Well, I suppose it had to happen sooner or later. I’ve picked up an injury. This came about as the result of a combination of things…
1. The last couple of months have seen me significantly build up my mileage. It wasn’t so long ago that my default distance was 3 miles, and my LSR up to 6 at a push. As I mentioned in my previous post, this has recently started to creep up, and my default is nearer to 5 miles with my LSR currently at 11 miles and (hopefully) due to keep rising as I get ready for my first Half Marathon in (eek!) less than 6 weeks.
I just said “eek”. I appear to have become a character from the Beano.
2. I’m completely the wrong shape for running and can describe myself as neither lean nor willowy. I’ve achieved the right height to be considered petite, but not the width; although from a distance I suppose I could pass for two petite people standing side by side. While (nearly) a year of running has stripped away a fair bit of what my daughter once charmingly referred to as “Daddy’s big wobbly hippo tummy” there’s still some way to go, and I’m consequently throwing a lot of weight at my poor little legs whenever I run.
3. I’ve recently mentioned to a few people (and in previous blog posts too I think) that I’ve been very fortunate so far and haven’t picked up any injuries since I started running. This wasn’t so much tempting fate, as inviting fate round to my house, leaving it in a room full of profiteroles, beer and supermodels and then saying “Right fate, I’m just popping out for half an hour. Don’t touch anything”.
In my previous post I mentioned the first knee twinge, and how it had somehow led to me signing up for the aforementioned half marathon. Since then I’ve been feeling quite paranoid about it developing into a full-blown running injury* so I’ve been taking whatever steps I can to prevent that from happening. This has consisted of…
(Ooh, more bullet points!)
1. A few days of complete abstinence from running. Some of this may have been spent sitting with my eyes closed while holding an electric fan in front of my face so I could pretend I was out running. This rest period was followed by a series of shorter (sub-10k) distances before tentatively creeping back up towards the 10 mile mark over two weeks later.
2. Using a foam roller. If a committee was put together for the purpose of designing something that looked as little like a torture device as possible, the foam roller would be the end result. Essentially a two foot long polystyrene sausage, the only way to make it look even more innocuous would be to put a set of bunny ears on it. But looks can be deceiving, and I often came close to tears whenever I used the wretched thing**. But it worked a treat, essentially bestowing a deep tissue massage on my beleaguered legs. You’ll notice I’m using the past tense. All was going well until I accidentally left it in the toilet at work as I was leaving for the day***. If the foam roller has one design flaw, it’s that to the untrained eye it looks like a worthless piece of packaging foam. And so I’m assuming that it’s been thrown in a skip somewhere, although I’ll be paying close attention to see whether our cleaning ladies start displaying signs of unusually supple IT bands over the next few days.
3. Kettlebells. For the uninitiated, kettlebells are basically big cannonball-type weights with handles on them, hefted about by grunting circus strongmen. Or so I thought. As it turns out, kettlebells are in fact big cannonball-type weights with handles on them, hefted about by grunting circus strongmen… and me. I’d been reading up on the knee problems common to runners, and found that the cause is quite often a lack of strength in the muscles that keep the joint in its proper alignment. I work with a couple of guys, Maclary and Dave, who had just been on a kettlebells course and were raving about how great the bells were for working those very muscle groups. So last week Maclary spent a couple of hours patiently teaching me the basics of kettlebells including, crucially, the Don’t Drop Them On Your Head rule.
4. Compression socks. These stylish knee-length skin-tight little numbers actually work very well. Mainly because when you wear them, no injury in its right mind would want to be seen anywhere near you.
As I became more focussed on run-proofing my knees, I began to feel more and more confident that this early intervention would be enough to keep me running well into my eighties. It wasn’t.
This morning, as I enjoyed a fantastic crack-of-dawn LSR around the lake, I was rudely yanked from my reverie by the familiar twinge in my knee. It was mainly in my right knee, although the left was definitely egging him on and would probably join in given half a chance. Up until that point, although I was fairly sure I had knees, I never really noticed they were there. Now though, I felt an acute awareness of these bony-cartilagey-fluidy lumps that were sitting halfway up my legs and telling me they didn’t want to be my friends any more. As with the last flare up, they’d waited until I was at the apex of my route, so I had no option other than a 6 mile plod back to my car.
Curiously, they pretty much stopped hurting when I ran, so that’s what I did. For most of the return journey I almost completely forgot about the pain and discomfort I’d felt, and actually kept a better pace than I had on the first half of the run. In hindsight, I should have considered the possibility that it was hurting, but that the pain was being masked by the copious amounts of endorphins surging round my body courtesy of the run.
The inevitable payback came as soon as I got to the end of the run. With only a quarter of a mile between me and my car I slowed to a walk, and was nearly knocked off my feet as the pain slammed into my right knee like a group of unruly wildebeest in a stolen Volvo. Okay, so I’m exaggerating slightly, but it bloody hurt, and I was forced to limp the rest of the way, wincing with each step.
The rest of the day was a blur of pain, discomfort and (most of all) feeling sorry for myself. Luckily, I’d iced my knees straight away, and this tactic seemed to be working well as the day went by, helped along by an earlier dollop of ibuprofen gel. Every now and then the pain would disappear completely for a few minutes only to come rushing back with a vengeance, leaving me cursing my knees and threatening to sell them to gypsies at the earliest opportunity. Worse than the pain though, was the misery I felt every time I thought about how I was no longer invincible, how I could so easily become one of those runners who has to take months out of the thing they love because of injury. It was a sobering thought, but I’d crossed a line, I’d broken the seal, I’d pissed in the fresh snow, and now there was no going back.
Thing is, I wouldn’t be writing this if it didn’t have a silver lining. For all my wailing and woe-is-me drama, things aren’t actually that bad. It’s just over twelve hours since my knee went “thrrrrp”, and now it pretty much feels back to normal. I’m not stupid enough to start running on it for at least a few day (although I am QUITE stupid), and I have a physio appointment booked for later in the week. As far as the Half Marathon is concerned I’ve still got nearly six weeks to go, and I’ve proven to myself that I can manage at least eleven miles now. That means that, if push comes to shove, I can afford to rest for as much as two or three weeks and still have time to prepare. I guess that’s one of the advantages of being a plodder rather than a finely honed athlete – if I can just get round the course it’ll be a win for me.
*Or “Runjury” as it should be called – might have to patent that.
**Big manly tears, obviously, composed mostly of spit and bourbon. But tears nonetheless.
***I think I should clarify – I don’t actually work in a toilet.