Sunday, 2 July 2017

Upside-Down and Inside-Out

I am in Hong Kong. It’s early and my head is foggy, which is par for the course on Sevens weekend. It’s now Saturday morning and the Friday night, despite our best efforts to have "a quiet one”, got a little out of hand.

As is usual these days I reach for my phone, check the time and then open my emails. That’s when I get the news. I’m sat on the side of my bed and I’m sharing the room with my mate Dhugal.


He leaves it a few moments before responding. My voice tells him that this was no ordinary profanity.

“What’s up?”

“My dad has cancer.”



I do the only thing I can do. Pull on an egg costume and go on an 18-hour drinking session.

I am back at the hotel. It is sometime after 8pm and the five of us at the stadium all went in different directions upon leaving. Gudetama, my depressed egg costume, has gone straight in the bin and all I want to do is phone home.

All day I’ve not been able to get the opening line of my mum’s email out of my mind.

“Dear Alan, It’s the worst possible news.”

Being in the South Stand, which carries the slogan “where the world comes to play” has proved a handy distraction for much of the day, but not all of it. Despite God knows how many drinks I still feel sober as a judge.

I get my sister on the phone and manage to speak to both my Mum and then Dad. All I can remember is him saying that he is in a lot of pain. I feel incredibly far away, and in 36 hours I’ll get on a plane and fly five hours in the opposite direction. Back to Japan and a whole world of uncertainty.

I am in the office. The staff all know, but only three of them have expressed sympathy or concern; the rest did not say a word. I’m angry, but shrugging it off. I have made the simple decision to get on a flight home by the end of the week.

My boss is being very supportive, and everyone at the ICC Regional Office in Melbourne, who are due to arrive in Japan in just 10 days to run a tournament that I have been the lead on, are being equally so.

In the end, despite my initial upset at my team for their lack of decency, the staff all step up and take on my workload for the tournament; for which I am very grateful.

I step off the CX 509 from Tokyo to Hong Kong. Transiting through Hong Kong feels strange. Last time I stepped off a plane here, less than one week ago, I was full of excitement about the weekend ahead. This time it is fair to say I have an incredible sense of foreboding.

Next is the CX 253 to London Heathrow. On the flight I cannot concentrate enough to watch movies or read books. I managed to get the exit seat, but there is no window to stare out of. Instead I fix on the woman curled up in blankets on the floor near my feet. Clearly she didn’t like the people sat next to her. There is a song by the Chilli Peppers that I can’t get out of my head. It doesn’t help.

I am on the train to Cornwall. It is a four and a half hour journey, the same length as the flight from Tokyo to Hong Kong. At least this time there are windows to stare out of, and I watch as rain buckets down on the UK; a pathetic fallacy if ever I have experienced one.

The news during the past week has been slow and not exactly positive. We are told we should be thinking of months rather than years. Packing for the flight was the worst, I had no idea what to bring, how long I should stay or what I should be preparing for. Eventually I booked a five week stay, but made sure the flights were changeable.

I stopped overnight with my sister in London and had a good update from her. She’s not sleeping well and there is not really much I can say to help with that. I am hoping that just by being around I am helping, but it seems a bit hollow. Her words after I booked my flights have stayed with me: “You coming home means it must be real”.

I disembark at Truro and get a taxi to the Royal Cornwall hospital at Treliske. It’s funny how cabbies are so much less chatty when you ask to be taken to the hospital. I’ve still got all my stuff with me, so it’s clear I’ve travelled a long way.

I meet my brother and my Mum then go to see the patient. He is in a ward with three others and the first thing I see as I walk in is “Bunny”, a skeleton of a man who looks so unwell that I immediately panic about what Dad might look like. Opposite Bunny on the right is a chap vomiting into a bowl. It is Easter Saturday, and I don’t think I like this place.

It’s Monday 24th April, nine days since I arrived and Mum and I are on our way to the hospital, for what we all hope is the last time in a while. Doing the journey everyday has taken a toll and we are both exhausted. It is helping keep Dad sane however. He has started on his memoirs and has asked for my help. We talked about this sporadically over the years and now he has suitable motivation things will move along.

Bunny is no longer with us and his bed was taken immediately by someone considerably noisier. It is safe to say Dad is happy to be getting out as well. He looks and sounds much more like himself. We were told the previous Thursday that it is prostate cancer, it took more than two weeks after he was admitted for that to be figured out, which seems a long time to me.

He is able to walk very short distances with the use of a zimmer frame and someone next to him for support. Pushing him around the hospital in a wheelchair during the last week was weird, but getting out of the ward was always a high priority, even if only for 20-30 minutes.

We are all incredibly relieved to be getting him home, but we are also acutely aware that this will bring with it a whole new set of challenges. A hospital bed was delivered the previous Friday and we have various other items to take back with us. Things are changing.

It doesn’t take long for the challenges to emerge. A first tumble, boredom, side effects of the drugs and a struggle to fill time when we would rather be making the most of it. On the plus side we did go out and by a 50-inch flat screen TV; so watching sport is now awesome. We are watching a lot of sport.

We are back in the car on the way to Treliske. It is nearly four weeks since we last drove this road and Dad is back for his first visit with the specialist. We are hoping for good news, but Dad is not optimistic. He is not sure he wants chemotherapy and keeps saying how important quality of life is.

My Mum has been a super trooper. She is tired and working constantly to do the best she can, but there are hurdles all over the place. I am due to leave tomorrow and am worried about how everyone will do after I go. I am not sure I have done much, but an extra pair of hands and someone to talk to over a glass of wine seems to be doing something.

We learn nothing from the consultant and are told to come back again in a month. Not much help for me but both my parents seem happy with it. A new drug is prescribed and hopefully this will help manage the pain, which seems to be considerable.

That night is not a pleasant one. There are lots of people around, my sister has come to visit with her family and my girlfriend has flown over from Japan. It’s hectic in the house and there are some frayed nerves leading to tears. I grab a beer and go down to the beach on my own for 45 minutes. I’m not sure why, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

I am a little drunk and on my friends sofa in Tokyo. It is May 14th and Dad has been for a second visit with the consultant. Everything has changed. Since the last visit his mobility has improved no end; the zimmer frame is a thing of the past as, for now, is the hospital bed. News comes through that the revised worst case scenario is two-three years but with chemo that could increase to four or even five.

“Stop the Rollercoaster” one of my sisters messages. We are all relieved, and Dad is now happy to have a go at chemo. He is aware of the potential side effects but feels it is worth it now. It will be an 18-week course, so with any luck will be done by late October. 

Nick, who was in Hong Kong with me the weekend I heard all this for the first time, but was not aware of it until much later, suggests we have another drink to toast the news. I am more than willing.

It’s today, Sunday 2nd July. I am reading back over the messages from Dad yesterday. We were in regular contact during the rugby; the British & Irish Lions have just beaten the All Blacks for the first time in 24 years.

He started chemotherapy on Friday and his messages read:

“You will be glad to know I have slept well. I have no nausea as yet and I will not complain if I need more sleep. Keep smiling, I am.”

Later in his messages he is talking of a beer and pasty outside and I wish I was back there again. The difference now is that I know I’ll get more beers and pasties with him – even if only for a few more years. It is a hell of a lot better than a few more months.

There are still tricky times ahead. I feel like I’ve been turned upside-down, spun round and round and flipped inside-out. For the first time in a while however, I am in a genuinely good mood and think that things might just be OK for a little while yet.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Pre Season

February and March are a surprisingly hectic time in the Japan Cricket office. Despite it being distinctly un-cricketlike conditions outside (generally cold, a bit wet and even the odd bit of snowfall), you could easily think we're in full swing given the schedule.

I recently realised that I am currently in the middle of working 10 out of 12 weekends, which is fairly draining, especially as it's often hard to take days off in the week. That said, I am currently writing this from my bed at 9:30am on a Wednesday morning as I figured a half day wouldn't do any harm.

It may sound like I'm whinging, but I'm really not. Most of these weekends involve hanging around a cricket field, which is why I took the job in the first place. Two weekends in February for example, were spent in the city of Bendigo, Australia, watching our men's team play in the East Asia Pacific regional qualifiers for the World Cricket League. The sun shone, the company was good, the only issue was the results.

Unfortunately we were undone by every team there, which showed how far we have to go. Of course there were some mitigating circumstances (it's the middle of our winter, our team was the youngest by far and the only one without any "expat" players), but ultimately we hope that if we can keep this group of players together, and supplement it with new young talent who have played the game since they were eight years old, then our standing within the region will increase.

A tour like that can be quite chastening, but I was really impressed with the attitude of our players, who all got on with it and continued to give their best. If they can keep that up then better results will come.

Right now I am in the middle of the National Trials weekends. This was introduced last year and we had just two days with men and women together as we tried to identify some new talent. It was all a bit hectic so this year we split it into two weekends with the women trialling last weekend and the men this weekend coming.

Running these events is Cam Tradell, a man who has featured in the blog before, who is over here for his sixth time and brings with him not only a unique coaching mind, but an incredible positivity which helps everyone around him. He's not scared of a beer either.

After this we have a strategy meeting with the ICC and then the women's tournament warm ups begin and the event itself kicks off at the end of April. Once that is all done and dusted I'll get a decent break as my parents are coming to visit and we'll do a little bit of travelling around Japan, so I'll finally visit Kyoto, Kobe and Hiroshima.

It's not all weekends of cricket however, because just prior to going to Bendigo I took the brilliantly named "Snow Monkey Express" train up to Nagano and hung out with some primates who enjoy a warm bath. Never have I felt more surrounded by likeminded creatures.

This trip was actually worth a blog post all of it's own, but since it's been about six weeks you'll just have to make do with some monkey pictures and my assertion that it was awesome and everyone should go. Pretty cold though.

Monday, 6 February 2017

The East Asia Cup

I figure that if I am going to keep writing this thing then it may as well be informative about what I actually do over here in Japan. Hopefully not in a self-aggrandising way, but then I am pretty awesome.

Folks in Japan probably won't learn a lot from this piece, but feel free to read on should you have nothing better to do.

So last November Japan hosted the inaugural men's "East Asia Cup". I say men's because there was a women's version of the tournament in South Korea the previous year which was given the name retrospectively.

The tournament consists of four teams; Japan, obviously, then China, Korea and Hong Kong. In the men's tournament it is the Hong Kong Dragons, which is their all Chinese development side, but for the women it is their full side.

The idea for the tournament was really borne out of necessity as none of the four countries were playing enough cricket. I am not trying to be critical of the ICC here, but the fact is that between late 2014 and early 2017 our men's team did not have a single "official" cricket fixture.  As such we do our best to find opportunities for the team to get together and play; most often that is against touring club teams.

The women fare a little better, as they compete in the Asian Games every four years, and with ICC qualifying events taking place roughly every two years as well then it keeps their calendar relatively busy.

It was at one of those events that my friend and colleague Dhugal began discussing the possibility of playing more regular fixtures between the sides in the region. The idea marinated for a while and in late 2015 an agreement was drawn up between the four cricket associations and signed by all.

We in Japan took the lead on these conversations and proposed a number of different options, with the final agreement being that there would be a tournament every year and that it would alternate between being men's and women's events. The four countries would take turns in hosting over the next four years and then we would reassess where we were.

Since Korea had just hosted the women, Hong Kong had a packed schedule in 2016 and China did not have a suitable venue yet, it fell to us to host and so it was that the first men's tournament was put in the diary for 3rd - 6th November in Sunny Sano.

This was my first time as a Tournament Director and it was a phenomenal experience to try and manage so many moving parts. I've got a few mates who work in events and it really did give me much more appreciation for what they do for a living; frankly it's bloody hard work!

Thankfully the weather was amazing throughout, a good few people turned up over the four days, and we had quite a lot of folks watching on the live stream which we were using for the first time. By the time the final was played we had more than 18,000 watching online, which is pretty cool.

I was also balancing the job of Tournament Director with umpiring and I managed to cause a bit of a stir in the every first match (my long-awaited international debut) after giving our opening batsman out after he left the field of play without permission. It did serve to get us a bit of attention however, although I felt pretty bad about it at the time.

Now, those of you who were paying attention will have noticed that I said early 2017 was the next men's official fixture, which would be now. So next week we fly to Melbourne for a tournament in Bendigo where Japan will come up against Fiji, Indonesia, the Philippines, Samoa and Vanuatu with the winning team qualifying for the World Cricket League Division 5, which is the first rung on the way to World Cup qualification.

It should be a pretty good week and I am going along as Team Manager, my first time doing that too. I'm pretty confident my next entry will have a few thoughts on that. Until then...

Monday, 2 January 2017

Guess Who's Back?

Forgive me readers, for I have sinned; it has been 2.5 years since my last confessi.....I mean post.

It would seem somewhat blithe to put this down to simple forgetfulness, so I hope that perhaps laziness will suffice as an explanation.

In posts gone by I have often promised to pipe up more frequently, fear not, there shall me no more such grandiose claims. Instead I shall simply say that I am not quite sure what form this blog will take in its latest edition, or how often I'll sign in to say hello, but from time to time I shall poke my head up above the parapet and say something if I think it is worthwhile.

Anyone still reading?

Amusingly, I don't really have anything worthwhile to say right now, so I guess I should quickly fill you in on what you've missed.

In the 2nd half of 2014, let's call that Year One, there was more Cricket Blast for juniors and a little bit of domestic travel when a rather tall friend of mine came and holed up in my apartment for three months. Here we are, hiking around Chuzenji Lake in Nikko.

Hard to say what really happened in Year Two. I caused a bit of a stir with a tweet I sent from the Japan Cricket account after a couple of fine ales on my birthday were left tasting sour due to England crashing out of the World Cup at the group stages. Got us a few more followers at least.

Aside from that, life got a bit easier initially as I was basically repeating what had been done the previous year, but that was boring so we decided to open up another Cricket Blast Centre, this time down south in Yokohama at the Country and Athletic Club where Cricket was first played in Japan back in 1863. That went OK and is still running.

I did continue my mission to see a bit more of Japan (and the world in fact); Hokkaido got a visit and I finally managed to get myself up to the top of Mount Fuji, which was actually pretty cool (there I am at the top). Internationally there was a trip to Vietnam, where the previously mentioned tall man had fled after his visa for my house/Japan ran out.

Towards the end of the year things got a little complicated as the funding for my position came to an end. What that ultimately meant was a job change to the very important sounding "Head of Cricket Operations" - yes, you should all bow down before me as I pass from now on.

So Year Three was a bit different. I made more of an effort to connect with the cricket community, get to know the players who the Blast kids will hopefully grow up to play with/against, as well as better understand all the domestic structures we want to improve.

I also had to oversee the National Teams, which has been both enjoyable and extremely challenging. The women travelling to Samoa and the men competing in East Asia Cup at home were major events which were great to be involved with, and extremely tiring. With a better understanding of the needs of the players and the longer term vision of the JCA I am confident these programs will be even better in 2017.

Additionally I attended the ICC Annual Conference for the first time, which last year was held in Edinburgh, and later did a two week placement with Cricket Scotland. Learned loads on those little jaunts, as well as on a "Leadership Forum" in Sydney a little later in the year organised by the ICC regional team. Met loads of new people and made lots of contacts to bounce ideas off in the future.

I have played less and less; two games in Year One, just one in Year Two and not a single one in Year Three (apart from a Drovers appearance back in London). I have instead done a lot more umpiring and under the impressive guidance of Chris Thurgate am now part of the Japan Elite Umpiring Panel...which may have been chosen by my friend Dhugal...but that's by the by. Here we are, looking rather sexy I'm sure you'll all agree.

While all this is going on the placements from overseas, which were such a central part of my early months here, have not only continued but increased in frequency. Too many to detail, but let's just say that we have not had a dud yet. All have been great, none shy of a beer and managing the placements from Cricket Victoria, Cricket Without Borders and the MCC continue to give me a huge amount of job satisfaction, and I hope some lifelong friends as well.

2017 has much lined up, I am, barring disaster, off to Australia (Bendigo) in February as Team Manager for our Men's team where they will compete in a World Cricket League Division Five qualifier, and in April/May we will host a Women's World T20 Qualifier for the region. Expect (or don't), to hear a bit more about those here in the coming months.

We will have a festival in September, which if all goes well will be combined with a match against a Top League Rugby side - still trying to get all of that confirmed, but it could be pretty entertaining.

My folks are also coming to visit in May, following on from my sister Helen making it out here in 2016, which means I might finally get out to Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima and all those other places I have thus far failed to reach.

I think that pretty much covers it, no need to babble on longer than is necessary. I shall leave you with some of my favourite photos of 2016. A whole yen is on offer to anyone who can guess where all nine were taken...

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Rainy Season, Fat Men and Nutcrackers

Rainy season in Japan is not quite what I expected it to be. I expected to be enjoying scenes like this around now: 

Mount Fuji visible from the Sano ground. My debut was rained off. 
Coming from England, where it can rain at any moment, I am at least used to the wet. I’ve also experienced monsoon weather in Nepal where the water can come halfway up your shins, and tropical storms in both the Caribbean and Northern Australia which are usually short, sharp and give way to clear skies and stunning sunsets, but here it’s not quite any of those.

Today there was a massive hailstorm in Tokyo. You can read about it by clicking here, it may not have been as bad as the scene from The Day After Tomorrow, but it's getting there!

An example of the recent weather conditions
In Sano it’s damp, grey and gloomy; often pretty dark and the guttural rumble of a storm is never all that far away. Not so long ago it rained solidly for pretty much two weeks. The temperature however, is holding steady in the mid-twenties with humidity levels rising all the time, increasing the dampness. There are bursts of sunshine, which is enough to keep me sane, and I'm sure once the real summer heat kicks in I'll be longing for more rain. I'm told of course, that Sano has it's own unique weather system, and is also famous for its strong winds in autumn. I shall look forward to those. 

It’s an incredibly British thing to do, moan about the weather, but when you work in a sport that is pretty reliant on the sun shining you can see how it might put a bit of a bee in my bonnet.

In truth we have been quite lucky. The ICC Tournament that was just kicking off in my last post had glorious weather with the only rain coming on the rest day. This was just one of the many factors that made the event a great success (my own outstanding contribution being another of course), and all it needed was a Japan win to round it off. Losing in the final was therefore pretty irritating to say the least. There’s a decent six-minute video of the event here should you wish to see a few highlights.

The weather is not the only thing to have changed. The contrast between my first three months in Japan, and the second three could not be starker. If that first section was characterised by raw fish, no booze and a gigantic dollop of exercise, then the second has been significantly less austere.

The fish have remained raw, that much I promise and the below video should certainly prove as much (squeamish people and vegetarians are advised not to watch), but everything else has rapidly shifted to the other end of the spectrum.


Visits from Cricket Australia are largely to blame (you know who you are), and the discovery of a number of bars in Sano that, despite not looking like much from the outside, have a willingness to stay open to the early hours should the punters so desire, have combined to plant me back on a path I thought I had stepped off after departing London. This may also have contributed to the lack of any blog for almost two months.

Incredible support from Cricket Victoria
I am of course, not complaining. It’s been bloody entertaining. The folks who have visited have been a seriously good bunch, and every single one incredibly positive and supportive of cricket out here, which is a real shot in the arm.

My project kicked off back in late May, beginning with the School Cups and now the six week series is about half way through. A more detailed explanation is here for those who missed it. This has meant that prior to the weekend just gone I’d not had two days off in a row since March, so it’s safe to say I was due. The bosses from the ICC are over this coming weekend, and while numbers are not where I would like them to be, I hope there are enough signs of encouragement for them to extend the funding another year.

If it does then I fully intend to see more of Japan. Thus far all I’ve managed is a trip to the Sumo, which was seriously awesome (some of those guys are properly massive), and a sightseeing day around Tokyo, which included a trip up the Skytree like a proper tourist. I do however, desperately want to get out into the countryside and see more of rural Japan. Plans are afoot to do something along those lines next month, which will be brilliant. 

Large men who spent a lot of time in a tight embrace
Right, this is long enough. I’ll try to more regularly again – it was a pleasant surprise to receive a few queries from folks wondering if I was still alive having not blogged for a while, so there is a bonus purpose to this thing.

In other, totally unrelated news, a chap in my office took a cricket ball in the nuts this weekend and today admitted to me that he’s not worn a box for the last four years. My response to that was not overly sympathetic. For those of you who cannot fathom what that must be like, the below video may give you some idea (by the way, if you get these posts emailed then I'm not sure the videos come through, so you'll have to visit the actual site by clicking on the title at the top). 

PS: I cannot bring myself to write about international sport right now. If the Rugby team losing to the All Blacks 3-0 in NZ was understandable and the World Cup debacle predictable, how the England Cricket team are currently performing leaves me grateful I'm not within reach of heavy artillery. 

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Earthquakes & International Tournaments

Safe to say it’s been busy since my last post. To make the point of just how busy, I got to bed at 4:30am last night, and was up again at 6am, I've had naps at weddings longer than that.

Coming home at that hour and not being blind drunk was an incredibly strange experience – and in all honesty not one that I wish to repeat any time soon. However, do not misunderstand as I am not moaning here. Why? Because as I type, this is my view:

Obviously, I was looking right when I took this

Today is the opening day of the ICC East Asia Pacific Women’s Tournament, which is being hosted by Japan in my home city of Sano. I am currently watching Papua New Guinea take on the Cook Islands, having already seen the former put away Vanuatu by a fairly considerable margin.

The tournament got off to a sticky start when on the day the first people began to arrive we had the biggest Earthquake since I've been in Japan. According to this report from Sky News, it registered at 5.8 and was the first time I've thought seriously about getting out of the house (the first shudder was at 5am, the second was 20 minutes later and genuinely quite scary!). Still, it made for a good conversation starter for the folks fresh off the plane, especially those who'd never been out of their home country before.

Aside from the above teams and Japan, we also have Samoa and a charity side called Cricket Without Borders (CWOB) who have come over from Australia and are playing friendlies to give us an even number of teams thus ensuring there are always three games on at any one time. 

CWOB and Japan in Akishima last Monday
Upon returning from London I discovered that the guys in the office had been working until 2am on a regular basis, often going as late as 4am. I was pretty shocked by that, and it has continued, but does mean that we are, I think, putting on a decent show. After all image is everything in Japan.

Having landed on the Thursday and heading straight into work, I discovered there was a touring team over from Hong Kong who would be playing our women’s team five times over the weekend and who also required people to show them around the sights of Sano. Dhugal and I of course obliged, but this did lead to another karaoke experience which was even worse than the first.

The weekend after that we moved offices – out of the shoe box and into an old doctor’s surgery which is two storeys and I reckon maybe 15-20 times bigger than our previous digs. To say it’s a bit nicer would be a considerable understatement.

Darrell and Nobuko also came to visit that weekend, which remains the only proper day off I’ve had since my return, and naturally we spent it getting boozed and finding yet another game of cricket to watch.

Since then it’s been all go on this tournament, which brings me to my bleary eyes and foggy brain. The teams arrived on Monday, but there was a friendly in Tokyo between Japan and CWOB so we made what turned out to be the 14-hour round trip to watch that. The opening ceremony was yesterday and involved Kimono’s, Drums and Swords – in that order, but after closing just after 7pm our work really began.
The Japan girls looked pretty different to how I usually see them
I’m in the role of “Venue Manager” at a venue I had never previously seen a game of cricket played at and only visited once for about five minutes. We have three venues and had to set up all of them, which included tying sponsors flags to boards, erecting tents and moving about 3000 chairs in the back of someone’s car.

By 4am there were six of us stood in a circle, dawn breaking on the horizon but still chiefly lit by car headlights, each facing in the opposite direction with us highlighted in between and also shrouded in exhaust. It felt a bit like a scene from an old movie where the protagonists discuss how to divide the loot or where to bury the body. 

Under cover of darkness....
I had to be back here at 7am as the first game began at 9am and we still had to tidy a few things up and get the drinks in place. Since then it’s been a pretty constant stream of things not working, getting lost or just simply breaking, but so far it seems I’m the only person who’s really noticed so that’s a plus.

It’s good though. Weeks like this are why I took this job. The only downside is that my own project has suffered during these weeks because the guys have not been able to put the time in as the tournament has taken precedent. It’s frustrating, but it’s clear how important this competition is for Cricket in Japan, and the winners will go on to the World Cup Qualifiers next year so hopefully the Japan girls can get the win and keep moving upwards.

Of course, a number of people have been in touch after my marathon episode. Thanks for all the comments and well wishes. I really am fine, and have entered the ballot again for the race next year. Whether or not I actually end up running it remains to be seen, it’ll largely depend on where I’m living of course, as well as actually getting through the ballot.

If I do try again, I’ll follow the advice of pretty much everyone and see a specialist beforehand, to make sure that I won’t actually die trying. I’ve not been out for a run yet, although that’s largely been through laziness/lack of motivation than any great fear of collapsing in a heap. I have at least managed a couple of games of squash (lost for the first time last week…livid).

For now PNG are 43/0 off six, and give the Cook Islands were all out for 39 in their first match this morning I think this game might already have been decided, but it’ll be fun seeing how it goes – the enthusiasm on show alone makes the lack of slee……..zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Friday, 18 April 2014

London Marathon - Failure & Perspective

“To call running ‘fun’ would be a misuse of the word. Running can be ‘enjoyable’. Running can be ‘rejuvenating.’ But in a pure sense of the word, running is not fun.” Dean Karnazares – Ultramarathon Man.

I had been looking forward to writing this post. As soon as I set the blog up I was thinking about my triumphant piece post-marathon, where I would feign humility about what I had achieved and wait for the hearty congratulations to roll in. Instead I am writing something quite different.

I did not complete the London Marathon last Sunday. I fell short, quite literally, as my temperature reached 41.5 degrees and I collapsed in a dirty, bloody heap on the side of the road. I was carted off, probably on a stretcher, to the St Johns Ambulance medical team based at Poplar. I don’t recall the finer details except that my legs very suddenly turned to lead; like a dream when you’re trying to sprint but can’t move. The grazes on my knees tell me I crumpled rather than keeled over.

This is not because I ran as a Womble – the pictures below are of me borrowing the costume from my cousin, who I bumped into before the start of the race.

I have checked my GPS and can see that I hit the deck on Ming (the Merciless) Street, which is a fraction short of 21-miles, and that I had been running for almost exactly three hours at that point. 

When I came to I couldn’t move and was covered with bags of ice. I immediately tried to sit up and nothing happened. It took at least half an hour before I could move my arms and legs, but it was 90 minutes before the medical team pulled me up into a sitting position and later hauled me upright and over to an ambulance. Up until then I had spent the entire time thinking I was paralysed. I know now that fear was unfounded, the severe pain in my back and neck should have told me that, but rational thoughts don’t really kick in at such times.

What I have since discovered was that the more realistic danger was in fact death. A bit melodramatic I know, but had the medics not found me quickly I would have been in serious trouble. I was diagnosed with severe hyperthermia (the opposite of hypothermia – which is extreme cold). The definition of the condition reads thus:

“An elevated body temperature due to failed thermoregulation that occurs when a body produces or absorbs more heat than it dissipates. Extreme temperature elevation then becomes a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment to prevent disability or death.

“Hyperthermia is defined as a temperature greater than 38.3 °C. it requires an elevation from the temperature that would otherwise be expected. Such elevations range from mild to extreme; body temperatures above 40 °C can be life threatening.”

As mentioned, I was at 41.5 °C. What freaks me out the most is that I did a training run of almost this exact distance and time. Had the same thing happened out here in Sano four weeks ago, then I would not be sat here now, of that I am certain.

When my brother and sister arrived they were a trifle horrified when I said that we still needed to get to the pub. I had people to meet and already felt like I had let them down by not finishing, and had no intention of making that worse by not showing up to my own party. The fact I was shaking, my face ash-white and my lips blue were their chief concerns, not to mention that I didn’t notice there was a bag of ice still down my pants…but we went anyway.

So how do I feel about it six days later? Devastated, obviously, but I also have a sense of perspective given to me by the sheer terror I was in for those 90 minutes. I’ve never known anything like that, and never want to again.

Last year my brother did the race, got injured just a couple of miles in and dragged himself around the entire course in more than seven hours. Like me in Berlin five years ago, his first marathon was all about finishing and I said to him at the time that, odd as it may sound, a marathon is not just about race day. It is about the six months before, the early starts and the sacrificed weekends. I had been proud of him for those efforts, so I have been trying to tell myself the same thing.

This was my second marathon however. For me it was not all about just crossing the finish line. I had no intention of walking, as I had in Berlin. I walked greater distances than 26-miles several times during my Thames Walk. I wanted to RUN a marathon, and so I went to London with a target set, a desire and belief that I could complete 26.2 miles in less than four hours. A tough target sure, but I genuinely believed I could do it. Astonishingly, I still do as I was tracking for 3:55 when I went down and felt absolutely fine right up until the seconds before I lost consciousness.

I don’t believe I did much wrong. I drank plenty, I ran in the shade when I could and through the showers when I saw them. What I would do differently is not wear a hat and ignore the pre-race paperwork which tells you not to waste water by pouring it over your head; perhaps the single worst piece of advice imaginable on a hot day. I have every intention of returning next year.

Ultimately I am taken back to a quote that I have used again and again over the years, including in my own book, and one that Dean Karnazes uses in Ultramarathon Man after his own failure (he had only managed 72 miles of a 100-mile race):

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I have been lucky these last few years. I have known the triumph of high achievement with the Cricket on Everest Expedition, and to a lesser extent my Thames Walk. Failure can be relative. I have at least failed in an attempt to push myself to my limit. My pride is definitely wounded, but it will recover I’m sure.

To everyone who was out on the day, I thank you sincerely. To those I managed to see while I was over, it was great to catch up and I am sorry there was not more time. I managed to miss my flight back on Tuesday morning so had a bonus day and caught up with a few others which was brilliant. To those I did not see, I missed you all and thank you to those who sent messages of support.

Now it’s back to cricket in Japan