Tuesday, 21 July 2009

On inhabiting that liminal space between not yet being able to say 'I used to run' but being able to say 'I used to be a runner'

Or, why I hate Scotland (ii) ...

Seven weeks without running left me grimacing, but I knew that leaving it so long, without even trying a short one, was doing me good. When I put my shoes on again I would be ready to start training for the Berlin Marathon in September. I would come back refreshed, determined and therefore focussed.

So on Saturday I looked out of the window at a bright dawn, put my shoes on, adjusted the orthotics, and headed out along the Cam.
kilometre 1: I am slow to the point of stretching my own credulity. I hope that no one will see me. I knew, however, that it was going to be tough to start with. I have to remember how to run, how to pick my feet up, how to stay relaxed.
kilometer 2: still very slow, slower than 5'00" per kilometre, or 8 minute miling. I find the physical movement unfamiliar. I really have forgotten how to run.
kilometre 3: I'm stiff, but am I loosening up a little. I look at the watch and see that I'm running at 4'30" a kilometre, which is a bit more like it. I slow down almost immediately upon apprehending this.
kilometre 4: back to slow again. I think about turning around and heading back, having at least made a start. But I'm almost at the half-way point. It's nice along the river bank. My lungs feel ok, though my heart rate is probably a little high. Be still my heart.
kilometre 5-9: gradually I realise that my legs aren't going to loosen up. In fact the left is beginning to feel the same stiffness it felt in Edinburgh, a dull referred pain spreading along the leg. No stabbing or burning pain, but an immobile woodenness.
kilometre 10: in desperation I try to run faster. Perhaps I can just run through this. I can't. A rowing crew catch up with me as I lollop homewards.
kilometre 11: I really don't feel very good about this. I've made a start on the road to recovery, but it isn't going to be like it's been in the past, when I've been able to pick things up very quickly, and build mileage back to normal levels within a few weeks.

I walk the last few hundred metres. It's hard to walk. I stretch as best I can.

And then everything goes really pear-shaped. That afternoon I find it hard to walk. The next day the pain is real, stabbing, aching, undermining, just like it was after the ruin of Edinburgh. It hurts to sit. There's deep pain with movement, but also surface pain. I go for a cycle, but even that is hurting now. The injury hasn't gone away after all, despite 7 weeks of real rest.

Yesterday I went to see my GP. He uses words like "chronic" and "months", "physiotherapy" and "just one mile with walking". He draws some pictures to suggest the kinds of tearing I might have caused. Berlin in September? Not a chance. I am no longer a runner, and it's not clear that I ever will be again.


Thursday, 2 July 2009

The King is Dead, Long Live ...

People have stopped asking me about my hamstring. It's probably as well: it's getting boring for everyone. I haven't run a step. I do have a new friend, though: Ms Bianchi. She's made of aluminium and carbon fibre. I hope that she'll stop my VO2 from plummeting into an asthmatic rut.

I picked her up yesterday, and soon remembered how to use clip-ins and brake-head gear shifters. And this morning I woke early and couldn't get back to sleep. So I downed a good load of coffee, and took to the road. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny morning, with only the faintest of mists rising from the fens, the breeze perfect for summer lycra. Somehow, however, while my legs and lungs presented no problem, my hands went numb, as if I was doing the death vice grip. I could barely change gear, or lift my hands from the drops. Seldom do technical problems present themselves in running. I wasn't even sure I was going to be able to get home. If a lorry didn't smash me into the ditch, I would fall off in any case, unable to manoeuvre.

By the time I reached Swaffham Bulbeck (via Midsummer Common, the river, Fen Ditton and then Quy and Lode), I was thinking of my friend Dean. Dean lost the use of a knee last year, and had to stop running. He has successfully returned, however, to his main sport, cycling. And last weekend he was involved in a two-day 600k race. That's a very long race. I'd only done about 16k, and was already contemplating my demise. I haven't heard from him since he set off ... does anyone know his whereabouts?

An hour after setting off, at about 6:30, I arrived at Nicky's house in Burwell. No one was awake. I stood outside her bedroom window and threw stones at it. I kept on missing, because my hands were numb. I called out and eventually she came downstairs and let me in. I made her a cup of tea, and set off home again. Could this be romance, I asked myself? This time my hands didn't feel so bad, and I made it in time to take the loaf out of the breadmaker. I miss running, but there's nothing like an early morning ride. I just need to fix the hands business - perhaps a month of intensively watching cycling on the TV would do it?

Normal service will be resumed shortly; in the meantime say hello to Ms Bianchi.J