The Long and Wounding Road

I had earmarked the 7 weeks between the London Marathon and Comrades on June 10th as the time to log some galactic weekly mileages, ideally with a couple of 30-35 mile runs chucked in.

It hasn’t gone entirely to plan.  My first problem was that I was completely knacked-in by London.  I hardly ran at all for a week, then did a week with just 28 miles.

Eventually, my legs felt as if they were coming back, so I thought I would test them out by running a flat out time-trial at York parkrun on Saturday 5th May.

I pride myself on being able to predict my finishing time with uncanny accuracy and I was gunning for a time of around 18:10.  It was a good day, but despite absolutely rinsing myself, I only managed a time of 18:24 which I was not that happy with.

The following Monday was the first of the bank holidays in May (why do we still call them ‘bank’ holidays?). A roasting hot day was in prospect so I hatched a plan to set off early and log a 30+ mile training run in the heat by running the entirety of legs 4, 5 and 6 of the hilly Leeds Country Way footpath.

I know the paths well having run them for my club in the annual LCW relay held each September.  Fortunately for me, team-mate Graham offered to accompany me for the first leg and my partner planned to meet me at various points along the route with supplies of encouragement, drinks, food and fresh tee-shirts.

I warned Graham that it would be a slow one – I intended to replicate likely Comrades pace, which realistically for me would be 10-11 minutes per mile, allowing for regular walk breaks.

We set off on a glorious morning at 7:30 a.m. – I knew I was going to be out there for maybe 6 hours, so I went very steadily, consciously holding myself back and trying to train my mind to accept that a realistic Comrades pace needs to feel ludicrously slow for the first couple of hours.

After 11 miles, I bade farewell to Graham and shuffled on alone, entertaining myself with a few podcasts and an old episode of Radcliffe and Maconie.  I met up with my partner for the first time after 15 miles – by then the temperature was into the mid 20s, so I changed my tee-shirt and guzzled down some food and drinks.

Very considerately, she had prepared a big tub of boiled salted potatoes just like they give out at Comrades, so I wolfed down as many as I could comfortably stomach.   After all, this was training for eating during a hot hilly ultra as much as running it.

All in all, I had a cracking day out – My mind was in the right place to run and walk 31 miles at an appropriate speed.  My average heart rate was just 111 and it never went above 136.

However, my legs were completely knackered by the time I gratefully reached the finish at Garforth sports centre, though I did manage to run sub 10 minutes for the final mile, which pleased me.

Thirty one miles took me 6 hours, which sounds very slow and barely better than Comrades cut-off pace, however, the path was very rough and muddy in places, there were plenty of stiles and obstructions and I did fanny about a bit along the way, so the pace doesn’t concern me.

After a day off, I resumed training each day and recorded 67 miles for the week.

Last week, I knew that I would be away for two and a half days at a work conference/exhibition in Manchester, so running opportunities would be limited and likelihood of consuming unhealthy quantities of beer and bad food was extremely high.

I happened to spot that Cannonball Events were putting on a 5K series around Hollingworth Lake at Littleborough near Rochdale and the third race of the series was to be held on the Wednesday night.

I packed some running stuff and would decide later whether to enter or not.  By the Wednesday afternoon, I was itching to get out so I told my colleagues that I would be sneaking off to run a 5K race and that I would meet up with them in the pub later in the evening.

I caught a train from Manchester Victoria to Littleborough and jogged the 1.75 miles to race HQ.

After a heavy night on the pop and a whole day on my feet, I felt fatigued before the race, so I wasn’t sure how it would go.  I set off somewhat optimistically, running 5:46 for the first (slightly downhill mile).  I was soon blowing hard and struggling to maintain good pace into a noticeable breeze, but I brought it home in 18:52 and was surprised to see from the live timing on the iPad in the Clubhouse that I had finished first in the MV50 age category.

There was a prize for the winner of each age cat, but I knew I had to catch a train just 30 minutes later and the station was nearly 2 miles away. I explained my predicament to the organiser and he very kindly handed me the prize of  a £10 sports voucher whilst most runners were still out on the course.

I made excellent time back to Manchester and was out making merry with my colleagues at 9:15pm after having travelled back, showered and changed.

Last Sunday, I planned another long one of at least 30 miles, this time I decided on utilising various loops around my local village, returning to my house each time to take drinks and eat food.

It didn’t go well. By 20 miles in, I felt a familiar, insidious dull pain on the inside of the bump of my right ankle – the return of posterior tibial tendinitis. Shit, I thought I had cracked that one.

I jog-walked four miles home and chucked in the towel.

Feeling a bit disheartened, I phoned the Coach House Physio practice yesterday morning and luckily they had a cancellation later in the day so I went to see a new physio.

As she quizzed me on my history, she asked what my weekly mileage had been over the past few weeks.

“Right, let’s see, well I did London at the end of April, then I had a week off, then a easy week of 20-odd miles then I jumped up to nearly 70 miles…”

She looked at me with a knowing expression…”Jumping up in miles probably wasn’t a very good idea was it?”  Clearly that was what had set it off again. A Schoolboy error.

However, after she had worked on me aggressively for an hour she felt that my foot and ankle had loosened up a lot and she thought that I could be optimistic about being fit enough for Comrades.

With Comrades just two weeks on Sunday, the long runs are all done.  I haven’t done as many as I wished, but I have done a 31 miler, two marathons and a 25 mile run in the past 8 weeks, so that will just have to do.

If I am fit, I’ll try to keep it fresh my running some quickish 5Ks or parkruns.  I’ve got the next Even Splits 5K at the Brownlee cycling track tomorrow night to look forward to.

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