It's been 18 months since I had anything approaching a serious injury (a twice-twisted ankle at Greensand Marathon) and while there's never a good time for an injury, I suppose two months before the Thames Path 100 is better than two days or even two weeks before. If nothing else, an injury is your body's way of telling you to change something. More on that later.
After a relatively easy week of running, on Saturday I hitched a lift with fellow TP100-er Ilsuk down to Bath for a 'Social Ultra'. A Facebook group of the same name [https://www.facebook.com/groups/SocialUltraList/] organises free events for to "keep running free" for people of the far-running persuasion. Like the so-called "fat ass" events in the US, someone organises a route, people turn up and run. That's it. For the 'Cotswold Way 50k', we were lucky enough to have 40 or so runners and also a series of pop-up aid stations with not just water (which would have been enough for me as I took my own flapjacks and sandwiches) but also crisps, nuts, cake, sausage rolls, gels, jelly babies and much more besides. Amazing generosity and dedication from the ultrarunning community.
As well as the food, it was fun to run with a group of like-minded strangers and catch up with friends while seeing some new parts of the countryside. Or in this case, some brand new mud. With it being winter and the Cotswold Way passing through numerous fields, it was a singularly soggy and slippery experience - tough going but all good training. Or so I thought.
Coming from London, Ilsuk and I decided to start 9 miles into the course, run 'back' to the start, meet the others and then run with them until we reached Ilsuk's car again in Pennsylvania (not that one). This would mean that we'd a) finish in daylight and b) get back home significantly earlier than otherwise. The first section to the start felt fine, if a bit hilly. The next 9 miles back to the car were a bit harder, but only the super fit wouldn't be feeling it a bit after 18 miles of sticky, lumpy terrain. The next section of 8 or so miles began to hurt and I began to seriously worry about my condition. If I was struggling now, how could I expect to make it to 50 miles, never mind 100? Was I not running enough? Too much? Not getting enough sleep? Was giving up alcohol, chocolate and cake a step too far in my bid for optimum fitness?
I plodded on, mainly trailing behind Ilsuk, and wondered what was going wrong. After a while, I realised that it wasn't simply fatigue but that my right leg wouldn't bend or straighten without discomfort. I figured I'd twisted my knee in a muddy patch somehow and pressed on disconsolately. I probably didn't eat enough in the final 8 miles but otherwise felt okay, aside from the uncooperative leg.
The next morning, it became clear it wasn't a knee injury as the pain was mainly up the back of the thigh - so that's what a hamstring injury feels like. Having never had one before, I hadn't recognised the signs, but a dull ache and reduced mobility seemed to fit. Two days on and it's less painful and movement is better, although I'm still none the wiser as to how it occurred. What I do know is that I won't be running for a few days. My initial panic about the injury has diminished as I don't think it's too serious and my conclusion is that I'm not used to the mud and hills and I've been doing slightly too many miles - specifically, too many long runs in close proximity. Just because the training plan says to do a certain number of miles, that doesn't mean it's right for me.
So it's time to back off, regroup, and focus on getting myself right before returning to running. Maybe the rest will do me good. Maybe this is the wake-up call I needed. Maybe - somehow - this is a blessing in disguise.