It’s November 2017 and I need to slowly build up my mileage just like everyone says. I had been training mostly with an Edinburgh group called Warrior Fit run by Steve Curnyn; his knowledge on training was invaluable.
They train a Tuesday and a Sunday and that had started to become a hurdle with work, in particular the longer Sunday sessions that were, annoyingly, what I really needed. The Tuesday sessions were causing my shins to implode with shin splints, I was struggling to get quicker with the impact. I needed to find a fix and soon. My good friend and ultra runner Nicola Duncan had suggested trying Race Fitness run by Kieron Ross, also in Edinburgh, it comprised tough circuit classes, so as they didn’t focus on running, I could increase my fitness without the impact on my shins. I knew the team well and had run against them a few times; they were all super nice guys and gals so I went along. Like Warrior Fit there were a number of really good runners there who were always happy to chat about training and injuries they’d had.
All too soon, it became apparent that winter was coming…
Scotland is famous for its winters; turns out this year we had a corker. Deer Stalker cancelled, roads shut, milk and bread were a thing of the past, hunger was widespread and many considered eating their shoes to survive. At least that is how it felt. The only people who were happy about this were my three dogs; two huskies and a malamute that happily trashed every snowman I lovingly constructed in the garden. Distance hill runs were out of the window for weeks and then months, as I was terrified of running on the slightly clearer tarmac, mindful of the destruction it could cause to my shins. I got insoles to help and they took the edge off but didn’t fix it entirely, my mileage was woeful for big runs but I kept up the circuit sessions, weight sessions, cycles and the odd swim where I could. I figured lots of little things was better than nothing.
To date for my shin pain I have tried: doctors, ankle specialist (turns out I’ve snapped an ATFL too), running specialists for trainers, ice packs, sports massage, ice baths, stretching, dry needling and anti-inflammatories. While all helped a little, none of them prevented it during or after runs. Then one day, Nicola suggested I see her podiatrist. I was sceptical as I had tried so much already, and also, shins are not usually a podiatrist’s remit, but by that point, I’d have tried anything.
The podiatrist suspected hypermobility but I knew that already from two rebuilt shoulders. It also transpired that my ankles sit at horrifically bad angles and my left leg is a couple of centimetres shorter than my right. Turns out those were pretty much the Holy Grail of answers for me. I got orthotic insoles fitted and all the red warning lights started changing to green. For a while, I had been running slower, not because I was tired but because there was a limit to how much pain I could take in my legs, but now everything felt a bit better. Though it was revolutionary, all of this happened a mere three weeks before Man Vs Coast, so there was always the possibility that the discovery will have been too little too late.
Man Vs Coast was advertised as 22-23 miles, I had never run that far before. Though I had come close at Dirty Weekend, a few weeks before. I was nervous, very nervous. It was a long way and a long time on my feet, in a race that no one had run before, so I had no real idea what to expect. I knew I’d be going in the sea a few times and it would be hot thanks to this insane heat wave we were having, but salt and heat could cause potential problems that I had to prepare for.
Come race weekend, I made sure I had everything on the mandatory kit list. It mostly made sense but I did leave the leggings behind as I was already loaded up with an ultra running vest weighing an additional 4 kilos - at 5% additional bodyweight for me that is a considerable burden. My plan was to take it easy and keep my heart rate low as the heat and the distance could seriously work against me. No matter what I couldn’t get carried away like I usually do in shorter OCRs…
[To Be Continued… Come back next time to see how our hero gets on with his first challenge.]