Springtime and back on the road

IT’S BEEN A LONG WINTER and it’s so welcome to finally see a little watery sunshine again and have a brief respite from the chilling winds of the past few months. I felt it time, upon this encouragement, to pull out some summer training gear and head out to the local villages for a canter round the pretty lanes.

Over the past six weeks I’ve been running three and latterly four miles twice a week to augment the single mile minimum I undertake to carry out every single day in order to continue my running streak of consecutive days which now stands at around thirteen years and three months. For the past few weeks too I’ve been trying to slowly awake from my winter slumbers with a short session of Royal Canadian Air Force exercises each and every day, building up very steadily.

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Substituting the track suit bottoms and rain jacket with a pair of shorts and t-shirt for the first time in some six months, it was a pleasant and reassuring feeling cruising in the car down Bank Hill which overlooks the beautiful Woodborough valley, to my start point at The Nags Head at the east end of Woodborough village. Today I thought, I’ll have a slight bump up to five miles of a run.

‘From little acorns do mighty oaks grow’ is an old phrase not lost on me when it comes to running. I’ve had so many years doing this thing year in, year out, that I understand that whilst not being very fit at the moment, this will change once the ‘building blocks’ of regular training are cemented into place. It takes patience, hard work, commitment and perseverance.

With April bird song sweetly ringing in my ears I was shortly passing along Epperstone villages’ Main Street and on to the rural Gonalston Lane. Bordered by green fields and busy hedgerows, accompanied by the tip-tap sound of my training shoes. The countryside still looked in hibernation with only an odd strenuous and failing attempt at Spring blossom by a solitary cherry tree in Epperstone. Further along the route, evidence of Winter’s destructive and stormy weather manifested itself with a collapsed wooden bridge at Lowdham Mill. Grave council warnings lay pinned to the fence stating the footpath to be blocked for that reason but a ginger few steps took the runner on his way to the seclusion of the Old Lowdham Road, passing on to Lowdham Lane and the end point at Woodborough village.

A drink of cold water to finish at the gate of the Nag’s Head’s deserted garden. Just a few brave daisies push up from the grass and the bench and umbrellas wait patiently and silently for the Summer months.

Since this pleasant run I’ve been fortunate enough to have another identical run at the weekend around the villages and enjoyed it’s portents for the oncoming of summer and longer runs in the warmer weather and sunshine, hopefully. It’s time to get ‘back on the road’ again.

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A Physiotherapist visit…and the Running Streak endures

I’m looking out today on an untypical early Autumn day with temperatures in the low twenties and the sun shining brightly. The grass is long and seasonally emerald, tomatoes are reddening on the their vines and crimson geraniums are proffering a bold September show. It’s at this time of year that I always give a thought to taking my running into those more difficult winter months, when the warm sun doesn’t readily beckon one out, and when rain, ice, snow and sleet do their best to deter even the most dedicated.

For nearly three weeks now I’ve been struggling with a calf strain, suffered whilst on a regular Friday evening run in the city. The run was comparatively gentle-paced and the injury totally unpredictable as is often the case with these things. Since then the injury has flared up on two occasions and left me with that vulnerable feeling that many of us experience in such situations – a feeling that ‘it’s never going to get better…’

My running ‘streak’ of consecutive days running of a minimum of at least one mile per day (but often and usually more) now stands at approximately ten years and eight months. That’s a lot of days, a great deal of persistence and the overcoming of a lot of inconvenience and other, often very important, considerations and commitments. It has also meant overcoming and running through a few injuries during that time.

I’ve been very fortunate, and I’ve also tried to make my own luck in avoiding injuries in the main. There were a couple of serious hamstring pulls just over a year ago which seriously threatened my entrance for the Robin Hood Marathon in Nottingham. Happily, and almost astonishingly to me at the time, the dutiful  care of excellent physiotherapist, Paul and his inspiring words a few short days before the twenty-six mile event of ‘you’ve got to give it a go haven’t you’ pulled me through the classic event for a fourth marathon medal.

I’ve even had similar instance of this injury (twice) during the ‘streak’. On one memorable occasion it was sustained in Napoli in Italy whilst visiting friends and playing, of all things, cricket in the slightly bizarre setting of a NATO armed forces base in knee-high grass! On that occasion I did the all-important minimum one mile by running around the cricket field perimeter, limping along on one good leg. After a few short days I was running properly again. Those consecutive days kept on coming.

It was a surprise to me then the threat that this relatively minor injury has offered to continuing running. On at least a couple of days I seriously considered ending the running streak once and for all. I really didn’t think I’d be able to run on it nor did i think the injruy stood a chance of getting better without complete rest. It seems that this may not be the case after my physio visit early this morning and that the struggle and trial of carrying out a mile-long shuffle every day, each day worrying that the injury is going to flare up again, has been worth it. Cautiously.

A winter of running through the rain, ice, snow and sleet never seemed so appealing.

My Fourth Marathon – The Nottingham Robin Hood Marathon, 2009

My eyes slowly open wide and at long last it’s marathon morning. Today I have a long-promised job to do, a job to do well. Rising, calmness is key and I follow practised habits in slowly preparing myself for the mass start on Nottingham Trent Embankment and the gun of 10.05 AM.

My partner Melanie and I call to collect our friend and my training partner, Lesia and on through Nottingham towards the big river. Hundreds of people mill in the same direction, some bounding slightly excitedly and some trudge, somewhat disconsolately. I sit thinking in the rear of the little Toyota, stilled in the fussy traffic. I know I have much to do.20092009673

I’m offering soft platitudes outwardly. I hear myself offering that, considering my recent injury problems, I’ll pull up and drop out of this race if it should become necessary – if the pain should become too much. I know deep down that this is not true though. I will end this race dragging my leg behind me in my wake if I have to. I will not stop.

The jittery last few minutes roll past quickly and it’s time to slip out of the swaddling comfort of my sweatshirt and step on to the road. Step up to the plate. Lesia lines up at my side to accompany me, I’m not sure how long she will be there, perhaps a mile or two, I surmise. There seems a happy and welcome symmetry to this considering how many training miles we’ve passed together. A shuddering jog, stop, walk, trot takes us towards the start line gantry and I gesture to Melanie who is echoing our footsteps on the paving next to us and the massed beginning runners. Drummers pound a rhythmic beat. I cross myself I as I do at the inception and end of each and every run. Thank you for this.

It’s taken an awful lot to get here today and I heave a heavy sigh of recognition as we tread steadily towards the Meadows, past the wide ranks of cheering crowds lining our route.

The early minutes of such a long event are always a testing time. We take readings from our body; we monitor them and make sense of them. How does that injury feel? Is it stiff, sore? Will it dissolve into the disappointing pain of yore? Do IDSCN2244 have energy today? Is it a good day? How am I going to feel in two hours? Four hours? Where are my doubts today and can I dispel them?

Do I believe in myself today?

My friend and I chat a little, comparing notes and there is an enquiry in that familiar accent asking if she is disturbing me? In truth I’m happy to have her there to help keep me calm, to chat to just like every other Sunday morning, and make-believe this run is just as the rest. We even pass over familiar cobbles that we know so well whilst negotiating Castle Hill and point down into The Park residential area that understands our Friday night footsteps of many hopeful evenings.

I have perhaps ten Nottingham Robin Hood Half Marathons under my belt ranging back to my expectant debut race back in 1982. This is my initial full event in Nottingham though and the once familiar first half of the race traces a different route to my memory. Lesia and I pass calmly through a throng of steady runners past the picturesque and cooling lake of Nottingham University’s Highfields. Drinks are appearing now and I take liquid fastidiously at every opportunity.

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It’s but a few miles in and many runners are still in very good heart. There is an excited babble amongst athletes which has yet to quell. I know it will soon though. The beautiful Wollaton Park appears in front of us and we pass through one of the prettiest stages under thin but cheering and optimistic September sunshine. Suddenly a shout and Melanie appears smiling and happy next to us. Lesia hands her small backpack to her claiming excitedly that she was ‘going to run all the way’ and we push onwards and back to the city.

I am intentionally running well within myself. I need to save as much energy for the onslaught of the final miles and this is very much on my mind. It’s Castle Boulevard and a young man stops, walks, hands on hips, tiring, tiring. Printed on the back of his vest are the words FOR MY GRANDAD. I tell him his grandad would be very proud of him today and he smiles in surprise and replies warmly that his grandfather passed away just three weeks ago. I pat his shoulder for luck and assure him as kindly as I can that he will make it.

There is so much more to running long distance events than pure naked achievement. So many stories of love, sorrow, nostalgia and kinship that transcend pounding the streets amongst thousands of strangers all brought together for many and varied reasons. I want to connect with one or two of those souls today as I always might. Spread a little hope, to pluck a thistle and plant a flower where I thought a flower would grow.clip_image002

Its decision time for Lesia as miles ten and eleven are with us. I’m sure she had not intended to run this far but her help has been incredibly valuable. I urge her to complete the half marathon as it would be fitting to have a double victory today. Suddenly she begins to falter but hangs on. Its twelve miles and we agree to split at her urging, just before I peel off for the second half of the race. She manages a weary smile, I touch her shoulder, say goodbye for now and thank you. The familiar face of a friend Gill pops into sight, happily chatting away on the Embankment. I call her name and she shouts surprised encouragement. A minute later and Melanie is there once more with another cheer and more support.

So here I am on my own and heading away from the Half Marathon finish and out towards the confrontation with myself. The challenge now begins I consider as kind spectators’ cheers and words of encouragement ring in my ears by the wide grey river. Past Meadow Lane Football Ground, home of Sven Goran Eriksson’s Notts County and padding over a near deserted Lady Bay Bridge, still trying to run within my abilities, saving myself for the major battle that I know I will wage. I’m going to wage a war if I have to.

Lady Bay shows me its quiet and uneventful back streets. I note now at around fourteen miles that a few runners are beginning to walk. Lanes split with opposing runners coming towards me are on me now. The sports drinks are coming fast and furiously too. I drink greedily at them whilst not particularly enjoying the mixture. I think they may be my salvation in due course.

Holme Pierrepont Water Sports Centre comes into view as I crest a small hillock. The panoramic but desolate looking artificial rowing lakes offers the unwanted extra challenge of a strong head wind to test a runners resolve. My resolution and tenacity is strong. I notice it is getting stronger and stronger. I am beginning to feel the true power in my body as I keep my head down and work hard yet smoothly.

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All at once I hear a familiar voice and Melanie’s excited face is in front of me, cheering me and asking how I am? ‘I’m okay, I’m okay’ is as much as I manage. These simple words have to suffice after rehearsing what I might say at this point. I ask for a glucose tablet and Melanie shouts to the figure of Lesia standing a little further on. I pause momentarily whilst she coolly peels out a glucose tablet for me. She tells me that I’m looking good. Thank you, and I’m on my way again. Its twenty-two miles and I’m gliding efficiently along the Trent riverside tow path and back to the city. I’m focused and feel myself actually gathering pace.

Its here though that I begin to feel those darker voices in my head a little more often. ‘I’m tiring, I’m tired, this hurts, that hurts, am I running out of gas?’ I banish these thoughts and their negativity. More thoughts emerge, ‘is the injury beginning to come back, is that a twinge, will I be limping in a mile’s time?’ These thoughts will not win today. These thoughts are nothing but abstract feelings and emotions and I can/will beat them off. I am strong and nothing will stop me. They keep trying to return and as they do I feel my body react momentarily before I push them away. My head is high. I am winning, I am winning.

I’m passing runner after runner at this point. I understand their feelings and try to help them. Just a quiet, even whispered word in their ear as I pass ‘keep it going, keep it going, Come on Suzi’. The support of the race marshalls is magnificent at this point. As they talk to me I answer them and thank them, each and every one. They provide a breeze that pushes me forward. In a now very thin field of runners, many walking, Nottingham Forest’s City Ground looms and I run under the cooling overhang of the Trent End Stand, tracing the River Trent to my right.

It’s under Trent Bridge now and a large crowd of picnicking race spectators provide a huge clamour as I ascend from underneath the bridge into bright sunshine and a kaleidoscope of smiling, cheering faces. Go on! Go on! You can do it! Nearly there now! I’m looking ahead hopefully at the next bridge hoping for a crossing there and on to the finish line and I am crestfallen, dismayed to see that the bridge is unused and that I have to keep running down the river, this entailing the same distance to run back on the other side. Here was the big test to my resolve. What could I do now but keep going though?

Gill appears again on the bridge. Hey! HEY! Are you alright? ‘Yes, I’m okay Gill, thanks…”

DSCN2253 The finishing area

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The final sprint

I’m coming off that bridge now and running up to the finishing area on the grass. I’ve thought about this so much over the past months. What would it feel like, how would I react, how would I finish? I cross myself. The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Thank you, thank you. Big crowds of spectators are facing me as I round onto the grass which I know denotes the finish and the victory. Where are Mel and Lesia?

It’s time to go for broke and I charge into a sprint, as fast as my legs will take me to that line. A line that only a week ago seemed a hurt and injured impossibility. Yes! Yes! Waves of adrenalin course through me and I hear Mel’s shout and her face flashes into view and then out again. Get under that gantry, get under it.

I’m there! I did it! I did it!

I pat the small St Andrew’s cross of Scotland that had been folded into my shorts pocket for inspiration. A following runner exchanges a warm handshake and a solitary Lesia, standing watching by the rope shouts to me. A helper removes my microchip and after a fleeting moment of nausea, I teeter steadily towards the exit and the meet area with Lesia towards Mel. I had really promised myself a pint of ice cold beer at this point but to no avail. This small but necessary pleasure was not to be – at least for the moment.

Back in Nottingham and after an awkward but refreshing shower two pints of the promised cider at last passed my lips along with pints of accompanying water. Six o’clock quickly comes around and the three of us walk to Le Bistrot Pierre in the city to celebrate in the time-honoured way, with a glass of champagne and a fine dinner with those close to you.

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To Melanie, for her unceasing support through thick and thin, particularly on those dark days when I didn’t believe I could do this. When injury struck, when the self-doubts loomed, when my mind was in turmoil, the support remained constant. You never gave up on me.

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To Lesia, for running with me along the pleasant lanes and through the pretty villages of Nottinghamshire and evenings in the city. For the inspiration of watching her own marathon triumph in London. For keeping my head straight in the all-important first half of the marathon by selflessly running it with me. Most of all, for the cool and objective opinions and support when I most needed a real friend.

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I couldn’t have it done it without either of you. That goes too for the wonderful well wishes from afar afield as Scotland and Canada. I carried them all with me, I really did. You all know who you are. A heartfelt ‘thank you’.

The Marathon Diaries: A Minor Miracle!

The last time I wrote in The Marathon Diaries it was to report a hamstring injury that I had sustained and hopefully recovered from. Injuries are such a difficult subject for the runner, never more so for the marathoner with a large quantity of hard work in training potentially going to rack and ruin before a race. With that in, mind it was quite some relief I was experiencing as the injury appeared to subside nicely with the aid of a lot of judicious care.

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The River Trent Embankment

A new and more serious threat reared it’s head a week yesterday though. I had thought it a reoccurrence of the hamstring problem and was treating it as such. During the course of a couple of short runs of 3-4 miles at the end of the week I began to despair as the pain was there throughout the runs and did not fade post run.

Continue reading “The Marathon Diaries: A Minor Miracle!”

The Marathon Diaries: Hamstrung

As has been mentioned in this diary previously, when injury strikes the runner, one often feels in the lap of the gods. Normal rational feelings desert us and the injury and its resultant diminishing prospects for successful running become based upon largely subjective emotions rather than the more useful objectivity one might assume.

Such was the case with me recently. A week last Tuesday I pulled up lame around five miles from home near Newstead Abbey in the midst of a ten mile run. A twinge or two in the rear of my left thigh had quickly worked itself into outright pain and as always seems the case with these things, I was a long way from home. I pulled up to a standstill and wondered what the heck to do next.

I got myself home at quarter pace and reached for the icepack. Later on that (very worried) evening the process of sorting this problem began, for here was a real and genuine threat to my prospects of running in the Robin Hood Marathon on September 13 and something needed doing quickly.

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A little Internet research told me that the problem was a torn hamstring. It was good to at least have the knowledge of what the injury was. Ice, ice and more ice were interspersed with Ibuprofen after every meal. the next day, a disheartened Stu was persuaded by his partner to visit a physiotherapist and what a good idea that was. When injury strikes the runner it can affect him or her in so many different ways. Of course it can immediately feel like all of one’s hard work has gone up in smoke, that is one of the more obvious reactions. Perhaps consider too that there are social aspects to this, would I even be able to run and walk with my friends? How long would this take to get better (I read six long weeks in one report)?

It’s a week and a half later now and I can write about it. Physio appointments which included massage of the injury and ultrasound treatment, a succession of incredibly careful and wary runs as little as 1m in distance (actually more like ‘shuffles’ than runs) and I am now back on the road proper again with a five mile run yesterday. Fingers crossed, it worked out. What remains now is a difficult but attainable return back to the kind of mileage of late for the next two weeks. Two weeks to work very hard and then a taper week to the big day.

The Marathon Diaries: Peas in a Pod!

A very wet day today (all over the UK apparently) and the prospect of running more than a few miles was not a welcoming one. Rain pouring down, I pulled out some of my winter training gear, unbelievably for mid-summer, and decided on a few laps of the disused road near my home. the reasoning was that I could quit as soon as I’d had enough, call it a day and head home for a hot shower and drink.

Running laps always presents me with the problem of actually counting them them and keeping in touch with how far I’ve run and up at my little local route I devised a little system with a bunch of limestone rocks at the side of the road. Simply this, I’d count them off, one per lap, kicking them to one side after each lap was completed. I’m always confounded as to how mental arithmetic evades me whilst running as my brains appear to become increasingly scrambling the more tied I get.

Then some passer-by strangely took my rocks away!

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I needed a counter and the first thing that came to mind were the fresh garden peas in the refrigerator, nestling still in their pods! Left-hand trouser pocket full of peas, I headed off on my initial lap, swapping a pea into the right-hand pocket after each lap. It worked like a dream!

An intended five miles (10 laps) evolved into eight miles then finally ten miles. It’s often this way when I get the bit between the teeth. A little music was important today and it was the Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown, that got things under way today as I skipped down the old lane. It was Get on the Good Foot rather appropriately.

Which I did.

Oooooowww!

The Marathon Diaries: The Inspiration of Terry Fox

Something happened to me last night. I read these words by my friend in Burbank, California,  Jim Murtha:

‘I had the honour of speaking with Sean (Sean Swarmer, cancer survivor) in Washington DC in 2007, and have been changed ever since. It is my dream to one day hook up with Stu and do something fantastic with his (Sean’s) cancer climber organisation back home. Until then I remind myself that no one can tell me what I can’t do. They can suggest what I shouldn’t do, and even then I am under no obligation to take their advice.’

A little background about my friend is that he is a cancer survivor, not once but on two occasions. His incredible story is discussed here. The forum question that Jim was replying to was  ‘What impresses you?’ Apart from being remembered by Jim in such a way (I genuinely and humbly don’t understand how I would have an effect on someone in such a way) it led me to thinking of my own hero, Terry Fox. image I can’t think about what that young man did without getting very emotional. It strikes me to the marrow of my very bones. Even as I write here I can feel myself welling up with tears. This is not necessarily a bad thing though as I am able to take a lot of strength and inspiration from what the young man born in Winnipeg,Manitoba and brought up in British Columbia did. For those that are not familiar with Terry’s story and his ‘Marathon of Hope’ it can be read here There is a longer more detailed version of this unbelievable story here Top Ten Greatest Canadians.

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‘I’m not a  dreamer, and I’m not saying this will initiate any kind of definitive answer or cure to cancer, but I believe in miracles. I have to.’

My immediate thoughts were of shame, when comparing my problems with his. I know this is not the point though, the point is in taking his lesson and using it for ourselves. I feel different today after reminding myself of the story of this great young man. I have allowed myself to descend to many depths of late but just watching the Terry Fox footage and hearing from my old Internet friend in such a kindly way has made me think differently. I have problems with the tasks placed in front of me like we all do, of that there is no doubt, but I now own a different perspective – one that will not allow lesser things and lesser people control the way I think. I don’t think there is anything that can stop me or any of us  if  we are determined enough.

‘One morning I woke up and I couldn’t get out of bed. That day they told me that I had a malignant tumor and that I had to have my leg amputated in four days. And I decided after my year-and-a-half of my chemotherapy, that I’d try and run across Canada and raise as much money as I could for the Canadian Cancer Society’.

‘I remember promising myself that should I live I would prove myself  deserving of life.’

Terry Fox

RUN FOR THE TERRY FOX FOUNDATION

The Marathon Diaries: Twenty-one up

Sometimes one just gets the bit between the teeth. Yesterday was just such a day. The day was not a particularly auspicious one as I toiled with the psychology report I am taxed to do. Administrative problems with the report were driving my blood pressure skyward and I really needed a complete change of pace and activity for the day. I had promised myself a longer run, all being well, for the day as it had been a few short months since I’d ran more than 11-12 miles in one session. This had nagged at me mentally and in truth was carving chasms in my confidence regarding running a marathon. At one time of day I was mentally strong and assured enough to contemplate any distance placed in front of me – not so these days. For the day I desired 13 miles as a maximum and would have been comparatively happy with that achievement.

12052009059The beginning

So, head in something of a whirl with the frustrations of the day, I set off for my regular starting spot in nearby Woodborough and headed off down the lane pictured above at just after quarter past four. A pleasant afternoon was an encouragement as I hit the River, Trent side, at just after five miles and having passed through the pleasant villages of Lowdham and Caythorpe. Skipping through the cherry tree-lined path on the way to Gunthorpe I realised that I was doing pretty well today – feeling comfortable and about to settle into a long run. After six or seven miles I became fixated with the outlandish idea of running…yes, twenty miles.

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Gunthorpe: running by the river

My footsteps were light and economical – always a good portent, and I flicked on through the unkempt riverside pastures of Hoveringham village, sunshine fortifying my way on to the powerful Hazelford Weir along the Trent. There was no going back from here.

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16072009562Hazelford Weir

The secluded, attractive and sleepy route of Gypsy Lane took me to my third water stop of the day at Bleasby village’s Wagon and Horses. Wandering in through through the pleasingly refurbished old county pub’s rear entrance I drank thankfully, thirstily and lengthily from the bathroom’s cold water tap. Now some twelve miles in to the run, Thurgarton village loomed as the next target, but yet some way off. Still a long way from home and a more familiar route. Mentally and physically I still felt strong for the challenge that I knew from experience was up ahead.

16072009556The Wagon and Horses, Bleasby

Tip-toeing over the quiet level crossings of the Nottingham to Newark-on-Trent railway line, Hoveringham and more water lay ahead. A peer at the GPS on my wrist confirmed the unfeasible length of time this run was beginning to take away from the ‘normal’. Hoveringham careered into my tired view and more welcome and highly necessary water in the shape of the beautiful Reindeer Inn within the village. Sated, I curiously paused a moment to look at the pictures on the quiet pub’s corridor walls of previous party times. So incongruous with the reason for my brief presence there today.

Re-emerging into now-greyed skies, I was now back on a more regular route and heartened and fortified by this. The country lane wound and wound as I kept a strict control on my head – rejecting any negative thoughts of tiring. The hamlet of Gonalston heralded a ‘final lap’ of around four or five miles. Passing the old blacksmith’s shop, past the diminutive cottages, even a mild incline registered on my legs and general posture. Straighten up. Straighten up. Gonalston has a long lane of the same name that leads to the next village of Epperstone. The historic rural area ahead often feels like a long drudge towards the end of a lengthy run but today – perspective of distances altered by a very long run – it felt good to be so near home.

Evening drinkers outside the Cross Keys eying the runner curiously I passed on, ever nearer my destination which I knew held two challenging hills at the end of the run. Why twenty-one miles? Well I arrived, bloody but unbowed, on Woodborough Main Street having registered 20.25 miles – to doodle around the village for a further .75 of a mile seemed to be the best, most perverse thing to do right now. I was extremely weary and slowing accordingly but I wanted to show that, yes, I can go that ‘extra mile’ – quite literally. Twenty-one miles. I was pleased to stop. I really was. Water, back at the car and an attempt to straighten my head.

Messages to my friends and a phone call home in which I realised that my voice had all but disappeared. A pint of water and a celebratory pint of beer in The Nag’s Head garden followed before a worsening chill saw me head back to the car and the short drive home. Sated, accomplished and triumphant. I had proved once again that I can do this thing. I will be taking part in The Nottingham Marathon in September.

The Marathon Diaries: Injury Strikes

It struck quite a while ago actually but I’ve been soldiering on with it as one often does – ill-advisedly and for several months. It’s ultimately not serious though I’m happy and relieved to say and whilst it remains uncomfortable for the moment, does not represent a physical problem that will stop me training, hopefully.

I include this post today for any budding, beginner or inexperienced runners reading as dealing with injuries is always going to be a part of running, unless one is inordinately fortunate. It’s important to consider the way one considers these inevitable problems when they come along and present themselves.

For some time now I have been experiencing pain in my lower stomach. This is always exacerbated by running and has led to many an uncomfortable time, during and after runs and more especially lying in bed trying to get comfortable at night. Like many injuries it’s always worse after being at rest for a little while – after sitting or when getting out of bed in the morning.

The problem is diagnosed by my physiotherapist as a Sacroiliac condition – basically my left pelvis was ‘stuck’ and causing the tendons in my front lower stomach to be stretched and therefore become inflamed. The lack of movement in the pelvis meant that upon movement, my spine would twist one way to compensate for it then the other further up, not a good scenario obviously. A few manipulations in the surgery this morning have left me a little sore but nevertheless hopeful of being on the road to pain free running, something I’ve not had the pleasure of in a while.

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Read about this condition

As is often the case, anti-inflammatory medication in the form of Ibuprofen tablets has been suggested as a useful and helpful tool in alleviating the inflammation and discomfort. I was already using this rather spasmodically and have taken it at various times in the past for different conditions. I learned today that administering it properly is very important. It should be taken as near as possible to every eight hours as is achievable to spread it’s effect in an even manner. A problem and inconvenience with the taking of this kind of medication is that it should not taken on an empty stomach as this can be harmful to the stomach lining. It’s good to hear however that a ‘not empty stomach’ can simply be the ingesting of a piece of fruit (preferably not of an acidic variety), a digestive biscuit or similar just prior to taking the Ibuprofen, it’s not necessary to have a full meal which can of course be inconvenient to fit in adequately.

I have to take it easy for a day or two to let those manipulations settle down a little. That’s not always so easy to do! I feel that this is a blip on the marathon training horizon however and am encouraged that I now run in the full knowledge of what the problem is and how to handle the situation. That always has to be the best way, to operate in an informed way.

I’m a runner. I’ve been a runner since I was around twelve years old and that’s a long time. We runners tend to be obstinate, stubborn and set in our ways about the way in which we practice our chosen sport. I’m sure this is often a necessary part of the character of a typical long-distance runner – a hard activity that requires not a little determination and inflexibility of thinking, not to say downright cussedness and pigheadedness at times! It’s what keeps us going when the going gets tough but it can also be our downfall.

Onwards and upwards.

The Marathon Diaries: Cleaning up the Act

Successful marathon running is all about training, sleeping, and living well. It means having a diet that is supportive of what one is trying to achieve and keeping those things that are harmful to our health regulated and in check.

One thing I’ve always known in the many years I’ve partaken in regular running is that I have an  inherent talent and ability for it. Apart from anything, that’s probably largely due to my mental imageapproach more than most things. I take a determined, never-say-die attitude to running and it has served me well over the years. It’s crucial to cultivate this attitude if one doesn’t possess it naturally I feel.

One of my weaknesses has always been my social life and drinking copious amounts of beer within that social life in particular! I’d be the last person to undertake a ‘preachy’ stance where this is concerned (in fact such people irritate me intensely) but it’s simply a fact that alcohol is not a great tool to use if you want to run well, fast and long.

It’s affects are obvious in the main but less so in other instances. Many of us – runners or not, all know the effects of a ‘slow’ day after going out for a few beers on an evening. Obviously it physically inhibits training efforts for the runner but also the inclination to partake in them (at least to a more strenuous degree) in the first place. We get dehydrated and this of course is the antithesis of the situation we actually require for running long distances.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how I can curtail my alcohol intake as I’ve felt the need to initiate some steps in this area because the rest of my strenuous efforts are going to be somewhat stymied otherwise. Of course with running completely to one side, there are many other potential benefits too. It’s just that the issue of running in conjunction with alcohol brings a strong focus to them. What’s ‘good’ for one generally must therefore be excellent for the marathon runner.

These are a few of the preliminary steps I’ve listed:

  • Drink lots of water before taking alcohol.
  • Order a regular glass of water with a beer whilst in a pub. This allows me occupy myself by sipping at the water instead of the beer. It keeps me hydrated and it also fills me up and seems to take away the capacity for drinking more beer.
  • Change my behaviour. This means not placing myself (at least so regularly) in places and situations that encourage me to drink more.
  • Drink lower premium beer.
  • Taking less money out with me. An effective way of making me drink less, and more slowly!
  • I am also gathering information about alcohol and it effects on athletes and drinkers in general. I feel a healthy way to approach the issue generally is to have as much awareness and knowledge as possible.

Some of the above points are more than obvious. I always believe that the most simple and straightforward measures are often the best though. I’d welcome comments from other runners (or anyone with a view in fact) reading this.

The Marathon Diaries: Drug-free Running

I think quite a lot and quite deeply about the subject of running when my motivation is raised – particularly in times of trying for a new goal in a race, not that the latter has been a major issue in recent times. I also try to consider the things that help me and those that conversely hinder what image I’m trying to achieve. It’s been all-too-long now that I’ve been prescribed Citalopram anti-depressants for a long-term problem with depression and also anxiety. This is an obviously an issue that travels well outside the confines of just running but the time has come for me I feel to stop taking medication. I just felt that progress was always going to be limited with the tax on vitality that these drugs possess. With other issues in my life indicating that it would be a suitable to time to end my association with these drugs, I have taken the step of weaning myself of this drug and am closely monitoring the effect it is having on me and on my running.

It’s a little early to say of course but after just a short while without the ‘aid’ of the little white tablets the portents look promising. I feel a little more clear-headed and in charge my own destiny to more of a degree. Importantly I appear to be learning how to ‘care’ again. This is incredibly important as previously this lack of interest in caring has led to poor and destructive eating, drinking and yes, exercise habits (apart from running of course).

It’s very much early days as yet but I am heartened. I feel it’s the way forward for me and my running.

The Marathon Diaries: The Over-Forties

Just recently my marathon training has been pitched at around thirty miles per week or so. It was now time to step things up for a week, pushing the weekly mileage further for a week before gradually building up to that level (and beyond) on a regular basis. Forty miles it was to to be then and with two days of running left I am comfortably placed on 35 miles after a steady 10 mile-plus image run yesterday afternoon around the pleasant local villages.

It’s a potentially risky business building up the mileage – injury is, as ever, just around the next bend if care is not taken over this. I understand from experience how much my body will take in this respect. I heard one with much more knowledge than me profess it akin to race-tuning a high-performance car. A trusty family runabout will undoubtedly mostly run trouble-free with the right care month-in and month-out whilst a car tuned for speed will always run the risk of travelling just that little bit too far and going over the edge. For a motor car this means  a visit to the garage for corrective measures, for an athlete it can mean an injury that is costly in terms of time missed through training and also expensive professional sport injury assistance. As one might imagine, it’s well worth thinking long hard about the way we progress the quantity of our mileage.

The week has been one of mostly slow and solid running. I tend to try and disregard this as I know that the key to eventual marathon success is one that encompasses a majority of steady aerobic type running. This can be augmented by more speed work and faster tempo running a little way down the line. The running has not been necessarily that comfortable as on some days, my body has still felt the effect of not receiving a decent ‘rest’ through the week on some days – particularly with running every single day as I do. A little stretching, good diet and some relaxation can help in this respect. It’s going to be over-forty (miles) this week.Next week can take care of itself.

The Marathon Diaries: Wired for Sound?

With the demise of my latest set of headphones and a few runs listening to the sound of my own footsteps (no bad thing) it set me to thinking about the methods I’ve used in order to hear a little image‘live’ music on the run over the years.

When I began running long ago than I care to remember in my school days such a ‘miracle’ wasn’t really possible. The smallest sources of music were diminutive transistor radios and no one at that time had the forethought to invent something that was truly portable – in a running sense at least.

The seventies grew more mature and whilst in my first ‘proper’ job as an apprentice compositor in the print trade, I rustled up the money for a brand new piece of technology entitled the ‘Sony Walkman’ The pic shows something very similar to the small metallic box with the magic sound. What an innovation! This new concept in music on the move wasn’t even ruined by a cheesy Cliff Richard hit of the time by the same name of my title here.

“Walkin’ about with a head full of music
Cassette in my pocket and I’m gonna use it – stereo
-out on the street you know-woh oh woh…”

Continue reading “The Marathon Diaries: Wired for Sound?”

The Marathon Diaries: Two Fives and a Seven

Not an arithmetical sum but representing two back-to-back days of five mile runs of contrasting fortunes. The seven represents the seven-plus minutes quicker the second run measured.

It’s been nice running weather recently with the sunny intervals of the days only punctuated by blustery winds more reminiscent of the month of March. As a runner, it’s always nice to use a circuit that might give a little help with the wind at one’s back on the tiring way home.

12052009059 On the road: Woodborough

The first run was a very ordinary one with no particular expectations other than completing the distance and returning home to fight another day – a ‘bog-standard’, rank and file session. These are the ones that flesh out a runner’s diary often overshadowed by the quality and long distances that take pride of place.

The second run however, over the same out and back course from Woodborough through Epperstone and return was one characterised by a lot of hard effort. The previous day had a residual benchmark time to beat and that was the main target. This was achieved by a confidence-boosting seven and a half minutes less than the previous day. Sometimes a runner’s confidence can be at a low or at least fragile ebb, especially on the road back to true fitness. We need a stopwatch to prove our worth. It’s perhaps folly to fixate too much on the chronograph but used in the correct way it will always be part of the runner’s armoury of weapons.

Enchanting lyrics somehow enter my head on the run, in spite of the hardship.

“Oh the rhythm of my heart is beating like a drum
With the words, ‘I love you’, rolling off my tongue
No never will I roam, for I know my place is home
Where the ocean meets the sky I’ll be sailing

As always they offer inspiration and strength…

“Oh the Summer time is coming
And the trees are sweetly blooming
And the wild mountain thyme
All around the blooming heather
Will ye go lassie go…”

Today’s run was hard – it was meant to be. I didn’t enjoy it for once but the aftermath glows. It’s tempting to compare the time I ran those miles in today with my higher level of fitness in past years but truly this would be a churlish exercise. I can get back to where I was. It’s entirely up to me.

The Marathon Diaries: The Old Road

It’s three days after my initial run of thirteen miles as I write, the two intervening days containing a couple of single-mile runs which keep my ‘streak’ going and a seven mile walk around the Denton area of The Vale of Belvoir. This was partly due to sore lower stomach muscles from that last long run. Sometimes having the ability to run a long way without taking too much care about doing it can be a bad thing. I really should remember that it’s some five weeks since I ran such a distance.

So it’s back to the old disused road near where I live for a few laps to gauge my soreness. I know by doing this I can end at the appropriate time without being obliged to complete a circuit. The old road is a curious place. It’s a crumbly half-mile stretch of faded tarmac running parallel with its more modern successor of some forty or so years. It’s pleasant and fairly quiet though, often you won’t see a single soul around there. To one side is a small wood and to the other open farmland with a picturesque farm house perched on the red hills.

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I set off and immediately feel my stomach tugging though this soon eases. I consult the set of limestone rocks near the beginning that I count off my laps with. I could never remember how many half-mile stretches I’ve run after the first handful!

The old road itself is largely set on a hill and is a healthy workout for that reason. The road is useful for a very short and necessary run near to home but when encountering the thought of running several laps, music become essential to me. A Sony Walkman Mp3 player plays some summery music into my ears under the watery May sunshine, dappled by the freshly green trees lining the route.

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Today I ran twelve laps equalling six miles. The time was unimportant. I’m thinking of the long-term goal as usual. Now – what about that diet…

The Marathon Diaries: The Road Back

So here I find myself, back in the car park of The Nag’s Head at Woodborough in Nottinghamshire. Alone and ready to run. Five days ago I filed my entrance online for the Nottingham Robin Hood Marathon in late September to absolutely no acclaim at all. There’s not much going back now. It’s a pleasant Saturday afternoon in early May and I have much work ahead of me.


First name: STUART

Surname: FREW

Race Type: Marathon – non-AAA affiliated

Date of Register: 30 April 2009

Time of Register: 09:11:06

It’s familiar road, one I’ve know so many times. I’m breezing along steadily with that small Hibernian FC Harp on my chest and a Maple Leaf emblem on my shorts. The first stream appears with a duck paddling furiously underneath the brackish water, swimming against an insistent current.

Continue reading “The Marathon Diaries: The Road Back”

The Italian Chapel, Orkney

Orkney is a group of seventy islands some ten miles off the coast of Caithness in the Highlands of Scotland, twenty of which are inhabited. I have to confess to a slight fascination, if not affinity to Orkney as my late father went to work as a young man on the submarine base, Scapa Flow there, though I have little knowledge of his time on the islands in his days before he joined the Merchant Navy just prior to WWII.

The Italian Chapel, Orkney

Although visiting the Highlands and Islands of Scotland many times, I have never yet managed to make the sojourn to Orkney and that is to my regret. For a comparatively small place, The islands of Orkney have much to offer the visitor, including some of the finest examples of Neolithic dwellings such as Skara Brae and various monuments. Once under Norwegian rule, Orkadians still refer to the major island in Orkney as ‘the mainland’ as opposed to the Scottish mainland. The afore-mentioned Scapa Flow has been a natural harbour since the days of the Vikings and has a too remarkable history to be merely glanced through here. Today I want to concentrate on a building, built with much love and faith, that has become a visitor attraction over the decades since WWII, The Italian Chapel which sits on a barren hillside on the island of Lamb Holm. Orkney saw some 550 Italian prisoners captured in North Africa brought to it’s shores in 1942 and Camp 60 consisted of 13 huts and became the Italian POW’s home until 1945. The Italians looked after their new ‘home’ creating concrete paths and flower gardens whilst one prisoner, Domenico Chiocchetti created a statue of St. George fighting the dragon which still stands to this day. The statue was ingeniously crafted by barbed wire covered with concrete – two of the main resources available to the prisoners.

orkney

One resource not available to the Italian prisoners was that of a chapel and after consultation by a new camp commandant, Major Buckland and the camp padre, Father Giacombazzi, it was decided that two back-to-back Nissen huts would be provided for the purpose. the prisoners themselves would be charged with making the building into a chapel. Here is the part of the story that I find so touching. The Italians set to, constructing an altar from concrete, painting the glass of the windows. Some items were purchased from the prisoner’s own meagre funds. Chiocchetti himself painted the intricate decorations of the inner walls. A wrought iron screen was engineered by a former iron worker who had spent time in that occupation in the USA whilst other prisoners worked on plasterboarding to make it resemble brickwork. Others created a belfry atop the small chapel and a head of Christ which sat above the doorway. The ending of the war meant that the finished place of worship was only used for a short time ironically though it soon became a visitor attraction. Domenico Chiocchetti, after staying in Lamb Holm initially to finish his labour of love, kept up his association with the chapel however, firstly through a BBC-funded return to re-paint his masterwork and a few years later on, in 1964, to donate 14 wooden Stations of the Cross. In 1992 on the 50th anniversary of the inception of the chapel’s construction, eight of the original Italian prisoners of war came back to visit their chapel in an emotional reunion. Sadly Domenico Chiocchetti was not amongst them being too unwell to travel. Domenico passed away in his home town of Moena in 1999 at a grand old 89 years of age. He left the people of his adopted home with a building of rare beauty, one that was built from love. The Italian Chapel still stands as a testament to peace after those years of conflict and as a symbol of the islanders and the Italian’s kindredship and kindness towards each other despite the rigours or war.

Domenico Chiocchetti, 1910 – 1999