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Getting to know your injury

Looking north from Crackneck during yesterday's run

All regular runners, or at least those past the age of 40, have those injuries which are "old friends".  They may be there all of the time, or only occasionally, but the symptoms have become very familiar and you have learnt what can be tolerated and what is becoming serious.

In my case, I have a right knee, right heel and lower back problems that have been with me for many years.  The knee and heel hurt most days when walking or running (or even when typing this), while the lower back problem comes and goes.

Looking south from Cromarty Hill during yesterday's run

I now have a right calf problem (strange how it's all in the same leg......not!), that I'm learning how to manage.  In the last week, I have stepped up my mileage after resting the calf strain for a couple of weeks.  Since my blog post two days ago, I ran 22km yesterday (a bit of a struggle over the last 5km in very humid conditions) and a 12km today (relatively quick), conscious of calf stiffness, but without it affecting my gait in any discernible way.  Yet, while treating myself to the new Star Wars movie earlier today, there was spasmodic sharp pain in the lower calf while sitting, so there's something going on.

I'll keep running the higher mileage so long as the calf pain doesn't get worse, but I have a feeling that it's going to be around for a while.  Not long enough to become an "old friend", I hope.

Long runs needed

The You Yangs, where I plan to do a long run next Monday

It is now more than four weeks since I ran further than 20km in a single run, not a good situation for someone planning a 64km trail race in less than four weeks.  Not only does it make me suspect my physical fitness for an ultra-distance trail race, but also impacts on my psychology.  Throughout my running career, high mileage has brought confidence and results, and that experience is hard for me to ignore.

I'm still carrying a minor right calf strain that was aggravated on Sunday's run, and although I managed to get around this morning's faster 9km (after a 4km warm-up) without inflicting further damage, I could feel tightness and minor pain the whole way.  I will not start in the Bogong to Hotham (B2H) if there is any residual pain or stiffness in the calf, but also won't start unless I successfully get through at least two long (30+ kilometres) runs beforehand.  The first will be a training run next Monday, possibly in the Victorian You Yangs (near where I will visiting next week), and the second may be the annual Beyond the Black Stump FatAss Run near Berowra on New Year's Day.

In a perfect world I will manage both runs without problems and the calf will be pain-free by 10 January.  On the other hand, I have mentally accepted that I may not be able to run and looked up the last date for getting my money back on the race (27 December) and my motel booking (1 January).  As I mull over my options and fitness, it is becoming clearer in my mind that running well in the Six Foot Track Marathon on 12 March is more important to me, and is not something I want to jeopardise by running B2H when unprepared.

Maybe a misjudgment

Negotiating the mangroves bordering Riley's Bay

I took a chance yesterday and ran the longest and hardest run since straining my right calf in a race two weeks ago.  Normally I would assume at least three weeks recovery was necessary for a soft tissue injury, but with an ultra-distance trail race looming in early January, I felt the need to get training seriously again.

Though I started out slowly, and never felt like I was cruising, I got through the seriously hilly 14km run unscathed and at a reasonable average pace.  My mind was focused on my calf the whole way, but I couldn't detect a recurrence of the injury.

Traversing Maitland Bay

Now, I knew that running longer this morning might be tempting fate, and my initial plans were for an easy and flat 20km.  But when club-mates, Kirsten and Melissa, said that they were planning a no-pressure two hour run on trails in beautiful Bouddi National Park, I found it hard to resist and rationalised that that was the distance I was planning anyway.  Kirsten and Melissa are good company and friendly rivals of mine and I further rationalised that if I could get through two hours of running with them, I could consider my calf fixed and resume normal training.

The first few kilometres were no problem, though I was quite tired from yesterday, but then I rolled the suspect ankle as we traversed some mangroves and shortly afterwards hyper-extended the same calf when I misjudged a step.  From that point on I was conscious of some pain in the lower calf the whole way, though it moved around a bit.  I finished the run as intended, but the calf has since been somewhat painful.  I enjoyed the run, but should have stuck to my original plan.  Tomorrow I will just walk five kilometres, as I usually do on Mondays after a heavy running weekend, and am hoping that by Tuesday the calf feels normal again.  If not, I will be kicking myself.

Lack of patience

A wintry looking evening at Terrigal when I went for a short
evening walk

I haven't been able to feel any pain from my calf strain for the last five days, either walking or running (though my chronic right heel problem bothers me most of the time), but have stuck to my plan of increasing my running distance by one kilometre each day.

My base fitness should be good, given the last six months of fairly steady training, but even on these very short jogs I have been feeling unfit.  My heart rate has been barely going above 120bpm and my quads feel stiff and leaden.  It's probably all mental, but that matters too.

Potato chips were few and far between for the larine residents

I feel like I need to snap out of it, with Bogong to Hotham just a month away, but worry that the weakness in my calf is still there even though I can't feel it.  Today my impatience got the better of me, and though I stuck to the planned 5km run (plus a few kilometres of walking), I stepped up the pace with the goal of getting my heart rate a little higher and my legs moving faster.  I survived unscathed running the last 3km under 5:00/km pace and the last under 4:30/km, without really straining.  Pushing it up the last hill, I did wonder what I would tell myself if the calf tore at that point and whether I should quit while I was ahead, but I ran through to the end safely.

I can't say that the calf problem is behind me, and it probably isn't, but I needed a circuit-breaker to get my confidence up a little.  If there's no follow-up pain on tomorrow's easier 6km, I might try running the whole of the Trotters' 14km "Woody's Wun" on Saturday, but non-competitively.

Two types of runner?

Heading north along the Lake Front Trail towards downtown
Chicago

I sometimes think there are two kinds of runners - those who are happy to train on out-and-back courses and those who will always look for a loop.

When I pulled out of the Central Coast Half Marathon ten days ago with a calf strain, I ended up walking back along the course for an hour with another runner who had also pulled out.  She was from Chicago and I commented that I thought Chicago one of the most boring places to run.  She didn't agree and countered that it had the wonderful trail along Lake Michigan.  This is true and I'm very familiar with the trail from extended business trips to Chicago in years past and more recently visits to Sharon who is working there for a year.  The trail is scenic and extremely well patronised by runners, walkers and cyclists.

Looking south along the Lake Front Trail
[Photo:  Alanscottwalker]

As an occasional run, the Lake Front Trail is fantastic, but to run there every day would drive me nuts.  It obviously didn't bother my new friend, perhaps supporting my casual observation that there is a cohort of runners defined by their willingness to run out-and-back, often on the same route.  I know and have known runners who never give it a second thought.  So long as they are running in a safe and conducive environment, it's fine.

Personally, I avoid running out-and-back like the plague, and know other runners of like mind.  Psychologically, running out-and-back seems harder to me.  If I run a loop course, I feel like I am going somewhere.  Perhaps it is mentally more stimulating, but I doubt that it helps me train harder (though it may make training run more palatable on those days when it's hard to get out).  On the other hand, it could be argued that the runner going out-and-back is toughening themselves mentally whilst doing the same training.  There's no right or wrong.  It's just a distinction that interests me.

With respect to my current training, I have so far stuck to my plan of increasing my running distance by one kilometre per day this week.  Today I managed 4km of walking followed by 3km of running without feeling any pain in my strained right calf, though I already feel like I have lost fitness from two weeks ago.  Hopefully, sticking with the short-term plan will bring back the feeling of fitness without risking the recurrence of the calf injury.

Coming to terms

My walk this morning took me along the
Kurrawyba Lane

Hope of running the Bogong to Hotham 64km (B2H) in five weeks time hasn't totally gone, but I'm starting to come to terms with the likelihood that I may not be in the shape to beat the challenging 34km cut-off time during the race.  If the time doesn't look to be in my grasp then I won't run.

There's an almost constant analysis going on in my head about what are my priorities and the best way to achieve them.  Although I really want to run B2H, my most important race in the next nine months is the Six Foot Track 45km on 12 March.  The two certainly aren't mutually exclusive, but I don't want running in B2H to risk my chances in Six Foot.  This means not running B2H unless I'm in good shape.

Terrigal Beach was getting ready for a big day of
beach activities

The question then is, can I be in good shape in five weeks time.  It doesn't seem likely if I take off the usual three weeks for a soft tissue injury, as seems to be the problem with my right calf.  I need to get running again sooner rather than later.  Since the run on Thursday morning that brought renewed calf pain after 6km, I have walked 5km each day with no pain.  I can do single leg heel raises without pain.  This makes me think the injury can't be that serious.

So, I have a new flexible plan.  Starting tomorrow with an easy 2km jog, I'm going to increase the distance by a kilometre a day for the rest of the week and see what happens.  If the gradually increasing distance doesn't re-strain the calf, then my supposition is that there will be no setback to the repair process and I'll get to next week with a stronger calf and some running kilometres under my belt.  Another low kilometre week will then get me to the three-week soft tissue recovery time and I'll step up the training.

If at any time during this process the calf strain reoccurs, I'll back off, and write off B2H.

Looking for positives

View from Barangaroo during today's walk in Sydney

With just 500 metres to go on my first attempt to run since Sunday, my lower right calf suddenly started hurting again.  It was only a short run (6.2km) and had gone well up until that point with no pain at all.  I was just starting to congratulate myself on my injury management and plan the next few weeks training.  Then, in just a few steps, I went from optimism to frustration.

Sydney skyline from Barangaroo during today's walk

My first thoughts were that if I could just have completed the run pain free, then the injury would have another day of repairing, and tomorrow I would have had an even better chance of surviving the same short run.  More frustration.

However, later I could see a few positives from the experience.  Firstly, the injury is real and I had begun to fear it was just a niggle that could have been safely ignored in last Sunday's race.  Secondly, the "reinjury" this morning has only set me back a few days, not weeks.  And thirdly, when it happened this morning, I was near the end of the run and stopped pretty quickly so it's probably not as badly damaged as on Sunday.

Circular Quay during today's walk

The whole episode preyed on my mind all day as I walked around Sydney on a pre-committed day in town, and I think a week of walking followed by a week of short easy runs should be enough to get running seriously again without losing too much fitness.  I could feel the calf a little while walking in Sydney, but it wasn't too bad.  More like a cramp than a tear.

Perspective

Looking towards Wamberal on my evening walk

Sustaining a running injury is a "first world problem" unless you are a professional athlete.  I'm not minimising the impact an injury can have on someone who is dedicated to, or maybe obsessed with, running, but it all needs to be kept in perspective.

Terrigal this evening

That's what I have been trying to do since straining my right calf during last Sunday's race.  I had built up the importance of the race in my mind and really was upset at not realising my expectations.  It's a missed opportunity that may not be repeated, but it's not life-threatening, or even lifestyle threatening, and definitely not unique.  It's not hard to make a list of running friends who have had bigger dreams smashed in just the last year.  Nevertheless, it's hard to stop thinking depressingly about the race outcome, and I guess the hurt will last a while longer.

On the positive side, I'm now referring to my injury as a calf strain rather than a calf tear.  After being painful when walking on Sunday and yesterday, the pain is barely perceptible today, and I went for a gentle walk this evening.  I'm trying to avoid undue optimism, or resume running too soon, but if I manage walking without pain tomorrow and Thursday I'll try a short jog on Friday.  I would really like to do the Trotters Run on Saturday morning, because it's one I mapped and carries my name (Dave's Damn Run), but common sense tells me it would be a mistake to run with others so soon.

Tantalising failure

Feeling good at 5km
[Photo courtesy of Jenny Barker]

As I went through the 8km mark, gradually closing on a bunch of runners in front of me in today's Central Coast Half Marathon, I told myself that I just had to keep going like this for another 50+ minutes and I would have a good run.  I had avoided looking at my watch so didn't know what my pace was, but club-mate Melissa was one of those I was catching and I was pretty sure she was going to run in the low 90s (final time 92:26).

Then, on a minor corner on the winding bike path, I felt a little twinge in my lower right calf.  Twinges come and go all of the time at my age, so I concentrated on maintaining my form and hoped it would go away as most others do.  Five hundred metres later it was still there, and although I had easily maintained my pace, I was starting to worry that it might be more than a twinge.  It was now moderately painful on every step.  I ran another couple of hundred metres trying to favour the calf a little and loosen it up.  That didn't work, and I knew I had to make a decision.  I could keep running and it might yet go away - maybe just a minor cramp.  But it could also get worse and if I pushed on it might become a serious injury, taking a month or two to heal.

With great frustration, I decided the risks of continuing were too great, and the rewards too small, and stopped at about the 9km mark.  Then, I had a long walk back, sharing my misery with a girl who had also dropped out, until we were lucky enough to get a lift to the finish with club-mate Jenny who had been out taking photographs.

I'm disappointed and depressed.  Disappointed that I didn't capitalise on my fitness and see what I could run for a half marathon at present.  I can speculate, but that's not reality.  Depressed because I now fear the injury will significantly hamper my preparation for the Bogong to Hotham 64km in early January.

Eight hours later, the calf is sore walking around, though not acutely painful.  I hope my DNF has indeed saved me from a worse injury.  Nevertheless, history tells me that regardless of what therapy I employ it's going to be something like three weeks before it is whole again.  I know I've had a good run for six months and was overdue for a running injury, but that doesn't make it any easier.

Does it matter

The sun rises behind Terrigal Haven this morning
[Photo courtesy of Jenny Barker]

After supervising the usual Trotters track session as the sun rose at Terrigal Haven this morning, I headed out unenthusiastically for my own 10km run on a day forecast to be very hot.  Even though it was not that bad at 7:00am, the run was not enjoyable.  It was hard, on top of yesterday's lethargic short run, to believe I had any chance of running a good Half Marathon in three days time.  Even my chronic right heel was bothersome despite a light training week.

Experience tells me that I've done the training and that I won't run that badly on Sunday.  However, part of the reason it's all weighing on my mind a little is that exactly how well I run will impact my plans for the next nine months.  If I finish in a time that gives me any confidence that I could run a near 3-hour marathon in April, then I'll delay the start of my planned three-month hike around Ireland until after that marathon.  It's unlikely I'll ever have the chance, small as it is, to run that kind of time again.

If my time on Sunday gives me little hope of a sub-3 marathon in April then I'll give the marathon a miss and start my hike earlier - an attractive outcome because I am looking forward to the hike and early spring will be a better time to start.

I haven't booked any flights yet and also need to start on the detailed planning, so I need to make a decision one way or the other.  I'll be trying as hard as I can on Sunday and hoping that I'll get a clear indication.  Since both outcomes do have attractions, what am I worried about.

Strava

The Wycombe Road Hill

I felt very guilty running just 7km with the boys this morning after a 3km warm-up.  The traditional run includes an effort up one significant hill, which is logged on Strava, along with efforts up a few smaller ones.  I didn't feel that fresh warming up, but my legs didn't feel as tired as recently.  It was more a lack of flexibility and looseness that hampered my running, but I did feel stronger and neared my best time for the last few months for the climb up the Wycombe Road hill, though I have never run up it as hard as I can.

I'm only a recent convert to Strava, and really haven't got into it as much as I could.  I think there are a number of other well-known local hills I could identify as segments.  It is a bit addictive checking your own times as well as those of other Strava users on the segments, and does encourage you to try a bit harder than otherwise.

The run this morning finished with a couple of kilometres on the flat Terrigal Drive and I loped along at under 4:20/km reasonably comfortably, which was encouraging.  Hopefully, with another four days of easy training I will have loosened up some more.

Natural Bridges National Monument

Owachoma Bridge


When travelling the US and Canada for a year in a campervan in 1985/86, I had the opportunity to run in some places of awe-inspiring beauty.  Even though some of the runs were quite short, I still remember them well and an 8.5 mile run in Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah is a good example.

We were there in mid-January, the depths of winter at an altitude of 6500ft, and had the entire campground and National Park to ourselves.  It was cold and crisp, and I can remember standing outside our van after dark looking up at a brilliantly starlit night sky in absolute silence and stillness watching for satellites and the more frequent flashing lights of airliners passing noiselessly far overhead.

Kachina Bridge


There was a scenic loop drive through the park that we travelled earlier with overlooks to the three spectacular natural rock bridges for which the park was named.  The road was well-surfaced, undulating and roughly followed the edges of a plateau with occasional views into the bordering canyons.  The vegetation was mostly pinyon-juniper forest with plenty of snow on the ground.  I can just remember cruising around the same loop the next morning soaking up the scenery and solitude, and feeling privileged to have it all to myself.

For yesterday's training, I just walked 5km, and for today ran an easy 6.5km with my daughter who is visiting the area.  I did feel a little looser and fresher today, so maybe my taper is working.

Wake up call?

I skipped the run back along Wamberal Beach to Terrigal
and ran on the road instead

Yesterday's easy 6km jog was anything but easy.  It was humid, which didn't help, but I felt lethargic from the outset and my legs just didn't want to run.

Today's Saturday Trotters' run was Enzo's Edventure, a particularly challenging 15km to which my fatigued legs were not looking forward.  I told myself that once the adrenalin and competitive juices started pumping I would find that I wasn't as tired as I thought.  I ran 3km to warm up but still didn't feel very inspired and then when we set out on our "Edventure" I struggled up the early steep hills, further back in the field than I have become accustomed to recently. Reminding myself that I'm supposed to be tapering, and hoping that I would find it easier as I warmed up, I tried not to worry and just settle into a comfortable pace.

As the run wore on, I did start catching people, including some of the early front-runners, but never felt comfortable.  My legs feel strong, but tired, and I'm not moving freely.  I also felt some twinges in my hamstrings on some of the steeper descents, possibly sciatic, and there's an unwelcome stiffness in my lower back.  I wimped out on the last section along the beach from Wamberal and ran the road alternative, telling myself that cambered soft sand was unwise when my bad right knee was also hurting, but I was probably just looking for an excuse not to make the run any harder than it already was.  My time of 1:15:00 for just under 15km wasn't as bad as feared, but wasn't achieved easily.

I was going to run 20-25km easy on the road tomorrow, but now think the smarter strategy would be to do a much shorter run, or maybe just a walk.  I will feel guilty about missing a longer run, but it's hard to see how missing it will be detrimental to my fitness for next weekend's Half Marathon.  I definitely need to freshen up.

How important is running

Keith (in green hoops) just ahead of me in a 3000m race in
Hamilton, NZ, in January 1979.

I have a long-time friend, Keith, who was a talented runner in his prime and with whom I have run many miles over the past forty years.  He has struggled with a knee problem over the last decade that has severely limited his ability to run, and despite doing some swimming and cycling for fitness, is desperate to get back to running.  Like me, running has played such a large part in his life and self-perception, that its absence really is depressing.

Keith has tried arthroscopy and various other treatments, and can walk without significant problems, but misses his running so much that he has booked in for a partial knee replacement next week.  If you Google "running with a partial knee replacement", you can find instances of runners doing so successfully.  You can also find a study that suggests no difference in knee replacement failure rates after seven years between two groups, one of whom exercised more vigorously than advised by their surgeons.  However, I couldn't find any website where doctors recommended running, especially long-distance running, after a partial or total knee replacement.

Partial and total knee replacement diagram
[Source:  Wikipedia]

I'm concerned for the welfare of my friend.  Although I understand completely what is driving him to have this surgery, I fear that his post-op resumption of running will risk failure of the joint replacement and maybe even leave him worse off than at present.  However, I also know that I don't know what I would do in the same situation.  Given that I hope to keep running for many years to come and already have one knee with problems, I suspect I will find out at some point.  In the meantime, I have my fingers crossed for a successful surgical outcome for Keith, and do hope he can realise his ambition to resume running.

Overtrained?

My run today took me along this stretch
of the Central Coast Highway

Peaking for an event can be as much a mental challenge as a physical challenge and the mental challenge has two dimensions.

The first is going into a race with confidence that you are in good shape.  This means an absence of injuries, a feeling of freshness, and the knowledge that your preparation has been good.

The second mental challenge can be tapering sufficiently, something I find difficult.  I don't think I can recall, in fifty years of racing, ever feeling during post-race analysis that I had tapered too much.  On the other hand, there have been plenty of times I have wondered whether I was over-trained or not sufficiently rested, when disappointed with a result.

Like many regular runners, I feel guilty when I cut back my training and worry that I will lose condition and put on weight.  My rational self tells me that I could probably not train at all for two weeks before a race and still do well, but I don't think I could cope mentally with such a strategy.  However, I do know that I need to ease up more than I do.

With eleven days to go to the Central Coast Half Marathon, I'm tired and over-trained.  I ran 16km this morning and although my legs felt strong, they also felt very tired, particularly on the climbs.  My pace was OK, but I need to work to retain that feeling of strength and lose that fatigue.  I tell runners I mentor that two weeks out from a marathon they should run 75% of the usual distance with 75% of the usual intensity, and for the last week, 50% of distance and intensity.  I met the distance goal today, but not the intensity goal.  I need to me more disciplined.

Grand Canyon...again

Early morning light as the descent begins

When travelling in the US in June of this year, I had yet another opportunity to run to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and return - my third time.  I feel very lucky, as an Australian living on the other side of the world, to have had so many chances to run in such a spectacular environment.

Reaching the Colorado River

The two previous times, I have visited the Canyon in the depths of winter and have had to deal with snow and ice at the higher elevations, but this time I was there in the early summer and had to deal with high temperatures.  (I heard later that a Japanese tourist had died from heat exhaustion on the same trail the previous day.)

Encountering a mule train on the ascent

Knowing it was going to be hot, I left just before dawn to jog the 3km to the Bright Angel Trailhead, and began my descent in the early light.  It's hard to describe how spectacular the scenery is.  There are overlapping canyon walls receding into the far distance, all becoming more luminescent as the sun rises.  Far below, the Colorado River runs out of sight in the seemingly bottomless canyon.  Of course, you can't run looking at the scenery because one misstep could send you over one of the sheer drops ever present to one side or the other as the trail switch-backs down into the abyss.  Instead, I stopped briefly and frequently to take it all in.

Halfway up the South Kaibab Trail

It wasn't cool, and by the time I reached the river 16km and just over two hours into the run, it was starting to get warm.  A few kilometres later after crossing the river on a high suspension bridge, I refilled my Camelbak with water at the small "ranch" there catering for campers and overnight lodgers, recrossed the river on another bridge and began what I knew would be a tough climb up the South Kaibab Trail.  I was hoping to run as much as possible, but as it got warmer I found it harder and my pace slowed.  There was very little running going on by the time I got to the top in hot conditions and the flattish 3km along the rim back to our motel room was a real grind.  My time was 5:50, a little faster than the last time I ran, but a lot slower than the first.

A spectator at the top of the climb

One day, I hope to run from "rim to rim" which will take some organisation, since the road distance between the two is 340km, though I did notice that there is a daily bus between the two in summer.....hmmmm!

I joined my regular Tuesday morning Trotters friends for their usual hilly course this morning.  I warmed up first with a few kilometres and felt very lethargic, but gradually got going.  I ran alright, but could feel my legs tying up on the hill climbs with fatigue from Sunday.  Otherwise, no apparent harm done by Sunday's run.

Hornsby to Brooklyn

My trail running club-mates on their way to Hornsby

The trail run from Hornsby to Brooklyn that I scouted two weeks ago for Terrigal Trotters was on yesterday morning.  As we travelled by train to the start at Hornsby, having car-pooled to Brooklyn, I wasn't feeling that fresh and wondered about the wisdom of my third 42km tough trail run in fifteen days.  On the plus side, I had already determined that I would be tapering, and hopefully freshening up, over the next two weeks before having a crack at the Central Coast Half Marathon.  On the negative side, I had a number of niggles - lower back, quads, right heel - that could all turn into something more serious when I was running tired and long.

The first creek crossing proved a challenge

If I didn't feel an obligation to participate in an event I had organised, maybe I wouldn't have run, but the camaraderie on the train revived my spirits.  It had rained all night and most of the previous day, and more rain was forecast, but miraculously it had stopped as we set out on the run north along The Great North Walk.  Only a few kilometres into the run we encountered a flooded creek which took time and care to cross and we wondered what other challenges we would meet but the rest of the run turned out fairly routine.  Somehow, I ended up running on my own pretty much the whole way, with a faster group of five ahead of me and a slower group of four some way behind.  It was probably for the best, since I would have run harder as part of the leading group and perhaps risked injury.  Running on my own, I did things at my own comfortable pace, though still became very tired over the last third of the course.  The climbs were relentless, often involving huge step-ups, and the descents never allowed you to relax.  The more tired I became the more reluctant I was to trust my leg muscles on the very technical trails.

I finished, tired and sore, particularly my suspect right heel, in 7:45.  This was a disappointingly slow time, but still 1:40 faster than two weeks ago.  The real test of any damage came today when I walked an easy 5km.  My heel was stiff and painful, but I think it will come good by tomorrow, and my legs and back are aching.  However, nothing seems bad enough to change my training plan which now involves a steady taper to the half marathon in two weeks.

Success?

Handing over to Les at the second change-over in this
morning's Club relay
[Photo courtesy of Jenny Barker]

It's a bit sad when you classify a race as a success because you didn't get injured, but that's how I feel about this morning's 5km leg in the Trotters annual Tag Team Time Trial.  Somehow I didn't record my time on my Garmin, but estimate it was about 21:00.  I could feel my right hamstring tugging a bit after 2km so backed off a little, but managed to maintain a good pace.  It wasn't a stellar performance because two runners I might hope to beat on a good day, Graham and Damo, both started around me and ran a little faster.  However, given my body hasn't fully recovered from last Sunday's trail marathon, I'm pretty happy.

It didn't look so rosy when I started my warm-up soon after 5am in the dark and light rain.  The first few kilometres were slow and hard work, and it was hard to believe that yesterday's easy 6.5km jog had finished with optimism that I would be moving freely today.  However, I stuck to my plan of running about 10km before the relay leg, and by the end of that time was happier with my flexibility and speed.

After the relay leg, I jogged 3km back home, and although my legs were tired, I don't feel like I have done any damage.

Nagging concern

Those were the days!  On my way to a Personal Best 14:26
5,000m in the 1977 Victorian Interclub A Grade Final

I ran a little harder this morning on my 10km to see whether my legs had loosened up at all.  The pace was faster, and though moving more freely than yesterday, I don't feel ready to run hard over a short distance as will be required in Saturday's club relay.  There's 48 hours to go, and with just light training planned, that may be enough to loosen up.

Getting a massage was suggested by a friend, but it doesn't seem sensible to try something new at this juncture.  I think I'm too "old school" anyway, and have a bias towards letting my body sort itself out.  I did resolve while running, however, to find out if there was anybody willing to take my place in the relay and am pursuing that option.

I also decided that if I am going to run, then I will warm up for at least 10km beforehand, including the planned run-throughs, and also that I won't try to run faster than a comfortable pace, particularly in the first kilometre.  After all, the event is just a bit of fun and there's not a lot riding on the result.

Risk mitigation

Runners wait at the first change-over in last year's club relay

I have committed to run one or two legs in an intra-club relay this coming Saturday morning.  The format matches teams of two, with teams picked by the organiser to ensure as close a finish as possible.  The race is over a 10km course and each member runs either one 5km leg, or the 2km and 3km leg on either side of the 5km leg.

My allocated partner and I are still discussing who will run which legs, but regardless, I will be running a lot faster than I have in recent times and that carries the risk of injury.  In my experience, most runners, including myself, don't want to let their relay teams down and give their all.  I'm afraid that if I still have fatigue and stiffness from last Sunday's hilly trail marathon, running as fast as I can will tear something.  Probably, if I was smart, I wouldn't have put my name down to participate.  But it is a club event, I enjoy relays, and I was unable to run last year because of injury.

Action at the second change-over last year

So my focus this week has been on mitigating the risk of an injury occurring.  On the plus side, three days after the marathon I can't identify any new injuries and my troublesome right heel seems to be functioning OK without serious pain.  The muscles which really took a buffeting on the steep hills - quads on the downs, and glutes on the ups - feel strong enough, but are stiff and lack flexibility.  I ran nearly 17km this morning at a fairly slow pace and wasn't moving well, though better by the finish.  The story was the same yesterday.  I'm trusting that flexibility will return if I keep training without forcing the pace, but I am running out of time with only two days to go.

The other precaution I will need to take is a long warm-up before the relay, including some fast run-throughs.  I will also try to persuade my relay partner to take the two shorter legs and leave the 5km to me, so I'm not required to run quite so fast.  However, to be fair, he may have his own reasons for also wanting the longer leg, so I need to be ready for either outcome.

Conflicts of Interest

With my old running friends at the 2012 London Olympics

In 2012 I travelled to London to watch the London Olympics with old running friends.  Although we attended many different sports, our primary interest was in the running events, and those we couldn't attend in person, we tried to watch live on TV.

Today there has been a lot of news coverage about the World Anti Doping Authority (WADA) finding that systemic drug cheating has been occurring in Russia, and particularly by Russian athletes at the London Olympics.  Despite Russia's protestations, I suspect that the drug cheating is even more wide-spread than WADA has described.  It's like the drug-testing itself, it only formally identifies instances where the proof of cheating is incontrovertible, and doesn't address those instances where it looks likely but cannot be proved.

The start of the Women's 5000m Final

Some months ago, there were stories in the press about the possibility that athletes trained by the former US marathon star, Alberto Salazar, were using prohibited drugs.  It has been denied and nothing has been proved, although I think there is a formal investigation underway.  Some of the allegations revolved around research being done to determine how much of some banned drugs could be taken before athletes would test positive.  I'll bet that there are coaches and organisations in other countries doing the same research.  I guess their self-justification is that if the athlete doesn't fail the threshold-based drug tests, then they haven't broken the rules or gained unfair advantage, but they are kidding themselves.

There have also been leaked IAAF documents in the past year suggesting that performance-enhancing drug use is widespread, particularly among African distance runners, and there have been recent instances of high-profile African marathon runners being banned for drug use.

The start of the Women's 1500m Final

The rewards for cheating athletes, their coaches and their managers are immense.  The kudos is often accompanied by huge financial rewards and increased opportunities.  Ethics and fair play will undoubtedly be ignored by some in the face of such incentives.  The only solution is regulation and high quality testing with severe penalties for transgressions.

However, the WADA findings also seem to suggest corruption on the part of those organisations responsible for enforcing the rules, including the top echelons of the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF).  I suspect that there are other organisers of major athletic meetings and city marathons who will turn a blind eye, or even conspire with elite athletes to hinder drug-testing, in order to have big names at their events.  The rewards for them are similar - kudos, money and opportunity.

Everywhere you look there are conflicts of interest and the only solution involves top-down reform as is the case with other major sports that have been in the news.  Sadly, I've become incredibly cynical.  As much as I want to believe in the integrity of the world's best distance runners, I simply cannot get excited about their performances any more.  I'm not even interested in who the world's best marathon runners are because I simply don't trust in the integrity of the sport.

I joined my usual Tuesday morning running buddies today for 9km with a few hills.  My legs felt wooden in my warm-up and I was happy to follow the pack during the run, with my quads, in particular, feeling very tired.  However, I finished in reasonable shape and will try running a bit further tomorrow, but with no pressure.


Deep Space Mountain Marathon

Plenty of kangaroos in Orroral Valley

My 5km jog on Saturday morning didn't fill me with confidence.  It wasn't hard, but I wasn't cruising as easily as I would have hoped the day before a big race.  It was humid, and I always think that has an enervating effect, but nevertheless, it made me wonder how I was going to manage the 42km Deep Space Mountain Marathon the next day.  Have faith in your preparation, I told myself!

I drove down to Canberra on Saturday afternoon and stayed with relatives on Saturday night, sneaking out at 5:30am for the one hour drive to the Orroral Valley where the race started from the site of a dismantled space tracking station.  I love the mountain country south from Canberra and enjoyed the unhurried drive on a beautiful cool Sunday morning.  Four years ago, I had completed my 660km hike along the Australian Alps Walking Track at Namadgi, just south of Canberra, and the race would be along a small section of the same track.

Early creek crossing

There wasn't much going on when I arrived at the start location apart from hundreds of kangaroos grazing nearby.  I walked and jogged a little to loosen up then went to the start line for the race briefing by the organiser, John Harding.  He was a good marathon runner, and I ran second to him (2:32:13) in the one of the earliest Canberra marathons (1977), nearly 40 years ago.  We've both changed a bit!

Cruising?

I knew the race would be low-key, but the field was much smaller than I anticipated, with just 20 runners.  The later events - Half Marathon, 10km and 5km - had larger numbers.  That didn't bother me much and I quickly moved to the back of the field as we set off on the short (and only) stretch of sealed road up a gradual hill.  I'm learning to settle into a rhythm early in a race without worrying about what everybody else is doing.  With age, it is easy to get into oxygen debt quickly if you go out too hard.  I think it probably has something to do with the cardio-vascular system starting more slowly.

Beautiful sub-alpine scenery

The course was a double out-and-back to the site of the old Honeysuckle Creek Space Tracking Station (hence the race name), climbing over the shoulder of Mount Tennent, along a fire-trail that had some very steep ascents and descents, and undulated the rest of the way.  My plan was to run as many of the hills as I could on the first lap and then try and run the same hills on the second lap.  I had confidence that my comparative advantage would be up the hills and that's the way it worked out.  By the time I reached the highest point on the way out at 7.5km, I had moved into the front half of the field.  However, I didn't make up much ground on the descents, which were positively scary and dangerous in a few places.  Loose fine gravel and exceptional steepness had me fearing my feet would skid out from under me at any moment and I took very short steps, just hoping to stay upright.

I was tired at the half-way point, reached in just over two hours and surprised to learn I was now seventh, though with three or four more runners within a kilometre behind me.  I told myself that if I could run up all the hills on the second lap, nobody would catch me and I might even catch some of the runners up ahead.  At the turn on the second lap (3/4 mark of the race), though very tired, I was indeed closer to the runners in front and further clear of those behind.  I broke my rule about running up all of the hills with about 8km to go, but my legs were almost non-functional.  Neverthess, I moved into fifth at this stage and was now less than 200 metres behind two other runners.

Running in to the finish

Unfortunately, this was the highest elevation point and there followed the 4km of downhill, some of it steep and some very steep, and the two runners got away from me.  When I emerged from the forest, with 2km to go, they were both still in sight, and I managed to close to about 100m of fourth place by the finish.  My legs were totally hammered by the end, and my chronic right heel injury was sore, but I was happy with my run, finishing in 4:08 with 42.3km on my Garmin.  Given the course topography, I don't think I could have done much better, and I thoroughly enjoyed the challenges of the climbs and the beautiful alpine and sub-alpine forest running.  There were times on the run, even when exhausted, when I thought life couldn't get much better for a near-65 year old.

For today, I just walked 5km, and though my right heel was a bit sore and my legs still stiff and tired, there didn't seem to be any new injuries.

Changing shoes

I usually rotate my running shoes
on a regular basis

One of the ways I have managed my chronically injured heel as I have sought to get running again has been by trying to manage my footwear.

For the past twenty years I have primarily used Nike Pegasus shoes and before that various other Nike shoes, a favourite being the Nike Elite.  I'm not dogmatic about using Nike's, and have occasionally used other brands for various reasons, including New Balance and Brooks shoes for years when they sponsored me in the early 1980s.

One reason Nike shoes has found favour with me is because they have tended to have higher heels with a larger drop between the heel and forefoot.  This decreases the range of Achilles tendon movement and I have always had problems with my Achilles (three operations on the left and one on the right).

However, even wearing the Nikes, my right heel was exceptionally painful a year or so ago, and not just because of Achilles tendonitis.  It was also highly sensitive to touch, often with searing hot pain on the surface of the back of the heel, even when just lying in bed, and there was a dull deep pain under the heel.

I have got back to running, despite medical advice that the heel was just worn out, by trying to treat all three problems after initially having nearly six months off running in the hope rest would fix it.  I'm sure the rest did help, but the methods below also made a big difference when I resumed trying to run.

The Nike Elite was my favourite training shoe for many years

Firstly, I decided to raise the heel even further, and after experimenting with various brands of heel raises found some hard 6mm raises that self-glue onto the heel of the shoe under the insole.  This means that my heel drop has gone from the standard Nike Pegasus drop of 12mm to 18mm, not ideal because it places extra strain on the tendon under the foot, risking plantar fasciitis, but workable for me.

Secondly, I decided I needed to reduce pressure on the heel from the shoe and increased my shoes size by a half and tried some shoes that gripped differently on the heel.  After research I found the New Balance 880v4 had the same heel drop as the Nike Pegasus (12mm) and I tried running in them for a change.  I also tied the shoe on my right foot exceptionally loosely (the usual test being the ability to put two fingers between the shoe and my heel) and got in the habit of smearing vaseline on the back of the heel to reduce friction.  It felt strange at first and my foot has come out of the shoe while running on a couple of occasions, not to mention more debris finding its way into the shoe during trail runs, but it's manageable.

Thirdly, I rested the underneath of the heel, which felt deeply bruised, by modifying my running style to favour the heel and try to avoid unnecessary pounding, particularly down hills.

Over time, the heel pain has generally diminished, though always there.  To reduce the chances of recurrence, I have also bought some larger Nike Pegasus shoes and now alternate so the shoe grip pressure changes regularly.

My latest heel pain setback occurred wearing the New Balance, so I am wearing the Nike more often, though still changing every couple of days.  This morning, after four or five days of New Balance, I switched to the Nikes for my short 6.5km run, and the pain was much reduced from yesterday.  Enough to convince me that I can get around the Deep Space Mountain Marathon on Sunday.  It's a two-lap course, so I can always pull out after one if the heel is bad.

The North Face 50km Ontario

Blue Mountain Resort

One reason I have confidence my difficult time on last Sunday's long run was due to dehydration is that I fairly comfortably completed a 50km trail race in Canada in July in extremely warm conditions.

It was already close to 80⁰F by the 7:00am start of The North Face Endurance 50km trail race at the Blue Mountain ski resort and the temperature was close to 100⁰F by the early afternoon when I finished.  The course seemed to endlessly go up and down the escarpment using the rough grassy ski slopes themselves, along with very technical winding single track that prevented the gain of any running momentum.  However, to be fair, there was also some easier flatter single track and roads on top of the escarpment where you could maintain a good pace.

One of the early climbs

Unlike the Australian North Face events, there was no requirement to carry specific equipment and there were drink stations every 5-8km.  I will always run without a pack if I can and decided to take the risk of travelling without carrying fluids.  However, conscious of the weather forecast, I knew it would be important to drink early and frequently during the run.  From the first drink station I was emptying multiple cups of drink as well as pouring water over my head.  For the last half of the race, the routine was to drink a cup of electrolyte, a cup of water, and a cup of Coke, as well as dousing myself and the system worked well.

After my usual slowish start, I moved steadily through the field for almost the entire race and finished strongly in 6:33:03 for 24th place out of 133 finishers.  I could only have done this through managing my hydration well in the trying conditions and need to remember that for future events.

I ran a steady 15km on the roads this morning and was disappointed to have my right heel hurting spasmodically.  The pain was generally tolerable, but it has caused me to postpone for another day the decision about whether to race a trail marathon on Sunday.

Back on track?

My UK visitor, Liam, the son of my long-time
running buddy, Keith, nears the top of the
challenging Hastings Road hill this morning

I've missed a couple of days of blogging while I had some guests staying.  On Monday, I just did some walking as intended and was pleased that my troublesome heel didn't seem to have deteriorated as a result of Sunday's long run.  I did, however, have some tightness in the lower hamstrings, the same places as cramp threatened many times on Sunday.

I warmed up for over 3km on Tuesday before joining the usual group of Trotters for a 10km run incorporating a few large hills.  The warm-up did the trick and I felt surprisingly good during the run.  My thinking is that, although the Sunday run was thoroughly exhausting, the exhaustion was primarily caused by dehydration.  The dehydration compelled me to run more slowly than would otherwise have been the case, and consequently my body wasn't as trashed as it might have been.  Once my fluid levels were back to normal I was not as tired and sore as feared.

I ran 14km this morning, still somewhat bothered by the hamstring tightness and pain in the right heel, but feel that both issues are improving.

My entry for the Bogong to Hotham 64km trail race in early January has been accepted and becomes my target race in this training cycle.  As part of my planned preparation, I would really like to run in the Deep Space Mountain Marathon, near Canberra, this coming Sunday.  However, I'm reluctant to race if I have any lingering heel or hamstring soreness because I know I will be going all out and risk more serious injury.  Fortunately, it's a low-key event that I can enter at the last minute, so really don't have to commit yet.  My rational self says that over the next four days both injuries will improve sufficiently to let me run.

Some people never learn

Berowra Creek

After little sleep (got up at 2:45am to watch the Rugby World Cup final), I left home at 5:30am and drove 45 minutes to Brooklyn station and caught a 6:34am train to Hornsby where I started running soon after 7:00am.

I was planning to run the 42km along the Great North Walk trail back to Brooklyn to check it out before the Trotters trail run I am organising along the same course in two weeks time.  The trail has a reputation for being gnarly, with lots technical single track, and I wasn't in a hurry, so hoped to finish in six to seven hours.  It took me over nine!

Going off course at one point cost me 20-30 minutes, and I was nursing my right heel on the descents, but that doesn't explain the delay.

I have a well-earned reputation for not carry fluids when I run.  I do find I don't drink nearly as much as other runners, but know that on hot and humid days even I need to do some drinking.  I thought I was addressing the need by carrying a litre of watered-down Powerade in my new Salomon pack, knowing that water was also available at several points along the track, and maybe even a store.

Berowra Water in the background

After the first hour the temperature, which had never been cool, climbed rapidly and the sun blazed down.  The technical track was wearing me out and by half-way I was feeling very tired and had been sweating profusely the whole way.  The next section included some tough climbing and my running slowed, my right hamstring threatened to cramp and I drank what fluid I had, dreaming of a store and cold Coke and Powerade when I crossed the highway at Cowan, the 30km mark.  Alas, no store; just a water bubbler on the railway station that issued a trickle.

Jerusalem Bay

At this point, I had the option of catching a train to Brooklyn and bypassing the last 13km of trail.  However, this seemed like a cop-out, so I drank as much as I could of the tepid water and took a litre with me.  I suspected there was going to be a lot of walking in the last section, and I was right.  After the descent to the scenic Jerusalem Bay, I got to the point where I couldn't really trust my legs any more on descents, nor did they seem to have the strength to climb the rugged hills.  My neck and right shoulder were aching and I was not in a good place.  I could feel I was badly dehydrated, and cursed myself for not preparing for the forecast conditions.  Based on how well I performed in a very hot 50km trail race in Canada a few months ago, I knew that if I had kept drinking today, I would have been travelling faster and with less problems.  Apart from some shuffling here and there, I pretty much walked the whole of the last 13km, and even found that very tough.

I was a happy man when I got back to my car, though unhappy that it had taken me all day.  The right heel that has been bothering me, was sore, but it always is at this distance these days.  I'm hopeful that I haven't made it worse.  Next time it's hot, more fluids!