The return of a Nemesis

I had the day off on Friday, in anticipation of a celebratory weekend away for my wife’s birthday. How better to enjoy a day off at the end of a hard week then, but to go for a nice 36k (~22.5m) run around the Leicestershire countryside! The day had started out quite foggy, to the extent that I had second thoughts about running in narrow county lanes in conditions of low visibility, and had debated whether I shouldn’t head towards the city instead, or just resign myself to the treadmill when the mist lifted revealing a beautiful, still, sunny day.

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I had felt some feelings of anxiety about this run: it would be my longest in my current marathon prep and as some of my previous long runs hadn’t quite gone to plan, I placed a lot of importance on it, not only from a training perspective, but also to inject self-belief. I had also taken my precautions, in the form of planning a route of three different 12k (~7.5m) loops, each starting and ending at my house, in case there were any unforeseen circumstances.

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The route turned out to be beautiful: the first loop took me down roads I had never been down before, through villages I hadn’t come across before, and the novelty and beauty of the scenery certainly erased any feelings of stress or anxiety. All along I kept my pace quite comfortable, and if anything I was holding myself back a bit in order to maintain enough energy to keep a consistent pace and not slow down on the third loop.

The second loop was hillier, so I was pleased to have sustained my energy up to that point, but I was still very much enjoying myself. It was the middle of a workday and the roads were quiet, my pace remained easy and as the miles went ticking by in the hazy sunshine, I entered that state where the sense of time and place begin to fade a bit and you just run for running’s sake… I started taking snaps with my mobile, experimenting with running selfies, even singing snippets of a little song. It is very liberating when you feel so completely alone, surrounded by fields, that you can belt out verses from obscure Italian songs and there is no one around to bat an eyelid – neither man nor beast!

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But I wasn’t completely alone: slithering silently along in the gutters, following me silently in the hedges, was my old nemesis: muscle cramp! Readers of my previous blog will have read about its first assault on me during my Athens marathon in 2014. lts subsequent appearance, in Manchester last year, almost caused my first ever DNF – and kept me away from proper training for the best part of a year, while I tried to understand its causes and cure it.

And here it was again, bespoiling a blissful, relaxed run with its nefarious presence: On the last kilometre of the second loop my legs began to feel a little bit heavy, and very soon afterwards (within the first kilometre of the third and final loop) this had developed into a quite a painful cramping of the calves and hamstrings. I initially tried to will myself on, relaxing into it, but to no avail: I ground to a halt, went through the notions of stretching (which I knew would not have any effect), and ran-walked the two kilometres back home.

On one level, this was devastating news: I had spent best part of a year trying to identify and cure this problem, had undertaken physiotherapy for two months after Manchester 2015, incorporated more stretching, yoga and massages in my training routine, been meticulous in my hydration, energy gel and salt consumption during exercise, researched my long run / marathon race shoes with this in mind and here I was, one month from my marathon, unable to exceed 26km (~16m) without cramping up!

On another level… Well, my body was still overflowing with sunshine and endorphins from the run, I had a massage scheduled for that afternoon and a weekend away to look forward to. In Sisyphean fashion, I shrugged as I sensed the proverbial bolder slip through my arms and make its thunderous way down the hill, and prepared to follow it down to have another go.

I have since considered not running Manchester in April or Ashby 20 (my warm up race) this Sunday (20 March): Until I can shake these cramps for good and can complete a training plan in its entirety, I see little point in attempting to race 20 – 26 miles.

But then… Then I don’t know. I will certainly go for Ashby, treat it like a training session and a shakedown run to see how consistent the cramping is. It’s a lovely race after all, I enjoy it every year I run it, and I’ll be damned if I let my Nemesis spoil it to me! In the meantime I’ve been trying to think of things I could try to avoid cramping up. Who knows, perhaps I stumble upon a solution that will see me through the marathon.

And as for Manchester… I think after all the thought and effort I’ve put into it, not attempting it will end up hurting much more than a cramp.

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