Learning When To Quit

…Or not. Maybe it’s something to do with being a bloke in his early thirties, or becoming a dad in the last couple of years. Or maybe it’s something to do with 2020 just being the absolute worst and wanting to achieve something positive out of it all. Whatever the reason, I’ve been in denial about admitting it but unfortunately I now have to accept defeat.

For those who’ve haven’t read earlier posts, I’ve been plagued with back issues since early July. This was diagnosed in August as two slipped (“prolapsed”) discs in my lower (“lumbar”) spine, damage to a third and some minor arthritic changes to my spine itself. In the weeks and months since I’ve been going through further tests with my consultant trying establish the best course of action, with the exact way forward still to be confirmed.

Things had been looking up in September though with the pain and other symptoms starting to subside. My consultant had specifically told me NOT to avoid any particularly activities, and to continue as normally as possible. With this advice I had started running again and given how far I’d got before stopping in July (about 720km I think) it looked like I might even be able to make it to the target…

Alas, it wasn’t to be. Having made it to 749km by the end of last week, the discs kicked back in with a vengeance on Saturday, with pain well above and beyond what I’d previously experienced. Since then any sort of movement has been agonising, slow and near enough impossible. It’s safe to say therefore that running is completely out of the question for the foreseeable future, and quite possible for the long term as well. I’m being forced to accept my mortality, limitations and realign my expectations, which as someone who basically thinks they can do anything has been a bit of a shock to the system.

Thanks to some absolutely fabulous opioid narcotics I’m happy to say my movement is gradually starting to improve, and while the pain is still significant I can at least walk around the house ok. I did even make it down the road to the shop the other night, and walked a little loop back home but I think to be honest even that was pushing it a bit too much. Yet again I never learn, trying to do too much too quickly.

So what next? Where do we go from here? Well, for one thing I’m not going to make any promises in regards to this challenge for the rest of the year. I’ll be building up to walking further distances as soon as I’m physically able to but definitely won’t be running again unless the back issues are resolved, which I have to accept may not ever full happen. I’d be really disappointed to have to stop running entirely as I have increasingly come to enjoy it. It’s done wonders for by wellbeing physically and mentally, keeping me sane and helping me to work through the toll of Covid lockdown earlier this year, and helping me to shed a bit of weight here and there (which has quickly piled back on since July!). I’ll be on the lookout for another favourite form of exercise as soon as possible. Cycling has been suggested given its lower impact nature, but I can’t bring myself to buy lycra.

Of course I’m particularly saddened not to be able to make it to the 1,000km Tonne Run Challenge target given such strong progress earlier in the year. Despite being entirely out of my control it really does feel like I’m letting EFTC and the students and families in Jocotenango down. A slightly irrational, but I think totally understandable feeling. Regardless, I’ll continue to support their work for the rest of this godawful year and beyond.

I may not get to 1000km this year but I’m determined to get the the £1,000 figure. If you think my efforts deserve it please do consider donating to EFTC through my Virgin Money Giving page (link below) to support their incredible work.

Not Quite to Plan

Both my blog and Strava feeds have been very quiet in recent weeks. Safe to say my plan of reaching the 800km mark by end of July has not happened. In fact I haven’t been for a run in more or less a month now which has definitely had a major impact on my physical and mental well-being, though perhaps not as much as the reason for not running!

This lack of progress is certainly not a result of my own choice or laziness. About six weeks ago now I started experiencing a lot of back pain. I’m no stranger to the occasion twinge but this was pretty constant and increasingly severe, enough that my wife convinced me to go to the doctor about it. Wind forward a few days and I also developed numbness and weakness in both legs to the point that just walking normally for any distance became extremely difficult, let alone trying to run. An MRI scan identified two herniated discs in my lumbar spine, damage to a third, and I’m awaiting further scans/tests to rule out damage elsewhere…

So yeah, that’s fun! Aside from the obvious uncertainty and worry as to the state of my health, and what the course of action might be to correct the issue, one of my main concerns is not completing the challenge I set myself for this year. Short of any miracle treatments it doesn’t look like I’ll be doing any more running for quite some time, so the 2020 Tonne Run Challenge total looks set to remain at 701km until the end of the year.

Whilst obviously not wanting to put myself at risk of greater injury I’m keen to complete the challenge in some form or another. Walking the remain 299km in the last 3-4 months of the year may be how I decide to tackle this, but keen to take some advice from health professionals before I make any decisions. If even that’s not possible I’ve wondered about trying to get a few people to commit to running 300km in the last quarter of the year on my behalf. Who knows, maybe I’ll start a trend!

My progress on the Tonne Run Challenge may have ground to a halt, but the needs of The School of Hope’s pupils in Jocotenango absolutely have not. Students and their families continue to rely on EFTC’s efforts to provide food, hygiene supplies and educational materials through this time. Have a look here (https://www.eftc.org.uk/en/blog/covid-19-cases-rise-and-we-respond) to see how staff have adapted to the needs of their community in these worrying and uncertain times. I continue to sponsor one of the students there and would really encourage anyone that can do likewise to do so (have a look here – https://www.eftc.org.uk/en/get-involved/sponsor-a-students-future).

And, of course, I may not get to 1000km this year by running (though I’ll definitely make up the numbers some how) but I’m determined to get the the £1,000 figure. Please do consider donating to EFTC through my Virgin Money Giving page (link below) to support their incredible work.

Hurry Up and Wait

I really am a bit useless at blogging. It’s been six weeks since I’ve written anything, during which time we’ve continued to wait for a reprieve from lockdown. Alas, nothing too material as yet. The current situation has left inspiration levels a little thin on the ground, and to a certain extent the same applies to my desire to get out running…

That said, progress continues. I’m comfortably ahead of schedule to reach the 1000km target by the end of the year. The total currently stands at 540km, and at current pace i’m due to reach the target at some point in September or October, assuming no injuries or illness gets in the way.

At the start of lockdown I was finding it really easy to get out and run, putting in at least 5km more or less every weekday and generally surpassing my 30km weekly stretch target. I think at that point given exercise was one of the very few valid reasons for leaving the house I was gladly making the most of it. In more recent weeks though I think it’s fair to say my mental health has taken an absolute kicking from lockdown, its relentlessness and related challenges. As such my motivation for anything productive, work, exercise or otherwise, has rather plummeted.

It’s a bit of a vicious circle given how good exercise is for one’s mood; my wife’s actually taken to forcing me out for a run whenever I’m having a grump. However as mood and motivation has decreased so too has the frequency of exercise, which in turn only worsens how I’m feeling. It’s a lesson well learned and something I’ll try to keep in mind when we get out of this monotony.

All that said, having had last week off work with my wife and daughter I’m better rested, more positive and keen to crack on with things, running included. My immediate goal will be to get back to the 30km per week target for the first week of June (nice when a new month starts on a Monday…) and look to continue that moving forwards.

If you’d like to keep up with my progress throughout the year please do follow the blog, and more importantly please consider donating to EFTC through my Virgin Money Giving page (link below) to support their incredible work.

April Update

Couldn’t think of a more interesting title! We’re three weeks into Covid-19 lockdown now and inspiration seems in short supply. The Tonne Run challenge continue regardless, and I refuse to forget the struggles students of the School of Hope and the people of Jocotenango will be facing. Our own individual plight rather pales into insignificance in comparison. I’m safe, warm and well-fed. Bored sure, but (virus-aside) at no real risk of harm. While the School of Hope is now closed for the immediate future, EFTC’s work continues as they strive to ensure students and their families do not go without food at this time of crisis (https://www.eftc.org.uk/en/blog/food-hamper-distribution).

As their work continues so too does mine. Being at home all the time I’ve actually found it easier to hit my weekly running targets. I’ve been increasingly grateful to be able to use my allotted daily exercise to get out of the house and run. I’m now up to 373km of the 1000km total target, comfortably caught up with the 100km per month sub-target I set myself at the start of the year. I’ve now moved ahead of this in trying to hit 30km each week, which Strava tells me I’ve managed for the last seven weeks. If I can keep this up I’ll hit the 1000km target at some point in September! The EFTC Autumn Ball in October should be a good opportunity to celebrate!

One thing I’ve notice over the last few weeks is how busy it’s got on my usual running routes. Initially this seemed rather odd given the lockdown conditions, but I guess like me more people are actually wanting to get out and exercise as an acceptable reason to leave the house. What were usually solitary runs on country lanes and empty footpaths I now spend weaving in between walkers, cyclists and other runners (with the added challenge of keeping 2 metres distances from everyone!). I must admit it really annoyed me to begin with as I kind of consider these route to be ‘mine.’ Daft I know, and I’ve got over it. Really it’s good to see people being more active and I hope it continues once the current madness is over!

That’s it for now, as above, the same four white walls I’ve been looking at for the last three weeks aren’t given me much inspiration. Time to get the running gear on so I can go outside again! A huge thank you to all those who have generously donated to the fundraiser so far, particularly during these troubling times.

Where are we now?

Since my last post a grand total of twenty days ago the entire world has turned upside down. We Brits have quickly moved on from the unspeakable B-word (Brexit – what was that?) to the C-word, Coronavirus, or Covid-19. At time of writing the nation has been advised to socially distance/self-isolate by remaining in our homes wherever possible, schools and businesses are closed and we’re in a state of war-like crisis. People are understandably anxious, confused and afraid. Many cities and nations around the world are in enforced lockdown, and realistically I think that’s where the UK will be within a week or so.

Suffice it to say I have never experienced anything like it. I have little doubt our society will come through this challenge mostly unscathed, though tragically many individuals won’t. Such events make one realise how very fragile we are as a species, and how easily the structures around us that generally seem solid can crumble at the slightest knock. A scenario like this is such a leveller of humanity. A virus doesn’t care about class, race or creed; we’re all equally vulnerable.

Inequality however has never been a more pressing issue within our country, and I am acutely aware of how fortunate a position I’m in compared to many fellow citizens. Thinking more broadly, I cannot begin to imagine the ordeal facing the people of Jocotenango, Guatemala where the School of Hope provides life-changing intervention to its students and their families. At a time like this it’s even more vital that EFTC remains able to function so I’m infinitely grateful to all of those who’ve generously contributed to the Tonne Run fundraiser so far.

Please consider the students of the School of Hope in Jocotenango, Guatemala at this time of crisis. Donate to my fundraiser through the link below.

Having started writing this post earlier this afternoon, the advice is now being enforced. Seems I was correct! We are under lockdown for at least three weeks. It seems for now we’re being allowed to leave the house once a day for exercise so the running shall continue! Up to 276km as of this morning and targeting 300+ by the end of month.

Stay safe folks, stay well.

What Happened to February..?

Somehow it’s the 3rd of March already, how on earth did that happen?! It’s actually my birthday tomorrow (yay!) but that means one sixth of 2020 has passed already (booo!). Seriously time just disappears these days, my daughter was 1 at the start of February and I’ve no idea where that year went; probably something to do with the lack of sleep.

Anyway, my lamentations on the passage of time aren’t what this is supposed to be about, back to the challenge. All in all, February was reasonably successful on the running front. I put up a total of 82km so still a little short on my monthly target of 100km but not bad considering it’s the shortest month of the year AND I took a week off for moving house in the middle. There were also some absolutely shocking weather conditions to deal with (pictured). I did have to finish the month playing catch up as a result but ended the February 29th leap day on a running total of 173km.

The running highlight of the month was probably the discovery of an objectively very dull 700m circuit just down the road from my new house. It consists of two parallel paved footpaths either side of a tram line making a loop with a very slight incline up on one side and down on the other. It’s lit at night as well so I’ve recorded a fair few kilometres just running laps in the dark. In some ways a bloody boring thing to do but with a few tunes or a podcast it’s not so bad, and is ensuring I can still get some distance in despite a busy working day and the early sunset. It’s really good for ruining yourself with a bit of fartlek/tempo/sprint training too!

With February done I’m settling into the challenge now and feeling reasonably confident about getting to the end goal. I may be forced to eat those words further down the line but right now it looks achievable, and I’m almost enjoying it (mad right?!). As of now I’m up to 178km and looking to break the 200km mark by the end of this week (March 8th). If I can do that and then average 33km per week for the rest of the month I’ll be back up to my initial target of 100km per month. Given the slightly-slower-than-anticipated/desired start to the year this would be a massive achievement in itself and quite an exciting milestone for me.

To that end, I’ve signed up for my first ever half marathon at the end of the month. On Sunday 29th March I’ll be taking on the infamously hilly Sheffield Half Marathon. There’s 21km off the target already! I’ve run the distance before though never under race conditions and thought it was about time. I’m not too fussed about timings for this one given it’s my first attempt but still would like to finish in less than two hours and fifteen minutes. I’ll then be looking to take on one or two more later in the year and see if I can improve my time. The Nottingham Half Marathon in September seems an obvious target given the proximity, and hopefully by then I’ll be closing in on the overall target distance (fingers crossed!). Look out for a race report on the Sheffield half in a few weeks time.

Finally, and most importantly, I’m really please that my fundraiser has started to take off a little. We’re now up to 13% of the £1,000 target so a big thank you to everyone who’s contributed so far. I’ll keep running, you keep giving (please!). With that in mind, please do follow the link below and donate a few quid if you can, EFTC and I really do appreciate it!

January Check In

Started strong, hit an early wall but pulled it back a little…

When setting yourself such a big overall target you really want to get out of the blocks as quickly as possible and take a decent chunk out of the number. That was my intention come 1st January as I looked to get ahead and complete ten percent (100km) of the challenge in its first month. I figured if I could do that I’d essentially be able to take one week off each month to recover if needed and still hit the target. As it turned out I needed that rest week a lot sooner than anticipated thanks to a wonderful flu bug!

Having fought off the flu I dived back into it putting up 34km in the last week of January. Alas, I still finished the month short of the goal, making it to 81km so far in 2020. At that pace I’d finish the year on 972km so I’ve to pick it up a bit.

With that in mind, February is upon us and I’ve already got a deficit to make up. Better get to it. 120km to run in the shortest month of the year, no problem.

If you’d like to keep up with my progress throughout the year please do follow the blog, and more importantly please consider donating to EFTC through my Virgin Money Giving page (link below) to support their incredible work.

Match Report: Warrington Waterways Half Marathon

Better late than never, a quick rundown of my first ever half marathon.

Last weekend I took the opportunity of a quiet Sunday morning at my sister-in-law’s to push myself on my first test of the year, a 22km circuit I planned out along the canals surrounding Stockton Heath, near Warrington in Cheshire. Having never run this distance in one go before, I wanted to see how I got on before signing up for any proper races later this year.

Warrington Waterways Half Marathon – Sunday 26th Jan 2020 – 20:08:39

Starting from my sister-in-law’s house, I took some country roads about 4km west to the village of Walton. From there I turned back to take on about 10km along the Bridgewater Canal. The views across the canal to the east were absolutely stunning, with the sun rising in the distance and some rare blue sky spurring me on. The footing however was less than helpful. When plotting the route from the Ordinance Survey app I’d mistakenly assumed the canal towpaths would be paved (I’ve clearly be spoiled by Nottingham’s great waterway running routes!). On the day though I was met with a combination of gravel, mud, grass and a whole heap of puddles! This definitely slowed me down but I was able to stick to my 10 minute mile target fairly consistently; wasn’t trying to push it too hard first time out at this distance.

Once I hit around 15km it was time to turn back. By this point I was feeling pretty good with plenty still in the tank, though was a little bit fed up of the muddy puddles and the intermittent rain wasn’t helping either. Lucky for me the next couple of kilometres took me along the Transpenine Way, an old railway line that was slightly better underfoot and marginally less waterlogged! There way a slight downward gradient towards the end of this section which enable me to pick up the pace a bit as well.

The final 4km or so was a more or less dead straight and dead flat slog along the Manchester Ship Canal. Some might’ve described this last part as mindnumbingly boring and it kind of was, but after 18-ish kilometres of mud a flat pavement was welcome relief. I could put my feet down, get my knees up and push it. I picked up the pace here and was able to knock a few seconds off my time. Before long I was crossing the metaphorical finish line at the 22km mark, and noted (according to my watch/Strava) a half marathon time of 2:08:39. Pretty good for a first attempt I’d say.

When it comes to the real thing I’ll be aiming for a sub two hour finish. That feels achievable having done 2 hours 8 minutes by myself in training. The crowds, atmosphere and associated adrenaline should push me along a bit. I just have to actually pick a race or two and get myself signed up. Watch this space.

If you’d like to keep up with my progress on the Tonne Run Challenge throughout the year please do follow the blog, and more importantly please consider donating to EFTC through my Virgin Money Giving page (link below) to support their incredible work.

Progress Check – Jan 15th

A strong start cut short…

By the 7th of January I’d done 39km, a pretty solid effort for a week (I’d surpass 2000km this year if I kept up that pace!).

However, through a combination of work and a lovely seasonal flu virus my total as off today remains at that 39km mark. Not awful, sure, but not where I’d like to be. To get back on track with my initial target for the end of the month I need to put up another 61km in the next 16 days which is probably going to be pushing it.

My thinking on starting this challenge was to target 100km per month or 25km per week to help ensure I can reach the overall goal. Doing so would enable me to hit 1000km in 40 weeks, giving me one week off every month if needed. This seems to have been proven fairly sensible so far given that I’ve had to take January’s free week off already. No excuses now until February 1st (at least after I’m fully recovered anyway!).

If you’d like to keep up with my progress throughout the year please do follow the blog, and more importantly please consider donating to EFTC through my Virgin Money Giving page (link below) to support their incredible work.

Challenge in a Challenge

In addition to the not insignificant overall goal of running 1000km in 2020, I’m planning to use the Tonne Run Challenge to fulfill some smaller aims for the year that will help me reach the total.

For example, I’d like to run a half marathon distance at least twice, once in training and once as a recorded race. I’ve done a fair amount of running over the past year or so (though nowhere near 1000km!) but it’s mostly been confined to 10km or shorter runs. I’ve felt quite comfortable with this distance and haven’t really felt the need to push myself much further but the Tonne Run Challenge provides a good opportunity to stretch myself! Speaking with a few runner friends this should be achievable without too much distance-specific training so really just have to pick one and get on with it! Might wait until the weather improves slightly at least…

If you’d like to keep up with my progress throughout the year please do follow the blog, and more importantly please consider donating to EFTC through my Virgin Money Giving page (link below) to support their incredible work.