Don’t run the Half Marathon

It’s in the title, although to be fair, neither my Physical Therapist or my Sports Medicine doctor actually said those words. What they said was that they’re not going to tell me not to, but….

I was in England for work, and had signed up for the Blenheim Palace Half Marathon three months ago, assuming that I would be back to running by then. I decided I would go to the race to at least get my t-shirt, then perhaps I would start the run and drop out when things hurt (the course looped around a central point a couple of times in different directions). After all, it would be a scenic run.

Taken on an earlier trip to the grounds of Blenheim

I cycled there as I had rented a bike for the time I was in Oxford – it was just over 7.5 miles away from the hotel. The race information had indicated that only one bus from Oxford would get to the start in time for the half marathon.

It started to rain on my ride over, which wasn’t supposed to happen that day. The forecast had said it would be dry all day. It wasn’t terrible though, and more importantly it wasn’t that cold.

I had to pick up a number, and I’m guessing they had mailed them out as they had to assign a new number at the check in desk. I imagine there will be a number waiting for me when I get home. I grabbed my t-shirt and found some shelter under a tree. Runners are always friendly people and it’s never too long before someone talks to you, or you start talking to someone else. I’ve always liked that about running.

About half an hour before the start I dropped my bag and did some dynamic stretches in the hope that would help. The race started precisely on time – I had lined up a bit behind the 2 hour pacer thinking that I would likely go out at that pace until I had to drop out.

The start/finish area

So, when did I drop out? Of course, I didn’t. Early on I could feel the pull in my hamstring but it wasn’t too bad and didn’t get worse (in fact, that sensation seemed to fade). I thought I could feel my problem with my right ankle coming back around mile 5 or so, but again it wasn’t bad enough to make me stop.

I felt pretty good at the 8 mile mark. At this point I was passing people who had slowed as the race progressed. Mile 10 was were I ran into problems. My calf muscles were so tight by this point that at times I could barely run. This isn’t entirely surprising considering my longest run this year was about 8 miles, and my average pace by that point of the race was slightly faster than 8:30/mile. I stopped a couple of times, but pushed through. Some of those who I had passed earlier came back past me. In the end I had a time of 1:53:48 which is my slowest half marathon, but also the most satisfying. Despite my issues, I am still able to run 13 miles without my injuries stopping me. I would not recommend running a half marathon with minimal training and a long run of 8 miles several weeks before, and no running at all for 2 weeks in the lead up to the race.

I headed straight for the massage tent which helped a lot (for the price of a donation). I had to cycle back to Oxford, and that was tough. It was slow but I made it without too much problem.

Over the next couple of days my hamstring hurt a little (I’ll be resting until that fades away), and my calf muscles took 3 days to get back to almost normal. I think I need a proper massage.

Grape Gallop 5k

I recently posted about being contacted by the organizers of the Grape Gallop. A few weeks ago I went along to their 5k at Alba Vineyard.

The race start was 10am and I arrived at about 8:50. When I got there, it was clear that the race was going to be relatively small so I would have been okay arriving a bit later, but it was a very pleasant morning so having a bit of time to look around the course wasn’t a bad thing. I walked the first half mile, and later ran with my kids up part of the longest hill (yes, it’s hilly) as a bit of a warm up. I was being cautious because I didn’t know how my ankle was going to react (on Saturday I started a short run only to stop within a few steps because of it).

Photo courtesy of Rebecca Hume

All the organizers and other participants were very friendly. It looked like there might be a couple of relatively fast people. One in particular approached me early on, a young guy who clearly knew a bottle of wine was at stake for the winner and was there to get it. I was able to reassure him that I was in no shape to keep up with him, and likely would not have been able to even at full fitness.

The race was two loops through the vineyard on gravel/stones and grass. As a side note, with many of my shoes, as they are minimalist, I would have had problems with those stones, but I had with me a few options and my latest pair – the Vivobarefoot Primus Trail FG – were perfect for this.

Photo courtesy of Rebecca Hume

During the race my ankle held up reasonably well, but lack of overall fitness showed. As expected with the small field of participants, the race split – the fast guy there to win pulled easily well ahead from the start, and I possibly went out being a little overenthusiastic. I felt okay though, and I was in second with a decent gap opening up between me and third place.

Photo courtesy of Rebecca Hume

After the first loop I wasn’t looking forward to the big hill again. My lack of overall fitness was definitely kicking in and I knew I was going to struggle up it the second time around. At this point I was just hoping to be able to hold on and not get caught by anyone else so I could claim the second place.

There were a lot of walkers and run/walk participants taking part and that meant passing them on the second loop. This wasn’t a problem because there was plenty of space for passing.

I did hold on, and the third and fourth place were a couple who were running together, including the 1st place woman. My time was 23:50 which is my slowest 5k since my very first, but given the tough course and my recent issues, I was happy with that. First place was 20:05 (he had run a 5k the day before in the 18s). The first place woman came in at 24:18.

Photo courtesy of Rebecca Hume

After the race, you pick up your wine tasting glass (if you’ve paid for that – you can enter for less without the tasting) and tote bag for carrying wine bottles. The set up was great for socializing with the other runners, and was very relaxing.

I’m not sure if any results get posted for this event, or even if they were even recorded outside of the first place runners. The race was not chip timed, which brings me to what to expect from the race.

  • Don’t expect competitive field – it’s more like a community event (and I actually really appreciated that).
  • Don’t expect awards/medals – outside of first place male and female there are none. The first place runners got a bottle of wine each.
  • The course was well-marked, but no volunteers were out on the course other than at the end of the first loop to make sure you took the correct split there. This includes the water station (you help yourself from the table if you need it). I did hear that some people may have gone down the wrong way at one part of the course but didn’t see that myself – it wouldn’t have cut much off, but if it ever gets to be a more competitive event, that could be an issue.
  • You will get a scenic course – very scenic.
  • There had been some rain during the week and some parts of the course were soft. I imagine very heavy rains could make some areas very muddy.
  • If you like a small race feel with very friendly people, this is definitely worth a look. I imagine bringing friends to make a day of the wine tasting and food truck festival would be a fantastic day out. I was there with my wife and kids and grabbed some food before we left (we had other things to do later so didn’t stick around past 1 – food festival started at noon). There were not many food truck options. I don’t know if we just got unlucky as I did spot a Facebook post from someone disappointed by the fact there were not as many options as previous festivals at that venue.

In summary, this was a fun event you can make a day of with friends or family and I recommend it for that. I would hope that if it were to grow and attract competitive runners they would introduce more awards to recognize more than just first place (based on the participants that were there, it makes sense to keep it small).

I can’t help but feel the race is a bit too expensive. $35 for a “designated driver” entry (no wine glass/tasting) is a bit higher than most road or park 5ks that have more costs incurred by road closing. For example, I am a race director for the Highland Park 5k, which has an early entry fee of $25 (if you include the $10 entry to the food truck festival as a race cost then it is a similar price, but still without road closing costs). Admittedly those races tend to have sponsors which help to keep the cost down, but if you’re choosing what races to do based on your spending budget, it may put this one lower down your list of choices.

Would I recommend it?

Yes, it was fun, but with the caveat that it’s best planned as a day out with friends.

If you use discount code RUNNJ17 you will save $3 off the registration fee.

When you just don’t want to stop

Last time I wrote I was cautiously optimistic about running. Unfortunately that optimism didn’t continue. Although my ankle issues are mostly gone, a run last week caused me to take another break. This time, the same muscle tightness issues caused lower back pain. The pain started just 2 miles in to the run so it’s unclear why it happened but my calf muscles were very tight after the run.

Four days later I wanted to try to run again – I was feeling pretty good after going to a Bodyflow class (yoga, Pilates, t’ai chi mix) the day before. Perhaps foolishly I decided I desperately wanted to run the 5 miles that was my next planned step up (the distance I had planned when my back hurt). During that run I focused on trying to relieve the back pain (which was only mild) and discovered that my shoulders were often too tense, and relaxing them helped. I ended the run with some discomfort in my back, but nothing too bad (at least after stretching and rolling).

The next day, feeling overconfident, I did a couple of miles of hill climb on the treadmill in the morning and then another 4 in the evening with a similar outcome.

I did take a day off at that point, but yesterday I really wanted to get 5 miles done. Even before 2 miles into the run I could feel the lower back pain again. I’d been dropped by one group at that point but later joined up with someone else. We chatted away until he headed back and it was at that point I realized that my back wasn’t feeling too bad (more evidence that I’m not running relaxed enough perhaps?). By the time I got to 4.5 miles I started to feel pretty good and already had it in my mind that maybe I could run 6 miles so on I went.

Of course, when you’re feeling good, and there’s a predefined course, it didn’t end there and before the cut back for 6 miles I had already decided to try to complete the full 7.4 mile club run course.

Stretching, rolling, and massage have been key for me, and every day I do at least one of these. The added benefit is that I am now very close to being able to touch my toes again – something I don’t think I’ve been able to do for more than 20 years.

 

Setbacks and restarts

I intended to keep up this blog with my progress as I tried to get back to running regularly. A couple of times I was about to write something and then had a new setback. Looking back I suspect my reluctance to write was because I wanted to have something positive to write.

I’m still not sure, but I am cautiously optimistic as of today.

Over the Christmas period I was off work and my intention was to run 2 to 3 miles every day, as this seemed achievable at the time. It seemed to be going well. Each run started with some discomfort in my Achilles tendon, but the swelling in my ankle was down, and didn’t seem to be coming back. I was also being very good about stretching and rolling (which I am still making sure I do). On the 5th day of running, the run itself was just like the others, but later in the day I had pain on the inside bottom of my foot when I put pressure on it. The next morning it was the same, but strangely, within a couple of hours of getting up, it disappeared as quickly as it started. A trapped nerve perhaps?

Over the next 10 days I only ran a couple of times, testing things out, and when I thought things were okay I started running more often again. I ran every day for a week between 2 and 3.5 miles at a time with no issues so things were looking very positive.

That Saturday I decided to push a little further. I got to 4.3 miles and suddenly I felt pain in my ankle, in the exact spot where it had previously been swollen.

With the ankle swollen once again I should probably have taken things easier than I did. A few days later I went out to run and found that I was in pain after about 2 miles. When I got home I discovered that the muscle along the bottom of my foot was rock solid. It massaged out quickly though.

I took 9 days off completely (from running at least – the Halfbike came into play during that time and did not aggravate my foot in any way). I also had a better sense of what muscles are likely causing my problems and had a massage that focused on that area – my upper calf muscles were very tight. That brings us to this past weekend.

I was unsure about trying to run again but thought I was okay because the massage seemed to have helped. I got on the Halfbike for 5 miles before the RVRR club run, and then I thought I’d start running with the group and see how things went. I intended to cover 2 miles at most. I got talking to someone during the run, and felt good, so went out a bit further, and I did feel a small amount of discomfort at 1.5 miles so that’s where I turned around.

One theory I was toying with was that perhaps my form is not as good when I’m running slower, so on the return part of that run I picked up the pace to between 7:50 and 8:30. I felt no more discomfort. Stretching and massaging the calf through the day seemed to stave off any discomfort.

I wanted to run on Sunday, but I also wanted to be cautious (and I had been out late drinking on Saturday night), so I did not. Today is Monday – I ran 3 miles on the treadmill (keeping the pace in the 7:30 to 8:20 range), and things seem fine.

Now I have to decide whether to run tomorrow, or wait until Wednesday. I think I’ll wait, even though that optimism is trying to tempt me into running again.

Training without a plan

With just over a week to go until the Newport Liberty Half Marathon I decided to look back at my post about getting back to fitness in time just over a month ago. In that post I talked about putting together a plan but in the end that just didn’t happen.

I did sign up for the club speed workouts (but immediately missed the first two, one because of vacation), and so far the only sessions I have attended were last week and this week. The other training tools I talked about didn’t happen at all.

I’m still not sure where this leaves me for next week. I did run just over 12 miles this past Sunday so at least I have a little distance behind me (but not as much as I would have hoped), and my mileage went up dramatically last week (a very long track session, and a couple of other days where I ran further than planned simply because I felt good and decided to push). That increase in mileage broke the guide of “no more than a 10% increase week on week”, but it may have worked out okay for me. I was much stronger at this week’s speed workout.

I’m confident I’ll get through the race in a reasonable time given the training so overall I’m happy, but I will have to find another half later in the year to push myself towards if I want to see my time drop closer to last year’s levels.

Are you running the Newport Liberty Half? How ready do you feel?

(As previously noted, I am an official blog partner for the Newport Half for which I have received a free entry. I have consistently run this race for several years, most of which were before becoming a blog partner, and this status does not influence my opinion of the race, as early posts about this race on my blog will confirm).