2020 and all that

Last year was an interesting one wasn’t it. With all the restrictions due to the dreaded coronavirus, I spent most of last year doing not a lot. Certainly no backpacking trips and we barely made it outside the county.

Nevertheless, there was one major change.

Back in the day, I used to run competitively, running for London Irish Athletic Club (for about 15 years) taking part in cross-country, track, road and the occasional fell race. However, my focus was on one event, the 5,000m on the track . All other running decisions and races revolved around running 12.5 laps of the track as fast as possible.

With a 5k focus, when I did run longer races they never exceeded half-marathon and I found it hard to comprehend running further until 1997 when I made the decision to “have a look” at running a marathon.

The short story is that I ran the London marathon on April 13th, 1997 finishing in an official time of 2:58 with an unofficial time of 2:56.

Yes, I went sub-3 hours, but for me the race was a bit of a disaster. I had expected to run under 2:45 and half-way I had been bang on target.

But the hot weather, my complete lack of experience over the distance, coupled with complete failure to understand that the real half-way point in a marathon happens at 20 miles, meant I crashed and burned.

So, what has this all to do with 2020 you might ask? The answer – it been my come back year.

By my mid-30s I had stopped running seriously and by my 40s I was a former tuner who went out for a run occasionally. I always enjoy going out running, always thought I should do more but never did.

Then came 2020. With a combination of nationwide lockdowns and cabin fever I started going out with a casual run. Almost immediately, I got injured and the frustration of not being able to go out for a few miles round the block returned.

So now I am back running. And I realise how much I have missed it.

Ice and injury

During my earlier athletics life, icing injuries was standard recommended practice, the argument being that it increased blood flow, reduced inflammation and speeded recovery. Some current advice seems to suggest that in theory this might actually slow things down.

For example: “‘If you don’t have that initial inflammation, [injuries] don’t heal as well as they could, or as fast,’ she said.
The problem with using ice as a vasoconstrictor is that, while it limits blood supply and therefore reduces swelling, it also limits arrival of immune cells and thus interferes with core parts of healing.
‘If you immediately ran off … and stuck ice on [an injury], you may actually be delaying your healing process slightly,’ Dr Murray said.
Dr Murray is keen to note, however, that her advice is based on theory, rather than practice, and more studies are needed to verify its actual effects.”
[ Source: Is it time to rethink RICE for soft-tissue injuries? ]

While on the FitBit blog, Jonathon Beverly writes “reaching for ice might not be the best remedy.” [ source: Sore or Injured? Think Twice Before you Ice]

There’s also this , this and this.

So on this basis, my plan is to use ice (and ibuprofen) reduce pain, but not routinely.

Couch to 5

Started running again, following Ben Parkes free beginner’s 5k plan.

First session was a 5 min walk as warm-up, followed by 8 reps of 1min running, 1 min walking, then a 5 min walk warm-down.

Looking at the data on Garmin Connect and Strava post-run showed this first session trotting around around a local woodland (which is v. hilly) made things a little tougher than it should have been. Result, lots of time with my heart rate spending far too long time in zones 3 and 4 rather than in zone 2.

Need to keep it slow.

But do I need to go this slow?

Yes , because I am over 50 and have zero fitness right now.

An ECCENTRIC way to stretch

Fixing my Achilles

Following on from the last post on this, I have moved onto phase 2 of sorting out my Achilles problem, starting on eccentric stretching as described in this video

Achilles treatment

The new routine was ice, static stretching (with straight and bent leg), eccentric stretches x 6 and wearing calf compression sleeves for several hours each day, even if it makes you look like a dork when walking along the sea front on a sunny day.

Using KT tape for an Achilles injury

I did this thrice daily and to avoid any possibility of overloading my “good tendon”, I treated that the same as the hurty one. I also took to using KT to tape the tendon whenever I went out for walk of used the indoor bike.

After three days, all pain had gone and I could walk properly, so now I am doing 3 x 12 reps of eccentric stretching and if things continue, in a few days I can start on Achilles strengthening exercises and gentle running.

Mending my Achilles

After running the London Marathon in 1997, I picked up an Achilles injury. It took months to fix back then, so I expect it will take even longer to get this completely sorted now I am more than two decades older.

Here’s the plan:

Static calf stretching – for 5 mins, thrice daily. Holding stretch for 30 seconds.

Calf compression – when my legs ache

KT tape – whenever I go out for a walk.

Ice and ibuprofen – as necessary to deal with pain, but not routine

Toe raises – with feet flat on the floor, starting with both feet, building up to 50.

When I can handle 50 toe raises, it will be time to start on calf raises, starting with feet flat on the floor with 3 x 10, increasing to 3 x 15.

Finally, performing calf-raises off a step, one leg at a time. These are known as an eccentric exercise as the muscle is lengthening and firing at the same time 

Plus as long as my leg doesn’t complain, indoor biking sessions for an aerobic hit.

Running again…

About a month about, I stood on the scales, not something I am apt to do very often.

What I saw horrified me: I was heavier that I had been at any point in my life. With the lack of exercise over recent years, the COVID19 lock-down and all, I hit 79.2kg, putting me in the overweight category for BMI.

This was the motivation I needed. I started watching my diet and note my weight dropped to 78 kg getting me back into the “OK” rang, but still not enough. When I ran the London Marathon in 1997, I weighed 69kg, so being 10kg heavier is a lot to have put on.

A chat with a colleague at school on trail running had piqued my interested and thinking back, running off-road was always my favourite when I was running regularly. But in those days “trail running” was not a thing. Runners ran road, track, XC and fell. Oh and some nut-jobs ran the Comrades!

Wanting to shed a few more more pounds, with Clare and the children heading off the leads, I pulled on my running kicks and windshirt and drove (yes) to the local woods for a wee bimble in the rain.

One lap later, soaked, ehausted and happy, I had covered just over 3km. It was gerat.

I resolved to run more and in the following week, I did a loop to Fermoys (4km) and took a trip to Challaborough Down on Dartmoor for a hilly 8.6km. Guess what happened?

Sore Achilles!

But I want more and have ordered a race vest for more adventures on the moor. So, now I am committed.

It’s couch to 5km, courtesy of running YouTuber Ben Parkes the start of the comeback.


30 day hiking challenge

On April 1st, I started a 30 day hiking challenge. The rules are simple:

  • walk 5km every day
  • outside
  • with a pack on
  • for 30 day

Each time, I load my pack up with my hiking gear and head out the door, then unpack when I return. That’s been fairly necessary as I’ve been rained on for each of the last four days.

A word on my pack; it’s not featured here yet, but I made another prototype of my DIY backpack in the summer and entered it into the village show.

And it only went on to win best in class and best in show – winner of the village Handicraft Cup.

Does that make it an award winning pack design?