Trying to run during my long break from China this summer (three-and-a-half months away - oh, bliss!), I got frustrated at how easily I exhausted my reserves of stamina... and at how easily I seemed to strain the muscles in the back of my calves.
Then it occurred to me: the sudden unexpected onset of exhaustion and the niggling pains in the back of my leg would both ambush me as I neared the end of a long hill-climb. Not so surprising, really! But the thing is, Beijing is pancake-flat; I hadn't really taken on a proper hill since the last time I was back in the UK three years earlier.
In Oxford this summer, I was living just off the Abingdon Road, to the south of the city centre; and it was a gentle but steady climb all the way into town, becoming abruptly quite a severe climb just beyond Folly Bridge as one approaches Christ Church (I was usually only covering the first few yards of this, up to the entrance of Christ Church Meadow, but it is a much steeper incline than any I have regularly run in China). The month I spent in the States, in Alexandria, VA., I was starting out my run with an even more challenging climb, a mile or so of solid uphill as I headed east towards the river (and then several more lesser hills to negotiate in the last third of the 9 or 10-mile run I was usually attempting).
It is shocking to realise how far I've lost my capacity for hill-running, since in my younger days all the routes I ran were ferociously hilly: the one I ran most often in the last year or two before I came to China, in the countryside just outside Monmouth where my Mum lived, was a brutal succession of short but steep hills. And the 4-and-a-half mile circuit I ran while doing my teacher training in Durham was ALL hills (I suppose some of them must have been downhill; but I can only remember the long, painful uphill sections!).
But now, NOW I find myself struggling even with the mild gradients Beijing has to offer. There is a moderately steep stretch on the north-west side of Houhai lake (not hellishly steep, and only a few hundred yards long) which regularly punches me in the solar plexus. And has me getting paranoid about my calf muscles.
I need to do more flexibility exercises, I know I do.
Or maybe find a proper hill to run again...
When I get back up to being able to run 25 or 30km, I want to have a crack at running Xiangshan - a small mountain park on the north-west outskirts of Beijing. Goals and objectives!