Learning to run again – 10 km closer to my marathon dream!

Nick running the 10KM race in Vung Tau on 17 Nov 2012

Today was a momentous day for me. I have just completed my first competitive 10km race in Vung Tau, Vietnam. For me the race was more than completing the distance in less than an hour in 32 degree tropical heat – it marks the end of more than five years of rehabilitation and is a stepping stone to my ultimate goal of running a full marathon (42km) in under five hours. This may seem an easy target for many. Not for me.

While playing squash in London one morning in 2007, my life suddenly changed. The cracking sound of a shotgun being fired, extreme pain and the feeling my leg had gone through the floor of the court meant my Achilles tendon had snapped. I was rushed to hospital in agony and told I would have to wait a week for non-surgical treatment. My foot was put in a plaster cast, something I would have to wear for eight weeks, and over the next few months, with the aid of crutches and some expensive rehab, I gradually learned to walk again.

Back on my feet I took a trip to Katmandu, Nepal, in April 2007 to attend a regional MD meeting for my former employer, Oriflame. Again disaster struck. While doing my rehab exercises one morning in my hotel room I felt a shooting pain in my leg and fell to the floor. I knew immediately that I had again snapped my Achilles tendon. I clearly remember lying on the floor and calling reception for a wheelchair. I would need it to get around before flying to the UK the next day.

Back in London I was examined by a doctor who told me my Achilles tendon had completely ruptured and that I would need major surgery. After a week of agonizing pain I was in theatre where the doctor told me my knee would be put in plaster after the operation. When I woke up I was surprised to find that not just my knee, but my whole leg from my toes to my thigh was in a cast. When I was able to talk to a doctor he told me the severity of the rupture had made the surgery complicated. The surgeon had cut my leg open from my heel to the back of my knee. I was told my Achilles tendon was now shorter than before and I would have to undergo a lengthy period of rehabilitation. I was also told it was unlikely that I would be able to walk on my own again for at least a year. What made me more frustrated, upset and angry than anything was being told that I would never again be able to run. This left me lying in my hospital bed in a state of shock because keeping fit has always been such an important part of my life.

Three days later I was allowed to return to my London apartment to rest and recuperate. Soon after this I moved to Vietnam.

The first few months in my new home were challenging. Getting around on crutches with my whole leg in plaster in 35 degree heat was not easy. As Area Sales Manager for Oriflame it was necessary for me to spend much of my time travelling around Vietnam. Thankfully I loved what I was doing. What was suffering, however, was my health. Not being able to exercise meant I was putting on weight and my blood pressure, sugar level and cholesterol were also too high.

It was not until 2011, four years after my operation, I was finally able to walk for long distances again. I signed up to a gym and began to introduce fitness walking into my rehab regime. I gradually began to lose weight and felt my fitness returning. I had never given up on the dream of being able to run again, but was aware I still had a long way to go. I increased the amount of Achilles rehab I was receiving and started to visit the gym more often where much of my time was spent walking on the treadmill.

It was during one of my sessions on the treadmill in January 2012 I felt the temptation to run. However, my mind was telling me not to push it. After all, the last time I had tried to overdo things I had ended up in agonizing pain on a surgeon’s table. Yet my determination got the better of common sense. I gradually increased the speed on the treadmill and slowly started to run. I was elated, but I knew I had to control myself and stopped after 30 seconds. But I had been running. The feeling was amazing! The next day I came back and managed to run for a full minute. The following day I ran for two minutes. My Achilles felt fine, and I made up my mind, there and then, to prove the doctors wrong and, one day, complete a marathon. Since that day I have been training hard and running further with this goal in mind.

On 12 August 2012 I successfully completed my first 5km run in 39 minutes. I have continued to push myself, and today I am extremely proud to say that I have just completed my first competitive 10km race. I managed it in 57 minutes and 16 seconds. This may not be a world record, but for someone who was told he was never going to run again it is a major personal achievement.

The race was no picnic. Running in tropical heat under a clear sky in Vietnam is like running in a sauna. The race was made more difficult because it was a beach run; so much of it was on soft sand. We also had to run up and down hills. Although I had trained hard, I was concerned that my Achilles tendon could snap again. All fear left me when the race started.

The heat made running more difficult than I had anticipated and after 4km I was worried I would have to give up. I pushed through by telling myself the pain was only temporary and by reminding myself how lucky I was to be running again.

Nick rehydrating and recovering after having completed the 10km race

I am proud to say I finished the race in under an hour. I have managed to drop 16kg since I began to exercise again and currently weigh 88kg. My aim is to hit 80kg and to run a full marathon in under five hours. The next step of my journey is on December 2 when I will run a half-marathon (21km) through the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. My goal is to complete that race in less than 2 hours 30 minutes. Watch this space for the next installment of my marathon journey.

End Remarks:
Finally I would like to pass my regards and thanks to Nicole and Long, my personal trainers at Nutrifort Fitness as well Greg Beale for his therapy and running advice. Without them I would not have reached this far towards my marathon goal.

I would also like to pass on my sincere regards to my family and friends and especially my dear wife Sofi and wonderful son Percy as well as my mate Bob Van Mol for their ongoing support, understanding and motivation. A final thank you remark to Matt Underwood for being my running buddy and for being the one to encourage me to sign up for the Half Marathon in Angkor Wat.

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