Doctor, doctor, I can’t sit down!

Doctor, doctor, I can’t sit down! I think I’ve got ADHD…

… No, Rachel. You’re just neurotic.

Let’s begin with a flashback to my ill-conceived legal career and a good old fashioned caveat: there is no intention whatsoever on my part to make light of the ADHD condition, its symptoms or its sufferers. The same goes for neurosis. I may – or may not – have traces of both. If I were a food product requiring labelling as being ‘free from’ on the Gluten Free supermarket shelf, I fear that I wouldn’t make the grade. I would simply be unable to declare myself to be entirely ‘free from’ either, or both. And so, I would be placed back on the regular shelf with all the other shit full of MSG, wheat, lactose, fructose, traces of brazil nuts and bee pollen. Think Mr Kipling’s Fondant Fancies. They were never fussed about neon icing and E-numbers back in the 80s, were they?

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It’s me in cake form.

Either way, and whatever shelf I’m placed on in Tesco’s – I can’t sit still. I can’t – and won’t – ‘REST’. I HATE THE WORD. I have an allergy to the word itself which would rival most nut allergies on the planet: my head feels woozy and begins to throb; I start to sweat and my HR increases at the mere thought of doing… fuck all. I can’t do it. I’ve tried. *I was even convinced that my tongue swelled up, but that was just a pseudo symptom: my coffee was too hot.

And recently I’ve been doing a little experiment. In a literal sense, I am ‘back running again’ (although that in itself requires another caveat, which we won’t explore just now.) My experiment was this:

I wanted to find out how much ‘rest’ do I really give myself? How much ‘recovery time’ do my legs honestly get?

The facts are these:

Ever since my extended period of non-running from the first part of this year, I have had many weeks of NO weekly mileage, and now quite a few weeks of ridiculously LOW weekly mileage. According to Strava, I’m currently averaging 8 miles of running a week. Down from an average of 50 miles a week in 2015, so a bit of a drop, then. Surely this would help my legs to recover? Hmmmm.

 I’ve also been upping my cross-training activities, including:

  • Interval sessions on the static bike in the gym (a necessary evil)
  • Riding my bike (badly)
  • Attending yoga class 2-3 times per week (lengthening, stretching, and strengthening whilst assisting with my traces of neurosis)
  • Aqua jogging (well, it lasted a few weeks)
  • Walking (Sounds innocent enough, doesn’t it? We’ll come back to this…)

So, this should surely be the recipe for a miraculous recovery, resulting in legs so fresh I could skip over stiles in buttercup-spattered fields with the (minimal) effort of the nimblest spring lamb, or Ben Mounsey.

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That’s me in the middle.

Has that happened? No. It hasn’t.

WHY?

This, dear readers, is what my experiment has been designed to try and find out. Why are my legs simply not responding, given all the above straight-from-the-Captain-Sensible-book-of-recovery advisable steps?

THE ANSWER?

BECAUSE I CAN’T SIT DOWN.

I bought a Fitbit Alta HR and I wore it for one week. In that week – from Monday 15th May to Sunday 21st May – I walked a total of 75,668 steps (that’s 38.08 miles) without taking into account ANY of the other ‘cross training’ activities OR the fact that we’d done a 16-mile off road hilly walk with over 3,000 feet of climbing the day before this weekly experiment began.

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So, no shit, Sherlock. My legs are not akin to those of the sprightly spring lamb, or to the human/mountain goat cross species that is Mr Mounsey.

Here is what a NON-Rest diary looks like:

Monday 15th May

Speed walk up to the supermarket from work in my lunch hour to pick up 2 x variety packs of Magnums for my boss. I also buy a large bag of ice, so said Magnums don’t melt on the 3-mile round trip back to the office. My rucksack weighs a tonne, and I’m already on tired legs from hiking 16 hard miles the day before. But how could I resist? It’s nice out, and only up the road, and it’s a breath of fresh air, and a break from my desk, and…

Total: 9,095 steps

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I daren’t even imagine how many ‘steps’ this required. Enough to melt a Fitbit Alta HR, I would imagine.

Tuesday 16th May

Walk/jog back home from school drop off… But why go the most direct route home? It’s lovely out, beautiful on the moors, and only adds a couple of extra miles onto the journey. I’ll still be back in time for yoga. What’s the harm in that?

Total: 11,791 steps

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But honestly, how could I resist?

Wednesday 17th May

God knows how I managed it, but I somehow clock up 12,309 steps for the day traipsing up and down the stairs at work from my desk to the kettle and back… 50 times (*oh, on closer analysis of the data, it appears that the 5-mile balls-out run after work was logged here, so this is running and not walking, it would appear. Slight cheat, but you get the point.)

Total: 12,309 steps

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Before, during, and after.

Thursday 18th May

I must have ants in my pants. Or ADHD. Or Neurosis (most likely.)

Walk (the long way) back home from school drop off, and then – after actually sitting down and doing some work – a walk down into town. I could drive there in half the time, or possibly a quarter, but why would I? I get wolf-whistled on the way in, which temporarily makes me feel like I’m clinging onto my youth, and we see an old gentleman in town from years gone by, who asks my Mum, ‘Is your girl [pointing to me] at school, now?’ I am thrilled and immediately dismiss any possibility of dementia, Alzheimer’s, or a sight-degenerative condition that may have caused him to be SO far off the mark. He was undoubtedly fully compos mentis, with perfect vision. I had a brightly coloured baseball cap on: maybe that was it?

Total: 16,972 steps

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Well, would you have missed being out in this?

 

Friday 19th May

Ahh, at last. I have a rest day. Phew! But it’s not absolute rest. There’s yoga. Only I don’t walk / run / cycle / hop or pogo-stick there. I drive there, like any other sane, normal person would do. And I feel lazy. Why? I have no idea.

Total: 4,790 steps (and I feel like a sloth because my Fitbit tells me that I haven’t reached my aspirational ‘daily target’.

Oh, fuck off, Fitbit.

So, you get the gist. Since my experimental week, I’ve realised that I honestly, literally, can’t sit down. I need to move; I am compelled to feel my heart beating in my chest and my muscle fibres twitching, because the alternative frightens me. It’s sedentary and silent; it’s a feeling of non-aliveness that I can remember so vividly from all those years ago when I didn’t know how it felt to move; when my daily step count was a return trip to the fridge for yet another oversize portion of Viennetta, and then back to slump in front of my telly to try and guess the price of a 1994 top-of-the-range caravette and a fully refurbed kitchen (inc. white goods) in The Price is Right.

I never knew how it felt, back then, to feel truly alive. But I do now, and I can’t let that go. Not ever – even if my legs are screaming at me for a rest.

It’s hard to have lived at both ends of the scale, but I have to believe that I can make my way tentatively back along to the middle, where I can still feel the joy of movement and of being alive, and also revel in the beauty of rest and recovery. It feels like I’m being asked to walk along a very high tightrope – it’s easy standing at either end, but wobbly and vulnerable in the middle.

Just don’t look down.

*At this point I’ve been sitting down for far too long. I’m off for a walk…

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Laters…

 

 

 

 

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There’s a party in Limassol… but you’re not invited.

THURSDAY

We’re on the plane to Limassol. We are supposed to be running the Limassol half marathon on Sunday – but we’re not. Because I can’t run.

Last week, we emailed the organisers and asked if we could swap events to the 10k race. In this ever-changing sea of ‘revising my expectations’ (the word ‘revising’ being a handy euphemism for ‘lowering’), our thinking is that there is infinitely more likelihood of my running 10k (6.2 miles) than 21k (13.1 of the bastards.) This seems to be a reasonable conclusion to make, and, in line with the constant requirement for me to ‘revise my expectations’*, notice that the simple completion of said distance would be some achievement at this moment in time. We’re no longer discussing ‘going for a time’ (it was only 3 months ago that I achieved my 10k PB of 42.11. A lot can happen in 12 weeks.)

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All set for the race then? Erm, nope.

I’ve already processed as many thoughts as it’s possible to process around the why’s and how’s and the other myriad questions I have surrounding my inescapable and irrefutable loss of running. I’ve asked all the questions, and I’ve cried in frustration at the apparent lack of answers. I have none.

Did I push myself too hard, too soon, for too long? Yes, I did.

Did I balance my running with other activities to strengthen and support my body in allowing progressive overreaching, and yet prevent overtraining? No. Not really. Or at all, actually.

Did I rest adequately, making an effort to refuel properly after hard training sessions and races? No. I didn’t.

Did I race too much? Yes, I did.

Did running feed my demanding and incessant egotistical bastard inner chimp as it bounced up and down in front of me shouting “You’re still not good enough, or fast enough, or just… enough! TRY HARDER,” Yes. It did.

Did I manage to tame the bastard chimp as it bullied me into bashing out more miles and races than my body wanted to run? No. I didn’t.

The chimp won.

Is this the result? Yes. I’m pretty sure that it is.

So now, as I sit here in my airplane seat, my legs fizzing with unexplained, endless aches, I am on my way to a race that I can’t run.

Two guys sitting behind us are (purportedly) discussing all things running / training related. They’ve been talking shit whilst barely pausing for breath for the best part of two hours. Me and Gav sit with our headphone on. We’re not arsed about listening to music, only drowning out the dulcet Mancunian tones of Arsewipe in the row behind who’s intent on telling the entire plane about his *expert tips* for treadmill running. Except no one – including his poor travelling companion I would hazard a guess – gives even a tiny bit of a shit. I feel like telling him.

As we walked through the airport earlier today, I had flashbacks to some of our previous running adventures.

  • Exploring Barcelona on broken legs the week after the Yorkshire Marathon in 2014 after a dream race and probably my greatest ever personal running achievement (after achieving a marathon PB of 3:16, we ran over 50 miles across Barcelona in the subsequent days. I ran on legs made of glass. How did I do that? I have no idea.)
  • Running up hills in Font Romeu with ease on the best birthday I’ve ever had; discovering the Paula Radcliffe trail, and exploring 5k flat routes around Lake Matemale; spotting Mo Farah and watching him fly round the otherwise empty track at the Altitude Training Centre; Sitting down to watch him chat to Gav whilst inhaling an obscene Danish pastry (we had just run 12 miles…)
  • Our 6 x half mile nauseating speed sets along the sea front in Mallorca, and the time Gav took the girls on a bus whilst I set off running alongside like a bat out of hell, to the fascination / amusement of the other passengers. “Is she really running into Porta Pollenca?” A mystified lady asked Gav. “ Yes she is,” he replied. It wasn’t a big deal at the time – only a part of mine – and our – normality. We just run: we just ran.
  • Taking on the Dubai Marathon last January, and its endless highways. Still precisely how we managed it after a long-haul flight and a 2.30am get-up escapes me, but we did, and we emerged victorious over the 26.2 miles, whilst running under what felt like a repressive heat lamp with a dodgy thermostat.

They have all been a part of our running adventures. And yet, here we are on the plane to Limassol and I don’t even know if I can run anywhere, over any distance. Let alone enjoy it. And I continue to ask myself, how? And why? The tape begins to whirr yet again with the questions listed above. It’s on ‘random shuffle’ at least, which makes it marginally less mind numbing than it would otherwise be.

How will I cope? What will I do? How will I feel? What will this next few days be like? Why am I so melodramatic and egotistical? But why does it feel so real, and like something has been taken from me that I want back? How will Gav put up with me? Will I ruin his break? Will he wish we were running when I can only walk along like some youthful pensioner, ambling along the front without purpose? What about the hotel? Will it be swarming with keen, excitable marathon runners? Will they ask if we’re running on Sunday, and how can I respond without emotional trauma or flat-lining as though I’m a shell of a person who should have been there at the party, but wasn’t invited to this one?

 Will we walk for miles? Will we cross train? Will the gym feel like some soulless pit that I have to crawl in to execute my cardiovascular training, whilst my heart pines to be outside, running by the sea? Will I spontaneously combust into frustrated tears on the sad recumbent bike, or will I feel happy that I’ve done SOME training, at least?

 I simply don’t know. I’m becoming increasingly familiar with not knowing…

***

FRIDAY

WE’VE WOKEN UP IN 1985. WHERE’S DOC? MARTY?

The place is a shit hole – I won’t lie. We discuss how it feels like we’re on board The Love Boat from 1988. People are wearing shell suits. I look up and see what I believe to be ‘Minge Topless Bar’ across the street, but the swirly, neon letters don’t quite work and it actually says ‘Mirage.’ Minge works far better.

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That’s a big nut your beaver’s holding.

We set off walking, and chatting. ‘Let’s walk a mile, then run a mile,’ Gav sensibly suggests, after we’ve allowed our eyes to adjust from BEIGE BLINDNESS.

‘Ok, but I can’t promise I can even ‘run’ for a mile,’ I respond, like a broken record. Every time I’ve tried to run over the past eight weeks it’s felt like my legs could burst into flames, my Achilles pop, and both calf muscles roll up to my knees like overly-keen kitchen blinds. ‘But I’ll try…’ I say, DESPERATE not to be in this state.

After a mile of walking and talking (mainly about the Minge bar), and having counted at least 35 diseased cats all slinking around the 1980s Love Boat set, we begin to jog. Not run – that’s too strong a word. We jog. I’m talking ten-minute-miles *no offence intended. It’s all relative…

One mile comes to an end, and I am a) (relatively) pleased to have completed one single, measly mile; and b) even more pleased to have stopped jogging.

We walk and talk again. ‘Why does the sand look like a badly tarmacked car-park?’ we ponder. A second mile commences, and – again – we jog. At the very least my legs will allow me this concession. They wouldn’t let me run 50 metres only a few weeks ago, at the sea front in St. Anne’s. Maybe they feel happier out here in the 80s?

This time, they feel slightly free-er, as though some clamp has been marginally loosened. For the first time in eight weeks I feel as though my body isn’t battling with me. GAV! MY LEGS ARE FEELING A BIT… LIGHTER… THEY’RE LETTING ME RUN! I shout to him, as I feel my pace pick up to more of a trot and less of a hobble.

‘That’s ACE, Rach!’ He shouts back, ‘But you’re still stopping after this mile.’

 He’s right. I can’t get giddy about it.

When will I be back? I simply don’t know. I’m becoming increasingly familiar with not knowing…

*and in line with my constant revising of expectations, I decide I’m unable to put myself in to Sunday’s 10k race without risking further injury.

 So, we’ve walked over 25 miles over the past two days, mainly tracksuit-spotting instead. It’s been ace.

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***

SUNDAY

It’s race day. Real-life heroes will be waking up offensively early in this 1980s Minge Topless Bar sunshine resort to carb-load before their monumental efforts. We’ve had a lovely few days, and my inner bastard chimp has finally been put in his box. I’m now excited at the prospect of going and supporting the runners racing today.

Feeling eternally grateful that our alarms didn’t need to be set for a 5:30am start, we head out onto the course. There is no sign of any marathon happening from where we are, only a distinct absence of the usual stream of endless traffic, and a few water stations dotted around with enough water to supply, well, perhaps thirteen runners, not the 13,000 as it’s claimed are in today’s race. ‘Have we got the right day, Gav?’ I ask him, as we begin to walk away from our hotel and in the direction of the race epicentre. To be fair, we are located some distance from the hub of the action, but still – where is everybody?

A few miles of ambling along, past the jubilant youths manning the pop-up mini water stations, and we see the turnaround point for the half marathon. Brilliant! Here’s where the action is! There are runners! It’s all happening down here! But this is also the place where those tackling the full marathon break away and head out along the long, lonely road to a place where the only supporters will be… themselves – and me & Gav, apparently.

 We stand at the half-marathon turnaround point and WHOOP! as the first two men approach the clumsily-placed cones. They shout and hold their hands up at the officials, clearly unsure where to go. Have these two elite Kenyan men really just had to weave their way through the packed field of half marathon runners? They are LEADING in a full marathon race!

We can’t believe it.

The marshalls are just standing around. They don’t clap, or cheer, or whoop! They are about to move the cones and allow a small car to drive through the half marathon course full of runners just because they shouted enough obscenities.

We can’t believe it.

A third male runner approaches and we WHOOP! again. He is not a Kenyan, and is some way behind the leading two men. He motors on at a terrifying pace and out to the lonely part of the marathon course. He is very much on his own. Some while later he is still in THIRD PLACE as he returns to the marshalled area on his way back in. We whoop! again. But wait! One of the marshalls shouts at him, angrily. He stupidly thinks this guy is a very average marathon runner who has turned at the cones by mistake (taking the half-marathon route, when in fact he should have continued on the full marathon course.) He shouts back to the ignorant official. THIS GUY IS IN THIRD PLACE IN A FULL MARATHON! Me and Gav are speechless.

We can’t believe what we’ve just seen.

We see some runners we kind-of recognise from the virtual world of Twitter. My hands ache from clapping, but I don’t want to stop. Every single runner deserves those claps and whoops! For some, unknown reason, I have been hollering ‘Allez, ALLEZ!’ to runners as they go past. I have no idea why. Gav laughs at me. I can tell that for some folk, our excitable whoop-ing and numbing hand-claps matter. They make a difference. And so I keep on clapping and whooping.

After an hour and a half, we start to amble back towards our hotel. We’re still whoop-ing and clapping, only we’ve called in at an off-licence and both now have the most ridiculously large Cornettoes. It feels offensive to draw attention to this fact whilst runners are going through some of the most painful, desolate marathon miles.

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I’ll swap my Cornetto for your pain… No, seriously.

But I’d swap places with them. I’d trade my XXL Cornetto for their pain in a second.

I feel myself go quiet, and I turn to Gav. ‘Do you think I’ll ever be back, Gav?’ I ask him, like some insecure child seeking reassurance. ‘OF COURSE you will, Rach! You’ll be back stronger than ever!’ he replies.

I smile at him, but I simply don’t know the answer myself. I’m becoming increasingly familiar with not knowing…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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…