Well here I am, one week to go til the the Lochaber Marathon. It's been another roller coaster - can I run? can't I run? - kind of week. Less than 7 days to go and I'm still not sure.
The best news is that I know what the problem is, thanks to my Physio Pam. Something happened to a nerve in my mid back and it's triggered all kinds of mayhem in my hips. I've had a bad back now and then for years. It comes on when I'm stressed and sit too long on uncomfortable chairs. Ironically, the last time I had it was in Barcelona (watching instead of running the marathon last year) when the airplane seats tipped me over the edge.
Not great news, but it does mean there's a chance I might run next week, so I'm not giving up just yet; hope, as they say, springs eternal. In that spirit I hit the treadmill on Friday morning before work.
I started slowly and focussed on the feedback I was getting. I made myself stretch every 2k. My legs felt heavy and my running style lumpen and leaden. Was that the outcome of my extreme tapering or nerve/muscle stuff? I went into Chi Running mode and focussed on form and tried to run smoothly. Mentally this was great, it distracted me from the experience of pain and kept me feeling in control, but I couldn't find a way of influencing the pain through posture (which surprised me). The pain came and went and moved around with no clear pattern; it certainly didn't get worse as I ran, but it didn't ease off either. Just as I thought things were settling down, it came back and kicked in hard. Stretching usually helped, but not always, sometimes it seemed to make it worse.
I realised pretty quickly that the pain itself wasn't the main problem; the real danger was that I would let the pain affect my form and I'd do some serious damage. I took myself back to me training with Nick last year and used the different Chi form focusses to make sure that no matter what the pain got up to, I was running right.
Having a proper diagnosis and knowing that I wasn't damaging my body helped a lot and gave me the chance to get into my running head again. As the pain came and went and sometimes (worst of all) got stuck, I remembered the early days of my training. When I started marathon training, I struggled with sore knees, ankle tendonitis and ITB strain until I got insoles to compensate for my gammy feet and lop sided pelvis. Using my Chi thinking and through experience, I learnt not to freak out when I felt pain but to go with it and see what happened. I learnt the value of relaxing my legs and running from the core and letting my body accommodate and adapt. In those early days, I learnt to observe the pain and use my mind to keep me relaxed and focussed and my form to let me keep running. I'd been running so well and so free of pain in the latter part of my training that I'd forgotten how determined I'd been in those early days.
After the run, I felt fine and did loads of amazing yoga and Pilates thanks to Stacey, Richard & Kate at VirginActive gym. I've also caught up on Coronation Street and Prisoners Wives whilst rolling around on lumps of foam and sitting on tennis balls. Everything felt good, so this morning I was stiff but decided to try another run.
It wasn't too cold, but I wanted to give my muscles total care so I wore compression and thermal tights and headed off along the beach. It was so wonderful to run by the sea again. It was drizzly and cloudy but not busy (I avoided all dogs!). This time my running felt smooth and fluid. I felt my legs switch from feeling sleepy and lazy to starting to work properly, not surprising given my extreme tapering. The rain on my face, no wind (NO WIND!!!!), the sound of the waves, it was bliss. I felt great.
I went slowly and focussed on body-sensing. I was fine until about mile 4 when pain began to surface. Stretching sorted out the butt pain, but it came back in the next muscle. I eventually worked out how to stretch that one, but by mile 5, it was getting seriously tight, too tight to run without limping so I stopped (one of my rules). I walked back briskly, the pain went if I pressed on the muscle but any running set it off again. Gradually, the leg calmed down helped my heat, ice, stretching, rollering and Napier's miracle muscle rub (thank you Janice!).
So, I'm less confident today that I'll be up to 26.2 miles next Sunday, but I'm not giving up hope just yet. I've been inspired by Facebook chats with Pam, Leah and Celina and the other Chi runners. We've been talking about how every run is a training run. That made me think that I could just see next Sunday's marathon as a training run, not for doing 26.2 miles, but for just starting a marathon.
I don't know what it's like to start a marathon; to line up, to keep a very slow pace and not be rushed by the excitement and other runners. I would learn an awful lot of useful stuff as prep for a marathon and no learning is ever ever wasted. I might only manage 5 miles, but that wouldn't be the point of running.
Is it daft (or worse selfish) to even think of starting a marathon I almost certainly won't finish? Or would it be a wasted opportunity not to give it a try?
I have my boundaries:
I won't run if Pam advises me not to, I run to be stronger and fitter not damaged and I'd miss my real runs - the ones on the beautiful beaches of East Lothian - if I got an injury.
I might run with pain as long as it's not damaging me. My experience on Friday showed me that pain and damage are not inextricably linked and then I read a great blog on pain and running by Tom Goom, which totally confirms my (very limited) experience on pain and running.
I won't run if it looks like I'll have to walk most of the way or take 6 hours. I want to run a marathon not walk one, walking 26.2 miles is not meaningful to me, plus I don't want to keep the marshals away from their tea! I'd sooner stop at 5 miles
You probably think I'm mad and I should just accept I'm not going to run and get over it. But I know it's not yet time for acceptance. I will not accept something's impossible when there is still hope, however faint. I plan to proceed until well and truly apprehended, chained and shackled. That's the only way to tackle the hard stuff and the only way that I will feel good about not running. I'm pretty sure I can run 26.2 miles, I'm not sure I can do it next Sunday.
Clocked 10 miles this week (hooray!) and more yoga and pilates than you'd think humanly possible.
Hope you've all had good weeks and are running, walking, cycling, living happy and healthy.
Fingers crossed for next week....