The life of a injured runner

A runners nightmare, a point where everything is thrown up in the air. The point of the unknown, where do I go from here?

I’m a big believer in consistency, I preach consistency. I practice consistency. If you want to get good at something, do it. Whether it’s run, play the guitar, speak another language or mastering the art of sport. Sport to me is just that, a ART. It’s a skill, something you need to practice to get good at. To master. Purposeful practice. I do it day after day, time after time. Putting myself in that purposeful situation of quite simply putting one foot in front of the other. I talk about it time and time again.

Over the last few months, it’s been different. I’ve been taken away from my comfort zone and I’ve been forced to place myself right on the outside of it. I’ve battled, picked myself up and battled some more. March brought a injury in my left foot, followed by a identical injury in my right foot in May. I recovered and by the end of June I was back showing some consistency in my training again, consistent progression. The purpose had returned. I’d chopped a minute from my 10k time between Walkington and Pontefract. Confidence was on the up, positivity had never faded though, that’s always there for me anyway!

You’re always told that the outside of your comfort zone is where you grow, where you develop, where you find out the unknown, you find out something new. You do exactly what you can be afraid of, typically I’m not scared of the unknown, I embrace it.

The real storm began. I was due to race at the Gilberdyke 10 miler, on the 15th of August. Building up to it, I had a cracking training week. Well it felt like it anyway, I was back down at racing weight, clocked a decent session up at the Dam Wall at Ingbirchworth, heart rate had returned to normal on my easier runs and legs had begun to feel strong again. Then Friday the 13th approached where it all came crashing down. I’d run in the morning, as usual and went through to Naomi’s after work. Doing my usual run through to the pool from her house. 6 mile feeling a niggly ache in my backside for the last half a mile or so. Parkrun comes around on the Saturday morning, isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing, I probably shouldn’t have run. 18.30 something later and that was that, way off realistically where I want to be landing. It felt more like a crash landing! Hobble or a walk around Beverley Market with Naomi holding me up like some sort of drunken monkey, I sulked and moaned, groaned and sulked some more. Then started the process of dosing up on ibuprofen and rubbing it in ibuprofen gel.

Little side note, once upon a time I’d not even take ibuprofen or painkillers, even paracetamol! I didn’t believe in it, but that is something else. I’m still a big believer in your bodies natural immune system the bare bones of life, the caveman philosophy if you could call it that? We were born without all of the advances of technology, clothes and even fire. But that is a story for another day!

Week One

Saturday passed we’d gone out for food in the evening with The Butchers at a pub in Beverley, nice night and great company when you’re feeling at your lowest! I was hoping sleep would help, sleep didn’t so much happen. I was aching, throbbing and almost definitely not healing. I woke up in pain, and was hopeful a little run at the event would help it! That didn’t happen either, I went for a 1 mile warm up with Naomi nursing me around, if all else fails my streak lives to fight another day in the process. It was slow, agonising and I’m not going to lie I was holding back the emotion. 11.30 for the mile. Not good… way off. I made the call to not even toe the line that day. Something I’ve only done 2 times before in my ‘streak’ and I can recall them all. Barnsley 10k the day before my streak began, I was laid up in bed with illness that was my last day off of running. Softie! Then the 2nd time was Wrexham Marathon earlier this year, pulling out and not travelling to the event because of my foot injury. Missing vital parts of the training build up. That was wise! But I still ran that day…

I watched Naomi and Hannah race, a race I’ve won before in 2019 when it last went ahead, up until this point I’d done every Gilberdyke 10, the year the toilets didn’t show up, the year of the red hot heat and the beginning, all of them memorable to me because of the pre-race music before we get underway!

That was tough!

The supporter, not my ideal position, as much as I enjoy sport and running in particular, I’m a competitor. It’s the main reason I tend not to watch football so much nowadays, I enjoyed playing it too much to watch. I stood watching the event with Shaun and Jack, talking running, life, injuries and niggles! Naomi struggled around the Gilberdyke 10 mile in her opinion but remember it is all relative to yourself, and in the end that’s all that really matters. She ran 73.32 on the day, 10 seconds shy of her PB, the week after competing at The London Triathlon as well. Hannah managed 71.25 for the course on the day. I struggled watching the event, but it was great to see people, many who I have not seen in over a year and many people taking the time out to come up and have a chat, a quick catch up in what has been a long time. Many people who I’ve spent weekend after weekend with on the running scene.

Monday after the race, the tough part, the first day was over. Now began the marathon, I’m used to those, but this is a healing process. It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon. My baby, my strength. They take you to some dark places in those 26.2 miles, they also take you to some beautiful places. Each and every time you dig YOURSELF out of it, you dig in and you Just Keep Running. There is only you who can do the training and everything falls down to you, no one else. It’s a solitary sport, something that realistically on the barebones when you strip it all back, it is all on YOU. That’s one of the main reasons I enjoy running, it’s honest, you get out of the machine what you put into it. You achieve what you believe, I can literally type all of these slogans, motivational phrases forever! But they all ring true.

In running and life, as much as it is confined to you, to truly unlock your true potential you begin to realise something; you can’t do it all on your own. Embracing the team nature and surrounding yourself with highly motivated, likeminded individuals throws you right in and amongst it. Positivity unlocks the door, confidence is a part of the key. Where you can put it all out there and throw it all down, whether that is in training or when you toe the line. A ounce of self-belief can go a long, long way.

My mile on Monday came and went, tough and again challenging but still only a mile. The pain still left me struggling to walk and I could barely pick my feet up, I’d left it until the evening in the hope a full days rest from Sundays mile and the majority of Mondays rest would be beneficial as well. I got the job done, and I fought for another day. Tightened up on completion and it was a painful and very slow walk, back to the house from the top of the street. Monday brought more development however I’d begun the process of self-diagnosis on Saturday / Sunday, it’s my background and in my working life a part of my bread and butter. A second opinion is great every now and then though, especially when you’re that close to it! I’d come to the conclusion that I was struggling with Piriformis Syndrome or potentially something called High Hamstring Tendinopathy, the pain can be very easily cross diagnosed. So then began the learning process of how to strengthen, stretch, massage, ice, heat and mobilise. What order and how to go about it? You don’t want to jump straight to the finish line, remember it’s a marathon and not a sprint. This isn’t definitive and please seek advice if you ever struggle with something similar but this was my different phased approach, in the most basic sense.

Each phase I still continued utilising aspects from the phases before, time wasn’t attached to each phase, it would just take as long as it takes. That was the tough bit for me.

Phase 1Ice and Massage
Phase 2Introduced Stretching and Heat.
Phase 3Introduced static strengthening and holds. Also only used ice if there was obvious pain or swelling.
Phase 4Was still completing the above but increased my distance from a mile, introduced mobility strengthening, jumps and movement patterns.
Phase 5Increased my distance some more.
I’ve not included specifics to ensure you do your own research.

The beauty of running, is no matter where you are at. It’s all relative and relative to you. A signal for the pain became the pace, I was just out there trying to run. By definition running was anything quicker than I could walk. In order for my streak to count, in the early days my bare minimum was 5k, but there has been times where 5k wasn’t possible. So taken from The Streak Runners International definition and the same streak definition the legendary Ron Hill lived by…

The official definition of a running streak, as adopted by the Streak Runners International, Inc., and United States Running Streak Association, Inc., is to run at least one mile (1.61 kilometers) within each calendar day. Running may occur on either the roads, a track, over hill and dale, or on a treadmill.

Streak Runners International – www.runeveryday.com

I try to take the treadmill thing out of it; amongst streak runners as well the method assisted and unassisted is argued. I believe a treadmill is assisted and so is a dog. In my eyes. But obviously it’s all down to opinion!

Anyway tangent over, the pace had become my signal. By Tuesday I was down to a 8.30 mile, a serious hobble though I must so. Tightened up again on completion, but still felt enormously slow. Other than the locality around the right butt cheek, everything else felt pretty much pain free. Initially I had the goal in my head, that it wouldn’t be too serious if I could manage a parkrun on Saturday morning! Wednesday and Thursday brought a sub 8 minute mile, I was largely carried by my left leg. Felt almost like a hop, just imagine what I could do with two! Thursday was made nicer by spending the afternoon lunching with Naomi and my parents at the Windmill cafe and managed a very gentle walk around Ingbirchworth Reservoir with them all.

With plenty of holiday days remaining to throw in at work, Me and Naomi had Thursday and Friday off and the plan was for her to bike to Holmfirth and bike up Holme Moss, I’d then pick her up and we’d spend the Friday in Holmfirth. In a ideal world I’d have done the 15 mile run there as well! Went through and picked up anyway, called for a run at Ingbirchworth Reservoir myself on the way, the place dreams are made. 8.08 for that mile, signalling that I’d probably expected too much too soon. Struggled through in honesty. Some people may be reading this and thinking they’d be grateful for that, and trust me I am. But remember it’s all relative and with the pain I was in, it’s a sign something isn’t quite right! By this point I’d move onto step 2 of my phased approach. The initial damage had been done, it was now onto the recovery process rather than damage limitation. The Friday in Holmfirth was nice, ended up at Bloc, and having some eggs on toast for a starter, Naomi had French Toast. Then had a walk around, called into the bakery for a dessert for later, may have had some of the dessert before the main, and then had a sandwich from Beatties Deli and Coffee Shop.

Now onto Saturday morning, half thinking I could manage a parkrun, half thinking I couldn’t. Went up to Penistone because it’s flatter than the old faithful. Ran from the football club to the parkrun, as a tester! Get my mile in if all else fails, see how it is. If I could run the mile without serious pain, I’d have run the parkrun. Set off and straight away tightening up, I’d bought a support strap and my first run wearing it was Wednesday, it had been working but today it just wasn’t happening. Then the next painful part of the process, standing and watching a parkrun. A event, disregarding covid, I’ve not missed since probably 2014. Only not completing a handful because I was running Snowdonia Marathon instead! I watched Naomi, make the start and complete the lap around Penistone showground, before embarking on the TPT for the out and back. Made my way up to the finish to stand and talk to all the volunteers, in hindsight I probably should’ve just put my name down instead! Naomi then made the entry back into the showground before I knew it, clocking a parkrun PB in 20:37.

Sundays run was another TPT wonder at Penistone, I’d dropped Naomi off at Wortley and she planned to run the 10 mile drag to Dunford and then 4 mile back to Bullhouse Bridge. I’d complete my mile in Penistone. 8.32 for the mile today. I came away pretty much fuming with myself, I saw Naomi then at mile 4, 10 and at the finish. She had a cracking 14 mile run, with a faster final 4 mile, it gave her a lot of confidence that she needed off the back of Gilberdyke as well. It was the first run she had done with a focus on nutrition in a long time, she was aiming to 8 minute miles but found because of the tree coverage and the Thurgoland Tunnel, she ran more to feel until she saw me at mile 10 with Jelly Beans and kicked on to finish the last 4 mile roundabout race pace. Me on the other hand, well you know how it is.

Week Two

But never lose your fight, remember it’s a marathon and not a sprint. It’s a new week and a new step. Monday was more of the same. Tuesday I decided to slow it right down and change the style I was going for. Turning my longer stride into more of a up and down bobble, it slowed me down but protected the pain for that day. Almost like a freebie. My mile was 9.46 on Tuesday. I’d rung the doctors as well on Tuesday, to try and access a NHS physio for a second opinion just in case. The doctors rung me back at 3 o’clock for a telephone appointment, a short 5 minute phone call with my GP. She asked what I did for a living? Do I do any sports? Probably should have said no to the sports question. But in a nutshell she said you’ve probably just pulled it, keep off your feet and don’t do too much. I’d said to her, it’s definitely not a pull, there wasn’t a tell tale pull moment. But the GP said she can’t think of what else it could be… bit my lip, better search for a private physio for a second opinion. Options limited at the minute with bookings and the previous person I’ve used in the past has now retired.

I messaged around physios and I managed to book a appointment with Carolyn Clay, who came highly recommended for the middle of September, she placed me on the cancellation list so hopefully I’ll get in when or if she receives a cancellation. Shaun and Hannah also booked me in with their physio friend Dom, who used to be their neighbour for 3rd of September.

I’d now swapped out my heavy duty Velcro strap on, as I was calling it and was only wearing it for daily wear. Must have fashion accessory. I’d decided to experiment with wearing a compression bandage, a cheap tubular one from Morrison’s.

I’d even wrote Top and Bottom on it, just so I knew which way to wear it! It basically stopped my hamstring and knee from doing much of the work, and restricted my backside from contracting fully. Probably also limited my blood supply to the largest artery in my body, but it was only a mile. That mile felt completely different, 7.50 and a 7.42 followed on Thursday. I said to myself, at this point if I ran a sub 8 mile I’d slow a bit and try a extra half a mile. I’ve learnt with running how to stay in control, never panic and remain confident. I managed 1.5 mile on Thursday. On Friday I had a work from home day, taking the morning to do some stretches between work and do some strength stuff. My one legged bridge by this point is now on the verge of perfection, and I’m a absolute god at doing clams, the reverse plank and pigeon stretch. The observant ones of you would notice that this is around phase 3 now of my recovery plan. So of course there is room for improvement.

Last week my goal was to try a parkrun, I’ve mentioned my bare minimum of streaking has been 5k for so long, so a mile a day felt almost as if I was cheating. But it was necessary. My stretches through the morning and strength work made my glute feel fresh and loose, I was walking up and down with ease. Half of me thinking, has a miracle happened? I put my shoes on and off I went for a steady mile, saying again to myself I’ll try 1.5 mile if its good. Anyway, as the story goes and 5k later in 22.27. I came home with no tightening of the glute, walking felt easier but still didn’t have full stride on my run. Still had a dull ache in my backside! A sign that things were beginning to look up. My legs didn’t feel like they were mine, they were disengaged from my body. Almost like I was carrying someone else’s legs. But it was a indicator.

I still had Phase 3, 4 and 5 to complete, realistically I didn’t want to rush it, but in the back of my mind I have that little voice saying, Go on, I dare you, don’t you know you’re a marathon runner? And you’ve got a marathon to run.

Saturday comes around and after skipping Penistone parkrun last week, my weekly goal was to try and get on the start line this week wherever we would be. After Friday’s confidence boost, I knew it would be possible I just needed to activate my butt cheek enough in the morning before setting off to the parkrun. Naomi herself had planned to run to the parkrun and then run through to her parents afterwards, initially we’d planned to do Beverley Westwood again. But I was reluctant to do the hills and run on the dips and troughs of the Westwood. So we made the change to go and run the super fast and flat course at Hull Parkrun. Myself preferring the predicability of the surface. Naomi set off at 7 to run as far as she could towards the parkrun before I’d see her and pick her up to complete the journey, notching around 11.5 mile in the pre-run eventually. I’ll be doing that when I’m fighting fit!

Anyway we got to the parkrun and it was busy, usually gets around 500 finishers here at Hull! I’d upgraded my cheap Morrison’s tubular bandage by this point, and bought a Bearhug Thigh Compression from Amazon instead. It was a bit looser and didn’t cut off my blood supply too much! I went for a half a mile run before the start, felt ok ish. Still not 100% comfortable but ok ish!

Felt like a races mass start with the amount of runners in attendance at Hull, on a typical day I’d be on the front row; but to make sure I wouldn’t get carried away I stood around the 3rd row by the time the gun went. Perhaps lacking confidence and knowledge of what sort of time I’d be capable of running on the morning. Set off on the sound of Go, took a few strides to get moving but I was into my stride. Somewhat restricted but I’d managed to start a parkrun, just got to finish it now. A 2 lapped course at Hull, pancake flat with around 40ft of climb in the full thing. A long, long way from the Hills of Barnsley. I started making my way through the group at parkrun, picking people off before settling now. Running completely to feel, reserved, comfortable and restricted. Within running you sometimes you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, training is about simulating the uncomfortable feeling you can get in your legs, making races much much easier when the time comes, but today isn’t the day for that. It’s a mental game today. Backside was tight, but focussing on form, largely landing on my forefoot. Not overreaching and not heelstriking, breathing feels ace and everything feels right. But still not in my full stride. Going off of Garmin technology I was producing a 1.54m stride, usually I’m around 1.65m + on a good day. Marginal 11cm I know. Beginning the second lap making the check back across the pond to see Naomi starting her second lap as well, my backside wasn’t showing any signs of easing up. Hesitant to cause any further damage I eased off and thought to myself just bring myself home. It’s just a test after all. Pace dropped and I held on to cross the line in 17.44, for my first outing at Hull Parkrun. I’ll definitely be back to this one when I’m feeling something like, it’s a fast one that’s for sure! Naomi herself managed to PB for parkrun events, running 20.31, doing especially well after running 11 mile or so to the event!

Not making the jump to double days again just yet, and not taking the fact that I can run as a sign that I’m completely recovered, I took the rest of the Saturday off, picking up running again on the Sunday. My plan Sunday was to go out and have a go at running for a hour, typically that’s usually 8 / 9 mile of steady running at my recovery pace. I set off feeling ok, pretty much the same sort of level that I felt yesterday at parkrun. It was a pretty flat loop I had planned but immediately I could tell that any sort of incline or decline was a struggle! Beverley Hills as well, not the Hills of Barnsley! Clocking 1 mile and then 2 mile, I made the decision by mile 3 to cut the run short and head the same direction home. Completing 6.2 mile in 42 minutes roughly. Some way off of my planned one hour. Had to be conservative and had to be smart. In the evening I felt pretty fresh as the day had developed and Naomi was keen to round her miles up to 29 for the week myself to 20. So we went out for a 2 mile steady recovery jog together, she’d done a 40 mile cycle in the morning so needed it to loosen her legs off! Myself accidentally completing a double day without even realising it!

It’s now been two weeks since the hurdle presented itself. It is exactly that, a hurdle, a stepping stone, something that you’ve just got to get over, or under or around. Whatever way you can. Have I been down, too right I have, I’m invested in what I am, it would be wrong if it didn’t have a impact on me, it just shows how much it actually means and in the end the success will be even sweeter when we finally achieve it. I’ve progressed my injury to where I can hold comfortably without any real pain and I’m now approaching phase 4 where I can introduce more mileage and also develop the static movements into something more dynamic and mobilising under some sort of resistance. The idea being that I can then work on my push off and drive, at the minute it feels comfortable travelling up and down but more of a struggle going forwards, especially when you introduce any sort of speed or higher turnover. In terms of Phase 4 in my approach I’m anticipating this being the longest recovery aspect as strength needs to redevelop and any issues ironed out in the process and if done wrong or too soon could also set me back again. Do I approach this with caution, maybe. I’m a racer, I’m a runner, I enjoy going out there and giving it everything and putting my toe on the line. I’m a big believer in consistency, and consistency will get me there, purposeful and meaningful practice. I’ll update again in a couple of week to see how life has developed.

Running, life, marathons and progress; it’s all a experiment after all?

Be POSITIVE, you never know how far it can take you and Just Keep Running…

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