I didn’t run during the bank holiday. Nor the day after. Partly that was because I was going to a funeral, but as I was only supposed to do a 15 minute run, I could have fit it in. The truth is, I was scared. I have been so hopeful that I will be able to run again soon, that I’m scared about the slump I’ll get if it turns out I can’t. So I let the days go past and I didn’t run. My tendon has been making itself known: a niggle here, a bit of soreness and tenderness there. My right inner ankle is significantly more swollen than my left but I’m wondering if that’s just how it’s going to be from now on. But I know that there is still damage, or at least problems, because when I press on the nerve, it screams at me, and that’s why I was scared to run. Lucy the phsyio was, admittedly, very pleased with my progress. She kept grinning. Even so, when I compare my inner ankles by touch, I’m worried.

Still, I ran.

I had a day of no pain yesterday, and so I decided to run. I’d talked to FRB about The First Run Back. I’d decided it would be in early morning sunshine, at about 6.30am, and it would be around Roundhay Lake. He offered to run it with me. But in the end, I didn’t tell him I’d decided to run. Nor did I go to Roundhay Lake. In the end, I decided to get up, run out of the door, and keep going. On my own. No fanfare, no planned First Run Back. I laid out my running kit the night before, and even that felt odd. I dusted off my Garmin, which has had barely any use for two months. I put my orthotics into my Ghost shoes, as they are the most cushioned, set the alarm for 6.30, and set off at 8 (because of a) a snuggling cat and b) being asleep). I was nervous. I did my hip-opening exercises, I warmed up a bit. The sun was shining, people were walking dogs in the park, and off I ran. Down to Gledhow Valley woods, through the wild garlic and nettle patches, along the walkway beside the brook. There was hardly anyone about beyond a couple of dog-walkers. Good morning, I said, to all, because there was sunlight in the trees, and the smell of green, and because of the simple joy of being outside in fresh air and moving along at a pace.

It wasn’t much of a pace. Lucy’s instructions had been: try a fifteen minute jog. And she meant a jog. Then wait for a day and see how your tendon feels, then try another one. So I jogged at 9.30 minute mile pace. It still felt like a sprint. I’ve not done as perfectly as I wanted to in my rehab fitness: I should have done much more swimming and aqua-running and yoga and Pilates, and I’ve had more rest days than I should have. But I’ve done some strength training and yoga and swimming, and that’s better than nothing. Even so, my fitness has diminished. If I do get to start running properly again, it’s going to hurt. I ran to the lake, a seven-minute run, and it was tiring. I sat down on a bench for a bit, feeling unfit, and then I ran back. My ankle was fine, except for one tiny needling alert, but I said out loud “NO YOU DON’T” and it went away. Rose’s Patented Rehab Therapy: shout at your injury, like a lunatic.

Up to Chapel Allerton park, where I stretched, though I’d only run 1.5 miles, then did my glute rehab exercises, which were made more entertaining by the odd dog running up and sticking a nose in my face.

It felt wonderful. But now, I wait.

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My orthotics arrived. I was told they would take up to a month, but if I paid £20, I could get them in four days. Weird. I paid £20. Here they are:


The important bit is carbon fibre; not sure about the upper but as Karen said I could trim it with scissors, I guess it’s not expensive. They have a lifetime guarantee. I was given strict instructions about wearing them in: one hour on the first day, then two and so on. But they were so comfortable I wore them for a couple of hours yesterday, had a break, then walked home – two miles uphill – in them. No problems. The only time my tendon complained yesterday was when I lugged four big sacks of horse-manure home from the allotment for my neighbour. As I was hefting them into my car boot, I had a few thoughts:

1. my car is going to stink
2. my trousers are going to stink
3. my ankle doesn’t like this
4. I’m a bloody nice neighbour

My other instructions from Lucy the physio are to wear them in properly before trying to run. The orthotics leaflet I was given has dark warnings about ruining everything by being too hasty. So I am not going to run today. I may not run tomorrow. But by the end of the bank holiday I will.

I posted a picture of the orthotics on Facebook, and on Twitter. Both times, someone said, oh I don’t agree with orthotics. Both times I thought: then keep it to yourself. I am aware of the debate around orthotics. Anyone who believes in barefoot, chi or minimalist running thinks they are the devil’s spawn, in sole form. Christopher McDougall doesn’t like them. Someone who is my Facebook friend but who I don’t know in person, said, “as a physio, I don’t like them.” To which FRB responded, “as a physio he should know that what works for him doesn’t work for everyone.” I get that the ideal state would be to get my body into a biomechanical state of nirvana where everything works smoothly. I understand that a crutch is only a crutch: your leg still needs to get better. And that is how I am going to use my orthotics, as a crutch until my feet get stronger. The Facebook friend said, changing your biomechanics and your neural programming is how to overcome injury. No shit. I responded very sharply to him because I was annoyed: I am doing everything I can: rest, rehab, physio, neural reprogramming, glute exercises, calf stretches everywhere (including in any queue or wherever I have to wait for more than a minute, which means many car drivers look at me oddly). Orthotics are not a solution, but they will take me towards a solution.

In other news, I tried to swim today. I tried three days ago and was told that our membership had run out. I tried yesterday but my bike got a puncture just as I was leaving the house, and I switched bags but didn’t transfer my swimming kit. But I’d done a couple of seven minute workouts in the morning so I was allowed not to, in my head. Today I tried again. I was late out of the house (because I am lazy in the mornings and because I had to check my inner tube for punctures again), and knew the pool was having school swimming lessons at 11. Great: I can get there for 10 and have a quiet hour. No-one will be there at 10: people who work are at work.

But in my rush to get to the pool in time, I had picked up my bike lock and not my goggles. Idiot. I’ve done that in the past and asked the pool attendants if there are any goggles in lost property I can borrow. It’s worked before. This time though: “No, we throw them away because they can cause eye infections.” Really? So I had a decision: no swim or hairdresser’s swim.

What is a hairdresser’s swim? It’s the breaststroke done by women who don’t want to get their hair wet. Head above water, duck legs below.

I decided on the hairdresser’s swim. It’s not ideal, because it’s much harder to keep your body from sagging down to the floor. But it would be better than nothing at all. Even though the pool was crowded. There were baby swimming lessons in half the pool, which was sweet and lovely to see. There’s not much more joyous than seeing a toddler laugh uproariously at a splash of water. The rest of the pool was divided into two lanes. The supposed fast lane was populated first by a couple of front crawlers, and a very slow breaststroker then by two men walking up and down it. I don’t know: don’t people know about lanes? I was clearly grumpy and needed to swim. The middle lane had some breast-strokers, so I joined that one. Then the slow woman in the fast lane moved over and started backstroking quite badly – ie. splashing arms going horizontally not vertically – in the middle lane. Oh dear. I know: I encourage anyone to be fit and swim. Just not when I’m already in a grump because I’ve forgotten my goggles.

But I’m supposed to have got over my dislike of crowded public pools. Even in crowded pools I can always get a workout. And it’s hard to be grouchy to the sound of giggling children. So I had a sharp word with myself, did a few lengths, then lurked in the deep end of the aqua-tots lane and did some aqua running. Which is bloody hard. Of course I’d forgotten my special aqua-running belt: why would I actually remember something I need? But it worked. I worked out, enough to get tired. The backstroking woman was still backstroking horizontally when I got out, and I thought, good for her. And I meant it.


Photo from My Vintage London


I’ve had enough of not running now. I’ve compensated with workouts and swimming, and I’ve come to love swimming, enough to get over my dislike of public pools, and to stop at a random leisure centre between one speaking engagement and another, and swim in a gloriously empty 25m pool for an hour. But still, I want to run. I really want to run.

But I had to wait. My physio still said no running, and I trust her. I also dread running and the pain coming back like it was before. I had an appointment with the Coach House Physio podiatrist so I waited for that as if it was going to be the velvet glove around a guillotine. That was on Monday. Karen, the podiatrist, comes down from Edinburgh every couple of weeks to work at Coach House. She’s soft-spoken, she inspires confidence and she carries a regular protractor. “There are fancy ones on podiatry websites,” she said, “but they only do what this does.” So armed with this:




she watched me walk, then some more. She looked pleased and said I was walking well. That is a big change. Last week, my physio Lucy, and the NHS physio I went to, both said my hip was dropping and my right leg was doing a weird rotation as I walked. But I have actually done the glute exercises I was supposed to, and apparently they work. The idea is to strengthen my pelvic region, hips and glutes, to lessen the impact on the posterior tibial tendon. I also need to relax my upper back, which has limited extension, because of my poor posture and years of sitting hunched over computers. I haven’t been doing my back exercises, but I have been swimming, which is perfect for improving arm rotation. Anyway, something is working. Karen took angles of my legs and feet, and pronounced my legs to be the same length, which they weren’t when I first went to see Lucy at Coach House, when my right leg had shortened because of all the stress on the ankle (I can’t remember the physics or physiology behind that but it made sense at the time).

But now, I am aligned. I am symmetrical. I am almost better.

My carbon fibre orthotics, the price of which made me wince as much as my ankle pain, will arrive in a few days. Yesterday I saw Lucy again, and arrived just as Jessica Ennis-Hill was leaving. I did the British thing of studiously not demonstrating that I knew who she was, which is a way of showing her that I am trying not to notice her and amounts to much the same thing as staring.

Lucy is also happy with me. She kept grinning. Everything is moving better. The nerves around my tendon are gliding better. I was still in pain when she manipulated them, but last time I was crying, and this time I just winced a lot. She told me something interesting and possibly alarming: that her mother has a ruptured posterior tibial tendon (physios call it the post tib), and her arch has disappeared for good. She said her mother is a keen cyclist, “but she’s menopausal.” Then she stopped, as if the connection between post tib rupture and the menopause was obvious. I said, “what’s that got to do with it?” and she said, in a tone of surprise, “collagen.”

This made sense. Already, as I am peri-menopausal, I notice my skin flaking and falling off once a month. Menopausal hormone changes damage collagen. Lucy said it’s really common for menopausal women to have post tib problems.

Great. So I’ve that to look forward to.

But in better news: she is so pleased with my progress, that once I have got my orthotics, and worn them in gradually and properly, over a week, I CAN RUN. Only for fifteen minutes, and then I must have a day’s rest to see how my foot reacts. But still, I can run! Already, I’d been planning my first run. I went walking with FRB around Roundhay Park on Saturday, and decided: it will be Roundhay Lake. In about a week.

Because I want to run now. I’m tired of being patient and stoic. I will not do anything daft. But I will run.

One month

One month of not running. Of mostly not running. I am in France where I have a beautiful village house (that is, one without a garden but a lot of history and hills out front and back). Here, I get to borrow my friends Cathy and Shaun’s delightful dogs, and although Molly and Maggy are now 13, they still love to walk, and off we go, up and down hills. On one of my favourite walks, around the back of this 11th century chapel in the village, I had a shock: the gorgeous grassy path has been churned up by machines. Trees have been uprooted and tipped by the side of the track; others have been felled. Stone has been quarried. I didn’t know anything about it, as I haven’t been here for months, so it was a shock. “Ça fait mal au coeur,” said Marie-Françoise, who lives here full-time, when I asked her about it. It’s a deal, apparently, that the village has been resisting for years. A private forestry company wants access to get to the trees at the top of the hill, and for reasons I don’t yet understand, the French forestry commission has allowed them to do it. So a path has been dug up somewhat brutally, for profit. Other villagers are sanguine about it and I understand why: jobs and industry are scarcer and scarcer here, which is the village has so few young villagers, because most have left for work. It used to have factories and bars and restaurants and cafes (my house was one of them), and now it has none. The nature will recover, they tell me. And trees must be felled. Still, it was a shock. I walked up the machined mud and thought how brutal we are, us humans, to nature. How we feel such entitlement, always, and how that will be the death of us. Really.

But then I got to the top of the climb, and managed to get over a huge pile of rocks that the road-builders had callously left blocking a public path, and then the path was the path again: green, and quiet, and serene, and luscious. So when I got to the steep, rocky ascent, I was so pleased to be on my favourite path, and for it to look like my favourite path, I ran a bit. On rocks, downhill. It was stupid. But I just wanted to run. It was only for 100 metres, though FRB and another running friend chastised me for it. But I think I have been very strict and very good and very patient, and 100 metres of running in a month is forgivable. And we have had such beautiful walks.

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The dogs though have now gone to Spain for a week, so I am back to my bodyweight workout. I started doing this in the pétanque court in the village, which gave some villagers some entertainment. The court is picturesque, but it’s got far too much dog shit, just like most streets in the village. (But change is on the way, says the mayor. There will be scoops.)



I use the New York Times 7 minute workout, which is a high-intensity body weight routine. It does probably only take 7 minutes, though I rarely have my watch and have never timed it.12well_physed-superJumbo


I’ve modified it to take pressure off my tendon: No jumping jacks or running in place. I do kettlebell swings to get my heart rate up, or if I don’t have a kettlebell handy, fast ab cycles. I never do squats with flat feet any more, but raise them on a ledge or step. That helps. I love the workout because you can do it anywhere, so I’ve been doing it in the pétanque court, and on my friends’ terrace while I cat-sit their Maincoons. I try and do it at least twice a day.

And yesterday I finally got on my bike. I first came to this village in 2007, to write The Big Necessity. I was here for six months, and I wasn’t a runner, so I bought a Giant bike from a man nearby who rents out bikes in the summer. It’s a woman’s straight-handlebar road bike, it’s very light and has never failed me.IMG_6008


I’ve never used it as much as I should here. I feel I should use it more because it’s cycling country. There are signs on all roads telling cars to respect bikes by passing them at 1.5 metre distance, and there is in general a great respect for cyclists. There are far more cyclists down here (in the foothills of the Pyrenees) than runners, and they are almost always in ridiculously branded kit. When I was living here in 2007, I went to the US for some last-minute research and spent ages looking for cycling kit that didn’t say La Poste or some sponsor on it. I found some in a bike shop uptown where Matthew Broderick was also buying a bike.

Every time I come, I intend to cycle for 50km or a Proper Ride, and never do because I love walking so much.

My physio had advised me not to cycle for the first few weeks, and I obeyed. But she gave me dispensation just before I left to have a go to see how it feels, so I did an experiment by cycling 10K to the bakery and back. That was fine. Yesterday I went further and did my favourite 20K loop. It has 1000 feet of ascent, which is not much considering all the hills around here, and it’s stunning. IMG_6009 IMG_6007


I loved that ride, and it seemed fine too, but today I’m not sure. My tendon is not exactly sore, but it’s not asymptomatic either. And it has been so much better. Sometimes I even think I may get to run again soon, though I also dread doing a few miles and that familiar soreness coming back. Posterior tibial tendon issues, from everything I’ve read, are persistent, difficult and a bugger to repair. So much as I’d still love to do that 50K ride, I won’t. Bakery runs, and back to the modified weight workout, until further notice.


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