Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Homage To Catatonia

It has been another packed week at fivemarathons HQ. Just the usual: training plans, food allergy tests and saving lives. Last Sunday, I was on Coniston Water, paddling one of the safety canoes for Epic Events' open water swim event. For the 3.8km race, one of the competitors went into shock and started to quietly freak out. Cue the Baywatch theme tune as Rosie and I raced over. Despite my various attempts at polite enquiry, we couldn't get a word out of our rescuee. Nevertheless, we managed to pull her out of the water and into the canoe. The whole thing was a bit surreal; she had a fixed thousand yard stare, looking straight through me and not saying a word. Admittedly, she’s not the first woman to have been rendered catatonic by my arrival. It was like university all over again. However, something was obviously badly wrong; she was less than 200 metres into the race. We paddled back to the marshals and turned our patient over to their care. I could get used to the whole David Hasselhoff routine, although I’m not sure that the red shorts would be all that well-received in rural Cumbria.

Baywatch: Cumbria branch

Perhaps surprisingly, Sunday was not my first attempt at lifesaving. Some time back in the early 90s, I was on a train journey from Caen to Paris. It was absolutely packed, and I ended up propped up against a door, next to a British backpacker, who muttered to me that he wished we could get seats. Only seconds later, the large gentleman opposite us started to complain that he felt unwell. We passed over a bottle of water, but things took a turn for the worse when he started to complain of pain in his arm and clutch his chest. You didn’t need to be Dr Kildare to realise that he was having a heart attack and, if we didn’t help him quickly, matters would not necessarily resolve themselves to his advantage. I don’t know about the backpacker, but my own heart must have been doing 180 bpm minimum. We pulled the communication chord and I explained the background to the guard in phrasebook French. Having asked each other the way to the beach in increasingly loud voices, we made him understand the gravity of the situation. He used his radio and confirmed that the paramedics would be waiting for us at the next station, just 10 minutes away. The air was thick with prayer. By now, our man had passed out, and all I could do was try to keep track of his pulse and make sure he was still breathing. Had it been a few years later, I might have been ideally positioned to have administered the last rites (see “The Devil Wears Puma”, As we finally arrived at the station, I was aghast when we realised that the paramedics weren’t there. After what seemed like an eternity, they finally arrived, and we managed to manhandle the patient off the train as best we could. What an unbelievable stress. As the backpacker and I finally dropped down onto the seats vacated by the sick man and his wife, he turned to me ashen-faced and said, “My goodness, I really didn’t want a seat that much”. There may have been marginally more swearing, but that was the upshot. Be careful what you wish for.

"Are we there yet?": Final straight in Vancouver

On the Sunday evening, fresh from our Baywatch heroics, Rosie and I went on a great fell run over Winder Fell and Arant Haw. While it should have been great preparation for my forthcoming off-road races, I found that my stomach was cramping again. I was quite tired afterwards, and my legs took a long time to recover. Something is obviously not right. Ever since Vancouver, I’ve felt weak during my training runs and generally tired. Fortunately, last week, Jess had arranged for me to visit Keith Knight at Balanced Health ( / 07961 381694) for some food intolerance / sensitivity testing. I’d already figured that I’d developed a wheat intolerance, but Keith’s tests revealed so much more. For example, I’m not responding well to grapes, citrus fruits, olives, marmite, sugars (and artificial sweeteners), mushrooms, green peppers, alcohol, nuts and MSG. Crikey, no more boozy nights in the pub eating bar snacks, followed by a cheeky Chinese takeaway on the way home. Keith’s test results, and his analysis, made a lot of sense. Basically, my digestive system is out of balance – too much yeast and not enough lactobacillus (the friendly bacteria made famous by the Yakult advertisements). The yeast issue will undoubtedly stem from the 6 bagels a day I was putting away during my training for the fivemarathons. For reasons even harder to digest than 42 bagels a week, I haven’t been converting all of the food I’ve been eating into energy. As Keith put it, “you’d have been getting just as much nutrition by eating the box the food came in”. By about 8pm each evening, I was really starting to crash and crave sugar. Lucy and Amanda were both suitably surprised to see me reaching for a Cadbury’s Double Decker the night before the Edinburgh marathon. Not the virtuous diet they’d come to expect!

TEAM Vaughan crosses the finish line: with my cousins Melanie and Neil in Vancouver

To further complicate matters, my immune system has been overloaded trying to deal with some of the side effects of my misfiring digestive system. This almost certainly explains why it’s taken so long to shake off the cold virus I picked up a week before Vancouver. The lack of nutrition could also explain why I’ve felt so tired during my training runs – without proper energy, my body may well have started to break down muscle. After a week of taking the supplements recommended by Keith, and following a heavily revised diet, I’m slowly starting to feel a little stronger on my training runs. I hope it continues; I was starting to get quite nervous.

Next stop, Mont Blanc...

The tests also revealed an intolerance to Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola. I hope the allergy is to cola nuts as opposed to coca leaves. Chewing coca leaves can really help you to acclimatise to altitude and I’ve got through an awful lot on past trips to the Andes. In 2003, my then girlfriend kindly packed a huge supply of Bolivian coca leaves in my rucksack, so that she could make coca tea later in the trip. You can imagine my horror, when I unpacked my kit in Chile, only to realise that I had just inadvertently trafficked over a kilogram of unrefined cocaine across the border. Well, she enjoyed her tea, and that’s apparently all that counts.

More tales of unlikely derring-do next week, when I may or may not tell you about the bank job I unwittingly perpetrated in Greece in the early 1990s.

You can support TEAM Manchester’s charitable efforts by following the links at the bottom of this blog.


Vancouver, 2 May 2010 3 hours 31 minutes (new PB)
Edinburgh, 23 May 2010
Lakeland 50, 24 - 25 July 2010
The Atlantic Coast, 1 - 3 October 2010
Auckland, 31 October 2010


Liverpool, 28 March 2010 1 hour 33 mins 14 seconds (new PB)

Christies is the charity which provides funds for, and supports, the work of the world renowned specialist cancer centre, The Christie, in Manchester (see Macmillan provides practical, medical, financial and emotional support for people affected by cancer and campaigns for better cancer care (see


Lucy Dawson and Amanda Howlett - Christies -

Lucy Dawson and Amanda Howlett - Macmillan -

Jessica Lovell – NSPCC -

Helen Thomasson – Christies -

Claire Smith – Christies -

Harriet Sutherland – The Prostate Cancer Charity -

Noel Bresland - Bliss -

Join the Facebook Group "A Marathon Or Two"

View fivemarathons photos at

NYC Marathon, 2004

NYC Marathon, 2004
NYC Marathon, 2004