I had my last race of the season, Huntly Sprint Triathlon, on the 22nd, almost two weeks ago. Usually the last race of the season imminently precedes a blog post about how the year went, lessons learned, successes and failures, goals for the following year etc. There’s been a bit of a gap this year.
I started racing back in 2007, and I’ve been pretty lucky, in the sense that I haven’t really had much in the way of serious injury in races or training. Other than the foot injury that saw me stop racing for three years, clearly. What I mean is, I haven’t crashed.
Well, until now.
The swim was okay. Not great — I’ve been struggling a bit with asthma recently, and the chlorine can set it off, so I couldn’t turn properly. Back before I injured my foot I was on course for a 13 minute 750m; this year I have been working my way back down from over 15 minutes. It has been hard, and progress slow, not helped by lack of easy access to a gym. I used to be doing somewhere between 12 and 16 hours of training a week. These days I’m lucky to get 6, and that’s including my cycle commute. But my time at Huntly was 14:34 (plus the run to the timing mat), which is better than it was at the start of the year, so not bad considering my eye fell out halfway through and I had to stop to put it back*. There was also a ridiculous amount of cheating going on in the swim. NO OVERTAKING IN THE LANES. It’s not hard to understand. The guy in my lane who overtook three people right down the middle (reported to me by Alibarbarella afterwards — no wonder I was getting hit in the face) should have been penalised.
The bike was a bit of a disaster. The course was beautiful, and I should have taken the Stealth, but I was on the Pinarello because I didn’t know the roads and was worried about surprise descents. I pushed too hard, knowing it was between me and another woman in my age group for the series. We’d competed in the same race in Turriff, in which she was about 3 minutes slower than me in the swim, 4 minutes faster in the run, and we were evenly matched on the bike. The conditions in Turriff were dreadful, and I was sure I could outpace her on the bike leg in Huntly.
But the Turriff conditions, perversely, suited me. I can cope with freezing temperatures and wet, agricultural roads (albeit not on my TT bike). Huntly was baking hot and there was an insane wind in the back leg of the bike course. I swear it blew my eyelids inside out at one point. Despite doing my best to keep my hydration up, I found myself wishing I’d fitted the XLab Torpedo rig to the bike. There was also a fair bit of drafting going on, which is a personal hate of mine in amateur races where there is a no-draft rule. NEED MOAR DRAFTBUSTERS THANKYOU PLEASE.
When I came out of T2, not too shabbily considering I’m running in VFFs these days, my legs were dead. I’d blown my pacing. I couldn’t pick my feet up, I felt numb from the waist down, my posture had collapsed and I was close to tears. One of the things you learn when taking part in endurance sport is that your mood is very closely related to the state of your body. Anyone who thinks they are a being of pure consciousness riding around in a meat vehicle needs to do an overnight century ride or something. When you hit the wall and force yourself to keep going, your body protests by releasing a flood of chemicals in the biochemical equivalent of a temper tantrum. It affects people in different ways, but I’ve learned that my body makes me cry and tries to make me stop by insisting it’s not going to be able to get to the end and I’m going to have to quit eventually, so best get it over with early.
I’ve also learned to ignore it.
Then came the 3D fail. Being in possession of only one eye, I don’t see in stereo like people with two functional ones. This is generally no biggie, but there are some things that are difficult for me, and one of those things is seeing small changes in topography in the immediate vicinity. There was a bus stop with a slightly raised piece of pavement about 1.5km into the run. I failed to see the rise and I had dead legs. My foot caught the pavement and I went down. Hard.
After what felt like an eternity rolling around on the ground, while my body said, “Told you so,” in a cutting-off-its-nose-to-spite-its-face smug kind of way, I got up. I was disorientated, I had major road rash on my knees and I thought I’d probably broken my wrist. I’d lost sight of the people ahead of me and was confused about which way to go. I went back to the last sign to check I was going the right way, then carried on. It was slow and painful, I was bleeding, I was crying; but I was also furious and determined.
By the time I crossed the line, in serious pain and with blood streaming down my shins, I’d lost about 10 minutes. And the series.
My thanks to the lady competitor who paused her bike to check if I was okay and needed any help, and also to the lady in the car who stopped and got out to see if I needed to go to hospital. Your concern, whoever you are, was very much appreciated, although I’m not sure I was appropriately effusive with my gratitude at the time.
Next year? Better training. I can shave oodles of time off both swim and bike. Maybe get me a sperm hat. Lose some weight. More consistent winter training. Get back to the strength work. HILLS. But you know what? I did a PB in the run in Turriff this year, and what I wanted to do more than anything was find out if the permanent damage to my foot spelled the end of my ability to race. I came second in the series overall and was either 1st or 2nd in category in every race this year, including the Inverurie Sprint that was so badly flooded they had to cancel the bike section.
I’d call that a success. In 2014, I think I’m going to go even faster.
My wrist isn’t broken, thankfully. There’s serious soft tissue damage, possibly a hairline fracture in the radius and a little lump that needs further medical attention to find out if it’s a displaced fragment of cartilage or something. It’s still pretty painful, though, and makes typing hard, which is why you’ve had to wait for the race report.
Could have been a lot worse. At least I didn’t fall off the bike.
* No, really. It can happen. It’s why I have a black one for swimming. I don’t understand why it happened for the first time during a race — I’m careful with my goggle choice for races — but I’m guessing it was a straightforward case of This Was Not Meant To Be.
I could post about the riots taking place in England, but there is enough about that going on out there in internetland, and I have nothing in particular to add to what others are already saying. I’m shocked, appalled, greatly concerned for the welfare of friends living in the areas affected and hoping that whatever resolution the Government comes to isn’t a knee-jerk reaction involving water cannon and further erosion of our democracy, without feeling particularly optimistic that this will happen.
So I’ll talk about something else instead.
This is a rare weekday post from me, the reason being that I’m not at work. I spend a lot of time telling people that cycling isn’t dangerous, and the numbers back me up. It’s not dangerous, which is why every time anyone starts bleating the same old same old about cyclists wearing helmets or dressing up in shades of radioactive lemon custard I get quite cross. It’s not only unnecessary, it’s victim blaming. It ignores the hierarchy of dealing with risk, which has personal protective equipment right down at the bottom and removing the source of the risk right up there at the top.
On urban roads the greatest source of risk comes from other road users.
So it’s somewhat ironic, not to mention galling, that I’m currently at home having aggravated an old injury getting out of the way of a speeding motorist. It has been suggested I report it, but in my mind it’s one of those things: it’s a hazard of urban cycling, along with punctures, potholes and pigeons shitting on your head. I’m not badly hurt —I’m already a lot better and I’ll be better still tomorrow— and the chances of identifying the driver are somewhere between zero and anorexically slim.
These things shouldn’t happen, but they do.
What interests me about this is my own reaction. I was in two minds whether to post anything publically about this for fear of making people think that cycle commuting is dangerous. I’m the one who was injured and it hasn’t changed my mind about whether or not cycle commuting is dangerous, so why should I think that telling anyone would make them think that it is?
This question cuts to the heart, I think, of why cycling isn’t more popular. We have become too risk averse. We are not given the opportunities to find out what it’s like to push ourselves too far, to get hurt. We no longer have the extensive experience of bruises, cuts, scrapes, burns, broken bones and gashed scalps that were such a feature of my childhood. We no longer know what it’s like to heal. Scars have long since stopped being something to show off in the manner of Quint and Hooper in Jaws or even Riggs and Cole in Lethal Weapon 3.
I remember when scars were the skin-words of life-stories. I remember sitting in a pub in Oxford comparing scars with a young man I had only met that afternoon, conceding him as the winner when he showed me the puckered marks left by seven stab wounds he had received saving his then-girlfriend from a gang of attackers. Now scars are something people pay cosmetic surgeons to minimise, and skin-words are carefully wrought in the abstract fonts of body modification, artfully designed rather than emergent.
People these days are more concerned with hiding the traces of their lived lives, with combating the seven signs of ageing and the application of science to achieving what Dorian Gray did with a portrait in the schoolroom.
I don’t think that people are worried about dying out there on the roads. If they were, they wouldn’t get in their cars. In Scotland there were 105 fatalities amongst car users in 2010 and only 7 cyclists killed during the same period [source]. Total casualties were 8,293 and 781 respectively.
I think people are worried about getting hurt, because they have so little experience of getting hurt they exaggerate in their own minds how bad it will be. This might not be the deciding factor when it comes to cycling, of course, no matter how much emphasis people place on perception of danger when explaining their reasons for not cycling. Perhaps those who claim laziness are correct. Perhaps it is simply peer pressure, or the sense that cycling isn’t normal; that only freaks, weirdoes, the excessively sporty and the excessively poor do it.
I only know that while I’m grumpy about having a hurt back, I’ve not been put off in the slightest. I still don’t think that cycling is dangerous and I can’t wrap my brain around the idea that there are people who are so convinced that it is they would rather drive 5 miles to work than get on a bike. The driver of the shiny black car that nearly took me out speeding around a roundabout in Sighthill is far more likely to become another statistic one day than I am; and I’m still more likely to injure myself banging my head off a kitchen cupboard (again) than I am to be injured commuting by bike.
I had just recovered from a two-month near-total lay-off brought about by acute ITB syndrome (that’s runner’s knee) when I ruptured the plantar fascia in my right foot. I talked about this in an earlier post.
We were due to hold Dumb Run IV last weekend — the 4th incarnation of the League‘s annual nocturnal coast to coast century ride. First one of our regulars pulled out, citing time trial commitments, the cheek of it. Then last year’s hero of the 86″ gear had a work emergency and had to pull out as well. I’d been in two minds as to whether I was fit for it and, with us down to three (because no one has heard from Tom in ages), we decided to cancel. This was a bloody shame, because I started on the weather gods early this year, and it was damn-near perfect.
Dumb Run IV shall henceforth be known as the Dumb Run of which we do not speak. Obviously in a full-on grump over last year’s success, the ride acted backwards in time to cause emergencies and injuries to stop us. That’s 3-1 to the Dumb Run, but are we broken? NO. Are we defeated? NO WAY.
Dumb Run V has been set for SATURDAY, 18TH JUNE 2011, 8PM DUMBARTON CASTLE. No excuses.
Sadly my ongoing injury means I won’t be competing in the Galway Triathlon this year, either. It occurred to me today that I’ve now been off proper training and racing for getting on for six months as a result of injury, which explains my foul temper, irritability and moodiness. Lack of exercise is affecting me the same way as really bad PMT, only with the additional joys of stiffening joints and loss of fitness.
I’m now faced with the awful decision of whether to enter Bala and hope for the best; or to scratch the rest of the season on the assumption that my foot will get better in time for next year, but not if I succumb to the temptation to train on it. While the latter is probably more sensible, I’m finding that my motivation to take part in the sport at all is waning the longer I’m forced to sit it out.
How long does the PF take to heal anyway, FFS? IT HAS BEEN 2 MONTHS ALREADY.
By some peculiar quirk of genetics I was born without some of the traits commonly associated with others of my sex. I don’t like gossip magazines, I see no good reason for television soaps to exist, clothes shopping is to be done only if there is no sane alternative, and Jimmy Choo sounds to me like a dogfood brand. (“Jimmy Choo to keep his teeth healthy. Because your dog is worth it.”)
I own two pairs of footwear that would be considered ‘proper’ shoes, and that’s only if you count the Lara Croft replica boots.
However I do own a lot of sports shoes (especially if you count the two pairs of fins, but let’s not go there). My current collection includes three pairs of cycling shoes (road, tri and offroad) and five pairs of running shoes.
The latter is excessive, I admit. But, you see, there’s the old pair of Asics I’ve had for about ten years and they’ve been retired from both racing and training but they’re still good for general purpose wear. There’s the old pair of Trabucos that I’ve trained and raced in to the point where the orange has turned muddy and the uppers are wearing through. There’s the new pair of Trabucos that I bought to replace them but they don’t fit as well because they changed the last and put a stone-plate in there. There’s the pair of Inov8s I use for lightweight hiking and will be used for running if I ever remain injury-free for long enough to get out into the hills.
And there’s the pair of Salomons. I bought these from Run4It on Lothian Road, to replace the Trabucos with the stone-plate when it became clear that no amount of use was going to break them in to the point where they were comfortable. Back in my competitive ski-ing days I used to wear Salomons and I have a pair of Salomon walking boots, as well as a Salomon Raid Revo running pack and some of their running tights. I like their stuff. It’s usually built well and thoughtfully and suits my needs.
In the shop there was a slight niggle in my left foot, but that was the one that had been playing up with the Trabucos, so I figured that it was just bruising. On the treadmill they felt fine. I ran 20k in them on the treadmill in the gym just to be sure. With some lace adjustments and the right socks they seemed okay when I finally took them outdoors. For about 100k.
Then the pain started. Excruciating. It felt like I was landing on a spike every time my left foot went down. Eventually I took them back to the shop and they sent them off to Salomon. Salomon said they’d found a slight flaw and sent me a new pair.
I was even more careful. I checked them in the shop. I checked them at home. I checked them in the gym. No niggle. They felt great. They felt like I had hoped they would feel.
For about 30k. Then exactly the same problem. It was, oddly, relieved either by removing my socks completely —although I ended up with the interior seams chewing the tops of my toes, so I had to race my first of the season with my feet decorated in compeed— or thick off-road socks. Nothing in-between.
During this time I developed acute ITB syndrome in my left knee. This cost me a couple of hundred quid in physio, three months off training and racing at Tranent. My second race of the year, in April, ruptured the plantar fascia in my right foot, which was probably compensating for the restricted motion in my left leg. More physio, not to mention podiatry charges, and more time off training (I managed 15 minutes on the treadmill yesterday and have spent most of the last 3 weeks with my foot taped).
After analysing the various factors that could have contributed, I can only come up with one thing: the shoes.
I’m a mid-foot striker, landing just behind the ball of my foot. What this means is that most trainers are ill-suited to my gait. They have too much padding in the heel and not enough at the front. I’m also a mild over-pronator, so I need late-stage motion control. These are things that competent staff at a good running shop should know about and it’s why I go to a specialist running shop instead of buying my shoes for half the price over the internet. I value the additional service of knowledgeable staff.
I shouldn’t have been sold these shoes. It’s not that the shoes are bad shoes: they’re just not suited to my style of running. Unlike the Asics, which have the built-up heel but also have a fairly generous amount of forefoot padding, the Wings save weight by reducing the padding at the front. This means that, not only is there insufficient padding to protect the foot at impact, the heel is about 50% thicker than the forefoot. In a mid-foot striker this limits ankle flexion through the stride, putting undue strain on the calves and the windlass mechanism in the foot. Because of the lack of padding in the front, eventual compression of the insole meant that when the ball of my foot landed on one of the knurls in the sole I could really feel it.
I’ve had to find out all this for myself by careful research and a lot of reading, which I’ve had time to do because I CAN’T BLOODY TRAIN DUE TO THIS STUPID INJURY.
I’m a bit grumpy from lack of exercise.
There have been suggestions recently that barefoot running techniques, including non-heel striking, increase the chances of plantar fasciitis. I’ve been running this way for five years now and this year is the first of me having an injury of this nature. While it’s true that barefoot running isn’t for everyone, because everyone is different and biomechanics are not generic enough for one technique to suit all, I can’t accept that my running style has caused this injury when I’ve been fine with it for a number of years and thousands of kilometres.
I think the problem is more that most shoes aren’t designed for these techniques, and mixing the two is what is causing the problems. If you’ve got a runner who has heard about these techniques and decides to give them a go in his ordinary running shoes, and those shoes are designed for heel-strikers, then he’s going to suffer the same issues as me: the shoes promote a heel-toe movement and he’s running with a toe-heel movement. Seems fairly obvious to me that this is not a good thing.
Although Run4It has the best selection of Hilly socks in Edinburgh, I’m not best pleased about the service I’ve received there and won’t be going back. I did go in and explain the situation, however their response was to thank me for letting them know and say they’d make a note of the feedback for future customers.
That didn’t help me at all.
I’m trying to look on the bright side: I am now far more knowledgeable about shoes, feet and running than I ever was before and am in a better position to assess whether the staff in a shop are able to offer me competent advice or not. I have finally found a good reason to spend the money getting a biomechanical assessment from a podiatrist and have external verification that my obsession with technique and stretching has paid off.
However, the shoes cost me the best part of 90 poorly molluscs, the combined physio and podiatry costs are in the region of £350, I may need custom orthotics to stop this happening again because of the weakness in the foot; and I currently have only a very slim chance of being race fit for the Galway Triathlon, which wasn’t exactly pocket change to enter.
And I still need to replace my trail shoes. At least I have a very good idea of what to avoid.
I won’t be running in the Salomons again. Size UK 6.5, ladies, blue, have done about 50k and look brand new. Any takers? I don’t have the gene that codes for “wanting to keep a pair of shoes that don’t fit me properly and I’m never going to wear”.