This week marked six months since my last sports related injury. (We’ll gloss over the time I trod on a sewing needle and needed surgery under general anaesthetic to get it out of my foot; I didn’t tread on it whilst running so it doesn’t count). Up until that point it was one injury after another. The left leg would get better, then the right one would go. Or a hamstring would randomly ping. I aborted several runs after a kilometre feeling like I had been kicked hard in the shins. I made great inroads to earning my parkrun volunteer t-shirt. I felt like I would never be able to run properly again. So, in a way, I am proud that I have managed to stay injury free, despite regaining my old pace and upping my monthly mileage to more than it’s ever been. I have worked really hard, seeing my sports therapist, doing the exercises she has given me every day, going to strength and yoga classes, retraining my gait and being very careful to increase my mileage gradually and to listen to my body and not be scared to miss a run if something feels wrong (but also to know the difference between “it hurts because you’re marathon training and things are going to hurt” and “it hurts because it’s going to break soon and you need to stop”).
Yet despite the sense of achievement I feel from staying injury free, I also know there is an element of luck and feel that maybe I am living on borrowed time. Even the pros get injured from time to time. Even if you do everything right, marathon training puts a lot of stress on the body and sometimes that results in an injury.
I seem to have been receiving a lot of unsolicited advice lately, and it seems to generally come from two sources: people who have never done marathons, and people who have done lots of marathons, but don’t have flat feet and were never the last to be picked in PE and don’t know what it is to struggle. They are trying to help, I know. But I wish they would stop. “I think you get injured because you don’t run on a treadmill!” remarked one friend. Said friend has never run further than ten kilometres. Or more recently, I lamented on a Facebook running group that the combination of marathon training and working sixty-ish hours per week in twelve hour rotating shifts was making me tired. This was apparently because I was running too much/too fast/had built up too quickly/had not been eating right and nothing to do with the fact that if you get an average of three hours of sleep per night and then do three hours of exercise of course you are going to be tired.
Being slow is definitely becoming more of a millstone around my neck. At shorter distances, all it means if that you get to run for longer. I’d rather spend half an hour doing a parkrun than fifteen minutes, so I don’t see a problem. But now the long runs are getting lo-o-o-ong, I see my friends posting runs that are well over half marathon distance, that have taken them less time than it took me to do 18km. I’m spending more time on my feet, so am naturally more exhausted than my whippet-like friends. And of course, the more tired I get, the slower I get. The other thing is that being slow means people take you for a beginner, or not very clever, or both. I really hate being slotted into the “fat pink inspirational slow female runner” category, where the running jargon is dumbed down and you are patronisingly applauded like a special case. I am slow in the legs, not in the brain! It is not my fault that I was born in a body with short, plump legs, flat feet and a total lack of balance and coordination. I can improve, but I can’t cancel out nature. I can read perfectly well and I know all the theory. I can explain heart rate zones and VO2 max and I know the difference between a tempo run and a threshold run. I train just like a fast runner, except slower. So please don’t treat me like an idiot because I can’t run fast. I could just give it all up and take up a hobby that I am naturally good at, but that would be boring.
(Did I mention that marathon training makes you really, really grumpy too?)