I can clearly remember my first “training” run, when I managed about four hundred yards before my chest started burning, and I started to wheeze like an octogenarian smoker. It was embarrassing; even the blue-rinsers dashing for the bingo could comfortably outpace me.
But I persevered. I got fitter and stronger, and come the day I completed the 1993 Great North Run in 2 hours 23 minutes. Not earth-shattering – in fact I nearly got lapped by some Kenyan bloke (an impressive feat given the course simply runs from Newcastle to South Shields) – but something I was proud to have worked for and achieved.
I went on to complete another four half marathons; the last in 2005. By this time, running wasn’t just difficult, it was bloody painful, and a couple of years later I was diagnosed with FAI (you can look up the full name), a condition that involves badly worn and misaligned hip joints.
Which therefore explains my QE2 turning circle in the cricket outfield!
I was instructed to stop playing cricket (some would say I never actually started), badminton as well as running, as basically my hips were deteriorating to the extent that I’d need both replacing within a couple of years if I carried on. Not surprisingly I did as I was told, although it was incredibly tough realising that I would never again be smashed out of a cricket ground, stand by and watch a shuttlecock whizzing past my racket, or have a foot race with the Bingo brigade again.
I know I am only delaying the inevitable, but nearly seven years on, my hips are relatively stable, although I do get a fair amount of pain referred through my knees (especially – and bizarrely – when going downstairs).
So it was with some trepidation that I stepped out onto the running track at Gateshead International Stadium yesterday afternoon. We have an exercise bike that I use reasonably regularly, but I’d not tried to run any kind of distance in a long, long time; so much as two miles doesn’t sound very far, I knew that every step could be the one when one (or more) joint gave out and the challenge would be over.
I did some stretches, walked half a lap and jogged a few yards to see if the old magic was still there.
For about three hundred yards!!
In fairness, my legs and hips lasted better than I expected; it was very much shades of ’92 and the breathlessness that comes from being totally unfit. It was baking hot too, which didn’t help, but I made sure I was sensible, drinking and pouring water over my head at regular intervals.
The last time I’d run on this track, I was training for the 2005 run – and did twenty laps in 42 minutes. I’ve heard it said that the Stadium is a “fast track” – well that certainly doesn’t apply to the lane I was in! I deliberately didn’t time yesterday’s effort, but those eight laps felt like they took every bit as long! There were no adoring crowds to cheer me across the finishing line, but equally there were no shouts of: “Just shove him out of the way Beryl; the number 24’s coming and it’s ‘eyes down’ in twenty minutes”.
This may not have looked much of a challenge on paper - trust me it was. But I did it, and that’s all that matters. Twenty-eight down; twelve to go – I’m aching, but chuffed!