Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Back running again

So last Thursday I got the news I'd been waiting for from my physio Emily, who checked me out on the treadmill and gave me the go-ahead to recommence running. What she was interested in was whether I was coming down too heavily on my good side to compensate for any discomfort in the operated side (in other words, running with a limp) but it appeared that, if I was, it was only very slight, and I promised I'd only run short distances to start with, and stop if I felt too much discomfort in the hip area.

A study day Friday (working from home) gave me the opportunity to take a decent break mid way through the afternoon and get out for my first run in over 7 weeks. With the nights drawing in (wow, that's the kind of thing old people say) opportunities for daylight running when you work full-time are not easy to find. Since I'm at home most Fridays, this will probably become my "long run" day once I've got back into a regular training regime - if I have to do most of my running on a treadmill during the winter months I'm fine with that, but anything further than 5 miles and I'd prefer to do it outside, particularly since the countryside around here is so nice.

Time for a break perhaps?
I'm surprisingly good at putting in a full day when working from home - it helps having a dedicated study room, where I lock myself away with my manuals, calculator and usually a packet of biscuits - and doing a full day is necessary since there's lots to get through each week. However, as long as I get 7 or 8 hours in, I can be flexible about when I do them, and the break from attempting to balance accounts will probably do me the world of good and keep me from going completely bonkers (it's hard work!)

But for the time being, I don't even need to take that long a break, since I'd promised to keep the runs short. I had envisaged doing about 3 miles, but taking my time on this first run, running at recovery pace (10min miles) and probably being on my feet for around half an hour. The ideal first work-out, and it would have gone according to plan if the loop I ran had worked out at 5km as expected. However, it didn't. In fact, it wasn't even a loop. Or at least, it may have been had I stuck with it for long enough, but I didn't much fancy completing an ultra on my first run back.

In fairness, this was my first run since moving to Kirtling, and I'm only really familiar with the roads I need to take me to Cambridge (for work,) or to Haverhill (for Harry.) Running is a really good way to discover how all the local roads link up, and to get to know your local area, and there are going to be some lovely routes for me to train on as I build my mileage back up. For now though, I just needed a short loop, and I relied purely on my sense of direction to find one. Big mistake! As my watch moved on to the 4 mile mark, my body was definitely telling me I'd done enough, but unfortunately I didn't appear to be getting any nearer to home.

Time to log my miles
At 4.37 miles I noticed an information board set back off the road, by a small river, and so I stopped and went to investigate, to see if I could figure out where I was. This was made easy for me because, in addition to some information telling me all about the importance of the river Stour (very interesting I'm sure, but I found it hard to care at the time) there was a map showing the route I'd taken. From this, and with my Garmin, I was able to calculate how far away from home I was. Basically, 4.37miles! So it could actually form part of a big loop, taking in Great Bradley and Thurlow, and would be a really nice long run route, but for now it was just plain annoying. There was no option but to turn and go back the way I'd come - there were some public footpaths and bridleways marked that may have offered a more direct route back but I knew I'd get lost in a field in the middle of no-where within a mile or so, and decided to stick with the roads I'd just come down.

So how had the actual running gone up until this point?

Ah, glad you asked - pretty well actually. In fact, had I got the distance right and completed after 3 miles or so, I'd have been chuffed to bits. It felt tough to start with, even at 10 min mile pace, which confirmed what I had suspected would be the case: ie, that I have lost a lot of fitness in the last 7 weeks. I didn't really hit the gym as much as I should have in my recovery period, and so my cardio-vascular fitness has suffered as a result. A lesson to learn for when I have the other hip done. But no matter - it just meant that the pace felt quite tough to start with, and I just concentrated on trying to run as smoothly as possible and to try to regulate my breathing as much as I could. It gradually got easier, and my pace picked up slightly, meaning I got up to around 9 min mile pace by the 3rd mile. This was more than fast enough, and I felt surprisingly comfortable in terms of the hip - but as I got to around 5km distance, I began to feel some groin discomfort, which steadily grew throughout the next mile. Not entirely unexpected - I've only had one hip done, so I would anticipate the unoperated side will still cause the old problem to flare up, and to start with the pain did seem to be primarily on that side, which is promising I guess. However, by the time I'd completed 4 miles it was more central, and I was more than ready to stop.

What were my immediate aims?

Another good question - and the answer, unsurprisingly for those that know me, was to get back racing asap. As in, the next day at parkrun. And the day after, at the Thurlow 5. Of course, I use the term "racing" quite wrongly, since I had no intention of trying to run quickly at either of them - but I wanted to get round at both without having to stop and walk. Honestly, just that. This was the main reason for doing the training run - I didn't know how realistic it was to go out and run 3.1 miles on the Saturday, let alone 5 on the Sunday, so I wanted to see what I was capable of. Consequently, I was happy with the way the first 3 miles had gone, and I'd managed over 4 before I'd stopped, so both the parkrun and the 5 miler were looking doable. In fact, I only really had one dilemma now. How was I going to get home?

So, how did I get home?

With no phone on me to call for back up (not sure I'd have bothered anyone I knew, but I may have been tempted to find a taxi company!) I had little option but to turn round and begin walking back.
With the groin pain already kicked in, it didn't seem wise to attempt to run home, especially if I intended to run the next couple of days. However, walking takes ages - and by 1 mile, with 3 more to go, I was itching to speed things up a bit! I decided to run the next mile, which I managed with relatively little increase in discomfort, and then walked the next and finished off by running the last 1 and a bit. Reasonably sensible then, although it meant my total mileage was over 6 miles, which was about double what I'd originally intended. And I was in a fair amount of pain when I finally collapsed on the sofa!

Colchester Castle Parkrun

The next morning I needed an early start to get to Colchester for 9am. Obviously there are closer parkruns for me - Cambridge is now my nearest, and Thetford, Nowton Park and Gt Cornard are all still pretty local too - but I wanted to combine the trip with a visit to see my Mum, and Colchester would give me a chance to catch up with some good friends too. As such, I intended to go even if I wasn't up to running, which was just as well because I was still in an amount of discomfort as I set off for the hour or so's drive, unsure if I would actually run or just support. In the event, I decided right at the last minute, walking up the hill to the bandstand, that I'd give it a go, and I'm really glad I did, because everything was absolutely fine.

I set off near the back of the field, with a target in mind of 30mins, which would allow me to run at
Friends told me to take it steady, but
there was never any danger I'd do
anything else - first race back was
all about getting round, nothing more.
around 10min mile pace, which I knew from the previous day's exertions would be okay. Of greatest importance however was not this time target, but to get round in one piece, continuing to work my under-used running muscles, and getting my hip used to the movement of running again. I don't really see this period between now and Christmas as anything other than an opportunity to get back to a decent level of fitness again prior to the second operation - I'm certainly not expecting to get anywhere near my old times - and in some ways this takes a lot of the pressure off: certainly I didn't experience the pre-race nerves I'm so used to, and I guess I'm not going to if I'm deliberately running nearer the back than the front.

That said, I did speed up a bit as I made my way round, much like on the training run, so I finished at nearer to 9min mile pace than 10. Overall time was under 29mins, so job done, and the cake afterwards felt well-earnt!

Thurlow 5

It's important that I keep up with the stretching and rehabilitation exercises set for me, since I won't be fully recovered until 16 weeks after the operation, so I'm only just about half way through at this point. They should also help me as a runner, and I'm sure doing a full set on the Saturday helped aid my recovery for the next day, because I woke up on the Sunday feeling really good. The groin pain had gone, and other than a bit of achiness in the quads, I was raring to go.

I had a sneaky look at the Suffolk Grand Prix standings as I ate my breakfast, and at the race entries for the day, and calculated that just getting round would probably give me a decent score. I've bored you all with this before, but just to recap, it's based on finishing position amongst other Suffolk runners within your age category, and in a relatively small race such as this, there won't actually be that many. (The size of the race this year was further diluted because there were two options, the 5 mile being new, and the more established 10 mile option that I've run on two previous occasions.) You could finish last in your age category, but if there were only 10 of you, that would still give you 91 points. (Thinking about it, on that proviso, you could finish last in the whole race and still pick up the same points!) Discount the runners ahead of you who weren't representing Suffolk clubs, and your score would be even higher.

Working all this out increased my determination to get round - you could argue that it makes a bit of a mockery of the competition, and you may be right, but whereas I might normally feel slightly embarrassed about picking up a decent score despite a poor performance, on this occasion I felt I could justifiably claim whatever points I could get - especially since I'd had to miss the previous two races of the series, and completing 5 miles was going to be quite a big achievement for me at this stage of my recovery. The final race of the series is mid December, and I hope to be back to a slightly quicker pace by then, albeit not at my best - and this will then give me the 5 races I need to post the most competitive final points score I can.

Other duties

In fairness, we started off pretty organised, but
hadn't factored in the last minute rush
Since the Thurlow fixture is the one organised by our own club, I felt I should really do something to help out - particularly since I've run it a couple of times previously, and last year I ran Saxon 5 the same day, so I've never actually volunteered for this one - and it's really the convention to do so at your own club's race. Up until recently I feel I've pulled my weight elsewhere within the club, but due to work pressures I've had to step down from the various roles I held, so I really wanted to do something to help this year. The trick was to find a role that would also allow me to run - so I ended up helping with the baggage drop off. I'm not sure how this may have affected me had I been going for a time - I like to be quite specific about when I eat breakfast, when and how much I drink, when I do my warm up, not to mention visits to the loo, etc, and this pre-race routine can make quite a difference to your performance. On this occasion though, I was happy to get there much earlier than normal, and help take in the bags right up until a few minutes before the start, and as a result I went to the start line unusually chilled out!

The race itself

I say went to the start line, but in fact I deliberately stood some way back - I wasn't going to be troubling the engravers in this particular race! - and I set off nice and steady, wanting to just get under way and settle into a rhythm in the early stages of the race. I keep saying race, but I wasn't really viewing it as such - certainly not in the same way I ordinarily would - and as a result I felt no pressure whatsoever to hit a particular pace or gain positions at any point. I had a vague idea that I might get around 46 minutes, which would match my pace from parkrun the day before, but I wasn't too worried if I didn't - primarily, I wanted to avoid stopping and/or walking at any point, and hopefully - although this was out of my control - avoid any pain or discomfort on the way round.

The route is much more uphill in the first half than it is the second, and whilst it's good to get the tough part done, it didn't make for an easy opening couple of miles. But it was lack of fitness, not hip/groin related issues, that made it tough - and so that was fine, and just required an amount of willpower to overcome. I was pathetically grateful for the water station at the halfway point, and even though I only took a couple of sips, it gave me a much needed boost. This didn't last, however, and at around 3 miles I almost stopped to walk for a bit - but only almost! The guy up ahead of me was alternating between walking and running, and I didn't appear to be gaining on him, which was slightly depressing! When he ran he looked a fairly decent runner, and I wonder if perhaps he's on his way back from injury too. His tactic looked very appealing as I huffed and puffed my way up yet another hill, but I elected to simply bring down the effort and just dig in and keep running.

I was rewarded for this resolve with a nice down hill section, which allowed me to actually increase pace even though I'd eased off the effort a bit. This must have spurred me on because, looking at my mile splits, I can see a big improvement in the latter part of the race:

Mile 1: 9m22
Mile 2: 9m16
Mile 3: 9m03
Mile 4: 8m02
Mile 5: 8m12

So a finish time of 44mins dead. I'm not going to say "almost literally dead" because I'm pretty sure I've used that joke in a previous blog post, and it probably wasn't all that funny then either. But suffice to say I was pretty pleased with that. Ok, it's 13 mins off a pb for the distance, but I feel like I'm starting again, and so the next time I race a 5 mile, I'll be comparing it with this new post operation time, and looking to see a gradual improvement. Best news of all, absolutely no groin discomfort whatsoever - why that should be I don't know, but I'll go with it.

The results

I've just looked at the official results properly for the first time, to calculate my Suffolk GP points. The fact that I've only just done so, whereas normally I'd be anxiously awaiting the email on race day, confirms that this was a very different race-day experience for me; still a rewarding one - just a lot more relaxed. Possibly, with work pressures growing, this is a healthy thing for me. I talked in my previous blog about how I can use running as an escape valve, but I rarely run without a demanding target, and I then beat myself up if I fail to achieve it. So sometimes it can be counter-productive, adding to the stress levels rather than reducing them. I had an interesting chat in the cafe after parkrun with some good friends, when we discussed whether we actually enjoy running or not - I declared that I enjoy racing rather than the training, and it's certainly true that it's race-day that I've missed the most over the last 7 weeks: hence why I did two in two days over this last weekend. But I think maybe somewhere along the way I've forgotten why I first fell in love with running: and it's not the first time I've reflected on that fact in my blog posts over the last couple of years.

So it may be that this operation - and stop me if I become overly philosophical here - will actually end up being a good thing for my overall understanding of why I run, and the importance of it. I have certainly accepted that, for the time being at least, and quite probably until some time after the 2nd operation, I will be unable to get anywhere near my old times. It won't stop me trying to get nearer - I look at the last couple of miles at Thurlow and am already plotting an 8min mile paced parkrun in a couple of weeks - but I think it may help me to enjoy my running a bit more, as I take my time to improve gradually, rather than aiming for a new pb every week.

This is a provisional list, and needs filling
out a bit. But the essentials are there.
But despite this, clearly I will always remain competitive - it's in my nature - and so back to the results. Position within age category - 6th, which sounds pretty decent, but there were only 7 of us! No matter, with only 3 of the 5 MV40s ahead of me running for Suffolk clubs, this means a points score of 97. It means I'll move up to 4th in my category, so well worth doing the race for that reason, although with only one race left, the top 3 are too far ahead for me to catch, no matter how well Waveney 10 may or may not go. Next year, with my 2nd operation probably only ruling me out of the first fixture, I intend to have a real go at the competition again, and as always the fixtures will undoubtedly form the backbone of my racing calendar.

And I do intend to get some structured training in place next year, to identify some other key races, to chose some PBs to target - it's part of what makes me tick. But, bottom line, if I can run without pain once this is all done, I'll be very grateful to everyone who's helped fix me, and I'll appreciate the fact I can run that much more. Running in discomfort for two and a bit years has no doubt eroded a lot of the enjoyment for me - how could it not? - but I think there's more to it than that, and I intend to keep a closer eye on this as I progress.

I never really understood people who ran purely for enjoyment rather than for times, but I think perhaps I do a bit more now. Certainly, for the moment, I'm just very happy to be back.

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