Maybe next year (if the sun’s shining…)

In Injury problems, Races by All This Running Around1 Comment

I don’t believe in destiny. I don’t believe that things happen for a reason. I don’t believe that events are ‘meant to be’ or ‘not meant to be’. What I do believe in is knackered feet and apocalyptic weather. As you might have surmised, I didn’t run in the Stratford Half Marathon this year.

If for some reason you’ve been reading my posts, you’ll know that after experiencing some pretty unpleasant top of foot pain following a ten mile run, I elected to give my feet a rest last week. By Thursday they were feeling reasonably good, and by Saturday they were fine. The race was scheduled to start at 9.30am on Sunday morning, and with just under a day to go, my focus shifted away from my feet and towards the somewhat threatening weather forecast. All week it had been more or less the same: Sunday was going to be wet, windy and cold. But I don’t particularly share this popular obsession with weather, and I felt that there would be a good chance of the outlook changing come race day.

Er, yes… Got that one slightly wrong.

I was desperate to run in my sandals but worried about whether they’d be up to the task. They’re Original Lunas with the suede top, and not really designed for use in very wet conditions. I had read a number of accounts of people struggling in their Originals in the rain, as a result of the suede top getting wet and becoming slippy. So I put the question to the resident experts at Barefoot Ted’s Minimalist Runner Google Group, and was pleasantly surprised at the answers I received. The general consensus was that provided the course was reasonably flat (it is) and my form was good (one out of two ain’t bad), I would be fine. Great, but I still wanted to make sure.

So early Saturday evening, I headed down to the Greenway. The Greenway is a public footpath and bridleway that follows the route of the old railway line from Long Marston to Stratford, and the latter part forms the end of the half marathon course. I took my sandals, my Mizunos and a big bottle of water and set about experimenting.

Experiment One: running in dry Lunas

This was just to test out my feet. I ran about half a mile in my sandals, nice and gently at about 8m30 pace, which is what I’d be doing in the race. There was a little bit of stiffness but nothing to worry about.

Experiment Two: running in wet Lunas

My method wasn’t very scientific, but it was effective. I soaked my sandals (with my feet still in them), making sure to get plenty of water in the areas under where my foot makes contact. The results were pretty good. After half a dozen paces I’d got used to the sensation, and although they weren’t quite as stable as when dry, I could cope with it easily enough.

Experiment Three: running barefoot

Yeah, actually barefoot! My first time ever! My thinking here was to just see how the Greenway felt with nothing at all on my feet, to see if I could even slip the sandals off for the last section if I was finding things tough. And I’ve got to say, I bloody loved it. Although I think I would have found it hard to run the full last three mile stretch like this.

Experiment Four: back to the Mizunos

For the final test, I slipped my Waves on for a little jog. The plan here was to run a little further, maybe a mile or so. I’d been out in my shoes recently so it wasn’t that much of a shock, but unfortunately this is where everything went wrong. Before I carry on I must make something totally clear: I am categorically not saying that my running shoes caused me to hurt my foot like this. It’s more likely that what happened was as a result of my trying to transition to a barefoot style of running for the past three or four months, and not doing it right. It would have happened anyway, I just happened to have the shoes on at the time.

I’d only gone about ten metres when I felt a sharp pain in the top of my right foot. I had to pull up immediately. I haven’t been running properly for all that long, but long enough to instictively know when something is just a minor niggle and when it isn’t. This wasn’t. I hobbled back to the car and drove home in a foul mood.

That night, following a friend’s advice I iced my foot. Fifteen minutes on, fifteen minutes off. It didn’t seem to be doing much good but I persevered, eventually going to bed at around midnight. I wasn’t optimistic about my chances but decided to get up early on Sunday, give the foot a little time to warm up and see how it felt. And so it was that at 7am, there was a pissed off looking bald dude attempting (and failing) to run up and down Welford Road in the driving rain. I couldn’t do it. Maybe I could have got through a mile or two but I doubt it. At this point I made an exective decision. I went back to bed.

If there’s one thing about having two young children, it’s that you don’t get much time to feel sorry for yourself. So in the event, it wasn’t that hard to get over the disappointment of not being able to take part. My wife knew I’d be feeling down, and I can confirm that she was absolutely right to assume that a few large bottles of German beer and a big lunch would go a long way to alleviating that sense of anti-climax. It did. Something else did, too. The weather.

Bloody hell, it was awful. I’d been outside quite early, but if anything come 9.30am it was worse, at least where we are. The rain didn’t even look like rain, it was like there was someone just out of sight throwing buckets of water into the garden. The wind was so strong that our neighbours were forced to chop down a large willow tree in their garden that had started to blow over. And it was cold. Not freezing, but cold enough to be deeply unpleasant when combined with the rain and wind. So I’d by lying if I said I wasn’t experiencing some mixed feelings. It’s frustrating to miss an event you’ve been training for, but at the same time I don’t think it would have been very enjoyable. And really, what’s one half marathon in the great scheme of things? Perhaps it would have meant more to me last year, but now I think I’ve got a different attitude towards running.

By all accounts, the conditions on the course were absolutely dreadful. A couple of minutes before the start of the race, the organisors made the decision to cancel the full marathon, meaning that many runners were restricted to completing a half. An understandable course of action, but given the consistency of the weather forecast all week, plus the tendency of the Greenway to flood in much less serious conditions, a botched one. They should (and could) have cancelled the full marathon 24 hours earlier. But there we go. It seems churlish to hurl criticism at the Rotary Club when the whole purpose of the event is to raise money for charity.

Well done to everyone that took part. If you’d like to read a bit more about what happened on the day, this is the best article I’ve found: Although to be honest, it’s the comments beneath that make it worth reading. And there’s some video below, although I’m not sure it tells the full story with just how grim it must have been out there. (Note for the guy interviewing: learn how to speak properly and try not to sound like you’d rather be anywhere else doing absolutely anything. You’ll go far.)

So that was it then: three months of preparation and transitioning into sandals for nothing? Well, no, definitely not. I’m desperate to get out there again, and this is just a tiny blip on what is still the very early part of my running life. My foot is slowly starting to feel better, so hopefully I might get out at the weekend. Bit of sun would be nice though…