Those are two words you never want to mutter. Especially when you’ve just been running better than ever before.
It started at the end of January: I had an amazing month, was knackered at the end so had a rest week, then bizarrely my knees were feeling a bit achey, a bit tight. They hadn’t done this before. It was odd. I took it easy, did lots of stretching. I didn’t go away.
Fine, I’ll take a day off. Surely that will fix it?
Yeah right, a day off, after 3 months of hammering myself, 2 ultras back-to-back, the last one being a 2 day 66mile hilly route? A day off wasn’t going to fix this. I’d pushed it and pushed it and my legs just weren’t quite ready to take that level of punishment.
After I couldn’t shake it off, I went up to see the guys at the Bosworth clinic. Tangent alert: When you find a good physio that you get on well with, stick with them. It applies to anyone in your ‘inner circle’; people you trust to help you, people whose advice you will take, even if its not want you want to hear.
I’ve been going to see Gordon and Paul at the clinic for a few years now, and in that time have built up a great relationship. They know me, what I can and can’t do, what I’m good and bad at (I’m horrendously inflexible, can only go in one direction and don’t like taking things easy); probably most importantly, I trust them. When I first tipped up at their door, I was getting injury after injury, and could just about wobble in a straight line for a long period of time. After a few months of stripping me back to the basics, and rebuilding everything I do from the ground up, I was running PBs at every distance and not getting injured. That was the proof I needed, these guys know what they are doing, and I was going to listen to them, and do exactly what they say.
So they told me to stop running. Complete lunacy! Stop running? This is the beginning of the season!? I’m running better than ever?! I can’t just stop now?!
But they were right, I’d massively overloaded my extensor mechanism and developed quadriceps tendonopathy because of it. Or hurty knee for short.
I needed to rest a bit, or at least active rest and not put more stress through it, and get on the rehab. A load of eccentric quad work, starting with bodyweight front squats, then sticking my heels up on a wedge (or my parent’s skirting board….) to put a bit more load through the knees, then eventually do it with some weight on my back before I could return to running.
I didn’t just stop dead. After a bit of rest, I was able to cycle without any pain. So I started with half hour turbos, then they got a bit longer, and now I’m doing 2hr rides and turbos without even thinking about it. All nice and easy, keeping an endurance base.
Four weeks ago I started front-squatting with just my bodyweight. Then I was able to do a front squat and hold it there for 30s seconds before standing back up. Then do that 5 times. Now I’m doing it with 120kg on my back. I think I’m improving.
I’m back to running too. A nice gradual return. I did a couple of 10 minute easy runs last week, and now I’m doing a whopping great 15 minutes at a time. No pain. Thats the crucial bit. And my god do my legs feel stronger.
I also don’t feel knackered the whole time. I dug deep over the winter, and needed to rest properly after. I can also look back and clearly see what was going on and what was going through my head. I’d been wound up so tight hell-bent on performing that the bigger picture had started to evaporate. I didn’t want to rest as I’ve got a marathon coming up, and wanted to run an ok time. But let’s look at the bigger picture, I don’t really care much for a good marathon time, I want to run 100 miles fast, not 26. And the 100-miler is in October, not April. So really, I’ve got time.
Yes I ran well in January, but I needed a better strength base, and now I’ve got that. I can translate that gym-strength into injury-proof running, and later turn my strength into speed.
Its been a great opportunity to do all the things I don’t have time for when I’m running properly. Socialise (I’m surprised I’ve got any friends left); relax a bit; enjoy cycling again; get ahead with medicine (if I get all my work done now, then when I am back to running, I can train like a pro…?).
Its also been an interesting time to learn about my own thought processes. Develop a better awareness of whats going on in my mind. To start with, I didn’t want to admit I was injured, running defined me, it was just what I did, and what I was good at. If I stopped running, then who was I? But that is a toxic mentality. If you’re coping mechanism in day-to-day life is exercise, or you let it completely define you, then when you get injured, you’ll fall to pieces. You are not just an athlete, you are a person. Yes, I am still a runner. Yes, I still love running. But I don’t need to centre my wellbeing around being able to run, and being able to run well. Yes I want to explore my boundaries and I want to perform to the absolute best of my ability, but I don’t need to win to be happy.
There is a subtle but crucial difference in there, don’t be on the wrong side of it.
Psychology in endurance sport is immensely powerful, and if we are willing to train physically for 20 hours a week, wouldn’t it be stupid to not spend an hour a week training our most powerful tool, our mind?
So for now its a gradual return; let’s not ruin all this good work by getting over excited…