It's been a wee while since I've written a post about my training progress or goals and aspirations, but today I thought I'd hit the blog to pass on a message. If I make even just one person take action off the back of reading this I'll be happy.
As is the norm, I came into 2023 with some pretty big goals, and after such a successful year running last year I was in a very confident place to step things up a level. Things started well and I worked my way through the opening phases of my training plan, ramping up the miles steadily. I gained a few niggles, but this isn't uncommon as the body is put under extra stress. I then got some new shoes right about the time I was really turning the screw on my weekly mileage. Feeling fitter than ever I was putting in big days on things such as the Great Gifts Round or flying around the Ullswater Way in a little over 3 Hours, but this was all at the sacrifice of my Achillies. Before, during and after every run I was getting niggles in my left Achillies, and then before long my right started shouting at me too. It got to the point where I couldn't walk down stairs easily in the morning due to stiffness in them - but training is meant to hurt, right!?!?
Life on Ice...
In mid April I was scheduled to lead an expedition in Morocco up Mount Toubkal. I'd knew from my winter work here in the UK that certain foot positions in crampons really made the Achillies hate me so I decided I had to dial back on the running before I attempted to scale North Africa's tallest mountain in winter. My running pretty much ground to a halt and this was a bitter and unwanted pill to swallow, but it was an action I should have taken weeks earlier. I turned to my Turbo Trainer / Road bike in a bid to get weekly volume in and fortunately seemingly had no negative impact on my Achillies. I got back from Morocco and the very next day embarked on one of my usual loops up Sale Fell with the dogs. Within minutes my Achilles were shouting at me again - they were still screwed. The weekend following Morocco had been penned in as my weekend for my attempt of running The Cumbria Way in a Day (73 miles) and somehow I was still grasping onto this, thinking a couple of weeks of lighter duties would have been enough. I was forced to pull the plug on this, all made that much more challenging down to the fact it was exactly one year since my successful Bob Graham Round, a time I was fitter than ever. Now I couldn't even run a mile.
My head dropped, couple this with post-expedition blues, I was low. It was all self-pity, and I had just myself to blame. I'd railroaded myself into the ground and couldn't make any progress - the one thing I was so hooked on before.
It was time to take proper action. I embarked on a rehab plan that consisted of lots of foam rolling the legs (something I've always been so pants at doing), icing the Achilles for 20 minutes on / 20 minutes off for about 2 hours a night and then exercises (Loaded Calf Raises being the main one). Astonishingly after just 5 days of rolling and icing I could feel a huge difference - notably a lack of stiffness in the morning or after any exercise. I ordered a new set of running shoes online and told myself to keep off the running for another week.
Well, today my week was up and the new shoes arrived. I sat in the van about to head onto the trail anxious and excited at the same time. I was of course excited to be running again, but very anxious that I was about to reawaken two grumpy Achilles and be left walking back licking my wounds. Fortunately, everything fell into place and I smiled my way around 5.8km of glorious trails feeling like the cat that got the cream. I got back to the van and announced out loud to the dogs 'I'm back!'.
You may be able to relate to this short tale, I'm sure I'm not the only one who has buried their head in the sand when it comes to sacrificing their body in the ironic bid for fitness. Here are the key lessons I learnt....
1) Address the issue
If you're training hard then feeling a bit beat every now and then is going to come with the territory, but an actual injury does't fall into that category. The fact this injury reared it's head run after run and got worse should have been a big enough red flag. As I eluded to above, I was stuck into my training and was making great gains - probably fitter than I've ever been. I didn't want to admit I was injured and stop the forward momentum. In the end I had the best part of 4 weeks off running which will have undoubtedly set me back.
2) Check your kit!
I feel stupid even writing this, but part of the reason why my Achilles issue escalated so quick was because of the first set of previously mentioned new shoes. What I didn't know, because I just bought them online thinking they were the shoe for me, is that they were 0mm drop! I've been running in 6mm drop shoes for a couple of years and to suddenly go to 0mm whilst running 90km+ weeks was definitely not going to go well. Make sure you're making informed purchases!
The second set of new shoes mentioned above are Salomon Speedcross 6, coming in at a whopping 10mm drop. The Speedcross used to be my shoe of choice before I discovered Inov-8. I have however reverted back as I know the higher drop will be my ticket back into running , sooner.
3) Don't be afraid to Cross Train
I've really enjoyed getting back on the bikes the last few weeks. I've done a couple of hundred kilometres sat in my gym on the Turbo, enjoyed some nice road bike rides (including a tasty 120km ride last weekend) and also some Mountain Biking up at Whinlatter Forest. This was my bid to keep my weekly volume high and not anger my Achillies, and looking back I could have probably replaced some of my easy runs with biking earlier when I knew things were a bit grumpy.
Steeds of choice...
4) Make recovery part of your daily routine
I'm more than happy to put my hands up and say that apart from a stretch off at the van after a run, an occasional blast with a massage gun and a focused effort to get my daily protein allowance in (the fuel of repair and recovery) I don't do that much recovery work. This lazy approach has helped me bluff my way through so far, but either the increase in mileage, the fact I'm another year older, or a healthy mixture of both means that it needs to become a priority.
I couldn't believe how effective it was and within just one week how I felt - imagine if I did this all the time!
The loaded calf raises have felt particularly good and I know ritually clean my teeth standing on just one foot at a time.
5) Seek out support
It's crap when you can't do what you want to do, we all know that. It's almost childlike how even a grown adult can end up sulking down to something as trivial as not being able to go for a run. But anyone who loves to exercise, or loves a particular sport will know that the second they can't do it they feel like things start crashing down. For me and many others I'm certain, running is more than an opportunity for me to get fit or look good (still trying on that one), but it is often when I find I have most clarity - away from parenting, work and everything else that fills our lives.
Talking to my fellow running friends about the injury, my progress etc really helped me. They genuinely cared and wanted to listen. I've been super grateful for their support - you know who you are.
The next step for me is to rebuild to where I was at the start of April, without panicking! A good couple of weeks of working the frequency back, still utilising the bike for the longer sessions. All remaining strong after that I can once again ramp it up. I have just under 12 weeks until the Lakeland 100 which should be plenty of time to regain my confidence and crank that fitness back up.
Thanks for reading - I hope this helps someone.
At the end of my first run back...