(photo from Lochaber Athletic Club page)
Day 99 in the would-be marathon runner house. Sue has been training for her marathon now for 14 weeks and 1 day. She's been in enforced taper for the last two weeks. Mileage this week - a big fat zero.
On the long and winding road to the marathon, you get training guides for the running bit, but of course the mental and emotional stuff is just as hard. I was fine with getting out there and running and I didn't miss a single training session because I didn't feel like it. My mental challenge was to not get carried away and over do things, to maintain and develop my form and not my speed. I had to learn to adapt as I pushed my asymmetrical body to pound the ground mile after mile. And of course to cope with the ever present possibility that at my age and with my deformed feet, legs of different lengths and iffy hips, I was pushing my body a little bit too far.
My marathon prep has been as much about staying optimistic and positive; keeping my spirits and heart lifted when it looked like my knees or my feet weren't going to make it to the end and just keeping believing that I will get there - one day.
I've had a few false starts, so thought I'd made it this time when I hit my final training week in good form. But then things went belly up and I had to start taper early and pull out of my final long run last Saturday.
Since then I've been RICE-ing, 'resting', Pilates-ing and trying to get to the bottom of the mysterious pains that move about and appear and disappear without any clear pattern. And I've had to face up to the distinct possibility that, yet again, I'll be watching, not running, a marathon.
Hip pain is notoriously hard to diagnose apparently and I haven't bucked that rule. I had a very painful TFL immediately after the aborted long run last week, but it responded very quickly to @tomgoom's suggested treatment. By the time I hit the physio on the Monday evening I had to run round the block to get even a faint memory of a niggle.
Judith went through the possibilities. Hips sound, knees sound, nothing structural, no muscle problems. Nothing hurt except running, the one thing I really really wanted to do! This suggested something weight bearing and a few deep prods and pokes suggested the possibility of an inguinal hernia. This is a split in the ligament next to the hips. The signs were it was probably a tiny one (at the moment); the hip pain was referred pain explaining its unpredictability and flighty nature.
This was not a good diagnosis to get. I got home and googled for all I was worth. It seems that not many women get it but we can do. The male runners seemed just to whack on extra tight lycra, take pain killers (or not!) and run with it in that macho way that MAMIL's do. I didn't even contemplate that approach. Whether I'm a wimp or not, my pain was definitely not runnable with, not least because it brought with it impaired mobility- ie a totally seized up hip and a pronounced hobble. To add to the risk factors, I've been running almost entirely on soft sand and through woods, a weight bearing injury on tarmac was not going to feel any better than on the sand dunes. I didn't want to walk a marathon so the prognosis for making the start line was not good.
As I pondered the probable end of my hopes for Lochaber, I was sad, but not desperate. When I thought about running with a split ligament, it just felt wrong. I saw 26.2 miles; 5 plus hours of not just pain, but a worsening injury that could take a long time to heal, might even need surgery. I also know that the effort to work round the pain would put other bits of me at risk too. It was clear to me that this is as much about the quality of my running as the simple number of miles. I want to feel good when I start, I want to run (as much as I can) not walk it and I want to finish tired, sore but healthy and ready to run again soon.
But of course, without some sort of scan, I don't know it's definitely a hernia, so I kept an optimistic heart and an open mind. On Tuesday morning, I headed off to the GP with my diagnosis. He did the usual tests (lots of coughing!) and couldn't find any suggestion of a hernia. My symptoms were classic hip pain and he also pointed to a massive bruise on my hip, quite yellow by now and probably from the leaping dog. My GP said I needed to rest from running and go back if it didn't go away. The mystery thickened.
I decided to do some gentle experimentation. Judith said if it was a hernia then I'd be fine to walk and run to tolerance. I did my Pilates class with ne'er a twinge and had a quick go on the treadmill. First I did a little slow run. I barely managed 1k before the niggle started so stopped immediately and tried fast walking and walking up hills. Nothing hurt. Not a twinge. I was delighted. This meant I could do a bit of taper training, handy if I could eventually run and good for morale.
But that night my hip kept me awake. I was in agony. I began to think I didn't have a hernia after all. I started to worry it was something really serious, a stress fracture in the hip maybe? That's also hard to diagnose and you can end up out of action for a long long time. No more running, no more treadmills. I did almost panic.
But I could walk and keeping moving definitely felt better for my hip than sitting or lying. So Ali and I had a lovely long Easter Saturday walk up to Yellowcraigs and back (my short run route!). I felt fine except for a bit of stiffness in the hip which disappeared over a bowl of delicious soup at the Dirleton Cafe. Yards from home, after about 6 miles walking, I got that now familiar sharp pain in the hip and couldn't walk. Ali had to run back and get the car to drive me home.
Despite the pain, I was quite pleased to have a bit more of the jigsaw, another clue. Walking for a long time, even on soft sand made it worse. Short walks and standing were fine. The pain went almost immediately I stopped walking. Lying on my hip made it worse. It started to look like I might have hip bursitis which is linked to leg length disparity (tick), repeated activity (tick) and a tight ITB (tick). I'm back to the physio tomorrow so will find out more then. Bursitis is treatable with rest and a steroid injection. I might just make it....
As I type this I don't know if I will be able to run 26.2 miles in less than two weeks time. I have a sense of hope, but I'm not sure if it's realistic or not, it's too soon to tell. But I know that whilst it would be a blow, running that distance on that date is really not what it's about.
For over 3 months I have trained diligently and hard and never missed a session except to avoid injury. I've learnt from last year's calf tear and run stronger than ever before. I've done the hard work, I've put the hours in; I've built the mileage up; I've been out in some of the worst weather we've had for years.
Training for the marathon has been an amazing experience. I've discovered the joy of the long run and my 2 twenty milers have been memorable high spots which I am so proud of. I want to do more of them in future just because I loved doing them. I've learnt so much about myself and built up my confidence in my ability to take on a challenge, to get through the tough bits.
I will miss this marathon gladly if it means I can run along the beaches here all summer long and enjoy the warm sun (!), the colours, the sound of the waves. I will not run if I know I'm likely to harm myself, I run to celebrate health.
Finishing a marathon is just the icing on the cake, the public affirmation and the formal marker of something the world sees as significant. But inside, in me, I carry every mile, every step, every heartbeat with pride. I am changed forever and that's what I value.
I've read two very inspiring posts this week from runners I admire who have great wisdom and humility. Their words have helped me a lot, echoing so closely what I also have found to be true.
Paul and Tom. Thank you guys.
I'm also enjoying taper! I got time with Ali and time to help the cats learn about the great world outside. Here's Dougal lording it over his new domain. Hamish was a bit too quick for me to capture, it's all bit scary for him.
Whatever you're up to, I hope you and yours are well and happy. Good luck with all your endeavours.