Back to black, and back again
This newsletter was first published on Patreon on 10 January 2022
Damian Hall leading the Spine Race
I was rather hoping there would be lots of dramatic news in the running world to comment on this week, so I wouldn’t have to write another musings about my ongoing back problems, which are starting to become a tad tedious.
The big running-world news on my radar this week was Aleksandr Sorokin breaking his own 100-mile world record. His time of 10 hrs 48 mins is the equivalent of running four marathons, each in 2hrs 50, back to back. Or eight 1:25 half marathons. Jeepers!
The race took place in Israel and I got contacted afterwards by an Israeli journalist who wanted to know if I thought a Kenyan could run 100 miles that fast. It’s a tricky question. Interestingly, Sorokin has just been in Kenya training, and I’m pretty sure that if he joined even a mid-level group out there, he probably struggled to keep up. So in theory, yes, quite a few Kenyans could potentially run that fast. But only with the right training, attitude and preparation. Just as some of the top western marathon runners could probably challenge Sorokin’s time if they fully applied themselves. But such hypothetical questions are meaningless, really. Sorokin is the guy who has done it, so he’s the king of the ultra world right now. And fair play to him. Take it from someone who took 23 hours to run 100 miles, sub 11 hours is damn impressive running.
The other thing going on out in the running world right now is the crazy Spine Race, which started at 8am on Sunday. For anyone who doesn’t know, this is a race of 265 (ish) miles along the Pennine Way in northern England, done in one hit - ie not in stages - and in January, which means it’s freezing, wet, and dark most of the time. Frankly it sounds like hell. But the runners taking part beam with happiness (most of the time) and go back to the race time after time.
My good friend Damian Hall is currently leading the race as I write this, just over 26 hours in, and he has a three-hour lead over second place. If you listened to my podcast interview with him, you can probably imagine him crossing the snowy, bleak northern moors, imagining he has a pack of evil wargs on his tail and a magic ring in his pocket. If it keeps him moving, why not. I’ve always liked the idea that life is like a movie, so you should make it a good one. Damian is certainly out there doing that.
Damian Hall and Kim Collison halfway through the first night of the Spine Race. Why do they look so happy?
But there’s only so much that I can use the Spine Race to distract myself. Alas, my back is still sore. I still can’t run.
I had a fascinating session of NKT in the week, and it may yet prove to be the answer. I have everything crossed that it is, at least. Though I’m aware that I may be starting to sound like a broken record with my hopeful breakthroughs each week, so I don’t want to over-egg it just yet.
My long-term collaborator Joe Kelly came to see me on Thursday to see if he could help fix my back. It just so happened that he needed to do a refresher assessment for his NKT (NeuroKinetic Therapy) qualification, so he asked if I minded if an examiner watched in on our session (via Zoom, of course).
That was fine by me - it would keep Joe’s mind fully on the job in hand, which was useful, as he has a tendency to get side-tracked by other issues, ailments or anything else at all.
So I lay on the table as Joe prodded me and pulled me and tested my leg strength after each adjustment. I’ve said it before about Joe’s treatments, but it sometimes feels like witchcraft. For example, he gets me to lie on my back, bend my legs and lift them in the air. He then tells me to resist as he tries to push them down. He barely has to try. I have the strength of a dead jellyfish. I may as well not be doing anything.
Then he strokes my wrist, like a lover’s caress (which is a bit strange!), three times. Then he tries again, telling me to resist his pressure. And just like that, I’m like Bruce Lee, my legs as solid as if I was a statue.
The examiner on the screen barely remarks this incredible transformation.
The same thing happens when Joe simply touches the scar on my left leg. One touch and zap, I’m locked solid.
The disappointing thing is that these changes are very fleeting. A minute later, the temporary power has dissipated. I’m still not entirely sure what’s going on here, but as the name suggests, it’s to do with firing up neural pathways. Keeping them switched on, however, is less straightforward, and is partly why NKT is primarily a diagnostic tool. Once you find the issue, you then have to apply other techniques, such as Anatomy in Motion, or simple strength work, to fix it.
Unfortunately for me, neither of these two issues (the wrist and scar, both of which we diagnosed long ago, and which I’m assuming Joe is just revisiting as he knows that they are weak points), neither of these things seems to be linked to my back problem.
However, the guy on Zoom has a few suggestions, and we’ve soon found something that seems to help: a minute of pressing on the sore back, followed by a sort of gentle reverse back curl done lying on the floor. After lots of tests, we find that this seems to help the back problem, making it, temporarily at least, go away.
What strikes me most about all of this, compared to my physio session, is just how precise it is. Instead of saying: “hmmm, the back is connected to the psoas muscle, and the quads are tight, so let’s stretch the quads and psoas”, here we’ve spent an hour prodding, moving the prod a few millimetres here and there, testing and retesting, to come up with a tiny movement that, at least initially, seems to have an almost immediate and positive impact.
So the next day, Friday, I do my back curls, and I have to say by the end of the day I feel solid as a rock. No hint of any back pain. I start feeling quite perky. Bloody geniuses, I’m thinking. Just one day and it’s fixed. Well, not quite. I know the real test is to try running.
Joe told me to wait until Monday, but it feels so good that I decide not to waste any more time. I’ll go slowly, just up and down my street so that I can stop at the first twinge. For 19 minutes it feels great. Fixed. Solid. I’m feeling increasingly chuffed, until ping, I feel something in my back. Did I imagine it? Maybe, but I don’t want to risk anything. I shouldn’t even be running yet. So I stop.
But the rest of the day, I don’t feel anything. I must have imagined it, I think, and I start planning a bigger run on Sunday. Nothing crazy, maybe just 40 minutes.
I get up early on Sunday, excited, and head out. I’m full of positive thoughts about being back on track, when after just five minutes that now all too familiar evil twinge makes an appearance. I’m imagining it, I think. Keep running. But just two minutes later I have to stop. I try to convince myself that it’s actually my side. It’s something else. Not my back. Surely.
But there’s no point lying to myself, each time I try to run again it’s agony. I want to scream.
So that was yesterday. Did I go too soon? I mean, one day is not very long to try to fix something. Is the treatment a magic cure that just needs more time? Should I carry on or give up?
My head spent the day racing around chasing its tail. Can I run a six-day race in March? That was my plan. If I can’t do that, can I really run the 3100 in September? Am I being over-dramatic, or is the whole thing now off?
For most of the day I struggled to interact normally with my family, distracted by these thoughts going around and around. An underlying panic, time racing by, fitness fading …
So that’s where you find me right now, folks. It’s a long way from breaking any ultra running records. I hope to have better news next week.