Lost, and Left Behind

I have been banging on on Facebook and Fetch about yesterday’s run so I suppose I ought to write about it here. I’d spent a big chunk of the day running the Fetch Everyone Marathon Talk Busway Purgatory Magic Mile On Tour At The Track In Cambridge Especially For Glenn. For clarity, I organised the event and not the race. It was quite a stressful experience and we were onto the 400m by the time I was calm enough to run. My 400m PB is very soft so I probably would have beaten it even in my current condition. Nevertheless, I chose not to take part in the 400m, the 800m or the final and traditional 100m sprint. I hadn’t warmed up and even on a hot day like it was yesterday, it would have been too much to expect my legs to cope well with caning it round and round the track.

I had a very pleasant run in the evening instead with DeaJay. We met up in a picturesque layby just off the A14 and had a run around Quy, out along a stream towards Lode then looped back to Horningsea. DeaJay was navigating up to this point which was why it was going so well. We could have turned right when we came up onto the road, run up to the bridge and run back down to Cambridge along the towpath. We could have done that, but I suggested turning left and trying to find a footpath down to the river instead.

Mistake.

We found a footpath towards the river which didn’t, in fact, reach the river. There is no footpath on that bank of the river in any case. We had a bit of a stomp through some nettles and thistles and round the edge of a field before we headed back the road. I decided that Diane really ought to navigate from there on. It would be so much easier.

We came back into Cambridge through Fen Ditton. Diane took us down a narrow footpath to the river again. It lead to the recreation ground then back to the church. We went through Fen Ditton and along the bike path to the Newmarket Road Park & Ride. From there we picked up the pace a little. We’d been trotting along at a decent pace. DeaJay was easily able to hold a conversation all the way around but I was struggling after the first few kilometers. I have a problem with my endurance in that I don’t really have much. I’m okay over shorter distances up to about 10k. After that, my pace falls off. DeaJay said that I just need more slow miles. She’s probably right. There’s no point in putting in 400m repeats all the time if you want to run a good half marathon.

Anyway, we had about 1km to go as we passed the roundabout at the top of Airport Way. I asked DeaJay if she wanted to push the last stretch and kicked for home before she said yes. Any thoughts I had of dropping her faded quickly as she responded easily. I pushed harder and harder and still couldn’t make any ground on her. She was moving easily and breathing evenly. I was heaving breath again. It wasn’t quite as bad as at the end of the KH 5k on Thursday night because I was moving more easily but I couldn’t get the zoom into my legs I needed. In the end, I applauded as DeaJay left me for dead. Sometimes, there are things which give you too much joy not to respond with happiness.

I was wearing my new inov-8s but the the big story for me was not the shoes but the fun I had on the run. I was practicing the efficient running techniques I’ve been learning and I found a difference in the final burst of speed. It wasn’t as hard to find speed as it usually is, it was just hard to find enough speed to stay with my friend. I didn’t mind in the least. It was a joyful, joyful run and I loved every step of it. Runs like this are why I love running.

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Separated By A Common Body Language

I think I was joking when I said in my last post that kilometres were bigger in the US than at home. Now I’m not so sure. I went out again on Saturday because the weather was cooler at last. There was some cloud cover and Chicago was doing its Windy City thing when Anne and I went out for breakfast so I thought I’d fill my boots – or at least my running shoes – with miles. My new inov8s hadn’t arrived in the hotel so I wore my Green Silence racing flats with their Union Jack design all over them. I didn’t look at all like a tourist. No, I had Union Jack shoes and my Thunder Run t-shirt. I was sorted.

I really wasn’t sorted at all. One of the differences between running in Cambridge and running in Chicago is that other runners do not acknowledge you. There are runners out here, ruining their knees, feet, ankles and the Sweet Baby Jesus alone knows what else on some of the least forgiving concrete pavement I have ever come across. They just don’t seem to notice that there is someone else out there with them. I tried nodding. Nothing. Waving. Nada. Saying “Hello!” or “Good morning!” Pointless. The last one especially because everyone had earphones in. I’d have thought you needed all your senses available to you when running around the city but Chicago’s runners evidently think differently. Anne thinks it’s just life in the Big City. You don’t engage with strangers in case you end up stabbed, shot, robbed of your iPod and Garmin and trying to describe your assailant to cynical cops in the back of an ambulance while a paramedic tries to pour some blood back into your body. I really hope that isn’t true. I prefer to think that it just isn’t part of the running culture over here in the same way as it is at home.

I ran out south again, this time along the path on the lake front. There is a marina with some large boats in it. There were some parties happening on a few of the boats. Northern Illinois were playing Iowa at Soldier Field and you’d have thought it was a home game for Iowa. Maybe it was. There were yellow shirts everywhere while I only saw about a dozen red NI shirts all day. I ran beside the lake down past the Field Museum, the aquarium and the Adler Planetarium. I was slow again. The atmosphere was quite humid. All I could really feel was the sweat in my hair and on my skin. My breathing was fine but I couldn’t get my legs to turn over. I was doing better than most of the others I saw out there. I was continually passing men and women taking walking breaks. There was one young man with cyclist’s calves who was running quite hard with a rucksack for about 500m at a time. He would come past me at a hell of a lick then stop and walk for a bit during which time I would catch and pass him again. He did this three or four times before our paths diverted and he headed away from the lake and into the city. He was wearing headphones and didn’t acknowledge my wave.

It’s my custom to ask runners who are walking or who have stopped if they are okay. Judging from the reactions of those I asked on Saturday, this doesn’t happen often here. I tended to get a look of either mild surprise or complete incredulity followed by a muttered “Yeah, fine” for the most part. One woman who had stopped to stretch out her hamstring by the pavement in Grant Park gave me a big smile and a wave in return. Must have been a tourist.

It started to rain just as I passed Soldier Field. I’d only done a little over three miles and I was bumping along at about 8:30 per mile. It was under marathon pace but well over the 7:45 per mile I’d been aiming at. I didn’t want to get caught out in the open in a thunderstorm so I turned and headed back to the hotel much more quickly. Suddenly, I had speedy legs. I tried to keep Helen’s words in my head as a kind of mantra: light feet, high cadence, counter-rotation, upright stance. I found my feet kissing the concrete as I kicked on for home. I abandoned my usual lean forward and felt myself stand more upright. I relaxed a little more and allowed my shoulders to counter-rotate the way they wanted to. I landed on my mid-step on each stride, allowed the foot to relax into the ground until my heel just touched down then felt the energy my foot had gathered push me back. In spite of the horribly surface, I hardly heard my footsteps. There was a light psh, psh, psh, psh instead of a heavy slap of rubber and plastic on concrete.

When I went to see Helen last week, she said that I could be a speedy runner. Now I know what she meant. I wasn’t suddenly running at 5:00 per mile pace but I was cracking along at less than 6:30 and feeling effortless. I know what it’s about now. I want to have this feeling each and every time I run. I just need more time, more coaching, more practice and the fear of being struck by lightning.

Oh, and the temperature at the end of my run? 27 degrees. No wonder I was sluggish on the way out.

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The Restorative Powers of Cricket

Last night’s run was a bit of a shocker. I’d waited until after seven to head out, partly because I thought I would be a bit cooler by then but I admit it was mostly because I was watching Step Brothers on television. I am supposed to be on holiday after all. It might have been a little cooler but it the air still wrapped itself around me like a hot towel in a barber’s shop as soon as I stepped out of the hotel.

Now, I know that everything in America seems just a little larger than necessary. Portion sizes are generous to the point of profligate in some places. Anne’s pancakes at breakfast yesterday morning were tremendous but even Desperate Dan would have struggled to finish them. Cars are vast. Cities sprawl. Personalities expand to fill even the largest venues. I wouldn’t have thought that something as foreign as a kilometre would also increase in size but it seemed to do just that last night. I set off at what felt like my usual warm-up pace of 5:30 per k down the slope towards Grant Park. I checked my Garmin after I’d been running steadily along the dreadful pavement for a few minutes. The watch said my pace was over 6:30 per k. I didn’t really feel that slow. I know it was hot and I was just jogging along but I thought I was quicker than that.

I tried pushing along a bit but my pace hardly increased at all according to the GPS. In the end, I only got as far as the southern end of the park before I headed back towards the hotel, rather demoralised. My mood lifted hugely when I spotted some young Indian men playing cricket on what appeard to be a completely trashed baseball diamond in the middle of the park. The wicket must have been an utter sod and they seemed to be using a tennis ball instead of a cricket ball. Nevertheless, they were giving it a good go. The bowler was what Blowers would have called “military medium” but the batsmen were having real problems dealing with the uneven bounce. I watched a couple of overs and the ball did everything other than go straight on. It kept down, stopped dead, popped up begging to be hit and the poor man at the crease didn’t know whether it was Thursday or kippers. One finally got some bat on the ball only to see it rocket skywards on a ballistic trajectory over the bowler’s head. He was easily caught by a fielder running in from long on.

Having been cheered by this reminder of home, I found a nice, shady slope of about 60 or 70 metres and did some reduced recovery hill reps. There were two lampposts on it dividing it nicely into thirds. I sprinted to the first, turned and jogged back down, then again sprinted to the second and jogged back to the bottom before a final hard sprint to the top of the slope. I jogged to the bottom again and repeated the drill after three minutes recovery and then again after 60 seconds. I would usually call that one set and do three or four sets. It was still hot, darkness was falling, I was getting increasingly strange looks and I needed to eat so I called it a day and jogged the half mile back to the hotel immediately after the final rep.

I was trying to apply Helen’s efficient running principles during the hill sprints. It wasn’t easy. I try to maintain good form when I’m sprinting. I think about increased cadence, light steps and balance and poise. I had the quick cadence thing but I felt each step quite heavily as I sprinted further up the slope. It was effective but not particularly efficient. I wasn’t going to worry the juniors at the Cambridge track with my abilities but I came home feeling better about the session than I thought I would when nothing was going right for me.

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My Left Foot

I’m on the injury bench again. It’s quite comfy. We have hypoallergenic cushions and buckets of chocolate as big as your head. You’d love it. Or you would if you didn’t have a marathon in October and were facing the loss of three weeks to three months of training.

After last weekend’s Runstock (thank you, David Mould) I was on top of the world. I came through a big weekend of hard miles intact but slightly stiff. I couldn’t find my favourite post-run shoes – K-Swiss Blade Lights – and instead pulled on an old pair of sandals. I wore them for about half an hour and pulled them off when I noticed that a pad was folded over and digging into the instep of my left foot. I couldn’t really walk on my that foot the next day.

I had a couple of days of not running. I had Monday off completely but on Tuesday I went down to the track to catch up with friends at the C&C Tuesday night training session. I wasn’t intending to run at all and hadn’t dressed in running gear or taken a pair of road shoes. I was wearing the kit I’d intended to take to the gym for a core workout including my blue Hattori shoes. At best, I was going to run a stopwatch for the track session and hold some clothes. The road group were heading out for a fartlek in the country with Neil as leader. He asked me to come along with them because it’s the session I’m going to be taking on my own later in the month. I almost said no, but I love the fartlek so I went out in my silly slippers and long gym shorts.

Neil got lost. He took a wrong turning and took us on a small detour. It didn’t matter much in the end. It added about three quarters of a kilometer onto the usual route but everybody got the reps they needed and a little more jog recovery. More to the point, my foot was okay. It had been fine during the day and I’d been a little worried before I set out but I had no problems with it all evening.

I didn’t run again until Friday evening. I missed C&C’s round of the Kevin Henry partly because I was still tired but mostly because I was helping out at the water station at the end. I didn’t want to run another 22:30 5k which was all I thought I’d manage on tired legs. On Friday, I did two long reps of 5 miles each with four minutes recovery with Alan Baldock alongside me on his bike. I was quite tired at 9 miles but I’d been keeping a steady 8:35 to 8:40 per mile. I was comfortable at that pace and was cruising along easily enough. I had another four minutes before starting my final 5 mile rep. Two miles into it, I felt my foot begin to throb and just before the end of the third mile I felt a sharp pain and had to pull up.

My left instep is angrily inflammed now. I’ve been treating it with ibuprofen gel to reduce the pain and inflammation, rest and elevation. I’m going to rest it for the week I’m away in Scotland next week and see a physio when I get back if the current dull ache and reddened appearance hasn’t gone.I might need an x-ray or a scan so if you know a way to blag one of those, please let me know. I’d like to rule out a stress fracture or a serious soft tissue injury.

Whatever happens, I’m withdrawing from the Amsterdam marathon. Every time I try to increase the intensity or duration of my marathon training, I get injured. I don’t think that this is not a training injury but I’m fed up feeling like this. I just don’t think that my body can cope with high-intensity marathon training. All this to break four hours for the first time. It’s just not worth it. Instead, I’m going to transfer my entry to the half marathon and run it if I can. I can take a break from running now, continue my cross-training on the bike and in the pool to maintain my fitness then when I restart my running do a shortish programme on the run-up to Amsterdam in October. That way, I can have a holiday with my friends and enjoy the weekend with the prospect of 13.1 instead of 26.2.

There are other things I can do. I can concentrate on 5k and 10k road races with occasional half marathons just because I like running 13.1 miles and I’d like to see how quickly I can do it. There’s a series called the A1 which is made up of a lot of local races at a variety of distances from 15 miles to 5k. It would be fun to do the whole lot in 2013 and fit in my first triathlon as well at some point. The important thing is that I’m changing the focus of what I do. I just can’t do distance, not now. Maybe I’ll be able to go long again in the future but I just want to keep running, get quicker and enjoy myself. I can do all that much better without the pressure of 26.2 hanging over me all the time.

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