In the last week or two, one question has dogged me: to cycle, or not to cycle?
Before this new challenge, I thought of myself as a runner. I qualify this statement as I'm neither a club runner nor a speed demon and the PBs that I'm proud of would some most of our faster forumites blush. Still if enthusiasm counts for anything, then I'm a runner.
However, as much I love running, it appears that running doesn't love me. Since upping my mileage to train and race in the Liverpool Half-Marathon in March, I've suffered from unrelenting tightness and pain in my lower left calf.
After the race, I rested up for a month (a whole month!) but then, refusing to admit defeat, I was back pounding the pavements. On days off from the gym bike, I've been determined to keep up my running. With a full diary of summer races planned, I figured I could keep pushing on despite the pain. It had become increasingly hard cycling with legs swollen and sore from running, but I steadfastly refused to give in.
Things came to a head when I ran the Bupa London 10000 a few weeks ago. I ticked off one tough kilometre at a time, with sharp pain running up my shin each time my left foot struck the road. This was the first race in which I genuinely thought at times that I couldn't - or rather shouldn't - finish.
Immediately after the race I went to see Bupa physio Simon Fairthorne, on hand in the Bupa Boost Zone. He thought I could be suffering from a stress fracture or medial tibial stress syndrome and advised me to get a more thorough check-up. If it was a stress fracture, I'd have to cut out running for at least three months and cycling for a month to allow it to heal.
After finishing one of my favourite London races, my medal was still in my goody bag and I was too grumpy even to join the rest of the RW team at the pub. The thought of not being able to run or cycle felt like a real blow.
With the possibility of a stress fracture hanging over me, I stopped running and cut down on cycling. I felt I needed reassurance that pushing hard on the bike wouldn't exacerbate the injury or cause me long-term problems, so last week I went for a check up at Bupa's Barbican Centre.
I was examined by Dr Leon Creaney, a Consultant in Sport & Exercise Medicine and running injury specialist expert. I ran on a treadmill and had an ultrasound to check for a stress fracture on my shin.
The good news: I didn't have an obvious fracture on the ultrasound (though this was with the proviso that Ultrasound cannot check for stress fractures). Leon thought it was most likely that I had medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS). He said I could continue to cycle and run as long as it was pain free, but if the pain came back I would need an MRI.
The bad news: Every time I intensify my running MTSS will return, until I strengthen my legs with a series of specific exercises and get some orthotics. Leon has recommended I practice single leg squats and I could balance on a wobble board to improve my ankle strength.
I should also return to running using a walk/run schedule in a 5:1 ratio, dependent on pain. There's no easy cure for my running problems, but for now I'm just relieved I can cycle.
In celebration, I spent last weekend cycling on trails near my parents' home in Staffordshire. It was muddy and wet and I had clumps of mud glued to my face by the end. But being able to pedal hard again made it an exhilarating experience.
A few weeks after stopping running, I'm starting to think getting my injury might actually have been a good thing. It's made me appreciate cycling more and tearing down trails has become as enjoyable as a long run.
I've even started swimming again and my thoughts have already turned to a solo triathlon after our team relay. Mind you, hand me a race entry form when my legs are burning on the Wattbike and I'll still want to hit you.