Well I thought I ought to get at least one post on the board during March. I've been a bit quiet. But that's because things haven't really been going to plan.
It started back in February. After a month off over Christmas and New Year due to a bad cold I was up and running again until a careless foot placement during the South Devon Coast Ultra on the first weekend of the month over-rotated a knee which has been missing its ACL for nearly 20 years now. It hurt at the time but I expected to be back in action after a week or two. The same thing had happened before and it hadn't caused too much disruption. I was along to the physio two days after the event and came out hopeful and with a plan of action to get going again.
After a week the swelling had gone down and I was jogging round the block at 10 minute mile pace. Then I did a few repeats on my local hill; I felt a twinge or two on the downhills but nothing untoward, until the following morning when the pain and swelling were back worse than before, and this time they didn't want to shift. By the end of February I seemed to be no better off than when I'd first caused the problem; every time I tried to start running again I was back to square one. My year's programme of races seemed to be an impossible project; I wondered if this time it actually was the end of the road. I have enough friends who can still get around the hills but because of chronic injuries can't run a step.
As February blended into March I made a decision. I needed to keep fit so I would just go out walking over the hills, at whatever speed I could. Uphills get your heart rate up at any speed.When and if I was able to contemplate races again, that could take care of itself. I have two local hills that I go to regularly; Eddisbury Hill at Delamere which is about a 300ft climb and Moel Famau in the Clwyds which is nearer to a 1000ft rise. I decided that I would go to each once a week and gradually build up the laps, then go for a longer outing over other hills once a week as well. I decided to forget about distance and just think of building up time.
My knee still hurts with pretty well every movement, but my criterion for progress has been swelling. If it swells after an outing I take it easy until it goes down again. Touch wood, the amount I can do, if I treat things carefully is steadily going up. By 18th March, I clearly wasn't in a fit state to attempt the Hardmoors 55 which I had entered, but I managed 27 miles along Offa's Dyke with a climb of over 5000ft. Not much above a 3mph average and sore at the end but recovered overnight, which was just as well as I was going skiing the next day. A week in Tignes was no problem, I guess because there is no real impact from skiing and the exercise probably did the joint some good anyway. A day after my return I did my normal sweeping job at the Lakeland 100 recce, this time from Buttermere to Dalemain, 33 miles and another 5000ft of ascent. The speed of the back of the field presented no problems and it was another 9 hours or so on the feet without too much damage.
Looking at my log it's been a strange year so far. At (almost) the end of March I've covered far fewer miles than in any recent year (313 compared with over 400 in the next worst year) but more feet of ascent (62,000 compared with just over 50,000 next best). I'm up to jogging a bit now but this isn't running. I haven't attempted even a 10 minute mile trip along the canal yet as I'm not ready for it.
I had entered the Exmoor Coastal "Ultra Plus" which is in about 10 days time. At 45 miles and over 10,000ft of ascent, when I planned it I felt it would be a perfect workout 6 weeks ahead of the Dragon's Back. Now it's too much. It requires 4mph to meet the cut-offs and I suspect that I either wouldn't make that, or if I did I might do damage which would put me back weeks again. I've transferred to the standard "Ultra" on the same course (33 miles and 6,000ft); I'll try this a little faster than I've been moving to date (if I don't I won't finish!) and see how it goes.
Which brings us back to the Dragon's Back, which was my main target for the year, and which kicks off on 22 May, less than two months away now. I had decided that I had to travel faster than on my previous attempt in 2015, to give more cushion against the cutoff times and I clearly won't be able to do that now whatever happens. Several times over the past six weeks I've been on the point of pulling out of the race. But it's a big commitment already and I won't be any younger in two years time; this year may well be my last shot.
On the other hand, the DB doesn't need great speed. It needs the ability to climb hills all day, navigate over difficult ground and keep going for what amounts to an ultra a day for five days. And having made a previous attempt I've learned a lot about how to best manage participation in the event, both during the running time and the overnight stops. So at the moment I'm still hoping to make the start line. If I can do a big back-to-back over some DB or similar territory without resulting in too much knee swelling sometime in the next 4 weeks, I think I'll be good to go.
Here's hoping anyway.