Sunday, 26 August 2012

A day out on the Appalachian Trail – Delaware Water Gap, New Jersey

So if you are lucky enough to be one of my Facebook friends you might know that for the last week I have been travelling around the Western States of the US visiting a bunch of bus companies that my employer recently acquired.  You will probably have spent the week enthralled by wonderful tales of running in the morning in towns you’ve never previously heard of, and have probably been marvelling at the quality of photos that I took on those morning runs. 

It might surprise you to find out that those morning runs, starting and finishing at whichever hotel I found myself in and going along the long, straight, boring roads that were usually the only running option, were actually a bit rubbish.  It was good to see a bit of the places that I was staying in and it was good to get some exercise each day to counter some of the American size portions I was eating, but the routes themselves were not exactly inspiring. 

Today I found myself with a twelve hour layover at Newark Airport, only a short train ride from Manhattan.  Rather than hang around the airport for the day I decided to get out and about and the choice of place to go was obvious – rather than take a short train ride I hired a car for the day and drove the 70 or so miles to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, on the border of New Jersey and Pennsylvania and through which the Appalachian Trail runs.  I’d done a bit of research (I found a blog written by a keen hiker who can best be described as the John Kynaston of Delaware Water Gap) and had worked out a route going out linking up most of the shorter marked trails and back along the Appalachian Trail.  I was really keen to run along part of the AT since it is such a daddy of a long distance path – it runs over 1,000 miles from Georgia to Maine.

So here’s a few words and pictures on my run – about 14 miles in total but quite slow (around 4 hours) because of the nature of the path, as you’ll see, and it crept up to 30 Celsius over the course of the run.

I started off with an ascent of Mt Tammay, a modest 1,500ft hill that forms one side of the Gap.  The Gap has been formed where the Delaware River has cut through a ridge of quartzite on it’s way to the sea.  Now if you know your rocks, you’ll know that quartzite (a metamorphosed sandstone) weathers down into a jumble of sharp angular blocks typically ranging in size from small boulders to about the size of a house brick. I’d heard that some parts of the paths I would be running on were a bit rocky because of this broken quartzite.
At the start of the ascent of Mt Tammay - I thought this was what was meant by rocky trails so it seemed OK to me.  How wrong I was.
Looking into the Gap from Mt Tammay - the Delaware River cuts through a ridge of quartzite.  It was a hot, hazy day.

The climb up Mt Tammay (red trail) took a little over 20 minutes, with a few photo stops.  When I came down the blue trail I was on the other side of the hill from the other ascendees and for the next hour and a half I didn’t hear or see any other people – I didn’t hear any cars or planes, it felt properly wild.  But it was by no means peaceful – the paths through the woods were an assault on the senses – I was constantly watching the trail because of all the rocks and other dangers (more on that to come), above my head was a cacophony of bird and insect calls as I went past, the smells of the forest filled my nostrils and my feet felt the sharp quartzite through my shoes on every step.  I followed the trail up Dunnfield Creek to Sunfish Pond, a very pretty wee lake which modestly claims to be one of the seven natural wonders of New Jersey.  I’m not sure what the other six are. 

The rocky trail alongside Dunnfield Creek
Sunfish Pond - one of the seven natural wonders of New Jersey

At Sunfish Pond I hit the AT for the first time.  I could have headed back to the car along it for a 10 mile run but decided since I was feeling okay and still had plenty time (though I was moving much slower than I had expected because of the very rocky paths) I would run out and back along the Trail to the intriguingly named Raccon Ridge and Mount Mohican, a couple of miles each way.  The first bit of the path was nice and smooth so I thought oh good, the Appalachian Trail mustn’t be as rocky as the other trails, but no soon enough it was back to business as usual.  As I returned back past Sunfish Pond on the AT this time the path became very much like the section of the WHW just north of Inversnaid – lots of clambering over boulders and root stocks, and more than once I very nearly trod on a timber rattlesnake basking on the rocks.  Luckily they slithered down between a gap in the rocks just as I got near them.  I think a few rattlesnakes on the WHW might slow even Terry Conway down a little.
The AT at Sunfish Pond could hold its own againts the Inversnaid section of the WHW...
...with some added dangers!

As I ran the last few miles down the AT back to the hire car I passed lots of walkers heading up to Sunfish Pond.  By now it was nearly 30 Celsius and they were suffering so I was glad that I had started a few hours earlier (perhaps the one benefit of having to catch a red-eye from Portland the previous evening) and by now was heading back downhill, fantasising about burritos and free soft drink refills at Taco Bell. 
Most of the trails were feet-achingly rocky.

So it was a good way to spend the day – it would perhaps have been nicer to run on some slightly less rough trails (my feet are throbbing as I write this) but I can’t fault the forest and the few vistas that I saw.  Especially since it was all only just over an hour drive from New York City.

Didn’t see any bears.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

West Highland Way Race 2012...almost

Most of the ultrarunners I know have some sort of mantra, something that they will repeat to themselves to encourage them to carry on running when energy levels are low and everything hurts.  Some of the mantras are straight to the point, like Karin McKendrick’s “K.F.G.”, which I refuse to believe stands for “Karin feels good”.

Mine is a quote from Alice in Wonderland that the fantastic David Donaghue (of ultra running collie fame) shared with me when I was worrying about my first ultra, the High Peak 40 in September 2008.

“Begin at the beginning...and go on till you come to the end: then stop”

If you have ever wondered where the title of this blog comes from, now you know. 

Last Saturday was my second attempt at the West Highland Way Race.  In my previous 7 ultras I have always managed to keep moving forward, maybe stopping for a few minutes at checkpoints to sort things out but between checkpoints always moving.  Not on Saturday.  On the climb up the Devil’s Staircase I had to stop several times to sit down and let a bit of energy build up.  Even on the downhill to Kinlochleven I needed to stop just to get myself back together.  On my final section, from KLL to Lundavra, I think I sat on every suitable rock that lies next to the path before finally deciding enough was enough and pulling out. 

I had no energy and was very dehydrated.  As soon as I started to slow down in the wind and rain I got very cold and the sore knee that I had had since 20 miles stiffened up and every step became more difficult than the last.  I think an unfortunate chain of events, starting with stubbing my toe six days previously, led to where I was, and maybe with hindsight I could have done things slightly differently on Saturday and continued to the finish but that is easy to say now. 

I stubbed my big left toe the previous Sunday while out for my final run before the race.  It’s the one with arthritis, there is no cartilage in the joint to absorb the impact so it’s bone hitting bone.  It hurts a lot for most of the following week.  I set off running on Saturday morning and although the pain has pretty much gone I just don’t feel comfortable in my running stride.  At about 20 miles the outside of my left knee starts to hurt – it gets worse and by 30 miles I’m taking painkillers and wearing a knee support.  I stub my toe again in Bogle Glen and this time it is agony.  I almost pull out at Auchtertyre but take some more painkillers and keep on going.  My stomach is starting to struggle now and I’m feeling low on energy.  Between Glencoe and Kinlochleven I grind to a halt as my body empties itself of everything I’ve eaten in the last few hours.  I struggle up the hill after KLL and just can’t get going through the Lairig.  I get very cold, my vision starts to go blurry and I know it’s time to stop.

This all sounds very negative but I’m feeling positive about the experience and I know what my limits are and that there is a point where it’s just not sensible to keep pushing.  I am very glad that I took part on Saturday – the West Highland Way Race is an amazing experience and it was a pleasure to run with so many nice people and witness some inspirational performances.  The support during the day was wonderful – it’s difficult to describe just how much some loon ringing a bell at you and shouting your name can raise your spirits (thanks Lucy).  I look back on the day I spent running up the WHW with fond memories despite the eventual outcome (and the weather), and it will be great to read about other peoples’ experiences in the coming weeks – I’ve already set a day aside to read Colin Knox’s magnificent blog post once he has perfected it.

Ian and the organisational team do an amazing job, as does everyone involved in putting this race on, so I’d like to say a big thanks to them and I have to say a special thanks to Sean and Andrew for taking care of me at Fort William.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

City of Perth Barefoot 10k

Today I ran in the first City of Perth Barefoot 10k, a rather low key and intimate race held on the grass of the North Inch in Perth at lunchtime.  The race route consisted of 25 and a bit laps of the North Inch cricket oval, with the grass having been recently cut, though not specially for the race.

The small field of competitors totalled one runner, so I was hopeful of a podium finish.  As I jogged the half mile past some parked cars en route to the start of the race, I caught a glimpse of the runner, a tired looking individual with badly fitting shorts and a somewhat effeminate running style, and my confidence was boosted by his appearance.

At the cricket oval I removed my shoes and got ready for the start - the race started almost immediately as I decided it was time to go and I only had an hour for lunch.  I settled into a seven-minute mile pace and found myself leading the race.  I was happy enough for the first few laps as the pace felt comfortable, but I was conscious of keeping something in reserve should the race become more competitive.

The first few kilometres passed quite quickly at a steady pace, though the wet weather last week followed by a couple of hot dry days had meant that in amongst the grass were lots of little worm casts which had dried into small mud spikes - just a wee bit uncomfortable on the soles of my feet.  I went through 5 kilometres in 21:10, still in first place and my pace had increased slightly.  I continued to run steadily for the next few kilometres, feeling like I was running comfortably although there was a bit of an ache in my right ankle, which I had twisted ten days previously.

After 5 miles of running my feet were starting to get quite sore - this was now the longest barefoot run I had done - so I increased my pace length to reduce the number of steps I had to take, and the number of times my feet had to hit the ground.  My pace had been steadily increasing throughout the race, and since kilometre number 3 each kilometre had taken 3 to 4 seconds less than the previous one.  It was only in the final kilometre that I felt I was having to try a bit, but I was holding on to first place which gave me an extra incentive to keep running well.  Over the final few kilometres I had to concentrate on keeping a good running form - running barefoot is a bit less forgiving if you start plodding, which I guess is one of the training benefits.

I reached the finish in 41:10, 10 seconds faster than the only 10k I have run in anger (the City of Stirling 10k in September 2006) so a small PB but I felt like I still had plenty of running in my legs whereas 6 years ago I staggered across the line and couldn’t have run another step.  My garmin measured the course at exactly 10 kilometres, which is perhaps not surprising as the course route had been measured using a garmin identical to mine.

I was delighted to have won the race - I don’t think a victory has been more fiercely contested since George Reid won the Kintyre Way Ultra in 2009 - though because of the small field there weren’t many runners to chat to at the finish and I jogged back to work rather than hang around for the prize giving.

It was a great event to have run in and I look forward to the next one - I guess the field will always be small due to the spontaneous nature of the organisation and lack of marketing, so perhaps I’ll be able to retain my title.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

A bit about intervals

Last year I wasn't quite sure what running to do in the seven weeks between the Fling and the WHW race - I settled for a 30+ mile run, a few 15-ish mile hill runs and a bunch of easy runs.  So some long slow stuff but nothing fast.  This year we have eight weeks to fill and my plan is a couple of 30+ mile runs (though that might have to change since 7 miles into the first of these today I twisted my ankle coming down Conic Hill after trying to run too quick down one of the rocky sections - I should perhaps of written "don't be a dick" on my hand to help me concentrate as I have a bit of form for twisting my ankle trying to run too fast down rock hills), and one or two interval sessions per week.

This year I've been doing far more interval sessions than previously.  Though calling them interval sessions is a perhaps misleading as there is none of this 5 x 1 miles with a 2 min recovery type stuff - I prefer a continuous run with some fast bits and some slow bits, aka fartlek.  I guess there has been a bit of debate around why an ultrarunner would do intervals since during a race they'll not typically be running at a fast pace.  My feeling is that intervals are one of the best ways to improve running efficiency (especially if they are up and down hills), and also doing fartlek and running the slow bits at ultra pace makes said pace seem somehow easier.

I have two favourite sessions which I thought I would share just in case you are looking for something different to try on a run:

1. Reducing time intervals - for this one, you need find a nice lap of between 1.5 and 3 miles that you are happy to run round a few times.  I've got a nice 1.5 mile loop around the local woods that is half uphill and half downhill, and is all on good trails.  Then, you set off round the loop at an easy pace.  After the first lap, the aim is to do the second lap about 10 to 15 seconds per mile quicker than the first.  Then on the third lap, run 10 to 15 seconds per mile quicker than the second lap, and so on until you have done 5 laps, with the fifth lap being maybe two to three minutes quicker than the first one.  The idea is to get used to running strongly at the end of a run, and to focus on good running form, when you've got tired legs.

2. Zapping - I once heard this called zapping so that's what I call it.  The idea is run fast for a minute, then slow for a minute (or if you prefer fast for 30 seconds, slow for 30 seconds) and repeat until you've been running for about 30 to 40 minutes.  It's a good one to really get your legs moving and again I think is a good one for running form and efficiency (especially if some of it is downhill since running fast downhill you have to concentrate on just touching the ground lightly with your feet, there's no time for plodding).  As for what pace to run the fast ones, what I aim for is to run at the pace that I would run at if I was running for my life (I find watching The Descent and then doing this run in the dark helps to get my mind in the right place for this).  

So the plan is to keep doing intervals over the next 8 weeks, and hopefully my ankle will have recovered well enough soon that I can be running round the local woods late at night imaging I'm being chased by a bunch of carnivorous cavemen.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Hoka Highland Fling 2012

It was the 2012 Hoka Highland Fling last Saturday - a 52 mile running race along the first half of the West Highland Way from the outskirts of Glasgow to Tyndrum.  This was the 3rd time I have ran the race and last year I was delighted to finish in just under 10 hours.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to get on as I haven’t done as much training as the previous year because of the problems I’ve had with my left foot.  In the four months leading up to the Fling I had only done 4 runs longer than 10 miles, and only one of them was longer than 20 miles.  So I had some big doubts over my stamina, but knew I was running faster than last year over shorter distances as I’ve done more interval and hill training .  A week before the Fling I ran a 13 mile route up a local hill and was about 7 or 8 minutes faster than this time last year so I took the same proportion off my previous Fling time and created a 9 hours 20 minute schedule for myself.  This felt a little ambitious given the lack of long training runs, but I thought I’d give it a go and see what happened - if I struggled later in the race then I would just slow down and enjoy the rest of the run.

Milngavie to Drymen - 12 miles, 1 hour 52 minutes
In December I’d persuaded a work colleague in London to come and run the Highland Fling as his first ultra marathon.  Malcolm was planning on doing an ultra in Northumberland later this year but I managed to convince him that he should come and do the Fling as well, and had promised him a great trail, fantastic scenery, brilliant weather and lots of friendly, supportive runners to share the day with.  We met up just before the start - Malcolm was planning on taking it very easy since this was his first run longer than 26 miles so we ran the first few miles together at a nice easy pace.  I think we were pretty much in last place after half a mile or so, but the pace was good and the first few miles ticked by in no time as we chatted about Malcolm’s first ultra.  I left Malcolm to run his own race as we approached Craigallian Loch - he went on to finish in 12 hours 40 minutes after pacing himself well for the day.

As usual the first few miles of the Fling reminded me of Monty Python’s “Marathon for the Incontinent” sketch - I guess the 8am start gives everyone too much time to hydrate before the start of the race.

For the rest of the way to Drymen I kept it nice and easy and was a few minutes down on my schedule but was not too concerned as it was a great day to be out running and I was not that bothered about times.

Drymen to Rowardennan - 15 miles, 2 hours 33 minutes
I was finding that I could comfortably run up more of the hills than I had done on previous Flings and felt really good on the way up to Conic Hill.  Technical, hilly trail is more my bag than the fast, flat run up to Drymen, and going over Conic Hill I was catching plenty of runners who had started off a bit faster than me.  Most of the interval training I have been doing has been hilly fartlek, with some of the fast intervals being downhill, and I think this helped as coming down Conic Hill I did not feel like I was braking with every step.

At the Balmaha checkpoint Murdo told me that I had won the best drop bag prize - well, really my 6 year old daughter Anna had won it for me.  Anna loves to paint so when my usual pre-race day fish and chips lunch came in a big paper bag it seemed like fate, and Anna was happy to paint her vision of the Highland Fling on it - I told her that the race had trees, mountains, lochs, cows and lots of people running, and she did the rest.  The bag still smelled of fish and chips so it gave me a good appetite when I picked it up at Balmaha.  Knowing how happy Anna would be that the bag had won definitely gave me spring in my step for the next few miles.  I saw Norry at Balmaha, who was going well, and it was good to get a cheer from his support team every few miles on the way up to Rowardennan.

With my drop bag at Balmaha - thanks to Davie Hall for the photo
The path along the loch side was a joy to run along on such a beautiful day.  I ran much of the section with Jude, who was unfortunately having a lot of pain in one of his hips.  I offered him a bit of emu oil but I don’t think it did the trick.  The miles slipped by as we ran along chatting until Jude slowed down a little with the pain in his hip and I ran on, and it was as a shame to see in the results that Jude had had to pull out at Rowardennan.

I was within a couple of minutes of my schedule at Rowardennan, and was feeling in good shape with 27 miles done so was happy with that.

Rowardennan to Beinglas - 14 miles, 2 hours 41 minutes
The 4 miles of forest track after Rowardennan are probably some of the easiest running on the route so it was nice to feel in good shape on them and move quite quickly.  I passed a few familiar faces on this section - I’d seen Colin Knox’s pacing schedule and provided we were both on schedule I should see him on this section, which I did.  He looked to be going well and feeling comfortable and went on to get a good PB.  I’m looking forward to see how Colin gets on in the WHW race in June - he’s certainly preparing for it well.

I really enjoyed the rough section before and after Inversnaid, trying to move as smoothly as possible and letting my legs absorb the lumps and bumps.  This was my fourth time along this bit of path and it definitely gets easier the more you run it.  I had warned my friend Malcolm that the bit round Inversnaid was a little rough, but as I was clambering down some of the rock staircases I thought maybe I’d undersold it a little since it would seem really very rough to someone more used to running on roads - he managed fine with it though.  On the climb a couple of miles before Beinglas I felt really low on energy and struggled up the hill for a few minutes before the calories in the chocolate soya milk I had downed started to come through.  I ran into Beinglas still within a couple of minutes of my schedule.

Running well, fuelled by soya milk, just before Beinglas - thanks to Allan Harley for the photo 
Beinglas to Tyndrum - 12 miles, 2 hours 13 minutes
I felt good for about a mile out of Beinglas, then felt like my energy levels dived and I felt crap for ten minutes, until a can of coke started to work its way into my bloodstream.  My energy had dropped pretty much thirty minutes since the previous time, and this repeated itself for the rest of the day - feel full of beans for twenty minutes, energy levels drop, drink something sweet, feel crap for ten minutes, energy levels pick up again.  It was a little frustrating as my legs felt relatively fresh and not tight at all.  I was able to cut loose on the downhills in the forest near Crianlarich, when in previous races I’ve had to stiffly pick my way down the hills in pain.  Going through Auchtertyre coincided with one of my good spells and I was running 8 minute miles on the tracks and road there, but the last mile into Tyndrum coincided with one of my bad spells which was a shame. Struggling for the last ten minutes took a little of the shine off what had been a great day out.

I finished in 9 hours 18 minutes - pretty much bang on my schedule, but more importantly much quicker than I could ever have imagined when I first ran the Fling three years earlier.  There is definitely more to this game than just training harder - so much of it is learning how to mentally approach these long long runs.

My left foot coped really well with the Fling - my running style has changed to protect my big toe joint, so that I strike with the outside of the front of my foot.  I think I now have a much more efficient running style, and my legs definitely felt less tired, stiff and sore on Saturday than on any other ultra I have run.  The outsides of my feet are bruised and sore though, and my lesser-toes are all losing their nails this week I expect.  Running low on energy towards the end of the race was I guess down to having legs that were fresh enough to be able to burn up energy faster than I could absorb it.

It was good to hang around at the finishing chatting to lots of familiar faces - Murdo had told me to wait around to pick up the prize for the best drop bag competition and I didn’t want to go home without it as my daughter would have been disappointed.  Just as I was leaving, Malcolm came round the corner to finish, and it was nice to share a bit of the buzz he felt finishing his first ultra.

Anna clearly delighted with her prize, a bottle of Murdo McEwan's Champion Ale
So it was a great race and I want to finish by saying a big thanks to John and everyone else involved in putting on the event - surely one of the UK’s best - and I hope anyone who injured themselves on Saturday is making a speedy recovery.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Lost: some joint cartilage

It's always fascinating to get a glimpse of the inner workings of your own body. I've seen the valves in my heart flapping back and forward on an ultrasound - I woke up one night with an irregular heart beat and the ultrasound was one of various checks that found nothing wrong - and on Tuesday I had the pleasure of having a good look at the inside of my left foot.

It turns out that the joint where my big toe joins on to my foot doesn't really have any cartilage left in it. The bones around the joint have a number of bony growths and spikes on them as a result of the damage the lack of cartilage has caused, and the joint movement is limited to about 10 degrees of flex rather than the more normal 90. Plus it hurts, quite alot, all of the time. Advanced osteoarthritis of the big toe joint, just what a 37 year old with an interest in ultrarunning wants to be diagnosed with.

The doctor explained the three options to me as:

1. A cheliectomy (not sure of the spelling), which means cutting open the joint and cutting of the bits of bone that are inhibiting the flex, thereby freeing the joint up but unfortunately since there is no cartilage left it probably won't reduce the pain that much, and the offending bony bits will grow back over time.

2. Fusing the joint, so it won't flex at all and running would be a bit difficult. This should stop the pain, but also has the drawback that I would not be able to wear high heels again.

3. Replacing the joint - apparently this option is only suitable for couch potatoes (the doctor's words, not mine) and a runner would wear the new joint out in a year. Plus, it would seem to me that to replace the joint in question about a quarter of your foot would have to be cut out, and I don't think I fancy that.

I guess the fourth option, and the one I'm settling for for the timebeing, is to put up with the pain and get on with it. I've had a sore foot for about seven years now and though it is steadily getting worse it's manageable at the moment. My running gait has definitely changed over the past few years (as evidenced by a bunch of compensation injuries and a different wear pattern on my shoes) in order to protect the damaged bit of my foot, and it feels more natural this year than it has done previously. The doctor recommended running in stiff soled shoes (those with a rockplate in are ideal), which I have been doing since Christmas and which I think helps, though strangely when I run with no shoes on there is virtually no pain at all. So I think running is okay, but I probably need to accept that my moonwalking days are over.

That said, the pain in my foot is generally worse this year than last year, and I've had a couple of episodes when I could hardly walk for a week, never mind run. I'll be in Milngavie next Saturday to have a go at the Fling, but I think realistically only after seeing how the joint copes with 52 miles of trail will I decide whether I will be back in Milngavie very early one Saturday morning in June. I've got my fingers crossed that I will be, and would cross my toes as well if I was able to.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Barefoot revolutions

As a practising Scotsman, there is something inherently attractive about running footwear that doesn't cost any money. For me, this seemed the obvious benefit of barefoot running, so when I first looked into it I was very much put off by the fact that barefoot running footwear was a lot more expensive than my normal running shoes. I guess it's a common theme of lightweight performance sportswear and equipment that the more you pay, the less you get.

So the other day, after a gentle recovery run along the Tay and around the North Inch in Perth, in the unseasonally warm and sunny weather, I stopped at the side of the freshly mown cricket oval, got my socks and shoes off, and went for a few laps proper barefoot.


The run up to that point had not been very enjoyable - my legs were knackered from the previous day and I felt like I was plodding along. But on my first lap of the cricket oval I felt light and springy in my bare feet, and glanced at my Garmin to see I was doing seven minute miles and it felt easy. After 6 laps, or 1.5 miles, I was still cruising along quite happily and loving the feel of the grass between my toes, but thought I should stop then as I didn't want to overdo it on the first time.

Since then I've been a couple of more times to the cricket oval, and last time did three miles in my bare feet, again at a decent (for me) pace of just over 7 minute miles. I felt noticeably clumpy and unnatural when I put my shoes back on to run the half mile on tarmac back to the office. And, importantly for me, the big toe joint that usually hurts when I run does not hurt at all when I've got my shoes off.

So I'm a convert to this barefoot running thing I think, and aim to do a few miles a time, about three times a week. But I'm not about to rush out and buy some Five Fingers (even though my good mate Jeff and his wife Sam have just started their own on-line barefoot running shoe store - - and I could probably get a good deal) as for the timebeing I'm happy to run proper barefoot round the cricket oval in Perth or on the golf course fairways in Stirling.

I hope as I get more used to it to run on some other grassy routes around Perth and Stirling. I guess the biggest danger is standing on something either sharp or unpleasant. I'll stick to the classier areas of town to hopefully avoid the needles and broken glass, and as for the inevitable meeting between feet and dog dirt that will happen at some point, I'll carry a small pack of baby wipes. In theory it should be easier to clean dog dirt off your feet than it is to clean it off your shoes.

Well, except for the bits that get stuck under your toenails.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

BIG toe

The last couple of months have been a bit rubbish for me running wise. Since the Glen Ogle 33 I seem to have had a non-stop conveyor belt of viruses and tummy bugs and generally feeling like crap - not conducive to doing lots of running. From talking to friends and family it sounds like that is quite common when you have a couple of young kids at school - they're constantly bringing new colds and things back home with them. So I only achieved two of the five targets I had set myself for the last four months of 2012 - doing 30 miles in under 4.5 hours and climbing a 6b at the local wall (I managed two, and fluked my way up a 6c) - so I'm carrying the other three forward.

Over the last few days of the year the big toe joint on my left foot got very swollen and incredibly painful, to the point were I really struggled to walk and it would take 5 minutes or so to walk 100m. I'm currently waiting for the results of x-rays and blood tests but my internet self diagnosis has the most likely culprit as being gout. Seems totally unfair if it is since I'm getting all the pain and suffering but without having had the hedonistic lifestyle that commonly causes the affliction.

I've had a bit of pain and stiffness in the joint for about seven years now but the recent attack of gout or whatever it turns out to be was something else and seems to have knackered the joint good and proper. Some strong NSAIDs have thankfully eased the pain and swelling, but right now I have grave doubts as to whether I'll ever be able to run more than a few miles again without some major intervention. There are lumps and bumps all over the joint that I am pretty certain shouldn't be there, and my big toe doesn't have much mobility anymore.

There are changes you can make to your diet to reduce the risk of gout, which mostly seems to be eating lots of foods that give you tremendous wind, so it isn't all bad.