Friday 24 April 2015

Marathon runners and other inspiration

Given my recent operation, I have plenty of time on my hands and have found myself reading and watching some very inspirational stories.

Last week I was reading the book "parkrun - much  more than just a run in the park". This book contains details of the history of parkrun, it's starting's, it's growth, plus numerous stories from parkrunners. As you can probably imagine, many of these stories chart how the parkrunner was introduced to running through parkrun and has gone on to achieve many greater things: faster times, longer distances, joining a running club, even completing marathons. Some of the recoveries from illness and injury that are associated with finding parkrun are truly amazing. I found many of these stories the perfect medicine for me as I start to consider what sporting possibilities might lie ahead of me and my new hip.

This week I have moved on to another book. I rarely read, so this in itself is no mean feat. I am now reading Charlie Spedding's autobiography "From Last to First". This is a very well written book (the review from The Independant quoted on the front says so!), and incredible as it may seem, I'm finding it even more inspirational than the parkrun book. Charlie Spedding isn't the household name like other British distance runners of his era: Brendan Foster, Seb Coe, Dave Moorcroft and Steve Ovett to name but a few, but perhaps he should be.

Charlie admits many times over in his book that he was not the greatest talent, he often turned in mediocre performances, and finished way down the field in many of his track and road races. But, he also knew how to get the best out of himself and produce the absolute maximum from his talent, through hard training of course, but also by concentrating on a few races that he gave the greatest importance to. For example, he won hist very first marathon in Houston in 1984, followed a few months later by winning the London Marathon, then just a few months later he came third and won the bronze medal in the marathon at the Los Angeles Olympics. On each occasion he was far from the best athlete in the field on best previous time, but he knew he could do it, he trained and ran to a plan and he found a way to do it, when many of his other performances suggested it was improbable to say the least. The English record for the marathon that he set in 1985 stood until 2014 when a certain Mo Farah only managed to beat it by 12 seconds, and we all know how good Mo Farah is!

Charlie's story, and particularly his recovery from many injuries and operations with many weeks and months of rehab whilst not even being able to walk properly, has really helped me see what is possible. I don't think I'll be winning an Olympic medal next year, but this is not what Charlie was aiming for - he just wanted to ensure that he made full use of his talents and that is something that everyone can do, and something that I will aim to do too.

Yesterday I watched the film "Invincible". This is the story of Vince Papale, a thirty-something part time teacher and bar worker who went along to the open trials to try to play for the Philadelphia Eagles (American Football) in the mid 1970's. He had never even played college football, which is usually a pre-requisite to play professionally. Against all the odds, Vince made it through the trials and all the cuts and eventually made it into the team through sheer hard work and determination. Vince really showed what is possible, and even when others thought he was too old he proved that he wasn't. You would have thought this was all Disney/Hollywood make-believe, but the story is true. More truly inspirational stuff showing that you are never too old to live your dreams.

Today I read a BBC sport article about Paula Radcliffe. Paula is a real hero of mine. I have always felt a great affinity with her, having been at and represented Loughborough University at the same time as her. I'm sure she still mentions that time when Ian Wilkinson overtook her on a run around campus as much as I do! Though she probably makes more of the fact that she was walking at the time!

Paula is aiming for one last competitive run at the London Marathon this weekend. She hopes she will be back again in the future, but she will not train hard for it again. This really is one last hurrah! Paula has suffered greatly over the past few years with some horrible injury problems, the most severe of which saw her almost unable to walk for many months. The fact that she has recovered enough to train is amazing and to get enough fitness to run a semi-competitive marathon whilst in her early forties is pretty incredible, Paula's determination is amazing and I truly hope she gets the outcome she is hoping for.

And finally.....on Sunday we have another huge serving of inspiration to look forward to as 40,000 or so amazing people of all shapes and sizes, and with the full range of sporting talents between them, do something truly incredible and run the London Marathon.

I certainly feel nicely topped up with all the inspiration I need to make a good comeback and perhaps take on some new sporting challenges when the time comes. I may not have the flexibility and speed of youth any more, but I intend to make full use of the experience and stamina that comes with age having been totally inspired by the amazing stories I have mentioned above.

Wednesday 22 April 2015

Walk before you run!

Today is exactly three weeks to the day since my left total hip replacement and it also saw my first physio appointment since leaving hospital (on day 4).

Before the operation I had received a physio booklet outlining the exercises that I should carry out both straight after the operation (whilst still in hospital) and ongoing for the weeks after leaving hospital. It also contained plenty of other do's and don'ts plus techniques for things "normos" can do easily such as climbing and descending stairs, going to the toilet and putting your pants on! All useful info I can assure you in my recent situation! It's quite strange getting to the bathroom and then wondering how to physically do what you have always done naturally, but I'll leave that there.

Before I left hospital, the on-site physio team had repeatedly tested my understanding of the exercise routine and I felt well drilled before I left.

Further instructions in the booklet described what I should do regarding walking, both that it should be with two crutches, should start with small distances, but also that the distance should be slowly increased daily.

So here I was, left with a set of exercises to repeat and walking distances to increase daily, plus what is best described as a "runner's brain"! And advantage you would think.....

My "runner's brain" told me that, if I can do these exercises well and comfortably, then I should gradually increase the quantity. So what started out as 5 repetitions of each exercise gradually became 15 of each exercise, with all the exercises repeated as a block 6 times a day. AND what started out as a 100m round trip up the road and back had increased to 600m within a few days, had gradually increased to half a mile 3 times a day and then for the last 3 days, it had increased further to 1 mile each time, 3 times a day. Over that period, my walking speed had increased too, fairly significantly early on, but for the last week it had evened out at very roughly 2 miles an hour, or around half the speed I would usually walk. This was a safe speed and I had no desire to go any faster than this whilst using crutches.

To runners that just sounds like training doesn't it? Gradually increase repetitions. Gradually increase distance. Gradually increase speed.

Today I saw my physio and finally understood the point of all of this!

For years, due to my deteriorating hips, a sub-concious decision to prevent the discomfort of osteo-arthritis, a concious decision to prevent the sharp pain I would sometimes get when my hip got into the wrong alignment, plus the gradual physical changes to my skeleton (yes my skeleton actually adapted itself to prevent pain), my walking gait had become abnormal. To anyone that knows me, I'm sure this has been obvious for many years, and even to myself, when catching a glimpse of myself in a mirror or shop window, it was obvious that I was walking like "the missing link", hunched forward, leaning into the next stride. And it was impossible for me to correct.

This style of walking is not normal, and along with removing the pain, one of the main objectives of the surgeon and the physio team is to return me to a "normal" walking gait. That does not mean back to my normal, but instead to "normal" normal! And this is the point of the physio exercises and the recovery period. Now this might be obvious to everyone else, but as a runner I had missed the subtlety of the old adage of "quality NOT quantity". Today I finally got it!

I have now been given a greater number and variety of exercises. These are to be performed in smaller sets. The idea here is that for each exercise, the first repetition is naturally tentative, the second increases the range of motion and by the 4th and 5th you have probably gone as far as you are going to that time (trying to push the boundary a bit on those last two if possible). Any more are pretty pointless. As my physio said, "this isn't strength training - you are only lifting your own leg!". But there was thing I had spot on, I should be repeating all the exercises as many times a day as I can, without causing too much pain or swelling.

Walking greater distances at greater speeds is also important, but I really do have to "walk before I can run". And in my case I need to learn how to walk properly again first, This is not just a mental thing, I also have to physically teach my muscles, tendons and ligaments to be able to allow and control a different and greater range of motion in all directions. For the last 5 years I have been a runner, when I couldn't really do any other sport any more. This can only be due to the fact that moving my legs in a straight line (front-to-back) didn't hurt (as much) in the same way as lateral movement. But this has also ensured that front-to-back movement is all I can really control, and controlled movement in all other directions now has to be re-learnt.

So, for the next week at least, I will be on a reduced daily walking distance and an increased and more varied set of physio exercises. I'm really pleased that I had my physio appointment today and that my focus has been shifted into the right areas that are really going to have the effects I need to get me back to "normal".

And one thing is for sure, now that I know the exercises that I need to do, as "a runner" I have no problem at all in repeating those exercises over and over again - after all, it's only training!

Saturday 18 April 2015

The power of parkrun

What a lovely morning for a parkrun!

Given my current post-op situation I was of course unable to parkrun myself today. I didn't even feel that I was able to volunteer, partly because I wasn't sure if I could stand in one position for long enough to be of any use and also partly due to the volunteer roster already being full.

All that said, I was determined to be there. I've missed the last two, firstly due to being hospital and then last week due to being too immobile to get there. The fact my wife had decided to parkrun herself today, when she normally wouldn't, was also a great reason to be there to cheer her on.

I was in a strange mood yesterday, a bit bored of the things I've been doing (not much) for that last two weeks and I suppose I was feeling ready to up the ante in my recovery (mentally at least), but knowing that I really shouldn't try to do too much too soon.

parkrun this morning was just what I needed!

I was reading Debra Bourne's book "parkrun - more than just a run in the park" yesterday, as I have been for the last few days, and there are (amongst many others) a few truths that I read in that book yesterday about all the benefits of parkrun. Being out in our beautiful park, in the sun, seeing so many familiar faces, cheering on all my friends and countless others that I don't know quite so well, or even at all. The feel good factor was amazing this morning and the perfect lift to start my day.

I had chats with so many of my parkrun friends this morning, all keen to come over and say hello and see how my post-op recovery is progressing. One of my mates even stopped half way through his run to chat to me for at least a minute, completely unconcerned about the detrimental affect on his own parkrun. I really felt that strong caring side of our parkrun community. It was great.

I'm still not sure what I can do, but I felt compelled to volunteer for the next two weeks. I suspect that standing will be comfortable by next week, so I'm sure I'll be fine. By committing, at least I guarantee that I head up to the park for my fix of parkrun awesomeness the next two parkrundays!

I'm really glad I went. parkrun is amazing!