2017 started very badly with my withdrawal from the Barcelona Half with two weeks to go. Having missed so much training through injury, I knew there was no way I could run it within the time limit, and I decided to cut my losses and defer until 2018. I write this post with six weeks to go, and all is on track. My yearly total km is a below par 648.01, but sometimes I wonder how I got that far. 648km is, after all, like running from my home in London to Dundee!
I’ve not written much about my calf issues here on the assumption that everyone who would read this knows me in real life and is sick to death of hearing about them. But I will summarise it as quickly as possibly. In July 2016, when I was training for the Dublin Marathon, I developed what I was convinced was a stress fracture in my left tibia. I had all the symptoms, a burning “toothache” like pain, a sharp pain when I pressed my bone (at the upper end of the tibia), I couldn’t hop if my life depended on it, even walking was a bit painful. It had come on gradually and I hadn’t fallen or noticed a “moment when it happened”. I went to the local A+E and said to the doctor: “I think I have a tibial stress fracture” and the doctor said “oh you don’t get stress fractures THERE, I think it’s a sprain” and then he wiggled my left knee, noticed that it was incredibly flexible and clicks a bit and announced that I had sprained my medial collateral ligament and told me not to run for two weeks. The thing is that he didn’t wiggle my right knee, and if he had, he would have noticed that all my joints are incredibly flexible and click a bit.
I went to a private physio who seemed less concerned with what was actually wrong with my leg and more concerned with what had caused it – my flat feet. She told me my shoes (Newtons) weren’t supportive enough and that I needed orthotics and/or awful heavy stability trainers. Looking back, I think the orthotics caused more problems than they solved, because as soon as I started wearing them I started getting shin splints, a more diffuse pain down the front inside of my calves. It wasn’t as bad as the original injury, but enough to ruin my running, and limit me to running about 5km twice a week (when prior to injury I could run up to 20km comfortably, and was running 3-4 times per week). After a few months I got fed up with this physio. I think we just weren’t compatible – she was not a runner herself, and was used to working with elite athletes and I could tell she was wondering why on earth someone like me would bother with running when I was never going to even be average at it, let alone good. In April 2017 year I started seeing Katherine at Leyton Sports Massage, who I can highly recommend. Katherine is really passionate about her work and makes it her mission to suss out people’s injuries and get them back to doing what they love. Katherine tried all sorts of different things with me – she says that most cases of calf pain are caused by weak glutes, so I diligently set about strengthening them, yet I didn’t really feel this was the root of the matter – my glutes are already quite strong. Then we moved on to ankle and toe exercises. My leg improved, but I felt I was living on borrowed time, and sure enough, as I upped the mileage, the left leg “went” again and I couldn’t run for six weeks. This time, I didn’t even try to keep running, and went to the doctor and kicked up enough fuss to be referred to orthopaedics for an MRI on the NHS.
It was during my recovery that I think we finally nailed the problem. I mentioned that I noticed that I always run on my toes, that in race photos I am often caught in some kind of weird tiptoe pose. Katherine said that I should try landing on my whole foot, that we are always taught that a heel strike is bad but that you can go too far the other way. I tried this but it felt really weird, the orthotics were crunching under my feet and I felt like I was moving really slowly and awkwardly. Strangely enough, it was getting a sewing needle stuck in my foot that was the icing on the cake. When I had the operation to remove the needle, the incision was right in the place where my orthotic pressed on my arch. It was too painful to wear them, so I took them out. When I resumed running two weeks after the operation, I figured I wasn’t going far so it would be ok to run without them. Then I noticed that the “whole foot” gait was so much easier when you don’t have an annoying wedge in your shoe. And this is why I think the orthotics made things worse. And why they are in the bin.
Since then I have been completely pain free and running roughly 4 times a week, with my mileage for December hitting nearly 30km per week. I can run faster too, and my 5km times are up to five minutes quicker than they were in the summer. An annoying side effect of not running but still eating like a runner was that I gained 5kg, but 3kg of that is gone now (I’d like to say it just melts off with the running, but it doesn’t, it’s more that the fact running is going well inspires me to pay more attention to what I am eating).
An addendum to all this was that when I finally got my MRI result (over a month after it was done) my leg tibia was lit up like a Christmas tree. The doctor said I had tibial stress syndrome and considerable bone marrow oedema and although there wasn’t a stress fracture line visible it looked like there had been “some” in the past, especially as I’d had the symptoms of them. There was nothing wrong with my medial collateral ligament, or any of my ligaments, tendons or muscles. The doctor said I should stop running for a few weeks. I said that I should have stopped running for a few weeks eighteen months ago and if he thought that I was going to stop my marathon training when nothing actually hurt any more then he had another think coming. It took them so long to diagnose me correctly that the injuries had healed in the meantime, and they might have healed a lot quicker if the original doctor had not been quite so dismissive. His response to this was to refer me to the orthotics clinic, even though I have said at least a million times that I do not want orthotics.
Despite the leg related calamities, it’s not been a bad year for running activities! I discovered parkrun and RunThrough, and although I didn’t manage a half marathon, I did complete the Great South Run (albeit at run/walk pace, as I had missed too much training). I did the London Winter Run, the Great Manchester Run, the Great Newham Run, the British 10k, the Shoreditch 10km and the Kew Gardens 10km. I’m now up to 15km on my long runs for my training for the Brighton Marathon, and so far, so good. I will leave you with some of my favourite running photos of 2017, plus my list of running aims for 2018:
- Visit 12 different parkruns, bringing my total to 20, and entitling myself to a Cow Cowl.
- Run 5km in under 30 mins (the holy grail for average runners, it seems). On the running track counts.
- Run Finsbury parkrun in under 35 minutes.
- Run Barcelona Half faster than sweep up coach.
- Run Brighton marathon without much walking. Improve on 7:07. Consider renaming blog.