Monday 12 April 2010

Runfurther series race 4 of 12. Calderdale Hike 36mi. 10/04/2010.

Developments sort of ran away with themselves last week. I was just about back to normal movement on the fractured foot with no discomfort, even in bare feet. My knee continued to complain while sitting or descending stairs but my sports physio (Tim Deykin of Sport-Med in Stockport is top notch and really knows his stuff) told me that exercise is absolutely essential to rebuild strong tendons. As long as there is no sharp pain, it’s good. Exercise with discomfort is part of a good and proper repair process.

Some tape across my kneecap to keep it pulled to one side and a sanction from Tim on Friday made my mind up for me. The Calderdale Hike 2010 was to be my surprise comeback event. I’d seen the gorgeous forecast for the weekend and I had a perfected route etched in my mind and printed out on 8 sides of A4. Stuff the fact that I’d had virtually no exercise for nine weeks, I could not miss this opportunity. All I had to do was add another two hours onto last year’s time and use that as my new target.

And so I arrived at Sowerby at 7:30am, full of anticipation and excitement. Greetings and encouraging words were had in the carpark even before I made it into the cricket club for more of the same. Oh the joy of being at an event venue girding my loins to take part instead of observing and envying others gird theirs. I did have slight misgivings about 36 miles in Calderdale not being ideal as a comeback event after a nine-week lay-off, but beggars can’t be choosers. It was this or nothing. All I could do was monitor all systems and pull out if things became too painful. There were plenty of checkpoints to do so if it really came to it.

On the stroke of 9am we runners (I use that term in a loose sense for myself) were sent on our way, most of them towards the main entrance but a few of us ‘in the know’ in the opposite direction to a rear snicket on the first of my ‘route optimisations’. Mark Hartell was in the lead, loping down the road into the distance with me in second place (ho yes!), that is until the other proper runners who went the long way round caught up and overtook me on the downhill towards the railway (for me) and canal (for everyone else).

I plodded from checkpoint to checkpoint in the calm air and warm sunshine with my heart racing at up to 180bpm. This was to be expected for one so unfit. It would be a long day of survival tactics. My main aim was to get as far as possible without wrecking myself. I had plenty of breathers to take pictures and refuel at the checkpoints (nice sandwiches). My slower pace meant that I ate more than usual. It was a linear al fresco buffet.

I found myself alone by the approach to Widdop Reservoir, most of the runners having long vanished into the distance. I walked most of my way up that road to a nice welcome at the checkpoint near the dam. After Widdop I took another optimised route to the left side of Cant Clough Reservoir. Looking behind I noticed Malcolm Coles had the same idea as he was slowly catching me up. He knew all the best lines too. That line helped me to catch up with Mike and Yvonne, who proved to be excellent partners for the remainder of the event. It is not often I get to do an event in company like that. It was very nice.

Our climb up the many false summits to the top of Thieveley Pike was very slow in the heat. I was looking forward to a bit of breeze on the top but there wasn’t any. The wind turbines below in the distance, which we had passed two checkpoints ago, stood still in the stagnant air. Malcolm disappeared into the distance from here, never to be seen again (he’s one amazing man with what he can still do into his seventies).

The grubbiest and most run-down section of the route began on the approach to Heald Top Farm (a partially flooded, litter-strewn, derelict-looking dump) and past the edge of Todmorden Moor to Checkpoint 9 at Slatepit Hill. It reminded me of parts of the Round Rotherham. It was sad to see out in the middle of the countryside.

At Checkpoint 10 (Foul Clough Road) we had a nice lecture from one of the marshals on the good all this sun was doing us and how our bodies would be making all this good vitamin D. She must have been reading Doctor Mercola's website. I was certainly feeling the goodness of being out there, although my foot had become worryingly uncomfortable. I didn’t want to be feeling this; I didn’t want to crack the bone again. It became a toss-up over whether the knee or the foot slowed me down the most on the down-hills. (My general lack of fitness had slowed me down everywhere else.)

I shuffled my way onwards through Dean Royd Bridges and Lumbutts (seen here in more impressive detail) up to Stoodley Pike then down the other side (sorry to hold you up on that descent, Mike and Yvonne) to Withens Clough Reservoir and through the 15th and final checkpoint at Shaw's Lane. A few more runners overtook us as we went. I know Yvonne could have blasted off into the distance down that final stretch of road but she waited for Mike and me so we could finish as a threesome. Thanks Yvonne; we enjoyed your company and your graciousness.

Our time of 8:46 was within my 9-hour target, so I was satisfied. I knew the 7 hours of last year was an outright impossibility even if my knee and foot were miraculously better. I was relieved to be able to walk in bare feet at the finish, which I take to mean I hadn’t re-broken the bone. However it is remaining tender. I hope my comeback hasn’t become a setback.

The knee seems to have thrived on the exercise. It has improved since its right good seeing to and telling who’s boss. My untrained calves and quads, on the other hand, are suffering from severe DOMS. I struggle to get around, but I’m not worried because I know they will be better and stronger again by next weekend. Pain is good. Bring it on!

I was a bit snap-happy because I had time to spare. The best of the pictures are here in glorious slideshow form (mostly proof that I visited every checkpoint and didn’t cheat – as if I could anyway on the Calderdale Hike).

I must thank the organisers and army of volunteers on this event. It has changed for the better over the years. There are fewer restrictive rules, there are loads of checkpoints providing decent substantial food (individually bagged sandwiches, no less!) and there’s loads of friendly support all the way round to the finish, where more substantial food is on offer to recharge the batteries good and proper. They really need to do something about the gnat’s-piss tea, though. A few more teabags wouldn’t go amiss and shouldn’t cost the Earth ;-)

Monday 5 April 2010

Light at the end of the tunnel.

On 25th March I had my 6-week appointment at the fracture clinic for the follow-up X-ray. The crack across the metatarsal was still visible, but a shadowy lump around the crack indicated the creation of a bursar, which is part of the normal healing process. It supports the break while it heals. I have to return after another 6 weeks for a third X-ray on 6th May, and he doesn't want me to do any running until then. (Obviously not in bare feet, but in protective shoes? Hmm, we'll see.)

Things have been looking up recently. After two major downers where I imagined no more running, ever, some recent expert feedback has restored hope. As I still wait for the consultation with the knee surgeon on 9th April, I did not want to leave any stone unturned. I needed reassurance, information, anything other than being left dangling and fearing the worst.

The first glimmer of hope was sparked by information contained in an email from a fellow fan of the running events (thanks Jenny, you were my saviour). Then I made an appointment with my sports physiotherapist (Sport-Med in Stockport). It was the best decision I could have made. I was given a thorough, expert going-over. Even though my knee crunches in the most disgusting manner, which is most likely shown up on the MRI scan as the “minor degeneration”, it is not the cause of my pain. The pain originates from inflamed tendons at the front of the knee underneath the kneecap, and they will not be shown up by the MRI scan. They need ultrasound to reveal them.

Tendons do repair, eventually. I was told around three months. Furthermore, tendons need exercise and a certain degree of discomfort (not outright pain) as part of a healthy repair process in order to build strong fibres. Complete rest is an absolute no-no otherwise weak fibres will form the repair and the tendons will never be up to the job. Within a stroke, normality has returned; pain has regained its normal status as something good and part of the normal healing process (repairable tendon), not bad and cementing with ever more certainty my permanent retirement from running (irreparable cartilage). I now don't have to worry about a painful knee as I cycle to work. Instead I must chose to cycle and embrace the pain, which is good.

I suffer the common runner's problem of muscle imbalance, where core and other muscles are not strong enough to balance the over-developed running (quadriceps) muscles. The result is poor running action and poor tracking of the knees, leading to injury. It is probably worse for someone like me because I do most of my running when tired and everything has flopped and become lazy. I need to strengthen and condition myself such that everything remains solid and in place even when I'm tired. To that end, I have been given exercises to do. As I clench, tense and bend, I must appear to a casual observer as if I'm suffering from a severe case of touching cloth.

The physio made an interesting comment about broken bones – that they take 2 years plus to regain full strength. I'm no football fan but I've heard repeatedly that broken metatarsals are common with footballers. How long are they out of action? Surely not 2 years. Football is far more explosive and stressful on the feet than the ultra-plodding I do, surely. Say they can return in 12 weeks, that must equate to 9 weeks for me? Any feedback gratefully received.

Yesterday I ran up the stairs for the first time in two months. I did it again today. YES! Now I'm wondering which events I can use to ease myself back. I wonder if I could have done The Fellsman after all?

Kipling Kaper. Sat 27/03/2010.

And so to another week of volunteering as I let my broken foot and dodgy knee recover. Chief organiser of the Kipling Kaper, Julie Brownhill, was in need of extra help. I was only too happy to oblige. I had enjoyed this event last year, notwithstanding the violent hail squall that caught me on the top of The Roaches, and now was the time to pay something back. This year the event started from Swythamley, a couple of miles to the west of its normal base at Meerbrook. Renovations meant that Meerbrook Village Hall was not available for us this year. The new location proved to be a very good alternative.

I drove there in low cloud and drizzle, but I knew it wouldn't last because the forecast was good. I was posted to the road junction to direct to our car-park any cars that came along. Every one, without exception, was headed for our event. It wasn't long before both small car-parks were full. The field opposite was available for overflow parking, but only for 4x4s. Unfortunately the first two vehicles directed in there were ordinary cars. Mistake! I quickly became aware that both cars were stranded in what had looked like a nice grassy field, but its saturation turned it into a car trap. I deserted my post and ran down to join others to help push them back out. With a good run-up we succeeded with the first, but the other was having none of it. Mud sprayed wildly from the spinning wheels as we pushed, all to no avail. We could not get it even close to the field exit and solid ground. Finally, after exhausting all the options we could think of, I asked a local friendly neighbour if he knew of anyone with a towing rope who might be able to help. He saved the day himself with his 4x4 (an ambulance, no less) and a rope. What a hero. Later we gave him a 'Thank you' card to let him know how much his efforts to save our stricken walker were appreciated.

That little bit of excitement brought us to 07:45, just 15 minutes before the walkers' start, so hopefully not too disastrous. The field was shunned from then on, all remaining cars being directed to line the road. At 08:00 the walkers were sent on their way on a choice of five routes – 20, 22, 26, 29 and 31 miles. The tougher options included a climb of Shutlingsloe (like a mini version of Ingleborough) and the length of The Roaches ridge.

Over the next hour the runners arrived and the weather brightened, such that the sun was out by the time they set off at 09:00. Then the work began – duck-taping floor coverings to give protection from muddy shoes, setting up chairs, tables, drinks, waste bins, brewing up for the workers, washing up, wiping down and anything else that needed doing before our first customer returned. A dedicated team of four beavered away with the food preparation, working from recipe sheets to make sure the ingredients were just right. I was extremely impressed by the care and dedication that went into the healthy choice on offer. Kipling Kaper's food is among the best of all the events I have done. It is comparable to the best offerings on an LDWA 100. Bowls of different salads & pastas, quiche, bread & butter, tuna and pork pies formed just some of the main course. For afters there was fruit pie and custard. Tea, coffee, water and juice were ready to flow freely, on demand. And that's just back at base. I did not get to experience the checkpoint duties. Julie Brownhill and all her willing helpers from Staffordshire Long Distance Walkers Association deserve high praise for what they lay on at Kipling Kaper.

It seemed no time before the first 20-mile runner returned. The second finisher wasn't far behind. That began the trickle, which increased in fits and starts. I stayed for as long as I could, helping out where required and chatting to the finishers until I had to leave for a pre-arranged dinner date, just after the first 31-mile runner had finished. It proved to be an excellent day and again I dreamed of getting back out there again. The rushing around and pushing of cars had not done my foot any favours, but it was nothing compared to what would have happened had I actually done the event. I will bide my time, and while I wait I shall continue to enjoy 'life on the other side'.