In the month since, despite not getting an official diagnosis on the injury, I've been gradually building up my running time by keeping the pace slow, and my heart rate down. There was still slight pain towards the end of a run, and a flare up the next day if I pushed a little too hard, but by and large I've been fairly good, and every day there is the tiniest bit of improvement, to the point where today I had my first totally pain free run since August 1st.
What has helped has been the purchase of a book called The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing by Phil Maffetone, which has at its heart an approach called MAF Training (Maximum Aerobic Function). The idea is that all training during a base period (ideally 4 months) should be aerobic rather than anaerobic (tempos, intervals, etc). It provides a formula for 180 - your age as the maximum heart rate you should be training at, with some variable adjustments based on certain factors. For example I had to subtract another 5 as I am returning from injury.
Thanks Doctor Phil!!
This formula gave me a MAF target HR of 129, which turned out to be unbelievably slow. So slow that I would have to walk up hills I would normally easily run up. The discipline this took cannot be underestimated. Particularly on a recent hot day when I was overtaken uphill by an overweight bald guy, who commented as he passed "Hard work isn't it?" It took every ounce of self control not to scream at him "I'LL HAVE YOU KNOW I HOLD THE STRAVA CR FOR THIS CLIMB!!".
The theory is that gradually you will be able to run faster at the same heart rate, which will keep you in the zone that teaches the body to burn fat rather than glycogen as it's primary fuel source. So far this has proven to be fairly accurate, with the pace for my morning 8k trail run dropping by about 20 seconds in a month at the same effort. In the last week, I have ditched the HR monitor mainly because staring at my watch constantly was (a) making my HR go up, and (b) making me fall over a lot. I feel like I've got the effort needed to maintain a low HR dialled in, and losing the monitor has provided a more enjoyable daily experience.
This will hopefully make me a stronger, and more durable runner, although I accept in the short term there will be some performance trade offs. It may be 1-2 years before I can run at the same level, and I don't expect to be blasting out a 4:07 at Roller Coaster next year. But I love just running a lot more than I love running competitively, and taking a step back doesn't bother me as long as I can just get out every day.
The steps I took to improve performance through changes in running gait and increased training load proved to be ill-conceived, and I have to accept that I was probably running close to my level, and there simply wasn't any more left in the well to be found. Running slowly again has allowed me to examine my bio-mechanics, and it wasn't pretty. My left glute had stopped firing which was either the cause of, or a result of the injury, placing all the strain on the abdominals and abductors. In addition, I had developed a pronounced lean to the right, probably also because of the injury. Gradually, I'm getting everything back in balance, standing up straighter, and getting the glute driving the left knee forward again. Since doing this, the injury seems to be improving more rapidly.
It was great getting out yesterday for 20k on my local trails, cruising the Mt Eliza Quarry Circuit at an easy pace for my longest run since SCC, and just enjoying the warmth of the day, being by myself in the bush, and happy to be running. I will still try and race about 4 times a year, just to get that competitive buzz, but it's fair to say that the last two months have given me some perspective on its importance.
The start of the climb from Two Bays Road
up the Quarry track
up the Quarry track
View towards Western Port Bay from the Quarry Track lookout