Runner's Web

Half Marathon Man

At Aylsham, on May 2nd 1982, I watched the Holt Marathon runners pass, en route to Norwich. The half marathon runners finishing in Aylsham Market Square. It had an effect on me, in short, I decided to do it myself.

My neighbour was already training, he agreed to take me.

Kitted up, on a June evening, off we jogged. At the village pond, some 150 yards out, I advised him I was completely exhausted and incapable of further movement. 'Perfectly normal.' he said, 'Carry on.' So I did, and I could. That was the first of many runs.

Each practice route had a name. 'Old Church', 2.2 miles. This was generally done on a Friday Night. 'Stratton Strawless.' 4.2 miles. 'The Mayton Loop.' 6.0 miles. And the longest, Skeyton Church, 11.2 miles.

I ran three times a week, normally with my neighbour, but sometimes alone, and a few times, cycle paced. I also ran with my neighbours friend, a stronger runner, he could, and did, run backwards as well as I could go forwards. I stopped running with him.

All these practice runs were hard, sometimes terrible, often worst when I felt particularly fit before starting. I used the 'Rhythmn.' method of running, swinging the momentum of one stride into the next, loose arms, rolling the shoulders. This produced a shuffling gait of barely 6 miles an hour. But I could now keep going, and I enjoyed it, despite the discomfort.

Distance running is daunting in prospect, wearying in execution, but marvellous on completion.

Determination that I would complete this coming half marathon kept me at this training routine. I will give no details of the cycle-pacing, when June would ride past, at speed, holding out a beaker of orange. Nor will I tell you what I called the cow she pointed out to me, ten miles out, on a hot day.

Half-marathon morning at Earlham Park, with the hot air balloons rising, and runners preparing, was alive with colour and movement. Everyone else looked faster than I, some even running round the field to warm up. At 11.0am we were all in a huge bunch, the gun fired and off we streamed. Me and Mike Tagg.

Point one. I was determined to finish. Point two. I was not going to walk. Point three. I was a fool.

It was hot, very. And humid, very. I went too fast for the first mile or so. Seeing what I thought to be all the runners leave me behind I tried to keep up with them. This was not a sound tactic. At the first drinks table, as I ran past, I knocked over six beakers of orange juice. So I didn't drink. At the next drinks stop I knocked the drink from someone's hand. So I didn't drink. At the next drinks stop, I stopped, picked up a beaker full of water, ran on and tipped most of it down my vest. I did clutch sponges of water at some stops, and squeezed them on me and sucked them, they tasted horrible. But I should have had more drink.

In Bluebell Road I felt very weak, but was still running, I wondered if I should stop and walk, but I decided not to. I took no further decisions as I remember no more.

I finished the course on Auto-pilot, and woke up in hospital at 7.0pm.

Thank you to friend and colleagues who cheered me on the route. Why did I run? and keep running? Why did 1500 people run? not all athletes, many middle aged sedentary men like me. Perhaps the reason is instinct. Primitive man either ran after his food, or away from animals to which he was food. Our immediate forebears also had their huge physical tasks, just for survival. A navy moving ten tons a day. A miner 12 hours at the coal face. Evolution takes tens of thousands of years. Have we adjusted to our sedentary life after 50?. I was running away from a sabre-toothed tiger. It nearly got me!

Peter Perkins. Sept 82.

The above was an article for BT magazine.....The following is the rest of the piece which I didn't send to the magazine.

I ran up Bluebell Road, towards Earlham Road..............

I woke up in the middle of the night, in my bed at home. Wider awake than normal, as if alerted by a sudden noise. I assessed my position in bed, I don't know why. I lay flat on my back, arms at my side, palms upwards, legs slightly apart. I lay thinking of nothing but with a realisation that something was wrong.

I could not move. I did not need to try. I knew I couldn't. I don't mean lift an arm or leg. I could not twitch a muscle.

I at once decided I was suffering a heart attack and was dying. I was in no doubt. I first thought, if I could speak, I would say to June, 'Kill me'. 'Get all our aspirins and water and do it.' I had decided on the instant, that as I was in the process, I didn't want a botched job. I would have preferred to die than be quite physically or mentally crippled.

Now, I thought, I can't speak to June, or anyone else again. I wished I had spoken to her at some time and said that if ever I became very brain damaged or similarly invalid I would prefer not to live. But I had never said it. I then decided it didn't matter as I would probably die anyway.

My next thoughts were that, though I am dying, I am conscious, to myself at least. So I will consider carefully the process of dying, to be an interested observer, as it were.

I next thought how terrible it would be for June to wake up to find me dead beside her, or to be woken in the night by my body growing cold.

I was angry, if I hadn't taken that last run I would wake in the morning and all would be normal. But the clock cannot be put back, I saw myself as a stupid man, but resignedly, it was done, I was going, can't un-run the one that killed me.

I was cross, as I now knew dying was easy, how nice to do it at 83, not 43.

Again and again I thought, how silly to run to death. To bike, to run a little would have been fine.

I began, after some time, say 5 minutes, to stop thinking so clearly and coolly. Confusion started in my brain, but my thinking brain seemed to recede again and remain lucid. This point is central to my feelings. At all times I retained a nucleus or spark that was me, but the rest of my normal intellect was not controlled by me.

Noises filled my head, not identifiable. Like banging giant anvils, but not quite. Like a Black and Decker saw, but not like it. Something a bit like barking.

Then sensations, and these the strangest. All over, outside and inside the body, and organs. Coldness, piercing, fluttering. This was not painful but I thought dying takes a long time. I wanted a black curtain to fall and end these noises and sensations.

It seemed to me that the noise and feelings went on for many hours, and I was looking and looking for me just to stop.

Among this hullaballoo, I only seemed to have a small bit of 'me' remaining. I tested it, I knew the first word of what I believed I was suffering to be 'heart', but I could not think of 'attack', but I did, with some satisfaction, after a long time, say in my brain, 'Heart Attack'. Then the same test with 'Skeyton', which again eventually came.

I thought, in flashes, of people. In no sense that they or I would be sorry. They were just brief thoughts of particular friends. I thought of Terry Moore, another friend, and his advice of don't run. I thought, he was quite right and I was wrong. But I shan't be able to tell him.

I was still in the midst of the noise and a feeling of cold hands through my brain led me to believe that the blackness would now come, but it did not.

I thought, is my death a waste? No, a baby will be born the second you die, you make no difference.

I was not afraid that I was dying, there was no sensation of courage or endurance, or misery, so no fear. I don't suppose we fear being born either.

My sensations began to take a different turn, literally. I seemed to move, and balance, on parts of my body, with difficulty. Then even stranger postures, though whatever was thinking of them with remained still.

These movements were combined with the sounds and sensations but I still felt no pain, however painful they seemed to be. I began to think I was dead and would remain whirling for ever. But I had always thought dead people were no more, no senses, no feeling, no where, and I thought so still.

Well, I decided, definitely my heart attack has starved my brain of blood, and I was alive, but my brain was dead, except the bit I was now using.

I could not communicate with anyone with this vestige of brain, but I was convinced that in this nucleus I was as sane as ever. I decided I was now lolling in a corner in a mental institution, as completely useless a body as they had ever seen. I had myself seen such people in the past, but now I knew they still had their sanity, it was just locked in.

I still tumbled, more madness, I decided that this was my fate, I would be permanently like this, and accepted it and grew used to it.

The 'Asylum' phase continued for a long time. I then heard among the other sound effects, which had always continued, 'Peter.' ....'Peter.'

Tes, they've come to see me, but I cannot communicate anything, not a vestige of a chance..........Then lights, bright, deep, as if shining up my neck. Then I believe I am wearing a greyhound's muzzle. This muzzle presses hard into my face. I twist on my side, feeling terrible cramps in my stomach, retch as never before. I see the muzzle moved away, see light, see a tanned hand, a blue dress, white coats. 'What day is it Mr Perkins?' 'Do you know where you are?'

I cannot say that I then felt relief, or joy, that I was spared and not dying at all. I just lay there aware only that I was living and may well continue to do so.

This recovery from the unconscious state was at about 7.0pm on Sunday, so 5 hours had elapsed from my collapse, not a much longer time as I had believed.

The treatment continued. I lay naked, before a large fan. I was watered all over, the water evaporated, I was watered again, and again. This continued until my temperature was reduced, I think at around midnight. I then regained my strength and was allowed to come home on Tuesday evening.

As I recovered, and as I am now nearly fully recovered, I am thankful that I am alive. If it was death that touched me, it held no terrors. But life is good and I hope to enjoy a lot more of it, and perhaps appreciate living a little more than I did before.

Peter Perkins

Sept 1982

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