Friday, 24 April 2015

Marathon runners and other inspiration

Given my recent operation, I have plenty of time on my hands and have found myself reading and watching some very inspirational stories.

Last week I was reading the book "parkrun - much  more than just a run in the park". This book contains details of the history of parkrun, it's starting's, it's growth, plus numerous stories from parkrunners. As you can probably imagine, many of these stories chart how the parkrunner was introduced to running through parkrun and has gone on to achieve many greater things: faster times, longer distances, joining a running club, even completing marathons. Some of the recoveries from illness and injury that are associated with finding parkrun are truly amazing. I found many of these stories the perfect medicine for me as I start to consider what sporting possibilities might lie ahead of me and my new hip.

This week I have moved on to another book. I rarely read, so this in itself is no mean feat. I am now reading Charlie Spedding's autobiography "From Last to First". This is a very well written book (the review from The Independant quoted on the front says so!), and incredible as it may seem, I'm finding it even more inspirational than the parkrun book. Charlie Spedding isn't the household name like other British distance runners of his era: Brendan Foster, Seb Coe, Dave Moorcroft and Steve Ovett to name but a few, but perhaps he should be.

Charlie admits many times over in his book that he was not the greatest talent, he often turned in mediocre performances, and finished way down the field in many of his track and road races. But, he also knew how to get the best out of himself and produce the absolute maximum from his talent, through hard training of course, but also by concentrating on a few races that he gave the greatest importance to. For example, he won hist very first marathon in Houston in 1984, followed a few months later by winning the London Marathon, then just a few months later he came third and won the bronze medal in the marathon at the Los Angeles Olympics. On each occasion he was far from the best athlete in the field on best previous time, but he knew he could do it, he trained and ran to a plan and he found a way to do it, when many of his other performances suggested it was improbable to say the least. The English record for the marathon that he set in 1985 stood until 2014 when a certain Mo Farah only managed to beat it by 12 seconds, and we all know how good Mo Farah is!

Charlie's story, and particularly his recovery from many injuries and operations with many weeks and months of rehab whilst not even being able to walk properly, has really helped me see what is possible. I don't think I'll be winning an Olympic medal next year, but this is not what Charlie was aiming for - he just wanted to ensure that he made full use of his talents and that is something that everyone can do, and something that I will aim to do too.

Yesterday I watched the film "Invincible". This is the story of Vince Papale, a thirty-something part time teacher and bar worker who went along to the open trials to try to play for the Philadelphia Eagles (American Football) in the mid 1970's. He had never even played college football, which is usually a pre-requisite to play professionally. Against all the odds, Vince made it through the trials and all the cuts and eventually made it into the team through sheer hard work and determination. Vince really showed what is possible, and even when others thought he was too old he proved that he wasn't. You would have thought this was all Disney/Hollywood make-believe, but the story is true. More truly inspirational stuff showing that you are never too old to live your dreams.

Today I read a BBC sport article about Paula Radcliffe. Paula is a real hero of mine. I have always felt a great affinity with her, having been at and represented Loughborough University at the same time as her. I'm sure she still mentions that time when Ian Wilkinson overtook her on a run around campus as much as I do! Though she probably makes more of the fact that she was walking at the time!

Paula is aiming for one last competitive run at the London Marathon this weekend. She hopes she will be back again in the future, but she will not train hard for it again. This really is one last hurrah! Paula has suffered greatly over the past few years with some horrible injury problems, the most severe of which saw her almost unable to walk for many months. The fact that she has recovered enough to train is amazing and to get enough fitness to run a semi-competitive marathon whilst in her early forties is pretty incredible, Paula's determination is amazing and I truly hope she gets the outcome she is hoping for.

And finally.....on Sunday we have another huge serving of inspiration to look forward to as 40,000 or so amazing people of all shapes and sizes, and with the full range of sporting talents between them, do something truly incredible and run the London Marathon.

I certainly feel nicely topped up with all the inspiration I need to make a good comeback and perhaps take on some new sporting challenges when the time comes. I may not have the flexibility and speed of youth any more, but I intend to make full use of the experience and stamina that comes with age having been totally inspired by the amazing stories I have mentioned above.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Walk before you run!

Today is exactly three weeks to the day since my left total hip replacement and it also saw my first physio appointment since leaving hospital (on day 4).

Before the operation I had received a physio booklet outlining the exercises that I should carry out both straight after the operation (whilst still in hospital) and ongoing for the weeks after leaving hospital. It also contained plenty of other do's and don'ts plus techniques for things "normos" can do easily such as climbing and descending stairs, going to the toilet and putting your pants on! All useful info I can assure you in my recent situation! It's quite strange getting to the bathroom and then wondering how to physically do what you have always done naturally, but I'll leave that there.

Before I left hospital, the on-site physio team had repeatedly tested my understanding of the exercise routine and I felt well drilled before I left.

Further instructions in the booklet described what I should do regarding walking, both that it should be with two crutches, should start with small distances, but also that the distance should be slowly increased daily.

So here I was, left with a set of exercises to repeat and walking distances to increase daily, plus what is best described as a "runner's brain"! And advantage you would think.....

My "runner's brain" told me that, if I can do these exercises well and comfortably, then I should gradually increase the quantity. So what started out as 5 repetitions of each exercise gradually became 15 of each exercise, with all the exercises repeated as a block 6 times a day. AND what started out as a 100m round trip up the road and back had increased to 600m within a few days, had gradually increased to half a mile 3 times a day and then for the last 3 days, it had increased further to 1 mile each time, 3 times a day. Over that period, my walking speed had increased too, fairly significantly early on, but for the last week it had evened out at very roughly 2 miles an hour, or around half the speed I would usually walk. This was a safe speed and I had no desire to go any faster than this whilst using crutches.

To runners that just sounds like training doesn't it? Gradually increase repetitions. Gradually increase distance. Gradually increase speed.

Today I saw my physio and finally understood the point of all of this!

For years, due to my deteriorating hips, a sub-concious decision to prevent the discomfort of osteo-arthritis, a concious decision to prevent the sharp pain I would sometimes get when my hip got into the wrong alignment, plus the gradual physical changes to my skeleton (yes my skeleton actually adapted itself to prevent pain), my walking gait had become abnormal. To anyone that knows me, I'm sure this has been obvious for many years, and even to myself, when catching a glimpse of myself in a mirror or shop window, it was obvious that I was walking like "the missing link", hunched forward, leaning into the next stride. And it was impossible for me to correct.

This style of walking is not normal, and along with removing the pain, one of the main objectives of the surgeon and the physio team is to return me to a "normal" walking gait. That does not mean back to my normal, but instead to "normal" normal! And this is the point of the physio exercises and the recovery period. Now this might be obvious to everyone else, but as a runner I had missed the subtlety of the old adage of "quality NOT quantity". Today I finally got it!

I have now been given a greater number and variety of exercises. These are to be performed in smaller sets. The idea here is that for each exercise, the first repetition is naturally tentative, the second increases the range of motion and by the 4th and 5th you have probably gone as far as you are going to that time (trying to push the boundary a bit on those last two if possible). Any more are pretty pointless. As my physio said, "this isn't strength training - you are only lifting your own leg!". But there was thing I had spot on, I should be repeating all the exercises as many times a day as I can, without causing too much pain or swelling.

Walking greater distances at greater speeds is also important, but I really do have to "walk before I can run". And in my case I need to learn how to walk properly again first, This is not just a mental thing, I also have to physically teach my muscles, tendons and ligaments to be able to allow and control a different and greater range of motion in all directions. For the last 5 years I have been a runner, when I couldn't really do any other sport any more. This can only be due to the fact that moving my legs in a straight line (front-to-back) didn't hurt (as much) in the same way as lateral movement. But this has also ensured that front-to-back movement is all I can really control, and controlled movement in all other directions now has to be re-learnt.

So, for the next week at least, I will be on a reduced daily walking distance and an increased and more varied set of physio exercises. I'm really pleased that I had my physio appointment today and that my focus has been shifted into the right areas that are really going to have the effects I need to get me back to "normal".

And one thing is for sure, now that I know the exercises that I need to do, as "a runner" I have no problem at all in repeating those exercises over and over again - after all, it's only training!

Saturday, 18 April 2015

The power of parkrun

What a lovely morning for a parkrun!

Given my current post-op situation I was of course unable to parkrun myself today. I didn't even feel that I was able to volunteer, partly because I wasn't sure if I could stand in one position for long enough to be of any use and also partly due to the volunteer roster already being full.

All that said, I was determined to be there. I've missed the last two, firstly due to being hospital and then last week due to being too immobile to get there. The fact my wife had decided to parkrun herself today, when she normally wouldn't, was also a great reason to be there to cheer her on.

I was in a strange mood yesterday, a bit bored of the things I've been doing (not much) for that last two weeks and I suppose I was feeling ready to up the ante in my recovery (mentally at least), but knowing that I really shouldn't try to do too much too soon.

parkrun this morning was just what I needed!

I was reading Debra Bourne's book "parkrun - more than just a run in the park" yesterday, as I have been for the last few days, and there are (amongst many others) a few truths that I read in that book yesterday about all the benefits of parkrun. Being out in our beautiful park, in the sun, seeing so many familiar faces, cheering on all my friends and countless others that I don't know quite so well, or even at all. The feel good factor was amazing this morning and the perfect lift to start my day.

I had chats with so many of my parkrun friends this morning, all keen to come over and say hello and see how my post-op recovery is progressing. One of my mates even stopped half way through his run to chat to me for at least a minute, completely unconcerned about the detrimental affect on his own parkrun. I really felt that strong caring side of our parkrun community. It was great.

I'm still not sure what I can do, but I felt compelled to volunteer for the next two weeks. I suspect that standing will be comfortable by next week, so I'm sure I'll be fine. By committing, at least I guarantee that I head up to the park for my fix of parkrun awesomeness the next two parkrundays!

I'm really glad I went. parkrun is amazing!

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Two weeks, two walks

Today marks two weeks since my Total Hip Replacement. I decided to mark the occasion by attempting two longer walks today, having managed 400m just yesterday. 

This morning I managed roughly 600m (12% of a parkrun) in about 14 minutes, giving a projected parkrun time of 1 hour 56 minutes.

And this afternoon I did a full lap of the block we live on (previously measured on mapmyrun at just over half a mile or 800m). This equates to 16% of a parkrun and totalled with the morning walk gives over a quarter of a parkrun in the day. This walk took roughly 18 minutes, giving a projected parkrun time of 1 hour 49 minutes.

The most important things are that I am being very careful, it is getting easier, the aches and pains are lessening, the flexibility and strength are returning and my gait is gradually feeling more natural every day.

Tomorrow I see my consultant and am hoping that he is pleased with the progress and encourages me to keep upping the distance and regularity of the walks and other exercises. With a bit of luck I might get his approval to swim and also to get on a static exercise bike before too long.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Improvement measured in parkruns

I recently entered the more active part of my hip replacement recovery.

Up until the end of last week, all exercise (hobbling with crutches and various strengthening and flexibility exercises) had been strictly limited to around the house.

On Saturday, being parkrunday, I was drawn into stepping outside the house for my first "longer" walk. I set my sights pretty low and headed for the top of the road, roughly 50 metres away. The 100m round trip took roughly 8 minutes. Giving a projected parkrun time of roughly 6 hours 40 minutes. I know all us parkrunners deal in distances based on the unit of a "parkrun". That wasn't quite PB territory, but that wasn't really the aim on this occasion.

On Sunday I decided to follow the post-op advice to the letter, of increasing walking distance daily. So this time I headed down the hill aiming for the second telegraph pole, roughly a 200m round trip. This time it took about 11 minutes, for a projected parkrun time of 4 hours 35 minutes. Getting quicker but still a struggle and not feeling like normal walking at all.

Yesterday (Monday) I upped the target to the third telegraph pole, for a 300m round trip. This time it took about 15 minutes, still feeling anything but comfortable. Project parkrun time at a very similar pace of 4 hours 20 minutes.

I have just been for today's expedition in glorious sunshine and this time I aimed for the end of the road, 4 telegraph poles away and a fully 400m round trip. 

Two gas engineers were setting up some barriers across the path half way down the road, and much as I was tempted to test my post-op hurdling technique they were kind enough to move the barriers out of my way. I mentioned that I was going to the end of the road and would be back in a minute. They jokingly pointed out it would "be more like 15!", and duly took a well deserved tea-break. Needless to say I was down and back in around 6 your face gas men! The round trip took only just over 11 minutes, for a projected parkrun time of 2 hours 18 minutes. And this time it almost felt like a natural walking gait, certainly more so than any other time since the op. Today felt like a huge step forward, without being risky. 

Slow and steady wins the race!

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Hip replacement recovery - the early days

I had my left hip replaced on Wednesday 1st April 2015. More superstitious people might have wanted to avoid that date, but it didn't bother me. The odd joke relating to "which leg" and even "which eye" certainly helped to lighten the mood. I have to say that I surprised myself with how relaxed I was about the whole thing.

I opted for a spinal epidural and sedation rather than a general anaesthetic purely based on the advice of the anaesthetist relating to better pain relief in the first few hours and less nausea. As it turned out, I apparently became a bit fidgety during the operation so was given a general anaesthetic too at that stage.

The first day I was quite sleepy and fairly pain free whilst the effects of the epidural lasted. I wouldn't realise how much help that was giving until later! There were some frustrations in those early hours as I was unable to move my toes, feet or legs due to the epidural. I did notice that I was wearing some rather fetching Paula Radcliffe style long compression socks. These are intended to help fight off DVT but I'm sure they will also make me fast like Paula!

The first night was horrible. The effects of the epidural had worn off, regular doses including 7 different tables, plus liquid morphine were not enough and sleep was impossible. That bit wasn't at all nice. It was a very long night!

The day after the operation I knew a Physio session was due and that they were going to get me out of bed for a walk! Perhaps word hadn't reached them that I just had a new hip and they were still dining out on the "which eye " April Fools Day gags! I have had a lot of muscle injuries in my sporting life and plenty of Physio as a result, but somehow I really built up how hard this was going to be in my own head. My obs were taken and all were apparently very good/normal. 

My first period of standing wasn't particularly successful. It was successful in that I was able to be positioned in a standing position, though my role in the action of moving from lying to standing was purely limited to being there. I had a Zimmer frame and clutched it firmly. I had a Physio on one arm and my wife (Charlotte) near to the other arm. I was asked if I was ok and recall saying "yes", shortly followed by "I'm going".....

The next thing I remember is being held by Charlotte and said Physio, lots of shouting for more hands on deck and basically looking up at the ceiling with that Zimmer frame still gripped firmly in my hands but pointing slightly too far away from the ground to be of any use. I had feinted! My fingers were peeled from the handle of the Zimmer frame one by one with a fair degree of resistance from me, and I was relocated to the bed. The oxygen mask went on and the Physio session was abandoned until later in the day....something to look forward to!

Physios and nurses agreed that the feinting was probably due to the double morphine concoction that I was on, but personally I think I had psyched myself out by over thinking it. I was just stunned that they wanted the hip to be weight bearing less than 24 hours after the op. 

The afternoon Physio session arrived (oh joy!) and this time my years of sporting determination and willingness to push through the pain barrier were brought into the equation. Just before the process started I gave myself a few slaps around the face and even a little Andy Murray esque "come on!". I was determined to succeed this time, after all I bet the old dears manage this first time!

Standing position was achieved...I'll let the Physio's take credit for that again, and with Zimmer frame in hand the marathon into the corridor (just outside my room) commenced. Much pain and grimacing later I reach the middle of the corridor, at least 5 metres from where I had started! Immediately the Physio upped the ante and had the Zimmer frame replaced by crutches. Not playing fair! I then somehow managed to walk back into my room with the crutches. Boy was that hard work! I don't think I sweat that much on a summer long-run!

On the next day I was out of my room with the Physio for a longer walk with the crutches and shown some standing rehabilitation exercises to start on and to build up the number of repetitions over the next 6 weeks. At least this part I was used to from all my injury recoveries of the past. To a runner, this type of repetitious exercising is our bread and butter!

The next few days saw increasing distances with the crutches and finally stairs as I built up the confidence and mobility to be allowed home, which is where I am now.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Return of the stats - parkrun milestones

Since I was last blogging regularly, back in October 2013, there have been some amazing parkrun milestones. So in case you have missed some of those, here is a quick update....

Weekly finishers in the UK: 
Back in October 2013, the highest number of UK parkrun finishers in a single week was 35,518. That was an impressive record, but just 18 months later and the record is now a staggering 61,754 and it has been well over 55,000 every week since January. Given recent yearly trends, I wouldn't be surprised to see a new record in excess of 70,000 within a few weeks as the Spring weather lures out some parkrunners from their Winter hibernation as well as attracting a few that have been waiting for some nicer weather before making their parkrun debut. 

Number of events:
There are now 621 registered parkrun locations worldwide.
In the UK we had just over 220 parkrun locations back in October 2013, but we have added nearly another 100 locations in the last 18 months with 319 UK parkrun locations currently.

Registered runners:
When I was last blogging we hadn't yet reached 1 million registered parkrunners and now we have well over 1.5 million people registered with parkrun worldwide.

Total finishers:
There have now been an incredible 6,568,367 parkrun finishers in the UK.

Different runners:
A ridiculous 660,225 different people have now completed at least 1 parkrun in the UK. Just imagine how busy all our events would be if even 25% of those all decided to turn up one week!

Highest attendance record:
As you might expect, Bushy parkrun (the original location and home of parkrun) still holds the record with a massive 1705 runners set on 4th October 2014. Back in October 2013 that record was "just" 1051, so quite an increase! Also, 26 different UK parkrun events now have an attendance record of over 500 and there are 5 more over the 500 mark in Australia.

Non-returning parkrunners:
This isn't a figure I'd like to dwell on, but some 307,088 runners have only ever completed a single, solitary parkrun. I'm hoping a big chunk of those were in recent weeks and will be back soon!

500 club member:
parkrun now has it's very first member of the 500 club. Just a couple of weeks ago, Darren Wood completed his 500th parkrun. Unbelievably, the second highest number of runs is currently 441, so it will be well over a year before we have a second member of the 500 club.

250 club members:
There are now 221 members of the 250 club - the club for parkrunners that have run 250 parkruns or more.

I don't think I'm exactly sticking my neck out to say that "I think parkrun might just be here to stay"!

My hips, my parkrun and me

Very roughly speaking it has now been 16 months since my last parkrunfans blog post. That period of time has coincided with a bit of a "falling out of love" with running. Don't get me wrong, I still love parkrun, but for a number of interrelated reasons I haven't been able to enjoy it like I once had. And it's fair to say that having less love for running had stifled my urge to blog about parkrun.

Now I really don't know how long this renaissance will last, but for now at least, I feel that urge again.

There have been some huge parkrun milestones in the intervening period, and I might come back to cover those in later posts, but for now I want to explain my falling out of love with running and the drastic measures I have taken to make sure I can get the greatest possible enjoyment out of parkrun again.

Let's start back at the beginning of my parkrun journey....

In January 2010 I was having significant hip problems due to a life of sport and probably some genetic pre-disposition. I saw a consultant and was told that I needed to have both of my hips replaced! I was only 35 at the time and felt "too young" to consider such a drastic approach. Instead I quit playing football and started the longest period of inactivity I have ever had...that lasted a couple of months and then in early April 2010 I found Coventry parkrun. 

Now running may not be what the Consultant would have prescribed, but I found that it didn't hurt like the football did, and I was ok at it. Within just a few weeks I was a sub-19 minute runner.

I caught the parkrun bug and it started to replace football for me.

Fast forward 3 years and I reached my parkrun and general running peak (to date - ever the optimist!), getting my parkrun PB down to 17:27 and PBs at every distance I attempted.

After that there was what started as a natural gentle slide from my peak, but  then with a gradual return of the old hip pain, this slide picked up pace (as I lost it!) and before long it became clear that this was not a temporary loss of form.

During the last 6-12 months I reached the point where I gave up running (except for parkrun of course) and took up cycling instead. And in the last few months, even parkrun had become agony. The first 5 minutes might feel ok, but the rest was just hobbling and grimacing and certainly not enjoyable at all.

This distressed me greatly!

Since "finding" parkrun I have hoped it would be a weekly fixture for the rest of my life, such is the positive way it allows my weekend to start. Not being able to enjoy it was not acceptable for me.

A couple of months ago I decided that it was time to cure the problem and contacted a consultant. Between us we agreed that it was time for a Total Hip Replacement of my left hip. The right one might be done at some stage in the next few years if all goes well I'd guess.

My aims include getting rid of all the pain experienced in the simple everyday tasks such as driving or putting on socks, but extends to a return to running at pace and with enjoyment rather than pain.

So, last Wednesday I had my new hip (ceramic-on-ceramic for a better expected life span for young active patients).

I am now a week into recovery and walking with crutches. My leg is battered and bruised, but I am walking several times a day and I can manage the stairs, albeit slowly. Running feels a long way off, I have heard mention of 6-12 months before proper running, but I believe jogging will be allowed way before that.

One of the great things about parkrun is that I don't need to be race fit to take part. I can certainly go once I can jog, and even as a walker I would be welcomed. To know that I have parkrun to help me return to running will be a real motivation for me. And even before I can walk I will be able to volunteer. I was a bit spaced out on the post-op drugs at the time, but I'm pretty sure I volunteered for a few weeks time, from the hospital bed the day after my op. I did specify a seated volunteer role though!

I'll probably try and blog again in the coming days, weeks and months to update on my post-op recovery. Hopefully it will turn out to be a very positive story on my return to parkrun from my Total Hip Replacement. I wonder if parkrun is prescribed by the NHS yet? And if not, why not? As I can't think of a better thing to aim for and to aid in post-op recovery.