that's still 3 months away. It's because I'm quickly becoming impossible to live and work with when I can't go running.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

On The Scrapheap

I remembered that one thing I usually do whenever I get a niggle is to throw out my old pair of runners. This time, this was a memorable occasion. A few years ago I heard that the manufacturing of my favourite running shoes, Brooks Green Silence, had been discontinued and I proceed to buy a big stash of them, not particularly caring about the hideous colour scheme of the last 2 pairs (though I still wonder who thought such an ugly shoe would sell well). Anyway, yesterday I kissed my very last pair of that stash goodbye; as ever, the rewards for over 1000 miles of faithful service was a 1-way ticket into the bin. And before you get smart and say that of course I'll get injured if I wear shoes for more than 1000 miles, I have been doing that for years and my injury rate is still exceptionally good compared to every other runner I know.

As for the adductor/groin/hip problem, on Wednesday I was about to concede defeat, admit that I was genuinely injured and take a few rest days. I was in real pain on 1 or 2 occasions, enough for my colleague to notice as I gingerly made my way down the office corridor. However, it was definitely better on Thursday, so I decided to keep training regardless. I'm not sure if it was pure bone-headedness that kept me going or if running is such a strong addiction that it's better to work through the discomfort. The affected area feels really tight rather than painful, which makes it hard to gauge if there is progress being made or not.

Despite some reservations I did another set of hill drills on Friday morning. The HR graph of that session is quite telling and describes the entire workout in one neat graph:

Obviously pace means nothing on a workout like that. I work my way up the hill and recovery is a walk.very slow jog down. The one thing bothering me the most are the flies. It's very humid at the moment and I'm completely drenched in sweat when working hard and when walking back down the hill the flies are just swarming around me.

Anyway, on Saturday morning I did not feel great and finally decided to take a few rest days. I'm actually not sure if that is the right action to take because it always feels the worst right after getting up from sitting. After walking around for a minute I feel mostly fine. Same with getting up in the morning, as soon as I get moving I start to feel better. Running itself does not cause any extra discomfort.

However, this was certainly caused by running, so it is a running injury. I'm sure it happened when I ran an unaccustomed pace in the parkrun last Saturday, though it did take several hours for the first sign of discomfort to appear. I did not run yesterday but did some work in the garden, which felt fine. I'll probably go to a physio early next week, for the first time since 2008!
2 Jul
am: 8 miles, 1:04:34, 8:05 pace, HR 141
pm: 5 miles, 38:01, 7:36 pace, HR 146
3 jul
9 miles, 1:29:36, 9:56 pace, HR 136
   5x30 sec sprints; high knees; thigh drive; hill sprints
Weekly Mileage: 59

Wednesday, July 01, 2015


According to the weather website it was 26 degrees in Dublin today and all over the east coast, there are high temperatures predicted for the North in a few days and basically for the rest of the country as well, except for one corner, tugged away to the south-west. I know I would not want to have the 40 degrees they are experiencing in some parts of Europe right now, but come on. A little bit of sunshine would have been nice! All afternoon it was raining steadily. What the fuck ever convinced me to settle in this miserable wet spot of all the places I could have gone to!

Anyway, as promised, I kept ignoring the discomfort emerging from my right hip/groin area and kept training all week. I found an old entry in my blog that seemed to describe something very similar happening almost 3 years ago and was pleased to read that the problem had gone away after 5 days. Obviously I was hoping for the same outcome again but by now it's been 5 days already and if anything this has gotten worse (it's hard to tell). At some stage I may have to conclude that I have finally succumbed to a running injury, for the first time in what, eight years? I'm not ready for that yet and will keep running and hoping that it clears up. Stupid? Maybe. But it has worked for every niggle I've had for the last 8 years.

A bit of research brought me to the pectineus muscle, though I am not really sure. The area of concern tends to get painful every time I get up from a sitting position; the pain more or less goes away after half a minute of walking around. Running feels very awkward for the first quarter of a mile before it all settles down. I try not to change my running form as that would only invite a secondary issue springing up elsewhere. Because running as such doesn't really hurt I'm still living in hope that at least I'm not aggravating things further by running.

I ran very, very slowly on Monday morning, much slower than expected. It was more due to the humidity than the problem with my hip (which tends to become more or less unnoticeable after a couple of miles anyway) but still. I missed the evening run that day due to real world issues, which also cost me a few hours of sleep as I found it very hard to fall asleep. These things happen from time to time, nothing you can do about it.

I was back doing hill drills on Tuesday morning. I started with high knees as I was unsure if thigh drive was a good idea with my dodgy leg but did those as my second set anyway. I find them really hard. I usually do them 3 times in a row with a slow walk down the hill as recovery. The idea was to do 3 x 90 seconds but it was more like 90/75/60 seconds, and then I was panting, hands on knees, trying to suck some air into hurting lungs, which at least made the pain in the leg muscles go unnoticed.

I more or less repeated the effort on Wednesday, except that I reversed the order of the drills. The thigh drive was still as hard as ever but the high knees are starting to feel doable. I managed 4 minutes in one go, which is more or less the goal. At least I can see some progress being made, though the goal is to become good at running, not good at doing hill drills.
29 Jun
8 miles, 1:08:03, 8:30 pace, HR 135
30 Jun
am:9+ miles, 1:31:04, 10:04 pace, HR 140
   Hill drills: 4x30 sec sprints; high knees; thigh drive; hill sprints
pm:5 miles, 38:11, 7:38 pace, HR 145
1 Jul
am:9.5 miles, 1:34:45, 9:58 pace, HR 141
   Hill drills: 5x30 sec sprints; thigh drive; high knees; hill sprints
pm:5 miles, 39:40, 7:56 pace, HR 138