Getting to Mile 23...By Tube

I had deferred my London Marathon place and written my last blog.  So I thought I was finished with my ballot winner’s commitments for this year.  How wrong I was… 

It was two fellow Eagles who pointed out my schoolboy error.  It seems that as a ballot winner I had agreed to write a race day blog.  The fact I hadn’t actually run the marathon was, apparently, an unacceptable reason to renege on this commitment.

Now these two rather stringent Eagles will remain nameless.  Let’s just say they looked suspiciously like Lisa Emerson and Allie Collins and leave it at that.  They pointed out my obligation in the Wellington pub, whilst we celebrated the achievements of those who had not only made it to the start line, but the finish line too.

Now, a more sober man may have checked the ballot winners’ T&Cs but by this time I had imbibed three pints of some disturbing real ale – Runner’s Old Gusset, or something – and so I readily agreed to write a final blog.  My brain was clearly more malleable than my hip.

However, the following day I thought that a final blog may not be such a bad idea after all.  It could be a way of drawing a line under this year, putting things in perceptive and pondering a few lessons learnt.

The truth is that after reluctantly deciding not to run I wasn’t really sure what to do or where to turn.  What should I do between deferral day and race day?  And how would I feel when race day finally arrived? I had found myself in a sort of deferral limbo.  This doesn’t mean I spent a month in Trinidad dancing under a stick, though perhaps I should have as it may have done wonders for my wonky hip.

Instead I moved towards my ‘non- race day’ reading other ballot winners’ blogs and completing the occasional Parkrun if and when my hip felt up to it.  I occasionally went to work too.

When my non-race day finally arrived, it arrived very early.  About 4:30am in my case because Rachel was volunteering at the start.  This meant a certain Mr Walker and a Mr Thomas would be rocking up in a taxi at some unearthly hour before heading off to Blackheath.

Fortunately I soon fell back into a deep slumber and awoke, feeling oddly apprehensive, several hours later.  It was straight into the kitchen to make a cuppa before stumbling bleary-eyed into the front room and whacking on Aunty Beeb (which you’ll be relieved to hear is not a euphemism).

It must be said that the BBC’s coverage of the marathon is pretty good.  But for Deferral Boy here those first few images of the runners, volunteers and spectators were a slight kick in the ribs.  I sat in my chair leaning forward at the screen; elbow on knee, chin in one hand, tea in the other – Rodin’s the drinker.

I don’t mind admitting I was feeling sorry for myself. I had my bottom lip pushed forward like a sad toddler who had missed out on the sweets.  I’m not sure how long I sat there motionless, watching the screen, but the tea eventually went cold and remained unfinished.

Eventually I snapped out of this self-absorbed nonsense and gave myself a stern talking to.  Enough of this feeling sorry for myself; it was time to throw away my limbo stick, get washed and head out to mile 23.  I might even put some clothes on first too.  Yes, there were Eagles and other runners who needed and deserved some jolly good support. 

So it was that a little over an hour later I found myself ambling up the steps of Monument Station and out into the teaming London crowds.  I could hear the thunderous roar of the spectators straightaway. As I headed towards Lower Thames Street the cheers grew louder and for reasons I cannot quite explain it was all music to my ears.  As I ducked under the tape into the Eagles’ zone all deferral blues vanished and I instantly became another spectator and supporter greatly enjoying the atmosphere.

Coincidentally the first two people I met had also deferred and we cautiously asked each other how we were.  It turns out we were all fine and enjoying the day. Throughout the afternoon several other people kindly, but tentatively, asked me how I was feeling and what my injury prognosis was. I really appreciated people asking, though I suspect my answers were edited to shorter and shorter versions as the day went on.

I heard that some people felt it best not to ask on the basis that I was probably fed-up with answering the same questions over and over again. You people are great too because without your forethought it probably would have become a bit wearisome.   As it turns out the balance was perfect.

However, far more important was the convocation of Eagles (apparently that’s the collective noun) who flew past mile 23 throughout the day. One or two stopped for a sweaty hug, most opted for a high-five and at least one danced with Mr Eagle. All looked absolutely awesome.

Later on in the Wellington pub I heard tales of the highs and lows from our ballot winners.  However, I won’t repeat them here in case I spoil someone’s blog.  I think you’re in for a few good reads.

If you ever find yourself having to defer London, or any other race, my advice is to go along anyway and get supporting; maybe even volunteer if you can.  Either way you’re likely to have a great time.  What’s more the achievements and jubilations of fellow Eagles will only serve as a motivator for you to fix, if possible, whatever caused you to defer in the first place.    

My only regret is that I didn’t head out earlier to support at a few points along the route before heading over to mile 23. Nonetheless, my marathon day was a fun-filled afternoon surrounded by a terrific bunch of people.  And what’s more the next day there wasn’t an aching muscle on sore joint to be had.

Quite frankly I don’t know what all the fuss is about…

Store Wars Episode V: A New Hip

Given my new and extraordinary ability to get injured, Rachel and I recently attended an ‘injury talk’ at the Victoria branch of Run and Become.  This talk was given by a world-renowned sports and physio coach whose name now escapes me.  

The evening started off well with the wrong PowerPoint presentation.  This meant we were treated to a few minutes of inadvertent shadow puppetry as our presenter faffed around in front of the projector looking for the right file.

At last we were up and running – so-to-speak – and after being treated to a dreadful picture of a runner whose leg appeared to have snapped in half (cue lots of wincing) we at last got down to what most of the small audience really wanted to know: would they be able to run London?  We asked because between us we had managed to injure our Achilles, knees, hips, feet, shins, toes, earlobes, duodenum or whatever other stupidity we had managed to inflict upon ourselves.

Clearly the invite to this event had failed to manage some expectations (though not mine) as it soon became evident that a free one-hour talk was no substitute for spending forty quid down the physio.  

Nonetheless we were dutifully informed that the cause of any injury is either intrinsic or extrinsic.  This is a rather grandiose way of telling us something most of us already knew; our injuries are either self-inflicted in some way or it’s just unlucky genetics in which case you can blame your parents. 

I’d like to blame my parents but I have no evidence to support this – my mother being an injury-free 80-year-old who manages three to five miles of walking every day.  Even getting hit by a car didn’t seem to slow her down, so what possible excuse have I got?

The truth is I don’t know and our guest presenter, well-informed as he appeared to be, wasn’t about to tell me.  Besides he was dressed in a suit and tie which didn’t exactly make him look ‘sporty’.  Now I know we shouldn’t judge people by the way they’re dressed and there are times when a smart suit is probably the most appropriate attire.  I’m just not convinced a sports related talk in a running store is such an occasion.  Perhaps I’m being unfair.

At the conclusion of the talk the store manager had promised us she would demonstrate some stretching and strength building exercises we could all benefit from.  Unfortunately she struggled to complete the exercises because she had come dressed in a business suit that was too tight to allow for backward lunges and the like.  Again, perhaps sports clothing would have been more sensible? Let’s face it she manages a running shop, so they’re not exactly in short supply.

I didn’t go to this event naively hoping for a miracle solution to the numerous injuries I’ve endured despite near religious adherence to ‘preventative measures’.  And I was right not to.   

At the time of writing it’s been two weeks since my last run. That was the Cambridge half where the last two miles were exceptionally painful on the hip and I could feel the right knee heading in the same direction.  This picture was taken moments from the finish line and at this point I was in a lot of pain.

 

My hip now makes an audible pop when I lift my knee up and even the cross-trainer is now proving painful. A recent five mile walk in the country with friends was uncomfortable to say the least, so what chance have I got running 26.2 miles?

To be honest all of this injury malarkey has long since sapped any enjoyment out training.  Instead it has become an extremely stressful process of trying to climb back from yet another injury only to be met by a new one, or an old one popping up for a second crack at the whip.  I’ve found myself compounding this misery by looking at my training plan and seeing where I should be and comparing it to where I actually am – quite literally miles behind. 

I know this is not how it’s meant to be. Whilst marathon training can be tough with its highs and lows, on balance it should be reasonably enjoyable. When it’s long since ceased to be anything like enjoyable it’s time to have a rethink before all joy of running is lost for good.

First thing to do is visit the doctor to find out why my painful hip has taken to making popping noises. This is now a work in progress and will no doubt involve a scan of some description.

The second thing is to face up to the one thing I really didn’t want to do: contact VMLM to defer my race entry until next year. I did think about requesting a wheelchair entry but figured they might tell me to sod-off.

I’ve done this with heavy heart, but I’m nothing if not a realist. So it is with huge disappointment and great sadness that I must report I am out of the running – quite literally. 

The plan now is to get to the root of the problem so that the process of a recovery can be put into action.  Hopefully it won’t involve PowerPoint slides on Justin Bieber; if so I’d rather keep the wonky hip.  And if you haven’t read my previous blogs you’ll have no idea what I’m talking about.

Anyway, I feel I should round this last blog up before entries for 2018 open. I would like to thank my coach Jesal who it turns out had an impossible task.  Good luck with your three marathons this year Jesal!

And thanks to all those Eagles who gave many kind words of encouragement.  This really is a terrifically supportive club.

And of course thanks to Rachel who despite her own injury battle has put up with me moaning about an array of far more ridiculous injuries.  Perhaps together we should form Parked-up Run. 

Finally, I’d like to wish the very best of luck to my fellow ballot winners and all other Eagles running London and other marathons this year.    And let’s not forget there’ll be a fresh hatch of Eagle marathon runners next year.

Hopefully I’ll be one of them…

 

I’m not running – but my nose is…

Firstly, I must apologise for the time that has elapsed since my last blog.  Not because I believe you were waiting with bated breath for the next instalment, but because in winning a ballot place I did promise to write a regular blog.

I suspect training blogs are easier to produce when you’re getting the miles in and everything is going well and according to plan. Alas, I am at pains to report that this is not the case here.   

Now I don’t tend to get colds.  I had one last year and that was the first in about six years. I think I had another one about four years prior to that.  So you’ll appreciate my surprise and disappointment when about three weeks ago I came down with my worst cold in a decade.

This was a chesty little number that refused to budge and left me so blocked up that eating and breathing became quite separate pastimes.  Running with what feels like the contents of a swamp sitting on your chest is never a good idea as I discovered to my cost.  It just makes you feel a hell of a lot worse. But let’s not be over-dramatic; it is after all only a cold and I refuse to big-it-up as ‘man flu’.  

After about a fortnight it started to lift, but by then I had missed out on several training runs.  As it happens this is somewhat of a moot point because just prior to my cold I had thoughtfully added to my injury list. My left leg, which until now had remained injury-free, decided it was time join in the fun and chose my Achilles is its weapon of choice.

Now my list of injuries is impressive, or possibly depressive depending on your point of view.   I’m often asked if I have been increasing my mileage by too much too quickly. “Chance would be a fine thing,” is my usual reply.

I’m then usually asked any or all of the following: Are you warming up properly?  Are you strength training?  Are you cross-training?  Are you stretching? Are you foam rolling?  Have you had gait analysis?  Have you seen a physio? The answer to all of these is yes, so if you see me please don’t ask me again.  

I should stress that I am not looking for any sympathy here.  I’m telling you because I agreed to write a blog about my training, and to my mind that means telling you how it is, the good, the bad and the ugly.

So yes the training is not going very well and I’m miles behind where I’d like to be.  However I’m nothing if not tenacious and I’m not giving up yet.  I have been heading to gym (colds permitting) in an effort not to lose too much cardio fitness whilst my injury hopefully improves.  I must say that two hour’s running outside passes a lot quicker than one hour on the cross-trainer.  Bloody hell gyms are so tedious!  

They’re full of very odd people too.  Yesterday I observed a woman walking very slowly on the treadmill whist reading a book she had spread out across the display panel.  What’s the point of that? There are people in comas exerting more effort than this woman.   The recently deceased have more get-up-and-go.  Utterly ridiculous.

Anyway, if you’re in need of further amusement I think my cold is coming back again. Last night I was kept awake by a runny nose of near diluvial proportions.  Still, mustn’t grumble, hopefully it will pass

If I do make it to the start line then like many others getting there won’t have been without its challenges.  But even if I don’t make it, I’ll pride myself in the fact that I’ve put in more effort than the weirdo on the treadmill.

I’ll keep you posted…

So Good I Ran it Twice

It is with no small sense of relief that I announce the accursed hamstring injury as being no more.  The strange knee pain is also gone, thanks to some good advice from physio Michelle Tanner and some tough love with my ITB.  The Achilles Tendinopathy is no longer a problem either.  I can’t afford another injury because I’ll end up spending so much time on preventive exercises there’ll be no bloody time left to run.

But I am running and enjoying it too.  I’m sticking to coach Jesal’s plan because that’s the general idea with plans.  Jesal and I agree a few adjustments every couple of weeks based on the feedback I provide (normally over a hot beverage somewhere in Ealing Broadway).  This has led to things like going for a time at the forthcoming Cambridge Half rather than just running it at training pace.  Last week totalled 24 miles with my long run a particularly exciting one.  More about that in a moment.

I have also taken to colouring in my plan as I complete each training session.  Whilst I say ‘colouring in’ there are no crayons involved, the Fill Color (sic) button in Excel does the trick.   I do this for two reasons: firstly there’s great satisfaction in seeing a visual representation of my progress, and secondly I just like colouring things in.

In my efforts to fit my life in around marathon training (as oppose to the other way round) different days of the week have taken on different meanings. Currently Mondays mean rest, Wednesdays cross-training and so on.  Whilst this will change around to provide some variety as my plan progresses, for most of us ballot winners and others in marathon training Sunday will always mean the long run.

Those of us on Strava need only glance at our Flybys to see just how many people are out there getting the long miles in on a Sunday morning. For me this has meant incorporating the Sunday morning ten mile club run into my training.   Until now my club runs had more or less been limited to the ‘long run’ on Monday and Wednesday evenings.  However, I am now a big fan of this Sunday morning run too and I’m likely to remain in regular attendance after I’ve recovered from the marathon.

As you can see from this picture it attracts a good number of Eagles (some particularly eager Eagles had already set-off (fled the nest?) before Catherine Mulrenan kindly took this picture). The route takes in Walpole, Lammas, Gunnersbury, Syon and Blondin parks, plus a wonderfully scenic stretch along the river – where everyone bemoans the uneven terrain and the fact that ‘it goes on forever’.  It’s true, we do and I’ve said it myself.  But I love it really.

Even if you are adding miles to the beginning or end of the run (and it’s often both) there is still a good ten miles where you can chat to other Eagles.   On the few runs I’ve now attended the conversation has included: injuries, underwear, getting enough sleep, tooth ache, people’s bottoms,  holidays, coaching, alcohol, Donald Trump, weight loss and the new Train Spotting film. Oh, and running.

Recently the conversation came round to ‘things people have said to you whilst you’re running’.  It seems these range from the tedious ‘Ello darlin' to the more offensive that I won’t repeat here. 

I was recently subjected to a rather bizarre outburst whilst running along Northfield Avenue.  I passed a teenage girl who appeared surgically attached to her mobile.  She looked up momentarily as I passed her by, and with a look of utter revulsion shouted: “Uurrrghh!”

I thought this was a bit harsh.  I may not look my best towards of the end of a run (how many of us do?) but surely this was a bit strong?  Perhaps she was just reacting to something on her phone.  I will keep telling myself that.

I couldn’t make last week’s Sunday morning club run.  However, I wasn’t too tearful because the reason for my absence was a trip to New York City.  This meant my Sunday morning run was two and a bit laps of Central Park (13 miles – the first ten at training pace and the final three at marathon pace).  I’d never been to New York before, but was hoping for better encouragement than that afforded by Northfields’ adolescent smartphone addicts.

Central Park is a great place to run.  Rachel joined me for the first few miles to give me both encouragement and helpful directions – though if you’re following ‘the six mile loop’ it’s almost impossible to get lost.  Rachel’s VLM top got a lot of impressed looks and she became convinced that people started to consciously improve their form upon seeing the words ‘London Marathon’. I’m not sure what they made of my Eagles’ top.  I’m hoping they thought it was an American Eagle and so rather liked it.

 

There were a lot of runners in the park and my Strava Flyby looks like a swarm of bees, with over 120 people on it.  It seems I also ran through a segment called ‘horse shit alley’ which sounds a lot worse than it is.

Despite the high number of runners in the park, there is a large amount of space and no bottlenecks anywhere.  I also noticed that non-runners always give way to runners, which is very nice of them.  There are a couple of hills to challenge you too, and I was half way up one and facing a headwind when my Garmin told me I’d completed 10 miles and it was time to up my pace.  Nonetheless the last three miles felt good, probably helped by the joy of running in such great surroundings.  By far the best bit was getting to mile 13 to find Rachel waiting for me with drinks (note bottom left of picture!).  Now that’s how you finish a 13 mile run in Central Park, and it was also a great finish to another week’s training.

Next week Osterley track and the streets of Ealing may not seem quite the same as Central Park.  Though to be fair, there’s bound to be a bit less horse poo…

The Silence of the Hams

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve read a few Facebook comments and spoken to several people about the Eagle’s London Marathon blogs.  As the Eagles are the best and friendliest UK club (I’m assuming that’s now the UKA’s official line) it will come as no surprise to you to learn that all comments were encouraging and very supportive. 


There is a however a re-occurring theme.  Whilst the good and the inspirational blogs are welcome, people also want to read about when things are not going so well.  Put bluntly, if us ballot winners have a crap week, you want to know about it.

I understand this.  It is not born out of some sadistic, voyeuristic streak, if anything the corollary holds true and it comes from somewhere altogether more humanitarian.  We all have bad weeks, difficulties and setbacks and sometimes it is easy to think we’re the only ones that do.   So sharing these problems serves two purposes: it provides an opportunity for empathy, understanding and support and it reassures others facing similar issues that they’re not alone. 
So with this in mind I selflessly decided to knacker my hamstring.  OK, so I didn’t actually decide to do it.  Whilst I’ll admit finding blog material can be a challenge I draw the line at self-harming.  It happened spontaneously very near the end of an eight mile run.  Odd timing but there you go.

“Oh dear,” I said.  “This is not ideal.”  Actually I swore like a trooper, an act that is ill-advised outside the local primary school, but I digress.


So what to do?  Rest, ice, compress, elevate and try not to panic.  I hoped it was not too bad and would improve with a few days’ rest.  And improve it did, to the point where a gentle ‘test jog’ was thought agreeable.  Alas things were still not quite right (though much improved) and further rest and a trip to the physio was now deemed advisable.


My physio – the wonderful Michelle Tanner – confirmed what I had only hoped; it did not appear to be a muscle tear but just a minor pull.  It should be fine with a little more rest and few gentle exercises at home.  


Fortunately this happened very early on in training which means there’s both time to rest and still train sufficiently.  I actually sustained this annoying little injury at the very end of December, but thought I’d save it for blog number two.  (Blog number three is already in pre-production and by April you’ll have the blog equivalent of a really crap box set.)


As I write this it would appear things are better and I have resumed training.  However, both Michelle and my coach – the equally wonderful Jesal Thakker – have advised laying-off the track and the hills for two more weeks just to be on the safe side. Some alternative, hamstring-friendly sessions are planned instead. So there we have it, my second blog and already an injury to report, but fortunately only a minor one.  


Whilst I’m certainly not qualified to advise anyone on injury prevention, this did remind that many of us spend much of our time on avoiding injuries.  Why else would anyone choose to use a foam roller?  I have come to the conclusion that that foam rollers, along with trigger balls should be classed as instruments of torture under the Geneva Convention.   In my book they’re up there with waterboarding and Justin Bieber as things no one should really have to endure.  However, over the next 13 weeks I shall be utilising them all. (I am of course referring to foam rollers and trigger balls; it’s very doubtful that endless repeats of ‘One Less Lonely Girl’ will lead to any bio-mechanical improvements.)


This week’s training finished with the Eagles’ Sunday morning club run.  An enjoyable ten miles in the winter sunshine, spent in the splendid company of Lucy, Elizabeth and John (pictured).  
Anyway, that’s enough rambling from me. So until blog number three, I wish you all plenty of injury-free running.

Oh, and I had to Google the Justin Bieber song.  Honestly.

Andy's First Blog!

It hardly seems possible but it’s already over two weeks since our Christmas party, where a chance encounter with a Kinder Egg container has shaped the next four months of my life.  That was a wonderful night, and my incredible good fortune was enhanced by the many good wishes and congratulations I received.  Thank you.


So as 2017 gets under way, and a frenetic December social calendar gives way into a rather more sober January, I was reminded of why I got into this running business in the first place. 
The slow but steady expansion of the stomach is a plight familiar to many a man who awakens one morning to find himself progressed well into the disquieting epoch that is his mid- forties. There is the dawning realisation that no longer being in your thirties comes at a price. That price being worse hangovers, mysterious random twinges and the ever-expanding midriff.


I find all gyms tedious, and many pretentious, so I gave running a go instead.  Like so many others I started with a ‘couch to 5K’ and was a little doubtful it would be the right exercise for me.  But much to my surprise I enjoyed it and started to notice real progress fairly quickly.  Running became addictive, but a good, healthy addiction.  


Before long I discovered Parkrun and started to notice Eagle vests everywhere I ran.  I’m not sure how many times I visited the old website before I finally joined the club and apprehensively headed to the ‘Eagle bench’ one Monday evening.  But I needn’t have worried – everyone was very welcoming and friendly.


It’s now over three and half years since that couch to 5K started me off, and running is now so much more than an alternative to the gym.  It is new friends, a running community, volunteering, and the excitement of receiving race packs.


And now it’s about starting training for my second marathon.  I ran Edinburgh in 2015 and it wasn’t exactly brilliant.  An old knee injury flared up at mile 20 meaning the last six miles were painfully slow – quite literally.  I hobbled across the finish line at 4 hours 30 minutes.   


I’m hoping for a lot better in London, but injury prevention will be a very important consideration for me.  I don’t fancy another Edinburgh. 


However, I need to find something to write about in the weeks ahead, so I’ll leave details of my less than arduous relationship with the foam roller for a future blog.


For now it’s a big thank you for the opportunity, and the best of luck to my fellow ballot winners, and all other Eagles with marathons and races this year. 


No doubt I’ll see you out there…