Archive for January, 2016

One in a Million

January 21, 2016

I love coincidences. Some people tell me there’s no such thing and that it’s all “fate” or something like that. I’m agnostic enough these days to dismiss that. I just revel in the sheer wonderment of unexpected things happening to me.

There was a time I wasn’t a sprinter. I’d been a good one, then I had quite a bad accident and had trouble even walking properly for a while. I had several spells in traction to help alleviate damage to my spine, and resigned myself, at age 29, to a life without sport. A few years of intensive osteopathy care got me stable, but more than that, my osteos did their damnedest to encourage me to get back into some kind of gym-based fitness regime. I’d progressed as far as some easy mountain walking and scrambling, and even a bit of real rock-climbing with only occasional setbacks, but running seemed a pipe-dream still.

That changed when a good friend, a work colleague of my wife, invited me to go jogging with him. He was a busy hospital consultant, fully fifteen years or more my senior. As I later found, had he had a competitive streak, Alan could have been very successful indeed at 10k and above. He’d started a little jogging group that met up initially in a church hall, before setting out for about an hour around the local streets. I’d jog to Alan’s house, we’d jog to the hall, take our group (beginners, aged 20-50) on a run, then Alan and I would run home again. Regularly, once a week.

To begin with, it was hell for me. Physiologically, I am in no way a distance runner, and I went through agonies on our return home runs, which included the road up quite a steep hill. This became the point that Alan would challenge me. “Come on sprinter boy, see if you can beat the old man!” Distance runner maybe not, but my misfortunes had in no way dimmed the competitive spark in me.

Fast forward some months, and I was amazed to be training nearly every day, covering five or six miles near home each time, and longer at the weekend. All weathers, and Christmas Day too. Alan entered us for numerous 10k and half marathon events, and we ran together as training partners as often as our work commitments would allow. He always beat me hollow. Our next target was the 1994 London Marathon.

I’d always had a hankering to do a full marathon in my 40th year, and we began to get in some good training. I began to suffer with my back, however, and then one day, Alan told me that he’d developed anaemia. Him a medical man, too. He’d got it badly. Running was banned. I ran alone for a while, but lost interest as opportunities to spend decent chunks of time in the mountains came my way. Alan and I remained friends, but saw each other increasingly seldom. Then hardly at all.

This blog is one of two I write. The other is here, and tells a few stories about “my life through the lens” – stuff connected to my photography etc. If you’ve read any of these blogs, you’ll know that for some while I’ve been working on a project connected with the Medway Valley, near to where I now live. I guess I am a pretty successful Masters sprinter these days, and I train hard. In March it will be ten years since the first time I entered national and international standard Masters competition. However, apart from now being my chosen profession, getting out and about with a camera on non-training days is a great relaxation, and gives me tremendous head-space.

Today (as I write, on a fiercely frosty January day) was a day I could not miss out on. The air was completely still, the River Medway flat calm, and the air temperature well below freezing. I was out early, and the sun had not long risen.

I reached a wide, flat part of the area I walk through, where there is really not much to photograph. It’s popular with dog walkers and the occasional runner. The jogger shuffling along the river path towards me immediately seemed a familiar figure. You’re ahead of me, Reader, by now, I’m sure. It was Alan.

I’m not sure who was the more surprised of the two of us. My estimate is that he’s in his mid to late 70s now, but, to me, unmistakable. Of course, given his exertions, and the desperate air temperature, we had all of about two minutes to chat.

Then he was gone. The man who probably did more than anyone else to pull me through recovery and help me stay an athlete, at least in mind some of the time, if not also in body. It was like meeting a ghost from my past. My head is still spinning from the coincidence.

This blog’s title comes from a Chris Wood song of the same name . Do listen. It breaks me up every time.

You Can’t Lose What you Ain’t Never Had

January 5, 2016

So sings the great blues legend Muddy Waters on one of the best live concert albums in my music collection. Relevant to this blog this time is that what I “ain’t never had” is core strength or flexible hamstrings. Both of these weaknesses have been very much under the spotlight in the weeks since I last blogged here.

When last we met, I had just added a session of “one to one” personal training to my weekly schedule. The rationale etc for this is in the previous blog, so I’ll not repeat myself here. We’re now coming up to session eight of a planned unit of ten sessions -three to go- and it’s a good time to reflect.

Guy, my trainer, was determined to give me good value for money, right from our first exploratory sessions. These are on top of my other training, so they were always going to be tough for me. I’ve had to adopt an “eight day week” properly to accommodate everything. It was the only solution if I was to have any hope of resting properly between sessions. It quickly showed that I had very weak core muscles in certain respects, and rubbish hamstrings. As I’ve already alluded, this wasn’t a surprise. I have a 30 year history of chronic back problems after serious damage in my early 30’s. Two particular victims of many years spent trying to protect a weak spine are my abdominal core muscles and short tendons in the backs of my thighs.

Guy and I had the benefit, almost from the outset, of the results of a Selective Functional Movement Assessment I’d undertaken with my chiropractor back in September. These reinforced focus on the weak areas, and Jesper had very usefully converted some of the findings into corresponding remedial exercises.

I think I’ve also mentioned here before that I am a perpetual victim of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) when I shine the training spotlight on seldom trained areas, or I work particularly hard in training. DOMS is well catalogued. Mine is the classic variety: no symptoms for most of the day after a session, but agony from about 36 hours after one, occasionally then lasting for a full day. There are many theories about cause, but very few about dealing with the resultant decrepitude. Massage and stretching are widely acknowledged to have no effect. Of course, my weekly training pattern of pretty much one day “on” followed by one day “off” means that DOMSdays were falling on the day of my next training session. By moving my training focus around a bit, I’ve usually managed to work around the worst – eg when DOMS from legs-specific work strikes, it gets followed by upper body work two days later, etc. I’ve had to stay imaginative and prepared to shuffle my sessions about a bit at short notice when DOMS has struck particularly badly.

Where even this flexible approach falls down for me is that significant DOMS in my core muscles puts the mockers on almost anything I try to do when it strikes! A bit of trial and error has shown ways to keep fully functioning, I’m glad to say, but at the risk of over-use injury. Variety really is the spice of life! And believe me, I have suffered every agony of DOMS in my abdominal and core muscles.

The next big step is to begin to convert the (mainly) strength work I’ve added to this winter’s routine into something particularly sprint-specific. That might sound strange, but the routines of a 61 year-old sprinter are not the same as those of a younger athlete, of course. I call this my “getting lighter on my feet” time of year. The only fly in the ointment at present is that just before my short Christmas break, I picked up a small hip flexor tear on my right side. Excessive weights and repetitions on over-tired, DOMS-afflicted muscles were the cause, I think. Some bruising is coming out, but I think my ten day lay-off over Christmas came just at the right time for recovery purposes. With the start of indoor competition only just over a month away now, the motto is definitely going to be “carefully does it” for the next few weeks.