So, it’s come to this.
The moment all club runners fear.
That point when injuries have become so persistent.
And you know what. Two months (and two gyms) in, it’s the best decision I’ve yet made since I hung up my running trainers in June 2015.
Quick recap (for context). November 2014: started having left Achilles problems.
It got steadily worse over the next seven months but didn’t hamper training (up to 60 miles a week, PB’d at London mara in 2:42:14).
I tried to push on but stopped running altogether in June 2015, after pain started getting in the way of everyday activities (like walking).
Three months of no running saw me do the Berlin marathon in September 2015. Month off. Trained from October 2015 to end January 2016; running strongly. RIGHT Achilles injury end January 2016: three months of no running.
Resumed jogging April-June 2016 running slowly and building up to 40M per week. England vs Iceland: stubbed toe on coffee table and broke it. Ran on it for two weeks before diagnosis. No running since.
Mid-August attended wedding and wrenched knee in an ill-judged Space Hopper race with a 16-year-old.
Over the past 18 months I’ve tried everything and everyone to get to the bottom of my injury problems. Particularly my left Achilles and a debilitating respiratory problem I get when running full pelt.
But in retrospect, the mistake I’ve made is making my whole focus getting back running.
So, having returned from holiday with a red toe, gone to the Minor Injuries clinic at New Victoria Royal Infirmary, to hear the news I’d broken it, what to do.
Before I’d have doubled down on strength and core work (road cycling never did it for me). After all, what’s the use of cardio if you can’t run.
I’d investigated running around a pool and even made arrangements to go with someone but it never fitted in with my work schedule.
Yet, having been told my toe was broken and would take at least six weeks to heal (I received this news 12 weeks out from the Berlin marathon after I’d built up a pretty decent base, mapped out a training programme, and started to see real improvements in my left Achilles) I kinda wasn’t feeling well disposed to running.
I’d reached the end of my running tether.
Next day I was up at Eastwood baths signing up for two months’ gym membership.
I don’t know what came over me. The thought of doing something inside that I would much better be doing outside had always been anathema.
So much so that I hadn’t set foot inside a gym for the previous 10 years.
And at first it was hard acclimatising. I had the runner’s mindset see. I’d liken it to the journalist-just-turned-PR mindset.
What the hell am I doing here. I set out to find truth and justice and have ended up writing press releases about strawberries.
Then you start to value it. Then you enjoy it.
Actually (given the fact I couldn’t do any of the impact classes due to the toe injury) by the end of six weeks, the enjoyment thing had plateaued a tad.
Then one of those pesky “act now or regret it later” marketing flyers came through our front door.
About a new gym. An all-singing-all-dancing gym. A geared-around-families gym. A gym with (whisper it quietly) an outdoor pool.
Not one to be swayed by David Lloyd Rouken Glen’s blatant attempt to employ what Cialdini characterises as one of the six principles of persuasion (“scarcity”) I
put said flyer in the bin where it belonged called them up immediately and arranged an appointment the very next day lest we miss out on the “special introductory rates”.
And before you could say “ouch that’s a seriously large monthly Direct Debit every month I do hope we use it” we’d signed on the dotted line.
Since 15 August, every day I’ve had the pleasure of parking my Skoda Octavia next to: a selection of Porsches; those top-end Audi sports cars; and M5s. In fact, the default vehicle seems to be a Range Rover Evoque.
I’m just waiting for someone to stride purposefully out of the front door and hail me.
But, aside from the ridiculous spectacle of kids’ classes booking up within 30 seconds of frantic app refreshing nine days in advance, I’ve no complaints.
And I have it to thank for introducing me to the most marathon-specific and addictive virtual spinning class known to man…
Yes, you heard me right.
For the past 24 days I’ve been cycling – on a spinning bike – between 15 and 45 miles a day.
Me, the lone knight of Sufferlandria (in the sense that this is the character you play and that usually it’s me on my Jack Jones) up against the likes of Mark Cavendish, Cipollini, Wiggins.
Throw in cyclists with nicknames like Billboard, Glowworm, and The Colombian and you have a recipe for competitive success.
For example, last night I completed a mountain stage called Islagiatt. It’s two hours/42 miles/1300 calories of standing up, sitting down, decreasing and increasing resistance, and sweating buckets.
You’re sitting on a bike in the pitch black with stars flashing above and strobe lights careering round the walls. To a fantastic set of banging tunes.
There’s a race director – Grunter Von Agony – urging you on. And tongue-in-cheek instructions flashing up over the giant screen taking over the entire back wall.
You’re in a race, there’s footage spliced together from the Giro d’Italia. You’re the sole Sufferlandrian rider, a mythical Iceland-esque country where the entire nation is glued to their TV screens watching your progress.
The leaderboard ebbs and flows but you hang in there, fighting, fighting. Giving it all you’ve got.
I won’t spoil the ending but suffice to say I’m now a hero in my home country and volcanoes have erupted in my honour.
Sound a bit weird? An acquired taste?
I tell you, aside from running around a pool (impractical for most) there is no better non-impact exercise for a marathon runner.
In effect, I’ve just done my long run in an air-conditioned room with little chance of injury, and with a still-broken toe and a wrenched knee.
When my toe and knee heal – and if these Achilles-strengthening exercises I’ve been doing religiously every day for four months continue to pay off – I’ll get back to running.
But for the moment, it can take a back seat.
My Sufferlandrian country needs me.
Focussing on one thing often isn’t the best way of getting what you want. Sometimes you have to take a detour.
It’s 19 days until the Berlin Marathon. If my knee and toe are up to it (unlikely) I plan to give it a whirl, this time on NO running (last year I did 17 miles’ training with amusing results).
This isn’t as mad as it sounds. I’m going anyway for the jaunt (my brother in law lives there), you can’t defer, and it’s my last year on the Fast Runners start.
If anyone knows how to strap a fourth toe, do let me know. Once a runner, always a runner.