Yesterday morning, with exactly one week to go before the start of the half marathon, I began to get myself ready for my last big training run. I'll have a couple of short - 30 minute - tuning runs before I get to the start line on Sunday, but this was one final sixty minute thrash before I rest up for the big day.
There was just one small problem: I felt terrible.
I'd woken up on Saturday morning with a headache that got steadily worse through the day and took away first my appetite and then my desire to do anything much more than just go back to bed. Now, my body is not exactly a temple, but the plan was to stop drinking entirely for the seven days in the run up to the race. I'm not sure if a total abstinence from alcohol would significantly enhance my performance - I don't drink that much - but I was pretty sure it couldn't hurt. A couple of drinks on Friday and Saturday and then off the sauce until after the race. That was the plan, anyway. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out like that. I'd only had a couple of small glasses of wine on Friday night, so my headache surely wasn't caused by the booze. Now it was dragging out into Saturday though and I no longer felt like drinking anything stronger than water, I was starting to feel positively resentful: how unfair that I was going to be deprived of even a moderate weekend tipple before my self-imposed alcohol ban. Feeling distinctly sorry for myself, I couldn't help but wonder where the justice was in that.
Things got worse when I awoke to find the headache was still there on Sunday morning. Worse yet: now it was accompanied by a feeling of crippling fatigue that made even getting out of bed something of a struggle. Where a headache might be a symptom of MS, fatigue definitely is one of my warning signs, although I haven't worked out yet what triggers it. You might think that it would be directly related to the amount of physical exertion I put in, but actually it doesn't seem to be. I seem to be able to physically push my body quite hard, but it's often smaller exertions that seem to really clobber me: a few weeks ago it was an early start and a long(-ish) drive that had me struggling to hold my arms up straight on the steering wheel; last week it was the couple of hours I spent in one of our warehouses doing nothing more physical than observing transactions.... neither of those activities should be as taxing on the body as a 12 mile run, but both of them left me feeling bone weary and with shoulders actually trembling with fatigue. I'm fairly sure that all of this extra mileage is taking its toll on my body, but it's not a straightforward case of cause and effect, with the running being linked directly to the fatigue.
I'm nothing if not determined though - probably to a fault. Whatever was making me feel fatigued was not going to stop me getting up and going out for my last long training run. I dragged myself out of bed, got into my running gear, stuck "Death Magnetic" onto my iPod and set off out the door.
Almost immediately I knew this was going to be difficult. If you're a runner, you'll probably know this feeling, but there are some days, some runs, where everything feels great, and - more often - other runs where everything feels much harder than usual. Things often get easier after the first half mile or so as your body eases into the exertion, but it was quickly clear that this run was going to be a real struggle from start to finish: my muscles felt okay and relatively loose after a couple of days off, but my head was aching and my shoulder and arms felt weak and useless.
I ran for a little over an hour, in the end. I covered 6.51 miles at a decent overall pace of 9.19 minutes per mile... about the same as usual if not actually a little faster. But it was hard. In fact, it was a real struggle putting one foot in front of the other. I usually listen to music to help me to focus my mind on something other than what I'm doing; with each song taking me another four or five minutes down the road. Today, not even Metallica was helping take my mind away from how difficult it all felt and how much more running I had to do before I could stop. I got home okay, but I am really not relishing dragging myself around 13 miles-or so next weekend if I feel anything like that on the starting line. I also have the words of one of my MS Nurses ringing around my head: MS is not something you can just "push through" and you have to learn to listen to your body. Was I listening to my body by dragging it out for a run when all it wanted to do was to rest? No. Will I listen to it if it tells me the same thing before Sunday's race? No. When will I learn that it's not always a case of mind over matter?
Perhaps it was just a bad day; a one-off. Maybe next week I will bounce my way around the half marathon course in something approaching two hours and wonder what all the fuss was about. I hope so. I currently feel very mortal - although sadly not in the Scottish sense of being profoundly drunk, either. I'm officially off the sauce, remember... and I've still got that bloody headache too.
There is one perfectly good reason to drag myself around the course next week, and one thing that makes it all feel worthwhile: all the money we've raised for the MS Society. You've all been amazingly generous so far, but there's still time to sponsor us yet. We're hoping to raise more than £2,000 overall and we're well on the way towards that target..... Click here for more details and to sponsor us.
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