Saturday 24 June 2017

Once a runner always a runner...

My wife sometimes tells me I don't share things very often... her way of saying I'm not always a good communicator at times, probably not a good trait for someone who works in coaching and indeed for someone who tries to keep a blog from time to time... all be it not very often these days but thought I'd share a few thoughts...

Firstly one thing I have found with writing a blog is that it often makes you reflect on things that often just flash by before you know it.... I guess that's why people keep a diary or indeed partly why athletes like to keep a training diary even if they don't always appreciate it at the time.  A little while back in fact I was looking through one of my old training diaries (for reasons I forget now) but there was an entry about a club race I did back in 2002 for the then Channel Island athletics club in which I was disappointed to be out kick by an under 20 athlete from the club Windsor Slough Eton and Hounslow. The athlete in question was a fresh faced Mo Farah. It seems he's done this to better runners than me since.

A bit off topic but I'm in the reflective mood for a reason...At 38 years old (whilst perhaps just a number for some), does mean I have been training and competing seriously for arguable 17-18 years... whilst I have been involved in athletics since I started secondary school it was not until 2000/2001 where I felt I decided to focus my efforts more, getting myself a coach for one and also focusing purely on my running and putting other sports, namely football to one side.  Over the last year with injury striking again getting back running never mind competing seemed like it would never happen at times. With an injury that seemed like it would never heal and could not be properly diagnosed I would be lying if I hadn't contemplated retirement, on more than one occasion. During the last year though despite not being in position to attempt or achieve my previously set out goals for 2016 and 2017 I should say a big thank you to Butterfield Bank in Guernsey, they have supported me this past 2 years. Originally with the targeting of gaining Olympic and World Champs selection unfortunately not to be but Butterfield have continued to support me and I hope despite the change of goals I can continue to fly the flag a little while longer.

I am back running and training regularly all be it a little less than some previous years but things are going quite well and I am enjoying my running again and this week I go into what will be my 10th and effectively my last Island Games (if you don't know what the island games are checkout The games are an event that despite my focus having been on other things in recent years has always been something I have enjoyed being part of and offers a rare (bi-annual) occasion to be part of a Guernsey team. Scarily however it dawned on me that I have been going to the island games longer than most of the athletes in the athletics team have been born... if i didn't feel old before! It might be my last island games but I'm not quite done with running, now that I am back in action I still want to make the Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast but in all likelihood after this i will wind down my competitive ambitions. One thing is for sure though as long as my body is healthy and in one piece (which will be a lot easier when you don't have to push the envelope quite so often) I will always want to go out running. I guess once a runner always a runner! 

Thursday 24 September 2015

Marathon time!

Well after a 3 year wait I can finally say I will be toeing the line in a marathon this weekend in Berlin. It's been a rough few years with a host of set backs but it's great to be finally getting to a marathon start line as there have certainly been many times when I thought it might not happen, plus I am actually in pretty decent shape too.

Essentially I have been back in action since the start of the year, all be it not very fit to begin with. It's taken a little while to get myself into the sort of shape where I feel I can race well and do myself justice, technically I'm still yet to show it in a race but I do feel ready to do that now.  If I'm honest it's been quite a frustrating year on the whole and I have found it hard mentally, more than I imagined I would. I thought once I was back running things would just take care of itself but in truth most of the battle has been dealing with my own expectations. I love running and enjoy the process of training, I will always run as long as my body can cope with it but in all what motivates me most is winning races, competing in big races, achieving fast times and making teams.  I want and still believe I am capable of all those things and in particular making teams is a big goal, making the Olympics. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't had doubts about whether my body would hold up to the training. In all honesty last years injury and the aftermath made me a little paranoid about any little injury or symptoms around my sacrum/hip area (for those not in the know I suffered a sacral stress fracture in June 2014). Apparently I am not alone in feeling like this with this sort of injury. Thankfully the body has held up and I will be making that start line, a combination of relief and joy. Only last week I had another little scare.... was this the paranoia again? no this was actually legit, my sacro-iliac joint was a little locked up but thankfully a bit of physio and a couple of easy days and I'm now good to go!

I have actually got in a very good period of consistent training this year despite the psychological minefield.  It may not be directly apparent in the races I have done but recent training in Font Romeu was very good. My training has not been directly comparable to past marathon preparations as changes have been made, I am now working with a different coach for one, Gavin Smith. Gavin has experience working with Renato Canova, who has coached a lot of the good Kenya athletes out in Iten, Kenya.  I have input into things but it has been nice for someone else to drive the schedule. This has allowed me to just get on with things, which with work and family commitments has been most welcome at times!  There be a few changes to how I was previously training, some of this has been Gavin's philosophy and some has been due to trying to manage my body but on the whole I have done some good work and made some good progression in various area's.  I do feel in general my fitness is the best it been since 2012.

Over the last three years I thought I might not experience this again... so I look forward to being part of the race day build up, seeing athletes I have not seen for a little while and soaking up the adrenaline and nerves that come with race morning. Most of all though I look forward to toeing the line in big race again and trying to achieve remaining ambitions.  

Wednesday 2 July 2014

It's a thin line we tread...

For those who don't already know I have been forced to pull out of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow due to picking up a seemingly out of the blue injury in the form of stress fracture to my sacrum (the sacrum is the bone at the bottom of your back where it meets your hips). A fairly uncommon injury in the general public and whilst not overly common in runners it is something runners on higher mileage can be susceptible to. Contrary to other reports and comments about my fitness I wasn't battling with my fitness or any other injury. All the above were not without there challenges in past year but on my arrival to Font Romeu (a couple of weeks ago now) I was in good place, injury free, seemingly in my best shape for some 2 years and ready to crack on with the training.  Unfortunately though the onset of my symptoms started on only the second day into my trip. Seemingly just a minor muscle tightness in my left hip to begin with over the following 24 hrs this became somewhat more uncomfortable. Even walking was uncomfortable. A visit to nearby Spanish chiropractor (Ront Fomeu whilst in France is right next to the old French/Spanish boarder) gave what was false hope at first. Whilst it appeared to be my SI (sacro iliac) joint was just out of alignment this turned out not to be my problem. The treatment seemed to give some initial relief from my symptoms at first but whilst this would normally start settling down within 48hrs, in my case it didn't. A few days later I was driving down to Perpignan for an MRI Scan...

The hospital in Perpignan is able to provide a fast turn around in terms of performing the actual scan and providing the results, so I was able to get a scan and result all in the same afternoon. Going in for the results was quite a crushing experience though as you can image. Ironically I have been in this positions before in the same hospital. Before the London Olympics I had a bone scare in my hip/femur but then the results were good news on that occasion and training continued as normal and no games dream were ended. This time it was different and when the french doc said those fatal words in his broken English my heart sank. I asked him if he was certain... unfortunately he didn't really understand my English but after a bit of broken communication back and forth is was clear it was not good and there would be no Glasgow Commonwealth Games for me.

The drive home was a pretty quiet one, poor Alex (the physio who'd driven down to Perpignan with me) was probably the most uncomfortable with the situation, not really knowing what to say. Strangely whilst I didn't feel all that bad about things (other that initial reaction to the news) I think the more I had time to think on the drive back to Font Romeu the more the reality started to sink in. Having got myself back into good shape after what has been a rough 12 to 18 months, it was frustrating to say the least to know that I would now be out of action again but that my ambitions to medal at the games couldn't even be attempted. When I got back into the apartment in Font Romeu the others were there about to start dinner, I think they knew they didn't really need to say anything, I just got a few sympathetic looks. It was just as well no one asked how I was though as I'd probably have started blobbing if they had!  

Having had 24hrs to digest the news I decided it was best to get back home, the thought of being in a training camp environment not able to do anything, even cross train initially, would have sent me stir crazy. Plus I spend enough time away from my family as it is so I was eager to be back with them.

On reflection I've become all to aware that my sport is about balancing those highs and the lows and seemingly there's no season of middle ground, perhaps it would be boring if that were the case!  It's also a thin line tread between being in great shape and picking up that injury where it can feel like the end of world. Whilst on this occasion though it's not quite worked out in my favour I will be back. There are too many things I still want to achieve, furthermore despite all the set backs I still love the sport so won't be going anywhere just yet.

Sunday 4 May 2014

Back in the thick of it

Well after making noises about being a runner again it was about time I update my blog with details about how things have progressed, and how they haven't at times.... I have been racing regularly, finally, a little later than I had originally planed (more on that in a bit) but I have now strung a few races together. In the past, even before my injury hit 2013 I had been fairly selective with my racing however as soon as I knew I was able to race again I just wanted to do so at the first opportunity. Some of my early races were nothing to write home about but they were never going to be about PB's.

As I alluded to though after looking like I was ready to start cracking on with things in January and February time, starting with a training camp in Kenya and with a view to racing off the back of this I unfortunately pick up a new injury. Half way into the camp I picked up an injury to a small muscle in my foot/ankle, a not too uncommon injury when faced with the testing terrain of Iten but a frustrating set back to say the least having been out for so long previously. At first I thought this might just mean a couple of easy days, however over 3 weeks later with no running (I was home by this point) only then was I finally able to start to running again. It took another 3 to 4 weeks of regular treatment and a gradual build up in my running before a full routine was resumed. This didn't stop me racing during this time mind, helping Newham to bronze in the Southern Road relays in March and also a half marathon in Berlin, in what I can only describe as fairly average performance at best. Most importantly though I was able to come out of these relatively unscathed and with the motivation that there was work to be done! 

More recently I have been able to string a few weeks of regular training together in the region of 90miles a week alongside regular work in the gym... the conditioning work has been something I have done much more regularly since my operation last year. The idea being to work even harder on the general conditioning and injury prevention side of things in order to keep my body robust going forward. With a short family break wedged in immediately before the Easter break I then ran a local event in the Guernsey Easter Festival. I raced in the Keith Falla Cross Country, a race with a lot of tradition and history for us Guern's so it was nice to win the race and post a respectable time feeling quite controlled. It was especially nice to run this having been watching this event from the side lines last year, having been only a few weeks post op. Last weekend  I raced in the Great Edinburgh 10mile race, racing a certain Mr Thompson, who was only 2 weeks post London. I was little unsure what I might be capable of going into this but knew I was in better shape than I was for Berlin. Admittedly I was looking to sneak under 50 minutes but when faced with the course - a somewhat testing and undulated route through the city centre I was pleasantly surprised with a 49.54 clocking.

So what now... well with little more 12 weeks until Glasgow the marathon work will soon begin, I guess technically the transition has already started but the nature of training will progress more like what I'd associate with marathon specific work, the longer runs/tempo's for example. Racing wise I've still left this open but realistically at this stage it will likely just be one or two low key events which I will use as part of my marathon training. In June though I have a 4 week camp planned in Font Romeu which alongside Iten in Kenya have been like second homes me the past few years. 

I must admit the Great Edinburgh race was just what I needed, but the last few weeks have seen noticeable progress within my fitness generally. Training is now starting to feel like it's some I am using to get prepared for Glasgow, whereas previously is was about just to fit generally! Don't get me wrong there's still work to be done and whereas earlier in the year I could claim to feeling like a runner again, now I can start being actually being a competitive one again.... roll on Glasgow!       

Sunday 5 January 2014

Being a runner again

It's been a while but I've finally pulled my finger out and got a post together.

When I last posted an update at the start of the year I was out in Kenya for a training camp seemingly on the way back from injury, as it turned out that was not the case. Funnily enough I write this update from the same place, thankfully in much better place than I was then.  Back in January I was also starting to build my running back up and despite excuriating treatment (for which I gained the nickname triple M - Mucky Mouth Merrien apparently) things did at least seem to be getting better. Towards the later part of the camp however  things just didn't seem right, whenever I sneezed I was aware of discomfort in my low abdomen and my adductor problem seemed to be getting worse. When I got home I was referrred to a specialist and before I knew it I was booked in for a double sports hernia operation. Apparently I had two of the biggest he'd ever seen.... I'm talking about the hernia's of course :)

The operation took pace back in March and unfortunately getting back into running wasn't as quick as I'd have hoped for, rehab was proving a slow process. Even when I was able to perform what I'd constituted a proper run I was not without uncomfortable symptoms. This has proved the case through most of this turns out these types of injuries when they have persisted for as long as mine had can take a while to shift.

Despite the frustrations of the past year I'm now finally starting to to see significant improvements, my symptoms are minimal now and no longer result in having to cut my runs back as has been the case previously. My running volume is as high as its been all year.  I'm got myself up to sufficient running to make a training trip worth while and despite the lack of sessions I feel surprisingly fit in a general sense. I have been cross training fairly diligently now for the past year alongside the running I could do, and it appears to be have payed off as the transition to more running volume has been easier than I thought it might. Not having been injured and out of action for this length of time at any point in my running career this cross training lark was all a bit new to me, initially! I think having had clear goals beyond the injury though has helped... even my wife has commented on I how I have been 'ok' to live with (compared with previous injuries - even short term sidelines have meant I've not always been a bundle of joy to be around!). Plus if there's one benefit to not being able to run as much it's that you have more time to spend doing the the little extra's that often get sidelined more when the big mileage sets in. Furthermore I've also been at home more than I have done at any point in the last 3-4 years and there's been no better distraction than being around my family.

My first few runs out here in Kenya this time around have felt really good and despite the challenging terrain I've had no real issues with symptoms. Admittedly it's still early days but the past few weeks have felt like a corner has been turned and this is as good as my body has felt for over 12months. I feel like I can now give myself the tag of being a runner again!

Thursday 3 January 2013

Dealing with Injury

Unfortunately I follow my post-Olympic blog entry (admittedly some time ago now) with details of a somewhat frustration period since the games. Having not raced since the Olympics and spending much of my training time cross training rather than running.  Since getting back into things after my break I started to notice some discomfort in my left adductor. First this this was thought to be an adductor strain but after cutting back training for a number of weeks without any improvement in my symptoms I then had an MRI scan which revealed a stress response to my pubis bone… I will let you Google where that is! The upshot of the diagnoses meant 5 weeks of no running, my longest period of no running to date having been fortunate over the years to not suffer with many enforced breaks away from the sport.  I guess I should have been pleased this sort of injury did not happen a few months earlier as it would have almost certainly ended my Olympic dream and whilst of course on reflection I am, like most athletes I am sure this was not my initial reaction. The most difficult and frustrating thing about this was that following the Games in London I found my appetite for training and competition to be quite high but I was not able to put this to good use at least that’s how it felt initially. I remember a friend telling me about athletes and support staff from other sports who had suffered with depression after the Olympics in Beijing, simply from going from such an all-consuming goal and then having nothing to focus on once the games were over. I guess whilst my aspirations in London were somewhat modest in comparison to our many gold medallists I still decided earlier in the year that I would set myself a few short to medium term targets to avoid such things in the aftermath. These of course those have now since changed due to the injury but I have goals none-the-less and it has help keep me sane through can otherwise be monotonous cross training sessions.

Certainly not being able to race for so long has been difficult, as whilst over the last couple of years I haven’t raced as often as some this has still been my longest period without a race of any kind. I have been hitting the cross training fairly hard though, with two daily sessions involving a mixture of the cross trainer, aqua jogging and also my conditioning work. The idea at the moment is to strengthen my adductor and overall core conditioning to prevent anything re-surfacing. I have started building my running up again, it’s been  quite a slow process but I am getting there and I seem to be making steady progress, I actually had my first pain free run the other day its funny how the little things create such excitment.  My immediate focus at the stage is simply to continue my progress with the rehab and building the running up again. I also think my general core conditioning is probably as strong as it’s been for some time which is encouraging. I have actually put a bit of weight on... perhaps it's muscles or maybe that's just wishful thinking on the skinny distance runners part but having gone from 4 to 5% bodyfat I won't loose too much sleep over it.
So what now, well I still have ambitious goals for 2013, granted the start to my racing maybe delayed a little but I want to run PB’s over a range of distances. I am still somewhat embarrassed by my modest times over the like of 10k and the half marathon and running a faster marathon time remains on the agenda with an autumn option likely.

Anyway Happy New Year folks, hears to working hard in order to achieve those 2013 goals... lets face it nothing worth having was ever easy was it.

Friday 7 September 2012

Everything and more

As ever another late post, but at least I'm consistent. This is my post-Olympic entry...

Where to start, well first of all it seems apt to mention that one of the reasons that I started my blog up was so that people could follow me in my pursuit of one day becoming an Olympic athlete. Having now achieved that I guess I will need to change the title notes of the blog page. Being part of the 'greatest show on earth', as I've heard it referred to, certainly lived up to all expectations and so much more for me, having been to World Champs and previous Commonwealth Games had given me some championship experience but I don't think any British athlete could have anticipated how fantastic the games experience was going to be. Having been outside of the village up in Loughborough where I was based at a holding camp during the earlier days of the games I was getting information and details of how great it all was and that only fuelled my excitement to be part of it all. Watching the likes of Mo, Jess Ennis and Greg Rutherford winning gold and knowing I would soon get the chance to have my Olympic moment sent goosebumps down my spine.

I must admit though there was a time when I felt like the forgotten member of the athletics team being up in Loughborough, as not only had the games started but whilst the athletics programme was also underway I was the sole Team GB athlete remaining in Loughborough. I guess my fellow team mate and marathon runner Scott Overall may have also felt the same given that he was on his own out in Portugal for the remaining days before the Marathon. It was worth the wait but more on the race itself in a moment.

I guess my true Olympic experience started the day I arrived in London, that was Thursday 9th August, 3 days before the Olympic Marathon. As soon I sent foot in the capital you could sense the Olympic vibe across the city and everyone seemed it great spirits and certainly travelling in my Team GB kit also attracted a fair bit of attention. Given that I had arrived in the village only 3 days before my race I was quite conscious of staying well rested and not getting too invovled or excited by the games itself. However with my race finishing in the city and not the stadium I was quite keen to see the stadium in all its glory with athletics in full swing, so on my first night there I went to stadium to check it out and what a night to go! I witnessed probably the best mens 800m race of all time, with David Rudisha winning in World Record, and the last placed athlete coming home in what would normal pick you up a medal if not a gold in previous Olympics! Oh and some guy called Bolt also won a 200m race that night too.

My remaining days before my race were somewhat uneventful considering I was in the Olympic village in the one of the biggest City's of the World with the biggest sporting event going around me but it did at least give me time to focus mentally and soak up my thoughts and feeling about the race and what I wanted from it. One thing that was nice was a very quick family reunion the night before the race, having not seen my family (skype calls aside) for some 7 weeks. I met my wife and 4 year old son (who's birthday I had missed the week before) in Hyde Park. The night before the race myself & Scott Overall were staying in a hotel nearer to the start of the race. Seeing my excited 4 years olds face again after time away never fails to put a big smile back on my face. Unfortunately I would have to wait until after the games to see my daughter again though, she is only 1 year old (I missed her birthday last month too!) and a hectic London probably wouldn't have been the best place for her and would also have been hell for my wife to juggle two kids at the race, Thomas at least will hopefully be old enough to recall some of the day too. 

The day and race itself will be one I'll never forget, even if I am to go to another Olympics Games it is never likely to provide the such an incredible atmosphere that I experienced in London. I've never seen so many passionate spectators lining a road race, walls, rooftops and flag poles! The noise was quite literally deafening on certain points of the course too, leaving my ears ringing during the race. In the early stages of the race I was conscious to not get too carried away by it all but it certainly gave me a huge lift over the closing stages when things were hurting with the wheels starting falling off with 5km to go. The conditons on the day as anyone who was there or indeed watched the race, were hot, with temparatures supposedily getting up into the high 20's. If someone had offered me those condition in advance however I would have bitten their hand off. I'm not phased by hot conditions in fact I enjoy them but I guess thats because I've performed well in these type of conditions before and if you can judge the race and conditions well there are a lot of places to be had in final quarter of the race. Whilst I'm proud of my performance on the day I can't help but think there was another 10 places or so to be had if I had judged the race slightly better, after-all I went through half way in 66.30 and finished in 2.17.00.

When I returned to Guernsey someone asked me I'd had an 'Olympic moment'... he was refering to that lasting memory that would stick in mind, and whilst essentially I have many, one of the standout moments has to actually be after the race. London Marathon had arranged a venue for friends and family and after the race I headed over there. The response I received when I entered the pub was pretty overwelming and capped off my Olympics. Even my dad had a tear in his eye and I don't even think I have ever seen my dad shed a tear before. 
What capped it all off for me was the support and reaction of others, the British public really made the Olympic atmosphere and enhanced some fantastic memories but coming from Guernsey it was incredibly to see so many Guernsey flags lining the route, this made it that bit more special to me  having shared it with them.