Category Archives: James Lee

A one-way ticket, Newcastle to Durham, Tuesday, September 17, 2019

James Lee

James Lee has left the building and is about to head south from Freeman to Durham

I am lucky. The chemo I am on is purely oral. I go to the Freeman, get weighed, answer some questions, collect the pills and come home. Then I take the pills the following five nights. Simples.

Last year I found that the buses were better than the train. Recently I started wondering if I could run home. I printed out a map – 16.2 miles on road. Yesterday I left the house in my running gear.

At the Freeman my resting heart beat set off the alarms again. I was thankful, yet again, that I’m not sitting there for hours on intravenous (yet). I stowed the pills in my back pack and went down to the back door. Set my Garmin, my laces, my music. Go.

The first two miles disappeared reading the map (is that how fell runners ignore the pain?). There was the Ouse Burn to follow, a bit of park, then busy roads down to Quayside. Too many streets to cross but I was keeping good time. Under the Tyne Bridge and over the Swing Bridge, enjoying the view, then up. Two pages of A4 to get to Gateshead, one page for all those miles home.

The World outside your Window. The Angel from the bus.

The up wasn’t steep enough to require running right (see link) but there were some long gradual climbs with the occasional view down in to the valley. I passed the Angel again, ran through Birtley and Chester-le-Street.

I kept the pace up because I knew I was pushing my half-marathon PB. I knocked minutes off what I ran earlier this year – and what I ran in my 20s. Then my calves seized up. I slowed down – the next record was the distance on my Garmin so time didn’t matter. I made it home. I was glad I had stuck to off-road this year.

Lessons learned:

  • The A167 is good for speed but very boring for distance. I won’t run back from Newcastle again.
  • Don’t think that, because you’ve done 16 miles off-road, 16.2 miles on road will be OK. My theory is that, because of the better grip, I was pushing more with my feet – hence the calves problem. Whether that’s right or not, the difference hurts. It requires more cushioned trainers, too.
  • Taking the bus out is a good way to get a distance target – it’s hard to stop. I think it could be great to run all those miles without turning around. I just need to find the right route.

For those of you wondering how I’m still running:

Last summer the odds on the chemo working were 40%. It hasn’t just worked, it blew the grade III bit apart. My consultant has seen that 3-4 times in her career. The grade II bit has stopped growing but the chemo is still just buying me time. I passed the short life expectancy back in January.

Most people last about 9 rounds of chemo before the side effects get too much. I feel rough for a few days but can now do the club runs on the Wednesday after pills. This will be round 16 for me. My consultant has seen someone last 24, not that that’s a challenge… The average life expectancy ends next month and I’m not dead yet.

I’m beyond the statistics but the estimate is now some time next year. I’ve been warned that the end of chemo can be quite sudden. I’d love to finish this cross-country season. I wasn’t kidding with the “I am lucky”.

Sometimes I wonder what’s killing me. Is it the brain tumour, the chemo, or the reminder every 28 days? But it’s the living that matters. Thanks to all for keeping me running.

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Running right, Out West, Friday, September 13, 2019

James Lee

I thought I’d run hills today, so headed out West. I felt pretty good and the sun was shining. Somehow it became the run I got right.

Crossing town is pretty flat tarmac and grass, so roughly 7 minute miles. After half a mile I stopped to sort my socks out and tighten my laces. Then I just went for it, even though I wanted to run 10 miles or so. Some time ago Lisa Evette’s post showed a heart rate average well above anything I ever get – was I pushing it hard enough? Then there was a side effect of the Pilates – suddenly I could breathe faster than every two steps without getting a stitch. The core of my body really does connect to everything, it seems. It just took a few decades to find out.

Ring road and out to Bearpark Hall Farm. Crops harvested, gate open and what looks like a Grand Designs project all going well. Down to the River Browney then up – and up – to the top of Bearpark. Climbing has always been my weak point. Mile 12 of the Skipton trail half marathon proved that for 16 minutes. That was so wrong I finally asked Elaine about the steep climbs. She suggested I should try shortening my stride with a higher frequency. I tried that on her killing field session on Wednesday but I was still slower than some. At the end I thought I had too much left – and the average heart rate agreed. So this time I went for a frequency that felt bonkers – and kept the mile below 8 minutes.

Back down the same path to the Browney. Descent is not a rest – I think I read that somewhere – so when it wasn’t crazy steep I pushed it. Off-road, everything but the ground disappeared – those next few steps were all that could be processed. Avoiding branches relied on instinct. Speed was what mattered, not my quads.

Along the path by the Browney it was ‘just keep going’. The music helped – my son’s Now That’s What I Call Pop kept the mood right. Then there was the climb to Witton Gilbert and beyond. Keeping the stride when it wasn’t too steep; that frequency again when it was. Pushing it on those brief dips; keeping my feet down on the little steps; enjoying the view as it flattened at the top, looking back over the valley to Bearpark. Round the trig point (can’t turn down before that!) and back to the A691.

Then the footpath back to town. Fields, stiles without a stop, then faster tarmac. Picking up the pace quarter of a mile out; a final sprint across the grass. 10.8 miles, average 7:15 minutes. 3 miles under 7 minutes, only one over 8. Could I do this in a race? Only one way to find out…

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Durham Coast Half Marathon, Sunday, June 16, 2019

James Lee

Courtesy of Jan Panke

As excuses go, Sunday being Father’s Day was pretty good for getting my wife and kids out to Seaham. We hadn’t seen the sea for a while and didn’t know this bit of the coast. They watched the race start, saw the view, and headed down to the beach to look for sea glass in the sunshine.

In the race, Graeme Watt and Michael Littlewood shot off as expected but I wasn’t too far behind – I counted 12 in front of me and it was a fast, fairly flat start. The path was clear enough to enjoy the scenery as well. As the gaps got bigger it became clear that I and another guy were pretty even. He was good at the ups, I knew the pace on the flat and we both enjoyed the downs. I followed him for a few miles, then passed him – and found he’d been helping me find the route, too.

Courtesy of Jan Panke

Every now and again there was a stream that had cut down to the sea. At one point I could see the front of the race just 100m away – but they were on the other side of the stream and a mile ahead. We had to go inland, down and up and back out to the coast but it was good to see the leaders flying.

The race information warned about the 320 steps in those down and ups. Before the race I had gone over the river at Finchale Priory to practice a few times – but those steps are nice easy ones (I now realise). The steps along the coast are a whole lot higher so it was quite a relief to see everyone walking up them. Being in 13th place wasn’t too unlucky then – I’m not sure I’d want to watch the leaders on those climbs! The key was to start running at the top. I suspect that’s when my heart rate hit 178.

Then it started raining. In case you’re wondering, my family, with their waterproofs by the buildings of Seaham, got a few spots of rain on the beach. A few miles South it was pouring down on my Striders vest. Then we got to the stream that almost stopped the race. Over-the-ankle paddling, and we were told to stay in the middle of the ‘path’. It felt like running in lead boots for a while after that, so it was great to have Jan Young encouraging me up the hill. It also meant that Tony and I, still running together, exchanged names. Pairing up is great when it works, and we exchanged thanks at the end.

I didn’t cross the line with Tony, though. This was my longest race since 2003. Back then I was training for the London marathon, mostly alone and on the roads down South. I had learned that I could run up to 17 miles with no fuel. Turns out that, if you push hard enough off-road, the limits around 12. Tony edged away and, instead of speeding up on the flat finish, I lost places. Thanks to Allen Renwick’s yells of encouragement I did run over the line – but boy was I glad to see those cakes.

Thanks to all for the shouts and photos; the course and the education. I’m looking forward to the Northumberland Coastal Run.

Results for Durham Coast Half Marathon

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Ups, Downs and Repeats

James Lee

Michael Littlewood’s club challenge for the week was to get the most elevation in half an hour or an hour. For me, that came with parallels for my last 2 months and I wanted to make sense of that time before my next challenge – another kind of chemo for my brain tumour.

Before anything else, I hope all are well and can still run. For me, my consultant says I can get out but shouldn’t shop

I’ll start on a good bit. On 6th March I caught the buses to Wolsingham and ran the 19 miles home. The longest run since my 20s, there were some proper climbs at the start and I could see snow on the tops further West.

The second half was mostly cycle tracks – much easier. I’d love to get out there again.

On the 10th I went for an MRI – results can take ages. Then on the 14th came the race at the Lambton Estate. I took the wrong shoes for the hard ground. Pilates had pushed my gait to the limit. It was the last cross-country so of course I pushed it despite the feel. I was an idiot and I limped away from the finish line

Four days later I limped to chemo – but there were to be no pills this time. Instead my consultant came to see me. The tumour showed a ‘fleck’ that shouldn’t be there; I’d had twenty rounds of chemo and was hitting the limits; I should help my immune system fight covid 19 if needed. It wasn’t a huge surprise to stop chemo but the only up-side at this point was alcohol. It doesn’t take much after so many months off!

Back home, my ankle was too bust to run, all gyms were closed but… a recent optician’s test looked OK, my bike was still there… I took my son out on the pavements. Then I started going out on the road, sometimes alone and pushing it, sometimes with a child or two and enjoying that too. I got as high as Burnhope. It was lovely.

At the end of April I started running again. With cycling and Pilates it’s one hell of combination. On the 27th I cycled to and from Newcastle for the follow up MRI. No need for my wife to drive me – and the kids – to the hospital. No need for public transport. Quiet roads provided the best option for the virus. A slow ride North to minimise the sweat; a pannier with a change of clothes… and 17 miles flat out home in the sunshine.

The call came the next day. The tumour is growing – even I can see it in the images (November-April. The latter is on a newer MRI. All MRIs are upside down, so right=left).

I will finish the three month break, then start on the next type of oral chemo. As before, it’s palliative. Because of covid, the blood test will happen in my home, then be checked by the hospital. The pills will be delivered to my door and are as dangerous as last time, so they go on a shelf that only I can reach. It’s somehow very normal. The NHS has looked after me for more than half a decade

Later that week I took my son out on his first proper climb, up to Sacriston. He kept going, used his gears, eased off on the flat. For a few seconds on the way down we were doing more than 30 mph. I’m so glad we did that, even if it’s just once. He ached for days afterwards. I hope he remembers the down bit too!

On Sunday 3rd May I went for a run before breakfast. 3 miles in, most of the way up the side of a field, things went wrong. I fell over on the familiar footpath. The route looked wrong somehow. I slowed down and took the shortest pavements home. I ate breakfast, got a shower… still not all here. Julie took me to A&E. The kids stayed in the car. The doctor found I was missing all my sight on the right hand side. I could say my name but not much else. Julie couldn’t understand me. My head ached.

Late that afternoon I’d slept and the paracetamol had eased things. I could talk but reading was a nightmare. I went home with five days of steroids. I know, now, that the problem had probably been a seizure. The first knocked me out back in 2018, this was my second.

To write this, I’ve had to work out some of the words. Misspellings had the right sound but the wrong letters. Reading is variable. My sight isn’t missing the full half any more but it’s rough first thing. Cycling is stopped again. Whether things get better or not depends on whether the chemo works. I’ll find out in August. Another chemo reps challenge would be good.

In the meantime, my body is registered to train medical students and I want to leave them the best specimen I can. A club challenge is just what I needed. I’d cycled Charlaw Fell and knew it was about as high as I could get to. I looked for the lowest – the Wear at Cocken Bridge, less than a mile from home – and suddenly there was a new route. Back roads, only half with pavements – but my left sight is fine. I couldn’t resist this one. I even got down to the river to start, just 10 metres above sea level.

The first climb was 45m up in 600m running. The next stretch was flatter with some dips, then over the dual carriageway and steeper up to Nettlesworth. ‘Gentle’ climbing, then down Cross Lane in Sacriston. Then up and up on Acornclose Lane and the steep climb to the Trig point 232m above sea level. 222 metres up, 4.5 miles in 37:30. Glorious.

For me, there’s a purity to that line. East to West, bottom to top, one aim – but it didn’t seem quite right for a half-hour/one hour challenge. My thinking was that a long up-down-up was better than reps – two-thirds up not half – so back I went to Charlaw Fell, via Norburn Lane this time. I think I got the pace right – I was certainly pumping my lungs by the end and the last stretch is steeper. It was a great thing to aim for but, given Alex Mirley’s ‘lunch run’ of 890 metres elevation, it clearly wasn’t perfect! Still, 221 metres climbing in 30 minutes with a 6:23 mile in the middle can’t be bad.

There was a niggle though – how close to half an hour could the river-Trig course be? I’d start on the bridge, not by the river. I would push the pace. On the way home from the up-down-up I found ways to cut corners in Sacriston and Nettlesworth… a second attempt beckoned, and this time there would be me to race.

This is where ‘me’ gets complicated. For a while on the 3rd I lost the kids’ names – but I still loved them. I can, I hope, cope with losing tools like words and sight, but sometimes I wonder if there’s some ‘me’ missing – and there’s no way to find out. This is far from unique – my grandfather and many others died of Alzheimer’s. That doesn’t make it any easier. While I remember, you’ve probably seen comments on medical diagnoses not happening. The hospitals are separating covid 19 from other illnesses. GPs are doing phone appointments. If you or someone you know have something wrong that should be looked at, please go find out about it. Give yourself a head start. Lecture over, back to racing whichever version of me ran 37:30.

All the advantages of a second go: knowing how hard to push it because you know what’s coming; knowing the short-cuts; in this case, giving myself a head start – 16 metres above sea level this time. Downside of three climbs in a week? There were bits of me that were sore before I started. Result: top of Acornclose Lane (193m) in 30 minutes dead. Top of Charlaw Fell in 33:04 having nearly thrown up. Quarter of a mile less distance, 6 metres less height – but pace going from 8:20 per mile to 7:47 and that view again. I don’t want to stop doing this.

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