Monthly Archives: April 2016

The Trouble With York

There are ghosts in York.

It is difficult to turn a corner of the city centre and not sense lives past. It’s a city in which my own memories are there, “ghosts of girlfriends past” as somebody who knows me best recently said. It’s also the City that kicks off the UK Triathlon season.

Memories be damned. Ghosts are for the Bard. I come to tri.

I am a lucky man. I may have MS and a small(ish) tumour called Nigel caressing the nerve sheath of my spinal cord but I do have job flexibility. As such I can organise my schedule around my increasing need to wear out this bag of bones before my immune system teams up with Nigel (it’s gonna be spectacular folks…). So the meeting and talk at the University was set, advanced tickets and bike reservations for the train booked, value for money accommodation near Gallowgate sourced and secured.

After the Milton Keynes 10k at the beginning of March my training began to focus on York. I had booked for the Super Sprint as per last year so was basically going to my local sports centre and swimming a few lengths, jumping on a cycle machine then the running machine. Each discipline I was undertaking I was training at a length just beyond the York distances. Add some weight training, parkrun and a 12.5k a week all was on track to start my tri season without much fuss. After last year my greatest concern was whether I needed to pack suncream. Yes York 2015 meant sunburn FFS.

Sadly the best laid plans of mice and men…are still better organised than me. When my number and start time came through I realised that I had not left enough time to recover and get back to the station to get the train home. I had booked an advance ticket to keep the costs down and to guarantee a bike space. But my 2016 start was an hour later than 2015. There was little room for error.

The organisers were sympathetic as I threw myself on their mercy but numbers and times has been allocated. Did I rebook my train and piss away £100 or take the risk. Or was there another option. I mean I had always said this year I would move up from Super Sprint so why not now? Wasn’t that the reason I had started the half marathons to see whether I had the base stamina for the next tri step? Thankfully UK Triathlon could put me at the end of Sprint race starting 3 hours earlier. Even I couldn’t mess that up, could I?

So with my category and time changed I realised a big problem. Three weeks to go and I hadn’t actually trained for this class. No doubt I could achieve any of the distances in isolation but I had no idea whether together it would click. Worse still, since I was treating the super sprint as no more than a season warm up, I had done NO road work on the bike. The bike had been in the garage since October 2015.

I had recently attended a class at the Boswell Clinic. Useful people and what stuck was the basic logic behind training schedules for each discipline. Swim (intensity), bike (volume), run (frequency). On the bike I was looking red-faced. Worse still when I dusted the bike off I released the tires needed upgrading. York Tri bike route is 6 laps for the Sprint over uneven paving and a tight turn or two. The shop tires that came with my Triban looked as pathetic as my organisation skills had turned out to be.

So too late to change my training programme and new tires had to be sourced. Gators seemed the best bet and many thanks to Reg Taylor Cycles from the Peoples Republic of East Oxford for the help and advice on that. As for the training, although my work is flexible it isn’t optional. The best bet seemed to be more weight training. Both my consultants, physiotherapist and psychologist demand I do more about my weight (“you have virtually no adipose tissue, Mark”) so two weeks to go bulking up might, just might help.

Off I trundled to York, the Friday before the tri. As an inveterate parkrun tourist I thought I would cadge a slow 5k on the Saturday. Having done the York parkrun last year I opted for Harrogate this and had great fun tensing up when the train was late. A wonderfully friendly crowd at the run obviously, but for some reason my brain still hadn’t engaged that I was doing a tri the day after and I bombed round in a personal best of 20 minutes 40 seconds. Fuckwit.

The weather on the big day was cold. No sun burn this year. I got lost cycling from Gallowgate to the York Sport Village but what struck me as I arrived was just how busy it was. Which lead to the first issue. A lack of racking space for the bike.

I love racking up. There is, for me, a tremendous excitement at that point, a buzz, a shared expectation. Some of my happiest times (with my clothes on) have been racking up for a tri, with Barcelona last year being a particularly strong contender. But now I was desperately trying to find a space with the wind bringing down my body temperature at an alarming rate. No adipose tissue means no body insulation.

With time running out I placed the bike and went back out to get marked up for the swim. For those tri atheists out there this normally means some poor soul vandalising your skin (left upper arm, right lower leg) with a marker pen, writing your race number. Except this year York had teamed up with Sport Stiks, temporary stickers rather than ink. Sport Stiks are a little like those fake temporary tattoos your kids get. With one simple difference. They don’t fucking work.

Had no one thought that maybe one of us, perhaps two, might, just might not be utterly hairless? Nope. York Sport Village was full of the *coughs* hirsute, me include. I do wax by the way, just not in April. After a few attempts I borrowed a marker pen then self harmed as I am sure my shrink would misinterpret. I am currently inmate 348…

So as 348 I head for the pool. Interestingly enough what I first noticed was the numbers of people swimming breast stroke. It tends to be just me. I perked up at this point thinking I might not come dead last. Off I went passing a couple of people and being passed then out into the biting cold. And by God it was a shock.

Not as much as a shock as when I realised I couldn’t remember where I racked my bike. Seriously. I was cold, disoriented and swearing like a trooper. My transition time was being trashed by my own stupidity and my feet were getting cold. Finally finally finally there is the bike, my vest and my trainers. Not totally insane I had brought some gloves and a buff. Off I went helmet on and ready to rock and roll. The new bike flew compared to last year’s Dawes bone shaker and, having done the course last year albeit at the super sprint level, I knew what to expect. I passed more than passed me and I began to make up the time on my swimming (motto – float with a purpose).

But the cold. I have MS (I’m sure I have mentioned it…) so I often can’t feel my feet. That is an absence of feeling, the nerve ending not supplying the right info. At York though, at the end of the bike run, I couldn’t properly feel my feet because they were swollen numb with cold. I still had 5k to run.

For once my MS gave me an advantage. I run with limited information flowing back through my legs on a regular basis. So no real difference at York; go to it good Doctor and RUN. The couple of people who passed me on the bike I overtook by the end of the first lap. I passed many more who hadn’t paced themselves and were cramping up. I just sprinted to the finish line.

How did I do? Where did I come? 1 hour 14 mins 14 seconds, the 5k in 22 mins 10 seconds. Best of all 79th out of 275, top third. Not bad for my first full pool sprint.

I love York and the York Triathlon gives me a reason to come back. Whether my health continues to allow this is a moot point. I run, I tri because I can. If death wants me it’s going to have to run a little faster.

See you all in Ardingley in June. And don’t forget Barcelona…




The Truth About Steroids – part 1


It’s time to admit it. I am a habitual drug user. As the York Super Sprint Triathlon approaches it is time to come clean. I’m on drugs.

Not right now you understand otherwise this blog post would be more pertang bang kipperbang than actual script. Never the less I need to be honest and come clean before I rack the bike at the end of April and take yet one more step to be slightly faster in bright yellow lycra than I was last year.

I am now in year 14 on my personal crusade, me against multiple sclerosis. I treat it with the contempt it deserves during day light but fear it as I fall asleep. MS is a sneaky little fucker and likes nothing better than to nip at your heels when you least expect it. Physically fine? F*ck you puny human, have an emotional disorder. Looking normal? Go to hell manchild and slur like a drunkard. I run 10k in 43 minutes but am basically trashed inside.

I don’t fight MS alone. The NHS has my back (mostly…) and the pharma industry is always looking for new and innovative ways to wind up NICE by overcharging for interventions looking for diseases to treat (I’m looking at you interferon, yes you at the back skulking behind that risk sharing agreement. Tsk.). From the beginning I took steps around diet and exercise, I looked at the data around vitamin D, was sceptical about omega 3 oils (although recently have had cause to wonder) and spent a lot of time discussing treatment regimes with my consultant.

When I was first diagnosed it was basically interferon (and its fellow travellers) or nothing. The data though…MS is a long term condition yet the three trials that people were using to recommend it were all short term and one even halted early. Even the NHS seemed less than convinced or more accurately NICE the body that weighs the evidence. I had a close friend who had lost her mobility (and eventually her life) through MS. Her one piece of advice was not to let the MS define me. The idea of injecting on a daily or near daily basis seemed just that.

So I ended up looking at a small Italian study. The use of pulsed steroids to treat MS. The evidence was limited but with the words of my soon to be dead friend hanging in the wind it seemed one inconclusive treatment was the same as the other except with steroids the intervention would be more….discrete? Siloed?

At the time I was on my third attack, had the MS hug and my legs were on fire. So I signed up as a one man clinical trial. Without a protocol.

If you accept that most modern MS treatments are targeted at set points of the immune system then it is fair to say that steroids are no more than a blunderbuss. As I said my problem with interferons were (and are) that they are a treatment looking for a disease. Steroids are the medical equivalent to Begbie ( tanked up on a Saturday night, looking for a face they don’t like. Steroids don’t discriminate and they have become my shitty stick with which to beat my wayward immune system with.


They have side effects…

I would love to say that I was informed in full of the side effects, that I knew in detail how my body would react but no. The past few years have been full of steroidal moments, full of the madness that only steroids can produce. There are, obviously, physical side effects (more later) but the psychological ones were just … wonderous.

My treatment started as 1g a day on a drip for three days, three times a year. After the first set I returned to work and I found myself ranting at my then boss about an element of office politics for an hour. He sent me home. While on my way home it seemed a good idea to have a nap when I got to a red light. Hmmm.

After that we built in a week of ‘withdrawal’ before returning to work. So no ranting. However stuck at home, bored, I discovered not only did I have no emotional control I had no control. And the internet….

I will never be quite sure why buying a can crusher ( was a good idea. Or the £40 worth of Lebanese takeaway while I went for a quite walk. I changed banks, sent bizarre letters to people I hardly knew, donated £200 to a hospice because I felt beholden to do so. Almost booked tickets to see Liverpool play Espanyol as a pre season friendly. In Spain.

For some reason I bought a case of vintage sherry (past its best) which was so foul I gave it away to people I really didn’t like. I have DVDs I will never watch but bought ‘under the influence’. I have a running shirt I will never wear since the steroid inspire slogan emblazoned across it is probably actionable under the Public Order Act 1986 (as well as physically not possible to do without a lot of training).

And I have cried and cried and cried. Not for anything logical or worthy. Not for my dead friend or lost parents. Not for my wretched self. The ending of Spiderman 2, to Kate Bush’s Moments of Pleasure, when Lesley betrays Peter in Broken Homes. The lack of emotional control. You have no idea.

And when I say you I mean me. During steroids I am only dimly aware of my actions. Only weeks after, when an industrial quantity of chick peas turns up or a bank statement showing what you spent or better still a bank statement from a bank account you didn’t know you had. Being on steroids is a little like an episode of Quantum Leap. To geek quote…

“Dr. Sam Beckett stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator and vanished. He woke to find himself trapped in the past, facing mirror images that were not his own and driven by an unknown force to change history for the better. ……. And so Dr. Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home.”

It’s not the past and the only history I am changing on ‘roids is my financial and internet ones. But you get the point 🙂  Still anything to keep on running. Right?