running blog

Clive Whaley

Jan 2017

Gray Skies Green Shirt

Marathon Training - Day 28 - 8 miles easy

Ran east along the Jurassic Coast as far as Hive Beach and back again. Took my iPhone and here are a couple of shots. With my new found strength from my gym work, after taking the picture of this JCB digger, I picked it up by the 'bucket end' swung it around my head three times and then threw it out to sea. Not very good for the environment but great for my Popeye credentials.

Gym Revival

Marathon Training Day 26 - Gym session

Well, I went to the gym and spent about 45 minutes on a range of exercises. I was quite cautious and careful, so I kept the weights fairly low and did less repetitions on some machines. I cut out two exercises altogether - Russian Twists and Leg Extension - the one's I thought might be responsible for some of my back trouble. And you know what … I almost enjoyed it!

I came out of the gym feeling refreshed and revived. Not tense or strained. Not stiff or sore or painful. Bit of a breakthrough there … I hope. It will be at least a couple of days before I know whether I'm in the clear. If I am, that will be a real boost. It will signal that the back problems are over and also that I can return to the gym and gradually build up the strength and conditioning side of my programme.

I've had a bit of a lesson, a warning if you like, to take care of my back. I have started doing mobility exercises and stretches for my back when I come back from a run and I need to keep up this discipline. In the long term I may come to see this injury set back as a great learning exercise and one that resulted in a much stronger and healthier back. After all, I don't think it's a good idea to run a marathon when you are bent double with back pain.

Mist Clearing

On Monday the mist lay thick around Bridport and West Bay and I walked … Yes, walked! … down to the coast and took a few photos of the mist soaked harbour.
The misty weather lingered a little on Tuesday but it's now Friday and the mist has gone. It's a bit like that with my back as well - the pain was still there in the early part of the week but it has gradually cleared and now feels so much better. And the misty, murky, mood that was fogging my brain has more or less gone too.

I walked on Monday, simply because I couldn't yet risk running, but I hoped the walk would free me up a bit and get the spinal joints and the muscles in the lower back moving in a productive way. It really seemed to help and although the weather was photographically dismal, I was starting to enjoy the exercise and the gradually increasing freedom of movement I seemed to be getting 'back there'. The photography became a challenge and the walk became a liberation. It was one of those days that proves the power of positive thinking.

When I got back from the walk, I dumped the camera at home and immediately went for a gentle run of 20 minutes or so on grass. I managed to do it without collapsing and without anything that could be called 'real pain to a real man', in my back. And so it has continued. Four miles the next day, mainly off-road and with a bit of climbing. On Wednesday I actually completed a gentle six miles, combining a pre-run on my own, with leading what we call the 'wellbeing group' at our club. It was good for me not just to be running again but coaching and encouraging others always injects an extra boost of motivation and confidence building. It's often quite a selfish process really, disguised as helping others.

The training programme this week deliberately calls for 'easing off' the effort and it has no 'speed work' or 'interval sessions', which is perfect for recovery from injury if I stick to it. But I can't help feeling that I have lost the best part of 2 weeks training effort now. (Actually weeks 3 and 4 of my 16 week programme.) I lost last week where I was supposed to be putting in 2 or 3 harder sessions and now this week is a 'recovery week' but I didn't do the hard week before it to recover from!

So there is that temptation, now that I'm feeling a touch better, to start pushing it a bit more, driven by a sense that I have 'dropped behind' on my programme. But you know what, I am sufficiently objective about it to realise that I've still got over 12 weeks to go and the risk of further pain and injury should override any feelings of 'Oh no, I've not done anywhere near enough training!'.

One of the biggest physical and psychological hurdles is the thought of going back in the Gym, as I more than half suspect that that was what caused my back problems in the first place. But I think I'm going to do it and just take it carefully. If I DO get back in the Gym and come out without any damage then that is going to do me the world of good. I will have put this back pain 'blip' behind me and will be feeling so much stronger in every sense of that word. I can see clearly now.

(Pic above: There was a cleat on the harbourside that reminded me so much of what my spinal joints felt like a few days ago.)

Down and Out


I have now had 5 days out from training with back pain. The hints I was getting on Monday and Tuesday were more than just a stiff back. I had obviously done some damage and the running was making it worse but I didn't realise (or didn't want to realise) until it was too late.

By the end of Tuesday and until today (Sunday) it has been like this … I experience a dull ache and sometimes sharp pain in my lower left back. It feels as though it is focused on the joint between the pelvis and the top of my bum. During the day the pain has been spreading to my head - giving me headaches. The pain, discomfort and stiffness is worst first thing in the morning. I can't bend forwards without resting my hands on my thighs. I have gradually gained more movement during the day and occasionally I have even tried about half a dozen jogging steps but the soreness and pain resounds right through the body. It is telling me DO NOT RUN!

On two evenings I have had hot baths, which have made me feel quite a bit better but on both occasions, the next morning - SLAM! - it's back where it was - stiff, painful and depressing. It definitely has affected my mood quite badly. Just when I was beginning to get into my stride, with my Marathon Training programme, I have been stopped in my tracks. I always feel bad when I let others down and on Wednesday, not only could I not do my own training run but I had to inform the local club that I couldn't coach that night - I was in pain and feeling really low (and to be honest it was the latter that was more disabling).

I suppose it shows how important this training is to me and also, unfortunately, shows that I am not as resilient or stoic as I used to be. Five days into this 'injury break' and after another relaxing hot bath, I can be a bit more philosophical about it but I know that this relatively minor set back, early on in my programme has hit me harder than it needs to. I think, and hope, that in a few days I will be back running again and the enforced rest will probably put an extra spring in my step for the first few days back. I will need to be a bit more cautious about the work I do in the Gym - I think that is the root cause. I don't want to cut out the strength exercises altogether but I might need to reduce the weights a bit and cut out some of the exercises, before I build each one back up again.

The last couple of days I have been doing stretches to promote recovery in the painful area. It's always difficult to strike the balance between 'rest' and 'active recovery'. You want to try and nudge it towards feeling better without risking further damage. Only time will tell if I've got it right.

In the meantime, my replacement running shoes have been delivered but I haven't even been motivated to try them on. Hey, now there's something to get excited about in a day or two when I start flying about the streets and footpaths of Bridport and West Bay again. Oh yes! it won't be long … I hope!

Back Breaking

Marathon Training Day 15 - 35 mins easy

It's great to be able to say that for the last 2 mornings in a row I have got up early and been running by 7.30 am or thereabouts. That is an achievement for me and a significant step towards conquering my psychological struggles to get out of bed. But what has really plagued me both mornings is a really stiff and uncomfortable back. It feels like I've got a huge solid plank - like a railway sleeper - shoved down the back of my running shirt. It eases up a bit by the end of the run but it's still a bit worrying.

It never helps when I go for a run first thing, because my aging body needs a bit of time to free up during the day but I think (and I'm hoping this is the case) it is mainly a result of the Gym work I've been doing. It was at it's worst on Monday morning and I had done my latest weekly strength session in the Gym the day before. I do these things called 'Russian Twists'. Although it sounds like it could be part of a plan to influence the US Presidential Elections, it is in fact an exercise done sitting on a mat with a medicine ball. You swish it from one side to the other whilst trying to stay balanced on your bum with your legs in the air … err … more Trump analogies are coming to me … Actually I don't think this exercise was the main culprit, it was probably the 'Plank' that had more effect - the one where you lie face down but propped up on your forearms and your toes, keeping your back and the whole of your core relatively straight. After 30 seconds of this my whole body starts shaking uncontrollably and the name says it all - the next day it turns my back into one hell of a plank.

It is early days for all of this stuff and I am hoping that my body will adjust and eventually benefit from these new punishments. Two early morning runs with an uncomfortable back at this stage in my training plan and only a day or two after new gym exercises is probably predictable. I really do hope that this sort of discomfort will fade and be replaced with a new spring in my step and a much more fluid and flexible body. I'm talking in 'relative' terms here - I don't think I'm ever going to be VERY fluid and flexible but just more so than I am now.

UFO in Dorset!

Marathon Training Day 12 - 50 mins (with 30 mins 'steady')

Although it was cold, it really was a lovely day with bright sunshine a lot of the time. Here in Dorset we seemed to have escaped the worst of the weather - in other parts of the country there have been extreme tidal surges and really hazardous wintry stuff blowing around.

As it was such a nice looking day and the run I had to do was not too taxing I decided to take my iPhone with me and take a few photos on the way. Really glad I did, otherwise no-one would believe me that I found a UFO near Symondsbury. Yep and here is the photo of me standing on top of it to prove it. You can see from the size of their spacecraft that the alien occupants were quite small and, although I suggested they come running with me, their tiny little legs just could not cope with my strength and speed - Ha Ha! I left them miles behind, they were useless.

I rather like the fact that the UFO also mimics the shape of the distant Colmers Hill - perhaps that famous local landmark was also the result of an alien landing several hundred years ago.

Some of the trees in the Symondsbury area were looking magnificent and it was also great to run through the mini forest around the base of Allington Hill.

What force of nature created trees? They are powerful and beautiful. They can also be quite intimidating but today, in a spirit of solidarity with nature, I had the feeling that they were looking down on me in a wise and kindly way. They are operating on a completely different timescale to me - not a sixteen week training plan - No, a few hundred years of patiently watching over the earth, whilst reaching for the sky. I am going to adopt a training plan like that for my next life.

The run called for a 'steady' paced section of 30 mins in the middle of an 'easy' start and an 'easy' finish. Well that 'steady' bit involved quite a bit of 'stop/start' for photos and 'slip/slide' for mud but the spirit of the session was captured I think. In other words, in between photographic opportunities and falling over, I was running quite hard.

I Got Up

Marathon Training Day 8 - 35 mins 'easy'

YESSS! I got up at 7am and was out the door by about 7.10 am and jogged an easy 3 or 4 miles.

After the mental trials and tribulations of yesterday it was satisfying to have done this but I don't feel so great about it. It was still a mental struggle to do the 'getting out of bed thing' - not that I spent ages over it, just that it needs such strength of will to do it. I am thinking more and more that it is some kind of addiction, some mental crutch that I need and I can't easily give away.

I am going to do more early morning runs, I promise. For one thing, on working days like today, I will be hard pressed to fit my runs in if I don't do them first thing in the morning and for another, once I actually get out everything seems to improve. Two drawbacks though: 1) my body feels really tight and inflexible at that hour of the day - my back in particular felt stiff and sore; and 2) it's a risky time for the bowels; I find it's too early for my body clock to have performed a 'number two' before I go out but 10 minutes into the jogging up and down motion and my bowels seem to urgently decide that motion of a different kind is required.

Running along with a stiff back and a pressing need to sit on the toilet do not make for an 'easy' run (what my training plan required today). But I DID get up early, I DID do my run, I DID experience the sunrise and I DIDN'T perform any undignified squats until I returned to the privacy of my own home. The latter, more than anything, is what I am most proud of.

Facing the Day

Marathon Training Day 7 - 6 miles easy (photo: back from a soaking)

I ran a touch over 7 miles, taking in the village of Burton Bradstock and back along the beach under the iconic East Cliffs at West Bay. It was raining pretty heftily most of the time and I took a soaking. I was feeling pretty low but it wasn't the weather that was getting me down but the mental struggle that had gone on earlier that morning.

I had set my alarm for 7.30. I woke at 7 and switched it off and was still in bed at 9.30. It was a return to the 'bad old days' albeit in just a mild way. I was putting off the day a little longer and I felt a little down but not in a full blown depression like way. Just enough to make it a bad start to the week and to feel the first hint of demotivation in my running programme.

I have spent the last 5 or 6 years battling with various episodes of depression. 'Battling' sounds a bit tabloid and dramatic but it will do for now. And one of the key features of it (and I suspect for a lot of people) is the inability to get out of bed. At times it has been a fight, a struggle, a game of mental torture wrapped up in guilt and conflicting pressures. Feeling bad about staying in bed and criticising myself for it but being totally unable to override this and have the courage to face the day.

I suppose it's hardly surprising that a lot of people feel this way. Two of the key symptoms of depression are an overwhelming fatigue and a loss of hope for the future. What better strategy for dealing with these two evils than to get into bed and stay there. You are going to minimise your tiredness and if the future's shit, you don't have to face it at all in bed. It's a pretty logical and sensible approach if you put it that way. The trouble is, if you're like me (and I'm sure a lot of people are) it's not a neutral or calming or satisfactory solution. At my worst, I used to lie there wide awake, sometimes shaking and sweating a bit and feeling SO guilty and useless. Having no earthly ability to climb out from under the duvet and yet finding no comfort there and beating myself up mentally for laziness, weakness and shame.

(It was nothing like that today. It was just the faintest echo of earlier times but just enough to make me nervous. No room for complacency here mate!)

Although it took me a year or so, I found a partial solution to the problem via something of a contradiction. The way to address the problem of not getting out of bed was … wait for it … to not get out of bed! BUT most importantly to not get out of bed but stop feeling BAD and GUILTY about it. I had come to associate being stuck in bed with depression and, to be honest, I think it also linked back to my childhood upbringing where 'lying in' was frowned upon and associated with laziness and lack of ambition.

As I started to get better, I found I could give myself permission to stay in bed a bit longer - I didn't have to rush off anywhere - I could treat myself to warmth and comfort - maybe read something and have some breakfast and a nice coffee. This is not a sign of illness or weakness, this is looking after myself and saying, 'What the Hell, there's no rush and I deserve it today!'

To be honest, I spent the best part of 2016 spending a good hour or more in bed after I'd woken up, before I properly started the day. I developed a routine that I became fond of and truth is, it has probably become a bit of a habit, maybe even an addiction. But I'm largely in control of it and there is a big BIG difference between this and the feeling I used to have when in the depths of depression.

I must admit, I used to get up early and go running before breakfast quite regularly and that's not something i've been able to force myself to do much for some time. I did do it on the first day of my Marathon Plan and I was going to do it today but just some faintest feeling of sadness floated in and settled on the duvet. I'm going to try again tomorrow.

I didn't actually get out running today until about 1130 and my punishment for the delay was to get soaked. If I had run when originally planned, I would have been completely dry. I hope my sins have been washed clean.

Zippy Feet

Marathon Training Day 4 - 30 mins steady

I rated this run as feeling 'Good' on my Marathon Plan. It was going 'sort of OK' and then I passed an older guy on the coast path who shouted after me, "Look there's an athlete! Fantastic!". There was no side to it. You could tell he was just joining me in spirit and wishing me well and it made me feel absolutely great. Aren't people wonderful when they share in each other's efforts, when they make you appreciate what you're doing even more than you were already? It did help that he was considerably older than me and I was also running down hill - both factors increased my 'athlete' rating I think but Hey! … he made me feel good and I think I made him feel good too.

I spent some of my time on this run experimenting a little with my cadence - that is how many steps my feet take in a minute. I spent more than 30 years running without anyone teaching me anything about how to do it. I knew nothing about technique, form, skill - I just did it in my own way, like most people do. But in the last couple of years, and particularly in this last year (when I qualified as a Running Coach myself) I have learnt so much about running styles and techniques. And one of the simplest and most obvious things I have learnt, is the significance of cadence.

Put more simply - the faster you move your feet, the faster you are likely to go. Although that seems like stating the bleeding obvious, there's a bit more to it than that. What happens, I think, is that most people settle into a cadence that feels natural to them and they never change it. And I think that most people would benefit from consciously working on increasing their cadence i.e. their steps per minute. Of course you can also increase your stride length and if you can increase both - cadence and stride length - in a big way, then watch out Mo Farah.

But of the two, I think cadence is more important and easier to work on for most people. And what's more, and I'm speaking from experience here, to be skipping along with what feels like lighter and faster feet is quite liberating. I think if anything I have probably slightly shortened my stride but increased the speed of my steps and it feels good. I encourage the people I coach to be 'lighter on their feet' all the time. It is partly physical and partly mental. Even though I am advancing through my 50s much quicker than I would like, since I discovered the principles of Zippy Feet, I feel like I am running younger and more freely than I did a few years ago.

They say that the optimum cadence for good distance running is 180 steps per minute and that top Marathon Runners are zipping along at something like 184 - 188 steps a minute.* I counted as I was running today (30 seconds worth of steps then double it) and I think my cadence at the moment is somewhere between 166 - 168. Of course it's best to measure it on a firm level surface, which was in short supply today. If I consciously work on it, I can push it into the 170s without excessive effort but it's not there naturally yet.

It will be interesting to see, during the course of my Marathon Training, whether there is any significant change in my cadence. I am certainly going to work on it when I remember to, because I don't see it as a chore - I enjoy bringing out my Zippy Feet. I feel lighter, faster, happier when I run that way. And, after all, I am an Athlete.

* I owe this statistic to the Julian Goater book, "The Art of Running Faster" and I also owe Julian for playing a role in enthusing me to use my Zippy Feet.

Fat Feet?

It's official - my feet have got fatter! Well more specifically, the front of my feet. Look, I could have said my balls are expanding but that would have just been for comic effect and I don't intend to do that. This is too serious. It's actually quite a traumatic thing to discover in only the first week of my marathon programme and how I discovered it is so mundane. All I did was order a new pair of road running shoes.

I did what I have always done for about the last 20 years - ordered a pair of the running brand Saucony in UK size seven and a half. But when I tried them on it was a real struggle to get into them and they were really tight! They were especially tight around the toes, they felt really cramped.

I opened the laces out till they were really loose and paced about the floor in my living room but my toes couldn't breathe. (I know toes don't breathe but if toes did breathe, they would definitely have stopped breathing in these shoes and started to turn blue and … well, I don't want to talk about it.) This was simply shocking. What on earth has happened. This is the SAME brand of shoe at the SAME size I have been wearing since way back in the previous century and yet my toes were dying.

I hate having to re-package stuff and send it back for exchange but there was no alternative. The Luminous green "Kinvara Sevens" went back with a request for an exchange to UK size 8. I'm even beginning to wonder if the next size up will be big enough. If this is a trend, by the time I run in London in late April, the Cockney phrase "plates of meat" will not just be rhyming slang but an accurate description of my trotters.

It did get me thinking what could have caused this unnatural and very specific growth in my anatomy. The logical thing was to examine what had changed recently that may explain this phenomenon. And I have two highly plausible theories - one running related - and one diet related. In the running category, is the fact that, like all trendy runners these days I try to run much more on the front of my feet. The old days of 'heel striking' are frowned upon in fashionable running circles and although a hell of a lot of people still do it, to admit to it, is a bit like silencing everyone at a party to announce that you club baby seals.

So my first theory is that my persistent attempts to run on my balls (stop it … stop it …) - to run with my weight more on the front of my feet - has resulted in specific front foot expansion - they've squidged out like something out of a Wallace and Gromit animation. If this is true, I just hope the replacement shoes will hold it all in.

My second theory is that a recent short lived, but drastic change to my diet may have caused weird and specific toxic effects in my extremities. You see, I am in a minority of one in my family in being a meat eater and for a few, mostly relaxing days over the festive period, I joined the rest of the tribe in a Vegan inspired Christmas dinner. I have to say it was delicious and, as a runner, I am never knowingly underfed, so I really went for it. Although I am no stranger to large quantities of food, especially on the 25th of December, I did consume several ingredients that I don't often sample and some that I have NEVER tried before.

It's perhaps not that surprising that, after three generous plates of walnuts, chestnut puree, onions, parsnips, cabbage, broccoli (and a dozen other secret vegan potions) washed down with several glasses of alcoholic fizz - that, well … As delicately as I can put it, over the next 24 hours, I personally generated sufficient reverse thrust methane gas to propel me from rural Dorset to the London Marathon finishing line (4 months later) without any training WHATSOEVER.

However, that's not the point. The point is, could it be that this radical change in diet has all gone to my feet? The gaseous element has long since gone, but the rest of it had to go somewhere. We may never know but the new shoes have been 'returned to sender' and I hope the replacements arrive soon … and that they fit!

Oh, and I did my first Gym session today as part of my training plan. That went OK. It's my feet that are bugging me.

Marathon Training Day 1

Was up at 7am, out the door soon after and running in -2C. It was dark, very cold and frosty. I was wearing 3 layers, plus hat and gloves. It has to be very cold for me to wear gloves - I hardly EVER wear gloves.

So it was a real test of my resolve to start Day One of my 16 week London Marathon Training Plan at such an early hour and in such conditions but I did it! The programme says '30 mins easy' so I jogged down to West Bay and back and took a couple of photos as evidence and to symbolically mark the occasion.

It was still fairly dark when I got down to West Bay and I liked the way the flash on the iPhone caught the reflective strips on my running jacket as I posed manfully on the pier wall with the East Cliffs behind me.

There was a guy in fluorescent orange jacket on the pier sweeping and collecting litter - I was the only person in the world there to appreciate what he was doing. We exchanged cheery 'Happy New Years'. And then I saw a woman running in very short shorts … REALLY! It was minus two degrees and I was wearing gloves - I hardly ever wear gloves (I know I've already said that). What was she thinking? Maybe she does not feel the cold, maybe it is some fitness fad called 'frostbite challenge' or 'near death trotting' or maybe she was wearing the latest extremely realistic flesh looking lycra leggings. I tell you what, I'm not taking her on in any sort of physical challenge - she's psyched me out already.

I ran down via the main road but came back over the fields and it was curiously satisfying to experience the frosty crunch of the farm footpaths as the light improved and my muscles started to come alive. '30 minutes easy' is actually what you need to do as a bare minimum just to warm up and get ready to run on a day like this. But hey, there's a long way to go yet with this training plan … it's a marathon not a sprint …