Archive | September, 2021

The Sweet Spot and The Weak Spot

19 Sep

Oops, another 3 weeks (busy ones) have flown by!

3 weeks ago I got a really solid week’s training in. 3 steady 6 milers, a hilly 14 mile trail run, 12 miles with 5 x 2km at about marathon pace, and a 16 mile long run. 60 miles. That’s generally tended to be my mileage sweet spot, and after about 4-6 weeks of 60+ miles per week, I get ‘pace lift’.

2 weeks ago I had another solid week’s training: 3 steady 6 milers, a hilly 14 mile trail run, 13 miles with 4 x 1 miles (including a lovely 5km run for a friend’s birthday as my cool down) and then 17 miles for my long run. 62 miles. But… (ah, why did there have to be a but?!) my calves were left really tight by the trail run. I decided to wear my trail shoes, because the week before I’d been slipping a bit. In some ways, the trail shoes improved things (MUCH better on the uphills and on the stony/gravelly surfaces, for instance), but they are lower profile (i.e. the heel is closer to the ground), meaning my calves do a bit more work, and not particularly well cushioned, meaning my calves do even more work. And the not being well cushioned doesn’t matter too much if I’m on the trails/grass, but there was actually at least 6 miles of road in the 14 mile route. By the end of it my calves were pretty shot, and my Achilles tendons were grumbly as a result. I’d planned to do 6 x 1 miles as my ‘session’, but bailed after 4 because the calves were tight, and I had to stop a couple of times during the 17 miler to stretch them. My body was warning me it was a bit on the edge.

And so to this week. It was pretty busy from a work point of view, and had a few rehearsals thrown in (quite like old times!). I decided to take the week a bit easier than planned from a running point of view, and just did steady 6 mile runs during the week and on Saturday: and even one of those got binned when I was asked to do an 8.30 conference ahead of a hearing rather than the 9am I’d envisaged. I’d hoped this would let me legs recover a bit and allow me to do the Bristol Half marathon today. I’ll be honest, until Saturday morning I was pretty resigned to not being able to race, much as I wanted to, because my left calf/Achilles/foot was Just Not Right. It was sometimes a bit sore at the start of a run, or when I put it down at a particular angle. I couldn’t really identify the problem, and so had to just use a foam roller/massage ball relatively indiscriminately to try and loosen things off. But then yesterday things all felt a lot better, and some tentative pushing of the pace seemed to go ok. It was all systems go for the half marathon, and I cracked open the beetroot juice in celebration and preparation.

They’ve made the qualification standards for the national marathon championships a bit tougher (I suspect this is because the Super Shoes help people run several minutes faster than they could in more traditional shoes) and so at some point this year I need a sub 1.28 half if I want to do the championship race next October. I decided to have a go at 1.28, or at least 1.30 (so a 3 hour marathon pace run). Aerobically it didn’t fell too bad, but my calves seemed to be struggling with the camber on the road: unless I was on perfectly flat road, one or the other started to grizzle, and as I made my way back along the Portway towards the city centre, my left calf in particular was starting to feel quite sore, and like my Achilles was pulling a bit. My pace was dropping a bit as I was having to shorten my stride (because you use your calf muscles most to push off, and I wasn’t pushing off very aggressively to protect the calves). I knew I was not going to get a decent workout, as my breathing was too easy. I gave it another mile or so to see if things loosened off, but they didn’t, and so at 7.5 miles I clocked what I think is only my 3rd ever DNF (did not finish). I was really conscious that the Bristol course saves its twists, turns, cobbles and short sharp hills for the last 5 miles, and knew that would put more strain on my lower legs. I jogged home, although I had to stop and walk a few times on any slopes/hills as my calves were so sore. At the moment, I’m glad I gave it a go, because otherwise I’d have wondered if I could have got away with it. Realistically, I need to take a few days to see how the calves and Achilles fair, but I’m conscious that the Newport marathon was already a pretty tight and slightly risky schedule, and that I should probably accept I’m better regrouping and targeting a half marathon in November or December. The fitness is still there if I manage this right. It really is a case of more haste, quite possibly less speed.

And in happier news I had the most gorgeous afternoon rehearsing Shostakovich 5. I fell in love with the symphony as a teenager, and it still tears at the heartstrings now. This is a running blog, so I won’t blether on for ages about how amazing I think it is that someone composing under the restrictions of Soviet tyranny could produce such phenomenally brilliant works. I’m just grateful that this afternoon I had music, and such brilliant music. Thank you, Mitya.