Time to reflect…

As runners, we are constantly thinking ahead; ahead to the next training run, the race that is coming up and the PB we so desperately seek. Not only are we looking to next week, next month and the rest of the season, for many, the challenges we want to take on next year and beyond occupy much of our headspace too. That’s not to say that planning for the future is not a good thing. It is. Without dreams for the future and plans to achieve them our lives would be dull and our training somewhat aimless. But what of looking back on the many runs and races we may have completed in the past? We tend to remember the good runs, the runs where everything went to plan and we felt great. Those that did not go so well we try to erase from our memories, even if we have learned much from them and moved on.

How often though, do we really take time to reflect on our running histories, to identify those moments that have defined us as runners? Not often enough, I suspect, certainly not for me. So, with time on my hands due to injury, I took some time to look back at my life as a runner and find those moments that have made me the runner I am.

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Age 14/15 at the start of a sea kayak / fell race

I was not a keen runner in my early days at school, possibly because I was tall. This meant I was usually nominated to run the 1500m when no-one else wanted to. I was no good at it and usually came last, but no-one seemed to catch on that being tall did not necessarily equal good speed. It was at about the age of 14 or 15 that I first enjoyed running, and I can remember the moment so clearly. A friend and I had decided to take up canoeing, and we joined a club that was based by the sea. After a few weeks of learning to paddle in a straight line and ride over the waves, the club announced a race, a canoeing and running race. After a five mile paddle across the bay, we would run to the top of the Golden Cap cliff (the highest point on the south coast of England at 191m), run back down and paddle back the 5 miles across the bay. In my teenage innocence, I overlooked the fact that I had little canoeing experience and even less of running up steep cliffs, and decided to give it a go. Whether it was because I was relieved to get out of my canoe and onto dry land after battling 5 miles of choppy sea or not, I don’t know, but ‘running’ up that cliff and back down was undoubtedly where the seed for my love of trail running was sown. It was steep, it was rocky in places, and I probably walked and fell over more than I care to remember (I had no proper running shoes never mind fell shoes). I loved it though. The exhilaration and exhaustion on reaching the top, the wind in my hair and the sea air in my lungs. I can recall it as if it was yesterday. My love of running off road had begun.

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In my element, running off Helvellyn

Fast forward a few years (well, a lot more than a few actually) and my next defining moment. In the intervening period, I’d dipped in and out of running, mixing it with hill-walking and kayaking and generally as much adventure as I could lay my hands on. But now I had a new challenge in mind. A triathlon. Not just any triathlon, but a triathlon where the run was up and down a mountain, Helvellyn. I’d been up and down Helvellyn many, many times, but still found it incomprehensible that anyone could run up and down the mountain after swimming a mile in Ullswater and then riding over 30 miles around the Lakes, including up the notorious ‘Struggle’. I was up for the challenge, though, and set about learning to swim properly and ride a road bike. The swim was cold, very cold, and the bike so tough. I was convinced I’d be setting off last up the mountain. But no, I wasn’t last, and being a runner rather than a swimmer or a cyclist, I soon found I was passing some of those who were. Up Swirral Edge to the summit I was in my element, running where I could,  scrambling where needed and helping those who were less confident on the rocks. The descent, via White Side, was even better; whilst the quads of the runners around me were screaming, mine just wanted to carry on. I could have run forever that day; I’d never had a runner’s high like it. Having suffered the swim and tolerated the bike, I knew without doubt that it was running for me. My triathlon career was short-lived after that, as I returned to my real passion. No more water and wheels, just feet.

Looking back, I’ve unearthed so many running memories I had forgotten about. The fear I felt in my first race, 10K around the streets of Ealing and the incessant steps of the Midsummer Munro. The sunset runs pottering around Loughrigg and the March sunburn on my arms from Exe to Axe. Each one is a tale in itself, and each one contributes to my story, but those moments on the Golden Cap and Helvellyn define me. This is my story; what’s yours?

www.mudandmiles.co.uk

 

How to survive injury time

It can happen in two ways. Firstly, there is the niggle, the niggle that is sometimes there and sometimes not. Not causing you enough pain not to run at all, it lets you know every now and again that is hasn’t gone away. If you are lucky, you carry on running and it never gets any worse; if you are unlucky, it deteriorates until you are forced to pull up injured. Then there is the unexpected injury, which for some reason often decides to appear at a time when your running is going really well. Sometimes these can be running-related, and sometimes they are not. I’ve experienced both in the last couple of years; falling up the stairs and most probably breaking a big toe put me out of action for weeks over a summer when I could have been out exploring on the trails, and an injury to my foot during a running-along-the-edge-of-freshly-mown-fields trail race the following summer caused more missed weeks.

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This summer, I told myself, was going to be different. My own running was going well, as was my very newly-established Mud and miles trail running business. Fresh from a fantastic coaching course with some inspiring fell runners, I was all fired up to accelerate my own training and bring new ideas to my clients. It was during a session with a client that I was shot; at least that is what it felt like. Whilst demonstrating a drill, something hit the back of my calf, very, very hard. I immediately looked to see what had hit me, expecting to see a cricket ball lying on the grass. But as nausea overcame me, I came to the horrible conclusion that the bullet sensation and the loud popping sound was inside me. A long hobble across the park and a visit to the Minor Injuries Unit later, I was on crutches and painkillers and my summer of running was over again.

After a couple of hours moping on the sofa, I decided that I needed to take a different approach. If my torn calf muscle was not going to allow me to run for a while, I would not let it get me down. Instead, I would challenge myself not only to keep active, but to see if I could return to running fitter than I was pre-injury, and I would find as many ways as possible to keep mentally involved in, and motivated by, the sport.

Here, then, are my five top tips for surviving injury time:

Follow orders, the orders of your doctor, physio or whoever is treating your injury. They will be thinking of the bigger picture and getting you back on your feet long term, and you should heed this too. Yes, it can be incredibly tempting to sneak out for a run because it’s a beautiful morning, or to think that you will have wasted money if you don’t start that 10K. Ask yourself which you want more, a short run out with a potential setback in recovery, or a season of good quality running? This is, of course, much easier to do if you have an injury that means you physically can’t run at all.

Read; read as much as you can. Whilst Googling to make a self-diagnosis is not recommended, there is a wealth of information on the internet that can help you understand your injury, hear from others who have experienced the same injury, and get ideas to aid your recovery and rehabilitation. If you are not sure where to begin, the Kinetic Revolution website is a great resource, covering all manner of biomechanical issues, strengthening exercises and workouts to ensure the injury does not happen again. And when you have had enough of reading about your injury, there is a whole other world of running books out there to keep you inspired, biographies being top of my list.

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Keep involved. If you can’t run yourself, spending time with those who can is a great way of keeping your mojo. If you are a parkrunner, volunteer; your time will be very much appreciated. Belong to a running club? Then offer your time at training sessions. Whether its welcoming new members, selling kit or setting out cones for technical drills, it will help you to feel connected. For longer term injuries, consider getting involved in coaching – your own running will benefit from your increased skills and knowledge too when you are able to return to it. If you have entered a race but know you won’t be able to start, ask if you can transfer your place to another runner and then go along and spectate. Clapping and cheering will spur the runners on and help you feel great too.

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Be active, keeping as fit as you can. There are few, if any, injuries where you can do nothing active at all, so as part of your reading, find out how you can safely exercise. Be it through swimming or upper body work at the gym, time on the cross-trainer or daily stretching, find something to do that will not only maintain at least some of your fitness while injured, but will also improve your running and reduce the risk of injury in the future. Yes, it may be torturous being stuck in a busy gym on a beautiful sunny day, but keep the end goal in sight; being back outside on those trails.

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Do other things, as in things that have nothing to do with running; yes, they do exist! If your evenings and weekends have been consumed with eating up the miles, you probably have a whole list of jobs to do at home, and places and people to visit. Take some time to do them now and when you do return to running, the backlog will be cleared, leaving you feeling rather smug.

Being on the sidelines is never fun, but with a positive mindset, you can use injury time to better yourself, and your running, for the future. Good luck!

www.mudandmiles.co.uk