Up and Running Again

I’ve not blogged for a while, and the reason for that is simply that I haven’t run much for the last two years. Since my shin splints back in spring 2011, I tore my left achilles the following year, an injury which I only really got past this summer. I’ve also been pretty busy in the real world; I got married and bought a house this year. Running has been pretty low on the list of priorities.

I’ve been cycling a fair bit, to and from work and for fun and fitness, but it doesn’t quite scratch the itch. It’s nice to feel the wind in your hair, moving under your own steam, but although you can go further than if you were running, it takes a lot more of it to keep you in shape.

After several abortive attempts to get going again, I put my running on hold a year ago, vowing to get back into it after marrying my wife in April. For my birthday I got new running shoes from my parents and a session with a conditioning coach at the local gym from my wife.

It was June before I was able to take advantage of these gifts. But I duly went for my training session with Andrew from InformFitness, unsurprised that my hamstrings were diagnosed as tight, but rather ashamed of my lack of muscular strength. It seems like the body manages to hold fitness for a month or two even if you don’t train, keeping the fitness more or less where you left it just in case you come back. But beyond that, it drops off like a base jumper. “Don’t need to run anymore” your body is more than likely pleased to assume, followed closely by: “slash leg strength and aerobic capacity, start laying fat around the midriff”.

Andrew gave me a routine to practice, to strengthen the muscles I would need to build before hitting the road again, which I started doing twice a week. After six weeks of building muscle strength and rehabbing my achilles, I was ready to run. I was determined to come back to running with a forefoot strike. I’m convinced this is more efficient, but it means slower progress as your calves have to do more work. My initial sessions were walk-runs of 3 miles – I was back to being a complete beginner.

Around August I was able to run 3 miles constantly. I had no idea what pace I was doing, and I didn’t care, I was running again. Two years earlier I had run a marathon in under 3 hours, after my layoff those 3 miles felt as much of an achievement.

Once I was able to run 3 miles twice a week, I started doing hills. Running up hills is probably the best thing you can do to get fit, as you are made to run hard without actually going that fast (where you risk overstretching yourself.) I started with a 50m uphill run, walking back, building from 2 reps, increasing by 2 per week for six weeks. Six weeks is a good time to focus on one type of training, it’s long enough to get real benefits but you won’t plateau or get bored.

For the next six weeks I focused on extending my long run by a mile each week – the leg strength gained from the hills made this feel relatively easy. Once I was able to run six miles at once, I added a third session. So now my training week is a six to ten mile long run, a midweek workout and an easy 3 miler.

It has all gone pretty much without a hitch. I did try running to work once but the extra weight of a backpack seemed to be too much for my achilles and caused a twinge – I won’t be trying that again anytime soon.

I’ve just got back from my midweek hill session, seven efforts of about 250 metres, and I feel great! Six months on from starting again I’m starting to feel like a proper runner again…

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