Journey to Ultra - March update

March 20, 2024

March has not been plain sailing heading towards my first ultra-marathon.

A quick recap for those of you who might not be up to speed with my whereabouts on my journey to my first 100km ultra-marathon. The year got off to a great start, training was going well and for the most part, the weather was playing ball too. In January I ran just under 250km and I was feeling great! I had seen real progress, I had run a 1:23:58 half marathon and every indicator of progress was trending in the right direction.

February saw a slight change with motivation being hit with the curse of the February weather that saw more runs taking place in the rain than not. As much as I do encourage everyone to find the joy in winter running there does become a point for every runner where enough is enough and heading out in shorts a t-shirt and some sunnies is all you want to do.

I had started to up my weekly mileage over February to try and start averaging 80-100km a week which is where I wanted to be more consistently on my build-up to the ultra-marathon. As much as this might have been a struggle for my brain, my body seemed happy to accept the training that I was throwing its way and once again everything looked to going in the right direction. Until it wasn’t.

Towards the end of February, I headed out on a pretty standard lunchtime run from where I work in Bath. It is pretty much as simple as it gets with an out and back along a cycle path that runs parallel to the river Avon. There is absolutely nothing technical about it whatsoever, it is well paved, traffic-free and has 0 metres of elevation gain. I have run this path countless times as it is one of the easy ways I can fit in some of my mid-week kilometres.

On this unsuspecting Friday, I headed out for a 12km run looking to average around 3:55-4:00/km which is around 30 seconds per kilometre under my current 5k pace. All was going well up until about 9k when all of a sudden I took a stride, landed on my left leg and my knee delivered a dull but undeniable sensation to my brain. As I am sure most of us would have done in this instance I carried on just ignoring the unwanted feeling on my left patella.

This was until I got to 10k when I had to accept that very quickly the dull twinge had developed into a gait-altering pain. With my watch reading 10k, I decided to call it a day and walk the remaining two back to the office. Something wasn’t right but I just put it down to one of those things and I was sure that given a good night's rest I would be fine.

I was not fine. It turns out that what I had developed on that 12k run was a case of runner's knee. Something I am sure a lot of you might have had dealings with yourself, for me this is something very new to me and something I am still trying to understand as I write this. Runners knee for those that are lucky enough not to know is essentially a form of tendonitis around the patella that can cause a whole manner of pains and discomfort typically brought on by overuse and inflammation. The best course of action is simple rest, recovery and ice which I have been carrying out with varying levels of success.

This development has meant that a great deal of my March training has been carried out on my trust bike instead of developing the specific strength and endurance I am going to need to call upon in just over 8 weeks time. I know that it almost certainly is not going to be productive but each Monday I have been unable to resist the temptation to head out on a short run just to see how things are going and to keep the legs ticking over. This week I did manage to get through a 5k completely pain-free which was something to rejoice, with no time to waste I did the same thing the following morning however I ended that jaunt with my tail firmly between my legs with the signature pain resonating out from my knee once again.

March was supposed to be a big month in terms of training load, it was going to be where the pace began to drop but the volume began to climb and I would complete my longest runs of the training block so far. Instead, I have done mostly cycling however nowhere near the volume I would have needed to in order to make me feel accomplished in building towards the ultra.

The issue with an injury like runner’s knee is there seems to be very little you can do that can speed the rehab process up. It is mostly letting the tendons of the knee calm down and let the inflammation subside. My issue which I am sure a lot of you out there can relate to is that I am incredibly impatient when it comes to dealing with injuries and I want to just get back out there and get back to what I need to be doing. As I write this I have now come to the conclusion that I really cannot force my body to get on with things and the only course of action I can take is letting my body recover.

What this means exactly for my May ultra is yet to be seen. I am alarmingly aware of just how close the ultra is appearing on the horizon and much like being stuck in quicksand the only thing I can do I relax and wait until I can rescue myself. More cycling is on the cards as to is some stretching and strength work aimed at strengthening the muscles above and below my knee to try and help stabilise the joint and take some of the strain away from my tendons.

Unfortunately, this update is not the happy one I was hoping for but this is real life, this is something that a lot of runners will face at some point in their training and it mustn’t be glossed over. Hopefully, we can make a return to the trails and the paths in a week or two but until then I need to exercise something I have in very small quantities… patience.

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