London Marathon 2019 (the journey so far…)

It’s over 30 years since I managed to run the Cardiff 10K in just under 40 minutes. Back then, in my late 20s, I was planning to run a marathon. I hadn’t been training for long at the time, but I have always had a natural ability to build up stamina. This was the last serious run that I would undertake until the summer of 2018, at the age of 58, after being hounded by knee injuries that made it impossible to run even as much as a mile without having to stop due to serious pain.

Just over six months ago, it was suggested to me that there may be a problem with my running technique. It transpired that I was a “heel striker”, landing with all my weight on my heels with each stride. I was told that by leaning forwards a little and landing with more weight on my forefoot I would be able to redistribute the effects of ground impact and take more strain away from my knees. I decided to try it out.

Beginning with a very short, slow jog on the 24th June 2018 which left me completely exhausted, I managed to complete a half marathon distance (13.1 miles) on the 12th of December. This was spurred on by my securing a place in the London Marathon in April 2019 as a part of The Brain and Spine Foundation’s London Marathon team just seven weeks previously. April 2019 will be a remarkable milestone in my life as, ten years earlier to the month (8th April 2009), I suffered a brain haemorrhage. Only just about scraping through after being in a coma for three days, the thought of being able to manage a marathon was something that most people would have thought unlikely at that time. Even after a more-or-less full recovery, it still hasn’t been easy, as I have continued to suffer a number of injuries since changing my running style. I now have four months to complete my marathon preparations.

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Shortly after awaking from a coma in 2009 (inset – marathon training)

 

So here is how it all unfolded in 2018, with selected dates:

24th June – First run. Two slow laps of football pitch at a local park. Astonished at my level of exhaustion, but pleased not to have any injuries.

4th July – After two further short runs, I managed to jog 16 laps of the same football pitch (a distance of more than 2.5 miles).

7th July – First ever ParkRun (5 km). Not pushing myself hard, I completed the course in exactly 36 minutes, delighted to have run so far with no hint of any injuries.

9th July – I bought my first proper pair of Brooks Ghost running shoes, costing me £140. I was beginning to take this seriously.

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My Brooks running shoes

 

15th July – First set back. 10 km run aborted due to bad knees. I managed 7.93 km in a time of 1:02:05. Clearly, this was going to take some work.

17th July – 5 km on a local route that I call The River Run in 31:04.

19th July – Short, fast run (fast by my standards, of course). 2 km in 10:44.

28th July – ParkRun in 28:43 (more than six minutes faster than my first one three weeks previously).

30th July – 9 km run in 1:07:02.

3rd August – Five laps around the perimeter of Wembley Stadium in 29C temperature, during a weekend break in London. About an hour after this run, I called The Brain and Spine Foundation to ask them if I could take part in The London Marathon as a part of their team. They liked my story and told me that they would announce their selections in October. Game on.

5th August – I ran 16 km (just under 10 miles) in 2:05:27, exactly seven weeks after my very first jog around the football pitch.

Now, at this point, it had become clear to me that, as far as stamina is concerned, running a marathon is well within my grasp. However, this last run proved to be a serious setback, because it caused a hip injury that would make me unable to run seriously for two months. I had become over-zealous. My confidence and my ability to build up stamina had proved too much for my joints – a schoolboy error. I was told (a little too late by now) that I should have built things up more gradually.

I had to make some kind of decision regarding another area of my life. One of my interests is lindy hop dancing (swing dancing). Doing this about twice a week, any running injuries I’d pick up would be exacerbated by the physical stresses and strains of the dancing, hindering the healing process. I now began to question whether or not I should continue dancing. For the time being, I decided to continue with it, but taking it very easy.

Unable to run, as a means of keeping my fitness up I joined my local Bannatyne’s Health Club. Here, I have access to a fully equipped gym, swimming pool and spa facilities. I focused on weight training to build up the strength in my legs without the impact of running, and I used exercise bikes, rowing machines and swimming to keep my stamina up. This kind of cross-training is often essential to avoid/repair injuries.

28th August – I turned up to run The Severn Bridge 10K. I had already booked my place in this, and I thought that maybe my hip was sufficiently healed to give it a go. However, after turning up and collecting my number, a light jog indicated that I should abort it as the pain in my hip was still significant. I didn’t run.

23rd September – I managed my first 5 km River Run after my injury.

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Part of my 5 km River Run in Newport

 

7th October – Another 5 km run, but clearly still nursing injuries. Dancing not helping.

24th October – I secured my place in The London Marathon 2019 with The Brain and Spine Foundation Team. This was now time to give up dancing completely until after the marathon.

3rd November – I completed a slow 6.6 miles in 1:23:56 (a quarter of a marathon) with no injuries, using a walk/run strategy to minimise impact.

10th November – I completed a ParkRun in 28:01.

23rd November – I completed 8.8 miles walk/run in 1:34:22 (a third of a marathon). Yes, I’m definitely better without dancing.

29th November – Serious hill-training. For this purpose, I’m very fortunate to live on the top of a very steep hill.

12th December – I completed 13.1 miles walk/run in 2:45:17 (half a marathon).

20th December – I completed a 5 km River Run in 27:41. A personal best, and getting faster all the time.

Initially, I was hoping to aim for a London Marathon time of around 4 hours. However, injuries have meant that my body can’t take the training necessary to achieve this in the time available. So I then began to settle for course completion, irrespective of how much time it takes. After all, with sponsorships behind me, this is no longer about me, but about representing The Brain and Spine Foundation Team and raising as much money as I can for them. Now, with the achievements since I have given up dancing, I believe that completing the marathon using a walk/run strategy in around five hours is a realistic target. I plan to work as hard as possible over the next three months and then spend the three weeks immediately before the marathon resting and allowing any injuries to heal. I need to complete the London Marathon course in eight hours to get my medal. Only a serious injury or an illness should prevent me from being able to do this.

It is a part of the terms of The Brain and Spine Foundation Team that I raise a minimum of £1,800. As of today, 30th December, I have raised 30% of this target. I plan to start my funding campaign in earnest after the New Year.

Please get behind me and support my cause to celebrate the 10th anniversary of my brain haemorrhage. The Brain and Spine Foundation do great work for people who have been less fortunate than me.

 

Here is the link to my JustGiving page:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/markdpritchard

 

 

 

 

 

 

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First Half-Marathon (a bit harder than I thought)

Six months ago, I was unable to even run a mile due to a knee problem that had been recurrent for over 30 years. For no particular reason, other than fitness, I went for a short run at a local park. Just two laps of a football pitch almost killed me. My lungs couldn’t have taken any more, even at a slow pace. I’ve never had any stamina problems throughout my whole life, and at 58 years-old, I decided I needed to do something about this before my fitness declined even further.

Now, six months on, I have altered my running technique to minimise impact on my joints and invested in my second pair of top quality running shoes. Yesterday, for the first time ever, I managed an unofficial half-marathon. The roughly four and a half laps of a circuit in Newport that I call The River Run, 13.1 miles (approx 21km) in total, was an enlightening experience. At first, I was just hoping that I would manage to complete it. This kind of distance, for me, is uncharted territory.

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My favourite Brooks running shoes.

 

Only seven weeks after that very first lung-crushing experience six months ago, I managed a 10-mile run – my ability to build up stamina shone through and didn’t let me down. But my enthusiasm became my downfall as my body had other ideas. This 10-mile run caused a significant injury to my right hip. It would be another two months before I’d be able to run seriously again. Even when I did manage it, I had to keep a check on my knee problem, as well as my hip.

I’ve discovered, through experimentation, that just turning my right foot inwards slightly while running has relieved the pain in my knee. Nonetheless, my joints still aren’t able to take the pounding of a “full-on” hard run just yet, so for yesterday’s half-marathon I adopted a walk/run strategy. I’ve had troubles with both hips, but they are much stronger now. I do much of my training in the gym at Bannatyne’s Health Club. I can work on my stamina on the rowing machines or exercise bikes without any joint-damaging impact. I shift weights to strengthen my body. All this cross-training is almost as good as actually running in terms of the end result. During my hip injury, for two months I trained in the gym using non-impact equipment. I came out the other side fitter and stronger.

Just recently, I managed to secure a place in the London Marathon on 28th April 2019, representing The Brain and Spine Foundation team. It will be ten years to the month that I’d suffered a brain haemorrhage. What a way to celebrate it! I don’t care how long it takes me. I just want to complete it. If I weren’t plagued with injuries I’d be looking to complete in four hours. But I have to be realistic and accept that this is no longer feasible. However, managing a half marathon before we even reach Christmas has set me up well in my preparations. Most people haven’t even started training yet. I have time to sit back and let my aches and pains heal before getting back in the gym to strengthen further and then get out and increase my running distance and speed. Six months ago, I would have considered all of this impossible.

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Me in April 2009 shortly after waking from a coma. Inset: Training for London Marathon April 2019.

 

Yesterday’s 13.1 mile journey was harder than I’d expected. I battled with cramp, a blister on my foot,  and almost had to stop just before the end as the muscles in my legs seemed to almost completely knot up. My stamina held up very well though, and I completed it in 2 hours and 45 minutes. Yesterday was an endurance that made me realise that I still have work to do, but that it is all very much within my grasp. Yesterday (12th December) was also the first anniversary of my mother passing away. Maybe she helped me along. Maybe she’ll be there for me on the big day in April.

By running in the London Marathon 2019, I aim to raise a hefty sum of money for The Brain and Spine Foundation. They do great work for people who have been less fortunate than me. If you’d like to sponsor me, please visit my JustGiving page here:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/markdpritchard