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Posts Tagged ‘injury’

Recently I have enjoyed the buzz of motivating a few people I know (and some I have only just met) to start running or to take their running to the next stage. It must be pretty obvious that I think running is an amazing thing to do and from which everyone can gain so much, both physically and mentally. So I am really happy when I see that by example I have given someone a reason to get out there and give running a chance.

However, there are also risks. The risk of injury. The risk of failure. The risk of getting too sucked-in and becoming too obsessed. This weekend I felt the deepest pang of guilt and responsibility when my good friend and colleague told me that through his training for the Reading half marathon – which I am pretty sure I was instrumental in encouraging him to enter – he has damaged his knee and now needs months of rest and probably treatment.

So this is a message for Rob (and anyone else in this predicament):

I think that the very act of signing up for a race and pulling on your trainers for the first few runs is magnificent. I know that I have been lucky to avoid any real injuries when I started running; I was carrying too much weight and wearing entirely the wrong shoes (and clothing for that matter) but somehow got away with it. That start for me means I have followed a path that leads to a better life. So I applaud you for giving it a go.

And I know that you have now realised that you are going to have to take stock of what you have done and re-evaluate. You are going to have to endure some pain while the injury heals. You might even have to deal with regaining the weight that you lost through your first few weeks and months of training.

But please don’t be discouraged. You are – indeed we all are – born to run and I really believe with all my heart that what you have done is start a journey that now requires a pause, but not a complete stop. Running is like so many difficult and challenging things in life (and I know you have dealt with more than a few of them) – not likely to go perfectly first time… or indeed second time or third time or fourth time! But these things that are difficult are the ones worth persevering with because ultimately they will bring the greatest rewards. As the great Haile Gebrsellaise used to say to himself as he pushed himself harder than everyone else: “it is possible, it is possible”. So please don’t give up because believe me, if I can run, it really really is possible.

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For a couple of months now I have been suffering with a sore heel. Unlike the normal niggles that all runners suffer from time to time, this one seems to have taken quite a hold of me and has really begun to affect my running. I went to see my chiropractor Gavin Burt recently and he diagnosed bursitis; essentially inflammation of a fluid sac that sits between tendon and bone – in my case between the achilles tendon the the heel bone – which is often caused by tightness in the tendon which squeezes the sac and leads to inflammation. I think my adversity to stretching along with a pretty hectic running schedule recently – the Paris marathon in the middle of April, the 35km Luxembourg urban trail race at the end of May, the Southend half marathon at the start of June and several 10Ks in between – meant that my sac got more and more raw until eventually, just before coming away on holiday last week, I had to abandon my training schedule and stop running.

I am not worried about injuries as a rule. I think that they are part-and-parcel of being a runner and the human body has incredible powers of regeneration, so R.I.C and E will often help (especially the R). But what this episode has shown me is that I am not invincible. In fact far from it. I suddenly have a premonition of how my running ‘career’ will end – with the whimper of a stubborn injury that will just not go away.

However I have a long-term plan: I love endurance sports and endurance pastimes. By this I mean that when it comes to competing (either against others or against the clock) I am only interested in endurance sports. Currently that is running marathons and my coach and I have a clear focus on what I hope to achieve in the next couple of years. At the same time I also enjoy endurance pastimes – hiking, cycling, climbing, swimming – and that is something I am extremely happy to be able to share with my companion, the Swiss. So I can foresee a point at which improving my marathon times will cease to be possible. Then running marathons will become one of my endurance pastimes, something I do to see the world, a reason to go out for a run, an opportunity to keep up with friends. Something else will then take its place. Perhaps I’ll try my hand at Ironman triathlon or long distance swimming or trail running. Who knows? The point is, that I sincerely hope my current injury goes away. If it doesn’t clear up of its own accord after a couple more weeks away from running I will consult the best medical minds I can find and try to get a solution that way – I am very determined that I will complete the task I have set myself in the marathon. However, I also know that if my body cannot cope with the increased workload that I need to undertake to continue to improve in the marathon, this will simply be the signal for a new beginning… either way I’m happy!

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I have written before about the role that the mind plays in my running. I really do believe that there is only so much that can be achieved by pure physicality alone and, perhaps especially in long distance running, it is often the mind which dictates success of failure as much as fitness. An example of this is what has happened to me recently. I have met or been in contact with some pretty amazing people like Bud Baldaro, Ben Moreau and Nick Anderson and they have told me that I can achieve more than I thought possible and I now know, because I believe what they have told me, that I can achieve much more. Meeting these people has not changed my fitness or physique one iota, the change has all been in my head.

I have also been reading some pretty amazing books recently and I thought that I’d share my thoughts on a few of them over the coming weeks and months (for the record I have also ploughed through some pretty terrible books as well, but I’ll leave them well alone).

If there is a unifying theme to these books, it is that of pushing human limits in endurance, although not all the books I have been inspired and influenced by are about running itself – I am a big fan of reading about trekking, expeditions, cycling, climbing and mountaineering. But there are obvious parallels that can be drawn.

The first book I thought I’d write about is Christopher McDougall’s ‘Born To Run’. This is essentially a book about a race in the Mexican wilderness involving some of the USA’s best ultra runners, including Scott Jurek, and a shy tribe of indigenous people with astounding abilities to run vast distances super-fast with nothing but home-made sandals to protect their feet.

There are several themes that struck me when reading the book. In no particular order they were: the generally odd nature of ultra runners – every one of the North American runners featured in the book was a character in their own wonderful way. I think that to some extent this is true of all endurance athletes – what we do is considered extreme and we thrive on that. I know that when I pull on my kit and my shoes and go out in the blazing heat or the pouring rain or the snow and ice I feel somehow different (yep, almost superior) and I like that feeling of doing something that most people don’t do.

Another theme in the book is the story of the race itself and many other incidental races that are described with the sort of feeling and detail that only an ultra runner could muster. The races are fluid events with highs and lows, moments of desperation and moments of elation, deep self awareness and sheer bloody-minded aggression. These descriptions are wonderful and I read every one thinking how much I would like to be out running at that very minute rather than reading a book.

And there is a third theme to the book – a tirade against running shoe manufacturers, which runs throughout the book like the fruit in a raspberry ripple. According to McDougall runners are more prone to injury now than in any time in history and that tendency to injury has been exaggerated since the development of highly cushioned running shoes. This is not a subject that I intend to dwell on now. However it underpins the whole book, whilst not being overwhelming, and as such it cannot be overlooked.

I will just say this – McDougall has written a beautifully crafted, funny, moving and thought provoking book and as Sir Ranulph Fiennes said this book is “… destined to become a classic” and I whole-heartedly agree.

And as for barefoot running: is it true that the answer to injury-free running is to ditch the very technology that claims to help us avoid injury? For someone like me it is difficult to know because I am not about to spend 3 or 4 years retraining my body. At the same time, I do spend as much time in my Vibram Five Fingers or my Nike Frees or better still, in bare feet, to try to help strengthen my feet. Well if going shoeless has worked for humans for millions of years, it can’t be all bad, right?

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This is about the power of the mind, the importance of foam rollers and the body’s ability to recover remarkably fast.

Last week I wrote about the mystery injury that came on suddenly and seemed to emanate from the point where my iliotibial band joined my right knee. I was pretty concerned about it, but decided to stay calm, rest and start using a foam roller to work out the injury. With the Reading half marathon coming up at the weekend, I managed to resist running until Thursday, when I went for a slow 5 mile test run. All was well. I went again on Friday, but this time I picked up the pace and ran at close to 6.30 min/mile for the same 5 mile route. Again, all good. Finally I ran 3 miles on Saturday at 6 min/mile. No problem.

So I went to the Reading race still pretty nervous, but determined that I would give it my best shot. The week without running had given me time to think and the dominant thought I kept having was that I really want to push myself in Paris and see what I am capable of. I am not a young man and I am acutely aware that I don’t have all the time in the world – I really need to make up for all the wasted years.

I was in the front pen at Reading (for those running quicker than 1:30:00), with two of my club mates. As usual there was a degree of friendly rivalry between us and I really wanted to put in a good performance because I wanted to show that I’m not yet dead, because Reading is a great race and also because I needed the confidence boost in advance of Paris.

I ran at a pace that I felt comfortable with, which luckily happened to be under 6 min per mile and finished with a half marathon PB of 01:16:32 in 67th place. My average pace was 5 min 50 sec per mile. I felt bloody great!

All my fears before the race had been unfounded. I felt strong and in control throughout the race. When I wanted to surge, I surged. I finished with an appropriate amount of soreness in my legs, but no searing pain as I had the week before. In short, I had a wonderful run and I’d rediscovered my running mojo!

So what had happened? Well, I think the foam roller had done it’s job. Rolling was a very painful process, but my legs felt loose, relaxed and strong. Rest had also worked wonders. I had given my body time to recover and it had re-paid me handsomely.

But perhaps most importantly, I had taken time to reassess what it was I was running for and I made a decision – I was going to run as well as I could, I was going to be calm and focused, I was going to enjoy it and I was going to be proud of myself at the end.

The word decision comes from the Latin dēcīsiō which literally means ‘a cutting off’. When one makes a decision all other possibilities are cut off – there are no alternatives, no option for failure. There is one clear focus on the task in hand. And it is amazing what one can achieve when all the alternatives are eliminated. I would advise anyone setting out on a challenging, painful, stressful task – make a decision, cut off all possibility of failure and dedicate yourself whole-heartedly and completely to that thing. Do you best and you will make yourself proud!

Now I just have to repeat that in Paris…

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The last few days have been a little stressful – not least because of all the changes I’m dealing with at work (did I mention how my only regret in life is that I’m not a full-time athlete!) but the most worrying development came in the form of an injury at the end of my track session  on Thursday last week.

I will not claim to be the toughest of runners but I do have a reasonable attitude towards pain and I am careful to not cry wolf when it comes to injury. But the pain that came on in my IT Band when I finished the last of my 1 mile reps on the track was devastating.

However it was also very short-lived and by the time I got home and iced the outside of my leg, the pain had gone. I rested the following day and then set out for my 23 mile run at the weekend with no residual pain at all… until I stopped after 17 miles and that crazy fierce stabbing pain in the side of my knee was back and this time it had bought friends to the party. I was crippled for 20 minutes.

So I have an injury that does not affect me in any way until I stop running and then I get a searing pain in the outside of one knee… great!

Today I have been to see Gavin at Backs and Beyond for some treatment, although sadly he wasn’t able to give me a clear idea of what I’ve done. He also suggested I get a foam-roller. Well the foam-roller has been obtained and I’m rolling – and that really is a spectacularly painful process. So hopefully the rolling along with some rest this week will hopefully see me all fixed up in no time. The point is not to panic – Paris is 4 weeks away so I need to believe that I can get over this obstacle in time; it is all just part of the emotional roller-coaster of marathon training I guess.

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Last night was the Chasers Christmas party. I think this event epitomises the club’s feel as well as anything – a friendly, completely inclusive meeting of people who share a love of running. There was good food, bad music and (for those who wanted it) enough drink to float a ship. I had a ball.

And I was there with my best friends from the club. It gave all of us an opportunity to reflect on the year past – there really aren’t any races now until 2010. As I have mentioned before, I have had a pretty low-key end to the year. Actually it’s been a bit of a disaster. My broken scaphoid bone and subsequent operation on my wrist has been the low-light and the injury to my peroneus longus was the icing on the cake. Still, I had a good start to the year and I am confident that 2010 will start well.

Whilst at the party last night I spent as much time as I could with the good Doctor – my compatriot at the club who took my half-marathon ‘record’ from me. I had the fastest half marathon time at the club for the last 9 months, but now I have a new target to chase. I think that I am slightly in awe of this chap. He is clearly a great runner (in club terms) and has an ability to train really hard and then deliver at races. As I said in my last post, our histories are significantly different – he has always been a runner and a sportsman and whilst he’ll happily go out for a few beers and let his hair down, he didn’t have years of excess like I did. And so last night I consoled myself with the fact that he is 60 seconds faster than me over the marathon distance and 60 seconds faster than me over the half marathon distance. He himself admits that part of the reason his results are improving is my running and the results I am achieving. So I feel much more positive this morning – I am going to give my body a break for another week or so, work hard on my wrist and then approach 2010 like a fresh challenge. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain… and I can’t wait!

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I think it is obvious that running is one of the things that defines me as a person.

I like to think that my love of running stems from a desire to do my best and reap the health beneefits. Both noble reasons to run. Sadly this is not all that drives me to run – my sense of competitiveness and some vanity also contribute. Not such noble reasons.

When I started running it was because I was disgusted with myself and ashamed of my physical state (there’s vanity playing its part!) I was happy to just finish my first marathon. My second, third, fourth and many subsequent marathons were about getting fitter and beating my personal best time and my competitive nature was kept in check. I was only competing with myself.

However once I had run close to 3 hours I started to think I was better than average. Then I broke the magical 3-hour barrier in Berlin in 2007. Now the group of people that I considered to be my closest comrades were the fastest runners at the club. Even the fastest marathoner I know is a sub-2:40 runner, and I am ‘only’ 10 minutes slower than them so they are still metaphorically within reach.

However I have a nagging thought that I have no right to be in this group. My companions in this group are not ex-smokers. They do not have a history of narcotic experimentation (ahem..) They didn’t spend their twenties piling on weight thanks to a strict regime of exercise-avoidance and over indulgence. I did.

Based on my youthful excesses I sometimes think I should be happy that I run at all. I should be content that I no longer smoke, I eat well, I exercise regularly.

But I am not happy. Last weekend one of my compatriots beat my half marathon time, which for 9 months had stood as the fastest time at the club. Others have been breaking barriers – TC ran his first sub-80 minute half marathon and MH broke the 3-hour barrier for the marathon. All the while I have been dealing with a broken wrist, the fall-out from surgery and an injury to my ankle. So right now I feel envious and frustrated.

Try as I might I cannot accept, that in running and triathlon, I have achieved more than I have any right to expect to have achieved – I want to achieve more and remain in the top echelons of the club. I crave the admiration of others and I covet being associated with the fastest runners in the club. I read recently “We take our points of reference from those around us: our friends, our family [or fellow runners?]. These are the people who determine our feelings of success. Which is why Rousseau wrote that the best way to become rich is not by trying to make more money, but by separating yourself from anyone around you who has had the bad taste to become more successful than you. It’s a facetious point, but it’s also a serious one.” (Alain de Botton in an interview with Adam Baer in The Atlantic Monthly, June 2004)

So one option is to find a new running club, one populated by slower runners than me with little or no ambition to improve. That way I will always be the king of the castle… or I can do what feels right – revel in my compatriots’ successes, enjoy the spirit of competition, learn from others and push myself to be the very best I can be regardless of what that means in real terms. For now I’m going to keep up the treatments on my ankle and my wrist, return to swimming and keep running easily, enjoy Christmas and the new year and then launch myself into training on 4 January 2010. Oh and plan a few new challenges in 2010… more news on that to come.

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