Starting afresh

As you may have gathered by the general lack of updates, things have been a bit challenging of late.

This isn’t a ‘woe is me’ post, but it is a lot more personal than I’ve written in a while. As with my blogging in the early days, it’s giving me a place to vent as well as drawing a line from which I can hopefully progress from. And just with the old blogs, perhaps I’ll be able to say something that might help another person or at least something that resonates with them.

Laid-up for ever

You may be aware that I have experienced several years of issues with my feet which was eventually diagnosed officially as a Haglund’s Deformity last year.

Despite the diagnosis, very little progress has been made to make things better (whatever that actually means).

Last time the heels flared up (in 2016), they calmed back down enough within 1 year. However this time around, we’re almost at 2 years with little improvement. Sure, I’m not in constant agony like I was at the outset, but I am in constant discomfort which is affected or unaffected by day to day activities seemingly at random. Sometimes a run or a walk will leave me in pain, sometimes they’re fine. Sometimes I can be literally sat doing nothing and my heel decides to be a raging ball of anger.

And it’s not even the back of the heel where things are painful these days. The “bump” is at about 45 degrees to the right of my right heel and doesn’t get direct pressure on it. However clearly the shape of my heel is affecting the mechanics of how the foot moves.

Over the past 2 years, this has reduced my own running considerably. I’ve not run any races since September last year. And it’s the best part of 5 years since I last raced competitively.

The psychological cost

It’s left me in quite a strange place. Obviously my fitness has significantly reduced, even that magically long-lasting endurance fitness that allowed me to run back north from Meriden in 2021 despite having a less than optimal training regime in preparation for it.

Instead I’ve focussed on leading the groups up at Lyme Park and coaching weekly with Marple Runners; if I can’t properly run myself, at least I can be involved in running by helping others improve.

For a period this worked for me. I was still involved in the running world even though it was something I felt I couldn’t do myself. But whilst it’s great seeing others excel at their races, I realised a part of me was missing. Whilst I was never winning races or representing GB, I was still working hard to get the best out of myself in any race and was as competitive as anyone else in the field.

And it was all about proving that I could do something, despite being told otherwise all the way through school. Perhaps it’s the answer to that eternal question which is now missing.

Having finally got my physio appointment, they confirmed what I already had been told and then referred me to the podiatrist to see if there was anything they could do to mitigate the situation. No definite plan of exactly how things were going to get better, or even if.

So we will see how that pans out and I’ll update as/if and when it does.

Breaking point?

I think with all of the above, I hit rock bottom psychologically.

I sold my Garmin watch. You know, that symbol of “being a runner”.

I just couldn’t see the point in keeping it if it was just going to sit on the side, being charged a couple of times a month so it could sit there quietly telling the time to nobody, as I wasn’t wearing it.

One of the problems of filling your life up with running is that it becomes part of your identity. And I realised I was having a major confidence crisis because I felt I’d lost who I have been over the past 12 years. Fortunately I had already come off social media a few years ago, but I realised I was really conscious of what I was doing and how I was doing it.

Interestingly, that act of walking away seemed to be a catalyst to set my mind about doing something about it.

A plan

A few days after parting with my Garmin, and realising that I still needed a watch to lead runs (if I’m doing a route on behalf or someone else I may not be 100% sure of the route), I replaced it with a new (to me) Garmin watch. Being slightly more modern than its predecessor, Garmin have done a lot of work on their on-watch “coaching” algorithm and it struck me that it would be the perfect time and excuse to see what it came up with (compared to what I would have done without it) and to measure its effectiveness.

Obviously this doesn’t remove the elephant in the room being the actual reason why I’ve barely run in the last year (and similarly the 2 years prior). But my thinking is that if I take things small and slow, whilst trying harder to include the strength work that perhaps I can get myself moving a little more. There’s no guarantee that the heel won’t be a permanent barrier but I owe it to myself to try.

This isn’t about PBs or completing another big (or any) race but instead restoring some of that identity. I AM a RUNNER after all.

The reality is that whilst I’ve been running roughly 20 miles per week during this year, maybe only 5 of them were “for me”. If that. So whilst my (not very big) YTD mileage of 281 miles might look OK, the actual “training” miles are perhaps only a few tens of miles.

What comes next?

So there’s going to be a bit of a series of posts over time where I can plot the progress and see what happens. Which might be that my foot falls off. Or my watch explodes. All the usual stuff.

But as of 25th May I had covered 281 miles to date and according to Garmin my VO2max was 53, which is the lowest it’s been since 2013 when I did “the 13 Challenge“. At the time I could comfortably run a half marathon (and did 13 of them that year) which is something I’ve not done since 2019. Given I’ve run 10 ultras since 2017 it’s perhaps surprising that the thought of completing a half-marathon now seems like a challenging goal.

Maybe I should make that as my next goal. Either way, it’s baby steps, especially whilst I await some direction about how to keep my deformed feet working for as long into the future as possible.

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