Nine months of solid preparation. Three months of those caused nothing but frustration. Ibuprofen was doing nothing, and neither was I – forced to the sidelines by an irritable pain, that I couldn’t place unless I did the one thing to aggravate it – run. The GP told me to stay on the pills and take six months off. For the most innocuous of things. I asked to see the physio, and learned more about my knees than any painkiller would tell me. The NHS might get some stick, but I was lucky to have an excellent physio named Mags. She understood what I wanted to do, and showed me how I could better look after my knees. Once she gave me the all-clear, it was pretty much a liberation. Three months of running lost to the most minor degeneration, something that couldn’t stop me walking, working or being a family man. Just running. The road to recovery was on. I did the physio work. I started running again late March.
During this time I was unlucky in the ballot to enter the Great North Run. The MND Association had charity places and I’d be surprised if I wasn’t number one on their applicant list. September 15th in Newcastle was a date with destiny I wasn’t going to miss. With the confirmation of my place I set about my fundraising efforts and stepped up my training. Still I was unlucky with injuries and illness. Two weeks on, right ankle. A week off, then back on again. Right ankle again. Two weeks off. Then I eased back into it. Then came the family sickness bug. Another week off. And then my left ankle began to flare up. It was time to reevaluate.
I stepped up the physio and strengthening work on both knees and ankles. I added core exercises to my routine. I started eating better. And just as my motivation felt as though it was on the wane, I reminded myself why I was doing this. I got back out on the towpath. Over the next few weeks my running style would shorten slightly. I broke in the new trail shoes as my main pair – money was tight and still is!
Training got better, physically, mentally, and visually. I began put consecutive weeks of training together, looking forward to the long run on Sunday. Planning a route became a highlight of the week – exploring sections of West Yorkshire not that far away, but never explored by myself. Curiousity got me running to West Vale and back. Running 5 miles from Brighouse to the Ainley Top roundabout and then back home via Elland and my favourite towpath. Creating unconventional routes to work. Shattering barriers – 7 miles, 8 miles, 9, 10, 11.
Then came the holiday in Cardiff. Five sessions completed, including a circular via Penarth Marina and Cardiff Bay Barrage I will never ever forget, due to the stunning sunrise I witnessed. I ran back there on the final day of the holiday, and simply sat on the rocks and absorbed nature’s true glory. Soon, another holiday, in the village of Aldbrough, East Yorkshire, where personal records fell and the huge challenge of running 8.5 miles in 60 minutes was completed in unbelievable fashion. In addition to this, conquering hills became appetizing. Ainley Top, Bog Green Lane, Rastrick, all fell to my determination. Granted, one hill – Jagger Green Lane, in Holywell Green, got the better of me, leading to an explosion of fury near my workplace that splurged onto social networks, leading to fellow people in the Running The World group to remind me to cool off. I’m running for charity, but I’m chasing targets too. Looking back, a regrettable blip, although one that highlights how driven I am to succeed.
In the end, I’ve successfully navigated a couple of minor injury scares, spoken to the local press, and have managed to conjure a sweepstake at work based on my finish time. Donations have been flooding in and my expectations for the campaign have been amazingly shattered. And it all comes down to this.
If you’d have said I’d have been running the Great North Run a year ago, I might have laughed. If you had said I’d be running the same race as Mo Farah, Kenenisa Bekele and Haile Gebreselassie, I’d have been incredulous. Being able to clock miles in, around and under seven minutes was something of a pipe dream. But this is for a cause that cannot fail. A tribute to my late mother by running in the city where a big part of her family heritage lies. By running the world’s greatest half marathon. By pulling on the blue, white and orange of the MND Association, heading out in driving wind and rain, just so I can chase down motor neurone disease and give it the kick in the nads it deserves.
As I write this, nerves have begun to take hold for the first time. Oh yes, the great challenge is here. And no matter whether I clock a fast time, or whether I finish on my hands and knees, it will be an unforgettable weekend, an unquestionably defining one at that.
It’s about achieving those goals that were originally set. It’s about applying that unshakeable belief. The sweat, the pain, the concrete effort from start to finish. To honour a magnificent lady and cement a positive legacy to look back on with unmistakable pride.