We all know that feeling during the last few kilometers of a long, tough race (or a short, fast one for us ultra runners) where time seems to slow down. Kilometres tick by achingly slowly and all you can think about is getting to the finish line and stop doing what you’ve been doing for hours on end.
I have found the past 4 weeks to be the same. My current injury setback has been the equivalent of one long mental race. And we learn a lot about life during long races.
A few months ago, I felt a little niggle in my foot which I put down to some sort of tendon inflammation – nothing serious. I carried on training and raced an awesome African X with some discomfort. It was nothing to complain about, and I assumed it was that same old tendon playing tricks again. After the race, it didn’t settle and I decided to get an MRI scan on my foot – just to be sure that there was nothing serious going on there. As it turns out, there was something serious going on there, and just as well I listened to my intuition rather than my pain threshold.
I was diagnosed with a ‘stress reaction’ in my 4th metatarsal which, apparently, is not quite a stress fracture but still requires a full 4 weeks of no running. I could cycle and swim and do enough static strength training to keep me fit for 4 weeks but getting out into the mountains was a no go.
At the beginning I was a pretty bolshie, just like when you enter a race that’s a little beyond you but you do it anyway. Just 4 weeks! That’s nothing, I can totally do that. Easy game. I’ve got this….
The first week was the same as the first 10ks of the race. I was feeling fresh, ready to be patient, to cross train and keep positive. I was all smiles and ‘‘don’t worry, I’m fine’s”.
Week 2 started to get a little tedious. Still remaining positive but with a few down days of tears, “why me’s” and grumpy moods as I gazed at the mountain and wished like anything I could be up there.
Week 3 was kind of the last aid station feeling… So close, just a one more push of positive indoor cycling and it’ll be over! But it was increasingly difficult to muster those smiles and get myself through the rotating door of the gym and onto the bike or into the pool. But I did it. I got onto the bike and I did each session with as much determination as I would a running session. This was also thanks to Coach David’s encouraging words, messages and extra exclamation marks at the end of each session. When my training log read: Tuesday - Bike!!!!!!! It was hard not to feel slightly more positive about it!
Week 4 dragged like those last few kms. I could see the finish line; I could smell the boerewors rolls and hear the music. But I just couldn’t get there fast enough. I didn’t think it would ever end and it was the hardest week of all. But I made it, just like a race.
Now, I’m “finished”, and I’m back up and running – although very carefully, and spending some time on the Alter G thanks to Velocity Sports Lab. And I’ve learnt a lot from the injury race.
First of all, I am determined to help to transform the way the running community views injury. Currently, it is a secretive affair of not letting on that you may be weaker than someone else, or that you made a training error which resulted in time off. It’s viewed as a weakness which must not be spoken about. Why is this? There is nothing ‘weak’ about getting an injury. Yes, it is usually due to training errors or over use – but since when is over-enthusiasm a scary secret which musn’t be shared? The more everyone shares their experiences of strange niggles, big set-backs and everything in between, the more we will all learn as a running community. The more people can learn from others, the more we can avoid it and the better we can recover from it.
When I first heard about the diagnosis I decided the best thing was to chat to people who’ve had similar experiences. I sifted through all my go-to running blogs but didn’t come up with many to do with personal injury experiences. Most of the blogs and insta pics were about amazing race results, single track long runs, summits and beautiful sunrise runs. Needless to say, I found this most unhelpful and vowed to stay off social media during my ‘recovery’ time. Most of the time, when people get injured, they disappear from social media. They vanish without a trace until they are again able to post a strong legged mountain summit picture again. It’s as if it never happened.
A few days later I popped in at RUN store to chat to the ever-encouraging and lovely Tish Jones. This was the ‘blog’ I’d been looking for... Tish shared a mountain of knowledge for me to sift through; we chatted about all the different causes of injury such as hormones, diet, work load, stress, sleep… We chatted about mileage, training methods and coaches. We spoke about strength work, tendons, muscles and what plays a role where. We vented about how difficult injury is and shared ways to deal with the grumpy depressive state us runners sink into during such times. We schemed up different ways of dealing with it, preventing it and more. I have so much respect for Tish and her open, honest and helpful attitude. It made me realize that we’re all in the same boat. We all struggle with similar issues, some more than others but the principle is the same: don’t hide, share!
Running is not all smiles and mountains. It’s not about super-human bodies and ‘never breaking down’. Everyone is human, and everyone – athletes more than others – need down time. I’ve come to realize that the notion of ‘grinding it out’ and ’pushing through’ and not admitting weakness should not be praised.
I found a fantastic platform that I found very helpful during this time. It’s called Rest Day Brags. Rest Day Brags celebrates – as the name suggests – resting. I would love to see the South African running community brag more about our rest days, our easy days, our setbacks and breakthroughs rather than on our splits, strava segments and kilometers covered each day, week or month. But most importantly, let’s share our running experiences with a more honest, open and supportive approach.
Onwards and upwards (even if its at 80 % of my body weight on the Alter G for now)!