Seven weeks to go: Handstands and hill training

I’m not known for my grace or agility. So when my brother heard I’ve started doing gymnastics, he howled with laughter and said he’d pay good money to see me falling off a pummel horse in a leotard. If he saw what I’ve really been doing – groaning against a wall, upside down with my midriff exposed as I attempt to pull off handstands – he’d have a fricking field day.

Which is fair enough. I’d do the same to him. But I’ve started gymnastics for a good reason: to stop all this running breaking me. It’s seven weeks until the Brighton Marathon, the first of many 26.2 milers in preparation for the Marathon des Sables 2018, described as the hottest, toughest, nastiest foot race on earth. Gymnastics, weights and cross training, I hope, will help improve this type one diabetic former fatso’s slim chances of running 150 miles across the Sahara Desert, and surviving.

Seven weeks

So last Tuesday, I returned to my local Crossfit box for the first time in two years, having recovered from a particularly nasty shoulder injury. I won’t be lifting weights for a while. My plan is to slowly build strength and agility with the gymnastics before I start introducing weights and other workouts. The ultimate goal is to build my capacity to run further and faster while minimising the risk of injury. So I’ll be doing at least two sessions a week, as illustrated on this week’s schedule (above).

Plodding up and down the seafront, night in, night out, won’t help. I’m no expert (see my disclaimer below), but I reckon the longer you run with a weak core, hips, shoulders, whatever… the more uncomfortable running will become because the primary muscles you use when running will be forced to work harder to compensate for weaknesses elsewhere. Keep plodding along without addressing those weakness, and the discomfort will eventually become a full-blown injury.

Here’s an example: after 14 or so miles into a 19-miler in early January my right knee began to ache, not enough to make me stop, but enough to worry me. This was unusual; I’d always thought my knees were pretty sound. I did some reading online (this RW article was particularly helpful) and found that bad knees can often be a sign of weak hip flexors. I began a programme of hip strengthening exercises (lunges, knee raises, banded knee raises, etc) and repeated the run this month. No knee pain. Hurrah!

Hence my lame attempts at handstands. Thanks to the weakness in my shoulder following the injury, I can currently only get to about 60 or so degrees against a wall. As the strength returns to my shoulder I should gradually be able to get to 90 degrees. Staying in that position requires good core and glute strength, so when I’m not red faced upside down against a wall during the gym sessions, it’s planks, v-sits, pistols (one-legged squats) and other assorted tortures for me.

On Sunday, I did 11 miles through a gale on the South Downs. It was horrible. The run took me through more than 2,000 ft of ascent and descent, including a grueling, slippery climb up the aptly named Devil’s Dyke (all in all, a rise of about 500 ft, according to Runkeeper). Usually, my lower back starts to flare up on steep descents, I presume because of my rather flabby and weak core, but on this occasion it kept quiet. The gymnastics is already paying off.

That means more handstands and planks for me. But, sorry bruv, you’ll never get me going near a pummel horse. Or a leotard.

Disclaimer: I have no medical training. I am not a doctor, a nutritionist, a physio or a sports therapist; I doubt they’d even give me job handing out oranges at half time of a football match. I am just a type-one diabetic and former fat bloke with a stupid idea. This blog is my account of following that idea to its conclusion. Do not attempt anything similar without seeking prior medical (and psychiatric) advice.

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