The Dark Days Of Injury
It has been a funny few years for me on the running side of things. Some of you may have read my previous articles in which I revealed that running was the saviour for me. It helped me lose weight, become healthier and just generally get my life in order. Without rehashing the whole article, I was just getting into running properly when I managed to rupture my anterior cruciate ligament playing football. The tear was complete and I faced (thanks to a misdiagnosis by an unnamed hospital in the centre of town) 14 months out of any kind of sport.
These were dark days for me. I missed running and football so much. I was desperate not to put on the newly-shed pounds again. I did countless crunches and press ups, bought an exercise bike and even began using a trampette to simulate running (in my living room) without the impact damage that would actually occur. If you are unsure what a trampette is, check it out and just visualise how ridiculous a grown man would look, bouncing around on it. As a last ditch attempt at clinging on to my fitness levels, I went down to the local swimming baths and attempted 20 lengths. Wow. That was a wake-up call. Swimming is a whole different level of fitness to running. I managed 10 lengths, at which point I scaled down my target to 18. Then 17. Then 15. It was at some point along my 14th leg when I realised that I had just been passed by a stately old lady who could not have been younger than 70. I went into front crawl mode, steamed past her as I completed my 15th length, got out and promptly nearly fainted.
As I say, these were difficult times. But thanks to the wonderful folk up at Spire Roundhay, I had a successful knee replacement operation and some superb physiotherapy that meant I could get back to attempting sport again. It turned out, sadly, that football was too much for my ruined right leg. Any sharp turn and the knee would swell up and fill with fluid. Initially, I was devastated but running didn’t have the same effect so I threw myself into it with gusto. I completed three marathons, a number of half-marathons and countless other races. I was getting faster, stronger and fitter and really began to challenge myself.
That was when disaster struck again. I was training for my second London Marathon when I felt my hamstring go. I had been running at a high level for a while now, I knew what to do. I wasn’t stupid. I scaled back the training for a while. Rested. Iced. Compressed. Elevated. I did everything you’re supposed to do. I used a foam roller. I stretched routinely and exhaustively after training. I warmed up dynamically. None of these worked. The marathon came and went. I completed it and enjoyed it but, by God, it was painful. I went back to the doctor and then to the hospital. I had x-rays and MRIs. A minor tear, I was told. Give it time and it will heal of its own accord.
That was two years ago. In the meantime, I have had to give up marathons. And half-marathons. To be perfectly honest, I was struggling to get beyond 10K. My hamstring hurt when I sat down. It was agony when I drove. It even caused me discomfort while I was trying to sleep. I went back to the doctor and got referred to a physio again. In February this year, I got first attended the NHS Musculoskeletal and Physiotherapy service at the Meanwood Group Practice. My first appointment was with a fabulously dry, Irish specialist. Within 20 minutes he delivered his first speculation.
I don’t think this has anything to do with your hamstring” …He uttered in a soft brogue
Do you know what? Turns out his speculation was bang on. His initial diagnosis was sciatica. My left leg had been overcompensating for the weakness in my right caused by the cruciate tear. My body had twisted and over four years of subsequent running, I had been putting undue pressure on my spine, which then transferred along the entire length of my sciatic nerve and manifested itself as an intense, localised area of pain in the rear of my thigh. Something commonly mistaken for a hamstring injury. My Irish physio massaged the problematic vertebrae and gave me stretching and strengthening exercises. All of these were designed to transfer the pain out of my leg and up into my back where it could be more easily dealt with.
It’s been working. Bit by bit. Last week I managed to run over 12 miles for the first time in 18 months. I’m still in pain but now I know what it is, I can manage it and I know that eventually it may go. I’m going to sign up to do my hometown Leicester half-marathon at the end of August. There won’t be a PB but at least I have a target now and that feels good. So why have I written this article? Other than to have a damned good whinge about everything?
It’s because I have realised just how much running means to me. As much as football. Even though I can’t approach the activity with as much vigour as I used to. I know that realistically, I will never get back to the fitness levels that I used to have or achieve the same times or be able to cover the same distances. But, do you know what? I don’t care. Running is so much more than that. So what if you can’t do 10 miles? Do 5 instead. Can’t do 5, do 2. It doesn’t matter. This doesn’t just go for those who have suffered long term injuries, this goes for everyone. I have had friends who are just getting into running tell me, in hushed tones, that they were embarrassed they could only do short distances. That these distances just didn’t compare to mine. Those friends are now regularly completing half-marathons, which is something I can only dream about right now.
Whatever the distance, as soon as you get out and start pounding that pavement (or trail, or fell) you are doing something and you should feel proud of that. And you should do it more. Trust me. I’ll be the bloke hobbling painfully along, glaring enviously on as you glide past me on the streets of Leeds.