Natural born runner

9th Jan 2019

Firstly, let me just point out that my reference to being a ‘Natural born runner’ is in fact me trying to be humorous! Anyone that knows me will tell you I've never ‘really’ been a runner and what I do in terms of putting one foot in front of the other at a slightly faster pace than walking is certainly not natural!
My running started on roads, progressed, if that’s the right word, some may rightly say ‘regressed’ to treadmills in gyms and at some point I got bored and stopped. Then started again, and again, and again. Then inevitably I got broken and stopped!

You could say throughout my adult life I've used running as a bit of a tool to keep my fluctuating weight ‘in check’. The last 25 years have seen me balloon to obesity at a staggering 100kgs and shrink down to as little as 60.5kg’s, neither extreme is really a thoroughly healthy option for someone of my height (5’8”) and natural build.

I wouldn't say I’ve ever really enjoyed running, hence the fact that it doesn’t come easy to me. No matter how hard or often I ran, It never seemed to get any easier and that really used to piss me off!

I can't remember exactly why I started running again after such a long hiatus, but for once I don’t think it was down to spiralling weight!
The obvious difference in my running this time was the lack of either a treadmill or ashphalt, I wasn’t running in a gym or on a road, this time I started to run trails! It seems obvious now with my track record working in the outdoors, and the fact I live on the outskirts of the Peak District (the busiest national park in the UK) but I'd never run a Trail in my life! On reflection I think my new found passion for running, the kick-starter if you will, coincided with me being asked to judge at the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival (SHAFF) I'd had to watch a whole bunch of films about running. But then I also had to watch films of Street Luge to wild swimming, bouldering to big walling and every conceivable outdoor activity in-between and I didn’t head out and start Base Jumping, so who knows? I guess the 'why' is open for debate! One film I watched in particular really did resonate with me. It was called the Western States 100 and was essentially a film about the USA’s oldest Trail running race. It was a beautifully shot film, had a wonderful storyline and like all great films, just when you thought you knew the final outcome, there was an unexpected twist that left you wondering what the hell just happened.

So, I started running trails.

I bought a copy of Trail, which ironically is a walking magazine! I'd fancied running one of the featured walks in it. A loop that started and finished in a popular Peak District spot called Edale. I think it was about 14 miles with quite a lot of climbing up and down hills.
So the following Saturday after god knows how long away from running anything, let alone a big, hilly, off-road run, on a frosty January morning, armed with said page torn from the magazine article and sporting some new prototype trail shoes kindly donated by Scarpa (a company I’ve worked with over the years) and a small backpack filled with a waterproof jacket and an extra thermal top, some flapjack, a bag of crisps and a bottle of water, off I went!
I wasn’t alone, I’d also managed to con 2 of my favourite friends into joining me. I think they both thought I was slightly mad and should have eased back into running, but then why not?

I can’t quite remember if I enjoyed it or not!

I think it’s safe to say I probably enjoyed bits of it. I do remember a bit of a wet, knee deep muddy slog in the middle somewhere, but what has stayed with me was an amazing sense of well being running along in that quiet, remote place (kinder Scout) without a care in the world. Passing just a mere handful of people along the way, running along single tracks, leapfrogging past my friends, taking it in turns to run at the front and navigate, for once it all seemed so effortless and FUN!

Back in the carpark and later still, sat in a warm cafe by a wood burning stove, that feeling of, well lets just call it contentment just intensified. I'd never felt like that after running before and it was a great feeling.

So I carried on running.

In the evening, early mornings, weekends. Anywhere with trails. Out in the Peak District, up in the Yorkshire Dales and even on dusty singletrack out in Arizona on a work trip. The distances started to get longer and for the first time ever It actually seemed to get easier!

Only just, and only for a couple of runs and then the pain started!

A slight niggling pain in the outside of my right knee. It wasn’t bad enough to stop me running, just a bit of a dull ache really. This progressed to my knee collapsing out from underneath me when I ran uphill, downhill or boulder hopped over uneven ground. Not always mind, It was quite specific, it didn’t always collapse, just sometimes, when my leg was bent at a particular angle and the length of my stride was “just so”. It got bad quite quickly and within about 6 weeks of it first manifesting itself my left knee was doing exactly the same, it was game over! I ran for fun and I wasn’t having fun anymore, it had become a chore and a painful one at that!

So, from new found enthusiasm to broken took slightly less than 6 months. Followed by several months of physio. I think three ‘specialists’ in all looked at me and none of them really managed to work out what it was. One thought it was my IT band, another said my “Glutes were'nt firing” they all gave me different exercises to do which didn't work and one very enthusiastic woman even tried to recreate the collapsing part in her clinic by getting me to bounce one legged on a trampoline, while she waited like some expectant vampire for that moment when she could pounce, only it never came, my knee was fine!

I’m stubborn, but I’m not stupid and even though I longed to carry on running, I didn’t want to do something lastingly detrimental to myself and running seemed, at least for the moment to unfortunately fit into that category!

So I just stopped and got a little depressed about the whole thing. What I loved about running was its simplicity. The uncomplicated nature of the act and the fact it takes no real training or specialist gear (for years I ran in an old pair of squash shoes) to just get outdoors and run. I missed it, I missed the freedom I felt it gave me, the speed I could get from point 'A' to point 'B' under my own steam and the places it took me. 

Fast forward 5 years to 2018.

I still haven’t had a diagnosis on my knees,  well at least not a consistent one, so I still don’t know what I have to do to cure the problem. Maybe there isn’t a cure, perhaps it’s just wear and tear, after all I've given my knees a bit of a 'beasting' over the years, lugging big heavy camera and rigging bags up and down mountains

But for some inexplicable reason, well perhaps not entirely inexplicable. Perhaps I just wanted to feel that sense of calm and wellbeing again, so I decided to just start running again after nearly 5 years and see what happened.

So I did.

By April, I think I’d worked out for myself that running 3 or 4 consecutive days wasn’t a good idea. It frustrated the hell out of me, but I guess running every other day wasn’t such a bad compromise. So I started to run round a circuit near my house, most often with my dogs. It was a cool little trail, through woods and grassy fields and started and finished with just a short distance on tarmac. I think door to door, it was no more than about 3.5 miles. Nothing groundbreaking, but at least I was running again. My knees still hurt, the shooting pain hadn’t gone, but it was manageable, I was back running, running without breaking myself!

But I wasn’t really enjoying myself, at least not just yet!

But that would come.