Recovery run

The wind, clear, cold and fresh. A warning.
A thin ache in my arch, like lumps in watered down milk.
I step out cautiously, willing it to clear.

Stepping through the motions, doing what I must.
Movement calms me
And breathe, relax.

Out along the edges, the wind pushes, challenges.
I welcome its resistance, encouraging slowness.
I run.

A minute flies and I’m earthbound again
Heading into the darkness for another turn
Resisting thoughts of other times, other daybreaks
Just being here, and now.

The path stretches far ahead
I turn back before it pulls me on.
Head over heart this time.

Pale streaks of brightness over the ink black sea.
Barely a murmur in the earliness. Just breath and feet.
And the swish of my hair against a bright nylon collar.

A couple of big swims and a little run

Since I’ve been sensible about cutting back on my running and treating my plantar fasciitis, I’ve been focusing on other elements of my training. One of the biggest benefits is that I’ve seen a big improvement in my swimming.

On Thursday night, my arms were aching after swinging a kettlebell around during an early morning PT session, but I eased into the water and began a nice warm up swim. I didn’t have any plans or expectations for this swim, it just fits in a nice slot in my day and at the moment it’s helping me ease any pain in my foot.

But as I had the swim lane to myself, I got into a nice rhythm and decided to repeat a set I’ve been doing for the past few weeks and try to do 100m off 2:20 and get up to 8 reps. I was going well and feeling good, managing to keep a nice steady pace and doing 100m in around 2 mins, give or take a second or three. And then I got confused about how many reps I’d done, so I added another to be on the safe side. That meant I finished at the far end of the pool, so I swam another set to get back, meaning I actually did 10 reps instead of 8.

My second swim came on Saturday evening when I joined Tyne tri club for their session again. I knew a bit better what to expect this time, so before I started swimming, I did some sinking drills to get my breathing under control and focused on keeping it smooth and steady.

The main set this week was more like a long swim with a couple of 400 sets and some 200s. My arms were a bit weary and I got a bit of a cough splutter on a couple of times, but I managed to keep going for the whole hour and swam 1,800m in total. The coach gave me another good tip, encouraging me to get my hands into the water more quickly.

I took some swimming lessons back in 2009, but the focus there was to get me putting my head into the water and breathing. We didn’t really work on stroke technique or rolling to breathe or kicking. So there’s lots I can learn.

It was amazing the difference these two tips made. Relaxing the breath out so that it bubbles along means I’m far less out of breath at the end of a length and getting my hand in the water sooner makes the stroke feel easier too. I’m sure there’s loads more to work on, but one thing at a time.

The swim also helped relax and loosen up my troublesome foot. I’d hoped to do a walk/run on Saturday but after walking round at parkrun on marshalling duty, it was a bit twingy. I knew in my head I shouldn’t chance it, but I really wanted to. I treated myself to a little jaunt out on the mountain bike instead – just 30 minutes, but with the wind that was quite enough and it felt like hard work.

On Sunday morning, I was going to get breakfast and then I thought why not go for a run first. That’s what I would sometimes do on a weekday morning when I was running regularly, so why not when I had a walk/run to look forward to. My foot was behaving itself, so I wrapped up more warmly than I would do for just a run, strapped up my arch, shook the mud from my old Saucony’s and headed out along the coast.

There was a rather biting wind in my face as I turned onto the front, but I told myself I’d warm up and could head inland if necessary and distracted myself with views of the blue skies and the wild white horses tumbling in the waves.

Almost immediately, just walking, there was a twinge from my foot and for a minute I thought about stopping and heading back. But it was a brief twinge and it settled down. So I resolved to do at least one 5 min walk 1 min run rep and review my progress. As I warmed up, there were no further problems and I worked my way through 5 minutes of walking, heel kicks, knee raises and side shuffles. And then I ran.

Just for a minute. And unlike last time, I didn’t go haring off like it was the end of a 5k race. I just ran, nice and steady. And when the minute was up, I walked, heel kicked, knee raised and did it all over again.

And I smiled at all the runners and the walkers and the cyclists passing by. I said hello to some friendly dogs and just generally enjoyed being out on a cold, crisp breezy but bright winter’s day. I turned back after three reps and headed home, just feeling the suggestion of an ache in the last few minutes. I stopped at my usual long run shelter and stretched on the bench, smiling.

Back home I didn’t give any aches any chance. It was straight into the ice pack and then bottle rolling as I celebrated with porridge banana and a drizzle of honey – cos that’s how I roll. Fingers crossed it’s the start of the road to recovery and running again.

A new start

I decided Thursday was going to be a new start this week. I’d had a couple of days off training, feeling very tired on Monday and then being away with work on Tuesday. My mood was already a bit low after my first attempt at a walk/run session had resulted in a tight plantar and back to resting it.

It was a new start in more ways than one as I was woken very early by a text from my mum telling me my sister’s baby had arrived 5 weeks before his due date. Welcome to the world Oisin Marc. You were obviously as excited about meeting us as we are about meeting you.

I got up a few hours later for a motivational and positive hour with my PT, who put me straight and helped me get back on track again. We planned out a few sessions of things I can do while I’m not running. I promised I’d do a row, bike, row session and a swim.

Then a message on facebook caught my eye and reminded me about my local tri club training sessions. A quick email and I was invited to go along to their Saturday afternoon session.

It was at a leisure centre I’ve never been to before, and as I got there the public side of things was obviously closed up and there didn’t seem to be anyone around. But I found the changing rooms and could hear noises from the pool so I got changed and went poolside to see the place covered with kayaks!

The kayak club were just finishing their training, and soon there were some other tri club members around. One of them called me over as he was setting out the ropes for the lanes. It was a guy I recognised from the Aquathlon where I’d had a bit of a panic in the swim. He’d been on timing duty and just kept offering me encouragement at the end of each length. So I knew there was one friendly face. He explained that at this time of year the swims were mainly about technique and asked me about my swim times.

Eventually, I got in the lane with the slowest group but it took me quite a while to get started as I by now the nerves had kicked in.  I did my usual breathe and sink drill and just gushed all my air out in a second and popped to the surface like a cork. It took me 3 or 4 goes to bring it into something like control, by which time my fellow swimmers had almost completed 2 lengths.

We’d been given a card at the end of the lane with drill sets to do. Most of the time I just listened and followed what the others were doing. A couple of lengths with a pull buoy were tough and a few more with a kick-board were even harder. But there was only one I just couldn’t do, holding one arm out and kicking for six beats then alternating. I got my breathing into a panic again when I tried to break from my usual 1,2,3, so I made a hash of that one and just swam regular front crawl.

The main set was 6x200s off a time. I was last of the slowest group and they sped away from me, but I resolved to just keep it steady and swim my own swim. At the end of the first set, they seemed to take a longer break anyway, probably not much more than a minute, but it did allow me to recover. I just hope it wasn’t me holding them up. Looking at my poolmate afterwards, I managed to swim them at a pretty even pace around 4 mins per set.

During the session there was a lot for me to think about. I mashed against the ropes a couple of times and was doing mental maths trying to cope with a 33m pool with a deep end. I’m so used to swimming in my quiet 20m gym pool, it was good for me to be in a larger one with lots more people.

A couple of times I got an unexpected splash in the face which reminded me that’s something I’ll have to get used to when swimming in competitions again. And the coach offered me some good advice on my breathing, telling me to relax and breathe out more slowly. I think nerves were making me gush it all out at once, making me gasp when I was breathing in.

Anyway, I survived until the end of the session, having spent almost an hour in the pool compared to my usual 30-40 minutes. And the people in my lane were really nice and friendly. So I think I’ll go back. If nothing else, it gives me one really tough swim session a week and some ideas for drills I can try myself. And if I like the next session when I’m a bit less nervy, I might even join the club.

If you’d have told me 6 months ago I’d be happily swimming 6x200s in one session and over a mile in total throughout, I would have been amazed. And sure, it tired me out, but in a good way. And after a night’s sleep I was nicely recovered for a rest day today. It also loosened up my foot beautifully.

So that’s one good thing about this enforced rest from running – my swimming has improved. Even with the nervous squiggles, I’m a lot more confident and resilient in the water. And the nervous reactions are a good reminder that I will need to work on the mental aspect of preparing for my first open water swim. I know I can overcome that adrenaline fuelled flight reaction, but I need to be prepared for it to happen.

Getting better all the time

My foot is definitely on the mend. On Tuesday my physio said I was “Doing very well,” and gave me a return to run plan that starts off with some walk/run intervals and graduallly increases them to run/walk.

I’ve continued to work with the golfball under my foot. This sometimes means I get funny looks at work as I’m gripping the edge of the desk trying to get a bit more pressure on ‘that’ spot. And it’s meant a return to the treats as I’m not inflicting that amount of pain on myself without having something to look forward to. Actually, this week I’ve found it harder to find ‘that’ spot, which I think means the muscle fibres are relaxing again.

I’ve continued throwing myself into my cross training, and really enjoyed the row, bike, row session that my PT suggested. I don’t much like being stuck on machines that go nowhere in the gym, but I stick on some killer running tunes and get my heart rate up for a good old cardio work out.

One of the many, many advantages of working with a PT, especially one as expert and helpful as mine, is that I do get a personal service. So, while much of my training is focused on general all round fitness, we talked at the beginning of the year about the races and events I wanted to do and what my goals are.

But when things change, such as when I’ve taken some time out from running to sort out my plantar problem, he’s helping me find new ways to stay active, get my buzz and work on balance and stability which will help with the whole hip, knee, foot alignment.

We’ve been trying new ways of doing familiar exercises with the kettlebell, focusing more on using the glutes and hamstrings than the thigh muscles. It took me months to get confident doing one move with the kettlebell in the early days and now Ian’s come up with a slightly different technique for it, I was worried I’d be back to struggling again, but I seemed to pick it up quite easily. He’s really good at explaining and demonstrating what to do and then keeping an eye on my form until I get it right.

This morning I’d volunteered for parkrun, knowing it would be bitterly cold on the Town Moor and figuring only the foolish and hardy would be tempted out to run or stand around in fluorescent bibs. I officially reached maximum layerage and for one moment thought I wouldn’t manage to do up my jacket over the combination of thermals, fleeces, scarves and assorted paraphernalia.

I don’t know who had it hardest today – the runners out in far fewer layers, or the volunteers, wrapped up but standing still. Sue was sporting a very alpine looking hat and gloves combo and it was nice to have a chat as we waited for the runners to come in.

There were some cold hands fumbling as I scanned tokens and barcodes. Regular runner Kev Lister was a star, finishing his run and then standing in nothing more than a T-shirt, shorts and gloves holding the bag for us to put the tokens in. He must have been perishing!

But what a lovely load of thankyous I got from the runners. Real, “Thank you, we appreciate you doing this, thanks for your time,” thank yous. That was lovely. But of course I do it because I’ve got a lot out of parkrun and I really support the aims and openness of it. They make it very easy for me to volunteer and I like going along to see my friends. Of course, I hope to enjoy running the course again soon.

Volunteer duties finished, I headed home ready to try out my first walk/run session. After some advice from Susie, I dressed more for a walk in trainers, rather than a run and wore a layer or two more than I would usually. As a result, I was super snuggly.

After a bit of Garmin faffage, setting up interval timings and then realising I still had it on bike, rather than run, I took a rather random loop out and about. Found a nice new path around some sports fields and took in a couple of slopes. My 5 min walk sections included some drills, such as heel kicks and knee raises, partly to help keep me warm and make it more of a work out.

The first run minute felt odd. Sort of slow and quick at the same time. I felt out of breath quite easily. I felt slow and heavy. And then it was over before I knew it and I was back to walking and hopping and generally making a spectacle of myself among the dog walkers of North Tyneside.

I was super warm though and looking forward to each little run section. On the last one, I tried quite hard, just to see what kind of speed I could find, but without full on sprinting. I still felt slow, but I wasn’t really and the adrenaline buzz was amazing.

I can feel it a little in my foot now. But not a great deal. If I wasn’t aware of having a problem in that area, I probably would barely notice it. So I’m still treating that as a positive run.

I may do the same walk/run session again on Monday rather than moving up to 4 min walk 2 min run, and run the 1 min intervals at a more sensible pace. I’ll see how it feels. Right now, I reckon it will be back to normal after a night’s rest. But slowly, slowly, cautiously, cautiously for now.

I have settled with myself that I’m not running now, because I want to get this fixed. Not manageable. Fixed. So that I can enjoy the rest of the year and all the events and races I have coming up with the same freedom and excitement as I have in previous years. I’m still counting myself as getting off lightly.

Stats and stuff:
2.55 miles 32 mins

I did a 3 min warm up walk first – then:
1) – 0.11m – 1:00(8:58/m) – 11cal
2) – 0.39m – 5:00(12:42/m) – 35cal
3) – 0.1m – 1:00(10:31/m) – 10cal
4) – 0.37m – 5:00(13:29/m) – 29cal
5) – 0.12m – 1:00(8:02/m) – 13cal
6) – 0.34m – 5:00(14:53/m) – 27cal
7) – 0.12m – 1:00(8:33/m) – 11cal
8) – 0.38m – 5:00(13:19/m) – 36cal
9) – 0.14m – 1:00(7:16/m) – 13cal
10) – 0.36m – 5:00(13:47/m) – 30cal
11) – 0.13m – 2:03(15:55/m) – 9cal