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 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.
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 I 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.
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.
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.
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…”
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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
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.
Okay it’s here.
Today marks eight years since I began a running ‘streak’ – running every single day without fail for a minimum distance of one mile. In practice the distance has been anywhere between one and twenty-six point-two miles (The London Marathon) along the way. I’m going to save the full story for another day but I’d just like to relate how it began and a couple of memories along the way from this past eight years.
I’d been originally thinking of this project for some time and had even achieved a period of several months of marathon training before sadly succumbing with a broken big toe. Ironically that was not caused by the seventy/eighty miles a week I was training at that time but by stubbing my foot on a door frame in the home! Such is life I mused as I struggled through a couple of painful eight and five-mile runs with the fractured toe before realising that particular streak was sadly at an end.
The idea of ‘The Streak’ came from former Olympic runner, Ron Hill. Ron is usually the first individual the running fraternity think of when the term is mentioned, his own Streak beginning way back in 1964 and still ongoing at 15,742 runs this very day. I took Ron’s criteria of running at least one mile a day and sometimes smile at the things he did to continue his long unbroken run of days. The former marathoner has told of running after a car crash in which he sustained a broken sternum and heart damage. Now that’s serious stuff. It almost makes his ‘run’ on crutches the day after an operation for bunions seem like small beer. This is the sort of mindset a streak puts you in however so I can easily understand what was going through Ron’s mind as people were undoubtedly calling him crazy for doing what he did. It’s difficult for others to understand the time, hardship and investment that goes into a Streak.
Over the past eight years I have been very fortunate with injuries, thank you God for that. I have however run with torn muscles on several occasions and dragged myself out of bed when I could hardly stand with a bad case of influenza. Travelling and holidays often presented a problem. I have run around airports whilst waiting for a late flight arriving, I have run down back lanes in Italy with a pack of dogs chasing me and got hopelessly lost in Rome when not being able to find my way back to the piazza upon where my hotel was situated. I have run in temperatures of -30 in Canada when the cold air burnt my throat and froze my eyelashes. I have returned home from a run with heat stroke conversely.
The Streak has enabled me to run in some beautiful places. Beaches, mountains, major cities such as Vancouver, London, Naples and Edinburgh. It’s also enabled me to connect back to nature on the majority of days, most often when I run in the beautiful old hunting estate, Bestwood, part of the original Sherwood forest in Nottinghamshire. I’ve done an awful lot over the years to maintain it thus far but it’s given me an awful lot in return. I have no idea if, how and when it will end but will continue to treat it one day at a time as I have always chosen to.
In four hours time it will be time once more to drag those trainers and kit on and today head off to dear old Bestwood for another three miles-worth of The Streak. Wish me luck!