running blog

Clive Whaley


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.