Monday, September 24, 2018

A Cautionary Tale - Part 2

Following on from  “A Cautionary Tale - Part 1”

At the beginning of March, having not run since the beginning of November, I had surgery for the bilateral inguinal disruptions. I got back into ‘training’ very gently – some walks, some walks with a little running downhill, a bit more running. I made the policy decision to stay completely of road and stick to hard, technical routes to reduce running time but increase strength. By the end of April I was running relatively freely.

At the beginning of May, Jenny and I spent 2 weeks walking on the Camino during which time I managed one 40 mile day.

Back home I started running more. I entered the Lakeland 5 Passes Ultra at the beginning of June, a tough technical 33 miles. I decided to go all old school and stay off social media – no need for a fanfare. After a couple of weeks of glorious weather, it decided to hose it down all day. It was bitterly cold going over Harter Fell but I was so happy to be out running again, to be in a race. I was absolutely delighted with 7th but that wasn’t the important bit – I was back!

Although my groins seemed almost 100% better, I was becoming increasingly aware of the pain in my knee. During 2017, my groins had been the limiting factor but now that I was able to stretch out and run freely my knee was really becoming an issue. I had a marked reduction in knee flexion which was causing me to stumble over rocks quite frequently. 

This was hardly surprising since an MRI had revealed a complex degenerative meniscal tear, a further posterior horn tear and a parameniscal cyst. 42 years of rugby, triathlons and running had caught up with me.

However, I was running and I was happy. I had a place in the Lakeland 100 which had always lurking in the back of my mind. Being an ultrarunner and indestructible I decided to go for it. I put in some really good miles. I felt fast. I felt strong. I had lost all the weight I’d gained. I set several PB’s for my local climbs including Gatesgarth Pass. All systems go.

I felt great. And my knee was OK…if I took pain-killers prior to running.

After all, ultrarunners are indestructible…aren’t we?

2 weeks prior to the Lakeland 100 I stumbled and twisted my knee. Probably tore my calf a little too but what’s a bit of a calf strain to an ultra-runner? I did no running for the final 2 weeks up to the race. 

Only a couple of people knew I was running – no need to advertise, to validate – those important to me knew where I was at, and why I wanted to run.

On race day my head really wasn’t in it at all. For many of us it was a day of great sadness, a day of remembrance for a friend no longer with us. I had more than a few tears in my eyes as we started.

Going up the first few hills, I felt physically great. I felt comfortable and was well up the field. However, going down towards Seathwaite my knee wasn’t haven’t fun so I took it gently and managed not to trip up over the loose rocks. Why was I doing this?

Going through the woods after CP1 I tripped over an innocuous tree root – foot not picking up properly. Gashed my elbow, hand and knee but more critically really wrenched my knee. Tried to walk it off but after 10-15 minutes, I knew it wasn’t going to get better. I started the 2-3 mile walk back to CP1. It felt like a walk of shame.

Back in Seathwaite I discovered my good friend Jamie Hauxwell who had beaten me to the 1st place in the drop out stakes by tearing his hamstring before the CP. It was good to chat and therapeutic for us both, I think.

I haven’t run since. My knee got worse, was hurting on a day to day basis.

Last week I had knee surgery and it’s back to square 1 again. Is it worth it? Well I bloody hope so. I just want to be able to go out all day and play. Whether that is running or walking I’m really not too bothered at this present moment. I just want to be able to do the stuff I love consistently. And I don't want any more operations this year!

Apologies for repetition but…

Listen to your body.

We all say it but how many actually do?

I often see posts along the lines of “I’m doing a certain race, would it be Ok/sensible to do another the weekend before?” Or “I’ve got this niggle, would it be OK/sensible to do…?” Well it might be OK, and you may be absolutely fine. However, somewhere along the line you may suffer the consequences.

I ran over 3000 miles in 2014, 2015 and 2016, and would have in 2017 if I had managed to run all year. I had a fabulous time, seeing new places, meeting new people and had some great experiences. But I also broke myself and that leaves a big hole.

For the 3 months of May-July this year I was back in the bubble, I was running free…and then I broke again. 

I’m an ultrarunner but I am not indestructible.

Or perhaps it’s time to say I was an ultrarunner.

We’ll see…

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

A Cautionary Tale

January 10th 2016. It’s the first night of the Spine and I’m running towards Gargrave. Fresh snow on mud has led to several slips and slides. My groin is a bit sore but no big deal. Leaving Hawes the following day, my groin has stiffened up and takes a couple of miles to loosen off. No big deal. However, after Middleton, I can barely climb over the stiles and have to pull out. I’m obviously disappointed but I assume the injury will settle with a couple of week's rest. After all I’m an ultrarunner and I’m indestructible.

On the running front, 2015 had been a wonderful year. My 2nd Spine finish, running the Camino de Santiago (500 miles) in 12 days, 10th place in the Lakeland 100, and a UTMB finish. I’d run over 3500 miles.

Not being good at the rest and recovery thing, my planned 2-week rest turned into 10 days. I needed another challenge; something to make up for the disappointment of the Spine. Viking Way Ultra at 148 miles was just ticket. Despite never being happy with my running, I achieved my 2nd finish. I had a massive 5 days rest.

I trained really hard for that years Lakeland 100…too hard. I wanted to beat the previous year’s result/time. I was ill the week before the race and despite feeling OK on the startline, had no energy at all and pulled out at Wasdale Head. Had a few days off.

In October, I tied 1st with Tom Hollins in the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Ultra. On hindsight this was the last time I ran fluidly.

My groin was still niggling away but no big deal. After all I could still run as per usual and at some stage I would have a good rest. And after all, I’d managed to run 3200 miles that year so couldn’t possibly be injured properly.

Next big race was the 2017 edition of The Spine. I trained hard, really hard. I was in great shape. However, if I stopped for a few minutes during a long run, my groin would stiffen up. But it wasn’t really a big deal. I picked up a flu-like illness the week before the race, swapped into the Challenger and managed 30 miles before my legs totally gave up.

Groin was an issue now, stiffening up after most runs. However, the summer version of the Spine was on my radar – I would rest properly after that. My knee was also playing up now but I could still run OK.

With the disappointment of the Spine still hanging over me, I entered the Viking Way again. I was going along in 2nd place but I couldn’t really get going and I couldn’t really be bothered. I pulled out at 60 miles.

Next up was the Liverpool to Manchester Ultra. By now I was having to really nurse my body in the lead up to a race. I was happy to place 12th on a very flat course but never really felt I was running smoothly.

Summer Spine was next and I totally planned to have a really good rest after it. I had coaxed myself back into really good shape. Although initially sore, my knee and groin quickly settled and I had virtually the perfect 3 days running. I was going to bloody win the thing!! Then my blood sugar decided to sabotage me and I was withdrawn from the race.

I was distraught. Although I had run 190 miles, I hadn’t finished so hadn’t capitalised on all the training. I needed to do one last big challenge before getting myself better. I had 4 days rest before running in the Bampton Sports Day 9km fell race. I had another 3 days off before getting back into training for the Ultra GB 200 mile race.

Thinking you can run 200 miles with a broken body is probably stretching optimism to its limit. I had a dreadful run. I just couldn’t get going. My groin and knee were sore. After about 40 miles, I sneezed and got acute pain into…spoiler alert…my left testicle. Or left lower plumnadular region as my brothers would call it. That didn’t feel right at all. I pulled out at 60 miles.

But I still needed to capitalise on all that training. I needed to plug the hole that the summer Spine had left – it was still torturing me. A stage race in Burgos, Spain, popped up on my timeline. Just the ticket.

By now my knee and groin were taking turns in hurting during nearly ever run. I was also getting pain over my symphysis pubis, and every time I coughed or sneezed I got the aforementioned “lower groin” pain.

Imaginatively, I used the Cumbria Way Ultra as training for the Burgos race. Although I came 2nd ,  I never really felt like I was running properly. I couldn’t really stretch out especially on the downhills.

Burgos was brilliant but I was very aware of my groin and knee all week. Substantial stretching got me to the finish line.

Rest time.

So I had 10 days off. After all, ultrarunners are indestructible…aren’t we?

First run was sort of Ok. After it, I did a few core exercises and felt something ‘go’ in my groin/pelvis. Pain on walking in the morning…after I’d tried to run again. 

On November 2nd 2018, 22 months after the initial injury, I finally made the decision to rest completely until it got better.

3 months later, despite physio, it wasn’t. I was referred to a Sports Medicine consultant who arranged some scans and the full horror was uncovered.

1. Bilateral inguinal disruption = basically hernias (or herniae for accuracy) 
2. Adductor longus & brevus tendonopathy with partial tear of longus = a knackered groin 
3. Complex degenerative tear to medial meniscus = knackered knee


1. At the beginning of March, I had surgery for the inguinal issue. Seems to have been successful. My surgeon has given me the go ahead to do some light training including some short sprints…whatever they are.
2. Ongoing physio but likely to remain an issue
3. Tough…basically

I’ve done a couple of hard walks on the fells with ‘jogging’ the downhills. I haven’t been brave enough to try a run yet. 

The reality is that I’m unlikely to ever get back to the level that I was at. My main goal is just to get onto the startline of something. To be able to go out and play properly. 

Listen to your body.

We all say it but how many actually do?

I often see posts along the lines of “I’m doing a certain race, would it be Ok/sensible to do another the weekend before?” Well it might be OK, and you may be absolutely fine. However, somewhere along the line you may suffer the consequences.

I ran over 3000 miles in 2014, 2015 and 2016, and would have in 2017 if I had managed to run all year. I had a fabulous time, seeing new places, meeting new people and had some great experiences. But I also broke myself and that leaves a big hole.

I’m an ultrarunner but I am not indestructible.

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Spine 2018 v7

This weekend the 7th edition of the Spine gets underway. It will be the 1st time that I have not been on the start line. Having steadfastly ignored a niggling groin strain, which initially occurred in Spine 2016, and a subsequent pelvic problem, I now haven’t run at all for over 2 months and am only now beginning to feel any improvement. Old age ensures that things recover much slower.

I have very mixed feelings about missing the Spine. Disappointment, jealousy…and relief.

I’m feeling really disappointed not to have all my kit all packed and be heading to Edale where the excitement and nerves will be palpable. First timers understandably nervous. Frequent fliers more relaxed, understanding that there’s little point wasting nervous energy when you will need every little bit of energy available for forward propulsion. I’m disappointed not to do my traditional, and ceremonial, sprint start. By the way, this is only seen at the Spine!

I will miss the camaraderie of all the Spine family, and I’m jealous of all those who will experience it. I will miss eating at Tan Hill and the fine dining at Greg’s Hut. I will miss having breakfast in Gargrave Co-op. They probably won’t miss me! I will miss crossing Cross Fell. Sorry but I love the sense of isolation up there…it can be a wonderful place. Can be nasty too!

But I am so relieved that I won’t spend a week in January on an emotional and physical rollercoaster. I won’t miss the cold, the rain, the damp, the mud. Definitely not the mud! I won’t miss the 15 hours of darkness – but I will miss the glorious sunrises and sunsets that can occur. I won’t miss the continual battle against sleep but I will miss the tremendous
boost of arriving at a checkpoint. 

And I definitely won't miss the painful toes!

It’s been nice not having the pressure of training hard through November and December and actually not caring about what I eat or how much I train over the Christmas period. My family appreciated having a non-Spine Christmas!

Jenny, I know, is very relieved. She won’t have to spend a week worrying about my well-being. A week dot watching. She will be able to sleep! But I fancy she will miss being part of the support team – she really does run a top-notch checkpoint, and loves looking after everyone.

So, whilst I will miss everything that makes the Spine such a great and unique event, I will enjoy my warm bed next week whilst trying not to feel very jealous of all those who are going to have a great experience.

Good luck to all involved. Stay safe and have fun…whilst we watch your dots.