Just when I think it is all going so well.

So I am feeling a lot fitter, managed a 10K PB and am feeling good.  

I decided to go out for a slow 10K on Tuesday night this week to stretch the legs and keep up the marathon training.  I ran the first 6km with no trouble, then I started to feel a acute pain above my ankle bone on the inside of my left leg.   

I have felt this pain before, but never as acutely as I did on this occasion.  I was 6km from home with only one real way to get back so I decided to push on and run with the pain.  My logic here was that at some point in both the upcoming marathon and the Ironman race I am going to have to run through some pain so this was a good opportunity to practice.

My pace slowed from 6min/km to over 7min/km and I laboured on, trying to keep my run form good through the windy, rainy conditions.  My ankle didn’t get any more painful; however it was already a solid 7 out of 10 on the pain meter.  The kilometers slowly and painfully rolled on and eventually I got home.

Having had a bit of time to think about why this injury might have occurred and what to do about it I have come up with the following self diagnosis.

My Lunas

  1. I pressed hard at Stubbington 10K and may have aggravated something.  This was then made worse when I went out running again only 2 days after the race.
  2. Running in minimalist shoes (in my case Luna Sandals) can hammer your Achilles and other tendons in that region if your calves / tendons are not used to the strain or strong enough.
  3. When other muscles in my body tire out (hamstrings, glutes, quads etc) my form suffers and this could compound any lower leg injuries.
How scientific this diagnosis is I cannot say; however the more I train and read up about training / injury prevention the more I am understanding my body and how it works.  Based on the above I have decided on the below as a solution.

  1. No running at all for a minimum of 10 days (give myself a good chance to heal up)
  2. When I do run again, start with only a couple of miles maximum and build back up slowly.
  3. Plenty of stretching / calf strengthening exercises to supplement the running.
  4. Go back to running in shoes.
Now of all the points above number 4 is by far the most controversial.  Most people think I am mad for running either barefoot or in the Luna Sandals; however when I took up barefoot running I could not even run to the end of the road without getting shin splints.  

The barefooting seemed to stop the shin splints from occurring and only now my distances have increased barefooting has started to cause alternative problems (eg this achilles/ankle tendon injury).  The only reason for this is that I have had to increase my distances too fast; however this was necessary in order to get up to marathon running distances in time for the Brighton marathon in April.

Running barefoot means you to land with a “forefoot strike”, which many running coaches promote as the best form for running. If you imagine jumping up and down on the spot barefooted you will be landing on your forefoot.  Running is essentially landing on one foot over and over again.  Modern running shoes make it possible to land on your heel when running as they are highly padded.  This is known as heel striking. It would be hugely painful to jump up and down barefooted whilst landing on your heels (try it if you don’t believe me).  The shock of this though your legs can cause all sorts of pain just doing it once, let alone again and again when running.The padding on modern running shoes allows you to run landing on your heels, and 90% of all recreational runners will be running using a heel strike.  

It is my opinion that regular heel striking in running shoes was sending shocks through my lower legs causing my previous shin splints.

Since taking up barefooting, I now land on my forefoot with a much softer landing.  This instantly reduced the load on my shins and the shin splints have not occurred.

The drawback from forefoot striking either barefoot or in minimalist shoes is that you put a lot of stretch through your achilles tendons and other tendons in your ankles.

If your calves are tight (which mine definitely are) this stops the tendons from being able to stretch and therefore they take a bit of a bashing and respond by getting inflamed and causing pain.

During short runs (10K or less in my case) this does not seem to happen to me unless I really push the pace.  Longer runs seem to cause these issues.  Building calf flexibility takes a long time; therefore I have decided to revert back to running in shoes to protect my tendons whilst at the same time making my calves stronger and more flexible.

The good running form that barefooting has taught me can also be applied to running in shoes; however there should be a bit less overall strain and I should be able to run for longer.

This is the plan and I am sticking with it.  It leaves me woefully short on time for getting up to speed for the marathon; however it does mean that I should be in fine form come the Ironman.

Fingers crossed this plan works.


A reminder of why I am doing all this

Let’s be honest.  Training for anything is hard.  You have to get up early to train most of the time (so it doesn’t take over your day).  Your muscles hurt.  You are tired.  You get injured.  Sometimes you just want to give up, especially when your spare time is so limited that you are making the difficult decision between spending time with your family, and going out for a run/ride/swim.

I am on a fairly low ebb at the moment.  Work is tough, I am travelling a lot which means spending far too much time away from Cat and Niamh (which I hate having to do), money is a bit tight and I just feel like going into hiding.  Shutting out the world and doing nothing. 

Of course this achieves very little, so I decided to remind myself of why I am even doing all  this training in the first place.  My thoughts drifted to Steve, Louise and Amber.  If you are not familiar with their story, please read the “Motivation” section of my blog – just click on the link above this post.  Amber is the reason I started this blog.  She is the reason that I started training in the first place.  Searching through my email so I could send Steve a message, I found the poem that Louise wrote and read out at Amber’s funeral.  It has really touched me, so I thought I would share it with you.

Louise’s Poem for Amber

The day I realised I was pregnant,
my depression lifted
As you grew inside you kicked your Daddy in the head
with the strong legs you had been gifted

Your Daddy and I brought you into this world,
you were perfect in every way
We learnt what sheer adoration felt like
On Thursday 19th May

We brought you home and the adventure started,
you were a textbook baby
I paraded you around in your bright green pram
and folk marveled at my beautiful lady

We had some activities like swimming and play dates
but mostly we took it easy
You loved your food especially if
it was biscuits, yoghurt, marmite or cheesy

I would walk into your room every morning,
you would greet me with a huge smile
Your favourite toy was your jumperoo
You would bounce for quite a while

We were all so proud to celebrate your first birthday,
cake smeared across your face
We took you out in your new trike
Wonderful memories that can never be replaced

You looked really unwell so we took you to the hospital,
a few days later you went blind
We started fighting Neuroblastoma
Our old lives left behind

Once you’re on the cancer bus you cannot get off,
a new sort of normal beckoned
Good fortune gave us our first year with you
The Royal Marsden gave us our second

We were looked after by such wonderful people
Whom we otherwise wouldn’t have met
Without them we couldn’t have got so far
We can never repay the debt

You felt so much pain and sickness
But even through the woe and sorrow
you showed us how to be strong and kind
And face another tomorrow

The treatment had taken its toll,
your poor little body could not keep up the fight
Neuroblastoma was taking your life,
extinguishing your light

You fought on longer than you needed to,
we were ready to see your pain end
You passed away on Monday 24th June,
our broken hearts will never mend

Time will march on whether I like it or not,
whether my mood is foul or sunny
You are not here with me but you will always be my Amber
… and I will always be your Mummy

An amazing and beautiful poem written by an equally amazing woman who is 100 times stronger than I can ever be. 

For Louise and Steve I will train harder, I will dig deeper, and in just over 1 years time I will become an Ironman, raising as much money as I can to support their charities, and honouring the  memory of their beautiful and brave daughter Amber.