It’s been a funny couple of weeks. Since crossing the finish line at Paris I have ran approximately 8 miles, and I don’t like it one bit. I’ve been under strict physio orders to NOT RUN if I want any chance of getting to the starting line of the Fling in one piece (let alone the finish), so I have been cross training gently and giving my mind an extensive workout in the form of extreme positive thinking.
In 4 days time I’ll be packing up and heading down the road to Milngavie for the start of the 53 mile Highland Fling Ultramarathon and the longest race I have ever ran. How did this come about so soon? I’ve had a countdown on my phone since I signed up back in November and it really wasn’t that long ago it was reading days in triple figures. Back in November I didn’t imagine that I’d be staring down the Fling at this point having only run 4 times this whole month so far; but then again I can’t say I imagined I’d be staring at it having knocked half an hour off my D33 time and coming within a whisker of a 4 hour marathon at Paris. I have to take the rough with the smooth on this occasion, I think!
I’m aware that I haven’t given a huge amount of specific updates on my training for this race, and I guess the reason for that is for the most part due to my ‘one week at a time’ strategy. I wrote a training plan back in January, but after about a month I found things weren’t working so well and ended up planning my running week by week – but that’s a story for another post.
This is how I’m currently rolling, with a distinctive trilogy of red, white and blue holding my knee together as I bounce off the walls in frustration, desperate to be running ‘properly’ again. It feels a long time since my longest run (33 miles, 16th March) and a long time since I had a ‘proper’ long training run with my backpack on and an aching body the next day.
All jesting aside, here’s an update on what’s up with my knee and how I’m handling it on the approach to the longest race of my running life so far. It’s a heady mix of denial, positivity and pure stubbornness as I refuse to acknowledge that there’s even the slightest chance I will DNS or DNF the Fling. This is the race where it has been known for a runner to carry on for 15 miles whilst having a heart attack, it has been finished by runners with broken bones that they didn’t start off with, and there are people who are desperate to be on the starting line this year as usual who are only not going to be because Doctors have had to practically tie them to a bed to stop them. My knee hurts when I run. No big deal.
The problem I’m experiencing is knee Bursitis, which is a completely typical runners’ injury. It is caused by inflammation of a bursa which are small fluid-filled sacs found in and around the knee cap, but you get them in all joints. The inflammation can be caused by repeated pressure on the joint or repeated movement and in the case of runners with the condition, over-training, running up a lot of hills, or failing to warm-up properly are frequently the culprits. I may or may not be guilty of all three.
I have been treating it with a steady consumption of ibuprofen, icing and rest. Whilst it is getting better I don’t think I’m going to be on the starting line in perfect shape by any stretch of the imagination. Even if I do start pain-free, I doubt that it will last very long. A trail ultra is much kinder to the legs than a road marathon though, so I am hopeful that I will be able to cope with the pain when it comes and manage it until I reach the finish. Like I’ve described before, the pain is on the inside of my left knee and hurts like an annoyance such as a headache does when I run – as in, it’s tolerable and it won’t stop me moving forward, but it’s not exactly pleasant. Given that a trail ultra of 53 miles will give me plenty of opportunities for a walk if required, I think the pain will be easier to deal with on this occasion than trying to hammer out a fast road race for a decent time without breaking pace.
So this taper, if you can even call it that, has been excruciating. Alongside all of the usual joys of taperitis with its pre-race nerves and phantom illnesses, I have genuine injury concern to manage as well which is making drawing the line between the two quite challenging. It has concerned me how unhappy not being able to run has made me, and this enforced time on the bench has made me question how I would cope if I ever were in a prolonged position where I couldn’t run at all. Is there such a thing as putting all ones’ fitness eggs in one hypothetical basket I wonder? All I want to do is run. I know I moan about it sometimes, but being a runner really does make me very happy. Who would I be if I had to stop? It has made me conduct rather a lot of soul-searching, and the answer is I don’t know but I’m going to finish my first 50 miler on Saturday and that’s all that matters for now.
Where do positive thoughts spiral out of control and into delusion? I don’t know that either, but I won’t like to be the person who attempted to explain it to me. What I do know though, is that in ultramarathons after a certain distance it’s all in the mind anyway and it’s not my mind that’s broken. I know I have the training and endurance in me to physically keep going for all 53 miles, but if I let negative thoughts in then that’s my biggest enemy. Mike ran only 120 miles in the two months between the West Highland Way race and the Glenmore 24 last year, and then proceeded to run 121 miles in 24 hours at Glenmore. Vicki sustained an ITB injury at the Fling last year and barely ran again until the West Highland Way race two months later, which she completed in 31 hours.
There’s no rhyme or reason to it, I can’t explain it, but it happens. The endless pursuit of ‘ultra’ is one of the things which makes our sport so mythically amazing; people have written books about it in attempts to explain it and still no-one’s got to the bottom of it. It’s what makes it so hard to explain why we run these races to well-meaning friends, family and randoms who ask us about it in the pub (after they spit their pint all over the floor of course). We are all in pursuit of that extra wave of energy that comes from nowhere and keeps us going in the darkest places and you have to believe that when you need it, it will come.
My biggest weapon against this race and this distance is my belief in myself and my training. I can do this. I CAN DO THIS.
All I need to do is start at the start and keep running until I reach the finish. Simple.
A mutual friend was seen to comment the following in the West Highland Way Race Family facebook group recently, which just about sums it all up: “There are only three reasons for pulling out: 1. You’re dead 2. You’re unconscious 3. You’re paralysed. Everything else is just a minor detail to be ignored”.
The rest of this week will be taken up with planning, shopping and mentally focusing. I’ll do another update on the nitty-gritty of my race and what I’m planning to eat, wear and my general plans for my 53 mile journey. All in all it’s going to be a huge adventure and honestly, I can’t wait to unleash my inner strength on that trail.