Goodbye, #VLM2017, hello recovery…

It’s five weeks since I’ve been able to run.

I’ve only just acknowledged that I will have to pull out of this year’s Virgin London Marathon, and I’m clinging onto my sanity whilst the waves continually try to bash me from the rock face. And I’m keeping a diary: a diary of my rehab, my recovery, and the lessons I’m learning about myself as I wade through this mire. In the big scheme of things, it’s no biggie. People have real problems. But the thing is, running has been my Prozac, my therapy, my lifeline, my sanity, my solace, my friend, my quiet time, my escape route, my place-to-go, and my default setting for some six years now. I’ve written a book about it, don’t you know? ‘Running for my Life’ will be published in Jan ’18.

How ironic then, that for however long (and I honestly have no idea) – I can’t run. My body won’t let me. It’s a painful experience. I feel vulnerable; insecure; not quite right; off-kilter. I feel like a piece of me has – if not died – then been put into a deep coma. That piece of me brought me joy. And I want it back.

So what am I going to do with all of this? Am I going to wallow and wilt whilst sobbing on my sofa eating Pringles? (*yes, probably… I jest.) I’ve cried irrational, melodramatic tears. I’ve spontaneously combusted at the frustration of my running being taken from me without explanation; without cause (well, this isn’t entirely true… #overtraining)

I love running. I love MY running. It pulsates through my being and makes me feel alive. But this is a journey that I am going to learn from. This is one that – despite my tears of frustration, my ‘Tilly, you’ll have to help me to run Junior Parkrun today, because I don’t think I can run 2k’ pleas to my six-year-old daughter – I need to turn into something strong and positive; something that I can use to grow and build from, and as a fuel to propel me rocket-like into the next phase of my running life.

I am learning; I am evolving; I am trying. And I am going to share some of my daily diary entries of both my progress, and my setbacks. Some days I feel mentally strong and defiant. Others, I feel like at the slightest nudge, I could crumble into a pit of mental health woes and outrageously disproportionate fears.

All of this is now a part of my journey, and my reality. And at the very least, I can share the ride…

Thanks for your company. Hold on tight!

 Mon 13th Feb

I’ve been fixated on reading Amelia Boone’s blog ‘When it all comes crashing down’ and her subsequent recovery from no less than TWO fractures in her femur (the strongest bone in the body) whilst at the very peak of her elite obstacle racing career. In my own mini, pathetic soap opera of a personal disaster, it’s helped knowing that someone else has been hit a hundred times harder, has fallen from a far greater platform, and has managed to pick up the pieces from a broken heart of shattered racing dreams. It is possible. And here I am, with a slight niggle to my calf (plus permanently dead legs) from which I am – at times – inconsolable.

fullsizeoutput_c6b

Thanks for the hint, Amelia. Loving this book…

Today was bad. I did my rehab – first session at 6.15am whilst the rest of the house slept, and I was barely awake enough to work out my left from my right. Hoping beyond hope that what I was doing wasn’t entirely pointless, I gave it another shot whilst on my usual lunchtime gym visit at work.

But my BIG goal for today was to run… TWO MILES. Engineering logistics in place to make the whole debacle feasible, Gav duly collected Mini Me and her last remaining Chicken Pox scabs from school, whilst I planned to park up in Copley village next to the canal. I’d get changed surreptitiously whilst in the driver’s seat, making every effort not to reveal all to innocent passers-by, and head off one mile out, and one mile back. Sounded easy. Fucking hell, how hard can that be?

I parked up and was soon swamped by School Mums walking past my car pushing prams, whilst I sat in my pants, wrestling myself into SKINS. Others sat waiting for talented & gifted offspring in the comfort of their 4x4s. I deliberately avoided eye contact.

A few contortions later and I was ready to run. Nerves were building as I asked myself, ‘Am I ready for this? Is my leg ready?’ In my gut, I already knew the answer.

I set off. My left leg struggled to push itself off the ground, the right one having to do what it could to mitigate for its distinct lack of effort. Every step was laboured; the pain in my left calf now precisely that – no confusion with tightness.

Back at my car, I wept. ‘I think my running is over, Gav’ I sent him by Whatsapp, as I sobbed in solitude at the wheel. ‘Don’t be silly, Rach. You’re catastrophizing again. You know that…’ he replied, being as rational as he could without sounding offensive.

I knew I was being melodramatic, emotional, and lacking any sense of logical reasoning, but in that moment, it’s precisely how I felt: I felt to have lost a part of me, and I couldn’t even imagine getting it back.

Once mercifully back home, I pulled myself together for the sake of Tills who had made a successful return to school braving any comments about her remaining chicken pox scabs. A few well-timed sobs on Gav’s shoulder in the kitchen whilst out of earshot later, and I finally calmed down.

Later that evening, once Chicken Dipper was in bed, Gav decided to give me his Valentine’s day gift. I knew he’d planned something special, and he wanted to give it me when I wasn’t otherwise occupied making breakfast or finding clean pants for a scabby child. He made the right choice, but I was still emotionally fragile.

I opened the large A4 envelope, and inside was the most stunning card, dotted with our gormless selfies from the past few years. I looked again, and I felt my tears well up. ‘That photo was taken from XX race…’ ‘… and that one when we were running in Barcelona!’ RUNNING IS HAUNTING ME AGAIN! I felt a wave of anger as even my beautiful Valentine’s card taunted me that I can’t do the very thing that I – and we – love to do the most. Fucking hell, pull yourself together, Rach.

img_7301-2

Soppy Get 😉

‘It’s beautiful, Gav,’ I said, gulping. And I meant it.

Behind the card was another envelope. This time there was a typed letter informing me of a spa afternoon he’d arranged, prior to the half marathon race we had planned for Sunday. It also told of a consultation with an International elite athlete, who could advise me with tweaks to my training for coming marathon plans… Training? What fucking training? I can’t train! I can’t even run a mile! I wept again as running once again seemed to usurp the kindest, most thoughtful and generous gift and kibosh it PRECISELY at the time when I least of all needed a kicking.

‘I don’t know if I can go, Gav’ I sobbed. ‘I can’t even run, so what’s the use of me sitting down talking about VO2 max and marathon training drills with some elite athlete?’ My mind had a meltdown with the pity and the frustration of it all.

‘It’s OK, Rach. Just think about it and we’ll make a call tmrw,’ said the ever patient, long-suffering Gav, whose heart must have been breaking seeing all of his thoughtful plans come crashing down in front of him.

He slowly walked up the stairs to the bathroom. And then, at that moment I had an epiphany: FUCK IT! I’m not going to let this bloody injury rob me and Gav of our plans for the special day he’s planned. NO WAY! And, I’d LOVE to speak to a ‘real’ athlete about some of the times when she’s struggled with injury or illness. And she’s an elite athlete! What the hell must THAT pressure be like?

Almost instantly my tears dried up and I felt excited. Excited at the prospect of meeting some sage-like running guru, and – more importantly – excited about the prospect of spending some time with my gorgeous, thoughtful, infinitely patient Gav regardless of any running plans that may have, at one point, been involved. So, fuck you, leg. I can’t WAIT for Friday!

*PS today is the day that I put my trainers in the bin in a fit of rage. Gav took them out, but I’ve got a MAJOR grudge with them after my horrendous 2 miler, and so they quickly went back in the bin.

 Fret not, I have others.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Advertisements

It’s Blind Date! …with a static bike.

Wednesday 8th Feb

 It’s an early start this morning. I’m up with the larks to go see Magician Dave (Physio) for some more spells and contortions as he tries his best to un-make this holy mess I’ve made of my Peg Leg.

I turn up at the Miracle Centre and his polite – if slightly officious – receptionist makes me a bowl of Flat White. I’m not sure whether I’m in a physio’s waiting room or Starbucks, but I’d be happy with either right now.

‘How is it?’ he asks in his unmistakably Irish twang, and I begin to wade through the ridiculous tale of my having undone precisely ALL of the patching together he’d achieved before my ill-conceived attempt at the Dewsbury Bidet 10k.

He is patient, understanding, and kind. He doesn’t stand before me with condescending tones of ‘Well, that was fucking clever wasn’t it, Rachel?’ or repeated, disapproving sighs. He knows me well enough now to be confident that either of those responses may insight me to drive straight home and go out for a bastard rage-fuelled run (yes, he also knows that I am THAT stupid.)

He pulls and pushes my limbs as I move this way and that.

‘Can you push your RIGHT hand towards the LEFT corner of the room’

‘And your LEFT hand down the INSIDE of your RIGHT thigh.’

‘Good. And your RIGHT hand down to the floor to touch your RIGHT foot.’

 Suddenly, I’m in an expensive game of Twister. Or the Hokey Cokey.

I’m given my orders:

  • a prescription of rehab exercises (I hang on to his instructions as though I’m hearing the words of God himself);
  • I can do ‘other’ non-impact training, he generously confirms; Oh, and
  • No running.
  • NO RUNNING.

Those words, ‘NO’ and ‘RUNNING’ hit me and I grapple with myself for being utterly ridiculous. ‘Let’s see how it is in a few days – a week,’ he says (I realise, I’ve had longer holidays). By then, he reassures me, I MAY be able to reintroduce some very short, steady runs. But my head still spins with unanswered questions:

WHEN will I be back running? I want a time, and a date. Possibly even a place. He can give me nothing.

Will I lose my fitness? Will I lose all that I’ve trained for over the past six years just because of one silly treadmill run too far?

What will I do instead? What other training shall I do to a) stay sane and b) stay fit? I hate most classes; I fall off bikes (although admittedly not indoor ones – yet); and I can’t STAND swimming (I get cold and want to wee in the pool.)

What about all the races I’m booked to do on the run up to London? Write them off?

What about the marathon? The VLM 2017

What about the marathon?  Yes – the VLM 2017

And finally, what about the marathon? I see the hashtag #VLM2017 flash in front of my eyes. I so desperately want to be on that start line in April, the question spins around my head and eclipses all others.

 It’s suddenly like being in a bad episode of Blind Date from 1996. I begrudgingly revisit Contestant Number 1 – the static gym bike. He isn’t too bad, I guess. Maybe we could get along? It seems I’m left with no option but to go on a second date.

That lunch time, myself and the Static Gym Bike go to the First Dates restaurant. We have a pleasant chat; we have a few things in common. ‘The food is nice,’ I tell myself, whilst being fully aware that anything with the word NICE attached to it is thoroughly shit.

I look over at the other table. There is another woman on a date with the Treadmill. She doesn’t love running like I do – I can tell. She isn’t even interested in it. But she’s on a date with it, and I’m not. I’m stuck in the corner with Dull Arse Static Bike for company.

The clock ticks by. Offensive, red pixelated seconds and minutes pass away in front of me, and I turn the volume up on my Warren headphones (*There’s Something About Mary reference for the uncultured.) ‘Yazz & the Plastic Population: The Only Way is Up’ suddenly blares out into my ears. Oh, for fuck’s sake! I shout silently to myself as I work up to face my second endurance set – another hard effort 8 minutes.

The dinner date between Non-Runner and Treadmill has ended. She’s flounced off, not even giving it a backward glance, whilst the belt still spins slowly, as though it wasn’t ready to be left on its own just yet. Another day, I’d have dumped Static Bike and the endless ‘intervals’ in a heartbeat, and hopped aboard my beloved Treadmill. I’d say, ‘Listen, Tredders. I know we’ve had a few fallouts recently, and it hasn’t all been plain sailing, and you know that – well, I’m VERY FOND of you. I love running on pavements infinitely more, but in here, you are my true love. Can we not just patch things up and make it work?’

 But today, I’m on a date with Static Bike, and there’s no escape.

I come to the end of my session. I’ve split it up into purposeful, manageable chunks. I’ve worked hard – I’ve sweated (more than I would on the treadmill, to be honest) and I feel a sense of achievement that I’ve at least stuck it out.

I drift over to the mats and then focus on the Words of God rehab exercises I’ve been sent to fit into any given opportunity. I try my best to remember how I should be doing them. Am I supposed to breathe IN here, or OUT? Is my leg supposed to be at THIS angle, or THAT? I don’t honestly know, but I do them anyway.

I look at the clock and see it’s time for me to head back to my desk. Dave (work mate Dave, not Physio Dave) will be wondering where I am. And just as I’m about to head out of the gym, Static Bike shouts over, ‘So, shall we do this again sometime, then?’

 ‘Yeah.’ I say, miserably – eyeing up the Treadmill with watery eyes. ‘Yes, lets.’

 ‘I’ll call you…’

fullsizeoutput_b08.jpeg

London Marathon Diary 2017, Sunday 5th Feb 2017: Who am I when I can’t run?

London Marathon Diary 2017

Sunday, 5th Feb 2017

Who am I when I can’t run?

Today is Sunday, 5th Feb, and it’s exactly 11 weeks – or 77 days – until the 2017 London Marathon.

How’s my training going? It’s going shit. I’ve already vented my frustration at having two weeks’ worth of KFC family-bucket sized, ‘Do you wanna go large with that?’ flu rampaging through our house, knocking me sideways, off my feet and away from any semblance of ‘real’ marathon training (ref. ‘Lemsips and Race Disasters’ Blog post.)

And then. AND THEN it got worse. I kicked my own arse so hard on the bastard treadmill playing some misconceived game of ‘catch up’ that I brought on an injury to my lower calf/Achilles area. This caused me to go all E.T and Phone Home on Thursday morning, as I stood by a wet, lonely bench high on Norland Moor with wide, sad eyes waiting for my long-suffering Other Half to pick me up 3 miles from my own front door (ref. ‘Beware: The Dreaded Treadmill Overkill’ Blog post.)

It is now Sunday. By my basic calculations, that is a mere THREE DAYS after the E.T Phone Home incident, and subsequent emergency Physio appointment at which he (Magician Dave) said – and I quote – ‘So, you WON’T be racing on Sunday then, Rach, will you?’

I didn’t answer.

I did believe in miracles, and I did turn up to the start line of the Dewsbury 10k race this morning. I knew it was a gamble: my leg would either handle it, or it wouldn’t.

It wouldn’t.

I set off knowing the grumblings were still there, and by only ONE MILE into the race, the pain was intensifying. At 1.7 miles, there was nowhere to go, and so I limped off the course and made an about-turn, facing the Walk of Shame back to the start.

fullsizeoutput_b00

Runners stared at me as though witnessing a resurrection, as I trudged slowly down the street in the wrong direction, back to the centre of the toilet bowl that is Dewsbury.

‘Are you OK?’ A kind marshall asked, as I hobbled by, pathetically.

‘Injured.’ I said, feigning a sorry smile, whilst hobbling and pointing to my leg.

A St. John’s Ambulance pulled up, and a kind chap shouted out of the window ‘Do you want a lift back to the start, love?’

‘Yes. Yes, please, I do’ I shouted back, as the prospect of a 1.7 mile shuffle back down the Dewsbury U-bend wasn’t altogether appealing – certainly not in (short) shorts and a thin running top. I hopped in the van and made polite chatter with the crew, who looked grateful to have something to do. I turned down their kind offer of emergency Lucozade, having barely broken a sweat, and confirmed that I didn’t need bandaging or carrying anywhere, which seemed to dampen the mood slightly.

Once safely dropped off back at the Dewsbury bidet, I conveniently bumped into Andy, a lovely runner also hampered by injury, and a true gentleman. I stood with Andy, still slightly stunned from the wilful disobedience of my left leg, whilst wrapped up in his warm, winter coat with the oversized arms hanging down around my knees like a homespun Mr Tickle costume. We chatted about our recent running experiences and respective misfortunes, whilst my very own Hero in Human Form Cheryl (#FlyHighEdie) and baby Annie joined us. She hugged me with a warmth to challenge Andy’s overcoat, and the world seemed just that little bit brighter.

We waited for our respective Running Other Halves to cross the finish line – which they did in 41 and 43 minutes respectively (well done Tom & Dodd) and hobbled off to Weatherspoons, where I dunked my emergency non-branded digestives into a refill coffee to ease my running sorrows (I brought them along from home… just in case.)

img_0944

It’s all smiles… then RICE

And once back at home, it got me thinking. Two things:

Firstly: Who am I if I can’t run? How does it make me feel? What is my state of mind? And how does it– and will it – impact on the rest of my days, until I am free to bounce around the hills and vales once more in serotonin-enhanced bliss?

This may seem a little melodramatic (it has been known to be a particular penchant of mine) and also rather hasty, as I don’t yet know the full extent of my lower limb’s blatant refusal to play along with my marathon hopes and aspirations.

But these are questions that I will ponder, as the coming days of cross-training, rehab and ‘rest’ (NO! NOT THAT WORD) are on the menu. It already makes me shrink and recoil in my own skin to think that I am ALREADY struggling with this as a concept, whilst there are

  1. a) PLENTY of other people who are experiencing similar minor irritations like warts on an otherwise peachy arse; and
  2. b) there REALLY ARE FAR bigger problems to be facing in the world (and I know plenty of lovely, incredible people personally who are having those daily battles right here, and right now.)

I will put some more thought to this, and to the glaring flaws this highlights in my own ability to handle even mild adversity (of which I have had a reasonably generous dollop across my 38 years of spinning around like some preoccupied Tasmanian Devil on this oversized revolving marble, I must confess.)

Secondly: This is the start of my NEW Virgin London Marathon 2017 journal. It came to me in a lightbulb moment. For the next 77 days, I will document the ups and downs, the triumphs and disasters and the bumps in the road that will see me to the start of the VLM 2017… or not. I last did this on the run up to the VLM 2015, and – hell – it ended up being the very first chapter of my book ‘Running For My Life’ (which will be published Jan ’18 by @BlinkPublishing with signed copies also available on the free table at Tesco’s shortly after.)

 So, on Instagram* (Cullen_Rachel) I will post a photo EVERY DAY for the next 77 days to document that journey. Some days, it might be a photo of a bar of Dairy Milk and a Foam Roller, but it will all be a part of my journey to VLM 2017.

The question is: Will I make it?

*I still don’t quite ‘get’ Instagram; the whole hashtag thing, or the fact that I only have about 7 followers (you know who you are, and I love every single one of you :-D)

But my Mum loves me.

fullsizeoutput_b01

Instagram?? Hashtag? Mum – Are you there?

BEWARE: THE DREADED TREADMILL OVERKILL

Last month I was busy crowing about ‘the realities of marathon training’ and my virtuous early morning speed session. YAY ME! (I would have used ‘sessions’ in the plural, but it only happened the once.)

January was a bastard of a month. We all had flu, passing it around various family members like a gravy boat at Sunday lunch.

“Here you go, Mum”

 “Thanks, Till. Gav, it’s all yours…”

 “Cheers, Rach. You want a bit more? There’s plenty left.”

 “Yeah, why not. Pour it over the Yorkshires.”

fee884e7686aedf815739ab7a40bced7

This was the best gravy boat I could find.

Once the gravy boat flu was well and truly exhausted, we tried to return to some kind of normality… and then mild panic set in.

 ALERT. BEGIN MARATHON TRAINING. ALERT. BEGIN MARATHON TRAINING.

After all, that’s what we DO in the New Year isn’t it? A spring marathon means only one thing – get all the bullshit of Christmas out of the way and it’s Game On… Or it should be, if you’re not treading water in some virus-infested quagmire, watching the rest of the Running World upping their mileage on Strava, that is.

A N Other Runner: “We’re upping our long run to 16 miles today”

 ME: “But it’s still twelve weeks to go to the marathon!”

 A N Other Runner: “Yeah, but we’re already ahead of the plan.”

 ME: “Oh. Right.” (I reply, thinking I’ll be lucky to get 16 fucking miles in THIS WEEK!)

 Once just about back in the land of the living, it’s return to normality. Work; kids; there’s even some evidence of a world outside the front door again, and it’s CATCH UP TIME.

MONDAY: school run / work / school run. I’m already behind schedule.

I KNOW! We’ve got a gym at work. I’ll jump onto the treadmill at lunch time, and I’ll do my speed sets then. Yep. I’ll get STRAIGHT back into it. Snooze, you lose, and all that!

 Job done; box ticked. Nice one, squirrel.

TUESDAY: Speed session done, and I’m virtuous again, but I feel like I’m still playing catch up. I’m down on my mileage and I’ve missed a week’s decent training whilst drowning in Bisto.

I KNOW! We’ve STILL got a gym at work. I’ll jump onto the treadmill at lunch time again and do a steady 10k. I was on it yesterday, but if I take it STEADY today, it’ll be fine.

WEDNESDAY: I fucking hate the treadmill. I’m going to take my OUTDOOR running kit to work today, and I plan to run OUTSIDE in my lunch break. [At 12 noon, reality hits and it’s not pretty: not only is it pissing down but there’s a pea-souper out of my office window. With little/no visibility and nothing to be gained by running outdoors and falling down potholes and/or getting mugged by opportunistic weather-enthused petty criminals of North Halifax, I think again.]

…I KNOW! There’s a gym at work and I can do a few miles on the Dreadmill. What harm can it do?

 [Later]

 Work Mate Dave: ‘Rach, are you limping?’

 ME: ‘Yep. Yes I friggin am limping, Dave. It’s that bastard treadmill. I knew I’d done something to my leg earlier. It hurts to walk.’

 Work Mate Dave: ‘Bloody hell, it looks like you’ve crapped your pants.’

 ME: ‘Thanks, Dave.’

This is precisely what the first three days of my week have looked like. Other options for training quickly evaporated around school runs, pick-ups/drop offs, after school clubs and other activities, including an evening spent traipsing around Lidl’s whilst my child was busy having a life.

THURSDAY: I’M WORKING FROM HOME. YAYYYY! I WANTED to do a nine-miler from dropping Tills at school, but there’s fat chance of that. Shit. My leg still hurts when I walk. I’ll set off early doors and see how I go. I can ring Gav if I need to bail out.

 ME: ‘Gav. Please can you pick me up? I’ve done 3 miles and my leg’s killing me.’

 Gav: ‘We need to get you in with Dave (the Physio, not Work Mate Dave.)’

 And so, that very afternoon I am in with Dave (the Physio, not Work Mate Dave.)

In summary:

  • I have pushed myself to come back from the Sunday lunch family-bucket Flu too soon, being entirely panicked at ‘falling behind’ my purported marathon training schedule, and obsessing over how many miles Billy Bobbins has run in his Marathon Training Plan on Strava (I don’t even LIKE Billy Bobbins, so why am I even following him on Strava?)
  • I have – like some naïve fourteen-year-old cramming for pointless Economics mocks – tried to shoehorn miles in wherever the hell I could. The madness and logistics of the rest of my day/week thrown out the water, I’ve steam-rollered another layer of whoop-ass onto ALREADY dangerously high levels of cortisol. Any why? To keep up with Billy Bobbins on Strava?
  • Treadmill Dreadmill Overkill (which it will.) Once a week it’s a necessary evil. The greatly revered speed session is firmly on my ‘Must Do’ weekly task list. BUT some limp, half-arsed, dribbly-cocked, and ENTIRELY pointless 10k pounding on a revolving belt? Why? For what? Just to wreck my legs a bit more? Or to put something next to Billy Bobbins who’s been out for a sub-7 min/mile twenty-miler on Strava (the Wanker.)

And so it’s this. I am (only slightly) injured as a result of my own impatience / stupidity / inability to consider the full consequence and purpose of ALL my training, and select carefully. I have rehab exercises, I can do yoga (which I love, so this is one very positive thing) and I MIGHT miss out on a race this Sunday (which will upset me greatly because that is a part of my Marathon Training Plan and I want to be on the start line.)

I am avoiding treadmills like the plague, and if anyone locally spots me on one in the near future (unless I am quite clearly killing myself with speed sets which will be cruelly obvious) then please ask the nearest Gym Attendant to remove me immediately from the machine. Either that, or just go and pull the plug.

I’ll thank you for it, later.

img_6983