[Photo credit: Stephen Lee]
The 29 June 2019 was marked as a big day on my adventure calendar: it was to be the day I competed at the NI Masters Track & Fields Championships in Belfast – my second sortie into the world of ‘fast’. It didn’t happen. The championships happened, right enough, but I didn’t make it – and I didn’t make it due to the thing runners fear the most: injury. (You can read about my first sortie into the world of track and field at the Midland Masters T&F Championships here.
As an endurance athlete, with a running career spanning more than 30 years, I’ve been really lucky. I had a mountaineering accident that knocked me out of action for a couple of years in the mid 90s while I waited for knee surgery (the treated knee has ended up being stronger than my untreated knee 🤣). I also had an Achilles niggle during my ultra-running training about 10 years ago (nothing that a good sports massage and careful training didn’t handle: I still managed to race without an issue). Apart from that, it’s all been good.
My racing spikes 🙂
Two weeks ago I went along to the Ballymena & Antrim Athletics Club for the normal Tuesday track session. It was a toughy: 6 x 400m at 5 seconds more than best race pace. It was only the third time I’d worn a set of spikes and really I should have changed into my flats and done the speed work in those instead. But I didn’t change into them and come the end of the session, both Achilles were sore and my feet were hurting. (I don’t have the ideal biomechanics for spikes anyway: flat feet that pronate and are used to stability shoes – and used to heel-striking – have a fair bit of work to do to adapt to spikes, which offer little in the way of support and motion control!)
On the Wednesday morning I couldn’t walk. I self-massaged and dipped my feet and ankles in both hot and iced water. In the weeks since the injury I’ve kept active too, maintaining my hard-earned speed with spin classes (I love spin classes – basically, high intensity interval training on wheels – and the classes at Causeway Route-2-Fitness are super), CrossFit (taking out all jumping and running) and weight-training. Last Friday I went to see Jonny Whiteman, a brilliant sports massage therapist who had helped me with my back a few months ago. He established that there was no rupture or bursa issue (on the upside), but that the championships were out (on the downside). 60 minutes of dry needling (which is as painful as it sounds and I was doing quite a bit of yelping, I can tell ya 🤪) and armed with a series of exercises to rehab my right tendon (the left had looked after itself), I found myself in new territory: 6 months training for this adventure under my belt but a full 400m/800m adventure ban in place.
My reaction to this situation has been of interest to me. 10 or 20 years ago, I might have seen this as a disaster. However, even though I am getting older by the day (and menopause and this so-called oldness means my tendons are less elastic and may not recover so quickly), my thoughts went straight to a new question: ‘Well, what can I do instead?’
While I’m rehabbing (could be weeks, could be months, but I can start back with short bursts of gentle running in the near future if things continue the way they are), I’m going to keep up the spin classes. They’re social, they’re tough and they’re good for my running fitness. My twice-weekly recovery swims can turn into actual training sessions, and CrossFit and weight-training are all doable (even if I have to scale the programming). Thinking about my running, all being well, I’ll get to try cross-country in the autumn, and that will be an adventure. There’s also an indoor track season as an option too – but I’ll need a plan for transitioning to spikes in a healthy way, I think.
I think that taking a winter season to allow my body to fully adapt to the demands of a track season is probably the best way to go, so I’m going to commit to that. I’m also going to get myself into good 5k and 10k shape. That’ll help with the cross-country season and I’ll also get the chance to road-race with my dad again (which I haven’t done for years). The last time I raced at 10k distance was in Coventry in the late 90s – my very first race!
So, I’ve adjusted my adventure map a little and I have to say the new territory is looking rather good 😎, although there is another cloud on the horizon. The rookie powerlifting competition is on 20 July and my legs and backside are bulking up rightly 🤣. I’ve been following the training programme to the letter and have been amazed at what my old-dog body has been able to do, but I think I’m beginning to reach my limits.
Progress on the bench press has slowed down (with my as-long-as-legs arms, this lift was always going to be a bit of a challenge!), but my deadlift and bench press have been solid in their upward trend. However (and it’s a really big however that I’m not going to ignore), my pelvic floor seems to have reached its threshold. The menopause (along with a host of other life events – like having children) can lead to a weakening of the pelvic floor muscles. I’d say that mine are (or rather were) in good shape (although when skipping comes up on the CrossFit programme, I always hope for less than 100 skips … after that, well, you know 🤣). I do my pelvic floor exercises regularly, I’m not overweight and I’m physically active – but powerlifting is a whole different order of stress and my body is making it quite clear that going much further will only end in tears. Well, tears are obviously a very polite metaphor 😎.
Taking the positives from my powerlifting adventure: I’m much stronger than I was and I’d put money on my bones being super dense. It’s taught me to challenge what I believe is possible for my ectomorphic body (which, actually, doesn’t really look that ectomorphic any more!) and supported a new level of body confidence. I’ll still be competing on 20 July, but I may not be lifting to my full potential – or even the weights that I’ve been lifting recently. For back squats and deadlifts, I’ve gone back 3 weeks in the schedule to the point at which I didn’t have a problem. I hope this helps me to rebuild a bit of confidence in my pelvic flooor, gives my pelvic floor a bit of time to recover and helps me to feel competition-ready. And there’s always the demon bench press to hurl myself at – even if I just make it to 47kg, that will be something to celebrate!
So, this old dog maybe has to come to terms with the parts of her that are actually old! But there are workarounds. There are plenty of other adventures to be had. And both the 400m/800m and powerlifting adventures have opened new doors. Come the winter, I’ll be looking to integrate a track-specific weight-training programme into my run training, and I’ve absolutely no doubt that my powerlifting adventure will have built a more-than-solid F1 chassis for any future speed adventures!
Right, then. My tail’s still wagging. I may be an old dog, by I’m still a puppy at heart! I’m just going outside and may be some time. (By the way, if you’re new to my blog, you can find more out about my #OldDogNewTricks project here.)