Saturday, 14 November 2015

Making Good Progress

A while since my last blog - pleased to say that for no other reason than because I've been too busy running. Although a recent visit to my consultant has knocked the wind out of my sails a bit - more on this later. Positives first - and since I last wrote, I have to say training has gone far better than I could have possibly anticipated.

I talked in my last post about running more for enjoyment than for times. I've been surprised at how quickly my fitness has come back. In the first week, I was starting my training runs around 10min mile pace and improving to 9min miles at best by the end. There was an element of fear that I'd do some damage, that possibly held me back a little, but it was essentially a lack of fitness that accounted for the pace, and as such it was easy to accept and nothing to worry about.

So after Thurlow 5, I had nothing else booked, and just began to increase how often I ran, and how far. I take part in a monthly mileage challenge organised by The Commando Runners - we're divided up into 4 divisions, and post our miles every time we run, and at the end of each month the top 3 get promotion and the bottom 3 get relegated. It's just a bit of fun, but it does often help encourage you to get out and do some mileage when you might otherwise not bother. Having dropped into division 2 following my period of inactivity, I had a bit of a go at getting promotion in the latter part of October, and although I didn't quite manage it, I was still pretty pleased with the mileage I managed in those first couple of weeks back running. Most of these runs were still at a pretty relaxed pace, but it was pleasing that I was experiencing little or no discomfort, either in the operated hip or indeed in the groin area.

After a couple of slightly achy runs to start with, I was surprised at how
quickly I regained full and comfortable movement in the hip joint.
As November began, I started to really ramp up the training. I joined another facebook page challenging us to "Run 100 miles in November." This isn't actually that many, if you're a serious runner - I suspect Mo does that in a week! - but it's a decent enough challenge for me at this stage of my rehabilitation. When I was training properly a while back I reckoned on about 30 -35 miles a week, so this seems a good way to gauge how I am progressing. I've reached 50 miles so far, and not yet half way through the month, so I think I'll nail the target - and it really hasn't proved too hard at all. I'm training the way I always preferred to - never really doing huge distances, but running most days, typically 5 or 6 miles at a time, and mixing those runs up so that some are tempo, some speedwork, some easy and some recovery.

As for routes - it all depends on the time of day I get to run. On a typical work day, at this time of year in the UK, it's not yet light when I leave home in the morning, and it's dark again before I get back. Since my village has no street lights, this means if I want to run outside I need to travel to one of the nearby towns to keep safe: I've tried running with a headlamp once or twice before, and it's really not safe on country roads, especially since many have no pavements! My three choices are to run in Cambridge after work, or get home and then travel to either Newmarket or Haverhill.

I've had a couple of really nice runs in Newmarket, and found a particularly good 2 mile loop which I'll run 2 or 3 times to get my miles in. I quite enjoy running laps like this, and as my fitness has returned I've turned these into progression runs - gradually building pace throughout, and finding I'm capable of building up to 7 min mile pace quite comfortably by the end.

Another good route I've been using is our club's 5km time trial course, in Haverhill. It's a combination of pavement and dirt path, and just has one slight incline in it. The fact that it takes me 20 mins to drive there, and of course another 20 mins drive home, means that I want to make sure it's worth my while going, and I don't just want to do 5km. So I've been running it twice - but usually the opposite of a progression run, pushing a bit harder on the first effort and then just relaxing and taking it easy the second time round, again just so I can get some more miles under my belt.

My front garden. Genuinely.
(Only up to the hedge though -
 I don't rent the whole of
But the best days are home study days - as I mentioned in my last post, I give myself a nice long break mid way through the day, and that's when I can do a longer run, in daylight, in the picturesque countryside that I'm so lucky to live in. Kirtling is right on the Cambridgeshire/Suffolk borders, and is truly beautiful - it's probably yet another sign of getting old that I'm enjoying the autumnal colours, whilst looking forward to seeing what it looks like in Winter too. My God, what has happened to

The furthest I've run so far since the operation was on one of these study days, when I managed just over 8 miles - but generally I'll run a 10km loop that I've found, which is challenging enough, what with the undulating landscape, the tough winds on the open parts, and the BMW drivers going too fast round corners (I now have a nice thorn-bush scar to go with the ones from my surgery - it was either the hedge or the bonnet!) If I'm free, I'll get out and run locally at the weekend too - but as you'll know if you're a regular reader, in an ideal world, weekends

Which leads me nicely into a report on the Histon 10km that I ran a couple of weeks back (you see how well planned this blog is...?)

Histon Bonfire Burn 10km

Nothing to do with the race to be honest,
just a random picture of a bonfire
I took when Harry and I went to a local display
in Linton last weekend.
So named due to its proximity to 5th November, and nothing to do with the lactic acid build up you get doing a hard 10km, I ran this back in 2012, and remember (remember) it well. In fact I remember it being horrific. I'd got there straight from a night shift driving coaches, and recall feeling somewhat tired and thoroughly drenched as we waited at the start line. There was a delay to the start - I don't recall why - and we all got wetter, and colder, and more and more miserable: it was without a doubt the most unhappy start area I've ever been in! I don't think I ran particularly well that day, and I was hampered by the fact that I'd chosen to wear tracksuit trousers to race in. I'd never race in anything other than shorts now, but in fairness, this was my first year of running, I was young and I didn't know any better! Well, youngish.

To be honest, until I ran it again, which jogged a few memories, I didn't remember much specifically about the route, except that it runs in part along the guided bus way that takes you into Cambridge. The reason I recall the tracksuit trousers is because, towards the end of the race, they had become so soaked through with rain - and had become so heavy - that they were starting to slip down as I ran. This led to a terrible sprint finish: using one arm to pump properly (hips to lips, hips to lips) but having to use the other hand to hold up my trousers.
A multi-terrain route, now in its 5th year,
much like my joke about looking
out for Fawkes in the road. 

Anyway, I digress - back to this year - and rather like Thurlow, I went into the race with limited expectations. I did however know I was now capable of going a bit quicker, and set myself a target of 8 min mile pace: this would be about 50 mins for the whole 10km (6.2 miles.) Right at the last minute, concerned that I was going to beat myself up if I didn't manage this pace, and knowing that putting myself under time pressure was the worst possible thing to do at this early stage of my recovery, I changed my watch to kilometres rather than miles, in the slightly unrealistic hope that this would somehow make a difference.

Which of course it did - it made me try to run even faster! Mainly because I set off for the first kilometre at what felt like a comfortable pace, then checked the watch and saw it was 4m30, and then realised that if I could maintain that for the rest of the race I'd get a 45min time. When I first started racing, 45mins was a time I was always pretty happy with for the distance, and to get this so soon after I'd begun my "comeback" would be hugely encouraging.

I am being slightly more sensible than I may have been in the past however, and even with this new target firmly in mind, I determined not to push too hard, and to accept any drop off in pace should it occur. Which it did - unsurprisingly - during a woodland section that seemed to last forever, although in reality it can't have been more than about a mile. I was pretty pleased to then return to 4m30 pace for the remainder of the race, and came in around 45m30, a result which gave me as much pleasure as any of my quicker race results from earlier in the year.

In fact, I would say I was happier with that than when I went under 41mins for the first time, at Littleport back in July. It's all to do with perfomance versus expectation, so a time significantly quicker than I was expecting to be able to achieve here at Histon understandably brought a more positive reaction than when I tried and failed 4 times to go sub 40mins over the summer, even if I did improve my PB in 3 successive 10kms in the process.

Tuesday Training

It's much the same with the training - because it's going better than expected, I'm really getting a buzz from it, even if I'm not quite as fast as I was only a few months back. A case in point being this week on Tuesday at running club: 1km reps, which was always my favourite speedwork session. However, whereas in the past this has always involved 5 reps, trying to run each one at slightly quicker than 5km pace, this time we were told we'd be doing 8 (2 sets of 4.)

After a 1km warm-up - always a good idea to do one of these, and especially if you're going to try going fast! - we set off on the first rep, and after the kilometre is up, we walked back to the start point for the 2nd rep. After 4, we had a short break (3 mins) and then did another set of 4. You use the walk back to the start line as your recovery time - I always walk it as slowly as possible! - and the idea is to try to keep the same pace up throughout the session. I was chuffed to bits to hold on to 4min per km pace all evening - with a slightly quicker one to finish. Again, not quite as quick as I may have done a few months back, but actually not all that far off, and so much better than I imagined I'd do.

Unfortunately, this session did also prove to be a bit of a wake-up call, since I was in a fair bit of discomfort the next day. Clearly pushing that hard was not the best idea! Because it was a home study day, I determined to go out on a run anyway, but just at a slower pace. This was not a great idea either - which I kind of knew, but I really didn't want to waste a rare daylight running opportunity, as previously discussed. I got round my 6 mile loop, and actually kept up a reasonable pace, but really didn't enjoy it, and suffered the remainder of the day. It forced me to rest for the next two days, before attempting parkrun this morning - more in a bit. No race planned for Sunday, and so I'm free to spend a bonus day with my son, though I may possibly go for a training run first thing, depending on what racing parkrun has done to my aging body when I wake up in the morning!

I was really looking foward to parkrun, since I intended to race it. The 10km at Histon, and the speedwork session, had given me the confidence to aim for 7min mile pace, which would get me round in just under 22mins, so that was the target. If I could do that, it would give me confidence for a 10km I have planned at the end of the month, where I hope to run at a similar pace, to give me a 43min time, give or take. I can't help but set myself targets, but what's nice is that I'm getting a real sense of achievement hitting them, even though they're some way off my old times. And to be fair, they're pretty realistic targets, based on what I'm comfortably achieving in training - in fact, they're possibly not demanding enough, but I think for the time being it's better to err on the side of caution than push too hard and risk a setback. I would never have this attitude normally - always aim high, if your running's going well, go for a PB - but for the moment, I need to reign that in a bit! All the more so given the conversation I had on Thursday with my consultant:

Changing my fitness regime?

So my three month check-up, and it didn't quite go as expected - I thought we'd simply be confirming everything had gone well, and working out when to do the operation on the other hip. However, after I mentioned how my running was going, he showed concern that I was trying to do too much too soon, and told me that he doesn't let his professional athlete patients return to competition until at least 6 months after this operation. Whilst I'm far from being one of those, I think his point was that if I'm racing, rather than just running, then it's effectively the same thing, relatively speaking.

More concerning than this - he asked if I still wanted the other hip done, which seemed a strange question given that both need doing to resolve the groin problem, which is why I ended up with him in the first place. But this began to make more sense when he explained to me that, if I keep working the hip hard by running all the time, the chances are I'll end up back with him in half a year's time needing a full hip replacement.

Not something you particularly want to hear, probably not ever but particularly if you're only 41! I asked him to explain, since I'd been under the impression that these operations would allow me to return to full training and full racing, and hadn't appreciated that I'd still need to ease off -- in fact if I'd known this, perhaps I wouldn't even have gone through with the operation at all, since it's only really when I train fully that the pain becomes unbearable - if I just stick to occasional running, I only experience a little discomfort, which I've learnt to put up with.

You want me to replace running with swimming? Are you mad?
He's a really good man, and very patient, and he was happy to explain that effectively a hip joint only has a finite amount of "cycles" before it wears out and needs replacing. Because of the damage I've done to mine, and because of the abnormality that I've been running with (the excess bone that he's now shaved off) effectively my hips only have about half the usual number of cycles. As he says, the time it takes to use those up could be 30 years or 3 years - it all depends how hard you work the joint. In other words, keep doing the mileage and the intensity that I hoped to, and they're not going to hold up for very long. He suggested alternatives - swimming (my heart sank, much like I probably would if I tried this) and cycling, which is a little more appealing, but he's realistic enough to know he's not going to stop me running completely. And to be fair, he didn't say I should - but that I really need to cut down, and get my exercise fix in other ways that are less traumatic to the hips.

I have to say I came away from the appointment absolutely gutted, since I'd really not expected this at all. He did say I could book the next operation if I wanted to - and I have requested a date since I may as well complete the other side in the hope that the discomfort will finally be sorted, which he does still expect to be the case. If the recovery goes as well as after this first op, then I know that I'll be back running 7 weeks after op 2, and that it won't take too long to regain a reasonable level of fitness - however, I'll probably try to refrain from booking too many races for the first 6 months as per his suggestion, and perhaps use the time to try out cycling and see if I can get into that.

Getting some perspective

Fortunately, it only took 24hrs for me to snap out of my slightly pessimistic frame of mind, and to see the positives from the situation: what he's told me is clearly sensible advice, and there are plenty of good runners out there who swear by the cross-training they do - so perhaps I can cut back on the miles and still remain competitive. Any cardio-vascular work is going to help with my running, as will anything that helps core strength - and these are all areas that, when my running is going well, I tend to ignore: I only ever fall back on gym work when I can't run for some reason! So cycle, gym, and less running - that's clearly the way forward for me now, so I can get as much out of my hips as possible before they give up! Other things to consider are treadmill rather than outside - more cushioned, less trauma on the joints - and if I do run outside, going off road rather than always pounding the pavements (something Paula Radcliffe, amongst others, is a big advocate of for precisely that reason - and she knows what she's talking about!)

So that's where I'm at at the moment - slightly thrown after a really promising period of recovery, but hopefully sensible enough to understand and accept the suggestions. And of course, well aware of how fortunate I am to still be able to run when so many people can't for various reasons. There have genuinely been times recently - and I'm not sure I ever really thought I'd say this, but it's true - when I've just been running at a gentle pace, with decent music on my ipod, enjoying the scenery and just loving the fact I'm back running again, without really caring what pace I'm going at.

Parkrun this morning

Getting up early every day for work is one thing - getting up early to travel all the way to Colchester just to run 5km is quite another, so just as well that's not really why I go: it's far more for the opportunity to see some good friends. This morning, the alarm got snoozed a few too many times, and I found myself running late and unlikely to make the 9am start time. The option was there to go somewhere more local, but I decided I'd rather try to make it, safe in the knowledge that I could always join in a bit late and still record my time. Which was fine in theory, until I realised I'd forgotten my watch in the rush to get out of the house.

(Photo by Evan)
In the end, I made it to the start line some 8 minutes or so after everyone else had begun - in fact, 8m33 to be specific, which I know since I made sure I checked with the time-keepers before I set off, so I'd be able to work out my time later once the official results came out. Not having the watch made it tricky to pace, a task made harder by the fact that I was running on my own for the first part - but I felt I was doing okay, and I was quite enjoying the challenge of trying to catch up with everyone else! In the end, I calculated a time of 21m35, which was almost exactly the 7min average pace I'd hoped for, although I suspect if I saw the mileage splits I'd see a big difference between the first and the last, since I was puffing a bit by the end.

I'll always want to race, and when I do, I'll always want to push myself to achieve targets. So long as I'm sensible about how I train in between, there's no reason why I can't keep doing that - just fewer races, more cross-training, and perhaps slightly more realistic long-term aims. I doubt very much that a 3hr30 marathon is within my grasp, based both on previous performances and this new, lower-mileage approach that I'm going to have to adopt -- but I would still like to have another go at breaking the 4hr barrier. More immediately - and perhaps more realistically -  I still reckon I can get my 10km time under 40mins, and hopefully my 5km time under 18.

I have plenty of running friends who are no longer able to do the miles they once did, or at the intensity they once could, for a whole variety of reasons. But they've not given up, they've just adapted their approach to running, and they still appear to enjoy it as a result.

A couple of friends have suggested that, if I do get into cycling, I could consider duathlons. Perhaps if I get into this, I may then start to think about getting some swimming lessons and doing some triathlons in the future too. There are always alternatives out there - and I reckon I still have a few more years of competing left in me yet.


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