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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My mother looked at me suspiciously, just after I’d told her I was off running. “You’re taking this surprisingly well,” she said. “I thought you’d be weeping and wailing.” She’s right. I am taking this surprisingly well. I also thought I would be weeping and wailing, not least because I thought I was so dependent on running to keep my brain and moods stable. It’s not that I don’t miss running. I do. I supported my club-mates at the Meanwood Valley Trail race on Saturday, along with FRB, and although I got to borrow our chairman’s lovely Nikon camera and take photographs, I was wandering around before the start wishing I was wearing shorts and about to run seven miles through the woods on a beautiful sunny day. And today is another beautiful sunny day. It’s nearly 19 degrees, and too hot for me to run in, but I’m feeling wistful about a late evening run on the dusk at the end of a hot day. I love cooling twilights after heat. Instead, I went to the physio, to be poked and prodded with total professionalism and considerable pain. I’m not sure which hurt more: my kidney, my QLS (I think; anyway somewhere in my back); my outer ankle, which is extremely tight because it’s been compensating for the inner one, or the other way round; or my inner ankle. Actually, as I’ve just winced in memory of what she did to my inner ankle, that was definitely the most painful. I think I actually bit the pillow.

But it’s all doing me good. I know it is, and I think I am not weeping and wailing because I know it will work, and I will get stronger. Also, in a way, not running has been a revelation. Yoga: I haven’t done yoga for years, since I started running. I’ve done Pilates, but that’s more like gym stuff. I don’t care for spiritual yoga, or chanting Sanskrit in a room in Leeds, which is just daft, but I think yoga is more holistic than Pilates. I’d forgotten how much I like it. So I started Operation Fell Soon with very good intentions and practice, waking up at 6am to get to a 7am yoga class by SweatYogaFit at Northern Monk Brewery. It was fabulous. I really loved Helena’s teaching style, and how she would say, “if you’ve got room [in your body], do this but if you haven’t, it doesn’t matter.” I wasn’t as stiff as I thought (though my physio today actually did an intake of breath at one point, so she would disagree), and at the end I thought, that was actually a good workout. Running has made me a running snob; I disdain cycling, I abandoned yoga and I haven’t been swimming for years.

The class was £6 and afterwards I paid another £4 and had breakfast at Northern Monk, which was great. It was home-made granola with cacao nibs and compote. Plus coffee of course. I may have started doing yoga but I’m not *that* healthy. IMG_5835


Then, I re-discovered swimming. I got slightly obsessed about aqua-running, which someone had mentioned might be a good idea, so I started googling aqua-running belts, then shoes, then looking for classes. Once I’d wasted all that time, and FRB suggested going swimming, I just thought: sod it, I’ll swim instead. And I’ve been saying for years that I was going to go to Bramley Baths, which are not only stunning:


but community-run. It was lunch-time, and I was worried the baths would be busy, but there were just a dozen of us, and plenty of room to swim. And I launched my aqua-running initiative by going to the deep end, out of my depth, and running on the spot. God, it was HARD. I was exhausted after 100 kicks, and I did 5 sets of them. Aqua-running is supposed to be brilliant at maintaining cardio fitness for injured runners, and I can see why. So, Operation Get Fell Soon continues. Next week I may be allowed to cycle, but not yet.


It’s official. I’m crocked. I can’t run, and I probably shouldn’t cycle, but I can swim, yoga, walk. Still, crocked.

To back up:

Last week I booked an appointment with a physio clinic in Leeds. I’d asked my club-mates for recommendations and several had recommended X’s practice. I phoned X, he phoned me back, he was very nice and sounded like he knew what he was talking about. I made an appointment, but it was ten days away, as X works with a local rugby team and was accompanying them somewhere. I phoned him back as I was in a bit of a panic. I was still in conflict about whether to run the Manchester marathon, and I thought I’d better see someone sooner rather than later. He agreed, and booked me in with one of his employees. I had high hopes. Probably too high: I wanted a judgment on whether I should run the marathon, and also a long-term rehabilitation plan.

I turned up in time and waited outside. The premises are next to a hair salon, and physio clients wait in the salon but I thought that was odd so I sat outside the studio, which had the blinds down. And they stayed down. My appointment was at 4.30. That came and went. I began to wonder whether I’d got the time wrong. At 4.40, Y. came out. Now, some more backstory. Some club-mates had recommended X, but one who I trust had said he’d had a really bad experience with one of X’s physios and not to see anyone else but X. The night before I’d run alongside another club-mate who has been suffering with quad issues for months. She told me she’d seen a woman at X’s clinic who she described as quite dippy, and didn’t recommend her. When I met Y. I realised it must be the same woman. Never mind.

I sat down and she started to get my history. I told her: I’ve had the problem before, it went away, it’s come back with fell-running and – I think – because I now run in minimalist shoes and now forefoot-strike. I’d brought my running shoes with me, and pointed at them. She turned and looked at them, and didn’t ask to see them. Not a good sign. I told her I wanted to run a marathon and she asked how long it was. After she spent twenty minutes asking me questions, she got me to lie down. She massaged my ankle area, stretched my hamstrings, told me they were tight. I told her I thought my ankle was less inflamed when I ran downhill, particularly when I made sure to heel strike. She said, “you should try and do that all the time.” What, run downhill?

I asked if I should ice it or rest it or use heat. She said, “you should see which helps.” I asked if I should tape it. She said, “that might help,” but didn’t tell me how to. I asked if I should do the marathon and she said, “that’s up to you.” Really helpful. She suggested trying Biofreeze, did a bit more manipulation then said, “that’s all I’ve got time for.” I’d only been in there 40 minutes. Then she said they only took cash, so I left and walked up the road to a cashpoint. I heard “ROSE!” being yelled, and she was running up the road with her clipboard. I thought I’d stolen something. She said, breathlessly, that she thought I should see a sports medicine consultant, and that she was going to talk with her boss. That night, she left me a phone message saying she was now sure it was posterior tibial tendinopathy and it wouldn’t be a good idea to do the marathon.

So this is what she didn’t do:
— look at my shoes
— watch me walk, jump, move
— give me any clear advice
— give me any rehab exercises
— give me any long-term plan

I was furious. And despondent. I got home and did some more injury Googling. I read again what I’d read before, but this time it hit me: posterior tibial tendon problems can be progressive. They can lead to a ruptured tendon, knackered arch and flat foot. They could mean I never run again. I decided not to do the marathon.

And I booked an appointment with another physio. The Coach House is well-known in Leeds. Alison Rose, one of the directors, treated Jessica Ennis after she broke her ankle. The Brownlee brothers go there. I’d looked at it, as it had been recommended along with X, but it was £65 and seemed expensive.

I’ve just come back from my appointment. It was worth £65. It was like a mirror image of the idiot physio from last week. I was a bit nervous after last week’s disaster, so that after I’d made the appointment, and the practice manager told me I was booked in with Lucy, I looked Lucy up and saw she had been a competitive diver and knew about diving. A diver? I want a runner! I phoned back and said, with some alarm, “but does she know about running?” The practice manager calmed me down, reassured me they all know about running, and reminded me to bring my running shoes. A good sign.

I got to the treatment area, and Lucy first took my history. She looked at my shoes and orthotics. Then she asked me to walk, then walk on tip-toe, then on my heels. She got me to move in all sorts of directions, in all sorts of ways, from my toes to my upper back. This took about half an hour. She was calm and friendly but not unnecessarily chatty. I really liked her. Her professionalism gave me confidence. She finished checking out my movements then told me her conclusions:

— my upper back is very immobile (not a surprise, when my posture is so terrible); my extension upwards and sideways is very restricted and that limitation is probably impacting all the way down my body
— the ankle area is very inflamed. She said, “But we knew that already!” She said even the nerves that should be gliding were not gliding.
— she said she was most worried that the ankle bone felt so tender. She said, “it’s not presenting as a stress fracture but if we don’t do something about it and you keep running, I’d be very concerned”
— my glutes don’t fire, and my hip flexors are a tangle

Then she said, swiftly, we can work on all of it. She loosened my back for ten minutes, stuck her fingers into my hip flexors – OW! – and under my rib cage. At this point I remembered to tell her that some of my organs are stuck together with endometriosis. She said, with her fingers probing under my ribs, “that’s your liver,” but I have no endo excuse for that one. We agreed though that endo is a good excuse if for example my kidneys were up around my ears.

The most important thing she said, apart from the fact that I nearly have a stress fracture, is that I can’t run. No high-impact anything. The aim is to get my ankle pain-free and then start to strengthen it. Meanwhile we work on untangling and loosening everything else. She gave me exercises to do, but not too many, and she demonstrated them but more importantly gave me a sheet with them clearly pictured. She said she would book an appointment with the podiatrist for new orthotics, as mine were old and worn.

And she gave me confidence that she could help me. That, actually, is the most important thing of all. I want to get fixed. I want to get back on the fells, and I will do what it takes to get there. Even if I have to go bloody swimming.

I’ll be back


Yesterday Nicky Spinks ran up 27,000 feet of ascent over 66 miles and 42 of the Lake District’s highest peaks in 18 hours and six minutes. She broke her own women’s record by six minutes. She is 47 years old, has had breast cancer and a hysterectomy, and she is an astonishing athlete. What an achievement.

Yesterday I ran 10K through the woods and canal of Guiseley and Esholt. It took me 1 hour and 1 minute or so, which is the slowest time I’ve ever run a 10K race in, even an off-road one. I ran without a watch. My aim was to get round without my ankle or tendon exploding, and I did. That was my achievement, and I’m happy with it even if my ankle isn’t.

Of course Nicky Spinks did something more marvellous than I did. But even her amazing result has been reported by no newspapers or TV. I pointed this out on Twitter and was told – by men – that fell running is not a spectator sport. When I’ve argued with the sports editor of the Guardian, he made a case similar to the one he makes in this piece by the Guardian readers’ editor, that when they publish stories about women’s sport, hardly anyone reads them. Might that be because women have been so drastically excluded from mainstream sports coverage that they don’t bother picking up the sports sections any more? I don’t, because if I do I just get angry. They are profoundly insulting, because they don’t acknowledge women in any way. The odd female by-line, usually accompanying a piece about men’s football, doesn’t count. As FRB pointed out yesterday, the Sunday Times ran a full page spread on the Augusta golf tournament, which hasn’t even happened yet, and a tournament in which a British woman had a good chance of winning, and which *has* happened, was given one paragraph. Elsewhere in the Sunday Times, admittedly, there was a good article on the Oxford and Cambridge women’s rowing teams, who are for the first time being allowed to race on the same stretch of the Thames. It didn’t say so in the piece (which is behind a paywall), but I get the sense that this was only contemplated while accompanied by the promise of a large amount of sponsorship for the mens’ race. It’s the thoughtless exclusion that enrages me: that whenever anyone asked the organizers of the Boat Race – the Sunday Times weirdly called the piece Boat Grace – why the women had to race on a further away stretch of river, no-one could give an answer. Also in that piece, a statistic on how much women’s sport is covered in British TV and newspapers. TV: 10%. Newspapers 2%.

I’m not suggesting that cameras should have accompanied Nicky Spinks on the Bob Graham Round. Fell running is a minority activity and I hope it stays that way, as does everyone who gets up the fells. We like the space. I just mention her because it’s an example of amazing achievement that will never be applauded widely. Just as Jo Pavey has been dropped by Nike, yet they have decided to sponsor drugs cheat Justin Gatlin. Inconceivable.

Anyway. Well done, Nicky Spinks. Well done, me and my posterior tibial tendon.

Nicky, post-run:

Me, post-run: