Marathon Pain but not as we know it

As I sit here in discomfort, picking over the mangled remains of my sixth marathon yesterday, I feel determined that this will be my last before I’m 50.

That’s five years of rest or, more likely, 60 months of intermittent training, shorter races, and triathlon.

I failed to hit my target at Abingdon Marathon. I set off knowing that, based on my prep, a ‘sub-three’ was achievable, but marathon Gods have different ideas.

After the best training block I have ever had, I started to experience hip and glute pain on Thursday. “Taper paranoia”, said I with false bravado, but the Brussel sprout size knots that made me yelp on the foam roller told a different story.

Half-way in 1.28.50 was pretty much perfect as we won’t quibble about 10 seconds here or there. But that glute felt tighter and tighter, and started to pull on my hip and by mile 20 my left leg was painful from top to bottom or, more accurately, from bottom to sole.

The final mile was the worst agony I have been in while running. While not keen to relive the experience, I would be interested to see a video as, in my mind, I resembled Long John Silver chasing a doubloon as I lolloped round Tilsley Park track in a vain effort to get below 3.10.

I don’t know what caused it. When the injury came on I had not run for two days but had been foam rollering and stretching. It might be time for me to admit that my body is not well suited to the rigours of marathon training.

I’ve said before that I’ll give up marathons and gone back on the decision, but this time I am sure that a five year hiatus is on the cards.

I’ve loved the training this time; picking hilly cross-country routes to keep me interested and the strength and conditioning work brought a new dimension to daily life. In general, this marathon has truly reignited my passion for running.

I even gave up alcohol for two months. Not only has that enabled me to get in the best shape of my adult life, but I also found that has given me extra motivation at work and I have become much more productive.

Clich├ęd it might be, but the journey has been so rewarding that the final destination feels less important for a change.

So, Abingdon Marathon has not given me the 2:59:59 I was hoping for but it has presented me with unexpected, and even more valuable, gifts.

A 10 year cycling love affair

Today I would like to take a moment to celebrate and reflect upon a special relationship in my life.

It's been exciting but also stable, there have been ups and downs in the physical and emotional senses, and at times I have been tempted by the attentions of others. But right here, right now, I want to say loud and proud: "I love my Ribble".

My Ribble Winter Training Frame wasn't even new when it came to me and had suffered from being a wallflower as the previous owner has rapidly moved on to a younger, sleeker model. But in 2007 it became mine just in time for the Blenheim Triathlon.

We've done all sorts together. We've been slow together, we've been fast together, and we've had others question our love for each other.

"Good speed on that bike, mate," yelled an overweight and clearly overpaid muppet on a £3,000 TT bike as I scorched by him at Blenheim two years ago.

The thing is, I have never wanted to replace my Ribble; not really. I know that as a triathlete I have never reached my potential That is not down to the fact I have an 11-year-old aluminium bike, it is down to the fact that I have never trained properly for an event.

This bike has never let me down, although I can't say that I have reciprocated that reliability and loyalty. Why would I waste money and resources when I can't commit my time to improving myself?

I've heard Ribble be a bit dismissed as a brand by fellow triathletes; a bargain brand only suitable for beginners, not serious triathletes.

I can tell you that such has been the positive experience I have had that I would not hesitate to buy another, however tempting the high-end brands may be to the fashion-conscious triathlete.

Could swimming be the new running?

February is here. You know that, I am sure, but it feels significant to me because it marks the end of a swimming challenge.

Swimming has, for a long time, been a serious weakness. When I first took up triathlon it was probably my strength – I had swum a lot as a teenager and, as a result of thousands of lengths at a tender age, my technique was ok.

However, then I started getting cramp. It began with the usual calf cramp with twitches in the arch of the foot but within 12 months I was suffering full leg cramps after just 400m of pool swimming. My hamstrings and quads would cramp at the same time meaning stretching out was impossible.

That went on for four years. I had all the sage advice from clubmates at Oxford Tri – eat more salt’, ‘eat less salt’, ‘drink apple cider vinegar’ etc etc but nothing worked.

In the end, I could only really compete in Sprint Triathlons for fear of a major cramp attack if I went longer than 750m in open water or 400m in a pool. My swimming reduced to three or four times a year, including events themselves.

But last year I started to see a breakthrough. It came when I was being treated for a tight glute which was causing hamstring problems and impacting on my running.

The physio, Pete Quartly at Physio Lab in Oxfordshire, was very interested in my problems with swimming and set about working out the problem.

In his opinion, it was caused by a poor lower back flexibility which, in turn, pinched nerves and brought on the cramps. He gave me some exercises to do and I studiously carried out his instructions.

It helped. I no longer had that tightening after just a few lengths and I could suddenly swim at least a few lengths in a relaxed state.

The second revelation was brought about by Sean Nicolle, a coach at Oxford Tri. He filmed me from all imaginable angles and succinctly pointed out that as a swimmer I had the shoulder rotation of an elite swimmer and the lower back flexibility of an 80-year-old.

These two elements combined to ensure that every time I breathed I nearly flipped onto my back and had to put in two big kicks to right myself. Those kicks were inducing cramp which my lower back flexibility was exacerbating to the Nth degree.

So, my swimming started coming back last year. It is pain free, I am getting faster every week, and, most importantly, I am really enjoying it.

The challenge was to swim more in January 2017 than in the whole of 2016 and I have just managed it. I swam 35km last month, compared to 33km in 2016.

Now if only I can stay on top of the running and the cycling I might actually have a decent triathlon this year. Those are two big ‘ifs’ though as I am frequently very, very lazy.

Future dreams

When I am old

Will I still be able to take my body

To the places my mind takes me now?

Running over mountains,

Down valleys and through lush forests.

The future is always sunny;

Full of energetic promise and

Freeflowing wonder.

Now is beautiful;

Filled with football

And homework, and meandering Monopoly.

I treasure every second.

I hope that,

When the present is memories,

My body is as able as my mind is willing.