Running through the pain

Inactivity would normally have me climbing the walls. Irritable and just ‘out of sorts’. A daily fix of exercise not only eases the mind but it most definitely does provide energy, be that physical or mental. I’m an addictive sort of person and since I got into sport seriously some 25 years ago, the need to fulfil the endorphin rush has been something I just can’t avoid.

In my early cycling days getting up at 5 or 6 am to cycle 30-50 miles before work and then do the same after work seemed ‘normal’. In actual fact, in season I would also do a mid week race and more than likely a race at weekend. When I gave up cycling in 2002 I guess I was pretty much burnt out both physically and mentally. Working 10-12 hours days and then adding 2 bike rides just meant that life was out of balance. Twelve months of RnR and a variety of sports allowed me to move into Triathlon. Of course it was meant to be fun (and it was) but that OCD kicked in and before long I was training twice a day and even sometimes three times a day, working full time and trying to be around for my family. I represented GB for Duathlon at the 2005 Worlds in Australia and went on to do multiple Ironman races.

In 2007 I was reading a book whilst relaxing on a beach in France. Another busy season behind me I had decided I need something new. Something challenging. Little did I know that ultra running would be what lay ahead. Running had been something I hated. It was triathlon that had opened up my mind to the sport but even then cycling was my ‘sport’. In a Duathlon or Triathlon I would nail the bike and survive the run. What I always liked with endurance sport is the element of unknown. The fear of not finishing. When I stood on the start line of an Ironman in 2007 I was sure I would finish. From that moment on I realised a new challenge awaited. Dean Karnazes provided that new challenge. Little did I know that reading ‘Confessions of an all night runner’ would lead to the passion I now have for ultra running.

The ‘fear’ has never gone away. I never stand on an ultra marathon start line complacent or assuming a finish. Running is brutal. It tires the body, it hurts the body and it fatigues the body like no other sport. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a negative. It’s what makes the sport great. The ability to overcome and succeed. I am not a great runner. Never have been and never will be. I can however perform well at Age Group level and I have had some successes but I know my place. Does that matter? Of course not. What’s important is taking part and achieving goals or targets. I met my partner, Niandi, through running and we have both had great pleasure travelling and racing with a common bond. I have had so many fantastic run experiences. I have made some incredible friends and I have witnessed and experienced new places. I have cried through personal joy and pain and I have cried at others joy and pain.

In 2011 I wanted to somehow pass on this passion. My good friends Tom Wiliams and Martin Yelling had started a podcast in 2010 called Marathon Talk. For this show I had helped them out with interviews in the ultra world. As 2011 progressed I knew that an ultra running podcast was just what the community needed. I was aware that other podcasts existed but they had a similar format. A little chat, an interview and then goodbye. I wanted to create an audio magazine. Something with variety, a longer show that could be taken on long runs but ultimately a show that expressed a deep passion for our sport at the grass roots and elite level. Talk Ultra was created.

Fast forward to September 2012. In the last month I have been to Sierre Zinal, Trofeo Kima and just last weekend UTMB to cover the race for Vibram. The sport is now rewarding me with experiences of a completely different nature. I am now reporting on, writing about, photographing and mixing with the stars of the race circuit and a world I love. Just one year ago I would never have thought this possible. But I guess the OCD I have that I brought to my own personal running is now being brought to the sport in a completely different channel and I am being rewarded.

The downside of all this is that my own personal running has taken a step back. Running twice a day has just not been possible. In actual fact, sometimes running just once a day can be a challenge. Ironically, my usual bomb proof physique and lack of injury over 25 years in sport has now all come to a head. Earlier this year I was getting some knee pain. I knew from experience that it wasn’t the ‘knees’ but more everything that connected to the knees. I typically tell all my coaching clients ‘get it sorted, don’t mess about’. Of course like a true Pro I did exactly the opposite… Just finding the time to see my Physio didn’t seem possible. Of course after months of running and racing with an element of discomfort all came to a head and after running the Lakeland 50 I finally had some tests done. As expected, the knees are feeling the pain but the problems are elsewhere. Core and some muscle imbalance are at the root of the problem. All helped by increasing sitting editing and recording a podcast. How ironic!

Anyway, back to the start. I am 16 days cold turkey. I have missed my runs but because of the connection to the sport through the podcast, writing and photography I haven’t missed it ‘that much’. I remain confident that all will come good and I will be back on the trails soon. But I have a new perspective. The joy of running, the joy of being on the trails and the joy of being in the mountains with wide open and empty vistas are what appeals. This all became completely apparent when I did 5 hours on trails with Salomon runner, Linda Doke at the Glacier de Zinal. We had the most incredible time running, chatting, taking photos and enjoying the trails for what they are; an escape!

I will always want that escape. If the escape is following and reporting the sport from the side of the trail, so be it.

Don’t rule me out yet though. One way or the other I will carve a niche on trails. It may just be in my own time at my own pace. I can live with that!