The Great North is but a few days away. As it stands the forecast looks perfect. Cloudy, 17 degrees etc. My race number has turned up and I’ve been put in the C Pen on the day. For those who don’t run (really?) it is common practise to group runners according to ability so a C ranking is frankly astounding for me considering they pen all the way to group M, I think. Just shows how far I have come over the past year or so.
I’ll be tail running the Harcourt Hill Parkrun on Saturday before getting a train up to Newcastle. I have a room booked and flight back to London on Sunday. The flight is at 3.45pm to encourage me NOT to dawdle during the race. I need to finish in 1 hour 39 mins or less to hit the target I set and retire from Half Marathons. An old knee injury from way back when and the funny way I run have conspired together. The knee pain on longer runs is……unpleasant. So pain or not, I’ll have to run fast or I’ll miss my flight.
The pain today is just an ache. I am doing the accepted routine of tapering, reducing the amount of running before I race. I hit my peak (just over 20K in 1 hour 33mins) early August and yesterday was down to 12.5k. One quick jog on Wednesday (5 miles) and that is the last sweat til Sunday.
Tapering though has not been without its problems. I run everywhere and don’t stop for holidays. Every time I come up off a steroid drip I find it hard to get back into an exercise routine so holidays can’t be a self-defeating excuse. After my peak 20k run we all flew off to a Portuguese volcanic island in the middle of nowhere. Idyllic yes. Flat, erm, not so much.
Before we left I had used MapMyRun, a wonderful little app, to help plot a circuit to minimise the wearing on the knee. I had worked out a course where the elevation was no more than 70m which seemed fine. The first Sunday abroad the kids were occupied at lunch so it seemed a good time to go. Yes it was 27 degrees but I’d run in hotter and the humidity? Pah.
I had to do the circuit six times to hit 17.5k. And that 70m elevation was all front loaded. After one lap I could see, perhaps, on reflection, 1 pm with the sun overhead wasn’t the best time to be doing this. By lap three my eyeballs needed windscreen wipers as the sweat poured forth. As I started lap four I could see six laps was going to be more imaginary than real and as I finished that lap my better self (rarely seen but available on request) decided to intervene and insist on just one more circuit. Even that wasn’t possible.
As I finished the elevation my legs began to fail as did any coherency of thought. I had just enough about me to realise my only friend left was the force of gravity so turned round and head down hill. As I reached back ‘home’ I pissed myself.
Reading that again I understand that sounds bleak. I have always described my condition as Diet MS. When the tumour was then discovered I named it Nigel. When the blackdog returned (in the guise of BDD) I out ran it. It’s not a case of whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Much more you play the hand that is given. With luck you can game that hand and that’s what I have been doing.
My father, before he died of a broken heart, was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had immense difficulty with the consequences. A man of his generation, his lack of bladder control became one of the walls in which he hid from polite society. My MS tribe know this problem well. For women who have given birth, a weakened pelvic floor mean leakage at the end of a race is not unusual and why many such runners prefer black shorts and leggings. However, the loss of bladder control was a new one for me. And I mean loss not leak.
I have heard about hitting a wall when running longer distances but this was the first time I had done so myself. I think, in many ways, this save me from too much introspection. My legs were jelly and I was full on mumblecore. The fact I slightly smelt of a distant dark corner of Paddington Station was neither here nor there. I had run when it was too hot, too humid and without at least a walk around of the circuit beforehand. The consequences were predictable and a reminder that as much as I joke I have to be honest. I have MS. I am mortal. Hear me mumble…
After the obvious shower and lie down I spent some time working out what next. I now realised that I did have a physical endurance limit and actually took some strange comfort knowing what borderline delirium felt like. It IS good to know and better to know in those circumstances with support than finding out half way through a race, God knows where. But I can’t stop. I maybe rusting forever but I cannot stop.
I started from scratch, running four laps a couple of days later, earlier in the morning when the temperature was more conducive to that sort of stupidity. There were no ill effects from the fuck up run and what I drank before had either sweated out or was stored for later (“coughs gently”). A couple of days after that, 8.30 in the morning, I headed off for the full 17.5k.
There was cloud which helped. I took it easy to start with on the elevation and didn’t bomb the downhill part. Any downhill is always hard on the knees and lower legs anyway. The pace gave me time to think. My MS and all its little comorbidities have begun to bite but this doesn’t mean giving up on my targets, just rethinking how to achieve them. Maybe I do need to run a little slower.
But as I turned the corner on the sixth and last circuit and began to run down to the sun rising over the Atlantic Ocean I saw something beautiful. The light was making patterns on the water that Sir Issac Newton would have been proud of and I am with the Issacs. As I approach the Great North Run, slower than I would have hoped, but running still all I can do is repeat my mantra.
“Fuck you MS”.