A bit about knees

Knee pain image

I spent a while with a physiotherapist today, after my knee was becoming increasingly problematic in training. Well, both knees actually, but mainly the right one.

To cut a long story short, I have ‘Runner’s Knee’, or Iliotibial Band Syndrome if you want to get technical. Basically, the muscles down the outside of my thighs are very tight, and are pulling the knees out to the side when I run, rather than letting them do their natural, straight-up-and-down piston-style business.

Thankfully, Helen (the physio) says I won’t do myself any terrible damage going for the Marathon. ‘It’s all soft tissue,’ she explained, ‘not damage to the knee itself.’ But ‘you’ll have plenty of aches and soreness to deal with.’

Plus, I’ll have to do a rigorous set of stretching exercises twice a day, as well as before and after exercise. And see Helen again, to be further manipulated and pummelled and generally pulled about (at £40 a time).

So you see, I’m suffering in all sorts of ways for this challenge. And I haven’t even got to the Marathon yet. So stick a few quid in the tin, and make me feel better. Go on.



Brockham and back: 9.2 miles

My brilliant personal trainer, Karen Marshall, invited me out this Saturday morning for a long run. I’ve been having knee trouble, so we were both a bit nervous about the impact. But as Karen said, I need to get used to these distances.


Just can’t catch the women. Story of my life.

As it was, it went pretty well. Karen, mutual friend Wendy (not wife Wendy, those who know me) and I did just over nine miles (14.9km), running from the picture-postcard village of Brockham through the Surrey countryside and back to Brockham again. (In the snow, I might add.)

Surrey house

You see some lovely houses running in this part of the world

HGV sign

Well, I did have that big bowl of porridge…

I did it in an hour and 38 minutes, and felt pretty good – apart from the knees. Right at the end they started stiffening up a lot, with pains emerging in the muscles at the back of the knee. That seems to be my Achilles heel, if you will.

Karen knows a good physio, whom I hope to see soon. Really need to get these knees sorted out. The problem is partly due, I’m sure, to the fact I recently discovered (again, via Karen) that I have terribly flat feet, which means I’ve been over-pronating for my entire walking life (so over 40 years, I’m afraid). Now that I’m addressing that, my legs are being made to work very differently. And they’re complaining.

But I shan’t. (Well, not too much.) I was pleased with my fitness on this run. We did a couple of decent-ish hills, and a good stretch of time and distance, and I felt that – knees aside – I could have carried on for quite some way.

Maybe even 26 miles. Who knows?

I’ve left this very late

So, the Marathon is two months away, almost to the day, and I’m just starting my blogging and fundraising. Not ideal.

Still, it adds to the excitement. Hopefully the pressure of that deadline will squeeze huge amounts of money out of everyone I know.

I hope so, because ICAN is an amazing charity. I did some copywriting work for them a few years back, and have never forgotten visiting their Meath School in Surrey. It’s a cliché to describe an experience as ‘humbling’, but this one certainly was.

It felt like a privilege to be able to speak to the Head, Janet Dunn, a fearsomely brilliant (but entirely unfearsome) woman who spoke with the sort of passionate intelligence about her work that makes you feel that you should drop everything and start working for her. A born leader, clearly, and utterly dedicated.

Going around the school was an eye-opener, too. I didn’t understand ‘communication disability’, and one of the problems is that it’s a very wide-ranging spectrum. (Here’s ICAN’s introduction to it.) The bottom line, though, is that these are children who, in various ways, struggle to communicate.

Without specialist understanding, a lot of these disabilities go undiagnosed for a long time. Children learn strategies to get around them – private strategies that are often completely missed by the rest of us. The problems only emerge as children grow older.

Maybe their test scores drop away as schoolwork becomes increasingly difficult to do without strong communication. Or the frustrations of not being able to make themselves understood come out as ‘bad behaviour’, and they end up excluded and marginalised. The implications of both can be lifelong, and devastating.

And while they’re still at school, life can be unbearable for children who can’t communicate properly. As well know, the playground can be a brutal place for anyone marked out as ‘different’, and these children can end up isolated and bullied. It’s heart-breaking.


ICAN’s Meath School in Surrey

At ICAN’s two schools (one primary, one secondary), it’s a very different story. The children’s needs are understood and addressed by dedicated specialists. (Very dedicated.) When I visited, I saw a school that, at first glance, looks like any other: the children are happy and lively, dashing about in the playground or sitting attentively in lessons. And that’s what’s so remarkable, because many of the children have quite severe problems with language.

The story that stays with me the most from that day was of a little boy with a rare form of epilepsy (I believe it was). This condition is almost unbelievably cruel: it means that at any moment, he may have a seizure and lose all the language he’s learnt to that point. Like wiping a hard drive: gone. Start again.

When I visited, they told me that this little boy was now almost six, and so could understand his condition to some degree. And that almost made it harder. Because even as he was learning his language, he knew that at any moment it could all be snatched from him, and he’d have to start again. It’s hard to imagine how you carry on.

Thankfully, he was with a group of people, and part of a school, that understands his condition and its impact on him and his family. And they were finding ways to get around the disability. Often, sign language is invaluable, because it uses different parts of the brain to speech.

But there’s only so much ICAN can do with two schools. They do a huge amount of work, too, in researching and promoting understanding of ‘SLCN’ – Speech, Language and Communication Needs. But they‘re still a little-known charity, working incredibly hard without enough recognition or support.

That’s why I’m running for them. And why you should empty every purse, wallet and piggy bank in the house into my fundraising page. There are many, many more children out there with these disabilities, many of them undiagnosed and struggling in silence – sometimes literally. Let’s help ICAN reach them too.

Freezing in New York

New York City, blue with cold

New York City, blue with cold

I was in the US for work recently, and took myself out for a run in New York. This was pretty brave: it was –12 C that morning. But I’d promised myself I’d run in the three cities I was visiting, and I’d failed in Chicago. (Well, I was only there a couple of days.) So I put my cap and gloves on, and my favourite Howies merino top, and headed out up Fifth Avenue towards the park.

It was bitter. Of course, those canyon streets of Manhattan funnel wind very effectively, so I was running in a biting breeze. The fronts of my thighs felt instantly icy (I was in running tights), and the air sliced its way down into my lungs like a blade. Oddly, it felt kind of good as well as being hideous. Bracing, you might say.

Central Park West

Frozen pond in Central Park

Central Park

Central Park, thankfully, was catching the sun by this point, so I did a wandery sort of a circuit. I even found some film people blowing real snow over part of the park. Someone told me later it was for a Russell Crowe movie.

Snow blowing in Central Park

Anyway, it was never going to be a long run in that temperature. But I did 4.7 miles, which I was pretty pleased with. Got some funny looks from the heavily muffled commuters, though.

Here’s the run on Nike+.

The Golden Gate Bridge

IMG_9438I was in the US for work recently, and decided to try to run in the three cities I was visiting: San Francisco, Chicago and New York. I didn’t manage Chicago in the end, unfortunately, but I had a wonderful evening running to, and across, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Golden Gate Bridge

Had to slow down a bit here, obviously

Golden Gate Bridge

Starting to get pretty chilly as the sun disappears. But what a view.

It was a good distance – 14.4km – but my right knee decided to give up before I got back to the hotel, which is a bit of a worry. I had to stop for traffic, and when I tried to set off again it howled at me and I had to limp home (literally). Going to need a physio’s attention on these knees before the big day.

Box Hill: 8.1 miles

Running in Betchworth

Limbering up in Betchworth

Once a week I visit my personal trainer, the brilliant Karen Marshall. She’s done wonders for me – if you’re in my area and want to get fit, talk to Karen. She’s also very excited about me running the Marathon. So she’s been taking me, and some others, out for testing Saturday morning runs.

It’s great, because you inevitably push yourself (and get pushed) much harder when there’s someone else there who knows what they’re doing.

Which is why, on this dank, foggy January morning, I agreed to run up Box Hill.

We started on the edge of Dorking, limbering up by running a couple of miles over to, and across, Betchworth Golf Course, and then around Brockham. Then we cut back across the A25, and over the hard brown fields towards Box Hill itself.

Fields to Box Hill

Heading for the hill

By this point, even just heading towards the hill, I felt knackered. And this is why it’s so good running with Karen – I wouldn’t normally even attempt a run like this, simply because I wouldn’t believe I could do it. But if Karen believes I can, so do I.

Amazingly, it turned out that I could. Even after Karen led us to a narrow, rocky path that went straight up the side of the hill – none of this gentle zig-zag nonsense. I can’t claim to have run all the way up it. Some of it was more like climbing. But we got a pretty high pretty fast, and I was pleased – and relieved – by how well I managed to carry on after that.

I mean, I’m never going to catch these women. Karen is phenomenally fit, and only stays within my sight because she’s a kindly soul. Wendy (not my wife, those who know me – another Wendy) has been running for something ridiculous like 20 years, and simply vanishes off into the distance. Especially in fog like this. And Jan, to whom I’m probably closest in fitness (and who’s also doing the Marathon), still stays well ahead of me.

But none of that matters. What matters is that only a few months ago even the idea of running made me feel tired.

The last time I did anything remotely like this was at school, and the term ‘cross-country running’ still conjures miserable memories: foggy, damp days of trudging heavily through puddled mud-dumps, with aching lungs, aching limbs and a throat full of phlegm. It’s fair to say that I failed to perceive an upside to the enterprise.

Of course, it’s just the same now. The limbs and lungs still ache – far more, in fact, 30 years on. I still cough nasty, stringy gobs of phlegm into the hedgerows (or, just as often, all over my arm). But the attitude is transformed. Now, I want to do it. I even (horrors) enjoy it.

From the top of Box Hill - 1

From the top of Box Hill – 1

Sadly, it took 20-odd years of sitting on my arse in an office (when I wasn’t sitting on my arse in a pub, or the living room) to become unfit enough to feel I had to do something about it. Only then did I discover I actually liked it.

Depressingly, it all goes back to school. I learnt two critical lessons in PE: firstly, that some people had an innate gift for, and understanding of, sports; and secondly, that I wasn’t one of them.

From my first football lesson, when the ‘teacher’ yelled, ‘You’d think none of you even knew the rules of football,’ sport was pretty much dead to me. (I didn’t know the rules, as it happened. But my ‘teacher’ never took the time to find that out.)

Once you’ve learnt you stink at something, it’s a very hard lesson to unlearn. Especially if you’re not one of those naturally predisposed to standing inadequately dressed on a frozen field once or twice a week, and being attacked with sticks.

Thankfully, my own children are getting a much better start in sports than I did. I went to watch Tom play a rugby match recently, and it was uncannily like watching my own eight year-old self: a bit nervous, not naturally co-ordinated, happier near the sidelines, all of that.

But there’s a critical difference: Tom’s on the rugby field because – wonder of wonders – he asked to be on the team. And his teacher is interested in nurturing that enthusiasm, not just focusing on the obviously gifted. What do you know – Tom’s improving rapidly.

From the top of Box Hill - 2

From the top of Box Hill – 2

Anyway, I digress. We made it up the hill, and along the ridge, making a final, headlong descent down the steep slopes to the Burford Bridge Hotel.

By the time I got to the foot of the hill, my right knee was complaining loudly. It does that a lot these days. Something must be done. But even so, I made it back along the road to our starting point at the Dorking Cricket Club ground. Running, not walking.

8.1 miles in an hour and 35 minutes. Not bad, considering all that climbing.