Wednesday, 27 April 2016

I won't do what you tell me...

#oneinamillion

Last Sunday, along with around 39,000 other people, I ran the London Marathon. 26.2 miles is a distance that demands respect and requires months of mental and physical preparation. Every single person who finishes a marathon has achieved something extraordinary.

I’m not like other runners. I have multiple sclerosis and I have lost 15% of the muscle on the left-hand side of my body and much of the flexibility in my left ankle. When I run, this weakness puts pressure through my knee and my hip; the left side of my body drops as I get tired; I begin to scuff my foot as I take a stride, sometimes resulting in falls. To combat this, and to keep running, I wear an ankle cuff with an elastic tether that hooks into my shoe to try to prevent my foot dropping. I certainly have fewer tumbles when I wear it, but the cuff scars my ankle as I run and the transferred pressure onto my foot often leaves me with pressure sores and blisters. A widespread loss of sensation across my body means that I can’t feel my feet and suffer from a dislocating numbness in the muscles of my thighs. I run with a distinct lurch as my body tries to protect my weaker side and I have to grit my teeth to fight off a fatigue that goes beyond tired muscles; I wake up in the night as the muscles in my legs spasm and cramp.

Frankly, it’s amazing that I can run at all, never mind finish a marathon. Why do I do it? Because every run I complete is sticking two fingers up to this horrible condition; proof that I might have a progressive neurological condition with no cure, but that I haven’t let it beat me.

I’m not dead yet.

I’m not a fool and I know what this disease can do. I’ve been in enough MS clinics to see the walking sticks and the wheelchairs and to know that I’ve been distinctly lucky so far. To many people with MS, a marathon is an impossibility. To some, it’s a triumph just to get out of the house. Together with my wife, I’ve raised nearly £12,500 for the MS Trust this year. That’s a humbling amount of money that will make a massive difference to the lives of people affected by MS. As well as running this marathon for myself, I run for them.

Take that, multiple sclerosis.

Thanks for being part of our journey at the 2016 Virgin London Marathon.

You can still sponsor us here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/TCMS

Friday, 22 April 2016

here we go again...

When I was asked to be one of the official bloggers for the London Marathon, part of the deal was that I submitted four or five posts in return for the free stuff they were going to send me.  Fine, although to be honest, I would have done it for nothing.  They don't seem to be very organised though: they were slow to get started and took ages to get posts up after they were submitted.  Not the end of the world, but a bit annoying.  After a long delay between the posting of my first and second posts, we agreed that I would submit a post for the week before the marathon, and one just after.  Well, a week after submitting my penultimate post, it still isn't up.  Well, bugger them.  I'm putting it up here because it's really to be read before the run.

So here it is:

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With less than a week to go before the big day and as the taper kicks in, my mileage is coming right down to make sure that my legs are fresh and ready for the challenge ahead of them. But you know what? Tapering is hard! Daft though it sounds, after months of slogging through ever-increasing distances, stepping that distance down is surprisingly difficult. There’s a fairly large part of me that feels vaguely guilty that my last ‘long’ run will be no more than 6 miles. After all, it was only a couple of weeks ago that I was running 22 miles; it barely seems worth getting changed into my running kit for something as short as a measly 6 miles. And yet…at the same time, those 6 miles seem disproportionately difficult, with every muscle feeling heavy and every step along the way little more than a sluggish plod. If it’s this hard now, how on earth am I going to find the energy to run 26.2 miles on Sunday?

You’d imagine that running was mostly about how much strength you have in your legs, but the simple truth is that it’s at least as much about mental strength. As the novelist and keen amateur marathon runner Haruki Murakami astutely observed, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional”. It doesn’t matter who you are or how hard you’ve trained, at some point during a marathon, you’re going to hit some sticky patches and you need to be prepared. What gets you through those difficult moments is your determination not to stop, to keep going no matter what. Did you see Eddie Izzard running 27 marathons in 27 days? It was an extraordinary undertaking from start to finish, but watching the documentary, the thing that struck me the most was Eddie’s steely focus on putting one foot in front of the other, however much it hurt and however much he wanted to stop. I’m only running the one marathon, but the mental approach is the same.

My motivation to keep going when the going gets tough? I’m humbled by the generosity of the friends, acquaintances and total strangers who have helped us raise money for a cause that is close to my heart. We raised £7,200 for the MS Trust in last year’s race, and when you factor in gift aid and suchlike, this year we’ve already raised more than £10,000. We've been lucky to have the support of Virtual Runner, but what's really floored me is the generosity of those people who sponsor us, or who buy a raffle ticket for the chance of a rubbish prize or who put their names down for a finishing time in my sweepstake that they know I haven’t got a chance of making. The MS Trust is a fine charity and I'm proud to be raising money for them, but the reason I keep putting one foot in front of the other is because of the faith people like you are putting in me. Thank you.

Of course, you can still sponsor us!
http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/TCMS

See you on the other side!

-

So, there it is.  I imagine that it will go up on the London Marathon site at some point, but it seemed a shame to waste it.  Consider it an exclusive preview.

All that remains now is to run the bloody thing.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

straight for your heart...

So, with that very gentle 2-miler, and after around 500 miles of training since Christmas, that's marathon training done!  There's now just the small matter of the 26.2 miles from Blackheath Common to the Mall on Sunday to go now....

Around £11,200 raised too, which should help keep me going along the way.  And look what arrived in the post today too.....


I guess there's more than one licensed guide runner in Nottingham now, so Pete is going to have to come up with a new brag.  I'm sure he'll think of something.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

do it anyway...

Someone asked me the other day what my preferred weather would be for the marathon.

Hmm. Probably sunny but cool, but the honest answer is that it really doesn't matter. If training over winter has taught me anything, it's that you get the weather you get. If you have a 10 week midweek run in the training programme and it's dark and throwing it down with rain, then you still go out and do the run, don't you? I do, anyway.

If there's one thing about Sunday that I can't control, it's the weather... so it seems like a waste of energy worrying about it.

That said, this is ridiculous:


I guess I'll be packing a woolly hat and gloves that I don't mind throwing away, then.

Maranoia (n.): Fear of something going wrong (illness, injury, etc.) in the weeks before a marathon.

We've passed £10,000 in our fundraising, by the way.  Thanks for all your support and there's still time to donate!

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/TCMS

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

sing, sing, sing...

Sunday was the climax to the Spring season at choir, with a big concert at the Lincoln Performing Arts Centre.  The choir actually did two performances on the day, but I only sang in the matinee because I'm currently mindful of how much energy I'm expending in the build-up to Sunday's little run.

It's all about the bass....
The concert went really well, and we played to a packed auditorium, but it's been a bit of a bumpy season: I was initially quite keen to sing a solo, but for various reasons, decided not to go ahead with it... and with hindsight, I'm really glad I didn't.  It's not that I don't think I'm capable of singing to the standard required, it's just that I think I'd underestimated how much of my mental and physical resources training for the marathon would take this year.  Much more than last year, anyway. 

I've really enjoyed singing with the choir over the last year or so, and part of that enjoyment comes from the fact that you have to put in a fair bit of effort to learn your part well enough to be able to sing it without your book.  It's easy enough to turn up to rehearsal each week and sing, but to take it up to the next level, you need to be able to take your nose out of the book and commit to following the prompts of the musical director.  To do that, I find that I have to spend an awful lot of time listening to the rehearsal tracks of my part, downloaded onto my iPod.  If you listen to that enough, you start to learn your part, which is especially important if your part doesn't follow the tune, which is usually the case as a bass.  It really needs to be second nature.. which is actually pretty hard, especially if you know the song you're learning.

This season's songs included several that I thought I knew really well.  Probably the hardest was "The Sound of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkel, which is a great song but I had to work to actually learn the lyrics and to learn which bits I'm not supposed to be singing.  Even a song as seemingly simple as "Here Comes The Sun" turns out to be a bit of a nightmare of changing time signatures, requiring concentration to get right.

The net result of all this is that I basically listen to nothing by my rehearsal tracks for weeks.  This means that one of the greatest joys of finishing a season is that I get to listen to something else!  Since last Sunday, I've worked my way through some Muse, some Guns n"Roses, AC/DC, Soundgarden, a bit of Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Beastie Boys....

...the bad news is that the new choir season starts in exactly a week's time.  The rehearsal tracks are actually already available to download, but I'm just nowhere near ready to make that sort of commitment quite yet.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

parklife...

The London Marathon have published my second blog post.  Given the news today, it's turned out to be rather topical....it's about parkrun.

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It’s a marathon, not a sprint. How many times in your life have you heard that expression? It’s only when you start training for a marathon that you leave metaphor behind and develop a rather more literal appreciation of what that phrase really means.

I’m sure that nearly everyone understands that a marathon is 26.2 miles long (or at least that it’s a really long way to run)… but it’s only when you train for one that you begin to understand that the run itself is really the easy part: those 26 miles are the last steps of a journey that has seen you spend hours and hours of your life running literally hundreds of miles through the cold and dark of winter.

Actually, funnily enough, even though marathon training is about the steady accumulation of miles, it’s the shortest runs in my training programme that have provided me with the most inspiration. Every Saturday morning, I attend my local parkrun at Colwick Park in Nottingham. Parkrun is a free, timed weekly 5km run that is open to everyone and takes place every Saturday morning in locations all over the world. What I love about it is how inclusive it is: the first finisher (parkrun doesn’t have a winner) might be running the course in 15 minutes, but there will be other people who take closer to an hour to cover the same distance but absolutely everyone is welcomed into the parkrun community.

I’ve met so many extraordinary and inspiring people at parkrun that I find my goodwill levels topped up every week. There are brilliant runners here who happily give up their own time to help other people by volunteering to help make the event happen. I’ve discovered that life is great in the volunteer’s high viz: waving runners in the right direction, manning the stopwatch or scanning people in at the finish… any role is a joy, even in the freezing rain. Whisper it quietly, but marathon training or not, I’ve maybe started to enjoy volunteering more on a Saturday morning than I do running... well, rest is an important part of any training programme, right?

It’s at parkrun too that I first got the opportunity to do some guide running with a visually impaired runner. How can you fail to be inspired and humbled by someone like that? My legs might be aching from a really long training run, but Terry can’t see and he still puts his trainers on most weeks and enjoys a run around the park. Sometimes he falls over, but he always picks himself back up, dusts himself off and keeps on running. It certainly puts all my problems into perspective, anyway.

Running can seem like a solitary sport, especially when you’re at the back end of a 22-mile training run and not a single person has offered you so much as a jelly baby. At parkrun, I’ve discovered a community that stretches well beyond a Saturday morning and it’s definitely changed my life for the better.

--

SuperKev from the Colwick core team posted this on Facebook today, and I really can't say anything more powerful than this, so I'll just leave it here:

"I met the most remarkable man at parkrun. Actually I've met lots of remarkable people there to be honest but this man stands out for me. He is visually impaired and he hadn't exercised for many years. This despite being an exceptional athlete before his health deteriorated. He has now along with various volunteer guides completed 100+ parkruns and is fitter and healthier than he has been for many, many years. But that's not all!...shortly after meeting a couple of us invited our new friend to join us at the pub. After an enjoyable evening chatting about all the things blokes chat about when at the pub he thanked us and told us that he hadn't been to a pub with his mates for over 10 years. He had effectively been a prisoner in his own home reliant on his wife to look after him. Not anymore...Now he is independent and will jump at the chance to take on new opportunities. I'm so proud of Terry and what he has achieved and I'm privileged to have him as a friend. I defy anyone to tell me that this volunteer lead organisation isn't changing lives for the better and that keeping it free for all isn't the way it should forever remain!"


parkrun is so much more than just a run in a park.

Monday, 11 April 2016

....and every day I've got to fight the Plague

My wife woke up on Thursday morning with a horrible sore throat.  This has developed over the last few days and has been making her feel thoroughly rotten.  She was even forced to take the drastic step - for her - of taking a sick day on Friday... although, even then, I can't help but notice that she was working from her sickbed.  But even so, she's not been feeling very well.

Is it bad that I've enforced a six foot exclusion zone between us?

I don't want to sound unsympathetic, and I hate to play this card, but I'm immune-compromised.  I inject myself with immuno-suppressants every week.   I've had two colds already this spring, and I'm still on a steroid inhaler in an attempt to shake-off a cough that has lasted about two months so far. Once I get an infection, it just seems to drag on.  The irony is that, before I was diagnosed with MS and started injecting myself with this stuff, I almost never got colds.  I thought this was because I was fit and ate a lot of fruit.  It turns out that it was probably because of my hyperactive immune system.  So hyperactive, in fact, that it needs to be dampened down to stop it eating bits of my brain and spinal cord.

In twelve days time, I'm also running a marathon (as is my poor, sick wife).  In a somewhat desperate attempt to stave off contagion, I've spent the last few days frantically drinking Berocca and shoving cold and flu defence up my nose.

Of course, none of this has worked and I can now feel my throat starting to swell up.  It probably serves me right.

I probably have no right to expect sympathetic cuddles either.

Not from my wife, anyway.

Friday, 8 April 2016

crying on a breeze...

Earworms of the Week

"Jumpin' Jack Flash" - The Rolling Stones

It was pretty big news when the Rolling Stones played Havana the other week. Apparently, it's another symbol of how a country that has been open most of the world except the USA for years, is now opening up.  Well, I don't suppose they've hosted many free, open-air concerts by landmark rock acts over the years, so I suppose it was a pretty big deal.  Actually, it's a pretty big deal for the Stones to do anything for free, isn't it?  I was amused to read it reported with whispered reverence that the band came onstage and opened their set with this song.  Yes, it is an all-time classic; yes, it is a brilliant way to open up a gig and is a magnificent statement of intent.... but it's hardly a surprise, is it? The Stones have been opening their sets with this song for as long as anyone can remember.  I bet Keith Richards looked straight down the camera during "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and mouthed "I love this job" to the crowd on the big screens.  It's what they do.  I'm not knocking it - I very much enjoyed the Stones when I saw them in Glastonbury - but is this really all that newsworthy?

"(Is This The Way To) Amarillo" - Tony Christie

This was funny when used on "Phoenix Nights" and much less funny when used by Comic Relief, yeah?  We can all agree on that?  It was overplayed so much back then that it's STILL annoying to get it caught into your head.

"Rid of Me" - PJ Harvey

I bought this album when I was a student and I absolutely loved it. It's quite a difficult album, and PJ was clearly angry, but I couldn't get enough of it.  I loved it so much that I used to play this song on my radio show.  This was problematic for a couple of reasons... first was the fact that PJ was screaming "LICK MY LEGS, I'M ON FIRE" at an unsuspecting campus, and the second was the fact that the record goes from so quiet to so SO LOUD so often that it's a nightmare to broadcast from a levels point of view.  Mind you, I'm also the person who played "Dead Skin Mask" by Slayer on a sleepy Sunday afternoon, with a dedication to "all you lovers out there".  Ah, what a wit.  Apparently, I was a direct contemporary in the University radio station with Stephen Merchant.  I spent loads of time up there, and given that he's so physically memorable, you'd think I would remember him... but no.

"Afternoon Delight" - Starlight Vocal Group

Anchorman seems to be on an almost permanent loop on one of the Sky channels at the moment, and obviously I stop and watch a bit whenever I happen to be channel hopping by.  What's not to like? As you know, I like to watch obscure subtitled movies with obscure existential themes... but this is just a really, really funny film.  In fact, it's one of my favourites.  I like the sequel too.  Sue me.

"Mr Blue Sky" - E.L.O.

I have to say that I'm not really all that familiar with E.L.O.  Maybe they're one of those bands where I actually do know loads of the songs and just don't know it... but I suppose I'll get the chance to find out on the Sunday afternoon at the Pyramid Stage in Glastonbury this June. They played in Nottingham the other day, and lots of people I know where really excited.  They did this one, right?  I know this one!  This is the one that took the least interesting Beatles song and copied it, yeah?

"I Got a Feeling" - Black Eyed Peas

I absolutely loathe this record.  It is inane tripe of the highest order....so imagine my delight to find it popping up in my head this week.  Lovely.  If I never hear it again, it will be too soon. It's been viewed 235 million times on YouTube, for goodness sake! WHAT'S WRONG WITH PEOPLE?

"Alive" - Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam are one of those bands where I bought their first couple of records and then never really bothered with anything else.  Everyone had their debut, obviously... but I also really enjoyed the follow up too.  But they just didn't stick for me.  I was thinking about this song during the week after reading a "10 of the Best" type article in the Guardian. It's an absolute belter, isn't it?  Just listen again to that guitar solo!  It's really stood the test of time.  Almost enough to make me want to seriously get into their back catalogue, or at least to dig out the two albums that I do actually own.  Maybe I will.

"The Show Must Go On" - Queen
"The Sound of Silence" - Simon & Garfunkel


...although it will probably have to wait or week or so until I've got through the two end-of-season choir concerts I've signed up to.  It's that time of the season where I'm not really listening to anything much except the MP3s of my rehearsal tracks.  I tried to sing "books down" at our last practice on Tuesday this week, focusing instead on our musical director's cues.... and there are a couple of songs that still need a bit more work, not least these two.  It's always the bloody Queen song that ends up stuck in my head, isn't it?  I hate these stupid songs with their stupid, mock-profound lyrics.  Much better to develop a newfound appreciation for the lyrical genius of Paul Simon.  I thought I knew "The Sound of Silence" pretty well, but studying it this closely has given cause to look again and to realise how brilliant a song this really is.

And the sign said:
"The words of the prophets are
Written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sound of silence.

Just outstanding... even if I am looking forward to the chance to listen to something else (a bit like I'm looking forward to running this marathon and being able to think and talk about something else for a change).

"Mandy" - Barry Manilow

I overheard an argument at work this week where two colleagues were arguing about who was the trendier: Simon Cowell or Barry Manilow.  Well, the correct answer is clearly neither.... but Simon Cowell never produced anything as brilliant as this song or "Copacabana", did he?  In fact, most of the music he's been involved with positively counts against him.  Quite how anyone could think that either of these two people are "trendy" is remarkable.  Who even uses the word trendy?  Certainly not the people who understand trends, I would think.

Right.  That's your lot.  Have a good weekend, y'all!  I'll be running and singing, as per....

Thursday, 7 April 2016

drive

Not all of the indignities brought about my MS are a direct result of the illness itself.  You might remember that one of the first things I did on diagnosis was to inform the DVLA of my condition.  As a result of this, I had to fill out a medical form listing in absurd detail every stage of my diagnosis, with an apparent need to give the exact dates when I first developed symptoms, first visited my GP about them, first saw the neurologist and first received the diagnosis.  Quite why they needed to know all of that is anyone's guess, given that they ultimately wrote to my neurologist for a medical report anyway.  As a result of that report - which said that I was absolutely fine and that my ability to drive wasn't impaired in any way - my driving licence was re-issued with a three year expiry date and with a few of the categories of vehicle I'm allowed to drive stripped off.

I understand why they do this sort of thing, but it just seemed so arbitrary: the whole system only worked because they relied upon me to tell them about my diagnosis, and yet it felt like they had unilaterally decided to change my license, whatever the doctors said about my condition.

Fast forward three years, and it was predictably difficult and time-consuming to get my license renewed. I had to fill out all the same forms and make up another date for when I first saw the GP (don't they keep this stuff on file somewhere? Are they trying to catch me out or just like paperwork? Oh, don't answer that).  They actually asked me to send my existing driving license back before it expired, but upon reading the small-print, I saw that this wasn't actually necessary and hung onto it.  Good job too, because they took their own sweet time writing to my neurologist and issuing me with a new license.

Fast forward another three years to this Christmas and the impending expiry of my driving license.  Again, they sent me all the same forms, and again they singularly failed to get me a new license before the old one expired.  This time around, they actually wrote me a letter asking me to ring my neurologist and to ask him to write them a medical update because he wasn't answering their letters.  I ignored them on the grounds that I've never actually even met the consulting neurologist at QMC, and it also pissed me off that the DVLA didn't seem to be prepared to pull their fingers out and ring the hospital themselves.

Another month or so passed and I got a letter from the DVLA informing me that I would need to report to my GP for a driving medical in the next 14 days or my license renewal would be rejected.  I then began a two week dance with my GP's surgery, who told me initially that they didn't do driving medicals, then that they needed payment up front, even when the DVLA said they would reimburse the doctor directly.... you get the picture. It was frustrating.

In the end, I had the medical.  I turned up in my bike gear on the way to work, we chatted about my marathon training and he made sure I could read the letters on an eye chart.  It took about 10 minutes.

My license expired in early January.  Last week, some four months after I kicked the whole process off, I was issued with my new one.  The expiry on my new license has changed from three years to five years, and they've added a couple of the vehicle categories they stripped off back on too.  I'd love to think that this was because I passed the medical with such flying colours.  I suspect the truth is that the DVLA have realised that they can't cope with all the paperwork they're generating for themselves.

They wouldn't know I had MS at all if I hadn't told them.  Do you think they might consider trusting me to tell them if my situation changed again and I felt I wasn't able to drive? They trust people to get their eyes tested and to get a pair of glasses if they need them to drive, don't they?  Why is this so different?

Ugh.  Annoying.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

no education...

Just another normal weekend in Nottingham.


I don't care what everyone says: I think that there's nothing wrong with Britian. Education is important, but fulfilling Britians (it hurts just to type it) E-Cigarette needs is clearly importanter.


C's argument was that this shop is Danish.  I'm not sure the smiley face at the end is quite enough to cover up for that little horror.  It went down like a damp squid with me, let me tell you...


*deep sigh*.

They've actually had this sign professionally made, you know.  Sidebar: are they going to specialise in news on JME when they open?  Also, will they still take DHL parcels like the last one?  It's just around the corner from us, so that would be pretty handy.

Maybe all of these shops are owned by European immigrants living it large at this country's expense? VOTE BREXIT SO OUR SHOPS HAVE SIGNS THAT ARE GRAMMATICALLY CORRECT.

That is the main thrust of their campaign, isn't it? Although I suppose it's possible that I've missed some nuances.