I assume that most West Highland Way watchers and race veterans have a mental script for how the race community enter, train, get injured and then either recover and race or drop out through genuine injury or general mental fatigue.
This script probably starts in with the cold, dark, wine drinking evenings of November when, suitably emboldened by the achievements of the year just gone, the fools rush in.
This is followed by several months of trying to find a training plan that will match your ambition with your ability. This seems to include a fair amount of anxiety as you are doing too much/not enough training.
Then, as the evenings lengthen (March), the random running of the previous few months is put to the test in the first “short” ultra of the season. While this most likely is a painful experience, it is, like teenage sex, short enough not to leave any mental scars.
The mid-length ultra comes next, the one where you pant and walk and drink flat coke and piss in the undergrowth and wonder why you ever thought you’d be able to run a 95 mile race when this seems to be the limit of your desire/ability. That desperation fades as you cross the line and collect your slap on the back you’re back in the zone and ready to take on the challenge in late June.
The next stage, the one we’re in now, is the fretting constantly about the state you’re body is now in. The injuries, chronic and acute, are, like the crew of HMS Bounty, getting fed up of the harsh conditions and seriously doubt your promises of a Tahiti-like nirvana called July. If you can master these injuries and can suppress the rational side of your brain for two more months, I reckon you’ve done all that’s needed.
In my case, the Fletcher Christian of my injuries, my left hip, has bided his time and, while he appears docile and submissive he has spread the words of mutiny to the lower joints and I am now in a position where I find my self fighting open revolt from the knee and the achillies.
The knee has always been less than co-operative and despite him trying to jump ship recently he can be controlled through a combination of drugs and indifference.
The achillies, my most loyal of servants, my cabin boy, has in the past week decided to stick a spoke in the wheel of my bicycle. This is the “Et tu, Brute?” of joint injuries for me.
Last Sunday’s 20 miler was cut short to 19 miles by the left achillies tightening to the point of rupture at mile 17. Losing a mile doesn’t sound like a big deal I hear you say but the quality of the miles was pretty low. Anybody doing regular long runs will know what I mean. A “good” long run isn’t about the actual distance but the feeling the run gives you. A combination of physical exhaustion and mental elation. In this instance I had too much of one and too little of the other. The fact that the left knee was painful from mile 9 was also a signpost to a less than happy June for me.
I decided to give the legs a bit of a test this morning and set out for a 4 mile trot before work. All I can say is that I had the good sense to walk back home from mile 2.5.
I would say that this is now a grade 3.25 injury (4 being crutches, pills and surgery, 1 being a niggle). It has appeared from now where and has prevented me from running and make walking a bit difficult as well. I have no doubt that the hip-knee-ankle triumvirate are plotting to cripple me and while I have the resources and strategy to fight the first two, the third one is like a Nazi V-weapon – it’s using shock and awe to defeat me-.
The biggest problem for me is the suddenness of the injury and the 8 or 9 trouble free running years I’ve had from the achilles so far. I don’t have an obvious solution to the problem. Have I over trained? Should I have aimed to peak in May and possible foregone long runs in January/February? I don’t know.
I think this injury development will have one of three outcomes:
I’ll shake off the injury in about a week, ramp up some serious runs in late May/early June and cross my fingers that I can make it to the start (and finish) in late June.
It’ll take a bit longer to shake it off, I’ll lose form and by the time I’m fit/injury free it’ll be July.
I’ll be in crutches for months as I run through the injury and rupture the achilles.
While not wanting to sound like a stupid optimist/pessimist I’ll hold my decision on what I’ll end up doing for another week or two. Beyond that I’ll only be fooling myself.
Still, in life, the race is long and it’s against yourself so no matter what happens I’ll make it eventually.