Learning to trust yourself is something I have realised only comes with time and experience. This includes both trusting your instincts and also learning to trust your body. This was where I went massively wrong, and ended up in a much worse situation than I needed to.
Firstly, trust your instincts. I have been running since I was 6-years old. Surely if anyone knows the most about my running, it’s me? Therefore, if anyone knows when something is not right, it must be me? It is only now I have learnt that this is the case. Since the start of my injury (18 weeks ago, long I know!) I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t listen to my own instincts. I vouched to seeing countless physio’s, knowing none of them knew what was wrong, but I continued to see multiple physio’s in the hope someone would explain my pain. I was determined to get to the bottom of what was wrong, even when I was told nothing was.
Numerous times I was told the pain was only psychological, therefore I should run through it. Should I really have done this? Most definitely not, and I knew I shouldn’t, but I did. Why? Because I didn’t trust myself, and what I knew I should do. I believed that the people with the professional labels knew better than me, and whilst this is mostly the case, when it comes to knowing how your own body feels, no one knows it better than you.
Whilst there is no point paying attention to every single little ache and pain and responding to it, when the pain means you can’t run without crying, this is usually a signal to stop. I knew from the very start, something was wrong that would mean I would be off for a while, but I didn’t want to believe it, so I chose to trust the opinion that gave me the least severe diagnosis with the shortest time off. This is definitely not the way to go around it. If I had trusted my own instincts at the very start, I would be running right now, and not still sat on the sofa, unable to run.
Something as important as this, is the need to trust your body. This operates simultaneously with trusting your instincts, but is even harder to do. Your body knows you; you just need to learn to know your body. This is something that only comes with experience. The more you run and the more you experience different niggles, the more you will be able to trust your body. You will be able to distinguish between severe and minor pain. I definitely hadn’t had experience in this, but gradually as I take my running further, I am learning this.
Before now I had only experienced muscular pain and tightness. Hence why I didn’t know what bone pain was like. The pain was definitely different to anything I have felt before. At least now, I have learnt what different pains are. My body was screaming at me, shouting at me to listen to what it was telling me. Things like this should not be ignored. Your body knows you, and it knows when something is not right, so you should listen to it! Regardless of whether you like what it is saying or not. You will only thank your body and yourself in the long-term when you are happily running, pain-free. The concept of being pain-free is something I will never take for granted again, and now I am able to trust what my body is telling me, hopefully I will never be in this position again. If something doesn’t feel normal, that’s because it isn’t!
Please, always, trust your instincts, trust your body, and when both are telling you something is wrong and you need to stop, do it! You will thank it in the future, trust me! I know this now!
Not long ago, I believed, if I couldn’t run I wouldn’t be able to maintain any fitness at all. All I would be able to do is sit on the sofa or go for a walk. I was ignorant to any other sort of exercise out there, and convinced nothing would get me fit other than running. Turns out, this isn’t the case. Once I realised I would be off running for a while, I looked to see what else I could do that didn’t put weight on my legs. This is when I discovered the power of aqua jogging, or aqua running, whatever makes you feel better.
When you mention aqua jogging to most people they either think of old ladies waddling round the pool, or like the comparison my mother made, little ducklings bobbing their heads back and forth as they waddle across the grass. Doesn’t exactly make it sound an appealing mode of exercise, does it?
At first, I was reluctant to try it, opting for the dreaded bike instead. I was convinced the bike was the only other option, therefor I would have to mentally torture myself for weeks on end on the bike. This is exactly what I started to do. Enduring a mind boggling 90 minutes on the spin bike…without music! Boredom, and a very sore bum were the main results of this. I felt, if I wasn’t able to do what I love and enjoy, then I may as well make torture an even harder challenge. And this is exactly what I did! Takes a committed runner to be willing to do that in order to maintain fitness.
Luckily this only lasted a few weeks. I then turned to aqua jogging, and surprisingly, I enjoyed it! After I got my head round the way I looked, and realised no one actually cared, I began to enjoy it! Sessions became a lot more enjoyable, because, in my head I actually felt like I was running, just in the water instead. If I had to be a hobbler on crutches on the land, I wanted to at least still be a runner in the water. This way I was able to maintain my label as a runner, just a runner of the water. Aqua jogging actually became a mode of pain release, and put me in an all-round better mood. I was able to expend the energy I built up sitting down all day, whilst being able to move completely off my feet. Having no weight through my legs actually began to reduce the pain; the feeling of being weightless gave me a sense of release and took my mind off my legs.
My trust in aqua jogging took a turn for the better when I found out about the infamous Kelly Holmes. Having trained solely by aqua jogging for months she then returned to the land only 6 weeks before getting bronze in the Olympics. I’m not saying I’m expecting that result, I’m just saying there is hope that it won’t take years to get back to running fitness.
I have also found the ability to believe in the cross-training process. It has given me the opportunity to strengthen areas I may never even think about strengthening. Aqua Jogging has done the unthinkable thing of strengthening my arms. Never did I think this would be possible!
Although it may seem difficult at first, building trust in cross training and learning to enjoy what you can do, instead of dwelling on what you can’t, is a very important step. Once you have learnt to do this, your time off running will fly by, you won’t lose anywhere near as much fitness as you think, and you’ll come back stronger. At least with stronger arms that is! Just remember to believe that running is not the only method of maintaining your fitness. Even though it is your target discipline you can work towards your goals in running, through other activities. You can continue to be a runner without actually running.
P.s. What makes it even better is you can do it on holiday, in the pool or in the sea. Don’t worry if there isn’t enough land to go running on.
One of the most important parts of being a good athlete is knowing when to stop. I briefly referred to this in my previous post, but it is so important I felt it deserved its own post.
Recovery, this is one of the hardest parts of being a runner, and I can vouch that I struggle to let myself recover. When the legs are feeling chronically empty, or a slight pain that isn’t usually there starts to emerge, this is usually your body screaming out to you to let it recover. I am charged guilty of being awful at this process. When the body is in pain, you push through. Any pain that can be run through, to me, is a pain not worth worrying about. Give it a few days of painful training and it will all be cleared up and gone. This is not necessarily the best mind-set to follow. It can be true, but it can also be completely self-destructive. Running through pain can actually lead towards worsening a mild injury into a more serious one that may involve a considerable amount of rest. As much as I hate to admit it, this is something I did.
Having noticed a slight discomfort at the beginning of January, I chose to ignore it. I carried on training for another week, raced and then felt myself no longer in slight, but immense discomfort the day after. However, this was not the point at which I decided to stop. I had managed to convince myself that the pain was nothing I hadn’t been through before, and after a few days of foam rolling it would be gone. These few days rapidly turned into a week. At the end of the week I then pursued to do a tough and long session. The times were great, but I felt awful. I was in pain from start to finish, pain that worsened in every recovery period, only to shoot up my leg as I started each rep. I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t want to stop.
The morning after I was unable to walk, having to slide down the stairs due to the pain being unbearable with every stomp down. This wasn’t normal and I knew I had to do something about it, so I booked an appointment with the Physio. The physio didn’t notice anything majorly wrong and like I had been doing, told me to run through it as it would clear up within a few days. Did this happen, no? Did I continue to doubt myself and run through the pain? Yes. Something I regret to this day. 8 long weeks dragged on. I had a few days’ rest and tried to run again. It was no better, in fact it was worse. I knew this wasn’t normal, so why did I continue? This process went on and on and on. I never gave it enough time. Just as it began to feel a little better I decided to try a run, and surprise surprise, it felt worse.
Eventually it became too much. There I was, six minutes into a very painful “run”, in the middle of a snow-covered field, crying. This had to end. I knew I had to stop, I couldn’t carry on like this or I would never achieve anything. There was no quality to any training I was doing, the only thing to do was rest and RECOVER.
It was following an MRI and an appointment with a consultant that I was told…
‘your body is screaming at you to let it recover, its shouting at you to stop’.
I had to do exactly that. Stop! Just relax, let my body do nothing and recover. At the time, I was in so much pain I thought I would never be pain-free again, but it’s amazing what a bit of rest can do. Another 8 weeks down the line, no weight baring, time off from running, and a bit of bodily TLC, I am finally pain-free. The end is in sight and the point of return is nearer every day.
As you can tell, it wasn’t easy. I struggled to simply stop, but looking back on it now it was the best thing I have ever done. With a clearer, level head, I feel as though I have turned a corner in my running. Mentally and Physically I will be back a lot stronger than I ever have been, and I will also be a wiser runner. I have now seen the importance of rest and recovery first-hand after my first proper serious injury. It just shows you, let your body rest. Without this you will never recover and become the runner you want to be. Respond to your body when it is asking you to stop. Allow yourself time to RECOVER.
My first blog post is probably about one of the most prevalent things in my life at the minute. Not being able to run. In other words, being injured. Yes, this happens to all runners, and no most of the time we don't deserve it.
So, what have I done? I have a grade 4 stress fracture in my left tibia along with a grade 3 stress reaction in my right tibia. If you're going to do it, why not do it properly? Might as well do both legs so you have a valid reason not to run?! Currently I have been on crutches for 7 weeks and have not done a proper run for 106 days. Long time isn't it?
Had you asked me over a year ago what I would have done in this situation, I genuinely wouldn't have been able to tell you. It would have been a disaster! Of course I'm not enjoying it, and I would much rather be out there training and competing, but the sitaution can't be changed, so I can only make the most of it. As they say, 'every cloud has a silver lining', therefore I believe I can use this setback to my advantage. There are multiple things I have learnt from my time off so far and I think all of these have strengthened me as an individual and as a runner. Here is just a few:
One, if you have to take a few days out to let a niggle settle, do it! A few days is better than hundreds of days not running.
Two, don't try to downplay pain. If you are feeling pain, you are feeling pain. Most runners have a high pain threshold as we are used to pushing through it, but learn what is good pain and what is bad. Trust your body, if it is telling you something is sore, listen to it.
Three, use your frustration to your advantage. Keep working hard, and use the time off to work on your weaknesses and build your motivation. Having time off has made me so much more hungry for it, and determined to achieve as much as I can in the future. It has also allowed me to pay more attention to strengthening areas I may neglect when in full run training.
Four, appreciate what you have. Yes it may be raining and you don't want to go for a run, but now, whatever the weather, I will be smiling the entire way, knowing that I love doing what I do. I have also learnt to enjoy everything else around me, enjoy doing things I don't usually have enough time to do.
And Five, do as you are told. Most of the time, the physio's and doctors know what they are talking about. So, if they tell you to sit on the sofa and do as little as possible for a month, the chances are that is what you need to. And yes, this is what I had to do.
I could go on forever telling you about things I have learnt from being injured so far, but I will save the rest for later. Just remember to enjoy what you do, listen to your body and stop when you need to. It will be worth it in the long run. I have begun to realise that injury is all part of the process, it only makes you love running even more. I guess it is just a lesson in life.
I love to run and I love to write, so I write about running!