On New Year’s Day I cut my toenails; I really wish that I hadn’t.
Or rather I really wish I had managed to cut them properly. I somehow slightly misjudged the angle of one little clip. Instead of cutting straight across the top, I had somehow managed to cut diagonally into the side of the toe. For reasons unknown, this resulted in the underside of the nail becoming infected, and over the course of the next two days I saw the nail bed progress from healthy to burning red to a white hot patch. Luckily, a few days later, things came to a head (literally and metaphorically), and some improvised minor surgery with a sterilised pin, plenty of Dettol and hot water, and, some questionable language later, the mess that was causing pressure underneath the nail oozed forth in a stream of puss. The relief was great; although the smell wasn’t.
As I get older I keep thinking that running’s real gift is finding new ways to taunt me with dubious injuries. It’s a generous gift too; it keeps on giving. Only a couple of months before I’d broken a different toe without ever fully understanding how I’d managed to do it. The resulting missed training was only slightly less frustrating than the fact that the only explanation I could give for the intense bruising of foot and blackness of mood was that, ‘I put my foot down on an uneven bit while running downhill’. On saying this for the hundredth time (by way of accounting for my ungainly lumbering around at work), I got a glimpse of someone looking at me as if they thought I was vacant. Or simply an idiot. Either way, nothing reminds you more about the weird things that happen to your body as you approach a certain age than, well, the weird things that happen to your body as a consequence of running.
Mind you, I don’t need to be running. When I started getting active again a few years ago I somehow managed inflict a bewildering injury upon my back while turning in my sleep. This sort of decrepitude was simply unfathomable in my youth. I approached my health and general wellbeing with the insouciance and diffidence that characterised my younger self. Perhaps we all do. The beauty of running is the comforting contradiction that it brings: we can rage against the dying of the light, but there is no guarantee that our bodies will always hold up. But mostly they do. And that is comforting.
Apart from my right calf. That’s not comforting. Unless you count the alarming regularity with which it starts to throb and nag away; then it’s only comforting in its predictability. Just days after a track session it started to tighten again. In a way, I’m pleased that it did. Looking back over my Strava for the last year it is clear what causes it to complain. It’s not running hard, or races, or marathons. It’s the track. There are two positives here. The first is the fact that I have no desire or ambition to run or race on the track. The second is that I don’t need to train on a track in order to make progress in the marathon. The negative is the fact that the local track session on a Wednesday is brilliant. It’s a great mix of people, speeds, talents and efforts. It would be great to be able to do these and get something out of the sessions, but alas, it’s not to be.
There is another reason why I’m pleased that it throbbed. It reminded me of the importance of setting a clear objective for the purpose of each session. To be honest…I let this slip. I’d planned for a fartlek session, which given that I was still on holiday, I could have done off-road and in the light. This would have allowed me to run a bit quicker in a less structured way. At this stage in marathon training it was precisely the session I needed to do. There was a reason I had planned it. Instead I mistakenly opted for the track; l ended up slipping my way through a session which, at this stage of marathon training, was inappropriate. It wasn’t even a vaguely relevant session. Result: aching right calf. And, like the toenail incident, it meant not missed runs, but much shorter, easier ones. Lesson well and truly learned. It’s the last time it will happen.
Other than that this has been a productive few weeks. As I write this on Tuesday 23 January I’ve run every day this month for a total of 152 miles. I’m not going to obsess about the fact that I’d planned for around 35 more at this stage. Pleasingly, yesterday’s run with the Burnden Road Runners marathon training group was a hilly 9.5 miles with the last 3 all under 7 minute miles. To be close to marathon pace at the end of a hilly run (even if it was only 9.5 miles) is a nice little confidence boost. But the real value of this month has been the timely reminder not to take any of this too seriously. Yes, I want to make progress; yes, I want to fulfil my potential, particularly in the marathon; but perhaps most of all, I want to remember to wear my glasses the next time I cut my toenails.