Tears, Tantrums and Tight Muscles: Marathon Training Week 14

Read any article on tapering before a marathon and you’ll learn that week 2 of a 3 week taper is often when the gremlins appear; the gremlins that make you question everything: have I trained enough? Is that twinge something to worry about? Am I getting a cold? And so on until it drives you crazy. After weeks of slog and building up miles, the decrease in activity results in feeling like a coiled spring and the one thing that would solve everything – pounding it out over a nice long run – is pretty much the one thing you shouldn’t be doing. Race day is so close you can almost touch it, yet at the same time agonisingly far away. Combine all of that with my continuing battle against tight muscles, and it’s no surprise that this has been a somewhat “testing” week!

Frankly, this week’s training programme was something I largely made up as I went along, but for entertainment purposes (and for those who are interested in such things) here’s what I would have been doing had my body not decided to (temporarily) let me down:

Monday – Recovery Run
Tuesday – Club Run
Wednesday – Gym
Thursday – Track
Friday – Rest/Swim
Saturday – 5 miles
Sunday – 10K

Reading that back, there was only one day that even remotely resembled the above! So what did I do instead?

On Monday I tested out my leg with a 5 minute warm up on the treadmill. A bit better than last week but still not right. This warm up was followed by strength work on the TRX then a trip to the bubble pool to let the water jets do their thing on my leg. I felt that a lot of the problem seemed to have been “flushed out” of my leg, but that there was still a small section, just at the top of the calf below the knee, that remained problematic. I find that the water jets have a similar result to friction therapy in that they numb the affected area and help to break down any knots or sections which have that “bubble wrap” consistency about them, complementing the massage and stretching work I automatically do in such situations.

On Tuesday, I had planned to try a slightly longer run (an entire 10 minutes!) to get a better idea of how my leg felt so I would have a bit of feedback to inform the next steps. The idea was simple: put on running kit, open door, run for half a mile or so then turn around and come back. But Mother Nature had other ideas and on Tuesday morning I awoke to find it was snowing. Yes, snowing! In April! Immediately after an inordinately warm week! Typical. Under normal circumstances I would simply get on with it, but feeling rather anxious about this run anyway, I decided to head to the gym instead and run a mile on the treadmill.

The feedback I got from that run was that it felt a bit better than the previous day, that an initial tightness did ease but never completely went away. Bad news with 26.2 miles ahead when things will inevitably start to hurt anyway, but still time to work on it.

The remainder of Tuesday I spent relaxing with a friend: chatting, watching a film and doing nothing more strenuous than raising a mug to my lips. Having been ensconced in a marathon training bubble, it was good to emerge for a while and spend time neither running nor talking about running. I really should do it more often!

Wednesday was the one training session I managed from my original plan: a gym workout. I was fully expecting the TRX but Steve had other plans and I soon found myself embroiled in an interval workout of 20 kettlebell swings followed by 20 push ups x 5. Yes, that’s 100 reps of each in total! By the time I was finished my arms were useless dead weights at my side and I could feel the impact for several days afterwards. Definitely not fun, but no doubt character building!

On Thursday I thought I’d better do some cardio so it was on to the cross trainer for half an hour followed by a mile on the treadmill. Again, running felt a bit better but the tightness never fully eased (although I did push the pace up a bit faster to satisfy my need to work a bit harder!). This was followed by lots of stretching and, like most other days this week, the water jets.

If you’re wondering why I chose to run again when I knew my leg still wasn’t right, the answer is that on Friday morning I had a massage booked and wanted to be fully informed about how things felt when I arrived. Although that massage probably helped, by the time I arrived at the gym afterwards, I was feeling quite low. I’d been advised not to run for the time being and there was no guarantee that the remaining bit of “bubble wrap” in my leg would shift in time for the marathon. To try and help, Steve began a further investigation of the root cause of the problem. We agreed that the likely cause was probably further up my leg and I reminded him that for several weeks I’ve felt a tightness around my hip that I never fully managed to address with hip flexor stretches. Having ruled out everything else, we returned to this theory later in the day and identified 2 problems: a tight section of my IT band and a tightness in my gluteus medius. With that information, a plan of action was formed including stretches and a lot of time with the runner’s best friend: the foam roller. Ouch!

By Saturday, I had somewhat overcome the demons of Friday which had made me, for the first time, put a giant question mark over my participation in the marathon. Now that I was taking action the more familiar, tenacious part of me was back and ready to get my body race ready. As soon as I got up I was stretching and using the foam roller. I then spent the bulk of the morning at the gym where I went through a programme of cardio (more time on the cross trainer), stretching with the TRX, stretching generally, foam rolling and using the water jets on calf, IT band and glutes. It was difficult to tell what impact all this was having as the inevitable result of using the foam roller is to actually make things feel worse before they feel better. The pressure causes bruising beneath the surface and, of course, you become much more aware of any ouchy bits. In the evening I was feeling a bit fed up again so Steve suggested a bath to ease the muscles. To be honest, I was surprised at just how much this helped, so went to bed feeling cheered.

Sunday, realistically, was never really going to have any training as I was involved with the club’s annual Heaven and Hell half marathon and therefore spent a good part of the morning in a yellow marshall’s bib and devil horns, handing out water to thirsty runners. All in all, it was a very odd experience as other club members were asking me about next week, how I was feeling, etc and those who knew I’d been battling a bit were commiserating over my bad luck. I found it quite difficult and was keen to get home to my foam roller. On the plus side, I found it much less uncomfortable using the roller and my “hip” does feel less tight. Progress!

So what happens next? Who knows. A lot can happen in a week. In the meantime I keep stretching, keep using the foam roller and keep positive. It is still my intention that this time next week I’ll have a finishers’ medal draped around my neck. You hear that, left leg? You WILL be ready…!!

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