Phew. Ok, maybe training does work after all. Anyone who has been following my blog, will know that I suffered from yet another injury in April. It was seven days before the Commonwealth Games marathon and, without warning, I woke up one morning unable to put weight through my right foot. Several scans later, a major stress fracture in my ankle talus bone was diagnosed. Far away from my support team of friends and family, it was quite possibly one of the toughest weeks I have had in my athletics career. From dreaming of winning a medal for Northern Ireland at a major championships, to being in a boot and crutches was tough. The months of April, May and the best part of June were lost to the injury. The build up back to fitness, then began.
The road back to where I was at the start of April has been a long one, and I have not even reached the finish yet. With four months of relatively niggle free training behind me, I was hopeful that I was over the real grind. The sessions where hitting even average times was tough. Where it was a struggle to get the steady runs done, simply through a lack of fitness. Before the Copenhagen half marathon in September, I thought I was coming out the other side. The race however, bought me back to reality with a bang. Yes, fuelling issues were probably more likely to blame for my poor run, but still, the confidence boost I was hoping for had not yet occurred. In every race since July my times, while still poor, were getting better and progression was being made. I had everything crossed that the trend would continue.
The inaugural Commonwealth half marathon was to be held in Cardiff at the start of October. While it was not the major championships in which I had hoped to wear the Northern Irish vest this year, it would at least ease the pain (very slightly) of missing the marathon in April. With the half marathon course being similar to the 2016 World half marathon course where I finished 14th, I knew it was fast and enjoyable to run along. After the year, that I had had, I was keen to at least take a step in the right direction, to set me up for the Winter races ahead.
Looking at the startlist, two days before the race, I knew I was not in shape to contend at the front end. Both the strength and depth of the field looked much stronger than what the marathon would have been in Australia. Yet still, I was optimistic that if I had a good race, I could place highly and get the confidence boost I craved.
After the disappointment in Copenhagen, the previous month, the plan was to go off at a safe pace. This was not the time to chance everything and go off hard. Going through 10k in 30.50, it was a conservative first half. Then it was the moment of truth. I began to stretch out the legs and relax into my running. In recent months, this was the time when the body said no. The time when things began to go pearshaped and I would have to struggle to reach the finish line. This time, however, was different. I began passing people. One runner, then another, then a group of people. I still was not moving exceptionally fast, but after months of grinding out runs and sessions, it felt nice to be moving freely once more. I ran the second 10k in 30.06, a decent negative split. I finished in 15th place in a time of 64.05, well off my personal best. But I was happy, very happy. It was my fastest time in over two years, feeling comfortable, after a very relaxed first half. I know if I had gone out stronger, there was more time to be had.
I left Cardiff with the confidence boost I needed. It proved to me, if I had any doubt, that the training I am doing is working. That each week, I am improving. With some big races coming up in the near future, the fitness is starting to come together. I am keen not to rush things. This comeback has been a slow, but necessarily slow, journey. With little over twenty months until the Tokyo Olympics (yes, it is that close), all the small blocks are falling into place. I have a team around me that I trust. I have no injuries or pains to report. After a disappointing two years, hopefully things have started to turn a corner. Right now, I am looking forward.