DIARY: Scary scary week…

I dodged a bullet by the tip of my nose this week, having decided to ease back up towards 100km, I nevertheless began the week conservatively doing a very short Monday jog. By Tuesday, the legs were full of energy but I still kept to my initial plan of jogging for two days after Ballycotton. Even this precaution very nearly did not prove enough. My ankle had been a bit sore again but I was not too worried about that as my drills allow me to largely control the effects. However, after 5km of easy jogging in sunny Glendalough, I was enjoying myself so much I opted to add in another 2.5km to the day. With 800m to go my left arch started to cramp and by the time I returned to the house there was an inflamed lump just below the ball of the foot which caused me some discomfort walking.

I’ve had irritation in that area before, so I loosened it up as best I could and began to increase the regularity and intensity of my drills again. I had probably slacked off just a tiny bit over the weeks, doing them only 1-2 times per day rather than 3-4.

Fartlek – 30/30S

Our fartlek planned for tired legs so our group mainly did a long series of strides focusing on the form taught by legendary Bud Winter’s, whose book I recently read cover to cover and found illuminating. Then we did a short 30/30 session for ten minutes (30 seconds hard, 30 seconds easy) but without being “all-out” during the hard sections. This session, invented by the French exercise physiologist Billat, is one I used years ago working with Emma Cutts. It’s meant as an introductory VO2max/anaerobic session for beginners and can result in a very demanding workout if the hard sections are run flat-out or if you run beyond 10 minutes. For a well-conditioned runner, running between 3k and 5k intensity, it provides just the slightest of anaerobic stimulus and some focus on good form, and any acidic build-up is flushed out well before it accumulates.

One kilometre into the warm-up my left foot got quite sore again and I feared that I had overdone it putting 10km on it, including faster running. Perhaps another bigger problem was building up.

Taking responsibility

It’s very topical that I’m bringing over Antony Riddle to “do his magic” in our ChampionsEverywhere workshop, because it was exactly the veil he stripped from my eyes that allowed me to bounce back this week: I noticed my mentality to injuries has changed. Injuries “don’t happen to me” or I don’t “get injured”. Rather “I let injuries happen”. As Noakes says in “Lore of Running”, “injuries are not an act of God”, we bring them on ourselves. Mainly through ignorance but that has never protected anyone in a court of law. I’ve never accepted any verdicts on chronic injuries from doctors and other professionals, have always baulked at injections, surgery (e.g., “butchery”) and other radical, potentially permanently damaging, measures. Let’s look at this example of what happened during the week and how I could steer it back myself without the need for professional intervention:

Self-prevention of injury

Firstly, my drill-set, which are a mixture of yoga poses, Antony Riddle’s drills and other drills I have picked up over time allows me to assess very precisely if my body’s natural movement patterns are being interfered with and whether I am building up excessive tension in certain muscles.

When the right ankle starts acting up, I quickly noticed that this went directly in tandem with a huge build-up in calf-soreness particularly in the area of the soleus and the flexor digitorum longus calf muscle which flexes and turns the foot.Ok, I can attack that easily with my “The Stick” but I knew that was just another symptom. I had increased tension in the right calf as well stemming from the glute. Doing a few poses, I could ascertain that my right glute was indeed “knotted up”. This means a delay of the foot-strike happens in my running movement and this delay is what causes the irritation of my ankle. Once I took steps to release and relax these areas, the ankle returned to normal movement and could be run on painlessly even if my heal remains, seemingly always, sore to touch. I also employ strictly warm baths, no ice treatment, to get blood into the area. My feet are cold enough as it is, and I need more blood, not less, to clear any build-up inflammation.

I had to do a little bit more digging to figure out my left arch pain, clearly it had been overloaded during Ballycotton and the subsequent jogs. Why was this? My muscle soreness was much lower than after my regular brisk long runs on Sundays than the race? I looked up this video and tried the plantar release technique shown there. Right enough the pain was like someone injected a needle into my fascia, but I pressed harder and found immediate release. So why was the fascia tense? I reckoned the tight left calf had something to do with it as it could pull at one half of the fascia. If the fascia is too tight it will be easier to irritate, just like a drawbridge that is too rigid. But what about the other side of the foot? Looking to my toes I remembered that my hallux longus syndrome on the left big toe had worsened. I knew this from doing my daily toe yoga. So, the mystery was easily solved – the increased rigidity of my big toe joint reduced the efficacy of my left foot as a shock-absorber. I countered this on two fronts: more toe yoga to restore the big toe to full range of mobility and plenty of friction work and trigger point work to relax the fascia and help clear out the inflammation created by the original irritation.


So far these measures have worked: after a very easy Thursday jog, to settle any major irritation, I could run pain-free 12km over hilly terrain on Friday and will test it further today. Given these set-backs, I had to accept lowering my mileage further to around 75km which is still significant compared to my load in recent years.

What are the impacts on form

Essentially, whenever you apply a training load to the body that is appropriate (not “overuse”), your physical capabilities are reduced for 24-48 hours after that before rising to a level higher than they were before you applied the training load. If you apply several training loads (several hard weeks), your physical capabilities may dip slightly for a period before bouncing back once you cut back on the training volume.

When not using your body, it immediately enters a state of deconditioning, leeching off muscle and bone mass. This can be avoided by applying just enough training load to “maintain” your current  level of strength and fitness.I believe the training I have done this week is sufficient to maintain and consolidate current gains but to move along further ahead of Copenhagen, I need to apply a greater training stimulus than any of the previous, as my body now operates at a higher level and previous training loads are now insufficient. So it will be critical to do more drills than in the first weeks of the year to ensure my body can cope with ever higher demands.

How Arthur’s runner dealt with injury

By restoring you natural movement patterns you can hugely increase your injury-resistance. As Keith Livingstone shared with me on a phone call a few days ago when I asked him “how did Lydiard’s runner cope with lower leg injuries”, he simply said: “They practically didn’t get injured. Their lower leg development was so immense from an active lifestyle and walking and running barefoot as children that they could do six hill sessions in seven days and be fine. When Arthur went to Mexico, supposedly a third world country at the time, he found that even the people there were too lazy in their lifestyle to handle that sort of volume, and he dosed it down. Modern runners are the same".

I know from experience how true this is, 1-2 hill sessions is quite enough to seriously tire most modern runners and 6 sessions would be inconceivable. This is a direct result in our change of lifestyle. But it is reversible, you just have to educate yourself on the right movement patterns, find out how to train them regularly and integrate them into your running routine. “Warming up” becomes more important this way. Keith related how Lorraine Moller, a long-time Achilles tendon sufferer, would stand with her right leg in a bucket of warm water before every run. My circulation in the lower legs is likewise poor, so I never do any running, not even jogging, without at least 15 minutes of my routines to get the “blood flowing” and the right “muscles awakened”.

I could talk for hours about this topic but the points is that injuries, like our health, is our own responsibility and the sooner we integrate that into our thinking of them, and take steps to learn the power to avoid and mitigate them, the sooner we can truly start to address the running injury malaise that, in many statistics, shows that up to 50% of runners are injured every year. A horrendous statistic.