Not running sucks. I’ve learned that lesson big style over the last month or so. In the four weeks and five days since I last pulled on a pair of trainers it has been difficult for so many reasons, and sometimes it is the visible and often daily reminders of that which make it all the more palpable.
Firstly I’ve spent so much time running over the last few years it has just become a way of life. It is part of me in fact. From the Great North Run to the New York Marathon to the local parkrun to just getting out on my local streets, it is all great. even in the rain. Up until a year or so ago, when I introduced myself to people for the first time, I used to say that I was a bit of a pretend runner, but that’s just not true any more. I run because I enjoy it, pure and simple. I’m a runner and I’m proud of it.
Secondly is the missing out part. For example I’m lucky to work for a great company which has a wonderful sense of fun, and also a very active group of runners. There isn’t a single day that I can recall, in all weathers, that someone isn’t going out for a run at lunchtime. We even have our own Strava group where much encouragement is given to people’s activities in and out of work. And worse for me it is all so visible – Russ who works for me sits within five feet of me, literally across the table, and Esther is about six feet further away in my direct line of sight. Esther runs every day, and is one of the many people who have helped me on the big and eventful journey to be the runner I am now. So for the past month or so, whilst I have been inactive, to watch them (and others) getting kitted up and all excited for their jaunt as I sit and feel sorry for myself has been hard.
Then there is the competitive element and the runs we had booked up. Melanie and I had set out to do the London Winter 10k, an event I’d done for the last three years and loved, then the Cambridge Half Marathon in March, and then the Edinburgh Marathon in May. I’ve cancelled all of my places and so that is hard too. It is so exciting to have events to look forward to, and when you have none, and no prospect of when the next one might be, then it is a bit demoralising. Melanie is still running of course, and so I keep on encouraging her and she’s been great at supporting me too.
And then also it is the not knowing. As things stand I have no end in sight as far as resolution to the cartilage injury is concerned, and thus when or even whether I can actually get back running again. To some extent it would be better if I knew that I had say six months off and then it would be all right again. But I of course know it won’t. Degenerative osteoarthritis and a torn cartilage that isn’t ever going to get better are what they are, and I have to just accept that and make the most of it.
Despite all of this, (and believe me I’m not complaining about my lot, far from it) I’m on a mission. The recuperation part I am taking as seriously as the running was in the first place. I have to, because I want to get back there in whatever capacity my body will let me. And not just that, we have a trip booked to Everest Base Camp at the end of next month. Nepal being my favourite country, and the trek to Base Camp the best music for the mind, body and soul imaginable, then I can’t miss out on that too. It’s unthinkable, so I have to be the best I can be.
I’ve thus taken on board (in fact I’ve hauled it up, wrapped it in my arms and am almost quite literally never letting go) of what my orthopaedic surgeon has said to me. Instead of surgery, due basically to my age and the advanced risk of introducing extra arthritis to my already permanently damaged joints, he told me to cycle for 30 minutes a day, every day. Having decided that that was hard (as I basically can’t stand being on stationary bikes or turbo trainers) I did two things:
Firstly I bought a bloody good stationary bike, a JTX Cyclo Studio, after much research. I did consider Wattbike and Peloton, but the prices they ask are pretty astronomical, and so I reckoned that getting a good solid bike was enough. Coupled to this though, I knew I needed some visual stimuli, and as Claudia Schaffer wasn’t available for hire (:)) I bought myself a new TV to sit on the wall in front of the bike. I also signed up to the Peloton app, which you can do without having to buy the Peloton bike, and although you don’t get all of the interactive features with the other members, you still get the classes, which is good enough for me.
Thus a regime has begun which I’ve stuck to every day, practically without fail since early January. I’ve also found a new love for Netflix, and watched all manner of things that I normally wouldn’t have the patience to watch, but know that an episode of The Stranger, lasting 45 minutes will get me more than my required daily dose of what amounts to my medicine. When the shows are entertaining and keep me engaged, like most of The Stranger did, it means I can watch a whole episode at a time and do more than the doctor ordered. Little steps and all that.
Better still, on a follow up visit to the surgeon since my cortisone injection in January, he also said I could ride outside. Bliss! Now the only issue with being outside and getting some miles in my legs and air in my lungs (instead of sweating profusely in my study on the aforementioned new indoor toy) is the weather. In the last three weeks in the UK we’ve basically had fire and brimstone, except without the fire. It has been desperate, and a succession of winter storms, Ciara, Dennis and now Jorge, although Ellen still threatens out in the Atlantic somewhere, have battered the UK. I’ve frankly always been a bit of a fair weather cyclist, but in these conditions it is not just unenjoyable but also borderline dangerous to be outside. Frost, ice and winds just aren’t my bag I’m afraid.
I have managed to get outside a few times though, and a couple of times when at Melanie’s while she is running I’ve gone out on her bike while she trains for the Cambridge Half. It’s ok, but lets call it less than ideal, especially as her bike is massively too small for me, but every little helps.
So the answer to the weather issue, is that if I couldn’t get the mountain to come to Mohammed, was to take Mohammed to the mountain! I am thus, as I write this, en route to Majorca, for a short cycling weekend. I get the benefit of some (hopefully, albeit brief) winter sunshine, some of the best cycling roads and routes that Europe has to offer, and an opportunity to properly stretch the legs out. I did when speaking to the surgeon check with him whether I could do this, and he basically said it was the best thing I could do. He told me that a friend of his, with him 200 miles to Devon last week, through the storms and all. So storms I neither need nor like, but sunshine and Majorca (medicinal purposes only you understand!) I do!
This last week has been quite hard for at least four reasons, and then news on Monday got harder still. I could think of more than four probably, but that’s all that come to mind right now. And so in no particular order…
I’ve done a lot of driving, and more than I’d like. Over a thousand miles in fact. Three times to Cambridge and once up to the North East (see below…) and that’s all tiring. I spent about 14 hours behind the wheel over the weekend and that is painful with the current state of my knee…..
My much discussed cartilage tear has been causing me a lot more pain. The most ever yet in fact. At the end of runs on both Thursday (six miles in Cambridge) and more so on Saturday (Parkrun in South Shields) it was agony. I’m taking painkillers every day and they don’t really touch the pain.
On my mind was the hospital appointment with the orthopaedic surgeon. I was pretty sure he was going to tell me (at the very least) to stop running, and maybe also that I need surgery. It was playing on my mind a lot, not least of which because I so very much hope it doesn’t stop me/us from going to Nepal in 8 weeks time.
Saturday 25th January was the anniversary of my Dad’s death. Although it is six years ago now it is still very fresh, particularly because of where I spent the weekend, which was up in my native North East for a school reunion, and therefore very much a trip down memory lane. Trips to my old schools, past the house where my parents lived for nearly fifty years, and to places that bring a lifetime of memories. Very nostalgic and poignant to say the least.
So the two runs I did last week were a test as much as anything. I should be on Week 3 of marathon training (for the Edinburgh Marathon), but also to get ready for next weekend’s London Winter 10k (an event I dearly love and have done for the last three years) and also the Cambridge Half in March. The week would normally have consisted of 5 runs in terms of the plan, but I knew that would be too painful.
After the Parkrun on Saturday (which I ran fairly hard and managed a very respectable 23 mins 50 seconds, despite it being fairly hilly) I felt the effects afterwards pretty badly. I was sat in the car and literally wincing with spasms and waves of surging pain, and it was almost overwhelming at times. It’s not sustainable, and I know that.
On the plus side I absolutely loved doing the run, even if Melanie unfortunately couldn’t do it as she wasn’t feeling well. She did however come along and support me which was lovely. It’s the first time I’ve done South Shields Parkrun, and being my home town (although I’ve been exiled for well over 30 years now) it was just a delight to be there. The route also takes you from the beach and along the cliff tops overlooking the wonderful North east coastline, and then finishes on the last mile of the Great North Run course. What’s not to love? If Carlsberg did Parkruns….
The school reunion on Saturday evening was wonderful too. Seeing people whom I first met over 50 years ago (it was a primary and junior school for most of us) was fantastic, and something to relish and treasure. I’m so grateful to get the opportunity to do things like that.
So onto the appointment on Monday. I was very frank with the consultant (why wouldn’t I be you might say, but I did wonder if he’d tell me off for running as much as I have!) and waited for the prognosis. He told me after some poking and prodding and listening that he still would like (for now) to avoid surgery. This is because the body of evidence for people (my age!) is inconclusive as regards the relative success of it as against physical therapy, and especially balanced against the risk of further complications/conditions such as arthritis.
What he also said then was a bit of a downer emotionally for me. Firstly he told me that my knew would basically never get ‘better’ from here. The meniscus tear is permanent and all I can do is to manage the pain. Strike one! Secondly he told me that I had early onset degenerative osteoarthritis in my knee. That means essentially that I have bone rubbing on bone, that pounding of the joints will clearly not help/be painful, and again it is irreversible. Strike two! And then he said that It’d be best to STOP running, at least for now, while the rest of the surrounding knee muscles strengthen. Strike three 😦
The word STOP hit hard, I have to say. The words “at least for now” I hardly even heard. Over the last few years I’ve discovered such pleasure in running, and it has brought me so many adventures and great and exciting moments like the Great North run and the New York Marathon, so to stop is not something I want to do. It has also been part of the glue for Melanie and I, and something that we love to do together.
I asked him after I’d digested the news as to whether I’d be able to subsequently return to running, and of course he said it depends. He said that maybe in a year’s time I could run a marathon again, but that would depend upon progress, my tolerance for managing/dealing with the pain etc. A year is a lifetime for me, as frankly I’m impatient, and the time for living for me is firmly in the moment. This one here, right now.
The appointment finished with him giving me a cortisone injection in my knee which ‘may’ (in about 70% of his cases apparently) help with the pain. It was one of those big (read colossal :O) needles, and was inserted just below my kneecap, and went in what seemed to be a long way, but as I was already reeling from the ‘stop’ message it didn’t really phase me. I have to come back in four weeks time and he’ll assess how I’m feeling then, which will (probably) be surgery if the pain is getting worse.
He has recommended that I spend lots of time on the exercise bike in the meantime. I’ve been doing it for at least half an hour every day so far, and so I’ll ramp that up further now. I’m very determined to get back as far as I can to being able to do the things I want to do and enjoy doing, even if I do (I have no choice after all) accept that things will never be quite the same.
I left the hospital a bit deflated, but I knew that he’d only really affirmed what I already knew (other than mentioning degenerative osteoarthritis, which was a bit of a shock) in my own mind. I’ve been hurting now after all for at least three months, and it has got worse not better. Something was going to have to give.
I’ve meantime cancelled my participation in the London Winter 10k, the Cambridge Half Marathon and also the Edinburgh Marathon. I had also harboured (very strong) desires until a week or so ago to do the Berlin marathon later in the year too. Those thoughts have to be banished for now, and it’s a shame, and frustrating to say the least. I did however on the back of this make someone’s day today – I contacted the organisers of the Cambridge Half Marathon to find if anyone would like my place, and they said they had someone who was desperately keen to get in and couldn’t. I thus contacted her, and she was absolutely delighted. So that’s a good thing at least.
All this happened just yesterday and it is a bit raw for now. I am feeling philosophical about it I suppose, and trying not to feel upset. Let’s face it, far worse things could have happened to me, and this is just a setback, even if the fatalistic part of my brain knows that the words ‘degenerative osteoarthritis’ aren’t a portent for me ever being able to do as many things as I have in my dreams.
However, as C.S. Lewis once said “you are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream”.
Whilst on the subject of being philosophical I’ll leave you with the following…..I always loved Mark Twain as a kid, and the books containing the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn I count as my childhood inspiration for life. I found this quote therefore, and it is very true – if you read this and are a dreamer like me, then book that trip, run that race, and get out there and live your life to the full. You owe it to yourself, you really do.
“20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
As I write this the date is 17th January 2020, and it dawned upon me the other day that my blog is over 10 years old! In that time it has covered climbing/trekking trips to Kilimanjaro, Russia, Bolivia, Argentina, Nepal, and several in Europe, cycling in Thailand and the UK, and very recently running the New York Marathon, to name a few. It’s been a blast! And so with the dawn of a brand new decade I am very much not hanging up my shoes (any of them!!) just yet.
The above statement I should say is not quite as straightforward as it may appear: If you followed my New York Marathon blog you may recall that I was carrying what I thought was a calf muscle sprain late in the programme. Well, this turned out to be a bit worse than I thought, as over the Christmas period I’ve been diagnosed with a torn cartilage in my right knee. Bummer!
Basically, following the New York Marathon (actually during the run my calf wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be) I decided to rest for a while. My knee was then starting to seize when just sat at my desk at work, and I was in considerably more pain just lying in bed at night than I had been even doing exercise previously, so something wasn’t right. A trip back to my physio wasn’t getting me anywhere, so I ultimately got referred to an orthopaedic surgeon via my GP for an MRI scan. I’m lucky to have private healthcare and so I got fast-tracked, otherwise this process would still be ongoing and I’d be none the wiser here still.
So the official prognosis post MRI scan is as follows, in all its gory detail – for posterity as it were:
– A significant multidirectional tear of the junction of the body and posterior horn of the medial meniscus.
– A para meniscal cyst situated posteriorly
– A popliteal cyst
– A (tiny) knee joint effusion
– A grade 1 sprain of the medial collateral ligament
Joy! I discovered all of this a day before Christmas. But what does it all mean?
Well, I’ve spent a lot of the last few weeks googling all of the above, and as with most things you google on medical forums, most of it isn’t very pretty, and very sobering. At worst, I shouldn’t/can’t use my knee for much at all and am at risk of a knee replacement in the not too distant future. My orthopaedic surgeon however, who (would you believe!) turns out to be a 3hr 20min marathon runner, is ( a bit) more hopeful.
He has said that he hopes that the effects of the meniscal tear can be initially treated by means of physiotherapy. Time will tell, as on the 27th January, a mere 10 days away, if it isn’t improved in terms of the pain I am suffering (and that is a lot), then it is surgery time. The operation involves shaving off part of the remaining cartilage and removing the part that is basically floating somewhere in my knee cavity and contributing to the pain I get. I currently can’t even tie my shoelaces, or put my socks on, or squat or extend my knee through 90 degrees currently without it being excruciatingly painful. In theory the physiotherapy (which is essentially half an hour every day on an exercise bike at low resistance to stimulate blood flow to the knee area) will help my body adapt in the meantime. Fingers crossed and all that!
So, despite the digesting all of that news, I remain hopeful. There was a chance (and I suppose there still is) that when I went to see the surgeon that he told me that my knee issue was degenerative/arthritic (he told me this might be a possibility before we both saw the MRI scan results in fact) and that I shouldn’t run any more. He could also have told me that I needed surgery straight away and that would be the end of running for probably this year at the very least. I’m not, after all, getting any younger!
But he hasn’t. He’s told me that resting it is the last thing I should do right now in fact. And although he’s told me to stick to cycling for now, I’m not doing that, as he’s also told me that by running I won’t actually be making it worse.
So, over Christmas, I’ve done about five runs, most short, and including a double Park Run with Melanie on New Year’s Day in the Lake District. That in particular was great fun, even if getting up at 7am on New Year’s Day to dash across the Lake District (we were staying in Ambleside and the runs were in Keswick and Penrith) wasn’t! We’d also climbed Helvellyn (my favourite mountain!) the day before and my leg was hurting because of that too, but enough of that!
So, where is this leading? Well, until (or unless!) the Surgeon on the 27th January tells me he’s not happy with things and he’s chopping it off (or something almost but equally as unpalatable) then I’m running, simple as that. Life is here to be enjoyed, and I’m on a roll!
I (and in fact we, Melanie and I) are currently signed up for the London Winter 10k in Feb, the Cambridge Half Marathon in March, are going trekking to Everest Base Camp in Nepal in April, and have signed up for the Edinburgh (full) Marathon in May. That should keep me out of mischief!
Sunday 3rd November 2019 will go down in my life as an incredibly momentous occasion. It was the day I became a marathoner! It is said that less than 1% of the population of the UK will run a marathon in their lifetimes, and I think I can only now truly understand why. So hereafter follows the story of the final week, and the ultimate accolade of the medal to prove it all wasn’t a dream…
After 15 weeks of training, I’m not sure either of us could believe that the day had finally arrived. It was certainly a week of countdowns! The trip to New York was on the Thursday, allowing two days for post-flight acclimatisation and hopefully not catching sniffles or worse along the way! I’d done my Tuesday and Wednesday runs of 4 miles and 3 miles respectively, and they were fine, if a bit unlike how I’d expected. I thought perhaps that at this point in tapering I’d feel ready to fly, but almost the reverse was true. My Tuesday run felt a bit like I was running for the first time!
Flying and travelling all day on Thursday (a total trip door to door of around 15 hours from Cambridge to our hotel in Manhattan, The Warwick) meant I skipped my scheduled Thursday run, but of course by then it didn’t really matter. It was by then all about just being rested and ready for the big day on the Sunday. Melanie chose to not run all week in fact, deciding that she needed the rest a lot more than what any training plan said, and also she went very much non-caffeine (inducing some initial headaches for her, unfortunately), non-alcohol, and carb loading to the tune of eat-pasta-for-every-meal. Good discipline!
I wasn’t quite so rigorous it has to be said, and just restricted myself to one glass of wine a day throughout (aren’t I good!), and I did eat a lot of pasta as well. A good thing too, as I love it, and we found a great restaurant in Manhattan called Pazza Note, which is highly recommended if you’re ever out that way (it’s on 6th and between 55th/56th for reference).
On the Friday we hit the expo at the Javits Center, a 3/4 million square foot convention centre in the Hell’s Kitchen area of Manhattan. All of the runners are required to go there to collect their bib/timing chip etc. We went early in the day to try to beat the crowds, but it was an absolute zoo! All together it took about 30 minutes of queuing (never my favourite pastime!) just to get into the doors of the event, and then it was like being in a rugby scrum to get close to any of the merchandise on display.
The crowds were a real shame as we’d looked forward to the expo with some excitement (and some impatience for me, I can’t help myself!!), but it was just too busy to really stop and take a meaningful look at anything. I still managed to spend $300 on ‘stuff’ though, some of I will wear, and also a mock cowbell (which can only be described as tat at best) which will only gather dust on a shelf somewhere, so they saw me (and many others like me, the queues at the tills were extreme too) coming!
There was one highlight at the expo however, and that was bumping into Paula Ratcliffe (as you do!) whom we both got a photo with. She was there to promote something or other, and seemed very obliging with the selfies for anyone who asked. Oh and I meant to say we also met David Weir, the multiple Paralympic champion, on the flight over, so it was a week of celebrities for us! Melanie also got his autograph in our New York Marathon book (he came third too in New York), so that’s a nice keepsake.
On the Saturday morning, before a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon sat relaxing watching the stage show of The Jersey Boys on Broadway ( a ‘must do’ in my book if you are ever in those parts!) we went for a little jog around Central Park to have a look at the last two miles or so of the course. We were both surprised just how undulating (I hesitate to use the word hilly, which it isn’t, but it certainly isn’t flat by a long stretch) it was, and made a mental note to be fearful of that factor when arriving at mile 26. The actual finish is uphill too – oh no! Being at the finish line though was great, with the rows of photos of past winners, and the finish line gantry and grandstands certainly all served to build up the excitement and magnitude of just how big this event is, the biggest marathon in the world. All of a sudden this thing seemed very real indeed!
After what can only be described as a fitful night’s sleep (in fact I was awake at 2am and never got back to sleep) it was time for the final leg of the journey to begin, and a pretty convoluted one it is too! The start of the marathon is on Staten Island, some 15 miles or so from Manhattan, and also reachable only by ferry for all 55,000 or so runners.
To do this involved a minibus ride to the ferry terminal, then the 30 minute ferry crossing, and then another coach on the Staten Island side to reach Fort Wadsworth, and the start of the enormous (two mile long) Verrazano-Narrows Bridge which forms the very first two miles of the course. The ferry ride was really cold, caused entirely by the fact that we chose to spend it on the open upper deck of the ferry to take in all of the sights of Manhattan and the Statue Of Liberty. Well you have to make the most of these things don’t you?
The journey to the start took probably two hours altogether, and then we waited until our ‘corral’ opened. In New York they start you in 4 Waves over a period of about two hours. I’d been put in Wave 2 and Melanie Wave 3, so I waited and went into Wave 3 as anyone can move back but not forwards as is often the way with these things. The whole area of the ‘start village’ looked like a scene from a refugee camp, as we were bedecked in charity shop clothing and multiple bin bags, all ready to throw away. We had hand warmers and gloves too, and needed them – it was bitingly cold in the wind, although it was to warm up to around 8 or 9 degrees C by the time we set out to actually run.
By the time the starting gun (actually a massive cannon) went off, there was almost a surreal hiatus when it didn’t even seem real at all. I’m sure tiredness and some not inconsiderable trepidation sunk in on my part, as I was about to after all step out into very much unchartered territory for me. No such first night nerves for Melanie of course as she’d been in this very position four times before.
But then, all of a sudden, the dulcet tones of Frank Sinatra singing New York New York came over the PA system, and it is definitely real now! We were shuffling (for not too long) to the start of a solid one mile long uphill on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and this thing is happening! It really is time to focus as there is no going back now in every sense!!
Without describing every detail of the route of the marathon, which I could, as I literally feel like I can recount every turn, the whole thing was sensational. Amongst the standout features are not just the crowds (estimated at over 1 million people lining the route alone), but the diversity of the crowds. Passing through 5 boroughs, you see so much, and that’s even when like me you are trying desperately to only look in front of you and concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other.
After Staten Island, there was then Brooklyn with its now hipster communities (but loud!!) and also the gospel churches spilling out onto the roadside, all happy clappy and emotional. Into Williamsburg with its Hasidic Jewish community and a much more reverential feel. Then into once very gritty Queens, now ‘the new Brooklyn’, and affording probably the best views of all of Manhattan over the East River. Into Manhattan itself for a few miles over the fabled (and pretty tough) Queensboro Bridge on 59th Street, about which Simon & Garfunkel’s song (‘Feeling Groovy”) is named.
As I came down off the Queensboro Bridge I was fortunate enough to see my son Dan, who was standing with Sadi in a position they’d let me know about beforehand. I was so happy and emotional to see them, and they managed to capture the moment above. I had to regain my composure afterwards as I got such an incredible headrush from it, and had to remind myself that I had still 10 miles to run. This was such a fabulous moment though and was the highlight of the run :).
Then up First Avenue in Manhattan proper with a wall of tourists, before you get to The Bronx over another bridge, and you realise that you aren’t in Kansas anymore. The Bronx is nothing but full on, and gritty, and I consciously quickened my pace as I didn’t want to stop there for any reason whatsoever! Then the steel bands and music really started crossing from The Bronx into East Harlem, which was almost downright scary even if everyone was having a ball! There was also on one corner the biggest stage band you’ve ever seen, also playing New York New York, which made me very emotional indeed. Concentrate now, you’ve only got 5 miles to go! Then back over what is called ‘The last damn bridge’ after which followed a long long drag up a steady incline at the top of Fifth Avenue before heading into Central Park, and an absolute wall of people lining (a bit too close at times) the whole (damn!) park.
Central Park houses the last three miles of the run, and by now I was pretty sure I’d make it to the end at least! I definitely owed a lot of that to my shiny pink Vaporfly Next% shoes, which I have to say were an absolute revelation. They are so cushioned and gave my legs the ability to still have some gumption in them at the end. When the last mile came I was lucky enough to be able to just go for it, and ran my fastest mile of the whole day. When the finish line came I was totally exhilarated and emotional. It had been a long day, and long journey, and a bloody amazing four or five months of such intense effort all building up to it.
After the run the time it takes to get your medal and goody bag and post-race poncho (lovely and warm by the way, even if it never sees light of day again!) are seemingly interminable, and getting back into uptown Manhattan to meet Dan and Sadi took forever too. The beer afterwards was so enjoyable though!
I could go on forever about highlights and memories of the day, but one thing matters more than anything else, and that is that we did it! Being a marathoner is something that no-one can ever take away from me, and Melanie has now become a five time marathoner, and that is nothing short of incredible!
I owe everything about this run and this whole wonderful experience to Melanie, and it is completely dedicated to her. I would not have been there in the first place without her, and the inspiration (and a heck of a lot of perspiration!) along the way is all down to her too. We have run collectively around 1,200 miles over the last four months, put a huge amount of effort in, and had most importantly some amazing adventures and fun along the way. Marathons take dedication, willpower, sacrifices, and a huge amount of physical and mental fortitude in equal measure. Oh yes, and pasta, and digestive issues, and money, and lots of pairs of trainers, and vaseline!!
It’s now as I write this 10 days post-race, and the question I think I’ve been asked most following the marathon (other than “how was New York” and “did you enjoy it?”) is “have you signed up for the next one yet?”. Well Melanie reminded me just yesterday that in the immediate aftermath of the run (when she asked me the same question) I apparently said “never again” or words to that effect. I’ll say now though that I have the right to change my mind…..:)
I’ve loved doing my blog again during this adventure, and it’s been now nearly 10 years since I started it. There are lots more adventures to come, they are what life is about and what makes me me. The subtitle of my blog is “to travel, to experience and learn – that is to live”, the mantra of Sherpa Tenzing following his becoming the first human to stand on the summit of Mount Everest in 1953. Well I, and we, have lots more travel and experiences and learning to do. Watch this space…..
On or around May 9th 2019 I decided that I wanted, very badly, to do the New York Marathon: https://aquavista.me/2019/05/09/marathon/ This having never done a marathon before was definitely a case of ‘go big or go home’, and it is not big but completely massive! And now, almost incredibly, some 5 and a half months later, the day is nearly here. In fact, in exactly 6 days time we will be on the starting line on Staten Island, and I’m having to pinch myself that it can all be real.
It’s been a very long journey. There have been tears and tantrums along the way, near misses with potentially marathon-ending injury, and some incredible adventures and stories to tell. There has been a lot of money spent, a lot of miles driven, and soon a lot of miles to fly over to New York. I can honestly tell you that I’ve never been so tired or exhausted in anything I’ve ever done, save for one night trying to summit Kilimanjaro which I will never ever forget. But this has been months of constant hard work. It’s true also to say that I underestimated just how difficult it would be. Sacrifice is a big word, but you really do give up a lot to throw yourself into this. And throw ourselves in we have.
It’s funny also (and I shouldn’t be surprised anymore but I never fail to be!) just how much my Facebook feed has filled up with running merchandise, running articles, suggestions for other races and events, and of course a huge amount on the New York marathon itself. It’s a clever (or annoying, depending on which way you look at it!) thing this social media!! I’m a follower too of a very helpful Facebook Group called (very helpfully :)) The New York City Marathon 2019 Help Group, administered by a pretty fanatical Norwegian guy called Runar Gundersen, who has run the race 40 times.
The page is bursting (literally) with tips, anecdotes and experiences on everything from which restaurants to get the best pasta in to where to get a post race massage, and absolutely everything in between. These vary from useful advice such as which ferry to get to the start line (a seemingly logistical nightmare with 60,000+ people all trying to get boats at the same time) to what to take in to the start area while you are waiting, and an overview of the contours of every mile of the course and what to look out for, to the somewhat more esoteric “How many gels should I take with me” and “Which mile is best to go to the potty?” to “Which colour should I paint my fingernails?”. The logistics do seem to be over-complicated and over-officious just to get to the starting line, but then again it is the biggest (by number of participants and spectators) marathon in the world and the security arrangements are all understandable given what happened in Boston a few years ago too. This flow chart below amused (and also worried me!) which shows just how many things you have to think about on the day itself:
In all of this journey, there have more than quite a few ups and downs, but there has been one constant, to which I need to pay tribute here, and that is Melanie. She is the reason I chose to do this run in the first place, and has been (and remains more so this day than ever) my inspiration throughout. Not only has she been side by side with me for over 30 (out of 74 in total, yes I’ve counted them!) of our training runs, but throughout she has encouraged me, helped me in so many ways, and just been there for me whenever I have needed her. Marathon training is stupidly hard I now know, but Melanie has made it both fun and pushed me to be where I am, which is on the brink of what I know will be the most momentous thing I have ever taken part in. So thank you Melanie for not just being there, but for all of the adventures we have had along the way, far too many of course to mention here! I simply wouldn’t have been here without you :).
So this last week was the second week of tapering, and the final week of training. A straightforward 30 miles. No sprinting, nothing too strenous, and a nice 10 mile run at the end of it at race pace to get us into the mood. And also a final visit to the physiotherapists to get strapped up and a massage on the gastroc injury that still pains me with every step I take, and that I hope just doesn’t get worse next Sunday. I treated the weekend’s long run as a dress rehearsal, and wore exactly what I plan to wear next Sunday, including my shiny new Nike Next% Vaporfly shoes too, even if I didn’t really want to wear them out or get them dirty before the day!!! I even at the weekend upgraded my phone to the latest fancy new three-camera-lens model so I can get the best possible pictures of New York on the day. Well, this may be the only time I do this after all, so it might as well look good even if I don’t!!
I said in that first post back in May (before I really knew what I was letting myself in for), and way before I knew I’d be doing an almost unfathomable 625 miles of training in just 15 and a half weeks, that success would be determined by the extent of my determination. Well, I’ve been determined all right! I also knew I’d need to control my emotions, and that is something to still keep in check, as like so many other things it is crucial for me. When that cannon blasts on Staten Island and they start playing “New York, New York” on the starting line, all of this will be worth it, and so much more, but it is a case of concentrating and not getting carried away.
I’ve done all bar 1 (spent driving for 11 hours having lost my car keys the day before the Great North Run, so that’s a good excuse!) of the training runs, and Melanie has missed just 4. Life does get in the way sometimes after all! Overall though, we’ve been lucky, had fun in between bouts of running ‘maranoia’, and stayed relatively healthy and looked after ourselves as best as we can without being over-anal about it. I’ve done lots of things this 16 weeks that are alien to me, like choosing to get up at 5:30 in the week to go on training runs. I’ve also never drunk pomegranate juice before (and maybe never will again!) or eaten as many eggs, or almonds, or avocados, or had as many protein recovery drinks, or drunk glasses of water while sitting in the hot tub!. There was a very amusing, if self-revealing, questionnaire on one of the Facebook marathon groups which Melanie showed me this weekend, entitled “are you a running wanker?”. Of the 20 questions, if you answered more than 10 of them positively then the answer was yes – I think we said yes to about 16 out of 20 – case closed!!
Normal life the other side will be most enjoyable 🙂
So this week it is packing, faffing, hopefully not forgetting to take anything important (although there are shops in New York I’m told!) and generally hoping that Brexit or anything else doesn’t cock up our flights on Thursday. There may be a couple of very gentle runs where I try not to trip up or do myself any more damage. It’s now about getting to the starting line. Nothing (barring probably an awful lot of pasta this week!) can change our state of readiness as we’ve done it all and given ourselves the best chance we can of running this thing in 3 hours 59 minutes and 59 seconds. It’s not all about that, but it would be great, and let’s face it, it’s what we’ve trained for. Melanie has done four marathons in just over four hours, and this could be the one that gets her under that mythical barrier for us mere mortals.
Most of all though, and putting everything into perspective, we want to be there, finish injury free, and just enjoy the sights and sounds of the greatest marathon in probably the world’s greatest and most famous city. It doesn’t get bigger and more exciting than this.
This week was the first week of tapering, and consisted of 5 runs totalling a mere 38 miles – bliss! and being on the bridge below now is getting very very close indeed – scary and ridiculously exciting!
Tuesday’s run was supposed to be a fartlek session, but I somehow managed to do hill repeats instead. I am sure this was caused by my being a complete zombie through tiredness, and in fact during that same morning of the run I did something that I’ve never done before….
I woke up, went downstairs, got some orange juice, and made myself a coffee. Then I let Jake (my cat) in (he sleeps in the utility room as if he’s in the rest of the house he’ll typically jump on my head at some random hour and that doesn’t fill me with loving feelings towards him whilst I’m fast alseep!!). I then put on my running stuff, and opened the front door to see how cold it was. It seemed even more ‘dark’ than it usually was, and so I stepped back in and thought I’d have one more sip of coffee before I went out. It was then (and only then!) that I looked at my watch – it was 1am!! I have no idea how that happened, but clearly next time I wake up in the middle of the night I should definitely do some of these things in a different order :).
On Wednesday there was a nice easy run of 7 miles at ‘easy’ pace, and then on Thursday a set (5) of 800m runs at a fast (7:45mm) pace as part of a 6 mile run. Both went well overall, even if I did get completely soaked on both runs. I think that 8 out of my last 10 runs have been drenchings now, and I’m sort of used to it already.
My Thursday was also interrupted by the news of the sad and premature death of someone who was a close friend to me for several years. Cancer has taken two people I knew closely in the last three weeks now in fact, and the phrase ‘life is too short’ was never so true in my mind as it is now. I was also then out on Thursday night for another good friend’s 50th birthday, and it would have been too easy to get carried away with the ‘life is too short’ ticket in my hand, but thankfully I managed to stop myself just as the tequilas started. I do after all have a marathon to run in about 14 days time!!
I also had my fourth session of physiotherapy on Thursday. My gastroc injury isn’t getting worse, thankfully, but the rest of my muscles and tendons around it are suffering as they try to support it. My adductors are the things that are suffering this week, and are tight and sore. I’ve a whole new set of tape strapping me up, and it is still a case of pain management, rolling, stretching and the like every day. I’ll get through this….I keep promising myself!
The weekend, or half of it, was spent in Cambridge with Melanie. She was off to take her youngest daughter to a University Open Day on the Sunday, and so we switched the Sunday long run to Saturday instead. Melanie had had a busy and tiring week however and didn’t get in her Thursday run until Friday night, and so found the 15 miles at marathon pace harder work than she’d have liked. We ran together for about 10 miles, but then as she slowed she told me to carry on home without her. I deliberated whether to do so or not, on the basis that we are in this together every step, but on checking with her she was certain that she wanted me to go on, so I did. I got to the end of the 15 miles and felt overall pretty good. I’m not telling you that I could have carried on for another 9.2 miles at that pace, as that would be a long way from the truth, but hopefully by the time we are properly tapered I can do so. Melanie stopped at mile 13 (“all I could manage” she said), and actually after the 6 miles at quick pace the night before I’m very much not surprised.
Back home for me on Sunday for what would have been Saturdays’ 4 mile run, I thought I need to get out the new shoes and try them out, as I will after all (barring unforeseen circumstances) be wearing them for New York in two week’s time. The new shoes in question are my shiny new Nike Vaporfly ZoomX Next%, as featured in last week’s blog https://aquavista.me/2019/10/14/week-13-holy-moly-its-getting-exciting/ . I reasoned that a four mile run is plenty to run in any new shoes in case of blisters or other alignment/wearing in issues. I was a bit apprehensive stepping out in £240 trainers it has to be said, but I need not have worried it seems.
They are amazing!!!! I tried hard to stick to what was my schedule of 4 miles @ 9:45 pace (knowing full well that I wouldn’t, as these shoes are not meant to be plodded around in), but it was stupidly difficult to do so. It is like having springs under your feet, and you feel like you are being catapulted forward with every stride. What is more, they are amazingly comfortable, which was even more surprising. My first three miles were at about 9:00 pace, but what was even more noticeable was that my heart rate was hovering well (like 10 bpm) below where it would normally for that pace. On mile 4 I therefore had to just run, not like my life depended upon it, as I was very conscious that trying to do so with a calf injury would be akin to playing Russian roulette, but just ‘opening up’. It was ridiculously easy to do so, and I actually had to hold back in running a 7:13 mile, crazy fast for me!
So here we are, 14 weeks of 16 done. Sometimes it feels like we’ve been doing it for 14 months not 14 weeks! I’ve got to say that this has been far far harder than I expected, and far far harder and more tiring and all-consuming than any training programme I’ve ever done, and then some. It’s like a treadmill that you can’t get off sometimes, brutal in intensity and just always full on both physically and mentally, whether you are running, getting ready to run, or recovering from the last one. But not much longer now!
Next week is only 30 miles, proper tapering territory, with just a 10 mile run at the end of it. I’m going to do my weekday runs at lunchtime at work so I don’t have to get up to do them at 5:30am any more. I also need to rest and sleep as well as I can in between, and generally and metaphorically try to wrap myself in cotton wool. In 10 days time we will be on a plane to New York to take part in the world’s biggest marathon. I’m still pinching myself at the moment, but next week it will be very real indeed.
Soooooooooo much has happened this week, and yet in some ways it’s been fairly uneventful. Does that make sense? I’m not sure it does, so let’s stick with the “so much has happened” statement!
So, this week was first of all the last week of big big miles. 47 of them in fact, with a 21 mile run at the end of it, the longest yet, and longest we do before New York, which of course (as I go to press with this) is actually less than 3 weeks away now! That means we are officially tapering! Yaaaaaaaahhhhhhhooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!
In terms of runs, the midweek has started to tail off already. This week was just 6 miles, 8 miles and 6 miles, which actually just seems (at least psychologically anyway, but see below) easy now, despite the tired legs. Much better than the 7, 10 and 7 of two weeks ago anyway!
Tuesday was a hill sprint run. I actually wasn’t even sure if I was going to do it or not, as on Monday my leg ( a pulled medial head of the gastroc muscle injury – see last week’s post for details…..https://aquavista.me/2019/10/06/week-12-the-fine-margins-on-which-we-sometimes-hang/ was giving me more pain than it ever has. I put it down to stiffness from last Sunday’s run, and basically hoped for the best. On Tuesday morning it tanked it down, and although my leg pain felt actually not too bad, the rest of me just didn’t have it at all. I felt spent, devoid of energy altogether, and not into it. Partly at least this was a result of a really poor night’s sleep.
I honestly wanted to give up. That hasn’t happened to me for the most fleeting of moments throughout this whole programme, and in fact I can’t remember the last time (for years) that I just wanted to stop and go home. I felt that way at least four times. What the hell was happening!
I did go through the motions and eventually get home without stopping, but when I got back home I felt down, deflated, and really not like carrying on. Is this thing beating me I wondered, and am I to get to week 13 and not be able to continue? I’m averaging 45 miles a week, and in previous years I sometimes haven’t run 45 miles in six months or more, so the cumulative effect of this must be absolutely grinding me down. I also realised that Tuesday was the day when the London Marathon results were announced. Having entered the ballot very excitedly some months ago, the only thing I could now think was “please don’t get a place, so I don’t have to go through this agony again!”. No email came, so the thought left my mind and I put the thoughts aside. Melanie did however massively pick me up when she rang me and reminded me that everyone gets down days. I really appreciated that a lot and it made me feel better.
On Wednesday it rained again. Cats and dogs style. I’m a bit fed up of getting wet (I think that 5 out of my last 6 midweek runs have been wet ones), but then again you get used to it, and ‘it’s only water’. I had however slept much better, and I was in the mood for the run, even it was 6am and pitch black. The 8 mile tempo run (at marathon race pace) went great, and I felt like I could run forever. It is so strange how 24 hours can change your outlook altogether!
On Thursday it was a six mile interval run, including 12 lots of 400m at ‘fast’ pace, followed by 12 x 200m slow recoveries. It thankfully again went great, and I felt like I could go on harder and faster. Funny thing this running malarkey! Oh and I (and Melanie too) got the news that we hadn’t been accepted into next year’s London Marathon. I was so happy, I punched the air with delight :).
I also had (my now weekly) visit to the physiotherapist on Thursday afternoon. She reiterated that my leg pain is containable, and even said “you’ll be able to do this marathon I think” (which I actually asked her to repeat to make me feel better!!). I’ve been given some more strengthening exercises for my glutes, calves and ankles, and my foot is now taped up more firmly to allow for hopefully less lateral movement.
So now to the exciting news! In a phone call during the week with my son Dan, he’s said that he and his partner Sadi are going to come out to see us do the marathon in New York! How exciting is that! He has a short break from work at the same time and fancied a weekend away, and it has amazingly coincided with our trip. If I wasn’t already the most excitable person on the planet about New York then this has just put the cherry on top!!
On Saturday something else exciting happened. In fact two things! Firstly Melanie and I were transfixed, as so many people were, watching Eliot Kipchoge make history and become the first human being to break 2 hours for the marathon. It was completely engrossing watching it unfold. The man is both incredible and inspirational in every way. And the way he conducts himself and his messages of hope for a beautiful world are both touching and incredibly uplifting. Who couldn’t fail to be inspired by this? We loved it so much: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/athletics/50025543
Then not long after Kipchoge finished his run I got a delivery of some new trainers. Not just any trainers either, but the same ones that Kipchoge was wearing! The same ones in fact that many of the professional marathon runners have been sporting this season, the Nike Vaporfly ZoomX Next% to give them their full name. They are both (very) expensive, and not very pretty, it has to be said. They are also a very lurid pink colour (they’d sold out of lime green, the only other option), but what the hell, I’m not here to look good :). I simply figure that if they can (which they are supposed to) help mere mortals to run more efficiently, or easily, or shave just one second off my time in New York even, then they might just be worth it.
Our Saturday run was a nice gentle four mile one as per usual, and went without incident. I didn’t try the new shoes out, they will have to wait – they are only supposed to last about 100 miles, and so I figure a couple of runs to see how they feel and then they can come with me to New York! They feel incredibly comfortable walking around the house in though!!
On Sunday our long run was the wettest yet, as well as the longest. It rained for approximately 19 of the 21 miles, and pretty hard at times too. I wasn’t really concentrating on that too much though, it was mostly my leg. The pain from the top of my calf was radiating around my knee the whole way. I do wonder if I’m doing it more damage by carrying on running, and it certainly is getting more painful each week, but it hasn’t actually stopped me running yet, and until it does, I’m not stopping, simple as that. I’ve come too far, and I’m too determined to do it, and the physio says I can manage it, so manage it I will. We were both absolutely exhausted by the end, but a good old Sunday lunch of roast beef and all the trimmings (and a glass of wine or two) at my local pub certainly perked us both up!
So the training continues very much, but a now reduced level. We have done around 520 miles in 13 weeks, and it has been way harder and more intense than I every imagined. We start now to taper, to hopefully be fresher and as ready as possible for that enormously big day which looms ever closer. We’ve been watching lots of YouTube videos of last year’s event and getting even more excited about things. I forgot to say, we also got our bib numbers and staring waves/times for the day itself! More about those next time round as preparations start in earnest.
It really truly is getting stupidly exciting – time to take all that in, contain it, and convert it to positive energy. I’ve got this, I think……but time to keep my (insanely pink!) feet on the ground for a little while longer yet!