As well as being a good year for reading and writing, 2021 has turned to be a positive year for running too. After completing a virtual half-marathon last year, I felt as if I lost my running mojo to a degree. I was still going out to run, but I wasn’t as enthusiastic about it, particularly when winter set in and the weather became less inviting. June of this year, however, proved to be a turning point, when I made the decision to cut down on the comfort eating I’d unfortunately gotten into since lockdown. The payoff came pretty quickly: as I shed weight, my running speed increased, and I found myself feeling happier on my runs. Various audiobooks on running were also providing motivation: 26.2 Miles to Happiness by Paul Tonkinson painted a detailed and honest picture of what it’s like to run a marathon, and The Lost Art of Running by Shane Benzie had plenty of good tips about improving your running form.
But I was still just a little dissatisfied with running on my own. I wanted to take part in an event again – which, thanks to Covid, I hadn’t been able to do since the last Parkrun in March 2020. With the pandemic situation apparently easing, I felt safe booking a half-marathon and the Preston 10K for September, and I was excited to find out how fast I would be by then.
Then there came the long-awaited day in July: Parkrun was back! I headed down to my local event, definitely enjoying the feeling of being among fellow runners again. Fuelled by excitement and pent-up energy, I ended up setting a new personal best of 23:58! Unfortunately, it turned out that I might have been a little too excited. When I went out for what was meant to be a gentler run the following day, I was a few kilometres in when I was struck with pain behind the middle toe of my right foot. I turned around and limped home; and in the subsequent days, despite application of ice and a great deal of hoping, the injury didn’t appear to be healing quickly.
I ended up going to a physiotherapist, who reckoned that I had aggravated a tendon, possibly from the way the foot bends when running up a hill. My big fear had been that it was a stress fracture, but apparently it’s quite hard to get a fracture in the middle of the foot. All I could really do was keep up the ice and rest, and let it get better – and in the meantime, I was going mad from not being able to run at a time when I was most loving it. It might have been the wrong time to listen to the audiobook of Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, a book which places a lot of emphasis on the joy of running which fuelled such athletes as Ann Trason and Emil Zatopek. I had listened to books about ultra-marathon running before, but Born to Run was the first one that made me think I might want to give it a go one day. (Of course, I’ll need to complete a marathon first, then see how I feel.)
A month after my injury, my foot had healed enough for me to resume running, and I was pleased to find that my condition hadn’t deteriorated too much. When I felt confident that all was well, I went to Parkrun again, this time taking it more gently. The following morning, I reckoned there was no harm in having another run – so off I went. A short distance in, I found a pedestrian approaching me on the pavement – with social distancing now a habit, I came off the pavement to avoid them. As I was coming back on, I tripped on the kerb and fell, painfully grazing my hand and my knee. I began to wonder if I was under some ‘day-after-Parkrun’ curse.
At least this was only a superficial injury, so it didn’t hold me back much. Due to my earlier foot injury, I had moved my half-marathon booking to another event later in the year, but there was still the Preston 10K.
I turned up on the day of the 10K feeling a bit anxious. There had been a route change at the last minute and the map didn’t make it especially clear where the first few kilometres were going; plus the clouds were looking ominous. Yet as soon as the race began and I started running, all my anxiety was turned off like a light switch. I was just focussed on the familiar movements; I was in the zone. The route proved unproblematic to follow, though it wasn’t the easiest in terms of effort: there were several uphill sections, including a few long, gradual stretches that are more insidious and draining than short, steep hills. It was, however, a very satisfactory result: I finished with a chip time of 48:41, just sixteen seconds slower than my 10K PB!
So right now, I’m going to keep up my running as we get into autumn, while taking care to allow recovery and not overreach myself to minimise the risk of more injuries. Hopefully before the year is out, I’ll have completed a half-marathon at an actual event. My goal for 2022 is to get more half-marathons under my belt – and then, when I feel ready, to move to the next level and sign up for a full marathon!