Sunday, 14 June 2009

Day 48 - a mile too far?

Type - steady run

Distance - 13.2 miles

Time - 1 hour 53 minutes 12 seconds

I had left it another day to go for this week's long run. I was still stiff from the intensive run around at Wednesday's football, exercise which came hot on the heels of Tuesday's tempo run. When I woke this morning still feeling stiff and gingerly putting weight on my legs as I got out of bed I wondered how well today's planned 11 mile run would go. I decided to stretch off, and head out.

I had planned a route that would take me 5.5 miles down to the Embankment via Canonbury, Islington, Faringdon and Blackfriars. I would then turn around, and come back to notch up 11 miles. I had been feeling optimistic, and so had planned for a mile long extension at the end in case I wanted to stretch out the run to 12 miles.

It was a perfect morning for running. The temperature had yet to climb into the low twenties promised by the weather forecast, and the sun was patchy, blocked by big puffs of white cloud. There was a gentle, cooling breeze, and no threat of rain. The perfect weather was not matched by perfect physical condition for running. With the first few steps something felt wrong, a sharp pain in my calf muscles surrounding the shins. I wasn't overly concerned, as I had experienced something similar on a few runs and I was sure it would disappear in a few minutes.

It didn't. I ran gingerly, taking smaller steps and wincing slightly when I put each foot down as a slight but jarring pain shot through my reluctant muscles. Still, I thought it would fade as I geared into the run. I passed the first mile marker a little after 9 minutes, and kept going. The pain never really reduced in intensity, and by miles 2 and 3 (each done in about 9 minutes) I was starting to hate this morning's run.

Eventually the pain faded in intensity, but I was far from convinced that it had gone away. Instead I had become used to it after half an hour of running, and eventually the pain from aching muscles would segue seamlessly into the dull throb of tired muscles. There was no real let up, and no enjoyable middle section when the legs felt loosened up and I was able to just run and enjoy the relaxed strides of exercised but fresh muscles.

I eventually reached the river, turning down the Embankment to reach the five mile marker at Temple. I had made up a little time to get in at 44 minutes, a minute under the 9 minute per mile time. I quickened to the five and a half point just after Northumberland Avenue, and, after a brief stretch, turned around to head back.

With my legs still complaining and my spirit sapped by the step after step pain I now faced the prospect of the return 5.5 miles which would be, more or less, up hill. Not a serious ascent, but a noticeable climb from the river bank up to the top of Angel. The climb was in three distinct sections - from the Embankment to Ludgate Circus, from Faringdon to Mount Pleasant and from Sadlers Wells to the Angel.

By this stage. whilst not exactly enjoying the run, I was content enough to keep going. I thought I would probably try and bolt on the extension, and then a mischievous voice in my head told me to consider carrying on for the half-marathon. The run had been so painful, so difficult, that, with the most twisted logic, it seemed that the best thing to do was to carry on for a half marathon. At least then I woudl have something to show for the miles and minutes of teeth-gritted, painful running.

Into Islington and finally my legs seemed to be responding to being properly warmed up. The stiff pain had been replaced by the less immediate, duller ache of tired legs. I had picked up my speed over the last few miles, despite the ascent, and was comfortably running 8 minute miles, bringing the average time for the run down to 8.5 minute miles. By the time I got to my original finish line at mile 11 I was at 1 hour 34 minutes and would have plenty of time to finish the last two miles to get the half-marathon in under two hours. I mentally steeled myself for a last push, and extended the extension loop to go up to Finsbury Park, down to Arsenal tube and back round. The mile to mile 12 was a pained, foot dragging run, but I was buoyed by the elating knowledge that I felt capable of finishing the half marathon.

The last mile was run in a strangely detached, almost out of body fashion. My legs went forward on complete autopilot as I navigated round an extended extension. I had slowed down back to just over nine minute miles, but was still running. To get the final few yards I had to run heartbreakingly past my front door twice, to the Queen's Road end of Digby Crescent and back to the other end before being able to return home shattered, broken, sore but glowing with a triumphant, endorphin-fuelled high. My goal for the Bristol Half Marathon on 6 September had been to finish it in under two hours. Six weeks into training, and two and a half months ahead of schedule, I had already smashed that target.

It probably wasn't the most sensible thing to do. My legs are currently complaining like made even after several stretching sessions. I have been walking in a cowed, crab-like fashion and even cycling has been difficult. But the psychological impact of reaching for a goal, and smashing it months early, has probably made it worthwhile.

I will probably return my long run down to a more sensible 12 miles next week and slowly build back up again. That is if I am able to walk again.

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