Why I’m Not Doing a Lance Armstrong and Retiring from Running, Just Yet

I’ve never tested positive for drugs and can still manage 7 miles across the Heath on a cold February morning, but, like Lance Armstrong—if you’ll excuse the comparison—perhaps, after 6 marathons in 10 years, it’s also time for me to retire from running.

I’ve made more comebacks than I care to remember. Lulled into thinking that the many months of continuous running I was just experiencing would go on for ever, eventually, some less than spectacular injury grounded me. Physio often helped and after a month or two I was back pounding the streets. But sometimes, whatever has kept me from lacing up my trainers hasn’t responded to treatment and I’ve been forced to let nature take its course. Yes, I would hope for the best—a good month or more of rest often worked. But dark thoughts that I would never run again jostled with the hope and sometimes gained the upper hand.

Such fears gripped me especially when I happened to be driving through Regents Park, one of my favourite running destinations. As I watched all the runners eating up the metres round the perimeter road, a wave of wistfulness and regret washed over me. Would I be one of them ever again?

So far, miraculously, every time I thought it was the end, I reached a point when I realised that the pain was no longer bothering me and I’d start running again, within a few weeks getting back up to 7-10 miles or more. And that was more or less what happened after my latest 4-month lay-off. After a few months resting what seemed to be a permanently twisted ankle, an appointment with Jane at the local NHS physiotherapy clinic came through. Since I could walk on it and it wasn’t sore all the time, she didn’t see any reason why I shouldn’t at least test my ankle with some running. (And she referred me for some physio and an appointment with the podiatrist.) I took her advice and the ankle has been behaving itself, more or less. It was as if I simply needed the permission of a higher authority to do what I should have had the guts to do anyway. Within three weeks I was successfully tackling the run I know I always need to do to confirm yet another running rebirth: from low-lying Tufnell Park to Kenwood House and the heights of Hampstead Heath.

But maybe I spoke too soon. Now it’s the knee that’s playing up, the one on which I had an operation over two years ago to remove some torn cartilage—and just as I was preparing myself to register for my 4th Berlin Marathon in September.

And there’s nothing like another little setback to bring back the gloom. I begin to reflect on my inability to reconcile myself to the truth about my loss of speed (an entirely inappropriate word because my ‘speed’ has always been on the slow side—there should be another word for it, like ‘slowth’). Not too long ago, I could churn out 9-minute miles to my heart’s content and push up to 8:30 for half-marathons, and even faster for 10ks. Now I’m chugging along at 10:30, if I’m lucky, which puts me well into the 4 hrs 30 mins bracket for the marathon.

So I’m hanging fire on Berlin. Having disappointingly had to pull out from marathons on a few occasions I’ve learnt that there’s no point in allowing yourself to be consumed by such setbacks. And even if I was never able to run another marathon, that doesn’t mean an end to running altogether. I’ll just have to set less ambitious goals.

I guess I won’t be hanging up my Asics just yet Lance. In fact, maybe it’s time I thought about getting a new pair. I must have done more than 500 miles on these and there’s a new Sweatshop just opened nearby on the Holloway Road that I’ve been dying to browse . . .

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