Monthly Archives: July 2013

Your Achilles’ heel

Every runner has them, right? Those points of weakness; niggling old injuries which can rear their ugly heads when you least expect them. I am hoping this is the case. Be it knees, hips, back, neck, heels, tendons, feet, muscles, bones… runners have a long list of niggles to choose from. Pros aren’t immune, although they do have people to help them look after themselves a lot better than your average runner Joe. Which is me.

Two days before my 16-week marathon training plan was due to start back in 2009 in Buenos Aires (Is that four years ago? Really?) I was running and from one second to the next a searing pain went up my right heel and I couldn’t stand on it. I ground to a halt. People came over. Está bien? Are you OK? No, I wasn’t. I borrowed a phone and called my boyfriend in almost tears. He met me in a taxi at the corner of our street with money to pay the driver. I run with nothing. He helped me hobble home.

So, I had pulled my Achilles and was out for three weeks. That put my 16-week training plan to a 12-week training plan. Still doable. I spent 1 entire week with my foot up, icing it every so often and being a super grumpy pain the arse. But I recovered, got back to it, completed the marathon and got on with running and running my life.

Fast forward to yesterday. I was running a regular 4-mile route in the Luxembourg sunshine. I had just got to the top of a hill and was on my way down when I felt a sharp pain in my right heel. It wasn’t like my experience four years before, but I wound down the hill gently and came to a stop. I stretched it out on the kerb for a bit. The pain subsided, so I carried on. Then going up the next hill, it came back. It got worse. I had to stop. Having had that moment of a pull those years before, I did not want a repeat of it. Plus, again, I was without a phone, this isn’t a place where taxis pass, I had no money and only my wobbly French. So I walked. It was OK, I could feel it was tight, but walking was fine. Not perfect, but fine.

Back home, I stretched my upper and lower calves and ran cold water on my heel. And continued with life. This wasn’t the same. It wasn’t four years ago. But this morning, it’s still a tight. It must be all these hills, newly built into the running schedule here as you can’t run and avoid them. Must keep stretching, and a couple more days’ rest.

Because that’s something you learn. When you have Achilles’ heels (And I have a couple of them) you learn to not ignore the pain; to listen; to do something before it gets to the point you’ve experience before – where the only solution is being a grumpy pain in the arse for a while.

They are our weak spots. But they make us stronger.

When we are young

Last weekend I was laying in the park in the hot and beautiful Luxembourg sun. All around me were families and couples enjoying a relaxing afternoon: reading, picnicking, wandering, eating ice-creams.

Well, the adults were. During my people watching, I noticed that the park’s population fell into two categories. The Lazies and The Actives. I, for one, was in The Lazies. If I had had a four-year-old with me, they would certainly have been part of The Actives.

To my right was a family with three boys and a baby girl. The three boys spent all afternoon chasing each other with water pistols. Near them was another family, of three girls and Mum. The two older girls were playing a game with sticky plate-sized discs and throwing a ball to each other, trying to catch it on them. At first, they weren’t very good. The younger girl, about four years old, would run after the ball each time they dropped it. Je cherche! I’ll look for it! And she ran and ran picking up wayward balls. This was her game – the part she was able to play.

kids runningA toddler on the other side of us was chased by his dad. He just kept running in circles, screaming with delight. After a while the dad had to sit down.

Another group of boys passed every now and then. They all had bikes and simple peddled around the outer path of park: never veering off track, never changing direction. Just peddling as fast their legs would let them.

It made me think. At what point do we stop running as children? These kids were running the whole afternoon, stopping only for bites of sandwiches. Ice-creams in hand, water pistols in the other, they kept running. It was a beautiful thing to see. No time trials, no routes mapped: just space and running for joy.

When did running stop being a game for us adults? Why did it get so serious? I’m not a runner who takes their running that seriously; I need to enjoy it otherwise I won’t go. But I do think about pace and routes and the physical and mental benefits running gives me.

When we are young we are pure and untainted by the knowledge we have when we are older. I hope those children from the park keep running free as long as they can; that running all afternoon is a worthy game; that they continue to run without the need for the perfect trainers, a GPS watch and Nike dri fit clothes.

It’s a lesson all of us could take to our running and beyond.

“Did you know that childhood is the only time in our lives when insanity is not only permitted to us, but expected?” 

Louis de Bernières

Better than a tour

I’ve just moved to a new country, so posts eastern side of the pond now come from Luxembourg City in, well, Luxembourg.

And the great thing about a runner moving to a new place is the way they discover it. At the weekend, instead of taking maps and tours, we went running and hired bikes. And got very sweaty.

There’s nothing like a run to get to know neighbourhoods. You get a sense of the inclines, the distances between areas, what’s about you. And the best thing is that while you’re nosing about the place, the miles slip by.

Saying that, I turned a corner the other day and found a rather-too-steep-for-my-liking-hill in front of me. Who knew Luxembourg was built on cliffs and hills? We also found ourselves having to push our bikes to get from the lower town to the higher town at the weekend. But this is all good. It means there are plenty of wonderfully evil possibilities for training.

And, ta-da! We’ve already found a half marathon nearby for the end of September.

Watch this space.