I’m going into my fifth winter: #ForeverFive

I actually had to work it out while I was on the bike today because I was convinced it was four. Nope: 13, 14, 15, 16, 17. Let’s do that that again: 17, 16, 15, 14, 13. Hell, it is actually five. Just two weeks until the Hundred Days Of Hell kick in for the fifth time, except these days they’re nowhere near as hellish as they used to be. If you’re new to the blog, or new to LCFN, the Hundred Days Of Hell relates back to the period between the two clock changes in the UK when I used to ride to and from work in Glasgow (for five months) without seeing daylight. Four thousand miles in the dark, in the cold, and quite often in lashing rain. Those were the days that gave me the mental strength to deal with days like today.

Wild, wet and windy: that was today. The kind of day when sane folk would ask why the hell are you going out on a bike. Because. There were a load of Stewarton Academy schoolkids heading down the main street when I went out and it was only when I got home that I discovered that my Joe was one of them. I didn’t bother asking whether he said “ooft, there’s my dad”. I think I know the answer.

Joe’s events been a bit of a theme this week. Last Saturday, he had an open day to go to at Edinburgh University ahead of deciding what he wants to do next year. Knowing how much I hate coming back from somewhere and having to go out and do miles, I went out at breakfast time instead. Hee haw on the road, just go out there and smash it was the plan. And I also had the added pressure of my flu jab up at the health centre to look forward to before we went out: you get that on the NHS when you’re my age. So I only had a couple of hours and I clogged it. I’ll let you into a secret, shall I? Clogging it at breakfast time is not a good idea. All your working muscles go on strike as soon as you get home.

Now because there were three of us heading out east, we decided to take the motor and do a park n ride job from Hermiston Gait. It worked out well, except for the fact that the bus got stuck in traffic – whatever happened to bus lanes?) and we were late getting into the city. We sent Joe on ahead of us old folk to get to the first lecture… If you know Edinburgh, you’ll know that there are some pretty steep hills heading up towards the Royal Mile from Waverley. I felt my calf go: shit! I know it was only a little yelp, but I have previous with that exact injury. Turn the clock back almost 35 years to the build up to the Balloch to Clydebank road race…

I should never have been a runner in the first place: slightly pigeon toed and an extreme over pronator, my running style is most ungainly. But once upon a time that gait was relatively fast over long distances. The Balloch to Clydebank race that I speak of used to be twelve and half miles back then: I think they’ve upped it to a half marathon since because that’s the fad with these things: 13.1 miles attracts more punters than 12.5.

But in the lead up to that race, because I wanted a good time (in the running sense, not the social scene) I was training hard and running 70-80 miles a week. At pace. I’d had a niggling achilles injury that had cost me the Glasgow Marathon the year before and when the pain from that made its way up into the base of my calf I was struggling. Back then I had a season ticket at the Sports Injuries Clinic at the Tryst Sports Centre in Cumbernauld (you think I’m joking?) and it was only the skill and care of the resident physio that got me to the start line of that race. I know that burning pain only too well, like someone holding a lighted match to the back of the bottom of your calf every tenth step (or tenth revolution if you’re on a bike).

I know the treatment that got me to the start line in Balloch too. So I knew the treatment that was going to keep me on the bike last Sunday going into Monday. For the record, that Saturday of the Balloch to Clydebank race was every bit as horrible as the weather was today. Wind, rain and as miserable as sin. But I always ran my best races in conditions like that: it just gave you something extra to run against. I was a decent runner back then: 67 minutes did the job: and injured. Afterwards, I took a timeout.

But timeouts are frowned upon in LCFN so by hook or by crook I was not for taking one last Sunday. On a bike, there are ways of dealing with these things: pedalling with your toes (clipped onto the bike) pointing down for starters. That reduces the strain on both the calf and the achilles at a stroke. It feels funny, but it gets the job done.

And one other thing: the key thing: the thing I learned from those physios every Monday and Thursday after the running club: ultrasound keeps dedicated athletes on the road. Why would you stop when you don’t really have to?

I should never have been a runner in the first place. I can still remember the intense pain of getting off the bus on a Wednesday afternoon after cross country. No specialist running shoes back in those days: pumps probably. I could barely walk: massive calf tension. Those problems have stayed with me for nigh on fifty years. But they didn’t stop me running 10K’s in 31 minutes and half marathons in 71 minutes back in the day.

My running career petered out in the mid 90’s when the calf injuries just wouldn’t leave me alone. But what I did do, to at least keep me going as an erstwhile jogger, was buy a mobile ultrasound machine. Okay so it’s not quite the same piece of kit that they used back at Cumbernauld, but think laptop to their desktop. This wee beastie still packs the same punch as the kit that they had back then, and at the first sign of a niggle since I’ve been on the bike, the ultrasound machine comes out.

So cue last Sunday: Jane poked about with my calf before I went out but that was just to get me out of the door. When I got home, thirty odd miles later, the machine came out. Twice: double dose. And again on Monday: before and after the bike ride. Thirty one miles. Tuesday: the same routine: thirty two miles. Wednesday: no pain: no ultrasound and everything was kind of back to normal. Same ever since.

Last Saturday was a close, close call. I could have lost a week, maybe two, and that translates immediately into five hundred miles, plus whatever you lose when you have to start again at half speed.

Let no one tell you that LCFN is a fit man’s game. It’s only a fit man’s game because you have to listen to your body at every turn, then give it a good talking to whenever it steps out of line. This one was a close call, but I got away with it. LCFN will always come first: I won’t go and play five a side (at age 64) even though I’d love to. Priorities, priorities, priorities!

But I can’t finish this week without looking forward to next…

On Tuesday, we are playing host to Gail, Callum and Cerys, albeit for a short while as they take a pit stop on their way to Blackpool. You never know guys, you might even get to sample some of my legendary Spag Bol if we can get the timing right. Jane will be working from home and Angela’s coming over too so you don’t score many bonus points for guessing how excited we all are. Also, I booked my place on the Solving Kids Cancer annual conference today: just the Saturday mind as the expense of a full weekend away is just a little too much to bear. I’m going there to listen and learn in the hope that I can turn the current research into some sort of advance screening tool in primary care: it’s like SNOMED-CT meets my passion for a cure. It’s a long shot, I know, but something tells me I’m on this journey for a reason (other than just being on the bike).

As ever, the pace quickens. It might not be supersonic (I’m far too old for that) but it is most certainly ultrasonic!

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