A last ditch attempt…
It’s been epic…and the 2019 London Marathon hasn’t even started. Winter and spring have been rammed with client programmes and events, including CPS In-Motion’s Mike Urbans tremendous 3hr pb at the Seville marathon on a very condensed programme, after suffering illness and a serious accidental acute injury the previous year. Injury is often something many practitioners don’t seem to gain much experience from fortunately, whether overuse or accidental (acute), yet still prescribe rehabilitation and all sorts of convalescence activities based on recommended protocols or from previous client misfortune. Not very often do biomechanics inform programme design to be much more personalised, as overuse injuries have a potentially greater negative impact on athletes’ overall health burden.
First-hand experience of injury provides much more clarity on the practicalities of training and rehab even though individuals recover in different ways, but also in terms of preventing those injuries in the first place as the best approach, which is under-appreciated, and the tell-tale signs of imminent overuse injury often escape unnoticed. This post isnt supposed to be a lectue in ehab technique fo injury, more a lesson in endurance training and the importance of staying vigilant of what can go wrong so quickly.
Having a stronger insight into optimal biomechanics with the support from my sports therapist friend Des Martin (Phases Sports Therapy) has been priceless, not to mention learning many of the stretching and taping strategies. I honestly admit that my own training has suffered since providing an exclusive array of coaching clients the intimate programme support and direction they deserve. As a dedicated sports scientists and extremely passionate grass roots athlete who never had the luxury of full-time competition, my enjoyment of coaching has always been getting the most from people with very challenging lifestyles, or demanding events they wish to excel in. I suppose this is the primary reason why many coaches lose their own way and when I attended the Training Peaks University, almost 50% raised their hands when asked if they were themselves coached by a different coach, not surprising really as we fall victim to our own knowledge of training prescription which is then tied up with others, and we lose track of ourselves. This confirms the role of a coach as a supportive guide with objective understanding of what is best for your own training.
So my last posts about the London marathon expressed my frustration in missing the 2018 marathon due to achilles tendonitis…a nasty, incapacitating condition which lasts for weeks, as the tendon is inflamed with limited blood flow to the area. I confessed that my laptop chair to twice-weekly track combined 21km winter night session was probably made worse by an inadequate warm-up…although bizarrely I did seem to join with the group warm-up at the track. In my mind the 10km getting there didn’t seem to matter when in a rush….typical. Lesson learnt the hard way, as I could barely walk properly for a few weeks, and calf and hamstring stretching became routine. Fast forward to December 2018, and the start of the run-up to 2019 VMLM which I deferred. Running had been at maintenance level though the summer after the London Duathlon, although a solid 1h21m saw me with 4th place at an unofficial half-marathon.
It was time to buy some new running shoes, which ended up as an epic mission in itself. After a lengthy process of retail elimination my first objective was to take my new Mizuno Waves with elastic laces (a simple yet revolutionary addition which I recommend highly, no need for rushing to tie laces to the right tension just before a race) on familiar routes before heading back to the track, although less frequently after the lesson learnt the year before. In fact, my plan was to attend the track just once every other week, and run the other faster sessions on quiet roads closer to home. The shoes were snug, and once broken in, I started some sprint work, much shorter than planned having read up on neuromuscular training practices from dedicated athletics speed coaches. Briefly, running speed is contemporarily thought to be improved not solely through aerobic intensity, which serves to increase threshold duration but an adaptation in biomechanics; muscle strength and firing, range of motion of stride (length). These aspects tend to be engaged during the initiation and start of a sprint, the intensity which lasts no more than seven seconds. A change in training practice is great for variation, and alleviates any mental stagnation. But something to be cautious of, in hindsight I clearly hadn’t put enough strength foundation in to my winter rehab building blocks.
After a couple of sessions, I had experienced quite severe left knee discomfort…this subsequently turned to a knee cap impingement on walking, and diagnosed with patella femoral pain (PFP) syndrome also known as runners knee which worsened over the days, even by short distance cycling and walking. Within a week I was taken from marathon training to incapacitated, reliant on a crutch and Uber taxis. Convalescence as those who have experienced PFP is complete rest and isolation of the joint, including cancelling several appointments. Basic travel became impossible. I could start slowly walking with a pronounced limp, after about 5 or 6 days. Unable to bend the knee past 60 degrees meant I could tell rehabilitation would be slow. There are a plethora of you tube videos and sports physio self-rehabilitation taping techniques on the internet , some of dubious integrity others fascinating rrenditions of applied physiotherapy. In my case the cause was pinpointed down to a weaker or wasted VMO (Vastus Medialis Oblique) due to poor sitting posture and under-recovery.
I was lucky to be guided by a sports physio who knew his stuff. Kinesio taping to allow fluid drainage and then patella alignment was the way forward. This allowed me to start on very gentle stretching and body weight exercise (see injured leg partial squat compass) only to the point of restriction or sensitivity. In all I was 6 weeks out, repeating all of this, until I increased the flexion angle, and the patella started tracking properly….as this all occurred early January I had resigned to another London marathon DNS. Last year, I didn’t mind missing it so much in hindsight as it was one of the warmest ever, and difficult to obtain a pb after weeks of cold weather training. My problem being is that I am just shy of the 3hr mark on the few marathons which I have run, and so have been seeking that elusive sub-3hr for the last few years…but like every marathoner knows, the result on the day is influenced by so many factors, and fitness can be low down on the list, especially for a pb. Going into a marathon motivated, well rested and injury free are fundamental to a good performance on top of conditioning. After 6 weeks off any form of exercise, I was still precautious about training, with some very tentative short tester runs, and avoiding cycling until I was sure the knee was behaving itself. I had gone through negotiating a sub-3hr, to a pb, to a finish, to just a start. Bear in mind that my entry was a good-for-age ballot, which can only be deferred once..so a massively wasted opportunity. By early March I could start running almost normal routes, but my fitness was very much down of race shape, and only 7 weeks to prepare, 1 of those being a taper. I also succumbed to a nasty chest cold that robbed my cardio-respiratory fitness for 2 weeks. A good little guide to considering the impact of injury and illness on training and forecast marathon performance can be found here.
As I write this, it is the day before the marathon, and I have registered and collected my race-pack, got my kit ready and know times of trains and what food I’m going to eat in the morning, ……but with my longest run at 23km there was no time to get back to some sort of shape and recover from distance accumulation, I achieved 1’15” off my park run best….the weather tomorrow with a chill head wind for almost the entire route means that I’ll settle for an enjoyable finish as a contingency, but in the back of my head testing the overall conditions, whether I can hold target initial pace of 4’30”/km and how the knee behaves after the first half can mean my objective could change. Of course eating and drinking are slightly easier at slower paces, so this feels like a more attractive strategy to avoid ‘hitting-the-wall’ and walking, akin to stepping off the bike from bonking and the last resort to get to the finish. With the 12-14mph exact head wind, I doubt there will be many personal bests, as drafting will definitely come into play, which may feel a bit like cheating, but for lighter runners might be crucial. The elite race may even been decided by who takes the most wind gusts head-on, or just trying to keep a wind-free line. It looks like Mo Farah may be in closer contention after his third place debut in 2018 and win at Chicago later in the year. Although I’m not sure if his coach enjoyed his attics at the Running Show this week: see vid.
Anything can happen, and usually does. Not worrying about it and getting good sleep (at least 2 days prior) is the first start to a good 26.2. I managed to fit in 20 runs since the beginning of March many were rehab. I’m sure experienced athletes would tell me to skip the race…not having done much speed work and no longer runs at all, plus not being entirely injury free yet as I can’t make full flexion on that knee without some pain, but can run, hop and lunge pain-free. I’ll just have to dial it back and see what happens, improvise a pacing strategy (with several options in mind)…I can always duck out if things go awry, find the nearest pub and watch the race go by like the more sensible people, while taking stock of my possible folly, but most of all reflect on what needs to be done for the future, as like many habitual runners, having a back-up event to target keeps those legs kicking over….Berlin in November?
The day after:
Mo Farahs disappointment with himself finishing 4minutes slower than Kipchoge highlights how marathon can be so unpredictable. Although Eliud Kipchoge excelled once again, losing touch with the leaders probably played mental games and lack of drafting after the pacemaker dropped off, both took their toll, as seconds turned into minutes. I managed to catch a glimpse of the elites coming towards us at around the Tower Hill area, Mo looked great…and 2h 04’39” is an incredible time, and the second fastest British time ever. Not really much to be disappointed about!
For us mere mortals the day can pan out a bit more erratically and a lot slower, as a finish is the main objective for many, a pb fantastic. I was suprised by both the volume of good for age runners, and the number of faster ballott entries…it’s an incredible atmosphere with two opposing walls of noise, with the crowd shouting ‘Go Willy Wonka’ next to me for a few of the kms, and others in fancy dress running at a fair old pace. As anticipated my marathon wasn’t a walk in the park although my dodgy knee behaved itself, as my wheels came off at around 27km, which is the distance my next training run should have been. I managed to hang-on for a 3h19′ finish and only cramped 500m from the line. Walking the length of the Mall to reclaim my bag was an unexpected further challenge, to find out it weighed over ten-times more than it had at the start…plus a decent feast of marathon giveaways and goodies. At the end of the day, taking it too seriously can both motivate and hamper performance…if you are enjoying it, that often means you are running within yourself, which is better that risking blowing-up. There are plenty of other opportunities for it all to come together on the day, after doing some sound training. As they say, it adds more fuel to the fire…..now I’m looking foward to limping round my next Park Run!