Six weeks ago my marathon ended abruptly at mile 24.6 (to be precise) with excruciating pain in my knee and an inability to stand or walk any longer. I didn’t finish the race. The tale of woe was all the more woeful as I was on for a 30 minute PB and had trained through the cruel British winter like a demon. There has been no room for staying out late, drinking, meeting friends or straying too far from a foam roller for several months. Un-natural levels or porridge were consumed, crazy miles run, pain, sweat, tears, niggles, joy, protein, rain were all part of the journey.
Weeks of scans, crutches, a few wheelchairs, many many tears, blood tests and appointments later and I’m on the rehab path. My diagnosis is a stress fracture to my femur (just where it meets the knee) and it isn’t too common. I’ve had to hop and rest for six weeks to avoid bearing any weight while it heals and I am now finally commencing active rehab with the incredible Isokinetic clinic and I'm able to move a bit more once again.
Injury is a right of passage for any runner. I am no stranger to it myself, having previously picked up various niggles. At the time, my chronically tight calf, or troublesome ITB band felt like the end of the world. But one thing a fracture to the bone has given me is some perspective, and a decent comparison point for the future. Can you walk? Yes, well then suck it up and keep running. I jest, as of course we should always listen to our bodies, but there is something about the choice of whether or not to run being taken away from me that has changed this experience.
Regardless of the injury though, any runner who is prevented from running due to injury for any period of time will likely experience similar emotions. Here is what I’ve identified from the journey and some thoughts on how to deal with it.
The psychological trauma of injury:
Despair: total extreme mind shattering despair.
Tip: cry. Wail into your pillow, lock yourself in the bathroom, feel sorrowful, wallow in self-pity, be extremely dramatic. At first allow yourself to feel that this is in fact the end of your world.
Denial: it’s probably just a 24 hour thing.
Tip: Try to be realistic. You may need to let go of your PB dreams or hopes of running two half marathons next month, or your ego full stop. Everyone must realise that they are not in fact invincible. Your body is telling you something, (we’re sorry).
Jumping to the worst-case conclusions: Google self-diagnosing.
Tip: When a niggle or a full-blown injury creeps into your run, it’s oh so easy to rush home, type your symptoms in to Google and decide that you definitely have a fracture/tear/fundamental problem with your body. OK, sometimes you do have one of the above as I’ve learnt (and not in the fun way.) But regardless of this, THERE IS NO POINT. Being a hypochondriac helps no one, least of all your friends. You have to see an expert and try to see one as soon as possible. It’s the most productive thing you can do. It's better to have seen someone sooner rather than later, before the niggle becomes an injury for example.
Positivity: there will be light at the end of the tunnel
Tip: It’s great to reach this point. A few days after my incident I felt all philosophical about how this had happened for a reason and I imagined myself a few months in the future, much wiser and a better person and runner for it. Ride the high, be positive, it will be ok if you stay patient and focused. I believe this was my bodies was of telling me to look after myself fully if I’m going to be so demanding of it (understandably). It’s often a time to reflect and go back to basics. But also, don’t under estimate how hard the being patient bit is.
Insanity and general hostility towards life/other people
Tip: Going out of your mind is a common side effect of an injury-enforced break from running. I’ve only just started exercising at all and by exercising I mean 15 minutes on a stationary exercise bike. So that’s almost six weeks of doing nothing. Here are some of the thought processes that have been part of this journey: oh god I’m losing all of my fitness, oh god I’m losing all of those muscles I worked so hard for, how do I de stress when I cant exercise? I miss sweating, I miss my energy, I’m so lazy, everything is so boring, I miss fresh air on my face, will I ever run again? what if I forget how to run? how long until I can train for a race again? what is the point in my life? (I’m very dramatic), I have so much free time, I miss running. I recommend keeping a diary. I call mine ‘diary of my knee’. I don’t think it’ll make Richard and Judy’s best sellers list but it is very therapeutic to write things down and to use up some of that free time. Or, if you’re not into that, do something else productive with your time, even if it’s just catching up with all those friends you blew out for Tuesday speed work, it helps to find avenues other than running to get some sense of self satisfaction. Please note, it is also not helpful, although entirely understandable, to develop anger towards other runners. If you could you would.