A few days ago I found myself lying mostly naked in a darkened room while a young man with long, dextrous fingers surveyed me with an eager-to-please expression.
From somewhere behind me Billie Holiday crooned gently. The air smelled of rosewater potions and hot wax. I should have been in seventh heaven. Instead I was utterly despondent.
The young man, a blackbelt in the art of sports massage, advanced upon me and whispered gently: "Can you show me the area which is hurting you?"
The previous week had seemed so promising.
Full of fresh excitement about my abilities I had bounded into the next phase of my training with new resolve. After the Brighton Half Marathon I had discovered with respect my body's capacity for learning from the training I was pushing myself through. I was no longer going to play it safe. I was not going to plod along at the back of the crowd. I was going to really run, damn it.
The next long run was an epiphany. Rather than hiding my James Bond GPS watch under my sleeve to ignore it and try to forget the distance I had to run -- I would cautiously peer at it after 16 songs, or the third hill, and hope to be pleasantly surprised by how little I had left to do -- I used it to monitor and improve my performance. (Cue chorus from the run-o-sphere: well, DUH!) Holding myself to a strict time target for each mile: checking my watch and not allowing myself a gentle jogging breather at the top of inclines or a more stately pace across uneven fields I sliced almost four minutes from my half marathon time and continued to keep pace for a further two miles.
Cue jubilation at hitting 15 miles in two and a half hours (yes, yes I know -- but if you're so fast why are you reading this and not out with your Olympic colleagues at some pasta party?) It was swiftly followed by extreme pain. It wasn't agony, not quite. The top of my left leg -- that peculiar little twang from a week ago -- had developed into something so sore that I couldn't walk or stretch without grimacing. So I walked, stretched, took a long bath and decided to ignore it.
The next day I went to the gym and did lots of lunges and squats. The day after that I ran 7 miles in a whisker over an hour. The evening after that the pain in my leg was so bad that I asked my trainer for advice, batting away flutters of panic as I did so. She asked me lots of precise questions. Then she said she thought I had tendonitis. The cure: stop all running, entirely, immediately, for 6 to 8 weeks. Unless you're in the last 7 weeks of training for a marathon.
I took two days of rest, iced my leg, stretched it, submitted to an embarrassing (if rather lovely) massage. I bought anti-inflammatory drugs, pain relief rub, magnesium muscle spray, "mobility" bath salts and a waist-high stack of power bars to give me extra strength. I tried not to think about it too much. I thought about it all the time.
The evening before my next long run -- the 17 miles circled on my training programme -- I ate chicken, brown rice and a mixture of peas, leeks, broad beans and spinach. That night, I counted every grain and pulse back out again, bent groaning in the bathroom through the wee small hours as the norovirus struck. My husband, similarly afflicted, and I shuffled in and out of that room for the next 24 hours like the figures on a Swiss clock (BARF! It's three o' clock!) then spent the following 24 hours immobile and groaning.
Today I have eaten lunch but am not sure how I feel about dinner. I have to go and stretch and rub the leg that is steadily throbbing as I write this. And tomorrow I have to go and do sprints for an hour or so, the first day of training in five days. I should be in the hardest and most intense period of my marathon training. Instead I am feeling like my fourteen year old self when school sports day came around with its weary inevitability: how am I going to get through this without revealing the depths of my uselessness?
But on my desk in the next room is an envelope, propped against the bulging, overspilling file of documents about my daughter. It holds a letter from the council that says they will meet to consider her case on March 16. A group of strangers will take five minutes on that day to consider our request for extra help. They need to see proof that we really, really need it and that we will really, really fight them for it.
To them my daughter is just another case.
It's all the reminder that I need of why I'm doing this. So tonight I'm packing my bag for the gym.
Grace Under Pressure: going the distance as an Asperger's mum, will be published by Piatkus in October 2012