Tuesday, January 24, 2012


I have had a couple of conversations recently with people of a similar age where the underlying theme has been the body isn't what it used to be, the well worn cliche of, "...the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak..." having been trotted out a couple of times. This has made me think about the demands that we place on our bodies in the name of recreation. My twitter timeline is full of people that have jobs, families and yet continue to batter themselves on bike, foot or in the pool on a regular basis. Early starts for swimming before work, jogs with strollers and/or dogs (the art of multi-tasking is prevalent in the wannabe athlete's armoury). Weekends are for long runs/rides or as the weather improves, both. My timeline is also full of the same people complaining about injuries and niggles. Rotator cuff, Achilles tenderness, plantar fasciitis, hamstring pulls, calf strains all make regular appearances. Heck someone (@revershed) even smashed his face up running into a street sign at 10 mph. Then there's knees. This is where I come in. More than 12 months ago I had my left ACL reconstructed, rehab went great. As 2011 progressed I was increasing my mileage and feeling good. The recovering knee not giving me any problems. I then started a job in November 2011 where I could travel to work under my own steam. Perfect, the winter cycling and running gear was evaluated and in some cases updated. Then I started. I started by running to work as with a couple of races In the calendar for January 2012 this was a perfect way to get my miles in. The shortest route to work is 2.5 miles but there are infinite ways to increase this. A couple of weeks in and, post recovery, I completed my highest run mileage week topping out at 45miles. Things definitely on the up. Then the most inconsequential of actions brought another injury. Arriving at work I was at my locker which is at floor level. Squatting down to put my kit away something happened to my right knee. Nothing major, there were no cracks, collapses or instance of pain. Just something. Brushing it off as just one of those things I continued to my desk and sat down. When I went to get up after an hour or so I couldn't move. It was like I has just been given the knee of a man double my age. It was stiff, inflexible and really painful. I limped a few steps and then it freed up and I was ok. The pattern was repeated every time I got up from a seated position. As runners one thing we are rubbish at is acknowledging injuries. I always think that "...I'll just run this off..." or, "...give it a couple of days and it'll be fine...". It's like we don't want to accept the reality because what it means is too hard to comprehend. I am miserable when I cannot run at a weekend. I know that. Even at my age it brings out the child in me. Travel to work was now by bike, and actually since this (beginning of November) has entirely been by bike. The knee eased a bit but I cannot put any impact through it. A trip to the GP saw referred to the physio department at the hospital. An examination there confirmed the worse - cartilage damage. The good news is that it is not likely to require surgery as the damage doesn't appear to be a tear. This is as there's no clicking, locking or instability issues. Whilst I am pleased about this - the thought of more surgery is too much - in some ways it's the worse news for a runner. What it means is patience. It also means rehab exercise and stretching. What runners do that!? We all know we should but we don't. Foam roller every so often maybe, and stretching when there's pain. This in itself is an odd situation because I (and a lot of runners I know) have a ton of gear, all the latest equipment and clothing. Support tights, calf guards, orthotics, vibrams, socks with individual toes, cortisone injections, the latest running shoes, trail shoes, hydration packs/belts. The list goes on. All purchased, at great expense ko some cases, to give an advantage and make running better or easier. Yet the thing most likely to make running better or easier is free and is simply stretching and core stability. Who does that? Try this - ask a runner how much study stretch. I bet the answer will be something like, "...not as much as I should...". So where does this leave me? My ultramarathon ambitions for this year are now cancelled. I didn't participate in the Gloucester 50k that was this past Sunday, and I won't be doing the 'Born to run' 37 mile ultra in Llanelli in March. I have lost too much running and don't know when I will be back. My physio has suggested I try running in a couple of weeks time in the week beginning 30-Jan. I then have a review with her on 6th February. That will be baby steps I am sure and I will need to go back to low-low mileage and build very slowly. Between now and then I need to do my core exercises and stretches. This is something that I absolutely have to do otherwise I fear that, at the age of 41, I won't be able to achieve what I want as my body will never be up to it. The engine will be good but the chassis rusty and clapped out. So for 2012 it is now about getting shot of this latest injury and then getting fit properly, engine and chassis. I am resigned that I will be the chap who cycles to work and runs 5 miles or so a couple of times a week. That is the first objective. Beyond that I don't know. I am not entering any races or events for the year (Cheltenham triathlon at the lido excepted) - I don't want the pressure. I want to be able to enjoy my running for what it is and at the moment that's not possible as I am putting pressure on myself to be ready for something. If I remove that recovery should be easier and who knows, I may be a bit more mature at weekends.