Tuesday, 17 May 2016


This blog post has been a long time coming.....but it does finally look as though I am going to be able to blog predominantly about running rather than injury from now on, following a successful operation 8 weeks ago, and the welcome news that I am allowed to start running again. The following is a summary of what I've been up whilst unable to run, and what my hopes are for the future.

The operation

I had been expecting this second hip would require far less work than the first, since between operations I'd been able to get back to a relatively decent standard of running, and with almost no discomfort whatsoever. This suggested to me that, purely by chance, my consultant had fixed the worst hip first, and perhaps this one would just need a bit of tidying up. Not for the first time when it comes to running and injury, I was completely wrong.

I didn't really have a clue what was going on after the op,
but at least there was a nice view from my hospital room
The operation itself took longer than the first, and apparently they gave me a top up of anaesthetic part way through, which goes some way towards explaining why I don't remember a great deal of the conversations afterwards, and felt pretty grotty for the rest of the day. I even left my lunch, and if that's not an indication that I wasn't right, I don't know what is.

As a result, I didn't remember much about what the consultant said to me when he did his rounds later on that day - other than him making it pretty clear that this one had actually been much worse. I did remember being pleased when my physio came round to get me set up with the crutches - pleased because it was the same physio, Emily, who had helped me with my recuperation before, and so I knew I would be in good hands.


Things definitely progressed a lot slower this time around - I was on crutches for a full two weeks, whereas before I was able to ditch them after a few days. I shouldn't complain about this - the official guidance (and doubtless what my consultant thinks I did) is to take 4-6 weeks off work, whereas I only stayed off for 10 days, and I didn't really have any problems returning so soon, other than a bit of soreness when I was required to walk any distance, as I have to on tutorial days in London. It probably took a full 4 weeks this time before I was walking "properly" - again, last time it was probably nearer half that - and all this no doubt reflects the fact that more work was required in surgery. But I get the impression that this is still quite a quick recovery compared to a lot of people who have undergone a hip arthroscopy, and is apparently because I'm a bit younger than most who need them, and in pretty good shape (ish!)

So since the operation, I've been back to see Emily three times, and sandwiched in between these appointments I saw Mr Khanduja, who was able to tell me exactly what he'd had to do. As well as having to shave off some bone, as he did with the right hip back in August, it seems there was a lot more work required on the labrum - the area of cartilage that lines the hip socket. In addition to the expected tear, he told me that a "flap" of cartilage had come right away from the bone, and I believe he had to anchor this back into place. Other than telling me to take things easy though, he seemed pretty pleased with the way things had gone, and the fact I don't have to see him again for another 12 weeks suggests he's confident that recovery will be problem-free.

Every two weeks, I've been attending physio - not so much treatment, but a discussion about how things are going, and a new set of exercises to add in to my daily routine. I enjoy these visits - Emily is a runner herself so understands my desire to get back out there, and she has been tailoring the exercises I do with that in mind.

I hit upon the idea of taking my revision notes with me
to the gym, and reading through them whilst spending
an hour a day on the bike. Which probably looked a bit
weird, but it helped me pass my most recent set of exams,
and took my mind of how bored I was. Or rather, helped 
to shift the focus of my boredom onto something equally dull. 
In addition, this time around, I've been much better at maintaining my overall fitness by attending the gym. This includes an hour a day on the exercise bike, which is dull as anything  - to start with I was restricted to level 1 and it just felt too easy, although the main point of this is to regain full movement of the hip, not to build fitness. I use the heart-rate facility on the machines - which I know isn't 100% accurate but does give an idea - and no matter how fast I pedalled on the lower levels, I couldn't get above about 120bpm. At least it's becoming a little more interesting as I am allowed to increase resistance - I can now get up to around 140bpm, and I'm gradually upping the levels each week.

I've now also moved on to use the cross-trainer too, and this is much more like it - hard work, and I can already see and feel the difference in my leg muscles and glutes, not to mention my heart rate. I've also learnt how to safely lift free weights, in addition to using the usual static weight machines, and whilst I'm only using low weights at the moment, whilst concentrating on getting the technique right, I'm enjoying the variety it brings to my workout, and finding that I've been able to increase weight on the machines as a result too. At the moment, this is all restricted to upper body, but I can already notice a difference here too. Unsurprisingly, the belly is back again - I feel this is going to be an ongoing struggle the deeper I go into middle                                                                                        age! - but this should be easy enough to shift once I'm back doing proper mileage again.

I wasn't anticipating being allowed to actually run until at least 8 weeks was up - last time it was 9 weeks - but I pleaded with Emily at my 6 week visit a couple of weeks back, and she must have felt sorry for me because she checked me out on the treadmill (not like that) and gave me the go ahead to start again, with the proviso that I don't try to do too much initially. With this sound advice still ringing in my ears, I obviously went for a run as soon as I got home - but only for a kilometre or so, electing only to run to and from the gym either side of my daily sessions there for a week or so, and to judge how it felt before attempting to increase distance. I did also find myself on the treadmill at one point - no idea how that happened - and managed to knock out a 4 min kilometre, but I resisted the temptation to do any more, and ensured I rested the day after. No point getting this far and then suffering a setback by trying to do too much too soon.

Since then, I've gradually increased mileage, and am now up to 5 miles, although I've been restricted to running only once every three days. I'm in email contact with Emily now, so I can bother her in between sessions, and she agreed today that I can now step things up to every other day - although I have to keep the pace steady, and only increase mileage very steadily. This works fine with me, and fits with the advice I was given by my future coach (more in a bit on this) in that I should keep the running steady whilst I build back up, and use the gym to get my heart-rate up in between times.

What difference will the operations have made?

Lots of people have asked me how my hips are over the last year or so, and the weird thing is that, other than in the immediate aftermath of the operations, I've never had any pain there at all. The pain has always been more central, in the groin area, but this is a typical symptom of this kind of injury, and so I am very hopeful that I will no longer suffer in the same way. And of course, as I've been at pains to point out throughout my blogging, this "suffering" is all relative - nothing like the problems many others have had or still have, and it's never actually stopped me from being able to run (again, other than in the weeks immediately after the operation.)

However, what it has stopped me doing, I firmly believe, is progressing as I should have been able to. I had a reasonably promising start to my running, back in 2012, but this injury kicked in within a year, and ever since I've had the frustration of being unable to train and race as I'd have liked. There have been purple patches: periods when - for whatever reason - the discomfort has been more manageable, and as a result I've been able to train more regularly, with decent results. But equally, there have been (too many) periods when a hard race or training session has then knocked me out of action for the next few days, meaning training has been sporadic and, frankly, not particularly enjoyable. The 7 month period between operations was really encouraging, and so I can't wait to get going properly now that both sides have been done - because, in theory at least, I should finally be able to run without discomfort from now on. This was certainly the case in my most recent training run, which was as comfortable a run as I can remember for a long, long time.
My runBritain graph, showing clear peaks and troughs, rather than the steady upward progression I would have hoped for

I tend to use the word discomfort rather than pain, because the discomfort only ever really became pain if I overdid things. Short sharp training sessions or 5k races were manageable, even if I suffered a bit afterwards - but it was only really the longer runs that actually hurt as such. Consequently, looking ahead, I am particularly looking forward to being able to spend more "time on feet" - which as all runners know, is a phrase that crops up all the time when you embark on marathon training. Which leads me nicely on to my plans for the remainder of the year, and beyond

Making plans

So, having established I can now look ahead with some confidence, I've been able to start planning what races to target, and what sort of times to go for too. On the assumption that it makes sense to start off at a slower pace whilst building mileage, I'm not really expecting to see my 5km times come down that soon, so although I'll hope to attend the 5 remaining Kevin Henry club 5km fixtures, I'm not really targeting particular times for these. I'm looking forward to running some parkruns again, after a period of volunteering that I've thoroughly enjoyed, but again I don't anticipate being anywhere near the front of the field for some time, and will just continue to enjoy my Saturday mornings without any pressure, alternating between running and helping out.

Because I love racing so much, in addition I've entered a few shorter races - roughly one per month - although I'm not particularly worried about achieving a specific time in any of them. At least, not to start with.

June: Kirton 5 mile: Part of the Friday 5 series, which I enjoyed greatly last year, although I didn't race this particular one. I'm told this is a quickish course, although it will come too soon for me to grab a decent time - but I'm hoping to hook up with a good friend from Colchester to do this together, and it should be a fun evening. If I'm being honest, when I booked this I had it confused with the Girton 5, which is far more local, and only 5km, But don't tell anyone. It makes me look a bit stupid.

July: Ekiden Relay: Running the last leg (5km) in an Ekiden relay for my running club. The total of the legs adds up to marathon distance, with 6 of you in a team. I've been the last three years, and it's one of the most enjoyable events of the year. All the various teams and clubs set up tents and gazebos around the course, making for a great atmosphere, and I believe this year we have seven or eight teams there, so a big crowd of HRC runners. We're only submitting one "competitive" team, which I wouldn't get into anyway, so there's no real time pressure for me, with the emphasis on fun. Which is good, because I call this blog "Competing for Fun" and yet I'm often guilty of neglecting the fun bit!

August: Ipswich Twilight 10km: again a race I've chosen mainly because I enjoyed it so much last year. In fact, I did the 5k version rather than the 10k - but, as you may recall if you are a regular reader (why do I keep referring to regular readers, as if they may actually exist!) the 5k requires a qualifying time of sub 20mins, and whilst I could use my time from last year to get in, I'm not sure I'd be back running sub 20 by this stage, so there'd be a danger of coming last! So I'm in for the 10k, and looking forward to it. I would hope my times will have come down significantly by this stage, and will use this as a marker.

September: Langham 10km: I know nothing about this race, except that it's near my home town of Colchester, I'll know a fair few people doing it, and I'm hoping that I'll be back to my best by this stage, so it could possibly be a tilt at a PB. That said though, with the emphasis on increasing distance rather than speed, what I really want to do is, finally, nail a marathon.

October: Chelmsford Marathon 2016

So that's the big plan - and I'm more excited about this marathon I think than I was before Edinburgh in 2013 or London in 2014 - because of what I may be able to achieve there. The main reason for this optimism is that, coupled with the anticipated run of pain-free training, I'm going to be getting some proper coaching too, for the first time. This could be so important for me, since I have struggled to get things right in my previous two marathon attempts, and I'm sure that my coach (Siobhan, who I know through my running club) will help me address all the issues that accompany marathon training. These include such important things as getting the pacing right in training runs, getting your nutrition and hydration spot on both during training and of course for the race itself - and helping with the psychological aspect too, which I think becomes more important the longer the race. It certainly it does for me.
The route for the marathon - taking in all of Chelmsford's famous landmarks.....

I'll let Shiv determine how I progress towards the marathon, and it may be that some of the races mentioned above become training runs, whereas some may be useful to act as markers to gauge progress. I'll always have my parkruns to help me do that too, and although - as I mentioned earlier - I don't want to focus too much on 5k for the next few months, my times should naturally come down as I get deeper into the training.

As for my marathon time, I should really wait and see how things go before settling on a target, and I think that's something a coach would recommend too. It's very hard to judge, because my times across all distances up to half marathon suggest I should be capable of getting under the magic 3hr15 barrier, but my best marathon performance is over 4hrs! It's hard to say how much of this has been down to the injury - which shouldn't now be an issue - how much is down to preparing incorrectly - which again, with a coach, shouldn't be an issue either - and how much is simply down to not being very good at marathons!

Most decent club runners would say the magic barrier is sub 3hrs, and this is certainly a benchmark time to aim at in the future, but 3hr15 is the "good for age" qualification standard to get into the London Marathon, for my age category, and that is my target. Whether or not I achieve this in October, or whether perhaps in a marathon next Spring, it doesn't really matter, since neither would come in time for the June deadline to enter for 2017. So, like pretty much every runner I know, I've entered the general ballot to try to get in for next year. But I'm really hoping I can hit that target by June next year, in time to qualify for London 2018.

To be looking to improve by over an hour might sound ridiculous, and indeed might well BE ridiculous, but I'm keen to set myself tough targets now I'm "fixed" - even if I don't quite achieve them, I'll surely hit some PBs along the way as I try. This extends to all distances. I don't know how much quicker I can get, but I think (and hope) that I haven't achieved my potential yet, and it's this belief that has got me so excited about the next stage in my running "career." I use the word career quite wrongly, but the only other word I could think of was "journey", and I didn't particularly want to go all X-factor on you.

The new parkrun T-shirts have been rolled out, I finally
got around to ordering my 50 shirt (for running) and am now
able to order the 25 shirt (for volunteering.) Next up, the 100
club beckons. Some way to go before I catch up with my
club mate Terry, however, who has reached the 250 milestone.
In the meantime, whilst I've been plotting my future running plans, I've kept involved with the running community through volunteering and supporting. Some injured runners find it hard to watch others run, and I understand that - particularly if you're out for a ridiculously long time, or perhaps if you have no end in sight. For me, the worst part was running with an undiagnosed injury, so I've been relatively content to see out this latest period of inaction, safe in the knowledge that everything's now been done and it's all onwards and upwards from here.

In fact, I've thoroughly enjoyed having a run of marshalling at parkrun, which has proved a really good way to get to know a few more people at Great Cornard, which is such a friendly community. I also took the opportunity to get over to Great Notley recently too, to help out alongside some friends who are part of the core team over there. As a result, I've begun to wonder whether I might volunteer on a more regular basis - my previous volunteer/run ratio has always been about 1 in 4, but I think I'd quite like to alternate between running one week and helping out the next. It's a way of feeling much more involved in the feelgood factor that symbolises parkrun for me, and it will also ensure I don't focus too much on 5k running, as I build up the mileage in preparation for Chelmsford.

So there you go - a horribly lengthy blog, for which I can only apologise, but the end of a frustrating chapter, and I can't wait to get back to what I enjoy doing most - training hard, racing hard, getting some pbs, and Competing for Fun.