Rationing & Running

Well four days since the start of systematic water disruptions, our kitchen tap has not yet run dry. Apparently, as it is connected directly to the mains, this indicates that my neighbourhood has so far escaped water rationing. Maybe we’ve just been lucky, forgotten about or someone on my street is very well-connected, as most people I know here have had their water cut-off as per the SYABAS schedule. And drivers continue to wash fleets of cars as if water just fell out of the sky on a daily basis. Well it doesn’t, not anymore. We did have some rain on Monday which was, according to local media, a result of cloud seeding as the government attempts to affect some refilling of the depleted reservoirs. The drivers I challenged on Monday about water wastage seemed to think that as long as their hoses produced water, there was no need to worry. Aargh! It’s enough to make me want to run!

And I have run a little despite the unhealthy level of pollution. I won’t even go there. Google ‘KL Haze’ if you don’t live here and haven’t experienced the smog first-hand. Yes, I’ve run a little, but way less than usual, as my PTT is definitely back.  Already this week, I’ve had two rounds of deep massage on my foot, and much stretching, thanks to my wonderful physio. I’m meant to be doing the Malaysia Women Half Marathon in 10 days time but at the moment I’m just taking it one day at a time, hoping that my injury doesn’t escalate from a niggle to full-blown pain.

Speaking of pain, I’m sitting in a cafe, in my running gear, waiting for my friend, who is accompanying me to get a tattoo.  The running gear is so I can be sure that the tattoo is visible while I run – and of course, it may also come in handy, if I find the pain unbearable and literally do a runner. On this, I will definitely keep you posted!

The One Where I Admit That I’ve been Foolish

One of the many things I love about running is how strong and powerful it makes me feel, and the fact that that I always feel better after a run than before one. Or nearly always. Today, for the first time running since my Angkor Wat Half Marathon on Dec 1, I neither felt strong nor powerful, and I finished my run 1km short of my 21 km target feeling sore, worried and annoyed. Annoyed with myself because over the past week I had pushed my pace so hard on three 13, 10 and 10km runs that not only are my legs tired even after a rest day, my foot hurts at the site of my PTT (Posterior Tibialis Tendonitis) injury. Annoyed that I may have been a bit foolhardy. This isn’t good news two weeks before my first Half Marathon of the year, the Malaysia Women Marathon (MWM).

My training program has been flexible to say the least though I do try to alternate easy and hard days and run no more than 60km a week. I love to run every day, and rarely think of it in terms of race preparation but rather as a wonderful experience in itself. The trouble is that in the past two weeks I’ve developed a taste for pushing my pace far more than I ever dreamed possible and this need for speed has become addictive. It’s hubris really, and a desire to feel good about myself, that pushes me to run faster – and of course those little crowns on Strava are also very addictive! And to be honest running fast (for me) felt good!


But my foot is complaining now so my ego has to take a back seat and I have to rest. I had physio on Friday and though my hamstrings were soft, the muscles in my calves, ankles and shins were very tight and my left Achilles Tendon was screaming (actually it was I who screamed when my PT touched it). The Achilles feels ok today but the right Posterior Tibialis is sore to walk on.

I didn’t write this post to bore you with my injury niggles, nor to entertain foot fetishists, but to serve as a warning against doing too much, too fast. I hated the way I felt running this morning – heavy legged, and ultimately sore footed – and it means I can’t run tomorrow unless my foot feels significantly better in the morning and even then it can only be a short, slow recovery run. I know, I know, I probably shouldn’t run, even if it does feel better.

Exactly four weeks ago, I ran a personal best 21km which inspired hope of repeating the effort at MWM. After today, I am concerned that I may not be able to run the race at all. Another of the great things about running is that you learn a lot of things  – humility, resilience, respect for your body’s power and limitations, and how sometimes if you get carried away, as I have done (a few times!), that a price must be paid. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.


  • So, runners, remember rest days are very, very important so find some low-impact activity to do on these days if you can’t bear not doing any exercise at all.
  • Alternate easy and hard workouts. Hard workouts would be tempo runs, long runs, interval training, hills etc.
  • Strength and stability training of ankles, calves, quads, and glutes is a no-brainer (yeah, I’ve been lax on that one too). The core and upper body should not be neglected either.
  • Stretching out those tight leg muscles after a run is essential to aid recovery and prepare your body for your next run. Not doing so will lead to the formation of adhesions and scar tissue which will ultimately lead to pain. I’ve got into the habit of stretching my calves while I’m waiting for the coffee machine, microwave and brushing my teeth. I assume I’d be even worse off today if I hadn’t.
  • Listen to your body, preferably before it starts shouting abuse at you as mine is doing now.
  • No matter what your race goals are, if any, ultimate responsibility for your health lies with self. Running isn’t bad for you (it’s the best thing evva!), running irresponsibly, as I have done recently, can be.
  • Do as I say, and not as I have done.

2XU Compression Run, Kuala Lumpur

2xu sign

Rain and hills were the order of the day – though I’m not sure 6 AM is technically day as it’s before sunrise here! As it was my first race since early June, and my longest run since late August due to my PTT problem, I kept my expectations low for yesterday’s 2XU Compression 15km Race. There was no question of aiming for a personal best; yesterday was about running, simply because I was able.

My goals were to:
Find a parking spot not too far from the Start line.
Make one last dash to the portaloo before race start.
Run joyously.
Finish (perhaps not joyously, but in one piece).
Have fun!
Well, tick, tick, tick, tick and tick!

The race started 10 minutes late due to rain. Being Irish the rain didn’t bother me, and anyway after a few kilometers running in the Tropics, even at night, your clothes are sodden so the rain was a good thing – it kept the temperature down to a nice, chilly 25 Degrees Celsius. Yes, I know that’s a heatwave in Ireland but I’ve made some adjustments to my thermostat after 8 years in South East Asia.

Padang Merbok: a popular race venue in Kuala Lumpur.
Padang Merbok: a popular race venue in Kuala Lumpur.

I felt no pressure to be near the front to start, because I wasn’t racing right? Mind you when you find yourself standing beside a girl who is carrying a rucksack and updating her Facebook status on an iPad Mini, it’s probably a good idea to try push a little forward if you have any intention of actually running. So, next time, I will be ballsy, and try squeeze forward nearer the Start line. Though I wasn’t truly racing, I still regret the 2-3 minutes of my life lost trying to get to the Start mat after the gun went off and then through the tight-knit crowd in the first 1.5 km.  The good thing I suppose about starting in the middle of the pack is that you get to pass lots of people throughout the race 🙂

I think I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I had problems with feeling nauseous at my last two runs – a 21km and a 16km. In fact I felt so sick that I slowed to a halt at the Singapore Sundown Half Marathon at 20 km thinking I couldn’t go on without throwing up. I continued to feel sick for at least 15 minutes after both these races finished. On both occasions, I had taken a gel around the 9 km mark. Yesterday, I went gel-less, and instead relied on a 8oz Nathan hand-held bottle containing Accelerade. I also sipped water at every water station. And, no nausea! For the first time in a long time, I actually passed people in the final kilometres and my 15th kilometer was my fastest. Instead, of going over the line, holding my guts and moaning, I sprinted with a guy who challenged me to do so for the final 50m. In the excitement, by the way, I forgot to stop my watch- yet again – but think that my time was 1:26, well down on my 16km with nausea in June (1:19) but the difference this time was that I felt good finishing, and this route was super hilly. And, I wasn’t pushing for a personal best, just a good time (get it?!)

Pace all over the place!
Pace all over the place!

If there is one word that will forever be synonymous with yesterday’s race it is HILLS! I wish I had a photo to show non-KL people what I mean but suffice it to say that one of the two KILLER hills is referred to as ‘La Mur’ – according to my cyclist husband. That’s The Wall in case you’ve forgotten your French. Have a look at the elevation profile if you think I’m exaggerating. The second steep incline was equally challenging and very, very long. I walked up most of both these; though I like a nice hill or two, and ran well on the more moderate inclines yesterday, I wasn’t going to tear my Achilles Tendon or burn myself out on these babies. My goal was to finish (joyously), remember? I ran pretty fast downhill. In fact, my pace was all over the place!

Elevation profile for the 2XU Compression 15km Race.
Elevation profile for the 2XU Compression 15km Race. It looks like the Himalayas, no?

I paid no attention to my watch the whole way around, instead I tried to focus on my rhythm of my stride, the view – spectacular sunrise with a view of the Petronas Towers – and the sense of collective effort that surrounded me. The guy who belched very loudly on the first long incline also served as a brief distraction. Whenever my mind started to give me a bit of grief, as it always tends to, especially near the end of a race irrespective of whether it’s a 10km or a 21 km, I repeated the mantra ‘I Love Running’ to match my cadence. It’s true and it worked. I love running and my recent forced absence, has given me a new appreciation for just how deep that passion is.

2xu medal

I doubt I’ll be in Malaysia next year, but if I was, I’d definitely register for the 2XU Compression 15km run (and do some hill-training in preparation). Plenty of portaloos, well-organised and frequent water stops, excellent route markers, enthusiastic volunteers giving directions and support, nice wide roads throughout the route and some amazing views of KL. The medal is pretty cool too.

Killer hills, rain, 4 AM breakfast, belching runners? Bring it on!

p.s. For those interested in my PTT (right foot) recovery, my foot felt good throughout the race though the Achilles Tendon on the left leg was not happy. As soon as I finished, I felt pain in my right arch and left Achilles, and iced them both before heading home. I’ve been stretching and rolling the arch with a tennis ball in the 24 hours since, as well as icing and elevating as much as possible. This morning, I did a slow recovery 5km. The arch still ached but there wasn’t a murmur from the Achilles so hopefully it has forgiven me yesterday’s  folly exertion.

Muscle Amnesia

Come closer, I need to tell you something. I am going to whisper something in your ear. Are you close enough? Here it is…

I’m running again..sh!

I’m not whispering because it’s a secret, or because my physiotherapist told me not to run and I am defying orders. (Hi Akmal!) No, the injury to my Posterior Tibilialis Tendon responded really well to both Shock Wave Therapy and physio so that last week I was, after almost six weeks off the road, given permission to do some light jogging. My foot still hurt a bit, though not at the injury site, and Akmal was happy that this was to be expected as my foot adjusted to knew shoes, hopefully better running form and the strengthening exercises I have been doing. I iced after each run, and my foot felt great. So why the whisper? Why am I not shouting from the rooftops that I’m back!

My new shoes – New Balance W1040 – designed for over-pronators. Unfortunately the latest version is too ugly to be seen in – pink camouflage design.

The thing is, I am in no way back and it all feels sort of tentative. You’ve heard of muscle memory? Well my legs and back are suffering from muscle amnesia, despite staying active and doing all sorts of cross-training while off the road. My core is stronger than it has been in the past 12 months. My hips and ankles are stronger too. Yet, I remember why, when I first started, I found running hard. I ran 8 km this morning at nothing near my ‘usual’ pace and it was harder than running 21 km with hills two months ago. My stamina was never as good as it needed to be. Now it’s dreadful! Still, on the bright side, I am running again.

New Balance W1040
Told you! This is the latest version of the shoes I have started using. As my six-year-old son said: HORRIBLE!

Next weekend, I had planned to run the BSN Putrajaya Night Half Marathon, in the hope of bettering my time and placing from last year, my very first half marathon. I wrote about last year’s race here, and still get emotional when I think about it as it was by far the most pleasant race I have run. The pleasure was increased a thousand-fold by winning a prize. I have the t-shirt for 2013, I have the bib and timing chip, but I couldn’t even run a 10 km next weekend not to mention 21 km. I have very happy memories of last year though so they will now not be sullied by attempts to do better. Sigh.

My daughter thought it was hilarious to take photos of me at Physiotherapy, squatting on a vibrating Power Plate while gripping a large, inflated ball between my knees. This is the least unflattering of the bunch. Thankfully, I have not been asked to repeat this pose since.

There are 20 days to go before the 2XU Compression 15km Run. I only signed up for this race after I got injured, once I realised that I would be missing three events in September. I may or may not make it to the Start line. I am very concerned I may not make it to the Finish! Realistically, I don’t think I will be back on racing form – such as it was – until 2014.

In the meantime, I need to jog – excuse the pun – the memories of these darn leg muscles that feel like they’re filled with lead. And I need to keep doing strengthening exercises and cross-training. My muscle memory may be poor but the one in my brain isn’t going to forget this whole injury period in a hurry. And that’s why I’m whispering.

Time for New Shoes

When I started running two years ago, I wore a pair of Reebok shoes I’d bought on sale in a bargain bin. I also walked regularly and attended two or three fitness/strength classes at the gym. Realising that I quite liked this running lark, and wary of sore knees, I splashed out on a pair of proper running shoes (and cut back on my cross-training).

The Adidas store in Gardens Mall is one of the nicer sports shops here so I wandered in there, stood on some sort of heat-activiated footprint maker and was pronounced as having a neutral foot. I have been wearing the same design of shoes for neutral feet – the Adidas Response 20 – since.  I’ve bought seven pairs, the final two purchased only a few weeks ago. In fact the day I hurt my ankle I was wearing one of the new pairs; the second is still in the box and will remain there until my 12-year old daughter gets them in her Christmas stocking (my kids have very big feet).ImageUntil my PTT flared up, three weeks ago, the only soreness I experienced with my Response 20 shoes was a few days of shin splints in January. At the time I blamed my shoes – too worn – so I bought a new pair, wore them for a 12 km race, and achieved a personal best time. I’ve had no issues with shin splints since. And I’ve never had knee pain. And I continued to assume I had a neutral footfall when I ran. I was totally averse to trying any other shoe design convinced that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Well now I need fixing. And I need new shoes.

Yesterday, my cunning plan to take my running gear to the Spine & Joint Clinic worked. I got to go on the treadmill! Believe me, that’s something I’ve never got excited about before. Not only did I run for a several seconds barefoot, in my Adidas shoes and trying out a couple of pairs of New Balance stability models, and a pair of inserts, but I got videoed too. Thankfully, as the video was taken from the back, the camera only captured me from mid-thigh down, avoiding butt wobble.ImageI looked knock-kneed. That was the first thing. Secondly, there was an obvious rolling in of my right (injured) ankle which done repetitively stretches my Posterior Tibialis Tendon. The left ankle was a bit better but still had a tendency to roll inconsistently. Simply put I’m weak-ankled, and my current injury makes sense. Thirdly, I have poor proprioception – this means that my spatial awareness isn’t great. Simply put, I’ve poor balance, even when sober. And of all the videos, the one in which I am wearing my own running shoes – the ones I got injured in – showed the greatest ankle instability and resulting over-pronation.

Yes, I’m a knock-kneed, weak-ankled runner with poor balance – in need of new shoes. It’s a wonder I’ve only fallen flat on my face twice (while running and sober) in the past year!

After I had my running gait analysed, I started physiotherapy. Besides changing to a shoe that offers more stability for my ankles, the only way I can resume running is to work on the muscle imbalances that caused me to over-pronate in the first place. I need to strengthen my hips and ankles. And this is how over the past nine months, as I’ve gone from running three days a week and cross-training two or three, to running six days a week and doing no cross-training whatsoever, I have let myself and my feet down. At least, I still paid my gym membership, so I can now return to the old days of Body Pump, Pilates and TRX, in addition to the ankle strengthening exercises I need to do at home. Yes, I’m going to be standing around a lot, doing an impression of a stork.

I haven’t decided on a new pair of shoes yet though I’m definitely opting for something with a bit more stability than the Response 20. Choosing that particular model was a bit random in hindsight and who knows, I might have continued to run pain-free with them if I’d maintained some sort of cross-training regime whilst simultaneously pushing my running pace. I’ll never know for sure.

The physiotherapist who is going to help me strengthen and rebalance, stretched and massaged my legs yesterday like never before, in search of weaknesses (many) and aches (a few).  I felt like a car having a tune-up before heading back out on the road. (I like to think of myself as a sleek red Ferrari, but in fact I’m a tempermental old banger in need of new tyres).

The physio says I might be running again in two weeks. I think I can knock him down to one if I’m dedicated with my rehab. I will miss my second half marathon in three weeks, my fourth race in six, but all going well, I’ll be fit for Angkor Wat Half Marathon on Dec 1. All going well means finding the right shoes.