Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The egregious case notes of London cyclists

Er, title means what?

Well, there's three main threads to this week's post, and I decided to combine them in the title so that I don't forget them....

Egregious won't take long....it seems to be le mot de choix at the moment, that's all. I think someone at the Leveson Inquiry used it a few weeks ago, and there seems to have been a rash of public figures using it since then. I haven't heard it at work yet though, but that's possibly not surprising - one of the benefits of the new job is that I seem to have moved into a largely jargon-free zone. That's what happens when the people you work with both have brains and are allowed to use them.

Case notes - I'm begging your indulgence again with this one, but I got my X-ray results last week. Mixed news. Pleasingly, there doesn't seem to be anything too dramatic wrong with the back, at least in the sense there's no immediate need to consider surgery; the sciatica seems to be calming down nicely. A slightly revised diet, exercises to open up the sciatic nerve, and a better posture at work seem to be combining to produce gradual improvement. The hip, however, is different. There's evidence apparently of cartilage damage caused by the ball and socket not rubbing together properly. It's a condition known as femoroacetabular impingement. The physio puts it down to the volume of sport I've done over the years. It's quite common, it's associated with low back pain too, but it's treatable. I'm seeing the physio again on 22nd June to decide where we go from here. In the meantime the advice remains the same; moderate running, minimal cycling.

London cyclists - I spent quite a lot of time in central London last week, and the weather was so glorious I decided to walk between Euston and Aldwych, both ways on two separate days. It gave me a good opportunity to look at lots of things you certainly don't see if you're Underground, and not that likely to see from a bus, but the thing that occupied me the most was the cycling. It's insane! I think of myself as a pretty confident cyclist, but I think I'd hesitate before cycling regularly in London. It's not the motorised vehicles, though they can be a bit unpredictable; I'm used to that. It's the other cyclists - I could go on, but I won't. I'll just say that what did amuse was the fact that cycling seems like a drag race from one set of traffic lights to the next, but with the added complications of a) you don't have to go in a straight line - in fact weaving about is de rigeur, and b) you're never too sure whether your competitors are actually going to stop at the next red light. Did you know that in London 16 cyclists died on the roads in 2011, whilst in Paris the figure was zero? I think that's what's know as statistically significant, and if I were Boris I think I'd be having a look at what I could do about it, as I don't believe that Londoners are either significantly worse bike riders or car drivers than Parisians.

Off to France for 4 days over the long weekend with wife and t'youngest, so next post will probably be mid-week next week. A bientot.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

White Peak (Matlock) Half Marathon

This is the half version of the full marathon I did last year. It's such a nice course, and t'eldest had shown a bit of interest in running recently, that we decided in January to do the half marathon together, give her something to aim at and all that. I've been a really good dad, not interfering in her training, not getting on her case about the number of runs she's been doing (or, ahem, not).

And so the day dawned, and it dawned darned cold and wet. The wet let up on the drive across to Matlock, but dear Lord, the temperature - admittedly it was the Cat & Fiddle road we had to drive up to get across to Derbyshire, but 3c??!! In May? It was only 6c when we parked up, registered and stripped off. When can I move to the south of France? Ah yes, when the € has collapsed and I can buy a shack in the hills behind Nice for the price of ripe Brie. 

Back in the real world we took the coach to the start in the middle of somewhere along the High Peak Trail, and a couple of minutes past 11 we were off, down a puddle-strewn gravel and cinder path. In the clouds. Brrrr. But then, disaster!! Within half a mile of the start, Georgina disappeared from my side. I stopped, went back; she was stopped, stretching her right leg. Cramp she reckoned. Not a chance, said I, this soon in. I forced painkillers, gels and water down here, but things didn't improve. She was managing to jog about 400 metres, before she had to walk for 150 or so, which seemed to ease the pain enough for her to run the next 400. This was not rapid progress. We carried on in this vein for the first 3 miles, which took 40 minutes.

By then, we were stressing each other out. Her to me, because I loathe and detest changes of pace, and the walking was driving me nuts. I was prepared to run slowly, but not to walk, and even stop at times. Me to her, partly because she could sense my frustration, and partly out of guilt. After those 3 miles, we established that first, she'd finish, even if it took her 3 hours, and second, it was going to be better for both of us if we went our separate ways. We were rank last in the field at this point.

But I was seized by a mighty anger, and as I left her the mountains of frustration came pouring out. All of a sudden, I was Lance Armstrong in the 2003 Tour de France on the way to stage victory after being brought down by a spectator. Er, perhaps not, I didn't win my race. But I did run the 10 a bit miles to the finish in 1 hour 12 minutes, spectacularly fast my my standards. I tore through the field, not bothering to eat or drink anything. Crazy. I crossed the line in 1 hour 50 minutes, pretty respectable, but what could it have been but for those first 3 miles? 1 hour 35 perhaps, who knows. It might have been crazy, but it was a lot of fun - nothing hurt for the first time in ages, but that could just have been the masking effects of adrenalin.

After collecting my fabulous commemorative mug (mustard yellow being this year's colour of choice), popping on a fleece and collecting a camera, I decided to hike back up the route to meet George. Truth be told, I was expecting it to be a fairly long hike, but bless her, less than a mile back up the route there she was. I jogged back with her, accelerating only to get to the finish line in time to get some decent photos. Given that she a) had her thigh pain, b) had a stinking cold, and c) it's her (squeamish look away know) lady's time, and d) was her first half marathon, getting in under the 2 hr 30 mark was good going. She already wants to do it again next year. Which is a pity, because it'll be about the same time her Finals will be starting at Bath Uni. 

So, today wasn't quite as I intended. I'd sworn we'd stay together (certain readers will be sighing in resignation; "yes, yes, you always say that"). I'd thought that one of my ailments would cause pain. (They may yet; a 35 minute session on the bike trainer on Thursday made the hip feel quite spiky and uncomfortable for 24 hours after). But it was still a blast. There's something about an event, sharing an endeavour with other folk, that just makes it better, somehow. I'd love to say it's the comradeship, the sense of overcoming a challenge together, or perhaps seeing others battle the odds (a 79 year old, a guy who had open heart surgery 6 months ago). But it's not - it's the mustard yellow mug. The one that says: "I did that".

Friday, 11 May 2012

Dr Finlay's Casebook

This blog is rapidly becoming a journal of my medical travails rather than anything that approximates to a record of sporting pursuit, but if that's the only subject matter I've got to work with, what can I do?

Have had a very sobering visit to my physio. He prodded, manipulated, questioned and listened, just like he usually does so well, and came to these conclusions and bits of advice:

- there are probably two problems in my right leg, the sciatica and a hip issue
- the sciatica is probably caused by a herniated disk, which isn't clearing up, so I need to have an MRI scan on that to decide the best treatment
- the hip issue could be 'impingement' - there's naturally a fancy medical name for it that I can't remember, but basically it's the growth of spurs of bone on the hip. I need to have an X-ray on that, so I'm armed with a letter and I'm off to Macclesfield General Radiology dept in the morning to wait my turn to have a picture taken of my middle regions
- the back issue is probably caused by years of bad posture (which we already knew), whereas..
- the hip issue is probably caused by wear and tear, particularly the fact I did so much sport as a kid
- I shouldn't cycle other than just leg spinning
- I can run, but not on consecutive days, not if it hurts, and not too far
- I have less than half my usual power in my right leg, and I've got to monitor that
- the sciatic nerve issue is hindering rest and recuperation all over the body, so I need to sleep more than usual. (This would help explain the tiredness I've been feeling since last autumn).

Apart from all that, I'm ready to compete in the Olympics.  There are a lot of 'probably's in everything the physio said - he can't be certain, which is why I'm on to the next stages of diagnosis. Since 2003 I've been able to mark every year down as "the year I did the Etape, rode Lands End-John O'Groats, ran my first marathon" and so on - it's looking like 2012 is going to be "the year I did sod all", but also I hope "the year I got some stuff sorted out".

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't slightly miserable about all this. It's the open-ended nature of it I think. However, on the positive side and not being self-centred for a moment, I have a child (Liv) who's doing the classic Ten Tors challenge on Dartmoor this weekend, and a friend (Rachel) doing a skydive. I'm very jealous of both, and intensely proud of Liv - she's trained for months, not only in the physical side of things, but also the navigation and route-plotting skills needed. Chapeau et courage mademoiselle.  Even the weather's looking pretty favourable. Though out on those moors, I doubt it'll be quite so congenial.

Sitting here writing this, I've realised I've got a role model for the next few weeks - Ledley King of course. The man never trains because of his "dodgy knees" (I've never quite understood the medical niceties of Ledley's knees' "dodginess"), but still manages to put in sterling performances (for the most part) at the heart of the Tottenham defence. There we go; I can be the inverse of God during his creative phase, I can sit on my ar$e for 6 days a week, and run half-marathons like my trousers are on fire on the seventh day. Praise be.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Philosophical, or supine?

A few weeks ago I drove from Macclesfield to the Wirral to look at a car I was keen on buying, picking my stepfather up along the way, on the basis that two sets of eyes are better than one when spending a few grand of your own money with one of those charlatans known as second-hand car dealers. It took the best part of 90 minutes to get there, and when we arrived, said vehicle was standing out the front, all shiny and lovely, with all the bits I wanted, and at a very reasonable price.

However, as I went into the showroom to meet the shifty scouser of a salesman, he met me at the door and announced that the car was in fact, sold. This was 11.30 am on a Saturday morning, and I'd specifically called at 5 pm on the Friday night to ensure that the thing was available. It seems that someone from south Wales had liked the look of the thing so much he'd put a substantial deposit down over the phone. I was, shall we say, quite cross initially, an emotion which subsided into a general air of hacked-offness within half an hour or so.  During that half hour I sat in quite a nice pub overlooking the Wirral and part of north Wales with said stepfather, who very kindly bought us both some surprisingly fine coffee, and who consoled me with words along the lines of "these things are meant to be, don't worry about it, something just as good will come up". At the time I appreciated the sentiment, but didn't believe it. But lo! A few days later I thought I'd get a price from the lease firm who ran the company car I was driving at the time for its purchase, what with me leaving the employer who furnished me with vehicle. It turned out to be very reasonable indeed, much more reasonable than I'd dared hope, with the result that I'm now the owner and driver of the car that I didn't want to give back in the first place. So, Jim (stepfather), maybe he was right?

The point of that story is that my incapacity is coming and going at the moment, and I'm trying to stay philosophical about it. Yesterday, for example, I ran just under 14 miles. Today, I can't run 14 steps. Some would say the two facts might be linked, and they might be right. However, I didn't feel enfeebled at 7 am this morning, when I awoke to unexpected sunshine, and I resolved to do a gentle run. The cat was howling for food as it usually is at the time of day, so I went downstairs to feed her before getting changed into my running gear. As I walked in the kitchen I heard one of those dispiriting noises that usually means something's gone horribly wrong. This particular one was "psssssssssssssss". It turned out to be a split hose to the cold tap at the kitchen sink, and as a consequence the cupboard under the sink was in several centimetres of water, everything in there was ruined, and the kitchen floorboards were beginning to soak up the excess. "Yes!", I cried, "I can think of no finer start to my bank holiday". So all thoughts of a run were banished as I set to turning water off, soaking up the mess, diagnosing the problem, removing the offending item, and beginning the Great British Bank Holiday Tour of DIY shops to find the right part. (None had it; I'm off to Plumb Center [sic] first thing tomorrow).

And yet......philosophical bit....maybe I'd have buggered my leg up properly if I had gone for a run......and also, would it have been better to have discovered the problem on a working day? Clearly not. Which leads me on to think that this problem I've got at the moment - yes, it's a darned nuisance, and yes, it's stopping me doing some things I'd like to do (should have run Shakespeare Marathon last weekend), but maybe it's meant to be. I've had seven years of training hard and doing challenging events, and perhaps this is just an enforced breather. Who knows? Maybe I should even do no exercise whatsoever in an attempt to get the thing right. I'd buy that if it weren't for the fact that the problem's been caused more by driving a desk than a bicycle.

The risk with being philosophical of course is that you accept everything life throws at you, and instead of fighting back where you can, you turn into a supine bundle of patheticness. I don't think I'm at that stage yet, and I'm certainly going to be pressing for some more investigation into my problem at my next appointment on Friday. (Look away now if talk of bodily functions upsets you: the old sciatic nerve can affect one's plumbing, and regrettably I seem to have reached that stage - standing up egress-based activity is occurring more often than average, whilst seated egression is at its usual frequency, but the parcels being delivered are larger than usual, placing some strain on the transportation system, and more specifically the actual point of exit. If you know what I mean).

Looking back, there hasn't been enough scatological discussion on this blog over the months, so I'm going to take my leave now, knowing I've gone some way to putting that right. If it's upset you, I apologise, but in line with my mood I shall be philosophical about your distress.

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