31 January 2013

Running blues

How many times has it happened to me at this time of year? I successfully ran every day for the first seven days of the year, and then suffered an injury that was enough to stop me even walking properly. It has rumbled on since my last posting, although it has improved a great deal and I even managed a slow half-an-hour on a dreadmill in the gym (on what the receptionist delightfully called the "minus-first" floor) of the Aquamarine Hotel in Moscow - my home-from-home, it seems. While in Moscow, I also paid a visit to Café Illarion for an excellent Khatchapuri po-adzherski and a couple of pints of Zhigulevskoye beer, both highly recommended although I would warn you off the lobbio (bean cassoulet) which is predictably windy - perfect, perhaps, for Beth at Shut up and Run. But my long-awaited second run round the Bulvarnoye Kol'tso, on which I am determined to notice the statue of Visotsky, has to wait for another visit: anyway, with the temperature down near minus 20 centigrade I could really appreciate the advantages of the gym. (The sauna as also rather good.)

It's now over three weeks since the injury struck, if that's the right verb, and if it is a stress fracture as I fear it is I should be OK sometime around Monday fortnight. Let's hope. Meanwhile, Running Blues are precisely what I've got.

Time Blues Band

Hidden heart (updated)

What to make of this story in the Wall Street Journal, reporting studies that highlight the health disbenefits of running, and entitled somewhat sensationally "One running shoe in the grave" (at least it doesn't say "trainer", or in American English "sneaker")? First and foremost, I suspect, that you can find medical evidence to back up any argument you might wish to make. Indeed, the article quotes a couple of docs, who seem to be getting a bit too personal.

It's almost axiomatic that if you go to the doctor with a running injury you will be advised to stop running. My former GP was a member of the same running club as me, so I doubt that would have happened, although I can't now be sure how it might turn out, since her retirement: but running injuries aren't matters with which to trouble the National Health Service, which has its hands full with people who have no intention of living a healthy life, and perhaps no idea how to recognise one - who get their nutritional advice from TV ads, perhaps ... Visiting the doctor entails a long wait (well, too long for an impatient patient like me), first to get a date and then at the surgery. Running injuries are for Sharon to help me sort out, unless there's some additional element like putting my foot in a hole in an Oxford pavement while executing a sharp turn at high speed as I did in the Teddy Hall relay several years ago. That merited an X-ray, if only to support a possible claim (which I didn't make anyway).

But that's injuries, and the "one running shoe in the grave" syndrome is about heart problems. The BMJ's journal, Heart, on an article in which the report is based, has several articles in its archive on running, including this one from nearly two years ago (the link is to the abstract), this one from yonks ago (1979, long before I bought my first running shoes, which in turn was long before I became a runner) and this one from 2009. To this layman, to whom even the abstracts are largely incomprehensible, the two more recent ones seem to be saying that running is a risk factor, while the earlier one says that a pre-existing heart condition can cause death during a Marathon. (The 2009 article also seems to say that often the relevant pre-existing condition might be hard to detect, which strikes me as a very important observation.) The editorial on the basis of which the WSJ story rests is due out in the next issue of the journal, so I can't comment even on the abstract, although we could perhaps treat the WSJ report as one. (Update: here is a link to an extract, from which you can get to the full article if you cross the BMJ's plam with silver - at £24 for one day access to the article, I am passing.)

The WSJ seems to have drawn more conclusions in the story than are entirely justified. To me, it reads like a prescription for moderation rather than a warning that over-50 athletes (I use the word advisedly) are playing cardiac Russian roulette. What about its parameters? It considers 20 to 25 miles a week as "a lot", and the threshold speed mentioned is 8 mph (which shows, perhaps, that this was written by no runner: 7:30 in runners' language - minutes per mile that is). That doesn't sound like a particularly high mileage: it is a great deal more than I have managed for a long time, but less than my target, and well short of Murakami's 10K per day (and according to the book he followed that regime when he was about my age). However, 7:30 is more like 5K race pace than a "normal" speed - so where do I fit into the statistics?

I don't see anything here to put me off long, slow runs, and actually not much to put me off short fast ones either. The truth is that, like many runners, I have left behind running purely to keep fit, so analysing the activity purely in terms of heart problems isn't really relevant. Even if the chances of SCD (a piece of jargon I have picked up from reading abstracts!) were greatly increased, I would probably consider it a good trade-off to secure the manifold other health benefits. What's the use of staying alive but depressed? We all have to go sometime: Micah probably got it right.

10 January 2013

Janathon day 8 onwards

What I have done to my foot remains a mystery, but it has kept me from running since Monday - indeed, it has come close to keeping me from moving.

I remember feeling that I was maintaining a good pace, but aware that I was striking even more with the forefoot than usual - and not grounding my heel after landing, which is my (probably misguided) impression of what pose running is all about. Whatever the technique might resemble and whatever name you give it, that's what got me round the Abingdon Marathon and the Pud Run, so I know it works: but it wasn't what I was doing on Monday.

My Monday run was all on hard surfaces, too, except for the part along by the zoo in Regent's Park, where I take to the edge of the playing fields (and saw someone running completely barefoot, incidentally - or wearing flesh-coloured running shoes). That would have taken its toll on my feet. Plus, I was wearing thick socks inside my Vivobarefoot shoes, which were therefore tighter (including below the laces) than usual.

The pain is partly in the arch, which I fear might have collapsed, and partly in the ball of my foot and big toe. A roller massage device and new orthotic insoles have helped the arch problem, but the forefoot problem remains. The medical client whom I saw on Monday afternoon was confident that I was not in such "exquisite" pain for it to be a fracture. So I am resting, icing occasionally, taking homeopathic arnica pillules, elevating and compressing. And worrying about the Gloucester Marathon, and other races I hope to do this year.

07 January 2013

Janathon day 7

The last day of the first week of the year, and I am going to be a little short of my target 30 miles. I managed 2.57 very pleasant and easy miles from Paddington along the canal to Regent's Park - but not to the office, because at that point something gave way very painfully in my left foot, which I twisted in a rabbit hole yesterday evening: I wonder whether there is any connection? Or just an excess of forefoot striking? Anyway, I had to hobble the rest of the way to work and have to hope it sorts itself out with a bit of rest during the day.

06 January 2013

Janathon day 6

Plans for a long Sunday run went awry, so it was another set of laps of the playing field in the dark. Nine laps tonight, totalling 3.38 miles. Weather warm (shorts and tee shirt, plus Vivobarefoot Breatho trail shoes which are proving excellent), but a little drizzle in the air - and some unpleasant rabbit holes, one of which caught my left foot and twisted my ankle a little. Not enough to stop me, though. Pace moderate, given the conditions, but fastest recorded at 7:44 which isn't bad.

05 January 2013

Janathon day 5

A gentle 5K at the start of a busy day - while the porridge was in the microwave (probably a heinous crime in Scotland, exacerbated by using one-third milk to two-thirds tap water). Almost a rest day, running-wise, though it will be busy enough otherwise!

04 January 2013

Janathon 4 continued

Ran back to Paddington too, making 3.5 miles for today. Not bad, with a full working day in between.

Janathon day 4

Well, I have put in a run - but because I turned right instead of left as I left Paddington, it was shorter than planned. A couple of miles rather than 5K (if I may be permitted to mix metric and Imperial in exactly the way that I was taught not to do at school). That, after just one walking lap of the playing field before I left for the station. I could have cycled to the station - but the first mile or so will be very wet and muddy.

There's always an opportunity for a 5K this evening on the way home: and perhaps even an outing at lunchtime, round Regent's Park.

03 January 2013

Janathon day 3

Another boring 5K round the village playing field, but in the daylight this time and a bit of something a little like speed work included. I am taking care not to overdo anything, so I think I will stick to 5K sessions for the time being and forget the Murakamis.

02 January 2013

Janathon day 2

The exigencies of a working day dictated an early run, so Hugo was exercised before I left and I could tick it off my to-do list. 5k, comprising 8 laps of the playing field, in the dark before dawn with headlight, Knucklelights, hi-viz tabard and red flashing armband light. Overkill, perhaps, but it made me feel serious. I think the pace was good, too, but I need to look at the data this evening. Maybe after my second run of the day, to make up a Murakami.

01 January 2013


I can leave behind another bad running year, and set my sights on having a good one: and if it's a good running year, it will be a good year in other ways too. To strengthen my resolve I signed up for Janathon - not for the first year, but in the past injuries have intervened and I have not been able to run every day of the month - and this morning I got off to a good start. My resolve should be even more strengthened, as I have also entered a January Marathon (a rare thing, in this country) - Gloucester, on Sunday fortnight, 20th. Well, having proved that I don't actually need to train to run a Marathon, what possible harm is there in that? (Please don't answer.)

Another reason for getting out running was to try out my latest acquisition - Vivobarefoot Breatho trail shoes.  They don't look quite right, fresh out of the box, but don't worry - they didn't keep their pristine appearance for long.

 I could have joined my clubmates for a New Year Run - but Wittenham Clumps, where the run was to start,  is reported to be extremely muddy and I can imagine that, down by the Thames, it is impossible. Anyway, I felt like a good, unsociable, solo run - with Hugo, but that's different. I definitely had some blues this morning which needed blowing away.

Hugo and I headed out towards the Ridgeway in a generally westerly direction - up the road past the village school. Except that we had not long left the playing field before he decided to relieve himself, and I had to scoop up the product and retrace my steps (he retraced his too) to the other side of the playing field, where the dedicated bin can be found. Then we set off again. The road has quite a good surface for the best part of a mile, and I have used this for 1000M reps in the past, but after that it deteriorates and takes a distinctly upward course. The hill really finds you out, and in my case I knew exactly what it would reveal - that I need to do repeats on it many times to get back to something like the level of fitness I once had, and to which I aspire. I stopped part-way up to arbitrate in a canine convention, and to chat to the owner of three dogs she was taking for a walk - she told me she often ran with them. After that, I ran steadily the rest of the way up the climb (the Garmin data suggesting that this was where I failed to start the device again, which accounts for the sudden jump in elevation and the 0.62 mile difference between out and back!).

When I reached a point which I deemed to be the top of the climb - where the track becomes grassy again, and a sign on the left indicates the existence of a nature reserve, the purpose of which escapes me - I paused, and a passing walker remarked "well done, you!". I wished her, and her family, a happy New Year (with what breath I had), as I did almost everyone I met - the main exception being the man whose dog lunged at me and had to be fended off, and who did not even apologise for his dog's behaviour.
Just before the car park we paused again. The wind, from which we had been shielded on the way up, was now quite strong and coming from where we were heading, which does not go well with a tiring climb, general unfitness and basic tiredness, not only from a late night. I persuaded Hugo to stand still for long enough to snap a photo of him looking resolute, but unfortunately when I crouched to try to get a better angle he immediately tried to get onto my lap so this shot has to do.

Through the car park, where the driver of one car had ignored the "no motor vehicles" sign to park a few yards further on beyond the official parking area - obviously, the rule was made for everyone else, like so many rules are these days - and on through mud and water for a few miles to the Wantage Memorial, the intended turn-around point. It's normally five miles from home, but today it was four - a Garmin operating problem, I think. I got the photographic evidence, which also shows what a lovely blue sky and clear day we had.

On the return leg the wind disappeared, suggesting it was blowing at running speed (about 6 mph - not fast for wind, nor for running, come to that) and with the sun on my face I felt I was flying, at least until I passed a couple walking in the opposite direction and recognised one of them as an old acquaintance, so stopped to talk again. They had come from as far away as Islip to find reasonable walking conditions in the present flooding, and the Ridgeway, for all that it was soft and muddy underfoot with a lot of standing water, certainly drains well.

Not a hard effort, but a very satisfying excursion in excellent weather - reminiscent of the first day of the Millennium, on which perhaps I should do a retrospective blog post. The church looked lovely in the sunshine, although my Blackberry doesn't really do it justice (and it would be good if the hedge could be made to disappear).