Half marathon that is.
Its been a bad year for running. I suffered inflamed Achilles tendons after the Connemara Half marathon in April and hadn’t ran a race since. I had run a couple of parkruns, wonderful as ever, but slowly and carefully.
I got some very good physio treatment and advice – how tendons are different from muscles, how the limited blood flow hinders healing, how it can take a day or two after exercise to know if you’ve done too much or not, how the building up slowly in exercise that you read about all the time, no more than 10%, is for your tendons really – they have to get used to the exercise. Its almost like you have to fool them into believing they can do it, “Sure we ran 10k last week, we’ll manage 11k this week no bother” I had a couple of setbacks – as regular readers will know, i’m a slow learner.
The source of the problem lay with the rupture of my left Achilles tendon about nine years ago – i had never stopped compensating and putting too much pressure on my right foot.
but a greater love of running,
you appreciate something most when its gone.
So i took the physio’s advice and did my exercises, various forms of heel raises, not stretches, for those who want to know and started running short distances, every second day so that the tendons could recover and rest and i could evaluate how they felt.
But there was a complication; i still wanted to run this years Dublin City marathon on October 28th.
It didn’t take a mathematical genius to figure out that a regular 10% increase in distance wouldn’t get me there and so i made out a plan, yes a Training Plan. See how mature and disciplined i have become – many thanks to my Practical Philosophy classes. In general, i have stuck to it. I’ve modified it somewhat but stuck with it. Week 7 of training commenced with the Dublin Half Marathon, one of the markers. 15k slowly but successfully ran few days earlier suggested i could complete it.
It turned out to be a perfect morning for running, dull, dry, warm and no wind. I arrived in the Phoenix Park about an hour early but was far from first, a sequence to be replicated in the race. Excited crowds were milling around. I checked out the pacers and their balloons. 2:20 seemed a good target. About what i was achieving before been injured but, hey, i had been training and i knew the crowd would carry me along.
And we were off, another 13 mile adventure started. I tucked in behind the 2:20 pacers but after a while felt i do a bit more. So off i went. Recently, i’ve been running at a 7 minute/km pace in training but here i was doing 6:24. I didn’t expect that i’d keep it up but was happy enough to gain a bit on the pacers and then lose it at the end if i had to.
Half marathons break themselves down in familiar portions for me at this stage. The first two to three miles i’m warming up and then i’m thinking “Same again and i’m halfway”. That’s the tough bit really just around the 7 miles and you know you have about as far to go again and that’s the few miles when i have to dig in and just put in the time. As the 10 mile marker approaches, i’m thinking just another 3 miles, a little old 5k run in the park, and i’m done and so it proves to be. All races in the Phoenix Park seem to end on Furze Road, only a slight incline but you feel it at that stage.
I had bought a energy gel at my local running shop, Runzone in Rathgar and got some free advice at the same time from Jim. “The gel takes about half an hour to be digested”, he told me, “so take it at about the hour mark and then it will kick in when you need it”. I delayed until mile 8 though as i’d drank a hot chocolate just before we started. At mile 9, we were served with lucozade energy drinks and i took one, well part of one, its hard to drink from a cup when you are running, for that little extra boost. I was glad there were no wasps about as they would have love the sugary sticky coating I mainly spilled over myself.
Mile 10 came up and a couple of people asked me how far to go. They’d missed the signpost. “Three miles”, i answered, “just a 5k, half an hour at this pace”. The information didn’t seem to be good news, they grunted and i moved on. Shortly afterwards, at the 17km mark, another runner started a chat. He was on 27km at that stage, having run 10km to the Park to start. I dream of the day. We passed a kilometre or so and he told me not to wait if i wanted to speed up a bit. I realised that the lucozade and gel had kicked in and there was a turbo charge just waiting to be let loose. A downhill section approached and off i went, hoping that i wouldn’t run out of energy before the end. I gently passed out about thirty runners and was reminded of the advice of finishing strongly and the pleasure, guilty pleasure really, of passing out other runners in the last few miles.
The route narrowed along a path and i sat in behind two lads, in their thirties or so, happy to sit in their slipstream and recover a little from my faster pace. One of their friends noticed though and called to them to let me through. They looked at me, and looked at me again, probably thinking what’s this old lad doing passing us by at this stage, but they moved aside and i felt duty bound to speed up again and justify their manners.
Next up came a small group of ladies, a couple who were cruising and a couple who were being psychologically carried by them. You get to see the most impressive and amazing behaviour when the chips are down and you’re are running like this. One of the cruisers ran with me for a while, chatting away, and then dropped back to herd her friends the last mile and across the finish line.
One thing about Furze Road, you can see the Finish Line for quite a distance and it is tough going. As usual, i sped up, i love to finish with a sprint. I forgot, until afterwards, that i wasn’t supposed to be sprinting on my Achilles tendons, especially when they were tired, but such was the excitement of the moment.
Medal earned, t-shirt collected, water, banana and yogurt downed, i assessed the damage, hips sore, knees sore, lower back sore, Achilles tendons sore. Tomorrow and the next day will tell the story. Looking around, i am always struck by how so many people don’t even look like they have exerted themselves, though i know they have.
As i walked back to my car, i was joined by another runner. He talked about how he got on and i asked him if he usually ran on his own. He said he had a training buddy, his father, but he is in his 70’s now and didn’t run long distances any more. He is diabetic too and managing his blood sugar levels on long runs is just too difficult. Such lessons to be learnt from just a few sentences and you realise how little you know, how little you think about others and how their health affects them. “I lap him now, most of the time when we are out running”, my new friend told me, “we don’t even get a chance to talk” and a sadness overwhelmed me, a sadness grounded in a knowledge of what we lose and of how we don’t fully appreciate it until its gone.
Keep talking my friends,