So my first foray into minimalist running left me with two very sore calf muscles. That evening I went to my friend Geoff's house prior to going to the cinema to see the very excellent Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa. Geoff, who is much more experienced and fitter, introduced me to his foam roller.
I have to say that running your sore muscles over a foam roller doesn't sound like it would hurt to much.
The truth is that it's agony.
It is very uncomfortable however afterwards the muscles feel looser and much, much better.
Which I think was one of my first mistakes.
The drive to the cinema, the sitting through a film and meal afterwards all served to start my legs seizing up. However at the time I felt fine and walking was, although a little limpy, not to bad at all.
So I agreed to a run with Geoff along the North Downs Way the next day. The route we planned was simple. Maidstone to the Shell garage near Tyland Barn Wildlife Centre then up a steep hill in Westfield Wood and follow the Downs along to Detling before running back to Boxley village and Maidstone.
I had done the route before and it is around 10 miles.
Nice and easy.
The next morning I awake to the inability to walk properly. My sore calves from the day before are now causing me lots of discomfort.
So the day is spent stretching and trying to loosen them up. Eventually they reach a point where moving is, although still uncomfortable, not impossible.
Then I plug in and do a little bit of school work, still stretching my calves under the desk as I type.
This is followed by a big bowl of pasta in preparation for the afternoon run with Geoff.
My camel pack is filled up and readied - with a minor modification to where the lid has broken and has to be sealed with a sandwich bag! Trail mix and cereal bars are also packed into my bag and my phone is fully charged for the GPS.
Geoff arrived at mine and slowly, steadily we set off.
Running, even shod, felt much easier than walking. This was probably due to the bounce into each step and the lack of full movement in my ankle - which would stretch and move my sore calves.
The first part of the run, the slow and steady climb to Westfield Wood went without incident and in a fairly respectable time. The first two miles taking 9:03 and 9:39 followed by a steady 1 mile ascent to the woods at 11:30.
So far so good.
Then the run through the woods up to the North Downs Way. We decided to take a slightly different route up to the top of the hill and after almost getting run down by a mountain biker found that the progress was very steady and slight on the incline.
This worried me as the usual route was a steep incline followed by a semi-plateauing allowing for a walk then run onto the trail.
Either one of two things would happen. The route would not lead to the North Downs Way or the route would suddenly ramp up and have a very steep, lung busting incline.
It was the latter.
We went from 326 ft elevation to 626 ft elevation in under half a mile.
Geoff being used to this sort of thing jogged up without seeming to break stride. I can't run that sort of elevation when my legs are working properly, the best I managed was a 'powerful' stride up.
In my corner though, I never lost sight of Geoff. Although I did have to push off my legs with my arms and one point!
So having climbed in total from 86 ft to 626 ft in 2.50 (ish) miles we then started jogging along the undulating terrain at the top of Westfield Wood. Geoff was in his element in among the trees and trails and although I know he could have kept a quicker pace I managed to keep up fairly comfortably.
At this stage we had managed a mighty 4 miles.
We still hadn't decided to run a half marathon at this stage, we were just out on a nice long trail run on a warm afternoon.
After a quick stop to take on some food and water we proceeded along the North Downs Way. The views from the top of the hill down into the valley that Maidstone and its neighbours occupy are amazing. This and the ever changing terrain. The looking out for slick chalk or large flint pieces really help keep the mind occupied and help you forget about any ailments of fatigue that you may feel.
If that fails then there is always the fact you are running with someone to chat to.
From a personal point of view running alongside a much more experienced and better runner helps 'pull you along' in that you don't want to hold them up or in my case seem to be weak and struggling in front of a friend.
I remember the Hell Runner training run just under a year ago when a large group of us (Geoff included) went for a run after school. I spent most of the run at the back floundering and wondering what the hell I was doing.
Today on this run, even though we probably were not going as quickly, I was at least holding my own.
During the ducking and diving in and out of the way of branches (or through a branch as I did at one point), with Geoffs watch beeping to tell us of each successive mile we completed, we hit upon the idea of extending this and doing a full half marathon distance.
Mistake number 3.
The reasoning was simple. As it often is.
We had run for 5 miles with, apart from the steep incline, no real issues. Even my calves were holding up and surprisingly I was not suffering with my back or knees. I had a fear that not being fully fit my landing on each step would be heavy and might jolt or jar my knees or lower back. Fortunately I feel the route we were on might have been much more forgiving than I had expected.
So the die was cast. Instead of cutting back through Boxley we would stay on the Pilgrims way to the Shell garage and then retrace our steps back to Maidstone via the full length of Grange Lane. This was the lane we ran half of on the way to the garage as we cut into it from my house. Once we had run Grange Lane we could then run up a nice steady hill to Penenden Heath and should, in theory, be able to finish our 13.1 miles at the Bull and have a drink.
The run to Detling was fairly simple and quite pleasant. We ran down the hill and got onto the Pilgrims way. We chatted about ideas for careers outside of teaching, put the world to rights and jogged on.
Eventually the trail we were on died away and we ran along a road until it started up again. We were just under 8.5 miles.
Then things got tough.
The distance from 8.5 miles to 10 miles hurts.
I think it is a psychological thing. I think that when you are on your way 'out' on a run the first 5-8 miles seems to come up fairly easily. You feel fresh and each step takes you closer to the halfway stage. Then you reach about 7 miles and you are halfway to a half marathon.
However it then feels like the slog kicks in, you have still all that you have run so far to do again. Your strength starts to sap. You begin to question what you are doing and focus starts to become harder to come by. You need to drive yourself on almost by sheer force of will.
Or maybe that is just me.
What I do know is that the lane we ran down between 8.5 and 9.3 miles (so less than a mile) was very hard work.
Once the 10 mile marker came things got a little bit easier again. This was down to a few things I think. One, the psychology of being inside the final 3 miles kicks in and you get a boost helping you feel that this is do able. Two, this part of the route was downhill.
So the steady incline at Grange Lane came and went and the run up the gradual hill back to Maidstone appeared. Before we knew where we were, with sore calves (Geoff even admitting his knee was starting to hurt) we arrived at the Bull.
It wasn't 13.1 miles.
We were a mile and a bit shy.
Right a quick change of plan, I knew a route that was 1.1 miles and would loop us around to finish at the Bull, we set off.
We reached the top of a hill up Boxley Road and opposite Heathfield Road. Geoff admitted he didn't have much left. I knew I had already gone past that point.
Through Heathfield, it might just about bring us up to the distance we wanted.
We jogged down the road, worried that it was a cull-de-sac but nonetheless plowing on. Pace completely disintegrated at this point and we were running 12:56 miles.
We reached the main road sooner than expected. Geoffs GPS watch (which we were going on) said that he had half a mile left to do. We did not think we could do half a mile but we were too close to quit.
We ran down past a pub (tempting) and through Heath Woods. More trail and fairly flat. My vision began to go funny due to the low light inside the woods. I struggled to keep my breath from being ragged and had to focus on taking one step at a time.
I find when I get close to finishing runs of set distances that the temptation is to 'run away with it' and try to finish strongly. I get a tremendous sense of anxiety at wanting to finish, for it to be over. This time I had no energy for such an endeavour.
We stopped just off from the park at Penenden Heath. Geoffs GPS still had us shy of the distance. I quickly checked mine.
My app claimed we had run 13.3 miles.
Big grin on my face 'that'll do for me'!
We decided to run around the heath to the Bull for our celebratory drink of IPA. During the run around Geoffs GPS watch counted down to the magical number and it too eventually claimed we had run a half marathon.
Quickly to the bar, with the little strength I had, I returned with the drinks to assess the stats.
13.5 miles covered.
2 hr 30 minutes moving time.
Average pace 11:09/mile.
1,054ft elevation gain.
Calories burnt 2,474.
Total time of run 2 hr 46.
To put that into context the last time I covered a half marathon distance my time was 1 hr 48!
This run hurt. The walk home (in the rain) hurt.
Getting in and out of the bath hurt.
Putting antiseptic cream on my chaffed nipples and rubbed groin hurt.
My shoulders from carrying the camel pack (of which I drank the full 2 litres during the run) really hurt.
My lower back still hurts.
I slept in long socks to try to stop my calves from hurting. They still hurt.
Stairs are my nemesis and sitting/lying/walking all hurts.
And yet I feel great.
I really do, I know I can run a half marathon faster. I intend to do just that over the next week.
I know the future is in front foot running, I just need to spend some time working up to decent distances again and learn from the mistakes of pushing myself.
Yet all the pain and sores and feeling sick fade away with the sense of achievement.
We decided that any run is made better sounding by adding 'trail' in front of it. However with the elevation gain being over 1,000 ft we can add 'up a mountain' to the end of what we did.
That feels a pretty impressive statement!
'A trail half marathon up a mountain'.
So whats next?
Well Strava has 3 categories for 'long runs'.
Half marathon (tick).
Long run - 20 miles.
Marathon - 26 miles.
It sounds insane but next up is 20 miles to try, although I might wait until I can walk a bit more freely first.
Though it isn't insane.
And I can't wait to give it a go.