Five weeks ago, I went off and crawled under stone, feeling injured and pathetically sorry for myself. After another injury relapse, I knew I had to stop running completely for a bit. I assumed that I would have to forget about running Comrades in 2016.
A month or so on, the World is a little brighter. The injury is better, but it’s still there. I have a stiff and sore achilles every morning, but it improves once I am up and about and tackling the day. When running, I am always aware of it, I feel pervasive tightness in my left calf and sense that I mustn’t push off too hard on my left foot, but I can run steadily without too many problems.
My physio suggested a few weeks ago that I ought to see a specialist Doctor and hopefully have a scan on the achilles to see if there is a permanent issue – she knew an achilles specialist called Dr Rogers from Manchester who ran a weekly clinic once in Leeds.
After the rigmarole of getting my GP to refer me so that my health insurer would pick up most of the tab, I was dismayed to learn that Dr Rogers had decided not to bother with his clinic in Leeds any more. After a bit more faffing around, I finally have an appointment in early May with one of Dr Rogers’ associates.
My break from running was well timed because I had a dream holiday to enjoy – a trip to Georgia in the USA to watch the final day of the U.S. Masters Golf at Augusta with my great friend Richie.
Richie and I get together every year on Master’s Sunday in April to eat curry, drink beer and stay up to watch the conclusion of the golf. After last year’s tournament Richie suggested that we should go. My 50th birthday is in 2016, I thought it would be a very appropriate present to myself. It was a huge extravagance but I am so glad that I went, it was a wonderful trip.
We flew into Atlanta and upgraded our hire car to an American muscle car – a mean black Dodge Charger. We were staying in Athens, Georgia – about 70 miles from Atlanta.
Athens is a supercool college town, site of the University of Georgia and the home of R.E.M. and the B52s. It’s a fab place – small, quirky, bohemian and full of wonderfully friendly people. We had a ball hanging out in bars and restaurants.
Richie is blessed with an easy confidence and a massive determination to have a great time wherever he goes. He can talk with ease to absolutely anyone which meant lots of encounters and new friendships with a massive variety of people – from beautiful young students, gay waiters, fellow golfers and charming old timers.
A typical conversation in an Athens bar would go thus:
Me: “Could we have two Terrapin Golden beers please”
Waitress: “Sure – Hey you guys are Australians aren’t you? How d’ y’all like Athens?”
Richie then jumped in and about 15 minutes later we have new friends and have been invited to a barbeque/game of golf/gallery/bluegrass concert.
We played golf at two top notch Country Clubs in the days before the Masters. On the Saturday, at the prestigious Georgia Country Club, we were asked to play with Will, a new member. As he was on his own and it was busy they matched him up with two Limeys.
Will is a cleancut American WASPy guy – about thirty years old with a one handicap. That means he is incredibly good at golf. He hit it miles and was absolutely delightful company.
Sunday at the Augusta National was a very special day. It really is another World, with not a blade of grass out of place. There is absolutely no advertising or sponsorship, with everything branded as just ‘Masters’. You buy Masters beer and Masters peanuts to go with your Masters cap and Masters grilled chicken sandwich. It is like stepping back in time.
As many of you will know, Sunday saw a surprise winner when young American superstar Jordan Spieth blew a five shot lead and gave Yorkshireman Danny Willett a chance to win.
I was right there on the 18th green as Willett held himself together brilliantly and calmly tapped in for his par four and walked off whilst being mobbed by his supporters. He had to wait around an hour for Spieth to finish before it was confirmed that he was the 2016 Masters Champion and only the second Englishman ever to win. It was bloody brilliant.
I took my running shoes with me and though I only managed to run once, it was a memorable one. Slightly jetlagged, I woke early on the first morning and said to Richie that I was nipping out for an early morning run before breakfast.
I headed down to the Oconee River trail, only half a mile from the hotel and was soon running on a perfect cool sunny spring morning totally alone through idyllic forest trails. I saw wild deer gambolling in the forest and felt that I wanted to run forever. It was perfect.
Since my return, I’ve managed to run a little more. If I warm up well, wear my Hokas and run steadily then the achilles problem feels manageable.
Yesterday, I tried a proper effort at a parkrun for the first time in months. I ran the hilly Roundhay parkrun and was pleased with my time of 19:30 for 7th place. That is over a minute slower than my course PB, but not bad to say that I have barely run three hundred miles all year – less than a third of what I had planned.
Today was a big test – my first long run in three months. I ran with a group of Strider mates and managed to run just over 20 miles just over three hours – at around 9 minute miles with an average heart rate of 119. I felt fine at that pace and I could have run further, though probably not another 36 miles…
Well what about Comrades? Provided I have no reversals of fortune, I intend to be on the start line in PMB in five week’s time. I will have no ambitions for a finishing time or a particular flavour of medal, I just want to complete the course within the 12 hour time limit.
It’s been anything but an ideal build up, but with good fuelling and a very conservative pace management strategy, I think I might just be able to do that.
CM -5 weeks
Weight 11st 7.4 lb
Parkrun – Roundhay 19:30 (7th)
Longest run 20.2 miles