2. Fun, and its consequences

I was quite the excited person looking forward to carrying out my interval session on the Spring Hall athletics track in Halifax this past Tuesday. I hadn’t been track running since sometime under night lights the previous year as I made my return from sesamoiditis, with only a sprinter and later a few members from the Halifax Harriers Athletics Club. What I hadn’t banked on was around 50 or 60 juniors all doing a training session with coaches from the Harriers as I arrived on site. I only remembered then that the local council’s website clearly states Tuesdays and Thursdays are Halifax Harriers training sessions. I’d previously arrived on a Monday night, late in the autumn. I stood around, wondering whether I should just run home instead. I saw a couple head into the small building nearby, and went in to find a few members of the Harriers around a table with race numbers, some paper and the odd drink.

I asked about the facilities and whether I could use them. I was welcome to for £2. A man I’d later know as Ray explained what I’d arrived to do and they told me a few would be running around the track as long as I remembered to obey the rules of the track – stepping off to the side of the track if slowing down, maintaining the inside two lanes, etc. The conversation then took an upswing.

Well, we’re doing a 10K race this evening, you fancy running a 10K?

I didn’t need a lot of convincing

Well, I was going to do intervals but sure,  I can do that“.

The conversation moved on to personal bests.

“OK, so what time can you run for 10K, your PB?”

Well… I ran 37:15 a couple of years ago



A lady to my left said shortly after “can we sign him up?

I don’t feel nervous telling other runners about my personal best times, yet here I felt cautious about setting high expectations, though I was too immersed in the club environment to really dwell on that. I never brag about it, because it doesn’t happen as a fluke. I trained hard to get that time, and I’m still proud of it now, even if I haven’t bettered it since. It was nice now to have the chance to run with members of the club as opposed to on my own, taking the occasional nudge to sign up in my stride.

The race in question was the Harriers’ annual, club members only Summer Handicap 10K. If you’ve never raced a handicap, or never heard of one, in this context, the slowest runners sets off first progressing to the fastest runners, based on their PB or estimated time. An out and back, it would go through the Hebble Trail, over Salterhebble Locks, towards Sowerby Bridge along the Calder-Hebble Navigation, and then back again. I jogged down to the start behind a few of the club members and arrived at the start point, where we unloaded tables, cones, water cups, and the electronic timer out of the back of one of the runner’s cars, which was parked just inside the entrance to the trail. I got talking to a few of the members, explaining to some why I was here, and joining in the conversation with others, as can be so easy to do in fellow running company.

We were all set off one by one, and for my PB I would set off a good 18 minutes later, along with another guy called Will, who’d run a PB around 39 minutes if memory serves me well, and together we ran the first 2.5 miles. I began to surge ahead as we approached Sowerby Bridge, feeling OK to pick it up a little, and after turning back, Ray, whom I’d past shortly before the halfway point, told me to push it. That was like a red rag to a bull. I didn’t need much to encouragement, and soon I was passing other runners frequently. I ended up sprint finishing alongside another lady and we both recorded the same time. I was lithe to stop my Garmin straight away but recorded a rough time of 39 minutes. I was exhausted after the race, bearing a look of a man who couldn’t comprehend how the night had turned from a solo track session into an unplanned near flat out race across trails and towpaths.

What just happened?!

It turned out I wasn’t fast enough to win the prize, for which I wasn’t eligible as a non-member, perfectly understandable. Still, a brilliant race all round, everyone by and large stayed until the final runner came home, and there were free pie and mushy peas on offer for everyone. What a brilliant night this had been!

I’ve never felt I could justify joining an athletics club, feeling that my young family and work commitments have always been a barrier I could never work around. Back when I worked in Huddersfield I was with a few colleagues who ran for the Stainland Lions, and one or two for the Holmfirth Harriers. I’d have loved to have joined, but without a car its two bus journeys to each club, making it very difficult to say I could work around. The UK Athletics discount of £2 per race entry is attractive, but I don’t race anywhere near enough to get my money’s worth out of it, especially if I can’t run with the club. The Halifax Harriers, however, are only a single bus ride away, and I can be dropped off right outside the athletics track. Particularly after tonight, it seems a no brainer, should I eventually feel that the time is right. Their hospitality and camaraderie was hugely welcoming and I won’t ever forget that.

The runner’s high I was on would soon take an unexpected low. I’d run early on Thursday morning – 4:30am to be precise – the moon out, followed by a deep red sunrise, I had an excellent outing, covering 8 miles in just over an hour, with barely a soul around to disturb me. The reason so early? A summer jaunt with my colleagues from my team at work into York, where we would basically get quite drunk. I started civilly at Revolution, that was until we blew the remaining budget on a tray of 40 shots and a game of Giant Jenga. One shot for each brick, two if you pulled out more than one or knocked the structure down. Amazingly we were all still standing by the time we clocked up a Red Stripe at Turtle Bay. Then we entered a pub called The House of the Trembling Madness. Here I pretty much lost my mind. Before running, I was a bit of an ale drinker. I still am, albeit more socially. I was spoilt for choice, in my element, ale nirvana. They even sold a beer shot called ‘Tactical Nuclear Penguin’ at 32% strength. I bought some more ale from the shop downstairs. By the time I’d reached York station for the trip home, I’d had 4.5 pints of ale, 1 pint of Red Stripe, 5 random shots. Still retaining my bearings, I led a few of my colleagues towards Platform 6. Except I’d led them to Platform 9. Whoops. I rushed back. I planted my foot on the stairs.

And suddenly, a pain that no amount of alcohol could mask.

A sharp, shooting pain on the outside of my right knee. I carried on searching for my train, but I was in a lot of discomfort. By the time I’d reached Brighouse, I was hobbling, on my way to order a pizza and then home. I’d already told my wife to put my cold/hot pack in the freezer. We had the pizza together and then, apparently I just passed out, asleep against the base of the sofa.

It was 3:50am on Friday. 24 hours earlier, I’d woken up for a run. I finished that run near euphoric. Now I was waking up on the floor of my living room, where my wife had left me to sleep. The hangover was locked in, so I went to grab a pint of water. The pain was still there, so I grabbed my cold/hot pack, which had been in for 4-5 hours as opposed to 90 minutes. I sat downstairs, drank the water, applied the ice, and considered if I’d actually drunk myself to a serious injury. Eventually I dragged myself up the stairs to bed at 5:00am, feeling scared to put weight on my knee. I laid down at the bottom of my bed, eyes shut, but mind racing. I couldn’t sleep.

I woke up at 6:30am. The madness had turned to worry. My body was letting me know what it thought of my escapades. Clearly I’m not made to take such a variety of drinks like that, and my knee was still giving me jip. I had time to take a paracetamol and apply ibuprofen gel before leaving for work but left plenty of time to walk through town for my train. Right now walking was better but I still couldn’t bend my knee sufficiently without discomfort. I avoided staircases and used the lifts at work. By now I’d booked into the doctor’s for a late appointment.

My past experiences with doctors about my lower limb injuries haven’t always gone agreeably. I’ll never forget the one who told me my feet ‘weren’t built for marathons’. Or the one who implored me to just keep taking ibuprofen to sort out my maltracking knee back in 2012-13. I was prepared for maybe a bit of negativity, sarcasm, but even so, the overriding concern was blindingly obvious. I was really concerned I’d sustained a serious enough injury to affect my future race plans, the big one being Snowdonia, in which I’ve already invested in making it a ‘racecation’ with my young family. On the outside, I went about my day as usual, but inside I felt miserable, worrisome, all day.

The doctor heard my account of what happened. I won’t name him, but my GP is excellent at his job, efficient, serious but caring with only a hint of condescension as he typed into his computer aloud. ‘Alcohol involved…‘, he half-sneered. But nowhere near enough to cause dislike. Up I went onto his couch, while he twisted my knees this way and that. He couldn’t find anything. I’d just jarred it. I was doing all the right stuff for now, just keep at it and in a few days, maybe even try ‘a gentle jog’. I didn’t let on, but all of a sudden I felt a weight had been lifted. Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe I had dodged one there.

Of course, any plans for running this weekend were cancelled, meaning my 12-13 mile trail run was going to have to wait a little while. Thankfully, my knee seems to settled down quickly under the glare of ibuprofen, an ice pack and generally resting the thing. I may yet be ready for the 401 Challenge with Ben Smith on Friday 5th August, though likely not the whole marathon distance, but that aside, week four was always going to be an easier week, with a crosstraining session replacing my Thursday tempo run. So I suppose if there was a good time to pick up this knock, it would be now. And I am scheduled to go walking around the Yorkshire Dales with my father at the end of next week, plus the concern of Man vs Barge coming up, so I’ve got plenty to aim for.

I really did have the bit between my teeth though. Running had become as enjoyable as its ever been. The unscheduled race with the Halifax Harriers was about as spontaneous as I imagine you can get, and made for a crazy and indeed fun experience. I’m getting the hang of waking up early for those dark mornings, something I’ve wanted for ages, and on a work night too!  It’s just slightly galling yet incredibly lucky I suffered a setback to thrust my upcoming plans into doubt, and one that had I actually ruined my future plans would have left me with a huge amount of self-guilt and possible heartbreak. As it is, I feel a tangible sense of relief.

The challenge of Snowdonia is one I’m looking forward to so much, with the variety of training planned, that it feels I’m finding running more enjoyable than ever.

Trust something to go wrong when I wound up having too much fun. This marathon lark is indeed serious business!