16 April 2012

Scotland the Brave

As I lurch from one injury to another, and indeed from one year to the next, the importance of investing in maintenance becomes plainer and plainer. Although I'm not hobbling like I was a few days ago, my knee is still painful: Sharon loosened up my quads and a couple of connected tendons last Friday, and it felt better for a while. However, I still cannot do the classic standing quadricep stretch which she prescribed without great discomfort - which makes me fear that I am causing further damage in my knee, and whenever I get it loosened up it does keep stiffening up again. It was time, I thought, to find out whether I was doing something wrong that I could readily put right, so I made an appointment to go to see Colin Martin at Solutions 4 Feet in Bicester (link in sidebar). After all, he had solved all my running problems last time I consulted him - back in 2007 - or at least those problems which a pedorthist might be expected to sort out. He didn't sort out a set of PBs for me, for example. I guess I have to do that myself.
The first good thing was that, although I had only met him on that previous occasion, it was rather like meeting up with an old friend. It's great when any service provider makes you feel that much at home. Actually, the first good thing about today was that it was beautifully sunny as I drove, roof down, the 30 or so miles north past Oxford to get there - sunny, but still chilly.
I took my last pair of running shoes so Colin could see how the soles had worn, and I also took my huaraches which I thought he might blame for most of my problems. He looked at them in amazement, and offered the suggestion that they might be better for soft surfaces but conventional running shoes might be better for tarmac - which struck me as sensible advice. He thought that huaraches would suit those whose biomechanics were 100 per cent, but he pointed out that no-one is perfect, even Scots ... Then he got me to run on his dreadmill, and I demonstrated my disdain for such devices by failing to get to grips with the four buttons for start, faster, slower and stop. Eventually I realised that the button marked "stop" might be the one I needed, and I dismounted to watch the video he'd made. And guess what? He couldn't tell me anything that was wrong with my running action. Pelvis straight, hips level, perhaps a slight turning of the foot at the top of the movement on my left. I must say I thought I looked good too. But I'd come to have my problem pointed out to me so I could fix it! If I'm doing everything as perfectly as a Sassenach can, how can I get rid of this pain in the knee? Oh, rest, ice, etc. I see.
The one mistake I might have made was to run in my new shoes without the orthotics that Colin sold me five years ago. I showed him that I did now have them in my new shoes. He thought that they might have made just that little bit of difference - that might be the explanation I was looking for. Did I need a new pair, I wondered to myself? No need to articulate the thought - he was impressed at the state of the five-year-old inserts and reckoned there was another year's wear in them. So when my knee stops hurting, I'm ready to go again!

01 April 2012

Wild horses

The first thing I did this morning, after making coffee and tea and putting a bowl of porridge (essential running fuel) into the microwave, was to seek out the latest news on Micah True. He'd been missing for several days, after going for a 12 mile run in the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico, so it really wasn't a surprise to learn that his body had been found. No surprise, but nevertheless a tragedy. He was an ordinary, unassuming, gentle man who happened to run immense distances and became famous almost at second hand (and, I believe, reluctantly) by being featured in the barefoot runner's bible, Born to Run.

No denying that reading the book has changed many things for me. Meeting Micah - Caballo Blanco, as he was known - last year was another inspirational event (though as Lazy Girl Running noted at the time he didn't claim any particular benefits for barefoot running, and turned up to give his talk not wearing huaraches). I imagine he met what he'd have considered the best possible end, while running in the wilderness, and reports suggest that he suffered no trauma. Not a bad way to go at all.
Have I mentioned the limitations of BlackBerrys as cameras?
Now, if you've been reading this blog (have you nothing better to do with your time?) you'll know that my experiments with minimalist running have created no end of injuries. Going back to slabs of foam, as I did a couple of weeks ago (a new pair of Mizuno Wave Riders) saved Achilles but wrecked one knee, or at least coincided with pain developing in it. I have been walking very strangely, if at all, these past two weeks: not so much hobbling as taking half-strides and forefoot striking, which must have looked very odd. Last week's Parkrun proved I could run through the problem, or rather that it ceased to be a problem when I adopted a pace faster than a walk - which I dare say medical experts would dismiss as pure, unadulterated rubbish. My new The Stick massage stick (as I remarked, a pathetically weak trade mark and one that is almost impossible to use properly) worked wonders (ibuprofen gel was also pretty useful) and Sharon gave me a good beating up on Friday morning. She asked me whether I was doing any races soon, and I said yes, on Sunday, depending on what you say after half an hour's massaging the weakest link. She sent me on my way at the end saying I should do it if I felt like it - helpful, indeed.

I was in two minds about whether to run the race at all (OK, let's say about one-and-a-half minds) and in two minds about which label to wear: clumpy Mizuno or pared-down Luna by Barefoot Ted. The news this morning made the decision for me, notwithstanding Micah's liberal attitude to shoe choices. I wrote "Caballo R.I.P." on my running number and pinned it to my vest. The fact that I would be running the White Horse Half M and marking the passing of the White Horse himself struck me as absolutely perfect.

The sky was clear, but the sun isn't yet powerful enough to make the mornings warm - perfect running weather. Gary, on car park duty, mentioned that he'd be marshalling at 3 and 9 miles, and I asked if he'd take my cushioned shoes in case I needed a change: he was happy to do so, but explained that he would not be at the finish and I might therefore lose my shoes for a while. So I headed off with only the huaraches, or "flip-flops" as several people called them. Heathen.

In the first, very relaxed, mile I came upon Jeff and ran with him for a while: then along the way to the infamous railway bridge I got a bit ahead - I must have stepped up the pace, as the splits confirm - and I certainly attacked the short sharp incline when I reached it. After the right turn at Denchworth, where the loop part of the course begins, I fell in with Daniel, in the late stages of training for the London Marathon (or chienlit, as it might be called in French) who was planning a time between 1:50 and 2:00. About right for me too, especially as I still didn't know how the radical alternative to shoes would perform over the distance.
Photo by John Harvey (of course: who else?)
In fact, they were fine. Nothing more to say, really. I found an excellent turn of speed in the last mile, repassing Daniel who had set off for a long run for home about two miles out, and Trish, and a few others too. Passed John much earlier, reminisced about a long-ago White Horse Half (1998?) the enjoyment of which was marred by heavy sleet. He remarked that he'd almost suffered from exposure on the course, and that I had almost suffered from exposure waiting for him after I'd finished. I do remember wondering where he'd got to, but surely he wasn't that far behind? And he wasn't far behind today either. But at least I was ahead ... unburdened by those heavy shoes everyone else was wearing.
Photo also by John Harvey

I even won a spot prize, the second time this has happened at this race which is still the only event at which I have ever won anything. And as I headed back to the car I bumped into Kate, my glamorous acquaintance from the Banbury 15 some years ago, sidelined by an injury. She expressed surprise that I might have run in flip-flops and asked me to run up and down the path to demonstrate them - a big ask, when I had just completed a half. I don't think the demonstration was remotely convincing - Kate, you should have seen me finishing!

Next Saturday John and I have a chance to catch up when we run - slowly - the Compton Downland Challenge. He, having been sucked completely into the Vortex, is running the 40. And he's doing Maidenhead the day before. I hope if I run with him a bit it will rub off on me. Which leads me back to the start of this posting: it would have been so easy to make an opportunity to run with Caballo in London last September, and I failed to do so. Seize chances like that: they might never come a second time.