Reflections on 2020, another year in running

Who could possibly have imagined what lay in store for 2020 at the start of the year?

From my own perspective, 2020 was a year that I thought I might not even see, given my worst case prognosis of 2 years from May 2017, but there I was on 1st January 2020, still running! I say running in the loosest of terms though. More like jogging or plodding such has been the impact of my prostate cancer treatment on running. Side effects of having testosterone removed, effectively chemical castration, are not exactly the perfect recipe for us blokes and there’s very little you can do about it.

Weight gain, fatigue, reduced muscle mass and bone density, hot flushes and hot sweats. Dreamy, yes? I was going to say “to die for” but that would be wholly inappropriate!

Fatigue is a tough one. There are some runs where you set off and you absolutely know within half a mile that it isn’t going to happen today. At the start of 2020 that would have led to tears and tantrums and I’d give up, turn back and call it a day. That aspect definitely improved in 2020. Although there are still bad days I now don’t give up (often!) I just slow down, walk and get round.

Weight gain is really tough to control when on steroids or as you could call them, appetite pills. On corticosteroids you are constantly hungry and they definitely do not enhance performance like anabolic steroids. Exercise is important to controlling weight but it is a viscous circle. Every run feels harder than the last but it’s really important to get out and exercise.

Lack of muscle mass really is a challenge. Muscle production is fed by testosterone but I don’t have any so exercise is really important to maintaining muscle mass but it’s so much harder to exercise. Are you hearing viscous circle again?

Hot sweats and hot flushes? Well let’s just say that I’m way more sympathetic to menopausal ladies than I ever was before!

Despite all those downsides, the upside is that I’m still here and still running and I’ll settle for that!

I can’t get away from the fact though that, at the start of the year, I wasn’t enjoying running. It didn’t have any purpose, there were no goals, no objectives, no reason to bother putting the running shoes on. Covid 19 and lockdown one just made that 10 times worse!

However, before we get to Covid, we had a trip to Australia and Singapore in February. Unsurprisingly, the trip was built around doing 3 Australian parkruns and also meeting up with friends to run them together.

We were so lucky to get to have this holiday before the shitstorm of Covid struck but we were met in Sydney with the most horrendous weather. 16 inches of rain fell in the four days that we were there. It was literally biblical with rivers running down the streets. Climbing Sydney harbour bridge in an absolute monsoon was still pretty epic though and, amazingly, on the first Saturday morning of our trip it was dry for parkrun!

A rather damp Sydney

Slight detour here though. Back in November 2013 I ran the New York marathon and, through the power of social media, had made a load of FaceBook friends from a group very aptly named, New York Marathon 2013. It does exactly what it says on the tin! The group had arranged to meet for a picnic in Central Park the day before the marathon and those FaceBook friends became friends in the flesh as friendships were forged that remain strong to this day. Our trip to Australia gave us a chance to catch up with the Australian contingent, Stephen, Jane and Giovanni (who very kindly let us use his apartment overlooking Darling Harbour for a couple of nights, what a sweet and generous man).

Picnic in Central Park before NYC marathon 2013. Where friendships were forged!

parkrun Australia number 1 was North Sydney who were expecting us as we approached the start area when run photographer approached us and said you must be Tony Collier! That was a bit surreal but it turned out that one of our home parkrun Run Directors had pre-warned them of our arrival. We were welcomed so warmly, it was wonderful and I was asked to speak to the runners before the start which led to an impromptu prostate cancer awareness speech. Never one to miss an opportunity eh?

Even better was that Stephen arrived to meet us, promptly ran a very speedy top 10 finish 5k before jogging back to encourage me home. Unfortunately this was a day of power outage so I found the run a real struggle but I got round, eventually.

With Stephen at North Sydney parkrun. One fit, one fat!

It was great spending time with Stephen and Giovanni in Sydney. Their friendship and hospitality meant so much to us. But we would move on to parkrun Saturday number 2 in Newcastle, NSW meeting up with Jane for dinner the night before and for breakfast post parkrun. Jane is a classy runner and a lovely lady and she ran the parkrun with Tracey whilst I tried for an improved time. The weather here was amazing, unbroken blue sky and very hot but I got round the beautiful out and back course in just over 27 minutes.

Again, the RD at Newcastle was expecting us leading to yet another impromptu awareness talk!

Wonderful day at Newy parkrun
With Jane after Newy parkrun

parkrun 3 in Australia took us to Tasmania to visit relatives that we hadn’t seen for decades. We decided on Queens Domain parkrun which was stunningly beautiful but a hilly out and back course. Decent time, just over 27 minutes and back in time for breakfast. On this occasion news of our arrival hadn’t reached them so I escaped with relative anonymity.

Queens Domain parkrun, Hobart, Tasmania

We returned to the UK in late February and I managed my only race of the year, a low key local race, High Legh 10k. This was a bad day at the office and the lack of running plus holiday weight gain took its toll.

There were plenty of other races planned but then Covid struck and lockdown number arrived on 23rd March and that was the end of “normal” running for the rest of 2020. All club activities suspended, races cancelled or switched to virtual races and only one exercise session per day allowed. Running really didn’t seem important and I pretty much lost the plot for the next month or so. It became obvious that I was running with no aim or target, nothing to train for and no one to train with so what was to be done?

I chatted to my friend Kevin Webber. Kev had had the same diagnosis as I but three years earlier and at a lot younger age. Kev has been a great help to me since my diagnosis and really encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone and, between him and Tracey, we decided that a running streak would be a good idea and, on the 1st May, I set out to try to run at least 5k every day.

May was very hot! Some of those 5k’s left me in sweaty messes but I got them done, 113 miles in total. Not fast but done!

1st June came and I knew it would be tough to sustain at least 5k every day so the streak became a run/hike streak. One day would be hiking (proper hiking, not just going for an amble), 3 days of short runs and 3 days of longer runs. Some days ended up with a hike and a run which was tough but I was starting to enjoy it and getting a bit of mojo back.

As I’m writing this, in mid-January 2021, the streak is 264 days long with nearly 1100 miles covered. How long will it go on for? Right now the aim is a year and 9 days taking me to 9th May and the anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. After that, who knows?

I’ve mentioned running club activities being suspended and I thought it would be a good idea to keep us all connected as best we could so I arranged our first virtual relay race which went brilliantly and then club mates took over organising the challenges which included the London marathon 2.6 challenge, trying to run 2600 miles in 26 days. Later in the year at the start of lockdown 2 we would do 2.6 challenge number 2 trying to run 2600 miles to the North Pole in 12 days (signifying the 12 days of Christmas).

Massive credit to David who organised the challenges and the rest of the club for taking part. Amazingly we raised over £5,000 for various charities during the year and made headlines in our local press. Also great credit to Andy Dooley for sending training plans through each week even though he was ensconced in Lanzarote.

Between the 2.6 challenges though we were briefly allowed to resume club activities but in a Covid secure environment with risk assessments and a detailed plan to run together whilst keeping both our club members and members of the public safe. I assumed the role of Covid compliance officer, drew up a plan and got us up and running as well as helping other clubs with their resumption plans.

I think this period of running as a club with restrictions on numbers and under a Covid compliance plan, actually proved to be one of the best periods in the clubs history with everyone pulling together and run leaders really committing to making club runs happen. It may even have given us a blueprint for the future of the club. One thing that is very certain is that I’m incredibly proud of everything that Styal Running Club and its members achieved in 2020.

Edit: very remiss of me not to mention Tony Bennett. In 2019 I ran 970 miles to represent the 970 men who die of prostate cancer every month in the UK. Sadly that’s risen to 1000 but I just couldn’t quite achieve that mileage although I could get the 970 again. Tony heard about this and stepped in to run the final 30 in the last few months of December despite not having run for 2 months!