Waking up on the Way

 It is only a few days in to our trip, but I already feel more myself than I have felt in months.

The daily routine is still changing; when we camp, I wake up around 5:30, cold and half num, starting the stove for porridge and hot chocolate and pack up for a day of walking. When we stay in hostels, I wake up slowly and heavy, spend time cleaning and preparing for a hearty scottish breakfast. So far I prefer the former; I wake up sharp and ready to tackle the days miles.

However, since the first day, one thing has been constant – the pain in my right heel. The last few months have been plagued by injury. The building stress of finishing my PhD, submitting papers and training for my first ultra marathon cumulated with over training, under recovery, bad decisions and injury.

Things seemed to be back on track just days before the start of our trip; I submitted my thesis, submitted my last paper, submitted journal revisions for another paper and an ankle tendon injury had cleared up and I was running again. Too good to be true? You bet.

Four days before getting on a train to Glasgow, I began feeling pain and swelling, this time on the outside of my ankle. After two days rest, I decided to try one final short run to ‘test the waters’. Unfortunately, this lead to a very slow hobble home and the realisation that I was still stuck in the dark hole of injury.

The first few days have been dogged by managing this pain; the first steps of each day and after any prolonged stops are agony and accompany an ugly limp. After 20 minutes my foot eases into a comfortable stride, I notice the pain, but bear it. If we push the day too far, or end on technical terrain, the pain returns for the last few miles and develops into a burning, stabbing pain. Acknowledging the dangers of self diagnosis and drawing on limited knowledge of passing conversations with other walkers and runners on the trail, the consensus however appears to be Achilles tendinitis.

Although each day is painful, and I am a long way from being able to run, the simple joy of spending hours outside on our feet, making a journey north through an ever changing landscape has been priceless. The stark difference from my daily routine over the past 6 months is just what I needed and I would suggest it to any finishing PhD student. The fresh air, quiet and physical distance from work has helped lift a debilitating grey mist that had become the norm.

After a few days rest in Tyndrum the pain has lessened. It has been SO hard to watch others leaving to run the route we will be racing in a months time, but I am highly motivated to finish the Way and not hold back Stacey. I also know that dealing with the pain now will lead to a more enjoyable experience over the next few days in the highlands. With this in mind, we have elected to have our (15+ kg) packs carried for the next 11 km, to compound the last few days of healing.

We have completed the most technical section of the Way, along the rocky shores of Loch Lommond, and now return to the wide and relatively gradual gradients of the old military road. This should provide some rest bite, allowing us to find a comfortable rythm with which to cover the miles.

I am feeling very anxious as to how the first few steps will feel tomorrow morning but, after a few days not moving, we are itching to get back out on the trail and continue our journey.

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