A little bit back, a little bit forward

We’re in Ireland now, enjoying the cooler weather and eating our way through the tin of Cadbury’s Roses my mother has kept for us since Christmas.  I’ve tried running twice but a week’s break has done nothing to improve my ITB. Sigh.

When I left Oslo in 2010, I regretted not having taken photos of the walking loop I loved so much. My ITB injury, which allows me to walk but not run, offered me the opportunity last week to snap for posterity before we left, or at least until my iCloud implodes, images of the Mont Kiara loop. This was one of my regular KL running routes. Here’s a taster of the cracked pavements, traffic junctions, and urban chaos that I came to love so much:

 

I’m sure if I returned to Oslo today, I’d find my old walking loop unchanged except for an imperceptible heightening of the trees, lengthening of the branches. The Tanum area I loved so much is a development-free zone. The same cannot be said of KL. The cityscape there is constantly changing so I’m glad I managed to capture what was so familiar and make digital copies as a reminder.
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And of course, the trick to moving is to look forward, not back. Today, I’m looking forward to my first visit to see an Irish physiotherapist as a week’s break from running has offered no improvement to my ITB problem. I ran 2.4 km this morning – gloriously fast, thanks to the cool climate – but that was all my ITB would allow before stiffening. I’m also looking forward to the arrival of the foam roller I ordered online as it’s been five days since my Malaysian one was packed up.
Other than that, it seems I’d better start looking forward to doing more walking, as after five weeks, this ITB issue isn’t going to be easily resolved. Pass the chocolates.

Before the packers arrive…

This week, the last in our house, I lost two toenails, sold my car, gave away two guinea pigs, and paid a man to stick needles in my hands and feet. First-world problems I know! Only handing over the guinea pigs made me cry though to be honest, tears are bubbling under the surface constantly, partly because I’m not able to run much, mostly because we are leaving. The reason for my running wIMG_6390oes is that my ass is still tight (see previous post). In fact, I have a spastic gluteus medius, which allows me to run around 4km, gets my hopes up that all the stretching and physio are paying off, then on the fifth loop of the course on which I originally started running three years ago, my butt tightens making my ITB feel rigid and causing pain on the outside of my knee. I haven’t run outside this loop around my house in weeks – it feels like months! I didn’t get to do a final run in any of my favourite places. Yes, yes, I know, first world problems! I missed the Cyberjaya Fireman’s Half Marathon and will miss my final much anticipated race, a 10km, this coming Sunday (my last!). Yet, my physio who is trying to release the pesky, spastic glute, insists that I continue to run through the injury. Rest, he says will not help. I should be glad I suppose, but with a life of 5km races stretching in front of me, I’m only partially relieved that the horrifying words ‘ Do not run for a week’ have not been uttered (other than by well-meaning friends :))

Acupuncture is a new departure, though one I wish I had attempted earlier than my penultimate week in Malaysia. I had my first session today and will squeeze two more in before we fly away next Friday the 13th. I can’t tell yet whether it has helped my butt or not, but it certainly was very pleasant to be taken care of for 45 minutes, needles and all. I think it will help my butt. Yes I do.

Tomorrow the packers arrive. I picture them like locusts descending on the house, eager to pack belongings into boxes before I’ve segregated things I still need (my running shoes(!)), and things that I can live without for the next two months (my television, the piano, a very long list of things). Luckily, I’ve opened a bottle of champagne that’s been in the fridge for two years, waiting for a worthy celebration; it can’t be packed so it’s a question of ‘waste not, want not’. As I said – first world problems:)

In Case of Emergency

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My favourite part of racing is registering. Months in advance, I love to complete online registration. Just a few clicks and some typing, and I’m giddy with excitement and a sense of accomplishment. If only I always felt the same after the race!

Every race requests details of medical conditions and a contact number in the event of an emergency. Now this is a detail I’ve been quite blasé about; whether he’s racing with me or not, I type in my husband’s name and phone number. I recently signed up for my first race in Australia. It’s in August and as I don’t possess a crystal ball, I’ve no idea what my husband’s phone number will be come race day. So I provided his Malaysian number knowing full well that by then this line will dead. In addition he’s running too so he won’t be carrying his phone anyway. I felt a slight tinge of bad conscience but really, what are the chances that anyone will need to call an emergency number on my behalf?

All this irresponsible form-filling lit up like an Emergency beacon last Sunday at Borneo International Marathon. Hanging out after the race, I saw a member of my running club who had trained really hard for his first marathon, being stretchered into the back of an ambulance. He had collapsed at the 41km mark. When I saw him he was unconscious and quite frankly looked dead. I remembered writing my husband’s number on the back of my bib in the space allocated to Emergency Contact but I couldn’t tell if my friend had done the same as he lay in the ambulance, paramedics urgently settling him for the siren-blazing ride to the hospital. I don’t know his wife but knew that she was staying at a hotel. Though the ambulance crew assured me that they would contact her, they couldn’t confirm that they had her number. I got the name of the hospital and rushed to retrieve my phone from the baggage area, found the hotel phone number and called her. She had already been contacted and was getting ready to head to the hospital. I still don’t know if the race people called her based on the information my friend had provided at registration, or if he had a number on the backside of his bib. (Bib swappers take note!!!) Either way, at least his wife was contacted very quickly. My friend was unconscious for four hours and luckily has made a ‘full recovery’ from heat exhaustion after four days in hospital.

My friend Lorna's pretty pink ID bracelet
My friend Lorna’s pretty pink ID bracelet

The shock of seeing him unconscious aside, the incident brought home the importance of these emergency contacts we provide. That day, my husband was nowhere nearby.  He was an still in bed, on an entirely different land mass, almost three hours flight away. He didn’t have a phone number for any friend I was with on Sunday. In fact, I don’t think he really knew who I was hanging with on Borneo. And my friends were racing, their phones stowed away in the baggage area. So, I wondered who should I have had as my emergency contact? Who would have ensured that I received the best possible care? Who would have hovered anxiously over my comatose body urging me to wake up. I suspect that given my circumstances that day – no one!

Several of my running buddies wear ID bracelets which provide essential information in case of emergency. I have held off buying one because again I don’t have contact details that will still be valid in a month’s time. However, once we get our new phone numbers, I vow to buy bracelets for both my husband, who cycles, and myself. Of course, even if I wear my bracelet, calling the number on it could be a waste of time.

Next weekend I plan to run the NM Galaxy 15km. My husband, it turns out, will be on a plane to South Korea as I curse the hills of Bukit Tunku. Until last Sunday, I’d have just shrugged and said, ‘Ah well, what are the chances of me collapsing at the race? After all, I’ve vowed to take it easy and not push hard.’  After the incident at Borneo Marathon, I’ve had a wake up call. Now, I need to find a friend, who isn’t running next Sunday, but who is prepared to take a call on my behalf – just in case.

How seriously do you consider the emergency contact information you provide at racing events? Do you wear a safety bracelet on training runs? If your partner races too, who can be contacted if one of you falls?

Ironman 70.3 Putrajaya

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One of the best ways to cheer yourself up, besides going for a run, is to convince yourself that it could always be worse. All ten of your toenails could have fallen off, instead of only one, for instance. Or, you could have broken your wrist when you fell face-first on the pavement instead of only your pride and a few inches of skin. I found this ‘could be worse’ philosophy very useful on Sunday during the Putrajaya 70.3 Ironman triathlon competition. It could have been a LOT worse. I could have been a triathlete and not a mere runner.

A triathlete is a person who doesn’t understand that one sport is hard enough. This is a definition I saw posted on Facebook before the event. After Sunday’s competition held in sizzling temperatures that edged up to 40 degrees C, I have come to the conclusion that it takes a certain level of insanity combineded with masochistic tendencies to attempt to swim, cycle and run any distance in succession.

Putrajaya 70.3 was ONLY a Half Ironman  which is the shorter version of the suffering in lycra known as the Ironman. 70.3 is the total distance (in miles) covered: a 1.9km swim, followed by a 90km cycle, topped off by a half marathon, 21.1.km which must obliterate all hope of walking normally for at least a week afterwards. Several of my husband’s cycling buddies signed up for the full event and suggested that my husband and I form a team with a swimmer to compete in the Mixed Relay. He loves cycling, I love running. Why not? Team PJJ Express was formed – the name was my husband’s doing, a play on our initials, the name of an area here referred to as PJ, and the need for speed. He’s an engineer so logic reigns supreme.

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Putrajaya for those who have never been there is a modern, purpose-built city 30 km south of Kuala Lumpur that serves as the federal administrative centre of Malaysia. It is new, clean and uninhabited at the weekend except for water-skiers, runners and cyclists. It has wide boulevards, a lake, lots of well-paved footpaths and is an ideal venue for races, especially on Sundays, when traffic is minimal.

But Putrajaya is hot! It’s like a sponge, sucking heat from the sun, radiating it back at you, so that running there at midday is akin to running while being roasted in a massive oven. When you’re wilting after just strolling from the car to the start-line, you know you’ve got 21.1 very challenging kilometres ahead.

The strange thing about running a relay is that you don’t have an exact start time but must wait on the return of your team mate, in this case my husband. I thought this hanging about at the transition area would be tortuous but it helped to have friends to chat with – the hot weather was the main topic of conversation – and lots of portaloos with no lines. There wasn’t the usual stress of timing a trip to the loo just right to make it to the start line on time. A major plus for toilet-obsessed moi.

My husband hobbled into the transition area after his cycle and parked his bike before passing the timing chip to me. On hindsight, I realise that he was one of the first team cyclists to arrive, but I wasn’t really thinking about placing and prizes. I didn’t think we had a chance; we were just there to have fun. So I was less nervous than in any previous race. Once the timing chip was secured around my left ankle – as instructed in the very comprehensive Athlete’s Guide – I was off. At midday! Fun?! After 500 metres I realised that I’d been deluded.

What followed was the hottest 21.1km of my life, two loops of a very pleasant course, much of it waterside, with absolutely no traffic to worry about. There were numerous water stations which were well laid out with warm water, isotonic drinks, food, flat cola, iced water and ice – always in the same order so you could sip some water or 100Plus, grab a gel/watermelon/candy then finish with some ice as you passed through each station. Normally I wouldn’t stop at fuel stations but the heat made it a necessity. At every station, I poured iced water over my head – though by the end of the second loop the water was almost warm enough to make a cup of tea – and managed a fast kilometre half way through the race with the help of a cube of ice which I rolled over my neck until it melted. Unfortunately the ice cubes ran out after 9km.

This was not an event to try and push the pace for fear of total heat exhaustion. And, despite the conditions, I couldn’t complain; I knew it could most definitely have been a lot worse, I could have been a triathlete out under the scorching sun for six hours plus! It’s the least complaining I’ve done in my five half marathons and, in the process, I learned a lot about the importance of psychology in completing a tough run. No matter how bad I felt in the heat, almost every single person I passed, felt a hell of lot worse so I had no excuse not to keep going.  In fact, as I ran past participants who had been racing since before my leisurely breakfast in an air-conditioned room, I called out encouragement to a few, and felt like apologising to all. That, and telling them what crazy fools they were for doing this triathlon lark.

(L) Approaching the finish line. (R) Two-thirds of Team PJJ Express
(L) Approaching the finish line. (R) Two-thirds of Team PJJ Express

I did my 21.1km in 1:53 which was fine given the temperature and all the stops I made to throw water over my head. I had hoped to do 1:50 and was ahead of this pace for the first 10 kilometres but I knew I risked not finishing at all, if I tried to keep it up. Crossing the finish line, I was wrapped in an ice cold towel which felt sublime, and bestowed with three medals – one for each of my team members. Not fair I know; we only did a third of the event yet got a full medal each. The towel provided welcome shelter for my poor shoulders which despite the SPF110 slathered on a few hours before, were starting to feel the sting of the sun. I wandered about, medals jangling like a bell on a cow, finding my husband and friends, waiting for others to cross the line, congratulating the crazy men and women, half made of Iron who had miraculously not melted in the sun. There was plenty of fruit, water and isotonic drinks available in the recovery area and many people availed of the sports massage on offer. Medical facilities seemed plentiful, and well used, too.

Out of interest, I asked at the finish line how my team had placed, and was told by a Norwegian lady manning a laptop that we had come fourth. We were surprised and delighted as we had no expectations of making it into the Top-5. At least I certainly hadn’t. Our team time was 5 hrs 15 mins which wasn’t too shabby but just a little bit slower than the winning pro athletes. Ok, a lot slower. Australian Brad Kahlefeldt (34) won the men’s division in 3:55 and Czech triathlete Radka Vodickova (29) was the first lady over the line in 4:23. What amazing achievements!

Only later, did I discover that PJJ Express had come third in the Mixed Relay, the highest ranked team with two females. A combination of misinformation, hurrying to get home to the kids, and the total non-expectation of winning anything, meant we missed a photo opportunity on the podium. Forget the photo, we missed a unique chance to be on a podium and to hang out with the fastest triathletes on the planet! Unlike the individual athletes, the team competitors weren’t provided with live online tracking so I still can’t see our official timings, though a friend sent me a photo of the results posted at the prize-giving ceremony. We’re listed here as second but I know that this is a mistake; according to the runner on the team that came second, who happens to be my running coach, we came third. Their swimmer swam in 31 not 1:31, hence the ranking mistake.

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I’m still trying to chase down our trophies before they are shipped back to Ironman headquarters in Australia but my calls and emails have so far gone un-answered. Given how well organised the whole event was, I’m hopeful that the trophy issue can be resolved without having to pay for them to be shipped back to Malaysia, to no doubt arrive after we leave. I’m not really too bothered about the trophies though it would be nice to have a couple for the kids to fight over when they’ve sent us off to nursing homes or the great running/cycling track in the sky. Look what Mum and Dad won before they started to use adult nappies! Back when we lived in Malaysia.

So I’ve done one-sixth of an Ironman which is more than I ever anticipated and about as much a I’m ever going to try. Kudos to those who pushed their endurance in all three disciplines; I am in awe of your drive and stamina. You totally rock, whether you managed to finish the course on Sunday or not. It was inspiring (but not tempting) to run amongst you, to watch you suffer (though the vomiting was tough to watch) yet still push on forward to the finish line. My next event is the Borneo Half Marathon in just under three weeks time. Already I’m thinking it could be worse. I could be running the Full!

P.S. Thanks to DK for directing me to the results here. We definitely came 3rd in the Mixed category and were the 5th team overall (out of 52 teams). Amazeballs!

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A Tourist in Thailand

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They say only mad dogs and Englishman brave the midday sun, but today, I joined them. Having grown bored of my usual routes in KL, this trip to Thailand has after only one run left me feeling rejuvenated and exhilarated. There’s nothing like only having a vague idea of where you are heading, based on a cursory glance at Google Maps, to fill you with a sense of adventure. As you can see from the photos, the road I chose was wide with some spectacular cliffs visible in the distance. I’m sure every car and bike that passed thought me a crazy white woman running in the midday heat, but as my husband pointed out, I need to do such training to get prepared for my 21km leg of the Half Ironman we’ve signed up for in April. Thankfully, a Gatorade bought at 9km sustained me back to the hotel and though I spotted many an Englishman, there were no mad dogs chasing my heels today.

MPIB 12km 2014

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For once, everything went right, nothing went wrong, and I had a good race! Hilly and hot, and 500m longer than last year’s route, I shaved over a minute off my time and clinched 4th place. Training aside, I was mentally stronger this year. Whenever I felt like slowing down, I repeated the mantra ‘I love to run’ in time with my cadence. It still wasn’t easy to keep going but despite nausea on the final 2 km, I did it. I had no clue where I was placed until I received the 4 th place tag at the finish line. What a nice surprise! I wandered around dehydrated but too nauseous to eat while waiting for the prize-giving ceremony, wearing that tag with tremendous pride, meeting old friends and new. All in all, MPIB 2014 was a blast. Take that Posterior Tibialis Tendonitis (PTT), your ass just got kicked!

Happy Christmas

It is exactly two years ago today that I started taking running seriously enough to measure my pace and distances. In 2011, Santa brought me a Garmin Forerunner 610 and on Christmas morning, I took it out for a very slow, though it didn’t feel so at the time, 5km. We’ve been through a lot together since: my first consecutive 10 kilometres without walking, my first race, my first half marathon, followed by two more in Singapore and Cambodia, my first prize, and of course my first three falls, the first of which on New Year’s Day 2013 in Siem Reap left its mark on us both. Thankfully my own scars have healed better than the watch’s!
In total I’ve run almost 2900 km on the road since Christmas Day 2011. That’s about 2850 km more than in the previous 40 years. I can’t imagine my life without running now, and am grateful to have come back from my PTT injury feeling stronger and wiser.

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Happy Christmas!

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Cambodia here I come

Almost three months after my PTT injury, I am finally going to do a Half Marathon this weekend. Sure I trained all summer before my pace came to an abrupt halt and sure I’ve only managed one 21 km training run since, so I’m in nothing near the shape I thought I’d be in when I signed up back in April, but there is still much to be excited about because the race is the Angkor Wat Half Marathon. I’m thinking of this as more of an ‘experience’ race than an ‘achievement’ race; I know it will be a special experience, not least because it’s my first trip child-free with my husband since July 2008, our second in over 12 years.

family Angkor

We were lucky enough to have a family holiday in Cambodia around New Year 2012/2013. We visited many temples including Angkor Wat which dates from the 12th century and is the oldest religious monument in the world. Back then my husband and I decided that we’d return for the race, a very popular event amongst running expats in KL. In fact the first time I heard about it was three years ago while eavesdropping on a conversation between a friend and a lady who had just returned from the Angkor Wat race. I was truely flummoxed as to why anyone would want to travel to another country to get up before dawn on a Sunday morning to run 21 km. I still very distinctly remember how my pre-running mind boggled. And here I am now – packing.

Today is a day for logistics and final planning (for my kids). My nerves are in shreds at the thought of leaving them even though I know they will be in very safe and capable hands. I won’t really start thinking about the race until tomorrow on the two hour flight to Siem Reap on which I will meet up with an old friend, from my Aberdeen work days, who nowImage lives in Jakarta. When she did the Singapore Half Marathon two years ago I was in awe, never dreaming that it might be something that I too would be capable of. Yes, and here I am – packing.

I had my last pre-race session with Akmal, my physio, yesterday and I’m very happy that my foot is now in great shape. My new Brooks Adrenaline trainers feel very comfortable while offering arch support too.

I’m really going to try and run the Angkor Wat Half Marathon with gratitude, gratitude for the fact that I get to participate in a unique running event in a beautiful country that most people will never get to see in their lifetime, gratitude that I can run pain-free, and gratitude for all the familiar and unfamiliar faces, smiling, possibly grimacing at times, that I’ll see on Sunday morning under the rising Cambodian sun.

I’ll keep you posted.

Rehab Continues

Running after injury feels a bit like life in general – it has its ups and downs. I recovered well from the 2XU Compression 15km run and would have had a great training week last week if it hadn’t been for a sore throat and sinus infection. Although I had to miss my running club’s Fartlek training on Wednesday night, I was almost back to my usual mileage by Sunday.

I ran 18km on a very hilly route on Saturday morning which felt fine but afterwards my foot complained. A lot. When I woke up Sunday morning, it was ever more sore, the sorest it has been since the original injury, so I knew that the sensible thing was to drop any running plans for the day.

I was worried, wondering if I was looking at a future of 10km races (if I was lucky). Reading horror stories online of people needing to take six months off because of PTT injuries did little to quell the fear in my gut. Once again, Akmal, my physiotherapist, came to the rescue.

It’s alright, lah, he says. It’s normal lah. After doing some heavy massage and stretching on the foot and ankle on Monday, he ordered me to run 15km yesterday. Really?! Yes, really. 

I only did 10km as it was stinking hot, the battery on my Garmin died – and what’s the point of running a kilometre that can’t be recorded for posterity, right?! – and I’m still sniffling and coughing. These are my three excuses for when I see Akmal today. The foot still aches but he assures me that this is caused by stiffness in my ankle joint, something that will take time and work to sort. The good news is that part of the work involves running.

Tonight, coughing or not, I plan to return yet again to my running cub to do 8 x 500 m acceleration reps. It won’t be pretty but as I feel the ‘delight’ that is my lactic threshold, I will try and remind myself how grateful I am to be there.

Posterior Tibial Tendonitis

When I first went to the doctor at the sports clinic, 12 days ago, I suspected tendonitis. No, no, it wasn’t tendonitis, she said with professional certainty; I had sprained my ankle (without noticing), pulling my deltoid ligament. Humph. Weird that I could turn my ankle and not notice, I thought, but she was a doctor, I’m not. So as advised, I stopped running, left my race bibs in a drawer, went to physio several times, initially for ultrasound and then progressed to ankle strengthening exercises. Rehab was going well.

Still perturbed over the whole ankle sprain diagnosis, I continued my self-diagnosis by Google, and came up with Posterior Tibial Tendinitis (PTT), a common complaint among runners and a condition which left untreated results in flat feet. The symptoms fit, the cause fit; it made sense. The physio conceded that it might be PTT, rather than a pulled ligament, then directed me to the balance board where I remembered why I’m such a lousy skier. She seemed to think it was ok for me to try running again if it didn’t hurt. I can’t blame her for buckling in the face of my determination. And my ankle no longer hurt!
I started running again, a week after the ankle sprain diagnosis. I ran on three consecutive days, ankle taped for support, making sure to ice the foot after each run. Two runs went really well. I was even able to do a decent tempo run. I was back! The third run unfortunately involved some hills due to a road closure. Don’t ask! The foot ached a bit during the 8km loop but pain certainly didn’t prohibit my enjoyment. I started to envisage the start line of the Standard Chartered KL Half Marathon again and dared to hope I might get to cross the finish line too. Yes, I thought, I will be able to run! Whoohoo!
But after the slow hilly run, the foot was sore and became swollen. It was time to get help from a professional who was experienced in treating runners (as clearly, the folks at the sports clinic weren’t). I needed someone who understood not only running injuries but also a runner’s impatience to tie up their laces and get out on the road again as soon as possible.
Now, in my previous life I worked with surgeons in the UK developing orthopaedic devices, and in such milieux, the chiropractor was not highly regarded. As a result, I have held a deep prejudice against such practitioners for two decades. But by last Friday, I would have allowed the man who comes to read the electricity metre to examine my foot if he’d shown any interest, or vague knowledge about ankle anatomy. A chiropractor, in a Joint Specialist clinic, who had been highly recommended by some running folk, did seem somewhat more qualified for the job then the meter man. So off I went again, sitting in traffic for 20 mins, thinking how I could have run to the clinic in 10. But of course, if I could run, I wouldn’t be going to the clinic. Sigh.
After much prodding and poking (what I would call a thorough examination), an x-ray, the subsequent appearance of bruising in my inner foot which I was assured was not related to prodding and poking, a close look at the wear pattern on my running shoes, and another round of somewhat painful palpating of my medial ankle, the chiropractor concluded that it was my posterior tibial tendon and not my deltoid ligament that was injured. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel good to be right.
So two weeks after the initial (mis) diagnosis, I’m back to where I started. Actually, as I’ve made the foot worse, I’m even further back than that. Rest, ice, for a few days, then I will start ultrasound therapy again. As to the cause of PTT after 20 months running? It might be my shoes – I’ve become an over-pronator as I’ve moved from heel to foot strike running, and my shoes are not designed for such – or it might be related to tightened Achilles Tendons, the souvenirs of my blissful barefoot runs on a beach in Vietnam back in April. It’s probably a combination of these factors together with my recent increase in training pace.

Either way, I’m still benched, and I’m back to finding alternative ways of keeping up my fitness and strength without pounding pavements. When the SCKL marathon was postponed in June because of the Haze, I never dreamt that I’d miss the race altogether but I now I certainly will. Thankfully, I think I’ve now found a clinic that will help me back to full fitness. Whether it will be in time to run the BSN Putrajaya Half Marathon on Oct 19th remains to be seen.

p.s. I decided not to treat you to a photo with this post. Frankly, I’m sick of looking at my own feet, and think you must be too. If there’s one minor consolation – and I do mean minor – over not running, it’s the prospect of a decent pedicure and prettier toes.   Hopefully, this improved version of my footsies will be strictly temporary.