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The end of the beginning – the rehabbing runner

After more than twelve months of no running I thought that there could be nothing harder than being a long-term injured runner. Well guess what? It turns out that starting running again after a year out is even tougher.

Ankle rehab exercises
Not as much fun as running – but just as important

After finally succumbing to complete immobilisation of my ankle in February/March I have to admit to being very disheartened when the cast came off and it felt like there had been little or no improvement (ankle tendon damage for those who are interested).  “It will probably improve in time” said the consultant, “but if running is the cause of the pain then I’d suggest not doing it for at least six months”.  A new low point. Advice from physio and sports rehab specialists was more promising, but came with the warning; “it’s going to be hard work”. So began an intensive period of non-running, focusing on strengthening and flexibility exercises and more painful physio. The first green shoots came when I could start to see improvement in the range of movement in my ankle – centimetre-by-centimetre increases week-on-week.

Whilst this was positive, the real test was always going to be lacing up the trainers and going for a run. And on physio’s advice this moment came in mid-June. More apprehensive than at the start of any race, I set out with tentative steps. Just a steady 2 miles. Just to test out how my ankle coped with the load…

…well my ankle may have coped well enough, but the rest of me didn’t! It was an horrific experience and one that almost had me giving up on the spot. I was devastated. I appreciate we are all runners of different abilities, but a year ago I was a sub-3 hour marathoner who had run 10 marathons in 10 days. Now I couldn’t run 2 miles without stopping four times, nearly being sick, cramping up and feeling like my heart was about to burst out of my chest Alien-style (and this despite the cardio work and cycling I’d done).  What made me lace up and try again a few days later I don’t know – perhaps a hope that it couldn’t get any worse! Well it didn’t; in fact, I was pleasantly surprised how well I coped (relatively speaking).  And so it began…

That was ten weeks ago. This week I ran for two hours without stopping [has to supress big smile at the thought of progress]. I’m still not quick, not entirely pain free (although running is not making my ankle worse) and starting to suffer from all sorts of ‘normal’ running aches and pains. But day by day and run by run I’m improving and getting fitter and stronger.  I didn’t follow a set rehab plan, but simply started out with some run/walking that just got me out and on my feet for 20-30 minutes or so.  Then, more recently, it’s been about setting myself regular milestones (30 minutes without stopping, 5 miles, an hour, 10 miles, 13.1 miles etc).  The milestones have been a great motivator over the past few weeks, as has the encouragement from family and fellow runners when I’ve felt brave enough to post my progress. It’s been a lonely twelve months, but I feel like I’m also rehabilitating myself back into the running community.

Be aware of your weakness – don’t ignore it but train around it

As I said, I’m not entirely pain free, I continue to have regular treatment on my ankle and have to keep up with my programme of strengthening, mobility and flexibility exercises every day. I’m limiting myself to three runs a week in order to maximise recovery time and have started to add some variety into my training.  My first track session in nearly 18 months was an eye opener, especially when I discovered my average pace was what would have been my marathon pace last year. Still a long way to go then!

But, I’m feeling motivated enough to keep going and push forward. I’m feeling strong and hopeful and starting to think about running goals for 2019 (including the London marathon and returning to Brathay to run the Windermere marathon). It’s been hard work, with the promise of more to come during the autumn and winter, and I’m sure there will be some setbacks along the way too. But I am running again (and there were certainly times when I doubted that would ever be the case). I’m also back into the habit and routine of running, something that can be as difficult as the physical effort itself.

Finally, I’m starting to feel like a runner again. And that’s why it’s with confidence that I can say I’ll see you at the start.