An Achilles Tendency

August 4, 2022

Excuse the play on words.

Back, way before this blog began, I had a severe accident playing hockey (that’s “field hockey” to my US pals). I was fairly disabled for several months, and had long periods every week in traction for my spine, etc. Then began a long, slow rehabilitation process, during which it became apparent that my days as a competitive track athlete were at an end. I was 32 years old. Eventually, lots of things took its place, all of which were great, and helped me regain and rebuild my fitness, but it was a long time before running again came over the horizon. To cut a long story short, when I discovered I could still sprint, I promised myself that I would take any injury that befell me seriously, because I never wanted to go through again what I’d been through recovering from the hockey accident. And I still never do.

I’ve pretty much kept that promise. I have been blessed with physical therapists who have always taken me seriously, and never done less than their best to keep me going as an active older athlete. I’ve had my share of muscle tears and strains, and even a few broken bones, and weathered several spells of depression. All of these have probably been enough to keep my eye off one thing I probably couldn’t have done much about anyway. That thing is the creeping onset of wear and tear damage.

To me, and, I am sure, to many or most older runners, possibly the most common and intrusive evidence that you’re not the invincible human machine you once were (ha, ha) is achilles tendinitis, or, as I gather we ought to call it, achilles tendinopathy. I had sore achilles tendons on and off in my career as a summertime athlete and wintertime hockey player, but although I don’t recall treating it specifically, it always went away. I was a good sprinter in my fifties when it struck me again, but this time stubbornly refused to leave me alone. I learned the exercises to do to ameliorate the symptoms and to keep trouble at bay. However, I seldom gave thought about whether there was something systemic in my training and racing habits which might have improved matters even more. I’m what therapists call very “body aware”, and can usually determine cause from effect, yet I seem always to have relegated achilles tendon trouble as just “the occasional price to pay” for what I was doing with/to my middle-aged body.

Now, if you follow this blog, you’ll know that I’ve just had three years out of the sport, partly enforced by what Covid-19 restrictions did to sport in general, and more than partly the result of mental health difficulties think, I’m happy to say, I’m successfully coming through.

Part of emerging from that hell-hole was getting back to racing again, even if that meant I’d be making a comeback at age 68. I covered this in the previous chapter of this blog. I ached for a week or so after those first “comeback” races, but nevertheless took up the opportunity to enter some more races four weeks later. In between times, I needed to do something to address my shortcomings in the first two races, as observed on videos shot of the races. Mainly, I wasn’t getting good knee-lift, and I was running very upright. My chosen remedy was to put in some good training sessions that would involve me sprinting uphill.

I’ve been doing hill sprint repetitions for as long as i can remember. When I was a kid attending my club’s monthly Sunday training days, they were always a very competitive feature. Much more recently, charging up the steep 150 metres of mainly traffic-free road a few minutes from home was a key component in my arriving at major masters championship races in good form. I’d used the hill seriously for the first time in 2009, and credit training on it with my best-ever World Championships performances. So, summer evenings on the hill were once again my burden, as I sought “comeback” fitness and technique.

Then (and many of you will be ahead of me by now) my left achilles tendon told me it wasn’t happy. Its timing wasn’t good, with just a week before my scheduled race meeting, and I’d just confirmed my attendance. Ice buckets, thera-band stretching, and eccentric heel lowers (Google these if you don’t know!) got me to the stadium, and ready for warm-up.

All was good up to this point. The troublesome achilles tendon was taped up and strapped, and not really hurting. Then I got caught in a queue to sign in for my race, which took far longer than usual. I was jogging back down the track for final race preparation when, out of the blue, my right achilles made its own discontent known. I was already in my “race zone”, and remembered I had a spare achilles tendon strap in my bag.  Withdrawing from the race never came into my mind for a moment. I seemed to be justified, because I won the race – it was only my second 100 metres in three years, remember.

I had a painful hour or so after that, keeping moving, adjusting my achilles straps and descending deeper into denial that there was anything seriously wrong, before my 200 metres race. I’d been allocated the outside lane on the track, so I’d be running “blind”, and unable to draw on the pace that my opponents were running at. I actually don’t recall hurting at all, and seemed to be running strongly. I was just pipped on the line, but second place was ok, I guess.

Then I began to hurt! Both of my achilles tendons seemed to be on fire, and even walking was painful. Come to that, sitting in the car going home hurt, too! I realised that my gamble to get race-fit and fast, in almost no time, had pushed me to doing “too much, too soon, too fast”. All the online advice about achilles problems warned me about this. But it was only after these events that I began to notice the advice, in the same articles, about how running uphill was just about the worst thing one can do to keep achilles trouble at bay. So, add to the list “too steep”, as well.

So, now I am back in an all too familiar situation. I have another race coming up, in just over three weeks from now. I’d really like to do it, because it’s in a memorial event to an athlete friend of mine who died earlier this summer. But I’m injured, unable to train (to be honest, I was hardly able to walk down the street to post a letter today), and all the ingredients of rushing my preparation are there yet again. You can see it, I can see it. But we’ll all have to wait and see how it plays out…

“On Your Marks….”

July 6, 2022

Over the years, I must have heard those words a thousand times, as the final countdown began for a race I was in. And I’m delighted to tell you that I heard them again yesterday.

Yes, I raced. Three years out of the sport owing to a succession of injuries, plus all the Covid problems, and, of course, a prolonged episode of poor mental health, created a hole in my Masters Athletics career which, on many occasions, I really worried that I would never return from. So, thank you, Tonbridge AC, for staging one of your excellent Open Meetings, which gave me the opportunity to see whether or not I was ready to return as a sprinter. 

It wasn’t pretty, I’m sure, and it wasn’t nearly as fast as I’d hoped, but I can, for now at least, count myself an active athlete again. Actually, since originally penning that last sentence, I’ve seen video of both races. For sure, “pretty” doesn’t come into it! 

Reaction from some of my friends to the previous episode of this blog was really helpful in kick-starting me into action. One referred to the aforementioned Open Meeting. Rather than think about why I shouldn’t go and try and race at it, I simply went online and placed entries for two races. The idea came when, for a change, I was in a very positive frame of mind. I’d had to surrender my driving licence on health grounds a year ago. After being told I had been the victim of a mis-diagnosis and going through a bout of copious form-filling, I’d been able to reapply for the licence in March. With no prior warning, my licence was duly returned to me at the beginning of June. A major step on my return to something approaching “normality”.

At one level, sending off race entries like that was, of course, quite a rash thing to do. Not only had I not raced since July 2019, but during those three horrible years since, I’d probably done no more than a handful of “sprint-specific” training sessions. Nevertheless, having been quite a regular at the Tonbridge Open Meetings in the past decade, I had a good idea what to expect. In terms of a quality summer’s evening of athletics, I was not disappointed.

I wasn’t even particularly nervous. OK, maybe a few times in the preceding days, I did just entertain a “Now what the hell have you let yourself in for?” kind-of thought, but by and large, I just kept myself busy trying to remember all the things I needed to do in the last few days before a race. Athletes reading this will understand; there are lot of things to be done and remembered, especially when you have not done them for a while. It was surprising too, how low down the strata of clutter at home things like my running shoes had descended in three years.

One thing I found really hard was visualisation. As a technique, I used to use it as part of my preparation a fair bit. Picturing myself warming up for the event, envisaging that delicious feeling of being able to run at speed, etc were all things I’d done so little of for what seemed so long, that I’d really forgotten about them. But reality took over soon enough.

I felt like a beginner. I had to assume that the warm-up routines I had honed to quite a fine art over the years would still hold good for me after a three year break. So far so good. The race seeding process had drawn me against five of six youngsters, all of whom had estimated on their race entry form that they would run a time the same, or close to, that which I’d declared on mine. They, to their credit, seemed completely unfazed by having a grey-bearded oldie in a lane next to them on the track. I’d also not run from starting blocks for three years. I nearly didn’t bother with them this time, but an inner routine kicked in, and they felt comfortable enough when I set them up.

In my first race, the 100 metres, I was nearly caught out by the noise of the starting pistol. Or should I say, the relative lack of noise. These modern electronic guns, linked to electronic timing systems don’t go “Bang!” any more. I can’t describe the noise, but it’s not a “Bang!” I nearly stumbled a couple of strides after coming out of the starting blocks, too. It would have finished me if my first experience, after all this time, would have seen me fall flat on my face. However, I survived, and found I could still run fast. Peripheral vision suggested I was possibly in second place around half-way, and it was the most sublime feeling to be able to keep the power coming. I was a sprinter again!

I was in third place at the finish. Nothing had broken, I hadn’t disgraced myself. I was happy. Moreover I was also not as worried at the though that in an hour and a half’s time, I was going to have to race a 200 metres event as I’d expected to be. Twice as far to run…

There was a time, many years ago, when 200 metres was “my race”. But as it got faster, it also got harder. I became afraid of it, to be honest. No fears this time, except that the earlier 100 metres might have taken more out of me than I realised. It hadn’t, and although the video shows me running an uncharacteristically ponderous first 100 metres, around the bend, the 100 along the finish straight was adequate, shall we say. There was a point coming off the turn where we had the sun directly in our eyes for a good 20 metres, and there was a definite “wobble” in my progress until running back into the shadow. Anyone getting disqualified for running out of their lane then would have been very unlucky. Happily, nobody did, but it was a close thing.

So, I’d survived my two “comeback” races and all was well. Next morning, I was desperately weary, but happier than I’ve been for quite a while.

Furthermore, I am pleased to report that I’ve identified a couple of other late-season race opportunities, and I will soon be booking my entry. I’ve learned not to be optimistic in this blog, because that has always seemed to come back to haunt me. Here’s hoping things are different now, eh?

Time To Move On…

May 23, 2022

This chapter of my blog kind of picks up where the last one ended. I promised myself I’d write it sooner than this, but forgot that I had ten days holiday coming up, and I needed that holiday to be a time when I could try and clear my head more than writing would allow. Holidays are normally an opportunity to listen to more music than usual. One key takeaway was hearing, almost with fresh ears, the odd lines from songs I know well, which, this time, really resonated with me.

I am a big Tom Petty fan. I can’t believe it’s five years since he died, at a younger age than I am now. There are times when, listening to his lyrics, I think the guy knew a lot about anxiety and stress. I have listened to the “Wildflowers” album many, many times over the years. The track “Time To Move On” has the verse:

“Yeah, it’s time to move on, time to get going

What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing

But under my feet, baby, grass is growing

It’s time to move on, it’s time to get going.”

It encapsulates quite a lot of how I feel right now. A damaged Masters athlete watching what used to be his world pass him by. However, it’s tempered by another favourite track on the album which repeats something that, from time to time, becomes a bit of a mantra for me. Maybe not often enough, though. It’s from “Crawling Back To You

“I’m so tired of being tired

Sure as night will follow day

Most things I worry about

Never happen anyway.”

I also stumbled upon this article by Tim Clare one Sunday morning after my recent spell away from home.

I don’t think that I suffer from “panic attacks”. At least, not like those Clare describes. There was a time when I had regular episodes of what I chose to think might have been panic attacks, with cold sweats and sickening, almost paralysing feelings of anxiety at times. They still occasionally hit me now, and are sometimes the more memorable for their reduced frequency. 

A bit like Tim Clare with his, I never really got to the bottom of the cause of them. Unlike him, mine didn’t seem to have specific triggers. I suspected caffeine at one time, and went quite a long time without touching coffee, even though there wasn’t much evidence that the abstinence helped. I used to spend a lot of time in Italy, where not drinking coffee is almost a social crime. I drink coffee in great moderation nowadays, and enjoy it very much. Also like Tim Clare, I wondered whether what I did for exercise and training was a causal factor. Hold that thought; we may well need to come back to it.

Unlike Clare, my spells of high anxiety never left me screaming on the floor, but they did/do made me intensely irritable and even more wary of contact with others than I usual am. However, they’d often hit me “even in the quietest moments” (as the words of another favourite song go, this time one by Supertramp. Good grief, did the album with that on really come out as long ago as 1977?) Again, the reasons why this should be, I still don’t understand. It led to me often restlessly seeking activity and energetic outlets, as some kind of a way to ward off being alone and quiet with my own thoughts, perhaps. 

Around ten years ago, after having been as near the top of my game sporting-wise, as a regular national, European and World Masters Athletics championships finalist, as I’m ever likely to be, my running performances took quite a sudden dip. At the time I blamed two things: injury – though with hindsight, those I had were really quite minor – and a nagging feeling that somehow I was doing “the wrong kind of training”. However, at the time – and to a great extent, even still- nobody was able to tell me, in specific enough terms to be much use, what the “right kind of training” for a sprinter (then) coming up to 60 years old really was.

Fast forward eight years or so, and my more recent, rather unresolved spell of poor mental health, as touched upon in my last blog episode. The timescale of this run-in with the dark side included the onset of Covid lockdowns etc. I can’t blame lockdowns as a cause, though. They didn’t cause me new problems directly: they just didn’t help me cope with the ones I was struggling with already. 

My anxiety about “the right kind of training”, for example, had been there for a while, since knee problems had sidelined me from the track in 2019. The closure of most regular training facilities only led me to worry more about my state of health and fitness. Hence I was very interested to see Tim Clare included in his recent piece a section headed “Find the exercise that works for you”: because the two types he mentions that worked for him have also brought me to where I am currently, but in a positive way. These are HIIT and LISS. I’m sure it’s not intended that they should rhyme with “hit and miss”, but hey: we’re not talking universally precise science here, remember.

HIIT stands for “High Intensity Interval Training”, or “High Impact Interval Training”. Take your pick.  Sprinters are no strangers to HIIT sessions on the track, but there has been a resurgence in recent years of interest in the benefits of HIIT in gym training and other forms. In August 2021, using the money I was saving through not being able to go to the gym, I bought a Wattbike trainer

I’d used one for several years at the gym. I’d had a nagging doubt about high torque, cycle-based training being a possible cause of my knee problems, but the basic fitness gains from age-weighted and fitness level-weighted exercise of a measurably consistent level, with very good, immediate feedback was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down at the time. And nearly a year on, the benefits seem still to be accumulating. HIIT work is only one of a number of possible options the Wattbike software offers. Others range right up to simulations of cycling stages and climbs from the Tour de France etc. Not for me, those!

LISS is perhaps less well-known as an acronym, and stands for “Low Intensity Steady State” exercise. I guess it’s the current descendant from the cult of “Long Slow Distance”, which was popular amongst some runners back in the 1970s. Even back in those innocent days, doing training with the acronym “LSD” would raise an eyebrow! 

Regular walking is a LISS activity. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it in my blog here at all, but ever since Covid’s first UK lockdown, one thing I resolved to do was to take a regular daily walk. A few months previously, I’d bought a Garmin sports watch, which allowed me to set a target for a specific number of steps to achieve each day. The watch records my progress in achieving the daily target, and logs cumulative steps and distance covered. I set myself a modest target in May 2020 that takes me a little over an hour a day to reach. I can do those steps wherever I happen to be at the time. Obviously, most of my walks are from home, and the steps they contribute are in addition to those taken living a normal life.

It all soon mounts up, too! As I write this, I am now one day away from reaching two years without missing my steps target for for a single day. That’s 730 consecutive days. My steps tally over those days stands at 9,713,789. Nearly ten MILLION steps. I did, of course, (being me) regard my steps target as the day’s absolute minimum, and I usually walked quite a few more. My total distance walked in that time comes to over 8,000 kilometres, or just short of 5,000 miles. I guess that’s something like home to Everest Base Camp. I don’t know about you, but I find that impressive! Within about three months of starting, I was finding quite a few aspects of my physical health has improved, and I am sure that, however flaky it still feels at times, my mental health is better for the routine of my daily outing. LISS must have something going for it!

What I’ve learned (some of it from the reflection that has come through typing this blog episode) is that “HIIT & LISS” will definitely have been helping me build a decent base from which to start planning my return to active athletics.

(To be continued soon…)

Pleasure and Pain

May 11, 2022

(No, before you read on, please be reassured I have not taken to sado-masochism. Not in its strictest sense, at least!)

One of the upsides of what I’ve been going through in the last year or more has been that I have had the time and inclination to listen to stuff in my fairly large music collection. My tastes are what they used to call “eclectic”, and I am both a hoarder and a “completist”. That means I’ve hardly ever thrown any stuff away, and if there is an artist I like, I tend to spend time building a pretty complete collection of what they have published. The stand-out track for me these last few months has been “Pleasure and Pain” by the not long ago-departed Norma Waterson. (Click that link and it will take you to the track on YouTube.) It was written by a guy called Ben Harper in 1994, and Norma recorded it in 1996, if that’s of any interest to you.

“I’ve felt pleasure, and I’ve felt pain, and I know now I can never be the same.” 

That’s the line that keeps coming back at me.

As an athlete, I’ve had my share of both pleasure and pain. The pleasure has most tangibly come from such success as I’ve had as an active Masters sprinter. From where I’m sitting writing this, I can see my bundle of World, European, national and other gold and other medals hanging on a hook. They were hard-won, but the pleasure they represent is enormous, even now, some four years (gulp!) since the last one was added to that hook.

Much of the pain that comes to mind when I hear Norma singing that song is from much the same origin as the pleasure, of course. It seems to be the lot of the Masters athlete to spend his or her time sidelined with one injury or another (…and another, and another). The good thing is that the “pleasure” always eventually takes away the “pain”. It’s never the other way around, except temporarily. And success always makes you want more success. It’s part of where human evolution has brought us all, whether athletes or not.

Last weekend, I attended my first “gig” as a Masters athletics trackside photographer for a year, and only the second such event I’ve attended since June 2019. I met many athlete friends there. Talking to them hammered it home to me that a succession of issues has mean that it is also now coming up three years since I last competed on a running track. Knee problems, then all the Covid lockdown stuff, and my increasingly flaky mental health are responsible, but my goodness, those three years ratcheted up fast. I spoke to friends who have survived that three years well, but I also met several to whom time and circumstance have not been kind. To those in both camps, I was able to say, quite genuinely, “I share your pleasure” or “I feel something of your pain”.

I’d hoped that travelling to Oxford to photograph the event, which is one that has been on my list of photography fixtures for many years, would somehow kick-start me back towards the arms of that temptress that we like to call “normality’. It may just be too soon for judgements, but I’m already worried that it won’t, and that I’m going to have to work out a “new normality” before long.

Why so? Put it this way: 

I am apt to be a bit of a recluse. No big deal; I’ve been something of a loner all my life. At things like athletics events, there can me anything up to several thousand people present, but just as those competing have their own individual niche, the photographer has the opportunity to side-step the crowds, and use his camera to do his own thing, in his own chosen space. As an illustration of that, friend of mine photographed me at the World Masters Championships in 2018 with a shot that, for me, says it all. Thanks, Andy. 

Photo by Andy Gannaway

The photographic evidence of my recent day in Oxford confirms that I was able to drop right back into my individual niche, and come up with the usual good results. But, instead of heading home at the end of the afternoon thinking feeling “job done”, I realised I was entertaining thoughts that asked me “So, how badly had you really missed that?” and “Is that something you can see yourself going back to in a year from now?”. Maybe those thoughts will go away with time. But maybe not.

However, I don’t really need to tell you that making a return as a photographer is not actually the prime milestone. Getting back “on track” as a photographer is just a preamble. A preamble to working towards either reinstating myself as an active athlete, or to deciding that I’ve had a good run (pun intended), but that all good things come to an end. This blog is an attempt at a therapeutic discussion, largely with myself about those things – but feel free to chip in. Bear with me. I think I’ll write a further instalment soon, because it will help me keep these issues to the front of my mind.

Peter Pan?

October 9, 2021

If you’re a regular reader of this increasingly irregular blog, then firstly, thank you. Thank you very much. 

I started it quite a long time ago now, as an outlet to allow me to share some of the things I was doing as an older, competitive athlete. That aim still holds good, but there have been quite a few disruptions along the way. Sometimes, the words “older, competitive athlete” have been little more than a euphemism for “injured person”. I’ve had my fair share of hurt muscles, tendons and bones in the 20+ years I’ve regarded myself as that athlete, as well as enduring problems that were rather less in the arms and legs etc than between the ears.

However, I’ve often owned up to the fact that writing this blog is a kind of therapeutic outlet, and sometimes allows me to work out some kind of rationale for what might be happening to me at a given time. That will have been obvious to those regular readers.

I am now six months past my 67th birthday. If I’m talking with other people about what I do (and sometimes those “other people” can be active athletes themselves), and the issue of age and/or injuries arises, it’s reasonably common for me to be on the receiving end of an opinion that I’m “maybe just getting a bit too old” for what I do. People in general (including many athletes) seem to have a level of acceptance/tolerance for, say, older distance runners, that simply doesn’t seem to extend to older sprinters. There’s a lack of comprehension about what we do, or why we do it “at our age”. Well, for their information, and yours, no matter your distance, it’s still all about getting from start to finish in the fastest possible time. The difference in the case of sprinters is that we have rather less time to look at and enjoy the scenery.

Some years back, a good friend of mine (and older than me, as it happened – he’s sadly dead now) coined the expression “Peter Pan Syndrome” for what he thought must be driving me. He meant it as a friendly dig at how, unlike many other people, I have never seen age, per se, as a reason why I should be doing one thing, or stopping doing another. Unsurprisingly, the psychologists have already grabbed their own definition and description of a “Peter Pan Syndrome” (and for the ladies, a matching “Wendy Syndrome” too) as a form of psychopathology, but I don’t want you to go and look it up, because it’s far more depressing than the “Syndrome” I still enjoy. Mine is fundamentally down to doing a few things that most people, it seems, would think someone of my age would, by now, have stopped doing. But, as people say in other contexts, “if you’ve got it, flaunt it”.

The point of that rambling introductory part of this blog is this: I confess I may be losing my battle to remain in denial about the age versus activity-level thing. Some might accuse me of (finally) “feeling my age”. I can’t agree with them, however, because I have no idea what 67 and six months is supposed to feel like, and, of course, nobody has yet determined the age at which a person stops being “an older, competitive athlete”.

The prevailing headwind I’m battling against at the moment is the continuing fall-out from my “seizure” back in July. You can read all about it in my previous two blog chapters. The last episode ended with me still waiting to hear from NHS neurology services with a date for some tests that will, I hope, finally determine what actually happened to me on 5 July. Well, the news is…..I am still waiting. 

I was unable to make any headway contacting them on the telephone, and eventually spoke to my GP. He didn’t know anything about it. I was more than a bit of a shocked to find that he had not, at that point, (a good six weeks after the event,) been sent any information at all from the local hospital A&E people, who had seen me in July and had made the original neurology referral. However, once he’d obtained what he needed from A&E, he then told me that he didn’t have any magic wand to expedite a date for my brain scan. In these tough times for the NHS, I was just one of many people in a queue.

But there was more….

When I was sent home after my day in A&E, the duty doctor there explained to me why she was going to make a referral to the neurology services. I was given no paperwork, and didn’t therefore know that her report from that day’s investigations also included a recommendation that I be referred to a cardiologist. This was presumably to assess whether anything heart-related had played a part in my “seizure”. I suspect it’s a routine referral for people “of my age” in such circumstances, but it’s not something I know much about. Once he read the A&E papers, my GP spotted the omission, and actioned that referral. Result: I’m now waiting in two NHS queues, not just the one.

My recollection had been that the paramedics who had initially assessed me within an hour of the “seizure” were happy that I’d not had some kind of a heart attack. I tended to agree, having had the advantage of the heart-rate trace from my Garmin sports watch to look at, as some kind of guide. Throughout the incident, my heart activity on the watch appeared to be completely normal and regular for a fit person, sitting having his breakfast on the patio on a warm and sunny Monday morning. 

My figures meshed in very well with the ECG examination the paramedics had made with the boxes of tricks they bought with them. Given that a lot of my training is guided by heart-rate, and heart-rate based training zones, I feel reasonably confident that a hospital cardiology assessment won’t bring me any surprises. However, I can’t take that as read, so it remains another bridge I need to cross before I have any chance of life getting back to normal. Remember “normal”? With this all coming on the heels of more than 18 months of Covid disruptions, I’m not sure I do.

And that’s about it. On the plus side, it’s now three months since my “seizure” and I’ve had no kind of recurrence. I’m also doing some training twice a week, in keeping with the instruction that I should take things relatively easy, and avoid running if possible. I bought a “Wattbike” cycle trainer – a modern version of the one I used to use at the gym, and that’s all going well providing I don’t stress my knees too much.

The wear and tear on my mental health is one hell of a grind, though…..

An important and overdue update to this blog, added in May 2022 when I realised I had simply forgotten to do so.:

I waited, and I waited some more, but still nothing constructive came from the NHS about getting any tests and/or a second opinion on my “seizure” and the after-effects of it. My mental health was no longer being ground down – it was in free-fall. However, I did get called in to our local NHS hospital for the the cardio-vascular tests my GP had noticed had thus far been forgotten. And, what’s more, I got results from both of these very quickly. It was no surprise to me that they found me to be very well in that respect, with no need at all for follow-up or further tests.

And so, in February 2022, having been free of any kind of any recurrence or adverse symptoms for more nearly seven months since the original event, I took a deep breath, and decided I’d get some progress by going private, via an excellent non-NHS hospital not far from home.

Reassuringly, it took hardly any time at all to get to see the neurologist and epilepsy expert there. He reached the view that I had, frankly, been given a misdiagnosis by the NHS. He felt there was little in what had happened to me that should have led a neurologist to conclude I had suddenly developed epilepsy. He was also scathing about the lack of follow-up I had had (ie none whatsoever) for a potentially life-changing diagnosis such as epilepsy. A few days later, I received his letter, confirming precisely what he had told me when we had met.

Now to get life back on track….

“Still clueless after all these weeks”

August 23, 2021

(To misquote Paul Simon)

I was, literally, clueless at the end of the last episode of this blog.

Briefly, out of the blue, I’d suffered a collapse at home one morning early in July. After a day in A&E including a CT scan, I was none the wiser what might have caused this incident. I’d heard the paramedics and the A&E doctor use the word “seizure” to describe it. However, it wasn’t until I was being packed off home, basically, by that point, not feeling much worse after the day’s events, that any suggestion was made to me that I might have experienced some form of epileptic attack. I was, I was told, going to be referred to a consultant, who would give that some expert consideration.

Well, that consultation happened today, seven weeks later. It was a very “hands off” affair, with me being asked to go over what had happened, followed by a lengthy sequence of questions for me to answer. Any attempts I made to put the whole situation into what I felt was an appropriate and wider context (very fit bloke, no prior or post incident problems, etc) were all firmly brushed aside. This was to be diagnosis by some kind of predetermined framework, which apparently did not, or could not, allow for a 67 year-old to be as fit, free of extenuating circumstances, etc, as I apparently seemed to the consultant to consider myself to be.

It worried me just how concerned the neurologist was that nobody had instructed me not to drive, and to surrender my driving licence immediately after the incident. I recall being asked how I was getting home on the day of my trip to A&E, but when I said I was being picked up from the hospital, that seemed to be well-received, and nothing further was said or asked of me. Had I not considered the possibility, or the possible consequences, of me having another incident (forgive me for struggling with the word “seizure”), and of it happening while I was driving? 

Well, frankly, no: call me unimaginative if you must, but the thought had never once entered my mind. Whatever you want to call it, I was regarding it as a very “one-off” event. Although at A&E I’d been told to take things easy until I’d had my neurological consultation, I had felt pretty much able to resume normal life the next day. The intervening seven weeks probably were a bit lower key than usual, but consuming many hours of tv coverage of the Tokyo Olympics was the main reason! 

The neurologist grilled me about if, when and where I had had anything remotely similar happen. This was difficult: I remembered feeling very wobbly with heat and dehydration a couple of times while racing or training, but both times were at least ten years ago. 

I’d done my homework on epilepsy, though. “Late onset” epilepsy seems to account for about one in four new diagnoses. “Late” in this respect meaning over 60. The diverse nature of epileptic and non-epileptic seizures being what they are, tends to lead to some quite general descriptions in on-line literature, and what the pollsters call “confirmation bias” being what it is, I’d felt it easy to dissociate myself from a possibly pejorative description like “epileptic”.

“Have you noticed any deterioration in your memory?”, I was asked. What 67-year man old can honestly answer no to that? Did I ever have occasional moments where I felt a little “spaced out”? Ditto. 

It wasn’t, I’m sure, that the consultant felt I was wanting to make light of the situation. I never do that where my health is concerned. Long-term readers of this blog will be able to attest to that! No, the difficulty was that it was being made very clear to me that there could be serious consequences for me, and potentially for others, if I did not acknowledge the possibility/probability (depending on whose viewpoint you took), that I had indeed had an epileptic incident, and that it might prove to be only the first one. Being brought fairly abruptly face to face with a potentially life-changing situation is not something I’ve had to deal with often, I’m grateful to be able to say. It has come as a huge shock, believe me.

So, be that as it may, this fit, 67-year old athlete has now been referred for a series of neurological tests of my brain function and responses, to support a second, or further opinion from a neurologist at a different hospital. The hope is that these will be done quickly, but unfortunately that won’t be quickly enough to rescue my plan for an 8 day motorcycling holiday in three weeks from now.

I’ll keep you posted, and I’ll be grateful to hear from anyone who has first-hand experience of a situation similar to mine. Thank you.

Another fine mess….

July 8, 2021

I admitted that my previous blog episode was written partly to try to convince myself of a way out of the “vicious cycle” that life has got my training regime into over the last few months. It nearly worked too.

It struck me that repeatedly basing everything I did on 5 kilometre outings, no matter how I broke them down into more bite-able sized chunks, was, at the very least unimaginative, and was boring me. I needed perhaps to inject into my routines something I’d find less boring, and which might re-focus me on the real goal. That real goal being a return to the track as a sprinter, in due course.

It feels at present as if I’ve done very little by way of fast running for a very long time. Nothing at all that I’d call “sprinting”. I was doing a fast run up a steep hill near home, as part of warm-down after a 5k run for a little while. This pleased me, because it showed that I could still move like a sprinter, and for the distance involved, and the steep gradient, the stopwatch results pleased me. But then I hurt my back, and couldn’t do it properly, so it’s faded from what I laughingly call “my programme”.

I get great pleasure, and always have, from the sheer action of running fast. I clearly recall the first time I realised this. It was way back in the days when I played club hockey every Saturday afternoon. Being fast, I was marked out from the outset to be a wing forward. We developed a tactic that mostly involved me madly chasing a long ball hit hard and fast down the pitch in the vague direction of the right hand corner, before setting a move up for my colleagues to score a goal from. I was doing this one Saturday – I can even recall who we were playing – and remember feeling such a surge of enjoyment at being able to move that fast. At the time (we’re talking late 1970’s here) I was also running sub 11 seconds for 100 metres, so I was being put to good use by the team.

More recently, I realised, I’d lost that sense of pleasure in my running. I used to be able to snatch a glimpse of it on “Howard’s Hill”, the last 150 metres of our local parkrun course, which is steady uphill slope, and could give it my best shot, seemingly regardless of how tired I was from the previous 4,850 metres I’d just run. Maybe running a bit faster more often would work for me now?

Those thoughts and recollections led to me deciding to make one of my sessions each week a 3 kilometre run, broken down into 100 metres walk, 100 metres slowly increased pace jog, and 200 metres run quite hard (probably about 80% effort), repeated about 8 times. Although done on the paved surface of our local river path, it allowed me to visualise doing it as successive 400 metre laps in one of my favourite mid-winter training sessions, back in the day when I had access to a track I could use.

And do you know, in terms of pleasure, it worked? It certainly tickled lots of muscle memory, and the session got mentally booked into my week’s activities. 

But then came last Monday.

I love sitting for breakfast under the “conservatory” structure I’ve built outside the back door to our house. I frequently refer to it as “Mission Control”. The spot gets a wifi signal, and I frequently sit at the table there to plan the upcoming day. If you follow me on Twitter, you may know the photographs of “today’s view from Mission Control” I post there.

Well, Monday was going to be one such day. I had a busy week to plan, too. It was cool and sunny, and I had croissants and a huge mug of tea beside me. My wife was about to come and join me. However, from nowhere, I began suddenly to feel a bit clammy and nauseous. Within seconds, I seemed to be sweating profusely and felt dizzy. I sat forward in the chair, elbows on knees, and then…nothing.

My next recollection is of my wife settling me into my chair and telling me to sit quietly while she rang for an ambulance. She returned to say the paramedics were on their way. I was lucid enough to ask her what had happened to me. She’d been in the kitchen, and heard a crash and some groans. That was my chair – a heavy, wooden garden seat – going over sideways, ejecting me as it went. I was more confused than groggy, but I realised I’d hurt my forehead and my mouth, both of which were bleeding. I had no particular pain, but it seemed that when the chair had somehow tipped over, I’d banged my forehead on (probably) a heavy concrete planter on the patio, and also hit my mouth, or bitten my tongue in the process. I’d apparently lost consciousness for a short period of time: maybe ten to fifteen seconds, and was just coming round when my wife reached me, righted the chair and set me back down in it. Apparently, I asked her whether I’d fallen out of bed. The call to the emergency services was exactly what I’d have made in her position. Had I had a heart attack, a stroke, something else that required urgent attention, or what?

Quickly, I found I found that, apart from what I’ve described above, and the consequences of a short lapse of bladder control, I felt quite basically ok. I used to hold a qualification as a “first responder” to climbing and mountain accidents, and my head was racing to remember the most common heart attack and stroke symptoms. I was conscious, lucid, had no pain in my chest or arms, and was breathing normally. Not even any pins and needles feelings in my hands. I even managed to stand up unaided and walk upstairs to change what I was wearing before the paramedics arrived.

They came with blue lights flashing, too! They sat me back down at the “Mission Control” table, and the three brilliant and humorous ambulance crew wired me up for blood pressure and ECG testing, took my temperature, and checked my visible injuries. The full kit to do this nowadays fits into a couple of very compact back-packs. The cut to my head was shallow and wouldn’t need sutures. It had, however deprived me of some more of my already significantly dwindling hair. 

As to my mouth, there was no external damage, no lost or broken teeth, either. What I had done was bitten my tongue quite hard. The tip was a mess, as was one side, looking like a piece of raw liver from the butchers. I would have understood if the paramedics feared I’d maybe had a stroke, however, because I found speaking properly with a badly cut and swollen tongue was quite a bit of an effort. 

We looked at the print-outs of my vital signs, and were even able to compare the heart rate trace with figures for the previous four hours off my sports watch, which I wear 24/7. All seemed pretty normal. Soon, after giving me the very good advice to bring a water bottle, a good book and a ‘phone charger, I was getting my first ever ride to A&E in an ambulance.

That’s where the exciting stuff ends. Coming in by ambulance, I avoided the A&E waiting room, but I was still in A&E for six hours. I was triaged, had a CT scan of my head, had blood taken, and my blood pressure tested every two hours. For the rest of the time, I was really glad for that good book.

Sorry to disappoint, but the NHS and I are still not clear what actually happened. The A&E doctor did however reassure me before I was allowed home, that the CT scan had found no brain abnormalities – so, no brain tumour, for example. Neither had the blood tests shown any evidence of a heart attack. I’ve been referred for further neurological tests, and been told to take it easy for a while, and not get stressed.

Several days later, I’m enjoying the chance to watch the Tour de France on tv uninterrupted, and really liking the daily glass of pale ale that will apparently help keep my tongue clean, and reduce swelling. I’ll keep you posted on what happens next, but right now, I don’t have a clue!

Vicious Cycling

June 23, 2021

I’ve not blogged here for a while, because there seems to be a limit to how many excuses the internet can take about why we athletes aren’t yet out there all doing our thing. However, I tweeted something recently about “how it is” for me right now, and it triggered several people to reply along the lines of “me too”, so I decided that penning a blog chapter on the subject might at least help me think it through. It’s worked for me before.

So, what is that “it” I’m referring to? Recently I referred to it as a kind of “vicious cycle”. Nothing to do with bikes, though. At least, not in my case.

If you’re new here, I’ll start with some context: I am a successful sprinter in Masters Athletics (track and field for the over 35’s) and, although it pains me to admit it, I’m now in my later 60’s. The app that goes with my Garmin sports watch recently, and without any hint of irony, told me that my “fitness age is that of an excellent 20 year-old”. I’ve long forgotten what it was like to be any kind of 20 year-old. Covid blew competitive athletics out of the water back in March 2020, but cumulative damage to my knee tendons had side-lined me about six months before that. Given that racing for Masters like me is only just now trickling back into the sporting calendar, and that I’m probably not going to be ready for it, it won’t be long before I’ll have been little more than a spectator for two full years.

Why so? Well, it’s that “vicious cycle”. 

When lockdown arrived in March 2020, I was still restricted to remedial training, aimed at keeping a basic level of fitness, but not stressing my delicate knees. I’d been living on a diet of gym work, including treadmill running, and a once a week outing over 5 kilometres with my local parkrun. Pretty quickly, lockdown took them both away from me (and everyone else, of course), and anything that involved meeting other people and racing against them was also on the banned list. I don’t live near any, but such local tracks that there are in my athletics wilderness were, of course, also closed.

I could go out and run a 5km session on my own, of course, despite believing it to be of limited real use to me as a sprinter. I had proverbial cupboards full of stuff I could use to replicate some of the things I’d been doing at the gym. So, I knew I could maintain the status quo, and little by little, get my knees back in shape. But, in the circumstances that pretty much prevailed from March to September 2020, I didn’t see any way I could move forward, as it were.

I’ve been a sprinter for a very long time now, and it’s racing as fast as I can that really motivates me. Others credit the distance they cover s motivation, some the number of times a week they train, etc. For me, it’s competition. All that had gone, of course, and as we freewheeled from Lockdown 1 and headed towards the second wave of coronavirus in the UK, I assessed my options, such as they seemed to me at the time.

And I did what I could. My wife and I had begun doing some long walks every week, and I had been hitting my sports watch daily steps target for the best part of six months, so some good basics were well-embedded. I began to increase the amount of local running that I was doing, too. I’ve described in earlier chapters of this blog that I’d seemed to be getting benefit from doing the parkrun 5km as a big version of what track runners call a “repetitions session”, or “reps”. My favourite was to break the distance into 250 metre segments, and run them alternately hard and more slowly. So, my 5km amounted in total to 10 x 250 metres run comfortably quickly and 10 x 250 metres at a jog or fast walk. The psychological advantages to be were that it fed me the distance in “bite-sized chunks” and for a distance I could easily visualise, in terms of how far it was on an athletics track.

What I’d not accounted for was extent to which doing a session like I’ve just described, about three times a week, would have on my mid 60’s body. For my aerobic, and to a lesser extent, my anaerobic fitness, it was great. Tough work, but nevertheless great. My aerobic fitness, as recorded by physiologists according to what is called my “VO2 max uptake” rose by mid autumn 2020 to a level which put me into the top 5% globally for my age and gender. Being an elite Masters athlete meant I was starting from a high base level, I guess, but I liked the sound and feel of being part of this particular elite percentage group, which suddenly didn’t seem like the exclusive domain of distance runners any more.

My knees were, shall we say, fragile but coping well. However, from there down, it was a different story. I’ve suffered from runner’s shin soreness before (and suffered the hands-on treatment for it too!), and survived numerous bouts of the kind of achilles tendon trouble endemic to us short sprinters on the track. These both came back at me with a vengeance, and at a time when the chiropractic and sports massage care on which I increasingly depend was out of bounds due to Covid restrictions. I self-diagnosed that decreased running frequency and more rest would help.

It was easy to convince myself (or is that “kid myself”?) that with no competition on the horizon for the next six moths, a diet of less running and more rest wouldn’t hurt. However, I have a low boredom threshold, and I seriously under-estimated how much rest those leg injuries needed. When I did run, I was still able to give it 100% effort, and was hitting new ‘personal bests’ for my 5k reps sessions, but the price I was paying was even more frequent and severe lower leg pain. The only remedy seemed to be to decrease the effort going into that training, and couple this with more rest phases. Both were anathema to a near-lifelong athlete, but what choice did I really have? It was mid-winter, and gyms and swimming pools remained closed. We were well into the third upsurge of Covid. If rest was to mean real rest, there was no point in just trying to take up the slack in my training week with alternative forms of exercise.

The weather seemed to have hit a long cold and wet phase, and on many occasions, I wasn’t sorry that I didn’t need to go out training. I was still beating my daily steps target, which was definitely helping strengthen my knees. However, I was hardly running at all, and there was a price to that. Pretty soon, my once a week (or less) run felt harder and became slower. My VO2 Max figure began to slide down. I was now only in the “top 15% of runners of my age and gender”. I was despondent, and felt that all I’d achieved were short-term gains, at the expense of long term progress. My goals were to be ready to make a come-back as a sprinter as soon as possible after competitions resumed, whenever that was going to be. And I just couldn’t see that happening.

The vicious cycle had turned from where I seemed to be over-training to the point where I was, without doubt, under-doing it. Looking on the bright side, it was good to be able to see “cause and effect” over a relatively short period. What was easily lost could be easily regained, surely?

And that brings me nearly up to date. I’d managed a few low-key runs in April/May without recurrent pain to my lower legs (new shoes probably helped) and I was flattered that my average and maximum heart rates on those runs were lower than I’d expected. The split times for my reps were also much more even. I can’t claim to have learned pace judgement, but at least I wasn’t rushing off too fast at the start.

I’m in a “maintenance phase” right now, I think. I have a competition pencilled in the diary for late August, and I’ll be attending a few big events as photographer in the meantime. This will, I hope, give me an opportunity to mix with other athletes, and to share stories about the last 18 months or so. There are downsides on the horizon too. The worst is the probability we’re climbing into a third peak of Covid infections in the UK, despite the effect of vaccinations on a big percentage of the population. when, and under what kinds of restriction, who knows at present?

Conclusions from all of this? There’s no going back, of course. What’s lost is gone for ever. Will there be racing for me in 2022, and will I be properly ready for it? I was going to say “I hope so”, but that’s a bit meaningless. What I am telling myself is that I can only carry on preparing for that eventuality.

The Risk

February 17, 2021

I can’t even remember whether we were in full lockdown when I wrote my last blog here, about six weeks back. Whatever, we are now, and if common-sense prevails, we will be for quite a few weeks longer. It won’t, of course (prevail, that is) under the political regime in power in the UK at present. Currently, it almost seems like they think the virus should be sympathetic to their desire to balance the national economy and the health of the nation. It isn’t, and I no longer believe we are being told the full truth of the regime’s plans for that health of the nation.

[Gets off soapbox….]

Much to my surprise, last week, I had a call from the receptionist at my GP surgery, to invite me for my Covid vaccine jab last weekend. I say surprised because, at 66, I thought I would still be a good month away from getting the jab, and even then that was me at my most optimistic. Nevertheless, date, time and venue were all pretty much ideal for me, so I replied “How can I refuse?”

I was shocked when the receptionist replied “Oh, you’d be surprised how many are refusing.” And the more I think about, even a week after the call, the more shocked I feel.

I used to share an office with an “anti-vaxer” who firmly believed the MMR vaccine would “give her daughter autism”. I believe that theory has been debunked the world over many times, but as with others of its kind, such as the myth that Covid is carried by the 5G telephone signal, those inclined towards believing that’s true just give you that “Can you afford to take the risk?” sort of answer.

Covid first came into the UK via very few people. A much higher number than that, the media suggest, will be vaccine refusers. To me, as a lay person, but with a good understanding of statistics, these will be the people who will ultimately slow down the departure of the pandemic.

In the athletics world, I have met people with all kinds of weird beliefs when it comes to their health and/or sporting life. Those beliefs might relate to exercise, diet, lifestyle, etc, though I think those relating to medication can be the strangest. I wasn’t the least bit surprised to learn that there are quite a vocal lobbies already claiming that the coronavirus vaccines might be either performance-enhancing or damaging to performance. And for all I know, given how strange these believers can be, there may be some who think the vaccines could be both. And they too will say, when challenged on their opinion: “Can you afford to take the risk?”

Already, WADA and UKAD have had to issue reassurances along the lines that “there was ‘no reason to believe’ the vaccines would contravene [their] rules.” I can already hear the anti-vaxers and their like getting the “Can you afford to take the risk?” script ready.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to reassure myself that the annoyingly persistent calf problem I’ve had since the end of November has responded to treatment and gone away, for now at least. However, finding a happy medium between not testing it too hard and not testing it at all has been difficult. To begin with, I tended away from running at all, but upped the mileage I was doing each day walking. That was followed by a spell of mixing walking with very slow jogging. Then came a few weeks of really cold weather, for which I preferred to dress up warmly and revert to walking again. Then came snow, which delayed a return to running again, just the day after I’d given my calf a proper test run. Now the snow has gone, and I’m planning on running again very soon.

I’m remarkably relaxed about this, compared to how I feel at this point in a “normal” competitive year, because, unsurprisingly, there is little or now real prospect of competition on my horizon at the moment. Due to the requirements of lockdown, the entire UK masters athletics indoor calendar has been wiped clean, and big question marks hang over the summer calendar too, if you ask me. Vaccines have got to make a big difference right across the country before UK domestic competition can begin properly again. And how can anyone judge when the time will be right to begin international competitions again, given the variety of different Covid situations even in just Europe?

I’ve recently been re-reading a book by Theodor Christomannos (1854-1911). He was an Austrian entrepreneur and philosopher who was a leading light behind the building of the Great Dolomite Road across the Dolomites, my favourite mountains. That road is the subject of a web site I put together several years ago, and there’s a short piece about Christomannos here.

I don’t think Christomannos originated the phrase, but his strong view on the way to attract tourism into an area was “if you build it, they will come”. “It”, in this context meant hotels, roads etc. Well, he was certainly right about the Dolomites.

That got me thinking that perhaps the optimism of the organisers of international masters athletics competition might be on the same lines – press on with preparing for the event, open bookings, and just see who decides to come. After all, it goes without saying, there will be no entrants if there are no competitions in the calendar.

And yet, whether thinking about how these events get financed (or not), or thinking about whether attending is safe, I and many others will probably respond at this moment in time with a question: “Can you afford to take the risk?”

New Year, New Blog

January 1, 2021

I’d promised myself that I wasn’t going to do one of “those” New Year’s blogs. Actually, I didn’t have any real intention of writing a New Year’s blog at all, but, having fallen a little behind with writing them during the last year (and longer than that, if I’m honest), it was time I did write one, and it just happened to be at the turn of the year.

Now, this is, and always has been, my blog about what it’s like to be an older sprinter, who is still, just about, what you could call “active”. That means that I won’t regale you with my views on the UK government, or on the whole Brexit thing, a) because we’d both be here all night, and b) we’d neither of us enjoy the experience. I wish I could also make the blog “covid-free”, but that isn’t quite going to happen, because, of course, the pandemic is what has underscored the best part of the last year, in any and every athlete’s life.

So, what’s changed since last we were together, at the end of October? Surprisingly little, I think I ought to be grateful to say. I’ve parted company with the gym to which I’d been a member for the best part of the last 20 years. Am I missing it? To be honest, no, hardly at all. Mind you, that’s probably got something to do with feeling that there isn’t much I need to be doing to prepare for the 2021 track season, because I don’t think there will be much of one, vaccines or not.

I was really getting into doing at least one 5km timed run a week as a big interval session, mixing running and walking or jogging for recovery. I’d also begun one session a week on my local steep hill (described in my previous blog episode) of  five or six ascents, each with a walk down recovery before a blast back up. This was hard work, but felt as if it was keeping all of my key components working, and providing a basis from which I could, eventually, progress.

Now, the quick amongst you reading this will have noticed that I’ve described that in the past tense. If you have been reading this for any length of time, you’ll also recall how I was very taken by the (probably apocryphal) little Jewish joke, which goes:

“Q. How do you make God laugh? A. Tell him your plans.”

My 5km runs were steadily getting faster. I was getting more adventurous with both the running and the recovery distances I was doing. I’d been worried about the high percentage of the run that I seemed be doing with my heart rate well in my “red zone”, so I was experimenting with faster runs and longer recovery sections, or on turning the running pace down a bit, but keeping the recovery short. Neither really seemed to make much difference to my overall run time, though. What’s more, my Garmin watch and high tech heart rate monitor strap were showing that key measurements, such as my VO2 max, and my blood lactate threshold (look these terms up online, if you’re interested) were improving nicely. My VO2 max was showing that it was in the top 10% for my age and gender, so who was I to argue with the science? By the middle of November, I really was feeling better, in “wellness” terms, and fitter, than at any point in the last two years.

Now you’re waiting for the “but…”, aren’t you? Here it comes.

I never seem to have managed to maintain a happy balance between being “fit enough” and being “fast enough”. I’ve often complained about coming into each year’s track season fit but not fast, and about ending the season fast but not fit. The latter is largely down to the fairly high frequency at which I’ve tended to race, and the toll that recovery from racing takes on me being able to maintain fitness through training. If it’s any consolation, Usain Bolt said much the same about his time on the track and field World Tours he took part in.

The “sprinter” thing really is a factor. If the price for regulating my running heart rate was to run slower times, this goes against my every instinct as a lifelong sprinter. A simple solution may have been to leave my watch and heart rate strap at home, and just go with how things felt. However, that doesn’t work for me. I honestly have no instinctive “feel” for the pace at which I’m running at any longer distance than about 200 metres, and needed the help of the gps signal on my wrist to regulate my speed. That, plus I’ve been, and remain, fascinated by all of the other metrics my watch gives me: measurement of my cadence, stride length, “vertical oscillation” (how well my knees are lifting), my left/right stride balance, and so on. And as the 5km point drew nearer on my watch, I always seemed to be able to dig deep and blast the final 200 metres or so of the run, no matter how near death’s door I might have felt a couple of kilometres back up the route!

And it was this that ultimately fated me to fail. It has, on several occasions in the past too, sadly. The sprint sessions on the hill had slightly irritated my lower back, and I was determined to hold a good running posture on my 5km runs. My average left/right foot strike balance, as measured, was typically about 50.4% left, 49.6% right. I’m told this is excellent, but there was clearly something about the way that my left foot struck the ground that was again accumulating problems again in my upper achilles tendon/lower calf area. And one Saturday morning, this just refused to take it any more. Good job I live only five minutes limp away.

Yes, my fitness had exposed the latest in a long line of “weakest links in the chain”. The only viable remedy was to back right off, limit my exercise to some careful walking in very flexible shoes, and give the running a miss for several weeks. No bad thing, maybe, in December, but it’s a a right bugger when it has struck me in the past in, say, April or August!

Happy to relate, right now, I’m coming to the stage in my rehab where the light is beginning to shine from the far end of the tunnel. I’m walking pain-free. Some bruising has come out to skin level in the worst affected areas around my lower calf, courtesy largely of some good sessions with my ice pack. I always like this aspect of recovery, because it proves to me I wasn’t really just imagining the injury. The nearest thing to a New Year’s resolution this year is that I’m going to be good to myself, and allow longer than I usually would have done in the past to cement this recovery in place. Usually, about now, I’d be fretting about being ready in time to race again in February and March, on the hard surfaces of the indoor track, and about needing to retain such fitness as the winter had allowed me to accrue. 

Not this time. With the best will in the world, I don’t believe there is going to be a UK Masters indoor track season this year, so I have the opportunity to roll slowly and steadily back to full form. I think it’s perhaps a bit of a case, metaphorically speaking, of “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.

So, I won’t be posting new 5km personal best times on the parkrun web site for just a little while longer.