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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