Running can be a cruel mistress. One moment you’re bounding along the trails with a spring in your step feeling like you could keep running until at least next Tuesday, the next moment you’re on the sofa with a bag of ice pressed to a sore bit of leg wondering if you’ll be able to make it up the stairs. “How did that happen? I thought I was unstoppable?”.
I’m sure most runners will have experienced the gut wrenching pain of an injury at some point. It’s not so much the pain from the broken body part that hurts the most, it’s the fact that an important part of your daily life has suddenly been cruelly taken away from you for a day, a week a month or more. It feels like all the work put into getting to that point will be ebbing away, taking with it the races, events and adventures that you’d planned.
Injured runners will often go through the five stages of grief:
Denial: “It’s nothing to worry about, I’ll just run through it”. It’s easy to kid yourself that that niggle isn’t anything sinister and to not be such a wimp. Keep on pushing and it’ll all be fine. But then each run gets more painful until eventually a walk to the fridge for a recovery milkshake makes you wince. You’re now properly broken…
Anger: …which makes you mad. You’re Ingry (adj. – bad-tempered or irritable as a result of injury): “Why can’t this stupid body just work properly for once?”. Ignoring the fact that the stupid body has been asked to ramp up the intensity and the mileage and without any rest for weeks on end. It was inevitable that something would go ‘ping’. Stupid shoes get thrown across the stupid room for not working properly, stupid training plans get torn up for being too stupidly hard, stupid family members get shouted at for telling you to stop being so stupid….
Bargaining: …so you calm down and start looking for solutions. You’ll do almost anything to get fixed as quickly as possible. Google must have the answer. Article after article get read looking for the one that puts the most positive spin on your condition. “Allow 6-8 weeks rest” No good! This one says “2 weeks might be enough in mild cases”. Desperately we visit sports physios, osteopaths, chiropractors, reiki healers and witch doctors looking for the magic cure. Lotions, potions, lasers and needles attack the offending injury trying to beat it into submission. Whatever it takes we’ll try it and we’ll pay for it…
Depression: …but it still takes so long. All those hours that were previously spent joyously running around the streets and hills have been replaced with full time moping. What do people do with their time if they don’t have a hobby? What is there to look forward to if there isn’t a race in the calendar? What if I’ll never be able to run again? The self pity spirals down and down…
Acceptance: …until you eventually reach a point where you know it won’t last forever. Keep up the physio exercises, keep resting then rest some more and if you feel like running then just go and have a rest instead. The body isn’t actually stupid at all, it’s an amazing machine that can almost always fix itself when it’s broken. The only thing that is likely to hinder the process is the belligerent bit between the ears.
I’ve followed this process more times than I care to remember. It’s usually when I feel on great form in the middle of a training block for a big race. A PB feels tantalisingly close and all I need to do is maintain form and not do anything stupid. But then that run that I didn’t need to do pushes me over the edge and those hopes come crashing down. A lost couple of weeks and another average performance on race day.
This time I thought I was being sensible though. The beauty of training for Bog LEJOG was that although the mileage was getting higher, the intensity was very low. It’s speedwork that usually does the damage. There weren’t any warning signs either, so I ran in the morning and felt fine and then walked in the evening and noticed an ache in the shin. Staying true to form I ignored it thinking I could walk it off but it just got worse. The morning after it was still sore as I lay in bed which can only be a bad sign. A couple of days later I was on the treatment table at Mel Betts Physio and she delivered the bad news that I had a stress fracture. I couldn’t believe it and clenched my fists in frustration before asking her to wrap as much magic tape on my leg as she could and glumly asked her how long it would take to fix before accepting that the answer was going to be several weeks.
The result is that our original launch date of 2nd April has had to be thrown well out of the window (followed by a pair of running shoes). Nobody can say for sure how long it’ll take to fix but adding a month seems like a good start so the revised plan it to leave Lands End on 30th April instead. This has the advantage of a better chance of good weather but may mean the midges will be out of hibernation when we get to Scotland. It means we can give ourselves a bit more time for the journey too which will be nice. In the meantime I’ll be discovering the true meaning of tedium by trying to use aqua jogging to maintain my fitness but most of all it’ll be rest, rest and more rest. Book and film recommendations would be appreciated!
I shouldn’t complain too much though all things considered. We have eight taps at our house and each of them deliver unlimited, fresh, clean water at the mere turn of a handle whenever we please. We have two of Armitage Shanks’ finest thrones ready and waiting to be used when the need arises and soap and handwash sit by every sink and shower to keep us clean. Millions of people don’t have access to anything like this level of luxury so an achy leg would be the least of their problems. I’m hoping to get through my ridiculously minor issue to be able to help communities where water and hygiene are a matter of life and death. If you’d like to support WaterAid who provide clean water, decent toilets and good hygeine to those who need it most then please click the link to donate what you can: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/boglejog