Injury 😕

Two weeks out from Warwick half marathon and I’ve injured myself. Maybe 30 minutes into a two hour run yesterday I felt a small niggle down the inside of my left ankle. I considered stopping to stretch, but after a minute or two it eased off and didn’t bother me again…. until an hour or so after I got home, when it became quite painful just to walk on it. I think the issue is that 1) I’ve done too much recently, and 2) my calves are tight. It seems to improve with some calf stretching so I’m thinking it’s more just the calf causing dysfunction/friction rather than any real damage to the ankle.

Since I had a virus the other week I’ve been frantically trying to get the mileage in, but the other thing is that with spending a few days in bed my calves and hamstrings did tighten up. I knew they did because I could feel them tingling a bit sometimes at night.

So I’m sat here with a hot water bottle under my calf trying to relax it. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t help, let’s try icing the ankle)

I’m not too worried about Warwick. I’ll be a bit sad if I DNS (did not start), but I’m a lot more interested in Stratford at the end of April, for which Warwick was only ever intended to be a training run. I think I should be OK for it though. I had something similar a few years ago where it felt like there was some friction in the front of my ankle which developed without warning a few hours after a run and it just took a week or so to let it settle.

Stomachs 🤔

I ended up with yet another stomach upset last week and spent a little while feeling sorry for myself. I struggled with Parkrun last Saturday and was surprised to see my heart rate went up to 193 bpm, which is at least 6 bpm higher than I knew it could go. I should have suspected something then, but in the evening I went to bed blissfully unaware that a few hours later I’d wake up feeling very uncomfortable and spend the next 30 minutes sat on the toilet sweating and feeling sick. Then it seems to take a good week to properly settle down again and feel normal.

I seem to get a lot of stomach upsets and I don’t know why. I don’t think there’s anything seriously wrong because I’ve had all the cameras pushed inside me (not fun!) and they didn’t find anything.

I’ve tried super bland diets and I’m not sure it helps. I have a strengthening suspicion that it’s a muscular problem. For years on and off I’ve had problems with the lower left side of my abdomen. I never really worked out exactly what it is; maybe hip flexors, maybe adductors. I think the answer might actually be that it’s both. It gets worse with fast running. But lately it does seem to coincide with these stomach upsets. And it makes sense that the deep hip flexor muscles could compress the intestines. So I decided I’d really try to sort it out or make a physio appointment if I can’t.

I’ve been doing a hip flexor stretch for a few minutes a day. The best one for me is to lie on my back with a foam roller under my bottom and to pull the other knee towards my chest (like this: https://www.postureandcorepilates.com.au/2018/11/20/supine-hip-flexor-stretch/), which does seem to stretch out the front of the hip better than lunge variations (at least for me). And I’ve also been doing reverse crunches to build some more strength in my very lower abdominal muscles, which should resist the hip flexors a bit better.

After doing this for a week or so, I feel a lot less discomfort overall, and my legs feel a lot springier when I’m running. So that’s promising. Whether it’ll stop these episodes of digestive problems remains to be seen.

Running

I tried a change of tactic with my running, which was to really slow down the easy runs and try to push more on the hard runs. Or in other words, do the easy runs easier and the hard runs harder. The idea of easy runs is to train your body to better use the oxygen you breathe and not dig into your body’s fuel reserves (glycogen), which in theory means you will be able run at a faster pace on just oxygen alone before you start using glycogen. But it’s a bit of a mind game because if you do say an 8k run at a very easy pace, you don’t really feel like you’ve had much of a workout.

It seems to be working in a sense, because my heart rate has really come down. The other day I ran 10km in about 54 minutes with an average heart rate of 135 bpm, or about 72% of maximum, which I was very pleased with. That’s a very easy effort run and the pace is still respectable.

For the hard runs I’ve been doing intervals and threshold runs. Intervals range from about 1600m down to 200m, usually descending distances in the same session, or straightforward repeats of 800m or 1000m, with long standing recoveries, covering about 6km in total in the session. Threshold runs are for example 3×10 minutes at threshold pace with two minutes of easy running in between. Threshold pace is supposed to be a pace you could keep up for up to an hour (your anaerobic threshold, i.e. not quite anaerobic but depleting your glycogen), but it’d be a serious, hard effort.

I’d like to say it’s improving my Parkrun times but actually they’ve been terrible lately. The last three weeks have not been strong performances for various reasons. Maybe this week…

A half of two halves

The Solihull half marathon turned out to be horrendous. The weather was really unpleasant. I had no energy from the heat on the Friday and Saturday and I wasn’t sleeping much because of it, so by the time Sunday rolled around I wasn’t feeling my best. And of course, Sunday happened to be the hottest day of the heatwave.

I went out slower than my long training runs (huge achievement in itself) and I still imploded at 15km. I ran it last year too and remembered it being very hilly, but I put some of that down to being largely untrained at the time. Actually, it is very hilly. The first 12k is a downhill trend but with many sharp inclines along the way, and I was doing OK for that. Then a bit past the half way point there’s 2km of solid climbing and you’re still on an uphill trend for another 2km after that. So somewhere around 15km when I found myself at the bottom of yet another hill in 28 degrees and full sun baking the tarmac, I’d had enough and walked up the hill… And the next few hills.

The course is advertised as “PB potential”, which I can only describe as hilarious. Perhaps if all your other halves have been run scaling a mountain, yes…

I had tried to train for hills but the long uphill just past the half way point isn’t something I’ve had in training. I’m not aware of any routes accessible to me that replicate that kind of climb. Unless I head out onto country roads with low visibility and no footpaths then if I want to go up, I’m going to have to go down again shortly afterwards. E.g. here’s my regular Sunday morning medium run route, which I chose specifically because it has the most elevation change I could find around here. It’s very similar to the up and down of the first and last 6k, but no sustained climbs.

I can’t say I was very impressed by the organisation. Long stretches of the course were unmarshalled (not good during unusually hot weather), and there needed to be more water stations. There were three evenly spaced, but really it would have been better to have all three in the last half since that’s when the temperatures start to get you (though it would have been better still to just have more stations). Even then, the water bottles were tiny and pre-opened, so you couldn’t carry one with you because it would splash everywhere. I took water at the ~15km station, had a few glugs and threw the rest over my head… and then I was on my own for the next 6km. They gave out one bottle of water at the end, and people asking for more were told no! Supposedly they’d made adjustments for the weather but I’m at a loss as to what those were, other than sending an email reminding us to drink more the day before (very helpful, thanks).

Between that, the August date and the hills, I’m not sure I’d run this one again. I don’t really see the point of running such a hilly route over HM distance. It’s hard to train for and it’s not like you can run a good time on it anyway. I think I’d only do this one again as an easy effort training run for a flatter HM a bit later in the year.

I’m glad I didn’t push it though. A lady I don’t-know-but-recognise from Parkrun collapsed a few kilometres from the end (she’s OK now), and she’s a very strong and experienced runner.

Also, my ears blocked up about half way around. By the end I was largely deaf, apart from a very loud, bassy pounding in my ear every footstep… not ideal. It took a few hours for them to unblock. Not sure if that’s some kind of dehydration effect or hayfever or what. It’s never happened before…. (edit: Google says dehydration).

Urgh, heat

I can’t believe there is another heatwave! I have a half marathon on Sunday and the weather forecast is pretty grim, by which I mean glorious sunshine. A few weeks ago I was feeling very confident, now there’s a little part of me hoping they’ll cancel it (doubtful though, they’re not going to want to refund everyone). It’s not just the heat on the day, it’s the heat from now until the day as well. We have five consecutive days over 30 C, which is going to interfere with my sleep and generally fatigue me. It’s a bit frustrating because I think I’m in PB shape. Even so, the course is a bit hilly, so I wasn’t really expecting a PB. I think pushing for one given the heat could be quite dangerous, literally. So I won’t. You can get away with doing stupid things on a 5k and even a 10k but there’s a lot that can go wrong on a half marathon. I’ve done my long training runs at anywhere between a 4:45 and 5:00/km pace but I can’t really see me improving much if at all on that in the heat. The main thing is to start off conservatively and then speed up if possible, which is much more pleasant than the other way around.

In other news I had my salary review and my salary has been bumped up by a number that is quite big but less than inflation. I didn’t feel particularly strongly about this either way, but I think I am going to look for something else in the coming months. I’m not in a rush, I’m just a bit bored and a bit frustrated. In the last few days I’ve been annoyed by both my manager and the managing director. The MD has sent me some silly sarcastic emails that made me roll my eyes, and the reason he resorted to sarcasm was because he doesn’t know much about the concepts we were discussing. My manager annoys me because he goes poking around in databases and editing data here and there and then getting surprised when things don’t work properly. I don’t know what he’s expecting 🤷‍♂️ In November I will have been here for three years, so that’s probably a good time to think about broadening my experience.

Update: I’ve now just had another call with my manager, because the customer is complaining that their data is missing… because he has been fiddling around in the database and deleted it 😳

Runner’s knee 😠

After a few weeks of relatively heavy running load… I have runner’s knee 🤦‍♂️. Which is to say a vague ache around the kneecap. I don’t think I’ve ever had this before. My hip and hamstring had been tight for a week or so, so that’s probably what caused it, along with high volume. I did intervals on Wednesday (3x1km, 2x400m, 4x200m) which felt OK while I was running but on the dog walk later I could feel some pressure around the kneecap so I haven’t run since. I bought some resistance bands and have been doing lateral walks and monster walks all round the house to work my hips, so I’m hoping that will fix it. It feels OK again now, except it was a tiny bit achy when I woke up this morning. I’ll try a few kilometres later and see how it feels…

The Conservative leadership election! Is it just me or do the candidates seem a bit… low quality? And there are so many of them! We have Sunak, who raised taxes during a period of high inflation, while his wife was using non-domiciled status to avoid taxes. Oh and he also broke the law while chancellor, and he’s campaigning on a ticket of fixing the economy… despite being in charge of the economy for the last few years 😕. He has strong backing within the party 😕😕😕, which I can only infer is the result of widespread substance abuse in Westminster. Javid has previously avoided taxes by claiming non-dom status. Zawahi is currently under investigation over his tax arrangements. Then we’ve got Hunt whose entire thing is standing at the side trying to look like the adult in the room, rather than doing anything to prove that he is – remember how that worked out with Theresa May? Braverman seems to think the right to be horrible to trans people is the most pressing political issue of our time, which I find completely baffling because a) it’s really nasty, and b) it’s a total fringe issue that affects so few people. Grant Shapps somehow managed to be the only candidate to say something sensible on the trans matter (“I don’t think it’s important, let people live their lives”) but he has rather a dubious history in other matters. And then finally Liz Truss just comes across as a simpleton.

They go through multiple rounds of MPs voting until there’s only two left, then it goes to the membership, who tend to have substantially different (read: more insane) opinions than MPs. It looks like it’ll be Rishi Sunak vs someone else, and I think it’s fairly likely that Rishi will lose because he’s not insane. I hope it’s not Braverman.

Results

Running is definitely improving a lot now. My Parkrun times are consistently sub 21 in the last few weeks and they are feeling reasonably comfortable (for high effort, at least). Last weekend I ran a 13km race on Sunday and came in at 58:30. I paced it horribly and set off way too fast over a a hilly route that I hadn’t tapered for, so I was very pleased at keeping a solid 4:30/km pace over that distance.

I’m starting do to a bit more speed work now to try bring my Parkrun times down. Last week I did 3x1km repeats but I think I need shorter intervals too. Over a shorter interval you can get your speed up much higher, which means your legs turn over faster with a longer stride length. That’s what speed is – how long your stride length is and how many strides you’re taking per second. I think 1km intervals are too long to work on pushing those things. This week I’m going to try the 3x1km then after a few minutes rest I’ll do 2x400m then 4x200m. Let’s see how that goes…

The bad news is my foot (neuroma?) has been twinging a little bit yesterday but I think it’s just that my calf gets tight. It was kind of tingling yesterday morning like someone was prodding it gently with a needle, but then I stood up and realised my ankle was quite stiff in that way that it relaxes pretty quickly when you stretch it. I went to a physio about this last year and he recommended lots of calf stretching because he thought my windlass mechanism wasn’t working properly due to calf tightness and I was overpronating as a result. He also thought I didn’t actually have a neuroma, though I do get neurological symptoms so the distinction is a bit academic at the moment. Well, I was overpronating on that side and I could see it from the wear under the big toe on the insole in my running shoes. In my current shoes I’ve run about 500km and there’s no obvious wear, probably because I’ve been stretching a lot. Though the left calf is still a lot weaker than the right and it tends to cramp after about 25 calf raises. So I need to be a little careful but I think it’s manageable.

In other news… Goodness me, finances! So, inflation is crazy. And July is salary review time. Somehow I just can’t see my employer matching inflation, and if not, I won’t be able to shake the perception that I’m moving backwards by taking a pay cut. I flicked on the “open to offers” thing on LinkedIn yesterday and I’ve received about 25 messages from recruiters since then. Quite a few of those are junk, but even so, there’s no reason to accept sub-inflation pay adjustments.

To be honest though I hate interviewing, and now I have Monty I have less free time because he needs so much supervision. It is like having a baby, really. Yesterday on Hacker News there was a thread from someone who said they were struggling to recruiter senior developers and listed their interview process. It had three actual talking-to-people interview stages plus a “4 hour” take home test (which in reality could be anywhere from 2 hours to several days). Everyone in the comments was pointing out how silly this was for people with responsibilities outside of work. But that’s the minefield of interviewing and it’s what puts me off.

Not anaemic

It turns out that my iron levels are fine. Haemoglobin is 139 g/L and serum ferritin is 74 ng/mL. The haemoglobin reading is subject to ‘sports anaemia’ which is when your haemoglobin concentration reading is a bit lower because you really have more plasma, not because you actually have less haemoglobin. Or something. There is a lot of disagreement about what a low ferritin level is, some people say 10-15, some 20, some people say that under 50 is going to impact athletic performance. But 74 is good. That’s the highest it’s ever been on a blood test.

So really, I have no excuse for my rubbish running performance lately. Since I started running after work my average easy paces have improved though. Then last week on Parkrun I ran 21:15 and this week I ran 20:55, which is a post-lockdown PB and the first time post-lockdown I’ve gone sub 21. I pretty much just threw myself at it straight from the start. I usually try to run even or negative splits but sometimes I think you just need to go out faster than comfortable and then just try to hang on when it starts getting tough. Then next week you’ll probably be able to go a bit longer before you start questioning all your life choices that led you up to the point of wanting to die somewhere in the third kilometre of a 5km run. It also helps to have a running nemesis who is slightly faster than you. Next step: sub 20?

I have to be a little bit careful with this though because I spent all of Tuesday last week feeling slightly tired, slightly irritable and slightly hungry and I’m pretty sure it was just from running a bit further and a bit faster than usual last weekend and Monday.

So I think the reason I was feeling tired before was actually just because I have a crazy adolescent dog.

Progress

Despite my lacklustre half marathon performance on Sunday and my suspicion that I might need to take some time off for my hip, I ran down to the doctors yesterday to enquire about my blood test. It turns out that blood test forms expire after 3 months, so the one I had from last August was definitely out. So I have booked a GP appointment (again!) in a couple of weeks and I’ll see about getting another one, and actually having it done this time. Of course by the time it happens I’ll have been on iron tablets for four weeks, but I’ll just have to tell them that when they interpret the results.

So overall, going into the surgery worked a lot better than trying to phone them up. A few years ago I booked a lot of appointments over a period of about 12 months, and usually I would just do it at work by disappearing into the corridor for a couple of minutes. Or I could use the online booking… which is now disabled “because of COVID” (?????). Whereas now it’s at least 30 minutes on hold. I could understand if they had a GP shortage and couldn’t provide enough appointments, because a GP shortage is a hard problem to solve. But I am pretty sure that a shortage of people to answer the phones is not a hard problem to solve. This has been going on for a couple of years now, and every so often the local newspaper picks up on it and prints a scathing article… and nothing changes.

Anyway the running was OK. I was achy but that’s hardly surprising. Then today I went out again and did a 10km tempo, which was neither terrible nor great. My pace was a bit faster than the HM on Sunday, and it was really hot and I’m probably not recovered from Sunday yet, so overall it wasn’t bad, but my energy levels dipped quite a lot around the 8km mark.

I’ve been off work this week so I’ve been entertaining Monty. I took him to the town centre on Tuesday and sat in the square with a drink while he watched everyone walk past. Today we went into a dog friendly cafe and had a drink. He was quite stressed, or maybe just really excited. He was whimpering a bit to start with so I had him sat in my lap and I could feel him panting heavily almost the whole time. It’s funny how he’s so confident and boisterous in his comfort zone, but as soon as you put him in a new situation he’s quite timid. Before we got him, I had no idea dogs could be so expressive with the sounds they make.

HM

It turned out that 1:40 wasn’t realistic, and I came in with 1:47. There were some tough hills and my hip started tightening up on the first one, so it wasn’t ideal. But I mostly enjoyed it and I’m not too bothered about the time.

…but the time is a bit of a wake up call that I’m a lot slower than I was a few years ago. 3 years ago I ran a very similar course in 1:32 on roughly the same weekly mileage in training. Plus I did 1:53 on an even harder course last year with virtually no training (which was horrible, but that’s beside the point). So what’s going on here?

I’ve been thinking about it and there is a big difference in now versus then. I used to run most of my miles straight after getting home from work, whereas now I do it first thing in the morning before breakfast. I find running first thing tough and I struggle to hit paces on workout runs that I can hold easily a few hours later in the day. I think this is why my muscles today feel wrecked. Even though I’m putting in the physical effort, my muscles just aren’t being made to work that fast in training runs and they’re not used to going through as wide a range of motion. So I’m going to go back to running later. Something tells me I won’t miss dragging myself round the park at 7AM.

There’s also the issue of iron levels but unfortunately my local GP practice is no longer set up to let people access healthcare 😕 I have a blood test form from last August but I don’t know if 1) it’s still valid, 2) I can still get it done walk-in at the hospital like I used to (I don’t think I still can because of COVID), and if not it means I need an appointment at my GP, which means spending 40+ minutes waiting in a queue on the phone… which I need to do anyway to ask. Actually I’ll probably spend that 40 minutes walking there and back to ask in person. At least that’s more enjoyable than sitting on hold.