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Time and distance

April 20, 2013

It feels like I’ve been taking it easy for ages in shaking off this Achilles injury. My Garmin Connect account rather depressingly highlights that my last logged run was on Wednesday 9 January 2013 – a rather unremarkable commuter trek home.

Cutting right back on my running has meant rediscovering an extra five or six hours a week. So while the Narnian winter ensued, I learnt to bake bread – as you do. Sure, it’s not the most obvious running-replacement activity, but it turns out you can stretch your poorly tendon by adopting a slightly lunging stance while kneading dough. And since a good knead takes about 10 minutes, that’s a good long stretch.

Over the months I’ve worked my way through fairly standard loaves…

A fairly standard spelt and wholemeal bloomer

A fairly standard spelt and wholemeal bloomer

… to beer bread (made with the mighty fine Hobgoblin brewed by Wychwood)…

Beer bread

Dark rye and wholemeal beer bread – every bit as rich and malty as you’d imagine

… to nurturing a sourdough starter for a particularly remarkable loaf.

Spelt sourdough

Spelt sourdough – real bread!

Over the past month or so, I’ve been gently reintroducing myself to running. Low-impact, untimed, unmeasured runs based entirely on feel, building from one run a week to three. My return hasn’t always felt great – at first I was paranoid about doing something to my ankle, and then as I became more confident in its strength I found the going tougher than I’d hoped.

No matter what cross training you do, you’re going to lose fitness when you have a sustained period away from running. One of the most annoying adaptations my body made to the run-free period was the hard and worn pads of thick skin on the soles of my feet softened. I’d come out of a shortish run feeling like I might be on the verge of getting blisters! Fortunately that tenderness seems to have passed.

This week, after a particularly satisfying route around the Serpentine on Tuesday, I decided it was time to find out what distance I was actually running. I suspected I had been running about 5.5 miles on my weekday route, which I had generally been completing in about 50 minutes. Slow for me, yes, but that involved crossing a busy few roads around Marble Arch and Trafalgar Square – both pretty dreadful crossings. I used MapMyRun to work out the distance, which turned out to be  around 6.5 miles, which was a pleasant surprise.

After a bit of thought, I decided that this weekend I would recharge my Garmin and actually find out how far and fast I was running. The key thing when coming back from an injury is not to come back too fast and do too much, so I needed to make sure having the Garmin didn’t push me to run harder than I would normally. I turned off all noises and sternly told myself not to look at the watch.

Heading off into the spring sunshine, I fought against my urge to check my time at the point that I knew marked the first mile. Fortunately, once past that spot I was able to more or less forget the watch and just focus on running comfortably. The Lee Valley was quieter than normal – presumably runners were either saving themselves for the marathon, or saving their normal run for Sunday. This meant I had relatively few runners to try to chase down, which is usually my vice…

The out-and-back run took just over 35 minutes. I’d been pondering the distance and suspected it may be about 4.5 miles, but Garmin gave the distance as pretty much spot on 5 miles. Not only that, but my pace had increased progressively over the 3 miles along the towpaths, and each of those miles was at around marathon pace – 6:53, 6:50, 6:40.

There’s still a long way to go in the recovery, but perhaps there’s not so far to go as I’d feared. I’m feeling more optimistic about rebuilding my fitness, and I’m looking forward to soaking up the atmosphere of the marathon tomorrow from the sidelines. I don’t yet know whether I’m going to go and watch in person, or catch the front-running on TV (there’s talk that the pacemakers have been asked to go at world-record pace), but I know that afterwards I’m going to want to run and start planning comeback races.

If you’re running – good luck! Looks like good conditions, and I’m sure the atmosphere will be powerful after the tragic events at Boston less than a week ago.

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