Circus of the absurd

My planned return to regular training has been dogged by a series of misadventures that started on Monday evening.  I fell heavily when the wheels of my bicycle lost traction on some wet leaves as I descended a steep hill, and my ill-fated left knee bore the brunt of the impact.   The most obvious damage was a skin abrasion from the lower border of the patella to the tibial tuberosity, that prominent bump at the top of shin bone which provides the anchor point for the patellar tendon.  When I examined the damage on arriving home, it was clear that the more serious damage was to deeper tissues.  Exquisite tenderness elicited by pressure applied along the line of attachment of the patellar tendon, together with an accumulating bruise below the tuberosity suggested that I had torn some of the fibres that anchor the tendon to the bone.  However contraction of the quads produced only a slight feeling of tension at the site of attachment of the tendon, so I decided the damage was probably not too serious.

On Tuesday I had a painful knee but otherwise felt reasonably well.  It was clearly sensible to postpone any serious training but I did a Yoga session in the evening.  However Wednesday morning, the measurement of high frequency heart rate variability revealed a value more than two standard deviations below the daily average daily in the preceding week and hence, a value more likely to be a sign of significant stress rather than the result of random fluctuation.   This sign of stress might have been due in part to my unaccustomed long run on the preceding Saturday, but the generalised achiness in my body suggested it was mainly due to the shake-up I had suffered in the fall on Monday.   So I did no training on Wednesday.

Thursday morning the measurement of heart rate variability showed some sign of recovery.   I had originally intended that I would do an interval session, aiming for 3x1000m at approximately 4:30 min/Km that evening.  As I was eager to re-establish a pattern of systematic training I decided that I would attempt the session, though I was very dubious that I could sustain a pace of 4:30 min per Km.

After the delightful weather of recent days, Thursday was quite stormy, with a strong gusty south-westerly wind. As I cycled home from work I felt like a very creaky old-timer, a feeling reinforced when a succession of lycra-clad cyclists sped past me, though I consoled myself that they were all at least three decades younger than I.  It was a further slight consolation to overtake a young woman, at least forty years my junior, who had given up the battle against the wind and got off to walk up the long slow incline towards Clifton; and then a few hundred metres later, I overtook a young man who had also given up the battle with the gusty wind and the incline.

It was long past dark when I got home, but I wanted to run on a grass surface if possible, so I set out for a field about with a perimeter of almost exactly 500m not far from home. As I warmed up, I was doubtful I could even achieve 5 min/Km.  Nonetheless I decided it was best to continue even if the pace was slow.  Although it was quite dark, there was enough light in the sky to allow me to discern quite easily any obstacles the size of a cow.  A slow jog around the edge of the field revealed no fixed obstacles of any size, so I set off at as fast a pace as I could manage.   As I passed a clump of trees I was startled by very loud bang that sounded like the discharge of a shot gun.  The noise reverberated off the more distant line of trees and I wondered who could possibly be out shooting on such a dismal windy night.   Although I could hear no voices nor see any sign of a flash light, I decided it must be some youngsters out hunting for rabbits.  I kept running and hoped that visibility would be good enough to ensure that they did not mistake me for a rabbit.   I completed the first 1000m feeling like a lumbering walrus.  My eyesight was not good enough to allow me to read the time on my watch, despite the backlight, so I had little idea of the pace.  Then, as I passed the same clump of trees on the second 1000m, there was another loud bang that reverberated off the distant line of trees.  I could still see no sign of another human being but I started to become a little worried.  The fact that the two bangs had coincided with my passing of the same clump of trees made me wonder whether it was possible that I was the target.  However commonsense suggested there was no way that anyone could have imagined that there would be a runner of questionable sanity running around that field after dark on such a night, so whatever the intended target, it was not credible that it was me, and I continued with the session.     A few minutes later there was a more distant and different-sounding bang, and the sky was lit by a shower of pink stars released from a sky rocket.  With a sigh of relief and a somewhat sheepish feeling, I realised it was 4th November and tomorrow would be Guy Fawkes night.  So there were probably some kids sniggering to themselves as they ignited a banger each time I passed the clump of trees.

Midway through my third 1000m, I experienced a less puzzling but more somewhat more painful surprise.  To minimise the opposition from the gusty south-westerly, I was following a trajectory that hugged close to the hedgerow along the western edge of the field.  A sudden tearing sensation on my bare right thigh informed me that I was too close, and had snagged my leg on a bramble bush.   The session was degenerating into a circus of the absurd. Nonetheless despite the feeling of wetness that I knew must be blood running down my leg, I finished the session with a feeling of satisfaction.  As I trotted home along the roadside, concentrating on a quick light-footed gait, I no longer felt like a walrus.  I felt relaxed, happy and even perhaps nimble.

When I got home and inspected my legs I realised that any motorist whose headlights had picked me out from the road-side darkness must have wondered what mayhem had occurred.  Not only was there a vivid purple bruise, now tinged with yellow, extending from my left knee over half way down my shin toward the ankle, marking the track of the blood that had seeped subcutaneously from the site of Monday’s damage, but my right thigh was covered by an almost continuous sheet of fresh bright red blood.  However once it had been cleaned-up, it was clear that the spectacular gory mess had been produced by a few minor lacerations of my upper thigh.

When I down-loaded the data from my Polar monitor, I was actually a little disappointed to see that my pace for the three 1000m intervals had been 4:48; 4:48 and 4:47 min/Km.  However, considering how walrus-like I had felt at the beginning, and the various misadventures that had subsequently disrupted the rhythm of my running, I decided that on balance it had been a successful session.

The following morning, yesterday morning, I felt reasonably lively, but the measurement of heart rate variability revealed the lowest value that I have ever recorded while standing in a relaxed posture.  The measurement known as RMSSD was 18.2 ms whereas usually it is in the range 30-90 ms.   It was clear that my aging body was objecting a little to the misadventures that had descended upon my efforts to re-establish regular training, and it was time for another rest day.  However this morning, after a good night’s sleep, RMSSD was back up to a healthy 80.3 ms.  The dawn revealed a cloudless sky, and only a light breeze ruffled the depleted autumn leaves that had managed to cling to the trees through the winds of the previous few days.  I was eager to be out-of-doors, but aware that I should proceed with caution.

I decided on a progressive run, starting at around 6 min/Km and increasing to 5 min/Km aiming for a total distance around 17 Km, depending on how my legs coped.   It was simply a glorious day to be out.  Although the air was noticeably cooler than it had been a week previously, the sun light sparkled off the bright yellow and red leaves, and danced across the surface of the fast-flowing river, swollen with the run-off from the rain that had drenched Derbyshire and Staffordshire in recent days.

Although it was a delight to be running on such a day, the gurgling of the River Trent brought to mind an event that had occurred on the opposite side of the globe around the time that the rain was lashing the Derbyshire peaks on Wednesday night.  I was reminded of the Trent turbo-fan engine, designed and manufactured at the Rolls Royce factory in Derby, about 10 miles upstream from where I was running and named to honour that river, that had disintegrated with a force that blasted a hole in the wing of flight QF32 as it winged its way southwards from Singapore to Sydney.  Fortunately, due perhaps to the expertise of the French engineers who had designed the airframe of the Airbus-A380 and to the skill of the Qantas pilot who brought the plane safely back to Changi airport, all 460 passengers and crew had survived the ordeal.  But I wondered about the implications for the future of Rolls-Royce and its Derbyshire work-force.

But back to today, my knee was holding up well.  I gradually increased pace as planned and covered the 5Km from 12 to 17 Km in 25:50.  Over the final two Km, the effort felt similar to half-marathon effort and my pace was a little faster than 5 min/Km.  Of course my current endurance would not allow me to maintain that pace for the full duration of a half-marathon, but I felt reasonably encouraged by the progress during my first week of almost-regular training, despite the misadventures.

11 Responses to “Circus of the absurd”

  1. Ewen Says:

    You’ve been through the wars Canute. That was a great story. Good at the end of the week to see you’ve survived and run what I’d call a very good long run. I couldn’t hold that pace for a 5k tempo last Tuesday.

    You had me worried with the 3 x 1k in the dark. There was a distressing story about a young camper being shot accidentally by spotlighters in New Zealand. Be careful! On another tack, looking forward your take on how Ritzenhein goes in New York tonight.

    • canute1 Says:

      Ewen, Thanks for your comments.

      Dathan Ritzenhein produced a creditable performance but the principal conclusion from the 2010 NY marathon is that the depth of African marathon running is apparently inexhaustible. It appeared that no one (apart perhaps from Bouramdane, who made an early but abortive bid to break up the field) had any other plan than wait to see what Haile G would do. After Haile dropped out with an injured knee on the descent from Queensboro Bridge, it was four Africans who made the running along First Avenue, and Gebremariam proved to be the best of them.

      It was very sad to see Haile drop out. He will retire as the greatest distance runner of all time. But his departure is not the end of African dominance of the sport.

  2. Ewen Says:

    Interesting. If Dathan was with the pack when Geb dropped out he lost a lot of ground after that. It’ll be interesting to see what he says and what his plans are for the future. Shalane Flanagan ran well — she could be the runner to take over from Paula Radcliffe as one who competes well with the Africans.

    Re the Qantas A380 — hope you didn’t have too many shares in Rolls Royce!

    • canute1 Says:

      When Haile dropped out coming off Queenboro Bridge, Ritz was still in the lead group, about 1 sec off the actual lead, as he had been ever since 5Km. However, as the leading group turned into First Av at mile 16, Gebremariam began to apply the pressure. Mutai and Kwambai went with him and Bouramdane also stuck with them, though he was clearly struggling, probably as a consequence of his early break-away, and he soon dropped back. Kwambai started to lose ground by mile 21 and Mutai fell back in the 25th mile leaving Gebremariam on his own.

      Meanwhile, after the four Africans had broken away at mile 16, Ritz stuck with Meb for about 4 miles, but then he couldn’t hold onto him as Meb began to pick off the stragglers in the final few miles.

      Ritz had increased his pace a bit on the down-hill stretch of First Av from mile 16 to 17, but he could not match the four Africans. He slowed a bit when the incline levelled out, but he was still running steadily with Meb. He did finally fade when Meb moved away, but the major problem was not really that he faded. Rather, the problem was that he could not lift the pace enough to stay with the leaders when Gebremariam applied the pressure.

      I suspect that Ritz decided to trust Meb’s judgement in the 17th mile. At the time that might have seemed a reasonable decision, though with hindsight, the fact that the pace had been fairly slow for the first 16 miles should have alerted both of them to the likelihood that the pace would pick up substantially along First Av. If Ritz is going to win major marathons, he can’t afford to let a lead group of four get away at that stage in the event. The unanswered question is whether it was a tactical error or whether he did not have enough speed in his legs at that stage. The fact that he couldn’t hold onto Meb in the final few miles would suggest that he didn’t have enough speed in his legs. It should be noted that Gebremaraim covered the second half in 62:54. I think that pace for the second half of a moderately hilly marathon is beyond Ritz, and indeed beyond most non-Africans.

      Shalane Flanagan ran well and in particular showed a lot of spirit in hauling herself past Mary Kietany in the final stages, but the women’s race was slow and Shalane’s time of 2:28:40 would leave her some distance behind Paula in her prime.

      I do not have shares in Rolls Royce, though following the recent drop in their value, now might be a good time to buy them if you are a gambling type. I note that R-R have just sealed a deal to sell a lot of Trent-700 engines to East China Airlines. The engine that disintegrated on QF32 was a Trent-900. It looks as if there might be a significant problem with the design of the Trent-900, so a lot hangs on how well R-R rise to the challenge of sorting out the Trent-900.

  3. Rick Says:

    Glad to hear your getting over your problems.
    Have you thought of using one of the new light weight spotlights or a head light, I have a friend who runs through the local pinewoods in the pitch of dark using one without any problems!
    I think Ritz will be unhappy with his result, last year he was flying when he finished 3rd in the 1/2 marathon champs.
    4 mins off the pace is a lot in an elite marathon!

    • canute1 Says:

      Thanks for your comment. I agree those headlamps are impressive. I should get one.
      Yes I think Ritz will be disappointed. I believe he is capable of a little better performance than he achieved on Sunday, but as implied in my discussion with Ewen, I do not think that even at his best, he is up to the standard of the Gebremariam, Mutai, Kwambai or several other Africans who did not run in NY, including Wanjiru and Kebede. And most of those guys are young.

  4. Rick Says:

    Slow motion NYC Marathon Ritz and Neb [ first seen on the Steve Magness website.
    Thought you might find this of interest.

    • canute1 Says:


      At that stage Ritz was keeping in touch with Meb fairly comfortably, though both were almost a minute behind the leaders. Both are landing mid-foot. Ritz is showing a somewhat greater tendency to over-stride. However, considering it is mile 19, I think they are both looking fairly good.

  5. Ewen Says:

    Canute, thanks for the detailed account of the race. 62:54 is a fantastic second half. I’ve heard that New York is a positive split course… i.e. if you run “evenly”, your second half is 1-2 minutes slower due to the bridges and hills in Central Park. Sounds like a tactical error to let a group of 4 get away (these days they tend to stay away). Maybe he just wasn’t fit/fast enough to keep up.

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