Okay, so a confession to start with. I'm a bit of a Counting Crows fan at heart - sad but true (how can you not like a bit of 'Mr Jones'?). I thought this album title of theirs summed up where I'm at pretty well. It's also about time I started blogging again, although you'll soon start to realise why I've been a bit quiet.
The first half of 2010 has been a bumpy ride to say the least. I came off the back of my Winter West Highland Way of late December 2009 feeling pretty strong; I recovered quickly and after a decent break got stuck into some solid winter base training, particularly enjoying the true winter conditions of the UK’s unusually long ‘cold snap’.
Then injury struck, the first significant one of my running life. A fairly innocuous numb-like feeling in my foot which followed a relatively tame midweek 10 miler turned out to be a rather nasty stress fracture of my calcaneus (heel bone). My consultant described it as ‘pretty impressive’ which was enough to convince me that this was going to need some serious attention and discipline to repair. Despite seemingly taking ages to get properly diagnosed, there were definite plus points that I latched on to, really just to stay positive more than anything. Not least I was grateful it wasn’t plantir fasciitis as I feared for a couple of weeks pre-diagnosis - a classic long distance running injury and one which is notoriously difficult to put right. Instead it was a 'structural' injury which would, given the right amount of time, mend strongly, and probably stronger than it was before. On balance I was fairly philosophical about it, and just threw my energy and frustration into other types of non impact endurance training, mostly swimming and road cycling.
Now, before all this happened I hadn't swam properly (as in sessions of lengths) since school, and early parts of my school days at that. So this presented an exciting new challenge to find some technique again (if I ever had any, I can't remember), develop some arm/ shoulder/ core strength (ultra running is not really conducive to this) and work out how to tackle swimming for one hour plus sessions (that’s the ultra running mentality shining through; don’t bother unless it’s long). If nothing else it made sure my feet were planted firmly on the ground because I was painfully poor to start with and I was moving from a sport which I had just about mastered, to one in which I was a complete novice.
There was lots of inefficient splashy swimming to start with, but having swallowed my pride and persevered, eventually it started to come together. It also made me develop a huge respect for the Olympic swimmers who do numerous swim sessions a week and somehow maintain the motivation to train hard despite the tedium of swimming back and forth for hour and hours on end. What a difference to trail running in beautiful parts of the UK? So the first positive outcome of my injury lay-off is a major improvement in my swimming, an achievement I never expected at the start of the year.
On the biking front I've also come on leaps and bounds. Road biking has always been a regular part of my training, particularly during recovery periods from races, but to have the chance to ride every day, including 45 mile round trips to work a couple of times a week has been another great opportunity and one which i’ve really enjoyed. My average speed has gone up 3 or 4 mph, and with those sorts of improvements the motivation is easy. The only downside is the mechanical failures which have plagued my long rides (how can anyone snap a chain four times in as many months?).
Clearly the aim of both these 'cross training' sports has been to maintain fitness through my injury but the mental distraction and positive spin-offs from them have certainly kept me on track when it’s all too easy to get frustrated. As I've started back running in the last couple of weeks the signs are that it’s worked and my fitness has carried through well, but I should reserve full judgement until i’m back to full training.
On the racing front it has of course forced me to re-think my year's plans which has probably been the hardest thing to get my head round. My first ‘A’ race of the year was due to be Western States next month, a race I enjoyed so much last year, particularly the three weeks of Californian sunshine that came with it. Whilst I am back running again and now up to reasonable mileage I certainly won’t be ready for the end of June so I’ve formally withdrawn and surrendered my hard earned M3 race number. It's a great shame because, once again, the field is stacked with the big names who I want to be competing against. There will however be other years, and other opportunities will no doubt present themselves as a result.
One opportunity in particular is for a clean build up to UTMB at the end of August, a race I have never quite performed at but one I plan to run this year as part of The North Face Team. It’s a big one for a comeback race but it makes sense for a lot of reasons I won't go into. Thereafter I will see, but i’m hoping to get a good few other races in before the year’s out - all that’s in still in the planning stages. But in summary the year is now about August and Everything After, cheesy but about right. Until then, it’s time for some more hard training.
The Pro’s and Con’s of an Injured Ultra Runner:
- I can swim again
- I can knock out 100 miles on the bike without too much trouble
- I have a full set of toe nails
- My food bill has dropped significantly
- I am more alert at work (good?)
- I save about eight quid in train fares every day I ride into work (although I probably spend the proceeds on ‘extra fuel’)
- If I had a pound for every time I was asked ‘How’s your foot?’
- It is a big psychological shock going from 100 miles per week to zero
- My bike repair bill has been colossal; nothing beats the simplicity of running
- Cycling in the rain and wind is grim to say the least - I now keep a close eye on the forecast
- I still haven’t made much of a dent in my DIY to do list (opportunity missed)
- Jez Bragg
- Welcome to my blog which I hope to develop with some interesting material on ultra running both on the trails and road including reports on races and interesting training runs, views on kit and equipment as well as anything else I find of interest. I love running for adventure, opportunity and well being. Enjoy!