"This is your mission, if you choose to accept it"
So, I went out with a bang, a 40th Birthday party that ended in the early hours of the morning, with much drinking and well, more drinking!
That very next day, and with a heavy head, I took up the challenge, put on some old trainers and went out for a jog across the fields.
I stopped drinking alcohol, started eating healthy, and before I knew it some 3 months down the line, I had completed my first half marathon in 01:41:15....
4 months down the line I found myself running along the Cleveland Way in horizontal rain and pushing against gale force winds as I took on my first 26.2 mile ultra coming 14th in 04:56:34 in preparation for the BIG two day Mountain Marathon.
Day one ended after spending 5 and half hours out on the hills. I hobbled into camp and was totally shattered, a can of coke was like ambrosia. I was so hungry that the sheep in the next field looked appetising and for a split second, I wondered what on earth I was doing, and vowing never, ever, do this again!
That evening, we were informed that we were sitting 3rd overall for the day - No way! How had that happened? Suddenly all thoughts of never again, pain and exhaustion were forgotten and that buzz of,
"Hey we are actually doing ok!"
So, the next morning I hobbled out of the tent and pushed through the second day of pain and legs that didn't want to respond with my brother and managed to bag a 2nd place, a race I will never forget!
The enjoyment of Ultra Marathons didn't just stop there - for the last 2 years, I have been involved with the development of TrainAsONE - as well as being the primary Alpha Tester for the programme, which is the first new generation ,intelligent training system for the novice to the elite. TrainAsONE is your very own personal trainer that assesses your fitness, monitors every step of your training and continually adjusts your personal training plan.
2013, had been a great year of racing for me, achieving multi podium finishes and so on the back of this, confidence was high as we entered 2014 and the first race of the year – In fact the BIGGEST RACE of my career – The Spine Race
Ironically, the longest race of my life ultimately became the shortest race of my life!!!!!! - 268mile race turned into an 8 mile wonderful warm up.
Roll back to the end of the year, I'm in a great place mentally and physically and eagerly awaiting my biggest challenge yet - competing in the Spine Race - a 268 mile extreme and brutal winter ultra mountain marathon running the full length of the Pennine Way from Edale up to Kirk Yetholm in Scotland.
You can find an in depth report of this race and others on my website http://ultrahighs.weebly.com/
Now move forward to the evening of the 9th January and I'm up in Edale staying at the Peak Centre with Ben, the decision by us to go up on the Thursday was a good call and we had a restful evening chatting above the race, waking up to some great views of the hills around us. Friday morning was spent eating, packing and eating more of the rations we had and at 4pm we were ready and headed down to Registration.
Registration was a formal affair, and to anyone else outside our little bubble of ultra runners, it would have put the fear of God into them, things were getting serious now - basically, don't do this or you DIE, don't do that or you DIE, look out for this or you will DIE, remember to have FUN though!!!!! So we'll probably die but have fun trying!!!!!!!! – NICE
4am came and went and at 5am I was finally starting to fall asleep when the bloody alarm went off and it was time to get up - TYPICAL, so much for sleep - oh well wasn't going to be getting much over the next 5 days anyway!!!!
I had one strategy and that was to finish and for that to happen I needed to do it the only way I knew how, and that was to go out strong from the start, keep with the lead group and keep pushing.
Despite the lack of sleep I was feeling good and confident as I stood on the start line, I was having a good old natter with Ben as we began the race, I looked round at him and said see you at CP1 and then picked up my pace and started moving forward out of the village.
As we hit the Pennine Way, the rain was turning to sleet and then before you knew it we were in a snow storm. my first thought was EXCELLENT, this is just want I wanted, SNOW - LOVE SNOW - and I was so happy in my own world, concentrating on the path and moving up forward as fast as I could.
Going up Kinder Scout was great, I was feeling strong and enjoying the climb up and taking over fellow runners, until I was comfortable sitting second in a small lead group.
I had another runner behind me breathing down my neck (Pavel, who later went on to win the race in a massive 4 days and 14 hours - absolutely awesome achievement) but was happy and following the lead.
DNF - No way, I've never experienced that and I wasn't going to today, it's not going to happen to me!!!!!!!!!!
I was in my biggest adventure, totally enjoying it, at the front surrounded by some awesome runners, I had the fitness, I had the kit and more importantly I knew I had the mental strength to take this course on, WHEN, in a split second my utopia collapsed around me.
Coming down hill at a steady pace just before Snake Pass, my left foot placed onto the flagstone, slipped straight off the side into the bog and I twisted my knee, I felt a grating noise and my knee popped out the medial meniscus.
NO F**CKING WAY!!!!!!
was screamed out (would have caused an avalanche if there had been more snow) and that was it, two seconds later I was hopping around screaming.
I tried and I mean I really tried to get going again, I tried with all my effort to pop the cartilage back in but it just wouldn't.
The front runners came past me asking if I was alright and all I could think of and say to them, was yep, I'll get it popped back in and I'll catch up with you, keep going guys.
I was in total denial, I was going to pop it back in and continue running an extremely tough course, what was I thinking?!!!!!
But when you have spent so many hours training and planning and you have it in your head that you WANT and WILL get a top finish then you just do want you must do.
DNF - No way, I've never experienced that and I wasn't going to today, it's not going to happen to me!!!!!!!!!!
I was asked on several occasions if I wanted a stretcher, but NO WAY, getting on a stretcher would mean accepting that I was out of the race.
I got down to the race marshals who were down at the roadside, they looked at me and said you're finished, again, NO WAY, give me 10 minutes to get my knee popped back in and let me see about continuing.
True to their word they gave me the 10 minutes while mountain rescue & I tried in vain to pop my knee back in.
After 10 minutes that was it, GAME OVER with the words -
"So sorry Paul, you're off the course.."
My world left me and I lay there in total devastation.
The wave of feelings flooded over me, I felt I had let everyone down, my close family for all the time spent away from them training, my sponsors for all the help they had given me, Ben, not being able to share with him this adventure and all my friends and everyone on twitter and facebook out there watching me.
I sat in the mountain rescue ambulance, I phoned Jenny up and that was it, I couldn't contain myself, I started sobbing my heart out, I was absolutely distraught......
I got it into my head that I was going to have some down time. I had another race which was booked last year - SDW50 which is at the beginning April, so this has become my end goal, which set up the short term goals.
My initial goal was to make sure that within 2 weeks post race I would see the knee consultant, have an MRI and have the operation. This was achieved.
The initial view was that I had a rather nasty bucket handle tear in my medial meniscus, which was stopping my knee from being able to go straight.
The operation happened on 27th January and on coming around, I was informed that the operation had been a bit tricky and instead of a 25 minutes procedure, it went on for 70 minutes.
Apparently the tear in the Medial Meniscus had been a bit of a hum dinger and had really got well and truly wedged into the knee joint. But, the main thing I wanted to hear was –
“The knee’s in remarkable good condition considering the miles it’s been through, you’ll be back racing again as long as you make sure that you take recovery easy and strengthen up the muscles around the knee” – NICE was my first thought.
That left me with 6 weeks of recovery, so I set out my goals:
- 1st week – Nice and easy on crutches with light strengthen work on the quads and hamstring muscles and into see physio.
- 2nd week – Nice and easy, physio, moving off crutches as soon as possible, loads of light strengthening work and oh yes to re-start my stretching, core & upper body workouts as well as getting into the gym. Hoping to be allowed to start static bike.
- 3rd week – As week 2, but starting to push harder, with as above and looking to be on the cross trainer by the end of the week.
- 4th week – As week 3, but concentrating of more leg strength and increasing the time on bike and cross trainer.
- 5th week – Strength work BUT making sure I get to run!!!!
- 6th week – As week 5 but starting to ease back into running so that I make the new Trail Ferret weekend running endurance camp on 14th March down in North Devon.
Well, I did more than that, in fact the next day I went down the gym for 2 hours and pushed out 40 minutes on the bike. You see I’m a pusher and I cannot hold back, the knee was feeling good so I pushed it.
Today is Sunday and I’m feeling good. I went back down the gym this morning for another 90 minutes and pushed out another 40 minutes on the bike with greater resistance than yesterday.
In addition to the above I restarted doing core & upper body workouts every morning since the beginning of the week which is helping big time and I’m already starting to feel my core strength coming back.
So, I’m now starting week 3 and I now have my sights on making sure that I get on the cross trainer at the end of this week, so plenty of core and gym work on a daily basis to strengthen up the knee muscles and to start the cardio base build.
I also started looking into alternative aids to assist recovery. Every time I’m at the Physiotherapist's, she’s always putting me on her EMS (Electronic Muscle Stimulator) machine, so I looked into the effects of these and now I’ve acquired one.
It’s a great machine that has multi programmes to assist in recovery / rehabilitation, as well as strengthening, toning and endurance programmes, so I now find myself wired up twice daily for 30 minutes to assist in the re-building of the quads around the knee. This little machine is really helping.
I’m now strictly following my short term goals and as long as all goes to plan I’ll be on the start line on 5th April for the SDW50.
As to whether I will be pushing hard in the race or using it as a training run for later races, I cannot tell.
We will just have to wait and see – I’ll know at 9.00 am on the 5th when the starter goes!! J