Well the day has finally arrived, one which I had been hoping to avoid but had slowly crept up on me none the less. In reality it was always going to happen but over the preceding days, weeks and months I had hoped against hope it wouldn’t be true. Sitting here now I know it was always going to end this way and with hindsight I should and could have made this call months ago. That is life however and sometimes we all need to go on a journey to make discoveries about ourselves. I’m not a superstitious guy but it seems kind of apt that today should be Friday 13th as well.
Lets start at the very beginning
Lets wind the clock back a few months. For those that have been following my ramblings on social media and this website, you will know that my running year started well but fell apart immediately after The Pennine Barrier 50, with an injury that saw me unable to run and my sub 30 hour plans for Lakeland 100 in tatters.
In the weeks leading up to Lakeland 100 I fought hard to make it to the start line and with the support of some great friends I did just that. Unfortunately I had to stop after only twenty miles in the darkness at Wasdale Head, when my body refused to let me continue.
It was my first DNF (did not finish) of my short running career, and while like today, it was always inevitable, it was a tough one to take.
As I returned from Coniston to the flat lands of East Anglia, my focus quickly shifted to my next objective, The Spine race in January 2018. With over five months to go, I had plenty of time to recover and train, to really try and give a good showing of myself in this race.
I took a couple of weeks off running entirely. Although I hadn’t run much since mid June, I figured a good break was required to try and allow the injury to settle. It had responded well to treatment in the weeks leading up to Lakeland, so hopefully a few weeks rest would see it settle entirely. A short test run soon told me this wasn’t the case, so I immediately took another two weeks and waited.
During this time I had been continuing to see my chiropractor. This was something new to me, having never used one before but Bev immediately concurred with John’s assessment of the root cause of my injury and pain, namely a tilted and twisted pelvis.
The reduced mobility in my right ankle as a result of metal work added following the double fracture and dislocation I suffered in my final ever rugby game a decade ago, was probably what started it all. This in turn was causing the pain I had been experiencing in my pubic sumphysis since March, ultimately resulting in my glute and right hip giving out on me entirely, as it tried to muscle its way through, as I trained and raced my way towards Lakeland.
With a decades running, biking and triathlon since the rugby injury, my body had built layer upon layer of compensation to try and cope with the underlying issues. This made Bev’s job all the harder, but she patiently unraveled the problems and slowly worked back towards the underlying cause, trying and set me straight – quite literally.
Slowly we made progress and my confidence rose that I would be back to full training by the autumn. I was also taking the proactive step of doing some daily hip mobility and strength work, to try and help the alignment and flexibility in this area. All seemed to be going well and despite not running I was positive for the future.
The end of August arrived and we headed north as a family to support my wife on her first ultra marathon in The Lakes. Yes we are now a fully fledged ultra family! By total chance we chose to stay in Alston, which Spine aficionados will know is the location for checkpoint 4 on The Spine. What better excuse to get out and do some hilly off road running on The Pennine Way!
It was superb to be back out in the hills, with the views and air lifting my spirits as I followed the trail over hill and moor, and past ancient landmarks. My pace was intentionally slow, helped by it being more run walk than run due to the hills. But it was great to be back in the terrain that I loved and my spirits were high.
On the return leg back to the cottage though, the pain quickly returned and the memories of Lakeland came flooding back. Despite the beautiful terrain, I arrived back to my family a sore and dispirited man.
Decision time, take one!
Some decisions needed to be made. My original plan, had I been fit, was to take it easy during August and then build towards The Rebellion Ultra in mid-Wales at the beginning of November. While it was a new event, it looked like a superb route and would also act as a perfect test of fitness and personal admin ahead of The Spine.
With little or no running for two months, there was no way I would be ready to run 135 miles in just two months time, so I took the difficult decision to withdraw from the race. This took the pressure off and meant I could work on an easier return to running, which lead me onto my second decision.
I decided to go right back to basics and slowly build the volume back in. This was my wife’s suggestion, and a good one at that. So a couple of days later once the pain had subsided and while still in Alston, I could be seen heading slowly south from the village along The Pennine Way for a short five kilometer run. This felt good, so I gave it a days recovery and then went out again, lifting the distance by just over ten percent.
This process repeated for the next few weeks and slowly the volume built back up to around ten miles. I was running and while I felt unfit, pretty tight and a little sore, it felt better than it had for a while. It wasn’t exactly pain free running but maybe just maybe I was getting somewhere?
It’s pain Jim but not as we know it!
Bev was continuing to work her chiropracting magic and slowly things started to improve. On the plus side all discomfort and pain had gone entirely from my right hip and glute. On the downside it was now sore in my left glute and more worryingly my groin.
Frustratingly, the pain in my groin got worse as the weeks passed, to the point that my left groin would be incredibly painful for the first few hours after a run, easing off in the 12-24 hours after that.
I seemed to be able to run around ten kilometers okay, after which things got pretty sore. Eleven miles was the furthest I’d managed to run in one go during this period, all be it quite painfully in the closing mile. In a frantic attempt to try and keep my aerobic fitness up, I was now using my turbo trainer once again, which was fortunately pain free, if incredibly dull.
Breaks from running were frantically added to my schedule but on my return to running the glute and groin issue on the left would still be there. To say it was frustrating would not be an understatement!
Meanwhile Bev had been on a NAT course and had shifted her attention to trigger point release in the tendon attachment points in my upper leg, groin and shoulders. For those that have had trigger point release you’ll know how uncomfortable it can be. In tendons and mine especially, the pain levels appeared to go through the roof. Bev, speaking from experience, likened it to the pain you get from childbirth and while I have no experience myself, it is definitely the most painful thing I’ve had done to me and makes my leg fracture and dislocation feel like a mere scratch in comparison. After each forty minute session I would find myself totally exhausted and drained of energy. I definitely have even more respect and admiration for my wife after these sessions!
That said the research behind these techniques seemed to be sound, we were definitely focusing in the right area and judging by the pain I was experiencing, I had some serious issues to be resolved there. Five sessions in and things appeared to be loosening off but the groin pain persisted when I ran beyond ten kilometers and with the calendar now passing into October, another round of tough decisions needed to be made.
To try and ease the groin pain, I decided to take a week off running entirely to see what happened. More trigger point therapy took place and on a work trip to Berlin this week I decided to try my running legs once again. There is nothing I enjoy more than running adventures around new and interesting places and a chance to explore Berlin was just too good an opportunity to turn down.
And an adventure it definitely was, ranging from running alongside Cold War remnants of the Berlin Wall to discovering a long abandoned amusement park in the woods by the river, complete with a dilapidated ferris wheel poking up out of the undergrowth. It was incredibly spooky, like some post apocalyptic film, but with the pain in my groin returning I wasn’t enjoying it that much.
As I limped back to my hotel, I had a moment of complete clarity and acceptance. My Spine dream was over and I needed to withdraw from the race, take a prolonged period off from running and put all my energies into getting fit and stronger, ready for a great 2018.
I took counsel from those I love and respect and also discussed it with the race directors at The Spine. All were sympathetic and supportive of my decision, agreeing it was the best and logical course of action. My good friend John Reynolds summed it up perfectly – as he always does – by saying “there is no point lurching from race to race trying to be at the party but not being able to take part”.
That was exactly what I had been doing since first getting injured following The Pennine Barrier back in June. First Lakeland 100, The Rebellion Ultra and now The Spine. I had been so desperate to get fit and attend each race, when in reality what I really needed was to take the pressure off and focus one hundred percent on my recovery and worry about racing once I was fit!
So this morning, on Friday 13th, I wrote my email officially withdrawing from the 2018 Spine Race. The deed is done and my next and only scheduled race is not until Lakeland 100 at the end of July 2018. Oh did I forget to mention I’m going back again to try and scratch that itch? More on that next year!
So there we have it. I am and will continue to be an injured runner until I put all my energies into getting myself fit and well, without the distractions races bring.
I will admit I am disappointed to have to withdraw from The Spine. Put to one side the financial loss incurred, I was genuinely excited to take part in this race and keen to test myself over the course. To me it is the perfect blend of my two main sporting passions of the last twenty five years, namely ultra running and mountaineering. As a result I know I will be back to have a crack at The Spine at some point in the future.
Would I have completed the race should I have started, even with full fitness? Unlikely. Would I have enjoyed the experience none the less? Undoubtedly!
Yes I could have dropped back down to The Spine Challenger but if I am honest I have no desire to run that race again. Yes last years race was hardly a performance I could be proud of but I got the job done. If I am ever going to run that course again though, it will be with the intent of heading further north once I get to Hawes. Plus I desperately needed to remove the distractions that races were placing on my recovery and The Challenger would have been exactly that, an unnecessary and unwelcome distraction.
So what is does the future hold?
Well firstly I will be back, that I am one hundred percentage sure. For the coming weeks I plan to take a complete break from running and focus on the good work Bev is already doing. When I return, I plan to take the same approach I did back in Alston and slowly build the mileage back up from a low base, with the aim to be back running long distances by February or even March 2018.
Until then it will be the dreaded turbo trainer for me, to keep my legs and aerobic engine ticking over.
To close, I would hate for people to feel sorry for me and I apologise now if this post comes across as negative, as that wasn’t my intent. I accept that I have been extremely lucky to get away with the issues I have had for so many years and enjoy some amazing running adventures and races along the way.
The love and support I have had from friends, family and fellow runners over the last few months has been immense and I am extremely appreciative of it. The ultra running community is amazing and was one of the things that drew me to the sport and away from the more egotistical triathlon community. These last few months have made me appreciate it all the more and to everybody who has supported me or had a kind or encouraging word to say, I thank you immensely.
Yes I am disappointed with how the year has ended, who wouldn’t be, but I am also happy with the successes I’ve had earlier in the year. As I write this though I feel like a weight has been lifted and am positive about the weeks to come, especially the time and space I have given myself to make some positive and exciting life changes beyond my running. More on those in future posts I am sure!
Apologies for being so quiet for the last few months. Hopefully these words have shed some light on what I have been up to and how I have ended up where I am today.
For some Friday the 13th may be unlucky but hopefully today is actually the day when my luck changes for the positive. I will be sure to keep you posted on my progress. Now where did I put my cycling shoes!?