Monday, July 30, 2012


My body's too broken to write anything more than I finished at the moment. But I did - and with 37 minutes to spare! More when I can move again ...

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Paula Radcliffe and me

Well I did the Serpentine 5k faster than expected, got my x-rays done sooner than expected and saw the sunshine on the final leg of the Real Relay to the Olympic Park was much more than expected. Other than that the last few days before the Lakeland 100 have gone pretty much as expected – with the one big exception of the pain in my neck.

I read today that Paula Radcliffe’s appearance in the Olympic marathon could depend on her medical team’s ability to manage the pain from osteoarthritis in her left foot. Painkilling injections haven’t worked and neither, so far, has further treatment from sports doctor ‘Healing’ Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt.

I’ll be relying on ibuprofen for pain management (as little as possible since it has its downside in endurance exercise) and the knowledge that I don’t have to perform to Paula’s standards. However, I am 19 years older than her, and I will be covering 80 more miles. So I reckon I’ll deserve the medal I’m going to do my damnedest to get every bit as much as she’ll deserve the one that I really hope she wins in her fifth and probably final Olympics. Wish us both luck!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Doctor, dentist, x-ray, run

Doctor’s Tuesday, x-ray Thursday, dentist’s at 9.55 and Serpentine 5k at 12.30. Of course there’s no question of me not starting the Lakeland 100 next Friday but I’ll have a better idea of my chances of finishing it – and my likely condition if I do – when I get the results from those four appointments.

The dentist should be straightforward, the Serpie 5k will be slow and the doctor has already told me to ‘follow my nose’ as he can’t really advise me on ‘extreme sports’. Which leaves the x-ray.

I know from my past that I’ve got spinal problems. A sports physio told me years ago that I had mild scoliosis, or curvature, of the spine. The doctor tells me that he can feel bony lesions in my neck. Osteo-arthritis, no doubt. But how severe and is there an underlying injury as well?

We’ll see what the x-ray says. In the meantime, I’ve been piling on the pounds (four in a fortnight) as a result of easing off the mileage. I just can’t get the hang of how to rest without rewarding my dopamine receptors with something or other.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Rest and hope

My legs finally ground to a near-halt on the final mile of the Adderbury half marathon on Saturday, when we found ourselves wading knee-deep through floodwaters from the Sor Brook, which bisects the village. This came shortly after a mudslide across a corn field and would have been great fun had it not been for the fact that the aches in my muscles, the shivers in my body and the soreness in my throat were all suggesting that I was experiencing something more than simple fatigue at the 12-mile stage.

I think – I hope – that I’m unwell. I say ‘hope’ because sometimes, when you fill your life with ultra running at the wrong side of 55, it’s hard to tell the difference between being unwell and being worn out. And I’d rather be unwell than feeling like this as a result of too much running because there’s more of a chance that I’ll feel better in time for the Lakeland 100 in, gulp, 12 days time.

I was supposed to be doing the Fairlands Valley Spartans Challenge today, a multi-distance, all-abilities event I’ve entered regularly in recent years, but even their 12-mile walk feels like a few thousand steps too far. So my preparation for the Lakes now boils down to ‘rest and hope’. I’m going to try hard not to consume too much by way of comfort food, but that tin of Marks & Spensive (as my grandson calls them) biscuits on top of the fridge isn’t going to last long.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Passing on the baton

Tired, tired legs and too much work. Sixteen days to go to the Lakeland 100 and I'm in need of an energy boost. However, I completed my leg of the Real Relay on Tuesday morning and the photo provides the proof.

Actually it doesn't because it shows me receiving the baton from the previous runner at Waltham Cross. You'll have to take my word for it that I passed it on to the next runner in Hertford.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Lost in the woods

After last week’s exertions, I always knew this weekend was going to be tough. Entering a race calling itself ‘The Hurt’, up and down the hills of the Hurtwood, by Peaslake in Surrey, speaks for itself. In the circumstances, I was happy enough to drag myself around the woodland trails at a speed of barely over 5mph (or perhaps that should say 8kph since it was a 24k race). I was surprised to find, when I looked at the results, that a third of the field took even longer than I did. And yes, those hills did hurt – a lot.

On the Sunday I was booked in for the Kent Long Distance Walkers Association’s Andredsweald Circuit, a 26-mile slide across the Wealden clay. It took my tired legs less than two miles to go hopelessly astray in the woods near Forest Row. It was one of those situations in which the route description still makes sense if you go the wrong way. ‘Bear right at grassy triangle,’ said the directions, ‘to join more major footpath (230 degrees).’ I did: it was the wrong triangle and the wrong footpath but on the same bearing.

The directions said the tree line was visible 70 yards to the left. It was. They said to ‘keep ahead on main footpath, rising inexorably’. Up I went. They said to ignore footpath sign pointing ‘neither one way nor t’other’. There was such a sign and I ignored it. I continued uphill as the route description directed and I came across a junction (‘arrow on tree ahead’ – there was one) where I went left as instructed.

I was supposed to come to a lane and then a road at this point. I went a long way up a track that I convinced myself was the lane but there was no mistaking the absence of a road. And because I thought I’d gone the right way I didn’t go back nearly far enough to retrace my steps to where I’d actually gone astray. It must have taken me half an hour to finally get back on track; once you lose your bearings in woods it’s very hard to identify a clear landmark to show you where you are.

I had to get back to London by 6pm that evening, and since I didn’t want to be chasing the clock for the rest of this storm-swept Sunday, I took this as an excuse to drop down to the 20-mile route. That gave me time to rest and enjoy and some of the LDWA’s always-ample snacks and always-amiable company at the checkpoints. And it saved my legs a little for my stage of the Real Relay from Waltham Cross to Hertford on Tuesday.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Still on a high

I’m still on a high from last weekend’s 24-hour race. I’d entered it largely as an attempt to give a final boost to my Lakeland 100 training but it turned out to be a great event in its own right – and I’m still feeling the exhilaration from hitting the 100-mile mark in just over 22 hours. The neck still hurts but the buzz is beating it.

I’ve also been getting a bit of a buzz from the fundraising with some old friends and distant relatives among the recent donors. The grand total is £1,876.98 so far (£2,163.83 including Gift Aid). I’ve now done 863 miles towards the target, plus 420 in training, which doesn’t count. Why, I ask myself, why?

Monday, July 2, 2012

The agony and the ecstasy

Yesterday, after returning from the Run24 24-hour race near Reading, I had a pain in the neck such as I’ve never experienced before. The slightest movement, left or right, up or down, sent paroxysms of pain shooting through my body as bad as anything I’ve ever endured, from broken bones to waking up from the gas while having four teeth extracted. It eased overnight, with the aid of an off-prescription opioid stash – now it just feels like I’ve broken my neck – but for a time I thought I was going to spend the next few months on my back in a body brace.

I’ve been here before (not in the body brace), though without the pain. A little over ten years ago I went to stand up and my left leg gave way beneath me, insensitive to all feeling below the knee. I thought it was pins and needles; it turned out to be a crushed nerve in the lower spine. For a few days I couldn’t walk at all; for a few months I couldn’t walk unaided. When I did, every step involved a tentative placing of the foot on the ground, trying to make sure it was straight enough to provide balance, and that I wasn’t doing unknown damage in the absence of any sensation to warn me otherwise. 

One of the consultants I saw was almost gleefully pessimistic. When we were discussing the possible causes of the problem and I told him I played football regularly, he said only part-jokingly that ‘there is no excuse for grown men playing football’ and complained that it was the cause of more unnecessary injuries than anything else the NHS had to deal with. On the subject of running, he said that if God had intended human beings to pound up and down the pavements of London he’d have given us pneumatic tyres. His general theme was that my chances of a complete recovery were slim and that any activity more vigorous than Zimmer-framing it to the shops (and then only if I kept my spine firmly upright and didn’t twist it) risked total paralysis from the waist down. 

But slowly sensation returned, and eventually – with no small sense of gratitude for being given the full use of all limbs again – I returned, among other things, to playing football and running. Yesterday, for a while, I was reminded of what a blessing it is to be fully mobile and pain free.

That sense of blessing was all the stronger for the fact that Run24 had gone like a dream. I’d entered it at the last minute, largely because I felt I needed more miles in my legs before attempting the Lakeland 100 in four weeks time. Because it involved five-mile laps around a fixed woodland circuit, I’d not only be able to do as much or as little as I felt up to on the day but I could do it without carrying a pack, leaving anything I might need at the start. And because it would be relatively flat (at least compared to the Lake District), on tracks and paths that are reasonably suitable for running, and without any element of self-navigation, I’d be able to go a bit faster than I normally can over ultra distances. I had my eye on doing 100 miles inside the 24 hours.
My race strategy, if you can call it that, was to aim at doing 12 laps – 60 miles – in the first 12 hours, leaving a further eight laps to cover in the next 12 hours. So every lap done in under an hour would be time in the bank towards that first target. I figured that I would slow down dramatically as the race went on anyway, so I may as well cover as many miles as possible early on. 

I did the first 25 miles in under four and a half hours, the first 50 in 8hrs 55mins, and reached 100 in 22hrs 3mins 17secs. With almost two hours still remaining, I then embarked on a personal lap of honour, walking virtually all of it and saying my thankyous and goodbyes to the marshals, trees, shrubs, puddles and ruts that I’d become so familiar with. There was still time left on the clock to start another lap when I finished that 21st circuit. If I’d done it, I’d have finished second overall but I just didn’t have it in me. I was delighted with my times, with the distance covered and with a fourth-place finish. And I dread to think what my neck would have been like if I’d put it through another five miles.