This is the first entry of my blog, which is about fitness, nutrition and mindfulness. I feel it's appropriate to start it with a memorable event - White Rose Ultra - first race I completed since my injury. It signifies a breakthrough for me.
Yesterday with my good friend Rob I competed in my 61st ultra marathon. It wasn’t one of my toughest by far but it will be very memorable for me.
In February this year I lost my loyal dogs - Sid and Nancy. They were my best friends, best companions, my family. For 15 years we travelled, ran together, slept under the stars together and had so much adventure. I lost Sid suddenly and it wasn’t expected. Within 5 weeks of loosing him his sister died (maybe of a broken heart)? I felt part of me was taken with them. At time like this, what I needed most was to run, through the woods, up and down the hills. It has been my way of dealing with difficult times throughout my life.
Unfortunately this was taken away from me as well. Not long after I lost Nancy, I ruptured two discs in my lower back, it also resulted in severing the nerve in my lower back which basically makes my leg work. This injury removed my physical ability to perform exercise. I couldn't go for a run, swim or go to the gym. It also had a negative impact on my personal training business - ultimately my job is to motivate people and make them feel good, I found it difficult while I was unfit physically and mentally. I had no choice but putting a brave face on.
The beginning phase of my back recovery was pursuing the NHS. I pleaded with them to refer my for an MRI. After numerous visits I eventually got referred, I needed to know what was really wrong with my body. I spent most of my day in bed thinking...
Will I get better?
Will I run ultra marathons again?
Will I want to push myself?
After wallowing in self pity for over a week I had a flash of positivity in my mind. I got out of bed, looked out of the window and said to myself “I will walk to the lamppost and back”, this was about 100 metres in total. I got dressed (minus the socks as I couldn’t get them on), walked out of the door and shuffled along. I was in pain, the leg just wanted to give way. I made it to my chosen goal and back.
I was full of emotions.
Each day I chose a new goal, I set them realistically and achieved them. Throughout this period of recovery I was able to work with my chiropractor, my knowledge of physical activity and self awareness to make a steady recovery process.
By June I decided to go on holiday with my parents to Cornwall (my happy place) Before I went, I felt like I could actually do a little run but I wanted to save it for “my beach” - a beach I’d taken Sid and Nancy on many times.
It was a sunny and warm morning, the tide was low, giving me a good stretch of beach to run along. I was aware that physically I was still vulnerable so I set a goal of running 5k. I started off slow, it felt good but strange. It was obvious I’d lost so much power through my right leg. I continued to run and my heart rate settled. I recall smiling as I ran, people must have thought “look at that weirdo”! I felt good, striding along taking in the beautiful surroundings. At 1.5 km I stopped, turned and ran into the sun. I wasn’t concerned about my pace for the first time in my life.
I was running and I respected every step.
The poignant moment was as I finished my 5k run. I stopped, looked up and there was an old lady walking a border collie that looked a lot like my Nancy. The dog turned and looked at me. Maybe it was my girl sending me a message saying “well done dad”. My fancy Oakley glasses did a great job of hiding my tears.
That 5k day was the real physical turning point. I ran a further 3 times during that week and starting to think about future goals.
The last few months have been quite a text book recovery. I’ve learned to respect my body more and realised its limit. I’m not a machine like some friends call me. I could be very vulnerable mentally and physically, just like everyone else. I’m actually glad that I’ve realised this.
My last ultra marathon was back in February just before injury. I ran with my three ultra friends and we all ran solid.
Can I actually run an ultra again, am I strong enough?
Let’s find out....
I’m stood on the start line of the White Rose Ultra on 2nd November, 2019. Yes I’ve signed up and ready to race.
Off I started with Rob on a hilly, muddy 32 mile run. “Sure I can do this” I said to myself, I’ve run much further before.
First checkpoint - felt really good approaching 10 miles, settled into a steady pace and enjoying nature.
Second checkpoint - still feeling solid, I expected to feel a lot more tired or weaker.
Mile 22-23 - BOOM! I had two falls within 60 seconds. One cut on my elbow and another on my knee. I got up laughed and walked a little as my knee was hurting. After a few minutes the pain had gone and I was ready to trot on. As you can imagine many thoughts entered my head during this comeback. I was so appreciative of being healthy and able to be part of the race again.
Mile 27-28 - The wobble! With only around 4 miles to go I had a big wobble. I should have known better! I had no energy to do the final climb, I was pushing up the hill on empty, I’d not eaten enough. “Rob” I shouted ! “Have you any sugar”? He reached into his pack and got out some shot blocks. Mentally I knew this was going to help me so I pushed on, soon the effects of them had me going again.
One last climb - and we reached the finish line, in a respectful time and feeling pretty good.
I got my medal, T-shirt and as always my post race photo looking my worst.
I’m grateful, happy, healthy and look forward to continuing to race.