I was a smoker but now I’m a vaper and given that my VO2 Max has improved from 36 litres per minute to 49, I’m certain that switching to vaping has played a significant part.
July 2020 and, after two trail races – with a series of five more; a half marathon road race; and a half marathon fell race booked – I can now call myself a runner and an ex-smoker. Securing a place at the England Athletics National 5 km Road Race Championships– cements that tag in place. Things might well have turned out differently though.
Looking back to a sunny Autumn day in November 1998 and I’m laid in the middle of the road with a crowd around me whilst ambulance technicians administer morphine before shipping me off to hospital for emergency surgery. At that point I was certainly not thinking of becoming an athlete of any description let alone a competing runner.
A lorry driver, more concerned with his delivery schedule than my safety and well-being, had pulled out of a side road. He made a right turn in front of me on my motorbike. Without boring you with all the details, through no fault of my own, I was incredibly fortunate. Part of my motorbike ripped my right thigh muscle in two and tore it from the femur. However, the tear narrowly missed the femoral artery.
Rushed into surgery with a prognosis that was uncertain of whether my leg could be saved or if I would end up an amputee, my fate was in the hands of the team at Boston hospital. As we’ve all found out during the current Covid-19 pandemic, our NHS truly are angels; their dedication, care, support and skills make this institution a beacon for the nation to hold up. Using a video link to a teaching hospital in London, the surgery team worked their magic and saved my leg. I wasn’t out of the woods yet though.
There was no guarantee that I would be able to use the leg effectively enough to walk. I was passed on to the physiotherapy team for what would turn out to be six months of pain, tears, setbacks, troughs, peaks, and eventually, a recovery that allowed me to return to work. I even played the last three matches of the football season! Although my mental strength failed me then and I called it a day with competitive sports at this point.
The call of the Lake District
A few years later, in 2004, and I was embarking on a trip into academia. I earned Bachelors and Masters degrees at Lancaster University. Skipping all the details and getting to the point, it was here that I encountered the work of a former Blackburn resident who would literally change my life: Alfred Wainwright.
Author of a series of incredibly well written and superbly hand illustrated guide books to the fells and mountains of the Lake District. Having the area on my doorstep, I travelled up there and began my current journey. I reached my first “Wainwright” summit on Silver Howe.
It wasn’t a straightforward journey however. I had several setbacks mainly down to the strength of my damaged leg but also because of my mental state: I kept getting stuck in the mindset that my leg should be holding me back. Eventually, in 2011, I had worked hard in the gym and set out on a quest to summit all 214 “Wainwright” peaks in a year to raise money for the Calvert Trust, a charity that does sterling work enabling disabled people to enjoy outdoor pursuits.
During that year, I was privileged to see that last Golden Eagle in England on the wing, witness a herd of deer in “rut” and view two young Ospreys take their fledgling flight from the nest. I was hooked on “The Great Outdoors”
Another jump in time and it’s now 2019. I’m working at Totally Wicked in the production facility and I’m exploring the local Pennine hills on foot or on my mountain bike. A work colleague offers me a bargain deal on a road bike and, a couple of months later, I find myself on a 60 mile bike race in South Cumbria. 20 years earlier, laid on that roadside, I never dreamed I could achieve such a thing.
Covid-19 cancels races
That bike race – run by a local company, Epic Events – led to a volunteer marshal job with payment in the form of free entries to their events. I earned four entries before Covid-19 struck us immobile so I took the plunge and entered both road and trail marathons along with a 10km trail race and a 70 mile bike race. I’d only taken up running a couple of months previously and had never gone further than 5km at Parkrun.
I needed help and a friend recommended I download the Strava fitness app and purchase an Apple Watch as an activity tracker. These, combined with articles from several web blogs and running coaches, saw me lift my game to 10km distance and, on a random day and with no real intention of running that far, a half marathon along Blackburn’s section of the Leeds-Liverpool canal.
The Covid-19 lockdown meant a cancellation till later this year and summer of next year for my two half marathon races but I’d just participated in my first 10km trail race at Dunsop Bridge through another local company, Pennine Trails. In “Storm Dennis”…! I did rather well for my debut on the trail running scene coming in 40th out of 197 competitors, most of whom were seasoned trail runners. Lockdown left me in a quandary though as how to keep motivated – and improving – when all the races were put on hold.
Technology helps runners compete
Well, we live in a technology-driven world these days, for better or worse. That Strava fitness app, as well as the Apple watch, pose challenges monthly. Such as cumulative distance for running and cycling and sometimes events companies offer prizes for completing challenges. This, coupled with the forward-thinking of race event organisers, offered me a way to stay on track, even given the necessary limits of lockdown.
Race organisers, much like Totally Wicked did, saw an opportunity to earn revenue through the “e-world”. Using GPS-based sports tracking apps such as Strava, meant they could offer “virtual racing”. Whereby one runs or cycles in their own locale and uploads a verifiable result to a web-based platform. It’s a winner for both athletes and race organisers.
I’ve now got over 20 medals from these virtual races to go with the ones I earned at regular “real world” events; my 5km time has gone from around 30 minutes to my current PB of 21:04; my 10km has dropped to 44:47; I cracked the two hour barrier with a time of 1:52:44 recently for the half marathon distance; and I finished 22nd out of 172 in in Pennine Trail’s Tolkein Trail race
Bring on the resumption of competitive sports events as we ease our way out of lockdown, I’m ready for them. Even more so now, after admiring the creative medal for the Tolkein Trail race (it’s actually a copy of the “One Ring”, complete with Elvish script, from the books and films).
Smoker to vaper journey
With the enthusiastic support of Lisa Spann, our head of E-Commerce, my exploits are brought to the attention of Totally Wicked’s CEO, Marcus Saxton. I’m about to receive some new running shirts sponsored by our company. I’ve received loads of support and encouragement from my work colleagues. But Totally wicked has played another major part in my story.
I was a smoker but now I’m a vaper. Given that my VO2 Max (the amount of oxygen a person can inhale and utilise) has improved from 36 litres per minute to 49. I’m certain that switching to vaping has played a significant part.
The future? Well, I’ve got the rest of the Pennine Trails series resuming in September. Rather than going as a tentative newbie, which I definitely was during that race in the middle of Storm Dennis. I’m now heading there as a competent and competitive runner looking to secure points on the leaderboard.
There’s still the two half marathon races to look forward to. A massive 80 mile, with 7500 feet of hill climbing, bike race in November. Possibly a duathlon, where the swim is replaced by a second run after the bike section. (I’m a lousy swimmer but a decent drowner). After all that, my ultimate aim is to go via a full marathon, to the endgame of completing an “Ultra”. A race beyond the marathon distance of 42 kms. These typically start at 50 kms and some stretch way further. I’ll be happy to do the standard 50 km. Though I have got my eyes on a two-day 100 km race on the island of Arran.
I just need to have a word with Marcus about entry fees and running shoes now…