Green Belt Relay 2019: a race report

Since I last wrote, I managed to run fairly consistently, but kept to shorter distances and slower paces because I didn’t want to aggravate the pain in my right knee (or, more specifically, the IT band). This seemed to work well. I got up to eight miles as my longest run the Sunday before last with no problems. Last week I did a couple of mid-week three-milers and felt pretty good. I was able to run a bit quicker with no pain at all.

But this weekend, I took part in the Green Belt Relay. I’ve done it a few times before. It’s a crazy event but always so much fun that I can’t say no to being involved. The course is about 220 miles around the Green Belt of London, made up of 22 stages. Each team has 11 runners who do one stage each on each day. 52 teams took part this time.

I was due to run stage 11 on day 1 (7.5 miles, fairly flat but with some complex navigation involved, and the last leg of the day) and then stage 17 on day 2 (10.5 miles, also tricky to navigate, and quite hilly).

Because I was doing the last leg on day 1, I spent all day sitting in a car, mainly chilling out, drinking, and eating. So that was good. All teams also have to take part in marshalling the event. On Saturday, I and a few others from my team had to direct runners across a busy road near the beginning of a stage (I can’t remember which one now!)

My day 1 run went okay. It was a late start – 6.50pm. After having been dry all day, it also started raining just as I was about to run. Runners are supposed to carry printed maps with them. I had had my maps in a plastic wallet, but for some reason I had taken them out of the wallet and left the wallet in the car, so when I came to run, the maps got soaked, stuck together, and were useless to me. Thankfully, I ran with another runner for a while who knew where she was going; and then when I slowed, I managed to keep her in my sights so I could see where the turns were ahead.

I started off quickly, feeling good, and ran downhill with a load of other runners. The smooth road turned into a field with very uneven ground underfoot. And then another field. And a kissing gate. And a farm. And another field, another gate, another farm, another field, and so on. At some point my knee decided it was not happy with all this uneven ground, and the pain kicked in. I slowed down. Thankfully the pain didn’t get worse, so I didn’t have to stop; but my leg felt weak and it was tough to keep running on that terrain.

I finished, though, and in a decent time. Not the time I had hoped for; but decent nonetheless. And then we bundled ourselves into various cars and went for dinner at Pizza Express in Basildon.

I was worried about doing my day 2 stage. One of my lovely team members offered to swap with me, so that she would do my difficult 10.5 miles, and I’d do an easier 6-mile stage. I was so tired and grateful that I accepted straight away; but then spent the rest of the weekend feeling guilty about this, especially as she had never taken part in the event before.

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After a much-needed sleep at a Travelodge, I felt better for day 2 (although still guilty, and still worried about whether I’d be able to run at all). I was involved in marshalling another point – one that our team had done before, where runners emerge from a hedge and we direct them up the road. It is a crazy start to a stage (as several runners of that leg remarked to me). We had fun marshalling that bit, anyway.

I was really pleased that my teammate, K, finished the stage I was supposed to do. She did a great time, and clubbed together with other runners en route so that they shared navigation problems together. K assured me that she really enjoyed it, and I hope she meant it!

My stage was quite late again – about 3.45pm. I spent a while before I ran lying on a picnic blanket and rolling on a ball. This definitely helped. I did a short practice jog and felt no pain. I also took some ibuprofen.

I’d actually run the same stage before, three years ago – and I had IT band pain then, but in the other leg. There was a big hill near the beginning that I didn’t remember from last time. I walked most of it. My knee started hurting a lot on the downhill so I walked a bit there as well. After that, although the pain was still there, the road became flatter. I was able to keep up a steady if fairly slow pace, and made sure to keep my stride short. I made it to the end, and beat my last time by about six minutes. Whoop.

I am now feeling rather broken, not just in my knee, but I also had a burning thigh pain which hasn’t gone away yet. I am so stiff and achy, and the mileage I did this weekend isn’t anywhere near as much as I was doing in marathon training!

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But I still enjoyed the weekend. I possibly enjoyed the marshalling parts more than anything else. The rest of my team did brilliantly. I think it was also a record-breaking year overall, with a mixed team winning for the first time, and many course records smashed. I’m already looking forward to next year, when hopefully I’ll have had time to get in some trail running and hills as training so that my body is actually ready for it.

Week 15/16: Best laid plans

After I last wrote, I did my third run of Week 15: a parkrun. It was a beautifully sunny Saturday morning, with light winds and dry ground. I wasn’t sure what pace I was going to run at. I ended up running the first mile by feel. I looked at the mile split on my watch. It was an 8:05 pace, so I carried on with that. It felt fairly hard, but not as if I was going all-out; and I kept a steady pace until the end. My official time was 25:05.

I had a busy but good Saturday afternoon and evening. I met up with old friends, went to the theatre, wandered around Covent Garden in the sun, and ate and drank lots. I didn’t get home that late, but I felt rough on Sunday morning. However, I told myself I needed to get out and do a six-mile run.

The weather was much worse than on Saturday – cold, cloudy and windy, and I felt underdressed in a short-sleeved top. The prospect of six miles around the park felt like too much, even though it was only a fraction of the distance of my long runs. I jogged through a small local park on the way to Bushy Park. When I got out of the gate, I ran down the pavement leading to the main road, and then – BAM! Fell over. My knees and hands slammed into the ground. I lay there, stunned, for a bit; then picked myself up. I decided to walk back home rather than complete the run. I tried jogging but my knee hurt.

2019-03-31 10.47.35Back at home, I assessed the damage. The biggest casualty was my left knee. I ripped a hole in my running tights. There was blood and bruising. I had also knocked my right hand, right knee, elbows, and right hip.

I spent the rest of the day feeling annoyed and sorry for myself. I still don’t know why I tripped – I’m guessing it was uneven pavement that I wasn’t paying attention to because I was tired. I iced my knees and put a dressing on the knee wound. Today, I can walk, although stairs are painful, and my left knee feels very sore and stiff.

And there are only six days until Hannover Marathon. It is frustrating to have put in so much work, only to possibly ruin it all because of something silly. These things happen, though, and I can’t do anything about it now except rest as much as I can, and see how I feel on the day. Onwards and upwards.

Week 8, run 1: One day at a time

I had an unexpected day at home yesterday. I used the opportunity to go for a run at lunchtime. The skies were grey and there was a chilly wind blowing. My mood wasn’t great, either, but I thought a run might help.

The first mile or so was fine, but I seemed to be riddled with indecision about what route to take. On the Strava GPS record of my run, there are a few comical squiggly lines where I started running one way, then turned back.

I ended up doing a tried-and-tested 5 km loop into Bushy Park and back. When I got into the park, my ankle/calf/soleus pain returned. This was confusing and disheartening, as over the weekend I’d run more than 17 miles with no issues at all. I stopped a few times to stretch my calf and make circles with my ankle. The pain then eased off; but returned again after running for a few minutes. Rinse, repeat.

As the pain eased off with stretching, I’m inclined to think it was caused by not stretching enough pre-run. I’m going to go with that, rather than risk sinking back into despair and taking several days off running again. Today, rather than running, I’ll stick to walking and stretching; and then tomorrow, I’ll try another run and see how that goes. One day at a time.

Miles run yesterday: 3.3 / Type of run: Easy / Average pace: 9:47 / Miles run this week: 3.3

Week 7: Regaining momentum

After I had to cut short my long run at the end of Week 6, I took five days off running. What I had thought was ankle or Achilles pain actually seemed to be in my lower calf (possibly the soleus muscle). I spent a couple of days limping around and feeling sorry for myself. I also carried out the RICE method: in the evenings I lay on the sofa with my leg elevated and ice on it (or rather, an old bag of frozen peas that we keep for such occasions), and ordered some fancy compression socks.

By Wednesday, the pain was less severe. I walked home from work (which takes about an hour), hoping it would help my mood, but mostly I was annoyed by the freezing cold weather and the fact that my calf still hurt a bit. I started putting heat on it (aka a hot water bottle with a lovely fluffy cover), and also stretched and did some strength exercises.

I was feeling spectacularly cranky by Friday. I wondered if I would ever run again. I was poring over my training plan, trying to analyse what went wrong, and if I should adjust the plan for the weeks ahead. I wondered if I should run at all at the weekend.

On Saturday, I decided at the last minute that I would try and do parkrun. The temperature was below zero. I almost slipped over when I got out of the car, because the car park had become a sheet of ice. After a perilous walk over to the starting area, and joining in some celebrations for a friend’s 500th parkrun(!), I ran 5 km with 1200 or so others. There were some icy parts on the course, but marshals were around to ensure no one slipped over. I kept my pace easy. Finishing that run, and with no calf pain, boosted my mood.

I had the rest of Saturday to feel a growing apprehension about Sunday’s long run. Eventually I told myself: if you can get this done, it’ll have the effect of a much-needed mental boost.

2019-02-03 08.15.23I set out to do around 14 miles. I stayed in Bushy Park, so that I wouldn’t have the added stress of thinking about a route. It was a beautiful morning: frosty and sunny. I ran alone, with an audiobook on earphones (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, in case you’re interested). The distance felt daunting to me, so I decided to split it into two sections: eight miles, then six.

This seemed to work well. Once I’d got to eight miles, I felt as if I could go on for six more, and that I even felt good enough to speed up. Although my legs were feeling tired for the last few miles, I finished strongly. I met friends for a cup of tea, feeling pleased with myself for getting that run done.

So, Week 7 involved a steep climb from the doldrums back into the heady realms of positive thinking. Today I have a sore hip, but I’m feeling more confident about going ahead with the (slightly revised) training plan, and glad that I have regained some momentum.

Miles run last week: 17.6 (3.1 on Saturday + 14.5 on Sunday)

Week 6, run 5: Finding my limits

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well my marathon training has been going, especially considering that I have increased my mileage a lot. It was always in the back of my mind, though, that I needed to be careful and not get carried away, or I could set myself back.

The training plan said 13 miles for today’s long slow run, but as my running had been going well, I was going to go for 14. I felt a strong urge to stay in bed this morning, but I didn’t listen to myself. All I was thinking was that I had to get this 14 miles done, because it was on the plan.

My other half, S., drove us to Bushy Park where we were meeting a friend. S. went to do his long run (18 miles) and I ran with our friend, H., who has been keeping me company on some of my long runs in the last few weeks. The weather was pretty awful: there was a nasty cold wind; although the sun did come out and the rain held off until later.

We followed a slightly hilly and at times muddy and slippery route through Richmond Park. I’m not used to hills at the moment, but I seemed to tackle them okay. We ran down to Kingston and along the towpath, where I started getting pain just to the left of my ankle. I thought it might ease off, especially after I stopped to stretch; but it got worse and worse until I had to stop and walk. We ran for eight miles; then walked the last two (with some bits of jogging purely to try and keep warm).

The run seemed like a failure to me. My ankle felt really sore, and it felt like my marathon training had gone the drain. I thought: well, here it is. I was waiting for it all to fall apart, and now it has.

In reality, though, it wasn’t that bad a run. Even with the walking miles included, it was still an 11:10 pace overall, and 10 miles is not a bad distance (and I have run the same number of miles this week as I did last week – my highest ever weekly mileage). And, in a way, I am glad that I have this pain, because it’s made me stop and reassess how the plan is going: whether it is right for me, and not whether I can mould myself to it and carry it out at all costs.

I have had a similar ankle pain before, and I think it is to do with referred pain from elsewhere rather than the ankle itself. This means easing off from running and concentrating on strengthening and stretching the rest of my body; and also giving myself a bit of a mental break. I pushed myself on some hard runs this week, even though I was already stressed and fatigued not only from running, but for other reasons.

Right now, my plan is to take each day as it comes, and to listen to myself. And, really, one failed (not really failed) run in six weeks of training is not that big a deal. Onwards and upwards.

Miles run today: 10.43 / Average pace: 11:10 minute-miles / Type of run: Long and slow / Miles run this week: 30.2