Sixty days ago I had a BUPA fitness assessment, measuring weight, body fat, strength, VO2 max, heart ECG, lung strength and flexibility.
Going into it I felt fairly happy with the condition I was in: I'd just done the first of 7/8 20+ mile runs ahead of Amsterdam, my weight was back at Paris level, weekly mileage was creeping up to about 60 and I was running pretty fluidly. On the flip side I still felt I was carrying too much fat, my weight was half a stone or more above where I wanted to get to and I knew I'd done no speed or intervals work since March.
The results, though, were incredibly pleasing. I won't bore with all of them but everything was OK and I found some real highlights:
- Bodyfat was 13%
- Lung health was that expected of an active 25 year old
- VO2 max was 60.5 - the highest the nurse had seen in 3 years of conducting tests
Delighted to the point of complacency.
With 2 weeks until a fortnight's holiday in France I started eating badly, feeling that when faced with duck, cheeses, croissants, chocolate, deserts etc, I'd gain a little anyway so why not let go a bit beforehand?
The mileage stayed high though, and by the time we went away I doubt I'd gained too much.
We drove down to the gite, stopping a night in northern France and then another in central France en route. At 6am following the second stop-over I went out for a 21 mile run and it went perfectly. Running along a peaceful long distance path (disused railway line), in the early morning sunshine I did the opening 10 miles at 8:23 a mile and the next 11 at 7:19. I was thrilled. It just underlined that I was in a great position to really ramp the training up from.
What I didn't realise was that it would prove to be my peak, and on the other side of the summit was a long, steep decline.
Through the first week at the gite I carried on with my runs but it was a struggle. The high 30s temperatures left me tired and it was a challenge to get going early enough to avoid the heat (despite the alarm) and my running began to feel as laboured as it had previously felt fluid.
By the end of the week I had a more serious problem.
When I injured my left achillies last summer I also had pain on the inside/back of my right heel. This wasn't anywhere near as bad but whilst the left healed the right stayed the same - no worse, no better - right through Paris training and beyond. It didn't effect my gait or ability to train so I gave it little thought.
In June, though, it had started to gradually feel a little more sore; enough for me to mention it to the physio. She was re-assuring. I had very tight calf muscles, especially on the inside right of my gastrocs, that restricted ankle flexibility and caused strain on the tendon; but this could be fixed easily with eccentric exercises and concerted daily stretching.
Unfortunately, in the same way that nutrition went out the window in the lead up to the holiday, I did virtually no stretching/strengthening; telling myself that I'd have plenty of time for that while away. Then, when I was away I did nothing.
On the Thursday of week one I manged no more than 2 miles as I was limping.
Rest eased it a little though so that on the Sunday I opted for a 17.86 mile route in the hills rather than a flat 22 miles on the riverside road. Hindsight says that hills were the last thing I needed with a ropey achillies but I'd estimated the distance only at 16 miles and hadn't appreciated just how hilly the route would be. Afterwards I was sore and limping.
Monday was a rest day and Tuesday's 10 miles felt OK-ish. Sore, yes, but not too debilitating. On Wednesday, though, I got no further than 10 metres. As soon as I set off I was limping heavily and knew I had a fairly big problem.
I rested it for the remainder of the holiday and for another week at home. By this time there was almost no residual soreness and I drove into the centre of Leeds geared up for anything from 18 to 22 miles. I managed just a quarter of a mile. With the first step my foot collapsed painfuly inwards and whilst I tried dynamic stretches I knew that each step was damaging me further and gave up. With that my Amsterdam marathon plans ended.
I'm another few weeks on from that and haven't tried running since as the achillies is still sore even from running up a flight of stairs or jogging across a road. I have another 8 weeks to rehabilitate by which time I must start running again to give myself a chance of training for Paris next April, and I've made a physio appointment for 27/09.
When a similar thing happened last year I felt really low. Depressed at not running, comfort eating, then depressed at the weight/size gain.
However, last year I recovered and was able to then execute a perfect winter training programme and spring marathon so the decision to abandon Amsterdam (the race not the trip - everything is paid for) was met with a more philosophical shrug as a result.
However, when you run 60 odd miles a week you can eat pretty much whatever you want. If you suddenly stop, but don't curtail the eating, you'll gain about 2lb a week. Add to that an element of comfort eating and the rapid weight gain of a fairly sedentary holiday (where any exercise beyond the week one runs consisted of trudging a few feet from a sun bed to a food filled fridge) and the outcome is inevitable.
Sixty days on from the thrill of my fitness assessment and I'm twenty one pounds heavier and doing virtually no exercise.
Or at least that was the case on Monday. Since then I've started logging food intake and doing rehab exercises. Starting today I'll do some walking and cycling. Yesterday I had half an hour in the pool.
I guess every challenge like this is an opportunity to learn. Last year I learned that I can come back from injury and that's made coping with this summer's set back far easier. That's helped me to recognise that my body can't cope with 2 marathons a year and that next year I'll have a fallow period with little or no running post Paris, maybe leading to 10ks, relays and halves in the autumn.
What I'm learning right now is to be realistic with regards to weight and body shape. Sixty days ago I thought I was 'okay' but the assessment suggested I was more than that. When I look in the mirror now, or try (and fail) to fit in to most of my clothes I realise I really was in very good nick and perhaps shouldn't have been trying to endlessly chase (relative) perfection that was always just over the horizon no matter how far I travelled.
In a few months time when the weight is back off and I'm running again I hope I'll be rather more thankful for what I have.