No, injuries aren't gentlemen. Not at all.
I have to admit I was fairly lucky in my running life so far, as the last serious injury happened to me about 5 years ago. Since then I had some minor problems here and there, but never had to stop running for more than just few days.
Until about 5 weeks ago.
It was Tuesday, the day of the first race of our club's Summer Grand Prix, which consists of 4 races: 3000m and 1 mile on the track, followed by road 1km and 5km. I was hoping to do pretty well this year, especially in the mile and 1km races. But had to run 3000 m first.
Our track races take place at the Paddington track and usually start around 7:30 pm. Since the club is quite big, we usually have 5+ races, so people can race against their peers, free of fear of being lapped.
I'm always very nervous before those races. While warming up we watch our clubmates racing in the earlier waves, and that makes me even more nervous. But finally our time to race comes. We line up at the start line, exchanging banter to cover our anxiety, and then the gun goes off and the race starts.
I won't write too much about the race itself, as I run it really badly. My initial plan was to go off fast - probably too fast - and then try to hold the pace, or die trying. But I failed in that. We opened in 77s/lap, and were getting slower and slower. Eventually I finished far down the field in a very disappointing time of 9:59.
After the race I thought I'd do some fast 200s to at least make it a decent training session. I started to jog, and then I realized there's something really wrong with my left foot. Actually, I was limping even when I slowed down to walk. So no 200s - just a shower and off to the post-race pub. I limped there, still hoping that it's something minor and I''l be fine in a day or two. After all, there was another SAL match on Saturday, and I was planning to finally run a fast 800m and 1500m.
But it didn't happen. Next morning my foot was as bad as the day before. So it was on the following day. And so on. On Saturday morning I was still hoping - against the reason - that I'll be able to race. I went for an easy jog in the morning, but it was hopeless.
Rational part of my mind was already telling me it's a bloody stress fracture, and my track season is over. My less rational part was insisting it's only extensor tendonitis (problem with the extensor tendon in the foot, manifesting itself with the pain on the top of midfoot) and I'll be able to race the Club Mile on the next Tuesday.
As you may expect, I wasn’t able. I went to the track on that day, started my warmup, but gave up after a couple of strides. It was pointless.
I stayed to watch others racing. There were 7 races in total, 2 women’s and 5 men’s. In the women’s A race H. was in the lead from the very beginning, clearly winning with S. in the second place.
Men’s race was slow and tactical. That led to an exciting sprint duel between R. (British) and R. (Egyptian). British R. won just by a fraction of a second.
You can imagine my frustration at this point - I quite often train with both of them (especially with Egyptian R., who is also my running inspiration - he’s a former Egyptian champion, with PBs of 1:50 for 800 m and 3:50 for 1500 m).
They are both faster than me, but since the race was led at fairly slow pace, I’m sure I’d be with them at the front. And when it comes to the sprint finish - anything can happen…
I missed a few more races I really wanted to race, including The Beer Mile.
But shit happens, as some famous philosopher once said. Injuries are a part of runners life, and I think it’s important to learn how to use time when we’re injured in a sensible way.
My main goal is to try to preserve as much of my fitness as I can, so I can try to save the end of track season. So first of all - I have to do as much aerobic exercises as possible. I started with stationary bike and rowing machine, but after a week I bought a bike. I started cycling to work (just under 24 km one way), which hopefully helps. I hope my quads will be stronger thanks to that. I’m sure they’re note enjoying cycling that much, so hopefully it will pay off with some adaptation. On top of that, I’m trying to still make Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays harder. So on Tuesdays and Thursdays I’m doing some stepper and rowing at the gym before cycling home. Usually arriving home fairly tired, so hopefully it’s working. Saturday is traditionally hills day, so I’m cycling to Greenwich Park and doing some uphill reps. On the same hill I quite often use for running. Actually I find running up the hill easier than cycling (even though I suck at running uphill). I’m starting to really admire proper cyclists who can climb steeper, much longer hills at way higher speed.
On top of that I’m doing standard lunchtime gym sessions, the only difference is that on the weights days I’m lifting heavier loads now, but doing less dynamic exercises (as those would hurt my foot).
In general, what I’ve learned from being injured:
- it can be an opportunity to try different sports, and work on different muscles and movement patterns than normally
- I need to learn to swim properly, as that would widen my range of possibilities for cross training (and it’s probably great cross training/recovery activity for runners, as it’s impact free)
- I’m thinking of starting doing more different sports from time to time, to allow my non-running muscles to do some work, in order to make them stronger and - hopefully - help in preventing running injuries
- I need to start doing exercises to strengthen my feet muscles. I have to admin I was neglecting my feet for a long time, even though I was thinking I need to start strengthening them long time ago already.
- I’ll keep cycling and rowing occasionally after I’m back from injury, probably replacing one or two of my easy runs with that, to allow other muscles to work as well, and to give more time for recovery of the “running muscles"
- being injured sucks
I’m quite curious to see if all this cross training helped to save some of my mid-distance specific fitness.
And even if I was trying to sound like a sane person here, I’m actually going freaking crazy without running, so can’t wait to start again!
* the first person to guess the name and the author of the novel I'm referring to, wins a pint!