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Injury and the 2021 Marriott’s Way Trail Marathon.

In short, I ran a trail marathon with a suspected broken big toe: here’s the longer version…

It wasn’t my intention to run this year’s Marriott’s Way Trail Marathon competitively: for me it’s not that kind of event, and I hadn’t trained for it in any structured way. There has certainly been no tapering, which is evident given I decided to run 20 miles of trail five days before the marathon. I tend to disagree with the strict post-long run recovery periods you often read and hear about: I prefer to recover based on how I feel. That’s just me though, and I would never suggest that good periods of recovery are not essential, I just think the approach can be more personal as you gain experience. But regardless of my views around recovery, my long run before the marathon put paid to any ideas of running Marriott’s Way in anger.

From my house to Wicken Lode along the river and back is about 20 miles, and I fancied a few hours alone in the sun during a week of leave from work.

There’s loads of them along the river in Ely!

Once I got on to the riverbank heading away from Ely, it became evident that there was more cattle than usual; at least, it felt that way, and although there was the usual huge bull on the river bank, my concern was more about the nervous cows with their young. Getting out of their way involved a wide berth and negotiating overgrown banks, so I trotted behind the herd, trying not to move too suddenly or to get too close (the cows can get spooked when they have young). Eventually, the whole gang broke into a trot and ran down a path leading to the side of the riverbank: I made a mental note to keep an eye out for this skittish lot on my return journey.

The run was gorgeous, if a tad too hot and exposed for a long run, I reached Wicken Lode and headed back on the same route. When I encountered the cattle again, I glanced at my watch and noted I had reached 24K in distance, and the herd, including the huge bull, were all below and to the right of the high bank I was running on. I was concentrating on them more than where my feet were landing, and I stubbed my left big toe on a raised part of the bank, which caused me to fall heavily. I had decided on very light road shoes given it was so dry, and this pair afforded hardly any toe protection, and when I got up and carried on, I could feel that something wasn’t right with the toe, but it was not so painful that I had to stop running.

I ran the remaining 8K home, and inspected the toe: it looked terrible. The new nail that had grown to replace the one I lost as a result of running the Peddars Way Ultra had split horizontally, and the end of the toe was a deep purple. Without a trip to the local Minor Injuries (I couldn’t be bothered), I decided that a fracture was likely, maybe a spiral one. My wife disagreed and thought I was making a fuss. Either way, I was pretty sure that Marriott’s Way was not going to happen.

I was surprised at the number of people who recommended that I just strap the injured toe to the next one and get on with it, and if I am honest, this advice appealed to my attitude to running distances: that of overcoming the obstacles and getting it done. So, days later, I found myself back at the start of the Marriott’s Way Trail – a race I have ran before at the marathon and half marathon distance. I met up early with fellow Ely Runner Andrew Scarlett, and we discussed how we wanted to approach the race. Andrew told me his intended pace, I wiggled the strapped up toe and told him he would be running without me; he said we should just ‘see what happens’. I have come to appreciate that Andrew is as tough a runner as they come, and if he had decided on a certain pace and time, that was what was going to happen. I lost sight of him within a mile of us being sent off in covid-safe waves!

Waiting with Andrew Scarlett to start the Marriott’s Way Trail Marathon

The organisation, as is always the case with Positive Steps events, was superb, and even more so while we find ourselves still in the grips of the pandemic. No need to go over the things Kevin Marshall and his team did to mitigate the risks – let’s just say it was all reassuring.

I rather surprised myself in the end. I had water with me, so I did not use any of the aid stations the event laid on. I had also told myself I would treat this as an ultra and walk anything that I found tricky, or to take on a run walk run strategy in general; in the end I just ran it: no walks, no aid stations, and no food. The trail was pretty flooded at various points, with the water ankle deep at times, and there were some very muddy sections, but this added to the fun, and my overall sense of achievement. No sub-4; but then, I think those days are gone for me, but I was happy with 4:22 and having got through it with an injury. Andrew finished in just under 4 hours, and given the conditions on the day, this is amazing.

Home in time for tea and medals!

If you like trail, and you like distance running, do take a look at the events offered by Positive Steps.

During my drive home I thought about two challenges that were next on my list: the ‘Run Around the World Virtual Challenge’, and bang in the middle of this, the ‘Virtual Montane Lakeland 100 Miler’. More on these next time, but for now, I can report that these events seem a little less daunting to me having got through Marriott’s Way in one piece.

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