Climb every mountain

Over the past week I’ve been in Germany, chilling out, doing lots of walking and around the edges of that, running.

The tightness around my hip and across my back is easing now but I’m slower. Oh so much slower.

I made the mistake of putting the garmin on. Oh dear. How hard is it to accept you’ve lost pace and you need to build up again? I’ve noticed I’m running heavily and rather flat-footed on my left side too. But all this aside feeling well. Which is kind of the point isn’t it?

Me in Heildelberg

Me in Heidelberg

Heidelberg is an amazing city. It’s one of the few the Allies didn’t bomb during the Second World War so featuring some pretty impressive architecture. It’s a university city, twinned with Cambridge, according to MrM. It’s on either side of a river, nestled in a valley with high tree-smothered hills around it. Amazing houses and cafes and beautiful squares…

But the physicality of the city aside, the vibe is very outdoors-living, chilled and relaxed. There are parks for children everywhere, it seems. People are walking or jogging or sailing or canoeing or riding bicycles… a really lovely, healthy place.

We did lots of walking, climbing up the steep, cobbled old road up to the castle and musing over how on earth people got down during the icy winter weather without spikes, or a tea tray.

Heidelberg, looking up to the castle

View up to the castle

Heidelberg library

Now THAT’S a library

Generally, people don’t wear helmets in Heidelberg, though we’re obsessed with them in the UK. Mostly, people leave their bikes unlocked. Another thing you don’t see in the UK. And in the evenings they gather at bars like Hemingway’s and have a beer after work. Always clamouring to sit outside, that’s the place to be seen. No one wants to sit inside. They’ll sit outside with a blanket on their laps rather than sit indoors!

Hemingway's bar, Heidelberg

Chilling out at Hemingway’s bar, at sunset

So, down to the grizzly stats.

Last Sunday: 11:58 average over a 30.01 minute run. 11:31, 11:56, 12:55, covering 2.51 miles.

This Sunday: 12:08 average over a 30:27 minute run. 12:08, 11:34, 12:29, covering 2.51 miles.

Now I took a couple of walking breaks today, so I am clearly running faster – I just can’t keep it up. Time. Patience. Argh!

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It’s running, Jim…

… but not as we know it.

My first post-injury run this morning. Hmm…

I’m sure I’m not alone in my paranoia that my fitness will evaporate with every day I don’t run. In the dark and grizzly recesses of my imagination I’m sliding down, down, down until I’m a wheezy amorphous creature; like The Blob with asthma. (see 5 mins into this clip)

Now of course I know this is illogical. I’m doing weight training to strengthen the muscles that let me down last time, but it’s not running and that’s what I exercise for – running. Weight training is empowering but there’s no rush. No fresh air. No nature.

So, now you can see how my headspace lies (bloody bonkers, yes, thank you) as I set off past the church (quick prayer and holy ground can’t hurt, can it).

Immediately I get pulling, yanking pains flicking round my hip and glutes, but I keep at it and the frequency of said pain drops and then goes off. Mindful of not pushing my luck I have my watch on, not my garmin, I do not want to know how slow I am.

But slowly I jog round for 30 minutes without feeling out of breath. I feel strong. My head is up and the pain isn’t ridiculous. I begin to feel a dull ache round my knee and inside my hip, but it’s not making me limp.

And all those things I miss happen; I start running through work issues and making decisions about how to deal with them, I say ‘hello’ to strangers walking dogs, I splash through puddles, I smell the summer air. I get a face full of soggy ivy miss-ducking back over the bridge.

After 30 minutes I jog-walk the last half mile home and I’m super cheery. I’ve run. I can still run. My body is still strong (probably a bit stronger actually, thanks to the weight training).

I am not back at the beginning. I am further along on the running journey.

As NBA basketball player A C Green said: ‘Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.’

20 days

It’s been 20 days since my last run. Nearly three weeks. it feels like much longer.

I’m hoping (not hopping) I’ll be back out there tomorrow. I tried running for a bus the other day and breaking out into a gentle trot did not make my thigh muscle tighten with such force it felt like a crochet needle had yanked it up and out.

My ITB, hip muscle tightness thing got too much back on June 10. Walking became naggingly painful, never mind running. Running seemed beyond possibility.

And so I began and continue to practice a series of exercise designed to stretch and strengthen by lack-lustre leg muscles. And so I have become every so slightly obsessed with clams, squats and a handful of pilates-style movements which require an extraordinary amount of focus.

All diagnosed by running trainer, Adam, who has also been putting me through my paces in the gym. This week I’ve been wobbling on a bosu ball while pushing up dumb bells, wobbling on a bosu ball while doing leg raises, wobbling on a bosu ball while doing squats… you get the plot. The idea is to work my core while I try to balance and do other things. It works. I can feel my stomach muscles twitching while I try to not topple off.

But in other news, what else have I been doing? Our university launched Bolton’s first Arts Festival which ran for five days but started with our creative degree show.

waiting for the show to start

Hundreds pack the SLZ, waiting for the Arts festival to be officially launched

Tuk Tuk by Aimee Coffey

Art takes all shapes

Textile Surface Design

I especially like textile surface design’s show – always gorgeous

textile surface design

Bit of detail from the frock above

cars on fabric

I’d wear this – with a vest underneath, of course

I’ve been working like the dog in a Hard Day’s Night, but there’s no pictures of that because it’s all a bit dull.

I did have a day off last Monday, walked up to Didsbury and bought an Ernest Hemingway book about living in Paris, which I am enjoying a great deal. And, for a change, it wasn’t raining. it’s been raining a lot.

Look not raining

Look, not raining!

Simons Bridge, Didsbury

Holiday by Chanel

Painting my nails

For the want of something to do I painted my nails this cheery shade of scarlet-orange which is called Holiday if you fancy it. I like Chanel polish, beautiful colours with a tasteful finish when they dry. None of that disco twink.

Jo and baby Rebecca

Jo and baby Rebecca

And yesterday I went to see my colleague’s first baby, Rebecca. Who apparently sleeps all day and is awake all night – sounds like she’s a teenager already, but she’s just over three weeks old – just a bit older than my nagging hip, ITB injury thing.

The good, the bad and the orange

Meet the new toy, tried and tested after a warm bath last night while watching first episode of second-series detective drama on ITV, which incidentally was very good.

Not that I’m here to review tele (but Scott & Bailey is well worth watching) I’m here to tell you all about this new chappie – Mr 40 quid: The Grid. Here he is:

The Grid

Behold - The Grid

Looks like a big cheesy wotsit doesn’t it. It’s pretty much like a foam roller but it won’t lose its shape and it has two roles. Not only can you use it like a massage roller but you can use it as part of your core workouts.

My primary goal with it is to pummel seven shades out of muscles and running niggles – ‘take that ITB syndrome, gotcha piriformis’ – you get my drift.

The flat bits and nobble are supposed to replicate massage techniques.

The grid: palming

Low and flat: like a palm

So the picture above shows the part of it that is supposed to replicate a palm or forearm, and of course if you’re sitting on it, that’s some pressure you’re rolling about.

The grid

The grid: fingers and thumb - medium

Above is its medium setting which is supposed to be like whole fingers and a thumb. You get it, don’t you? And finally, for masochists everywhere… the equivalent of finger tips.

The grid: finger tips

Firm: the Grid's 'finger tips'

Easy to use? Yes it is. The woman in the pictures on the instruction leaflet looks all graceful and relaxed, which I wasn’t as I trundled about the sitting room on it. But I can do it and I can aspire to be Mrs Elegance.

The Grid comes with its own story about how it was invented by a personal trainer and how he invented it after he was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. It comes with a host of celebrity triathlete endorsements and the people do exist (I checked).

My hamstrings were murder yesterday, today they were still tight so it’s not a wonder treatment. But I’m going to persevere with it.

The bloke in the shop said to take it steady to start as I’d end up bruised otherwise. Clearly he’s never had a sports massage, or he’s been for wossy ones. I’m a regular at our uni’s sports and spinal injuries place – bruising is complimentary and to be honest, expected. It doesn’t have an elbow setting either, which I regularly get rammed into my piriformis. Or chat. I like the chat, it distracts from the pain. But I can use it every day and let’s face it, I’m not going to easily lose it, am I.

Runners’ tip

What goes up must come down. And what has a front also has a back.

Sounds so obvious doesn’t it.

And yet while I’d been busy stretching out my hips with all manner of yoga poses, what had I forgotten? That the hip muscles are connected to the back muscles and the back muscles need that stretching too.

So when I was telling Adam, my running trainer, about my achy hip and told him about what I’d been doing to sort it, I felt a bit of an idiot when he pointed out my back was important too and had I felt twinges there? I admitted I had.

But ever the trier (or ‘trying’, as my boss would say), I pursued the point. I added: ‘But the hips stretches will still do something…?’ he looked at me a bit lop-sided, like he was trying to think how to break it to me, and then said ‘Maybe once you’ve released the tightness in your back, yes.’

So there you go – my tip of the week. You are three-dimensional, you are not flat. My niggling hip is part of my whole and I need to remember to consider the whole, not isolate my ailments. A philosophy I could embrace in other areas of my life too. And if you’re nodding here, maybe you could too.

Just call me hop-along

We all have our crosses to bear as runners.

Some of us are prone to shin splints, some of us struggle with our achilles heel. Imagine your achilles heel being your achilles heel… but I digress.

Mine is this little mouthful – and, no I can’t pronounce it. Iliotibial Band Syndrome is its fancy name. But mine’s not caused by over training, it’s caused by having one leg longer than the other. Significantly longer than the other.

Although it has an effect on the outer thigh I was having trouble with muscles over-compensating for the tightness and so I kept getting a pain on the inside of my thigh that would kick in periodically when I was walking. It was a bit like someone having a crochet hook inside your muscle and yanking it and I had had enough.

After a few months of being halted in my tracks I abandoned my ‘let’s not fuss, shall we’ stance and I went to a sports and spinal injury clinic to get it sorted out.

When the sports clinic chap got me on the bench and pulled out my legs he said: ‘Yes, this left leg is a WHOLE centimetre longer than your right.’ He delivered this statement in the tone of voice I reserve for statements like ‘And then he drank 10 PINTS of lager and ate a curry before catching his flight.’

What happened next was several weeks of sports masage on said thigh and hip where the muscles were now as tight as a violin string, which was all sore as hell and I used to ponder why I was paying someone £17 a week to lean into my thigh muscles with his elbow. He also gave me a load of exercises to do to strengthen supporting muscles which were about as much fun as cleaning the bathroom.

But it all worked. Of course I’m aware of the problem now, pack in yoga classes where I can and bear in mind that just because I can touch my toes that doesn’t mean every muscle in my body is stretched, relaxed and happy with my running.

So my advice would be on niggling injuries; get them sorted. And anyone can run, even a lop-sided slow-coach like me.