The start of my running obsession

At the age of nine I was diagnosed with a disability called Perthes disease which made exercising more or less impossible. I spent weeks on end going in and out of hospital, being placed on traction and having to have a number of operations to lengthen the tendons in my groin. I had to have my hip pinned to try to increase the blood flow into my hip joint and this was followed by 6 weeks in broom stick pots. During this time I was wheel chair bound and then gradually progressed to using crutches and carrying out regular physiotherapy sessions to build up the muscles in my legs, as they were too weak to support my body weight. Perthes disease (also known as Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, or Calve Perthes disease, is a childhood disorder which affects the head of the femur (the ball of the ball and socket joint of the hip). In Perthes disease the blood supply to the growth plate of the bone at the end of the femur (called the epiphysis) becomes inadequate. As a result the bone softens and breaks down. The specialists told me that I would never be able to lead a fully active lifestyle due to the shorting of my leg and the weakness within my hip joint but  I stayed positive and tried to be as active as possible throughout my teenage years. I played as much football as my hip could handle and at the age of  eighteen I was finally discharged from the hospital.

I continued to play football until my early twenties but then my activity levels decreased and I put on a considerable amount of weight, but never really looked at myself as overweight. Looking back at the old me I was overweight and unfit, weighing four stone heavier than my current weight. A few of you might have seen the Fat Dan picture on Facebook. I eventually lost interest in playing football, I started to spend more time walking in the National Parks with my two boxer dogs and good friend Dan Milton. I gained an interest in walking challenges and completed the National 3 Peaks, Yorkshire 3 Peaks and the Lyke Wake Walk. This is where I developed my base fitness before embarking on the crazy challenge of running 100 miles in the Lake District.

 In 2012 we received some bad news about a close family member being diagnosed with cancer, I made the decision to sign up for the 2013 Ultra Tour of the Lake District, a 100 mile race in the Lake District for Cancer Research UK. I had to start running to get fitter to make sure I completed the race. A few months passed with me running on the local trails and then I decided I needed to join a running club to get some help and advice. After searching the internet I found a couple of local clubs and decided to join Clowne Road Runners. On my first training session I met Andy Ward who advised me to get in touch with Dave Tune at Blizard Physiotherapy and have a Lactate Threshold Test done, if I was going to take the 100 mile race serious.

On meeting Dave I was really impressed with how professional he was and his knowledge of training was fantastic. He made feel totally at easy and took the time to listen to me and explain everything, as there was so much information to take on board. A lot of the talk went over my head but he made sure I fully understood everything before I left. I told him my short term and long term goals so he could tailor the test and training to my needs. On completing the test he said that my running style and results suggested that I would be more suited to running on the roads and over marathon distance and not at ultras. Dave was confident he could have me running a 2hr 40 min marathon with the right training and support, I laughed at this statement as I never thought it would be possible as I was struggling to run 10min/ miles at the time. Even when I was playing football I was never renowned for my running.

 After my test I was given my training zones and a training plan to help me complete my 100 mile race. As the miles increased the support from Dave also increased and so did my confidence. I completed the race well inside the cut off limit and was one of the 25% to complete raising over £2,089 excluding gift aid in the process. I took advice on how to recover properly before going back to see Dave and having my training zones re- tested. We were both surprised to see how much I had improved. We sat down and chatted about moving to a road marathon and what I would have to do. We looked at how I would be able to achieve the target time he originally set of a 2:40 marathon and Dave was really confident that if I committed to a 6 month training plan he could get me running really well on the roads. I was a little unsure as I didn’t see myself as a runner but I made a commitment that I would finish the ultras off I had planned before taking a month’s recovery. This would put me in a good place to start on a strict plan that Dave would tailor to my needs. The plan allowed me to carry on progressing and to meet the milestones set along the journey and also ensured that I would be on track for the 2:40.

We decided that the Edinburgh Marathon would be my target race. I started off with a month’s threshold training to build my strength and get my body used to training on the roads. I had never done a lot of miles on the road before and I found that it was taking a lot out of my body. I kept in touch with Dave and he supported me throughout this time. At times I felt like I was contacting him too much but he assured me that he actually felt that I needed to have more contact with him, so that he could monitor my progress and guide me through. We identified 4 build-up races that would give me enough time to train and recovery properly. These races allowed us to monitor my improvement. I was instructed what I needed to do in the weeks prior to the race and how much recovery time I would need once each race had been completed. The week before each race I was given a predicted time that Dave thought I was going to run based around the information he had gathered from my training runs. The predictions proved to be correct every time, even though I often doubted my own ability to achieve them.

In six months I went from running a 5k in 19:02 to 16:16, 10k in 38:56 to 34:29, ½ marathon 78:11 to 73:45, producing times I never imagined possible. A few weeks before my first ever marathon I went back to have my Lactate Tests done. This time we looked at my capacity to run at the speeds around my predicted marathon pace to establish how my body would react. From this information we were able to put together a race plan that allowed me to run my perfect marathon.

The extra support I got in the final few weeks really helped, as I was over analysing everything and worrying that I wasn’t doing enough. With Edinburgh being my first marathon I didn’t have a clue about tapering but this was all taken care of. I believe I was in the shape of my life and feeling very confident on race day, maybe too confident as I set off a little too quickly in the early stages. At twenty miles my legs felt heavy, my mind was telling me it would be ok to walk for a while but as the finish line got closer, the crowds got bigger and there was no way I was going to give up. All of the very early cold, wet, windy mornings spent training weren’t going to be for nothing. I crossed the finish line in 2:42:27.

Without all of the information and support I received from Dave and his team I strongly believe that I wouldn’t have run a 2hr 42min marathon on my first attempt in addition I also qualified for a championship place in the London Marathon 2015.

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My 18 week training plan for Edinburgh will follow……

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5 thoughts on “The start of my running obsession

  1. Sean Barkes

    Great story! Always good to hear how others have conquered adversity and set themselves seemingly impossible goals. It’s not going to stop me beating you one day, though, Dan

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  3. William Kidd


    I’m so happy to hear that there is someone out there with the same condition as me has the drive to accomplish things that I’m sure baffles Orthopaedic Surgeons. Your story is an inspiration for me. I was diagnosed with Perthes Disease when I was 5 years old. Traction, plaster cast and forest gump style leg braces for many years. I too had the drive to strengthen my legs. So much so, I played rugby at a very high level until my early twenties. Like you, after an injury, I ballooned – my weight went up to 15 stone. I hated myself for getting so out of shape – so I changed the way I ate and trained. I eventually got into running and ended up losing 4 stone, purely through dieting and training. I never got up to your dizzy heights of marathon running. Only 10K’s a couple of times a week. Now here comes my problem. Around 5 years ago I tore my left knee meniscus. At the time I never really knew what it was so stopped running for a couple of years (replaced by cross trainer cardio). The tear healed itself. A couple of years ago, I started running again, but the pain came back even worse. I have since had surgery and it’s feeling good. However, I’m scared to get back into running. I miss it so much but no one can seem to give me the right advice. I blame my knee tear on non fitted running shows not Perthes Disease. My question to you is, do you run with orthotic support or not? My leg length discrepancy is approx. 1″. My right leg being the shortest. I would like to get started again, but the fear is there that I may injure myself. Thanks, Willam.

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