Three steps forward, one limp back

A number of weeks ago I posted ‘How to train your dragon’ – an overview of my training plan leading into the GNW 100 Miles, which is in mid-September. I’m now about halfway through that journey, so I thought I’d share an update on progress.

For the most part, all has gone extremely well. After my rare ‘month off’ following the Wilsons Prom 100km, which I hadn’t really trained for anyway, I came into the ‘season’ relatively fresh and injury free. Right from the start I was committed to retaining the cross-training I’d begun in my hiatus: swimming (if you can call it that when the swimmer is so technically deficient and weak); and my old friend cycling, absent from my life for at least two years.

Progress to plan...until Week 7!

Progress to plan…until Week 7!

I built the running kilometres up roughly in accordance with my schedule, though leaning towards slightly higher load than captured in the plan, as some commentators still felt overall it was a little light on. The requirement to make more use of evening sessions turned out to be less of an issue than I thought – my body soon adjusted to running after work, on the days when I had cycled in or swum in the morning, and it really helped me manage to fit the distance into the week.

Consciously or subconsciously I made the decision to begin focusing more on the ‘Strength’ phase earlier than planned – pushing the Sunday morning alarm further and further forward to allow for more kilometres on the trails (and hence more vertical kilometres on the hills).

The routine start time for me became 5am in the hills (requiring no later than a 4.15am alarm), where a 6am start used to be the standard. The scheduled 18-20km runs, that historically would have had around 800-1000 metres of gain, quickly became 25-30kms, still averaging at least 1-in-20 gradients, some more like 1-in-17. This was partly just an outcome of starting more often from the ‘Thousand Steps’ and covering trails less familiar to me, across the ranges, while still taking in some of the big climbs in my familiar territory of the Rollercoaster Run before climbing my way back. Hilly.

All of this seemed to be paying off relatively well…when my new WAA Ultra Pack arrived, I first tried it out on a 30km run with 1580m climb, with nearly full mandatory gear and over two-litres of water on board (nearly 8kgs in all), and was surprised how easy I found it (partly by virtue of the pack – review coming soon). The next weekend I took the same load on a 47.5km night run with 2300m climb, and again finished feeling strong. I had positive feedback from sensai Brian Jones, who felt my pace had increased against similar terrain in the past (though I’m not sure it’s reflected in my stats – however with the weight factored in I’ve been reasonably happy with myself).

Then the wheels fell off.

Dandenongs Course

47.5kms of Dandy Ranges fun!

That 47.5km run was a Friday night job (picture cold, wintry, damp). On the Sunday I went out for a run-of-the-mill 11kms along the relatively easy trails of the bay (only the ~3km of soft sand was challenging), from Black Rock up to Charman Rd and back (in case you know it). I started extremely cold, having spent over half an hour hanging around at the cliff-top playground in running shorts against a biting cold wind, watching the kids while my wife banged out a six kilometre run (the plan was that she would then take the kids home and I would do my run and head home separately, having brought two cars for this purpose).

I tried to keep the pace and gait as easy as possible, conscious that my body was cold and stiff (and really very hung over from a friend’s 40th the night before) and that this was essentially a recovery run from the casual ultramarathon I’d knocked out on Friday night. Within the first two kilometres I noticed a strange sensation in my left kneecap. I wish I could turn back the clock and make the decision to stop there and then, but instead I ran it out, despite increasing pain.

The upshot is my knee has been a major problem in the ten days since. It hurts just from walking ten minutes. I rested it for most of last week and then ran 30kms in the hills on Sunday – constrained to the soft, easier gradients of the Upwey/Ferny Creek trails, which I figured would be kinder to my knee, and maybe just what it needed to reset. That run went relatively well, as I was able to find a comfortable gait most of the time, with twinges of pain just in transitioning between uphill/flat/downhill.

The next day I was in a lot of pain again just from walking.

My theory about the origin of this knee issue is that the cycling is at fault. To some, this may sound funny, but my physio concurs and claims to have seen it in other runners who have started or increased their cycling. The increased use of quad muscles and ITBs can change the structural pressure of those connections to the knee, both altering the pressure in general and the impact of running.

In fact, thinking back a couple of years, part of the reason my cycling got phased out altogether was that I believed it was hindering my running back then, when I was experiencing knee discomfort and wearing a patella strap. Coincidence? Of course, the physio qualified his support of my theory with a view that the issue is more likely to be something specific about the cycling – probably incorrect setup – than the cycling in general.

So, here I am with a race coming up on Sunday – the You Yangs 80km: approximately ten or eleven hours on my feet (was originally hoping for closer to nine), representing a major training event in the lead up to GNW. I had some aggressive dry-needling in my ITB yesterday, and my knee cap is strapped so tightly I can barely walk. I will have made it through most of this week without even trying to run, in the hope that the inflammation is pretty much gone by Saturday night and I can call myself a starter (or not, in which case I’ll commiserate with beer and wine).

The geography of pain

The geography of pain

The hope is then that a conservative approach to Sunday’s run would allow me to get through without significantly irritating the knee further, which could exacerbate the issue from a bit of inflammation to a more entrenched tendonitis, which could put GNW at risk.

This really is turning into the year of injuries. On balance, I have spent as much time not training due to either lower leg (peroneal tendon), back (SI joint), or now this knee thing, as I have spent training. How I’ve managed to clock even the 1,800kms to date is beyond me!

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2 comments on “Three steps forward, one limp back
  1. cmmelchiori says:

    Far out! You are the second person this week going into the Youies with knee pain! I blame also the lousy weather

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