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This Blog is a tale of fortitude, foolhardiness and frozen peas (above). And it had all been going so well…
Saturday, November 8, London, 07.15
The big trial has arrived. My first attempt at 10k, exactly two weeks before the big Miles for Smiles fund-raising run in Dubai. If I can do it today, I can surely complete the task in a fortnight’s time – especially with another two week’s training under my belt. I’m taking my dictaphone to document the descent into Dante’s Inferno.
It’s a cold, sime-like (windy) Autumn morning, nothing like the conditions we’ll experience in Dubai. But the colours of Autumn are breathtaking. Everywhere there are rich hues of amber and gold on the trees and the footpaths as the leaves put on a dazzling November show of colour.
My route today takes me from Ealing down towards Brentford, home of the main office of The Moodie Report. I measured the distance in my car earlier in the week and it seems a long, long way.
07.20: I put on an unexpectedly early sprint to cross the road as I encounter an early morning dog walker coming towards me with a bull mastiff. He looks ferocious. The dog doesn’t look too friendly either.
I haven’t done this kind of distance at any point in my build-up, even on the dreadmill, where my maximum is 8k – an exercise in endurance that saw me lie virtually comatose on the sofa for the following two days recovering. It’s all a long way from the fit, rugby-playing days of my youth – for the past six years since I have been running my own business it’s all been about a sedentary, stressful lifestyle, where the only miles clocked up are those in the air.
I run past my local greengrocers, who are busy putting their wares out for the day. The two men, both puffing on cigarettes, look at me with what appears to be pity. Though it may be contempt.
07.22: I’m maintaining a steady enough clip. My aim today is to hit 70 minutes, which means I am one-tenth of the way through my run. Gulp.
07.25: I hit my first uphill stretch. Who planned this route? I meet my first fellow jogger but he’s going in the other direction, downhill, and much faster than me. Hopefully there are no hills in Dubai. Though I hear they specialise in some pretty daunting sand dunes.
07.26: My left calf, a little worryingly, feels tight. Hopefully it just needs to warm up properly.
07.28: I meet another jogger, roughly of my age, who is wearing a skintight top that looks as though it has been applied with luminous green paint. I don’t need such devices to help avoid being hit by cars. My tomato red face and milk bottle legs are already acting as a suitable beacon.
07.30: I’m still going at a steady rate. At this pace I will reach the half way point inside 30 minutes. I’m on course for a personal best! Greatly helped of course by the fact that this is my first-ever 10k run. The conditions surely will be easier than this in Dubai. It’s cold, increasingly windy and miserable. Like most of the English Summer actually.
07.35: I am nearing half way. From driving the route yesterday I know I have to reach the middle gate at Elthorne Park in Boston Manor Road, a couple of miles from my office, to hit 5k. The Middle Gate… it’s got a sort of mystic connotation, like something out of Lord of the Rings…
07.37: 22 minutes in and I reach Lower Boston Manor Road. Lower??? How far to the real Boston Manor Road? Apart from the calf I am feeling good – all that time on the dreadmill is paying off.
07.38: I mustn’t get too cocky. As a bus passes me, I’m tempted to speed up to race past it after it slows in traffic. An attractive young woman at the back of the bus looks at me. I try to look like a professional marathon runner, ceasing my gasping and pulling in my tummy. Delusions of machoism are shattered as she turns to her female companion and roars with laughter.
07.39: Oh no, the bus has pulled in at a stop! I am going to have to pass them… and yes, they laugh at me again. Fortunately I’m so red already I’m beyond blushing.
I’m reminded of Dan Milligan, the great hero of Spike Milligan’s book of comic genius ‘Puckoon’, who at one stage indulges in a surreal conversation with the book’s author: “Holy God! Wot are dese den?”
“Legs,” replies the author.
“Legs? Whose legs?”
“Mine? And who are you?”
“Author? Did you write these legs?”
“Well I don’t like dem. I coulda writted better legs myself. Did you write your legs?”
“Ahh! Sooo! You got someone else to write your legs – and someone who’s a good leg writer – and den you write dis pair of crappy legs fer me.”
On I go… crappy legs working what is rapidly amounting to overtime.
07.40: I can see Elthorne Park! Eat your heart out Frodo, Lord of the Rings and the Middle Earth – I have found my Middle Gates!
07.41 and 56 seconds: I have reached the Middle Gates! 5k done. Now all I have to do is get home. And I didn’t even bring any bus fare in case of an emergency. Lots of road songs come to mind – especially Bruce Springsteen’s A Long Way Home. As any traveller will testify, the journey home always seems a lot longer. Still, if I can maintain this pace I will come in at under 54 minutes. Initially I had been targetting 80 minutes for Dubai. But that was then, this is now…
07.43 and 15 seconds: I don’t like this. My left calf is as tight as an Eric Clapton riff.
07.45: A slight deviation on the return leg due to the intricacies of the local one-way system takes me past an old house of mine from 12 years ago in Montague Road, Hanwell. It’s famous not for that but for the fact that actress and comedian Tracy Ullman once lived there. Alas not at the same time as I did.
Despite the calf problem, the second half of the run seems so much easier than the first. I suppose it’s all about settling into the right rhythm of the run. A good lesson that – apart from a few serious runners, Dubai will be all about completing the journey for most of us, not setting personal bests. Don’t overdo it early. There’s a lot of sponsorship riding on completion.
07.50: 35 minutes down. Still comfortable enough but real fatigue has set in around both thighs. The calf is still holding up though. I should finish in under an hour.
I wonder if Rowena Holland, Mandy Shine and Nadine Heubel realise what they have started? All around the world there are a few dozen highly unlikely candidates just like me, from a myriad of cultures and countries, pounding the roads and the gym dreadmills to get in some sort of shape just so they can raise money for a really good cause. It’s our industry at its best and the three organisers deserve a lot of credit.
07.52: It’s raining! While I welcome its refreshing qualities, my tape recorder probably doesn’t. So for a combination of that factor and increasing breathlessness, entries will be limited from here on in.
07.53 and 17 seconds: Real problem… real distress. I have to stop. The calf has gone. Major shooting pains. Feels like something has simply blown out. This is disaster. I’m still 20 minutes from home, running – and a lot longer walking. Oh no!!
07.55: No choice. Have to try to simply run it off. It’s amazing how it just went. Ouch. I’m back up to speed but there’s no mistaking the fact that I am going to be inflicting further damage. Miles for Smiles has suddenly become a race against time for me – not to the finish, but to be able to get to the starting line.
07.56: Trying my best not to hobble: It’s an old and true adage that if you favour one injury it leads to another. Actually this already has – my pride is hurting like hell. This is so bloody unfair.
07.58: Let’s see if I can really run it off properly by stepping up the pace. Are you man or mouse?
07.59: Mouse! Gotta slow down. The left hamstring is tightening now too as a result. This is like my favourite rugby team – all black.
08.00: My mind is racing even if my legs aren’t. Clearly there will be no more training between now and Dubai. Just have to get it sorted and in condition to run, at whatever pace. Anyone know a physiotherapist?
The injury has really flattened me. I had almost – I said almost – been enjoying the punishment, knowing I was going to complete the distance. Who wrote these legs?
08.02: My right hamstring, obviously feeling lonely and clearly with a trade union mentality, is threatening to go out on sympathy. It’s strung as tight as a new banjo. My left leg meanwhile feels as though it’s got a serious case of DVT from flying a non-step return leg from Anchorage to Antarctica. I take that all back about Rowena Holland, Mandy Shine and Nadine Heubel deserving credit – they should be ashamed of themselves!!
My mind races (it is the only thing that can) back to the last time I tried to run off an injury. It was the annual Cannes rugby match between the Rest of the World and the French, seven or eight years back. It was like the battle of Rorke’s Drift. There were just 15 of us on the Rest of the World team, of varying degrees of ability and fitness, up against a legion of impeccably coiffured, athletic and tanned French fragrance executives. Every scrum was like entering a branch of Sephora. And every few minutes they would bring on a fresh substitute, while we had to soldier on.
I pulled – not strained, pulled – my hamstring in the early minutes but because we had no reserves I had no option but to stay on the field and hobble my way through the match at full-back. Somehow, gloriously, we won. But the cost became apparent a week later when the whole back of my leg from knee to top of the thigh turned an ugly shade of charcoal. It was pretty scary and I’ve got a nasty feeling I may be doing something similarly nasty here.
08.05: Another downhill stretch. All I need is some skis and I could coast home. But I will make it now, that’s clear. The question is at what cost? Ladies and Gentlemen I have told you before and I will tell you again that ‘fun run’ is a contradiction in terms. An emphatic, absolute contradiction in terms.
The day after Miles for Smiles, many of us are playing in Colm McLoughlin’s Dubai Duty Free Golf World Cup. Based on my current plight I may be about to become the event’s first one-legged golfer. Certainly I have a new handicap. If you’re reading this Colm, can you reserve me a buggy?
08.07: I have done all the things that the textbooks tell you not to do. What do you do if you get an injury? Stop. Do I ever listen?… Do I hell…
08.09 and 57 seconds: I’ve made it. 10k. 54 minutes and 57 seconds. I can’t believe it. Goodness knows what state I am in because both legs are completely numb. I can’t even feel the injured calf…
Postscript: Two days later. Houston (and Dubai) – we have a problem.
As I write, I am working from home with a packet of frozen petits pois tied to my calf with a tea towel. In deference to the financial crisis, they are Sainsbury’s own label (I had a bad moment yesterday after first trying this treatment when the ink rubbed off on my skin. Not realising what had happened, I looked aghast at my leg after removing the petits pois and noticing my calf had turned the colour of my back lawn. Was it the early stages of gangreen, or simply a calf put out to pasture I wondered?)
I have not been able to walk properly for two days so a 10k run in 12 days seems a distinct improbability.
But my kind Advertising & Events Development Director Sarah Genest has promised me a miracle treatment. It’s called a tens machine and she’s sending me hers. Tens? Yes, you know, a trascutaneous, electric, nerve stimulation machine. It’s intended for the treatment of chronic pain. Given that women apparently use it as an alternative to drugs to limit pain in childbirth, it just might work on a dodgy calf. Let’s hope so. The road to perdition is never an easy one. But I haven’t come to the end of it yet.