The Great South Limp

Weather Conditions on the dayThis was the run that was meant to be my target ‘race’ between starting to run in June and the 28th of October. The race is over 10miles of the Portsmouth/Southsea coast and is the only 10mile run in the world to be classed as an IAAF Gold Label event with an estimated 25,000 runners. Quite the event!

My preparation for this was to literally get out and run, when I felt like I wanted to. I had no plan, no guide, no real experience and would just go out and run. I was running mostly in my Vibram Fivefinger Bikilas (weird toe-shoes for those that don’t know, I’ll expand on them in another post at some point) that I got in America and really enjoyed the ‘feel’ of being connected to the ground in a minimal cushioned running shoe. Being able to feel every lump and bump of the ground made me far more aware of every step I took and the experience made me want to run more. A good start.

I quickly worked my way up to doing a nice 3 mile loop of the area I live in, entirely on the pavements. I’d sometimes mix it up with an alternative 3 mile loop in the other direction (the two together would form a nice figure 8 once I was ready to go up to 6 miles) that went out on country roads for the first half and pavements again for the second part. The pace I was going at wasn’t particularly fast (9min miles) but I found myself wanting to run faster and increase distance at the same time. My ‘building up’ to 3 miles went – 0.59 miles – > 0.94 miles -> 3 miles. I’d read that you’re meant to only increase your mileage 10% a week, but felt because I’d run in the past, even if it was a couple of decades ago, I’d be able to do it quicker. Mistake!I ran 11 times in June, for a total of 26 miles, but realised that two things didn’t feel right.

  • Pain on the base of my left foot just behind my 2nd and 3rd toes starting at around 1.5 miles
  • Really tight calves. Particularly the right calf, which felt like it was cramping up around 2 miles into a run.

I’ve since realised that the pain behind the toes was due to the Bikilas being too tight. They fit like a second skin, really comfortable to walk around in and when I start running. What I hadn’t account for in the sizing was that my feet would swell up when running, making them too tight on my left foot (which is half a size bigger than my right already), particularly behind my 2nd toe, which is longer than my big toe so was reaching the end of the toe-box, causing the pain in the soft tissue at the base of the toe. To combat this, I changed shoes and ran in my Merrell Barefoot Trail Gloves, which, as the name suggests, are designed for off road running, but make for a very good comfortable minimalist road shoe with plenty of toe room!

The calf pain on the other hand, would not go away. It was the same level of pain in both calves at first and I put it down to learning to run on my mid-foot rather than landing on my heel, which is necessary in minimalist shoes but caused more load on the calf which in turn causes them to feel tired. However, after a month, the pain in the left had gone as it had adapted, but the right was getting more and more sore, causing me to be unable to run at all after about a mile of running. I tried resting it, and only ran twice in July and 4 times in August. September came, and the pain hadn’t gone away but I realised that I really needed to be able to finish 10 miles in October as I had raised over £500 for charity by this point. So I tried to run through the pain, some days were better than others and I was able to get up to 5 miles.

The Sunday before the race, I went out for an intended 6 mile run, got 2 miles into it and had to give up and walk home. I could barely put any weight on my leg at all. Monday morning, the pain was still there, it had never really lasted after I stopped running for longer than 30mins, being in pain 24hrs later was entirely new. Tueday I went to the local Doctors and saw a Nurse Practitioner who told me it was Achilles Tendonitis and strongly advised me not to run the 10 miles. When I asked if I could walk it because I’d raised over £800 for charity that I didn’t want to refund, he said he wouldn’t recommend it but understood if tried, but advised me to stop if it started hurting on the day.

Loo Queue

The big day came, and I made my way over to Portsmouth with my hugely supportive (and concerned) wife, and my brother-in-law who had not only come from London to support me, but had brought his P.E. kit in case he needed to sub in and run the race for me! I’m very lucky to have family like that. I made my way to the start line, and felt pretty good. On the Thursday before the race I’d been out for a slow jog and realised if I kept my pace really slow, and my stride length much shorter, it didn’t hurt as much and I managed 3 miles at 12mins/mile pace. So I figured I’d run as far as I could before stopping and walking the rest of the 10 miles.I set out running, forgetting all about the planned 1hr30min target time I’d thought I could hit back when I started running, 9 minute miles were not an option at this point. I’d re-adjusted with the idea of being over the moon at being able to limp across the line in under 2hrs. Somehow, I kept running, despite having to stop twice to adjust shoe laces (was originally too tight, then when I loosened them, it came undone). At the 6 mile point, a man with a fridge on his back overtook me rapidly and was suddenly 20yards ahead of me and I kept running. I don’t know how it happened, it could have been adrenaline, or the sound of the crowd all around me. I didn’t have my headphones in so had no idea what time I was on course for or what pace I was running, but I did know I didn’t want a guy with a fridge on his back to cross the line ahead of me. So I tried to go a little faster, whilst monitoring my right calf. I reeled the fridge-guy in with 2 miles to go and kept going to the finish line.

Somehow, I’d made it, running the entire way, having only done a maximum of a 5 mile run in training, I’d run the whole way round with a dodgy, and seriously painful, achilles tendon (ibuprofen helped with that as much as adrenaline I think!) and wearing my trail running shoes. My finish time was just over 1hr42mins, I’d managed roughly 10mins per mile almost the whole way round. Each of my last 6 miles was progressively faster and I limp/ran the last mile in just over 9mins. My finish place of 11154 even put me in the top half of finishers.


So that was it. The run I’d planned was done, I was quite seriously injured (after the run I couldn’t walk without a limp for nearly 3 weeks) and needed physiotherapy, but I’d got the running bug and wanted to keep at it. Something about it felt good and natural, and when my friend Gary asked if I’d run the Brighton Marathon with him in April for his friend’s charity, I agreed with the proviso that I wouldn’t risk my health or my calf (I’d been advised by a Doctor by now that it was Achilles Tendinopathy and could be 6-8months before it was back to normal). So now I have my next target to aim for.

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