MUNICH MARATHON 10/10/10

At the end of April, five days after running the Hamburg Marathon I am working in a venue installing the sound system and I don't concentrate sufficiently on lifting something. It's not so heavy but I'm twisted slightly as I reach down for it and as I straighten up a sharp pain shoots through my lower back. I make an appointment with Dr Lucy Goldby at the amazing Balance Physiotherapy in Clapham, where I go for all my running injuries. She tells me I have bulged the disk between the L5 and S1 vertebrae, this is right down near the bottom of my spine. She gives me a recovery programme with series of exercises and no running to begin with. I have the classic sciatic pain running through my piriformis region and down one leg. For the next month all I do is go swimming and I finally am cleared to do my first run on June 1st, 1.79 miles up to Blackheath. I continue to be as careful as I can with a series of 15 minute runs but I still overdo it and the injury flares up again after ten days. It is back to swimming for another two weeks but a couple of days after another first 15 minute run the intense pain is back as soon as I try to run after a half hour warm up walk. This is going badly. Another bout of rest, another tentative short run and this time I can start to progress with only occasional pain. I walk twelve and a half miles around the Bewl Water reservoir in Kent and by early August I am up to seven mile runs. We go on holiday to Malta and Gozo and I have some good holiday running. By late August I am pushing the distance up on the Sunday long runs. Ten, twelve, fourteen, sixteen, eighteen, twenty! The last two are tough and the Munich Marathon is three weeks away. I am seriously undercooked but I've got there.


We travel out and we are staying in quite a formal business style hotel. The day before the marathon we go to the Olympic Park to register. The stadium was but for the 1972 Olympics but still looks amazing and futuristic with it's sculptured sail like structures forming the roof. The park is also quite arresting and nicely landscaped, there is a lake with a car marooned in the middle and a high observation tower. We head up it although climbing the stairs where necessary probably isn't the recommended pre marathon preparation. It is worth it for the view.


That evening we decide to eat in the hotel but there are quite a few other runners and the hotel isn't prepared for us. They can't keep up and the meals all arrive very late. People are getting stressed and complaining but I try to relax and let it all wash over me. We get something to eat in the end and I head off to bed.


The start is in the stadium approach roadway. A couple of runners who have run it before tell us it is quite undulating but as we progress I think it is a great course. We pass through lots of the main sights of Munich including the city centre and the beautiful English Garden. It is a classic big city marathon and the variations in gradient are never at all severe. Sometimes it is nice to have some variations in terrain to break up the relentlessness and maybe challenge some different muscles.


A tiny imperfection can magnify into something serious. I've tied one of my shoelaces a little too tight. After about ten miles I decide to address it. I don't like to break my rhythm but I stop at the side of the road, undo the the lace and retie it a bit looser. It's at the start of a slight downhill and I can see Richard's head disappearing ahead until he is out of sight. I know that the most important thing is not to try and catch him too quickly, I really work on a disciplined pace and even though I have only lost about thirty or forty seconds it takes another eight miles for me to get back to him.


Even with this gentle approach it has taken a bit of effort to get back, we run together for a bit but soon enough he pulls away again. I'm running my own race though and for the first time I don't slow down much in the second half. I am maintaining control. It is mostly along the city streets but then we turn back onto the starting roadway up to the stadium. Now I can let the iconic power of the Olympic Park and the stadium draw me in. I know I can hold it together and finally we turn into the entrance tunnel under the stands. The tunnel is amazing with lights and loud music. This is the best I've ever felt at the end of a marathon. I am smiling on the photo and as we hit the track I put the hammer down on the back straight. This isn't Mo Farah putting the hammer down on the last lap of the Olympic 5000 metres, it's me at the end of a marathon - it's a different hammer. But in relative terms, I'm almost sprinting.


Things can change so quickly. Suddenly there is a sharp stabbing pain in my calf muscle. I think I must have torn the muscle and I have to hobble for a few steps. Adrenalin takes over and I am able to pick it up around the final bend. The recovery is as surprising as the shock of the injury and I am able to maintain it to the line overtaking a few people.


I don't know what I've done but I can walk through the medal collection and pick up some food and drink. I find Richard and we are sitting on the pitch in the middle of the running track. Pete has run the half marathon which started from a different place. He finds us and tells us that we are sitting somewhere near the spot where Johann Cruyff scored an iconic goal in the 1970s.


All this time something is happening to my injured leg. It is swelling up and becoming quite painful. I am still able to walk though and finally we head back out of the stadium. I've run a nine minute PB at 3.42.34. Richard has finished in 3.39.54 which is a PB for him also.


Pete is flying back that night but the rest of us are staying over. We find a beer garden with food in between the hotel and Pete's UBahn station to the airport. It is noisy and fun and once again reminds me that there are few better feelings than the post race glow when things have gone well. I'm not a naturally talented fast runner and my times are nothing special. Every few minutes I manage to chip off my best time are hard won. I'm proud of my performance today.


When I get back to London I get my leg looked at. It turns out to be a vascular problem. I'm referred to a specialist at The London Clinic. It is related to the blood pooling in my legs a bit due to my slightly varicose veins being inefficient at clearing it back up. As well as Western medicine he is an advocate of acupuncture and treats me with this. I spend a fair amount of time over the next few weeks lying on my back with my legs propped up in the air against a wall. Some of this time I am on holiday with my mum, sister and her hubby Bruno. I am sharing a room with him and this both amuses him and convinces him of the health disadvantages of marathon running. However the problem goes away and hasn't recurred, although I do massage my legs upwards from time to time to help clear the blood vessels and lymph nodes.

Early days

Through the stadium tunnel

Finishing down the inside