The lesson has been hard and I hope I have properly learned it. Although not yet completely recovered, I’m able to run again and was able to do the Crystal Palace sprint tri, albeit a bit slowly on the run.
My mistake was over-training, mainly by thinking I could go it alone because of the vast amount of free, online resources available. I did the Dorney duathlon on top of a 16-week run training plan, that only in retrospect did I understand was really designed for a 25-year-old man, not a 63-year-old woman. It really was too much for my poor legs. That last 5k at Dorney was actually excruciating and I probably should not have done it.
Finally accepting that injury had been incurred, and driven to seek help from an amazing physio, Get Strong in Kew, I came to appreciate my good fortune. It was not arthritis, that my late mother suffered badly from, or even torn ligaments. It seemed that numerous of that complex network of muscles below the hip had gone down like nine-pins, one after the other. They have needed time to repair.
There were simple things I could do to address the cause. The air pressure in my tyres at Dorney for the 40k was way too low and it felt like wading through treacle. This definitely contributed to the damaging strain. Decent air pressure at Crystal Palace made all the difference.
But more fundamentally, it was time to look at strength and conditioning. It seems that the body of an older woman, probably an older man as well, simply cannot adapt so quickly to ramping up on an intense training programme to the same degree as that of a young person. Overdoing it can actually make you weaker, not stronger.
Having an addictive personality is a help in many ways when coping with life’s challenges. It supplies drive, puts the pulse into compulsion. But it becomes less of a good thing when a person is driven to the point of damage, of self-harm. This characteristic has been something of a feature of my life so far. I was lucky to be able to give up, with help, my compulsive drinking of alcohol in May 1985 and have remained continuously sober, one day at a time, ever since. Compulsive eating of unhealthy foods helped land me, critically-ill, in hospital for a month in 2019, just before the pandemic. Compulsively working to the point of almost destroying any worthwhile life outside the office was not entirely a bad thing – it helped forge a good career in journalism – but I do look back sometimes and wonder if there might have been another way that was a bit less stressful.
So there are definitely some mistakes made in the past that I don’t want to make again if further injury or other health problems are to be avoided. To this end, I’ve taken the decision to get a real human being as a coach.
James Riley is the men’s captain of my running club, Ranelagh, who has set up his own coaching business, RunUnbound. James was a guest on the latest RunAlive podcast, hosted by Ed Perry and Gary Armstrong.
Like my own ambition to do tri, his decision to leave his corporate existence in the City to run his own coaching business was born out of a deep desire to change his life at a fundamental level. ‘Bravery is not not feeling scared. Bravery is feeling scared and doing it anyway,’ he says in the podcast.
I am now into week three of the bespoke plan I’ve been given and the emphasis, working also with my physio Claire, so far is on recovery, rest and strength and conditioning. Crystal Palace went fairly well but I did take it easy, for fear of further injury. I know that, health permitting, I can do so much better.
Getting injured has cost me a few opportunities including one that was potentially pretty huge. But there is no point regretting this, I must just learn the lessons. Ambitions to do an Ironman have been postponed to next year, which actually is a pretty big relief, although a 70.3 might be possible this year if all continues to improve.
But the main change has been in my state of mind. Besides Ranelagh, I’ve joined Ful-on Tri who train in a lot of the spaces local to where we live. The club was out in force at Crystal Palace and it was just the most fantastic fun. Likewise, it has been an unexpected joy to be part of a club running, with Ranelagh, the local mob matches and doing the cross-country season through the winter. I never expected to meet and make so many new friends through sport. It has all changed so much from when I dipped my toes in these waters before, back in the 1980s. Or perhaps I just wasn’t able to see what was there, the lovely people involved in this world.
Yes, of course I still want to do well. In age-group, even winning is still an option, although there are some extremely fast women in their sixties out there. That drive to succeed will never leave me. But a new ‘ambition’ is emerging – that of being a friend, of being supportive to others, and of helping both other older people like me who are getting back into sport, or younger people as well just starting out. I’m loving the opportunity to lead running groups at Ranelagh, for example, through the British Athletics Leadership in Running and Fitness Programme.
So besides being a rather late-comer supporter of the Bees, this is another reason why I’m doing RideLondon this weekend for Brentford Football Club Community Sports Trust – to give something back when I’ve been given so much. Read a little more of that story here, and if you feel inclined, donate here to support the trust.