Monday, 15 June 2015

At Richard's

I get out the car, still feeling a bit lost, and look around. The garden is beautiful, well kept green lawns and trees and kaleidoscopic views of a fairytale sunset all round. I gather my things together - my phone, a scrap of worn paper and a half-drunk bottle of red wine. I look around some more. Is this the right house?

Then I see Richard Wild perched on a picnic table on a patio some twenty or so steps away. He watches me as I cover that distance, the bottle of wine tucked under my arm, the other hand returning the affections of his dog as it jumps around my legs. There are greetings and how-do-you-dos before he shows me the view over the Point of Ayre that envelops the rear of the garden. Soon we are sat in an enclosed ornamental back garden beside a babbling pond, a glass of wine each and, I'm told, chips on the way.

'Yeah, I think I'm out the race,' I announce.
'What's wrong then, tell me what's wrong with your knees.'
'Ever since the Northern Ten, they've both had this nagging aching feeling that hasn't really got any better at all over the last five weeks.'
'But it's not a stabbing pain?'
'No - in fact, if it weren't for the Parish, I dare say I wouldn't notice it too much. But there's something wrong in there, and it seems like madness to start an eighty-five mile race on bad knees!'
'That would be a shame after all the training.'
'I know it's annoying. But I am holding out hope that they'll recover in time. In which case, I was going to ask you what you thought of this.'
I produce the scrap of worn paper - my training record. Until this evening it has lived mostly in the living room over the piano, next to the homemade map of the course that dominates the wall. I explain how the chart works and Richard ponders it for a moment.
'This looks like the sort of training that will leave you exhausted and knock your immune system out.'

He's certainly right about my immune system - there are large shaded out patches over the sheet of paper representing a number of bugs and infections that had me bedridden. He points to one of them and reads out the word 'Sick,' then looks at me.
'So nothing at all here?' he says, waving his finger over the shaded out area.
'Not a couple of miles here and there?'
'No, nothing.'
'And what's this here?' he asks regarding the whole shaded out area at the bottom fifth of the page.
'I've been trying to leave these knee's to recover. That last ten written there is the Northern Ten.'
'And since then nothing?'
He puts the sheet of paper down.
'You know most of us don't really go over twenty miles very often, because of the recovery time required... but you do it all the time and it seems to have been effective for you.'
'Yeah. But you don't think this is the right way necessarily?'
'Well it looks to me like you're doing too much on single walks, and yet your overall mileage is still too low.'
'So more shorter walks?'
'Well, yeah...'

He goes on to explain how he trains, and how some professionals he knows train. He outlines a form of discipline and structure that has never occurred to me. To me training to walk means walking, and walking is just walking. But as I listen to him I realise that he makes perfect sense - measured and meaningful distances with prescribed purposes, some working on speed others on endurance, still others working on recovery. He points to an average training day on my record again.
'See, I would only do this a couple of times a year, only really at events.'

We discuss plans for the race itself, how much we can expect to drop in speed towards the end, what will make sensible targets for us, how many really great walkers are in the race this year. And however well or badly trained I am, with shoddy knees I'm a non-starter anyway!
'You know what you should do,' he says, frankly, 'is go out for a walk. Do ten miles, at Parish pace, and see how they feel. If they get bad, you've got your answer'

I lean back and rub my right knee absent mindedly - it's throbbing slightly now. The sky is infinitely empty but for a faint and indeterminate wisp of white. I imagine that that wisp is the seed of an enormous change - that that wisp will grow and mutate until it has become a vast, deep grey sky of its own, laden with water and water, all tense and ready for the morning of the race. I look back at Richard in sunglasses sipping his wine. He's right of course, but now, as the left knee begins to throb a little as well, I worry that I already have my answer.

Monday, 1 June 2015


A panel of black light is just visible behind the curtains. Without looking at the alarm clock I know it's one minute to two - I turn it off at the wall. I put my right foot on the floor first - seems fine. Left foot - normal. Brushing my teeth I test my weight on one, then the other.

Everything seems fine - except, maybe, when I'm depressing the clutch, there's a touch more stress there than there should be? Or maybe it's all in my head. 'There's always something,' Emma often says, 'you're always fine on the day'.

But everything physical I do, I'm inclined towards the right leg, just to be sure. Leaning over some boxes to flick all the lights on, opening the heavy fridge door, rolling out the trolleys... the bread looks great though! Everything's proved large but relatively tense - this'll be a good bake. 'Fluffy puppies!' Angiolino used to say.

Hours later, I've forgotten myself, and Adam has arrived. He barges through the door, shouting over the radio, 'Hey Mappy!' He gets an apron on - 'How's your knee?'
'Yeah, fine I think.'
He immediately checks that all my oven timers are actually moving, and then starts arranging the baked bread into crates for the delivery drivers.

The work becomes rather more loud and erratic with Adam around, and there's some great music on the radio - loads of Eastern European composers I've never heard of, and some radical minimalism called 'Stone Playing in Pot'. There's something wild and weird for piano going on when Matt arrives. 'What the f___ are you listening to?' he laughs, 'it's amazing!' and starts dancing around like he's made of syrup. He's still dancing in the cupboard as he gets an apron on. 'How's your knee?'
'I think it's fine.'
'That's great.'

There are several million things to do, and we get our heads down. As the windows become full of sunlight, those dreamt feelings in my left knee, those imaginings, grow gently more persistent, gently more realistic, and eventually more real. Miles has arrived in a peaked cap - he hasn't brushed his hair yet.
'How's it going guys?'
'So far so good.'
'Excellent, how's your knee.'
'Yeah, it's ok.'
'Good good.'
Three timers are going off at once - Adam is dwelling on the colour of a deck of baguettes


On my way back from the bins I quickly look around - there's nobody here. I start to racewalk very slowly. There was a time when this movement felt really weird, but now there's great pleasure in it, a lovely feeling of fluidity. I always say to people who find racewalking strange that when you're really in your motion, everything from the shoulders down feels like a bicycle your head is riding. As I turn back onto Fort Street I break step and walk normally. There's definitely an ache there - but nothing I could really call painful. And there's definitely more stress on the inside when I racewalk. Three weeks of missed training now - I'd best look at that self-referral form when I get home.

Sian is just on her way out the bakery, smiling.
'Hey Dave, how's your knee?'
'Yeah, not bad.'
'Ah, that's good news! See you tomorrow.'
'Bye bye!'

It starts to rain a little outside as I settle down in the cafe with a coffee - it feels great to be done. Soon, Emma and the Peanut will be here to pick me up and we'll all go home for games and dinner. I'm sure that left knee will be just fine. Like Emma says, there's always something. And anyway, aren't they both hurting a little bit?