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The loneliness of the injured runner

It’s 214 days since my last post, and this has certainly been the most difficult blog I’ve ever had to write. I’m a runner. I run. And I blog. About running. My last blog was in May 2017 as I completed 10 marathons in 10 days. Since then? Nothing. No blogs. No running. I am a long-term injured runner. And it’s just so ********ing (there are so many words that fit, depending on the day!).

The physical journey continues to be a long and slow one. I got through my 10 marathons in May 2017 with little more than swollen ankles and two black toenails. To be honest, I thought I’d got off pretty lightly. The swelling went down (and the toenails fell off) and after a few weeks I made a gentle return to running. It was then the problems started. Nothing serious, but a tightness in my ankle that I’d not had before.  A bit more rest, some physio and I thought it would settle down. But instead it just got worse, to the point where I had to stop running altogether. More rest and physio, strengthening exercises and advice from sports rehab specialists followed. As did a referral to see a podiatrist, resulting in some custom-made orthotics. But by the end of the year there was still no improvement, and I felt like I had a permanently sprained ankle.

At least it’s cheaper than a new pair of Brooks

So, after Christmas it was time to see an orthopaedic surgeon. The resulting x-rays, ultrasound and MRI all showed damage to the post tibial tendon. The damage itself wasn’t too severe. The real issue was the lack of healing. So, over seven months since I last laced up my trainers I now have a cast on my ankle, in the hope that completely immobilising it helps kick-start the body’s healing process. Only when the cast comes off will I be able to really understand quite what the next stage of physical rehabilitation looks like. I do know, however, it will be every bit as tough as last year’s training regime that saw me run sub-3 hours for the first time and complete the Brathay 10in10. I suspect it will also be much less rewarding.

The mental and emotional journey has, in many ways, been even tougher. Let’s face it, for the first five months of 2017 I was tearing it up: 14 marathons; PBs at every distance I raced; weight down, body toned. To go from that to not being able to run at all for more than half a year is hard to take. Just ask my family, who continue to provide the most amazing support despite the permanent grumpy injured runner syndrome. I’m naturally quite private and introverted in my approach to handling the emotional ups and downs of life. As a result I’ve found it very difficult to be around other runners and to attend club events and races, which has led to feeling cut off not only from running but also from the running community. Many of us have very seasonal racing calendars with favourite events and races coming round each year. It’s been really hard to sit out all these regular and favourite events, whilst watching so many friends competing (and running really well too).

May 2017: the end or just the beginning?

I’ve also always been a runner with plans and targets, so I have to admit to struggling with this open-ended waiting for improvement. And always the nagging doubt in the back of your mind…will you ever run again? In January, I did get myself into a better place and started to look for ways to get back into the habit of exercising. Admittedly, aqua jog, spinning, Pilates and cycling just aren’t the same. But it was nice to get back into something of a routine and start to begin the process of getting fit. Unfortunately, the addition of the cast to my lower leg in recent weeks has put paid to that for the time being.

And so I wait (and hobble about the house). I can’t run, I can’t train or exercise and I can’t make running plans. I just have to wait and see how this all pans out, one step at a time. And that first step will be to see if confining me to the house for six weeks has done any good. Perhaps when (or if) I’m running again I’ll be able to look back on this experience and focus on the things I learnt that may be of use to other runners. But right now it all seems just a little too close.

I won’t leave it as long until next time, when hopefully I’ll have some more positive news. And then maybe, in time, I’ll see you at the start…