The Sunday after returning from the Sierra Leone marathon back in June, I was tidying my room when I felt a sharp pain in my lower back, specifically on the left-hand side. The pain was excruciating and my whole body went into a spasm. And yet it was over before it had even begun. A quick wince followed by a little stretch and I carried on with my dusting (read as: finally unpacking from SLM after eight days of avoiding it).
The next day the sharp pain came back, this time a few seconds longer and my wince became a yelp. Yet as painful as it was I assumed I was just achey from the marathon, or that it was potentially even stress related due to my mini trauma. But by the Wednesday morning I couldn’t even sit at my desk properly. Every turn to get up from my chair and every bend to reach for something from my bag had my lower back feeling like someone was jabbing it with a sharp needle! By the afternoon I was walking around like I was wearing an invisible full body cast.
After booking an emergency physiotherapist appointment with Alex from Therasmart – who I not so secretly named Dr. Alex, any Love Island fans out there? – he analysed me from head to toe and told me two things were clear. The first, running four marathons in a year had definitely taken it’s toll on my body. And secondly, I apparently had an imbalance (potentially caused by constantly leaning and sleeping on one side) and very little core strength (meaning I’ve put my body through A LOT over the past year and the entire time my lower back had been doing most of the work.) Dr. Alex put me on a strict no-running ban and I spent the next 14 weeks working on strength and pilate style exercises he set me.
Yup, FOUR. TEEN. WEEKS!
Of course, I had no idea at the time it would be 14 weeks until I could run again. My entire summer was one of hard work & hope followed by disappointment, every two weeks visiting Dr.Alex to check-in on my progress, only to be told I was still in the danger zone.
After spending the past 18 months consistently training for marathons, I felt completely lost being unable to run. My anxiety returned on one of it’s highs; I became short-tempered, completely paranoid and very restless. I was over-thinking everything and worrying about the smallest thing. I began to feel body conscious and unhappy. It was looking to be a tough summer for my fitness and wellbeing.
Fortunately, I got through it. I managed 14 weeks without any running or jogging and managed not to kill anyone in the process.
Here is how I did it and how you can too if, like I was, you are currently benched with a running injury and feel like you are about to lose your god dam mind…
SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP
First things first, if you are injured or in pain, get yourself to a physio or your GP. I wouldn’t recommend anything for anyone unless you have spoken to a professional first.
GET YOURSELF TO THE GYM
One good thing to come from my running injury was that it got me to the gym, trying new stuff. I signed up to my gym last year but I was only going a few times a month due to the awful ‘gym anxiety’ that would set in as soon as I even began packing my gym bag. I never quite felt comfortable in there. However, some of the exercises Dr. Alex set me involved using gym equipment, such as a Bosu Ball (which I have practically become best friends with now.)
At first I hated walking in and picking up that Ball, I feared that everyone was looking at me and could tell I had no idea what I was doing – I was probably going to fall off it, hurt myself, embarrass myself. It took me about six sessions to realise something very important:
Nobody. Gives. A. Fudge!
Soon enough I got into a routine and began enjoying it, trying new equipment and new styles of working-out. Before I knew it my three times a month had turned into three times a week.
ATTEND FITNESS EVENTS
Being someone who used to struggle with the jealousy emotion a lot, you’d think I would avoid any kind of running event if I couldn’t partake in it. But three weeks after my diagnosis from Dr. Alex, I attended Love Trails Festival, a three day camping event that is focused around running and fitness.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to join in any of the runs, but it massively helped even just going on the walks, cheerleading chums in races, taking part in Yoga (or at least the moves I was physically capable of) and being surrounded by my fellow runners. Don’t feel like you can’t be a part of the community just because you’re out of action.
FIND A HOBBY OR ACTIVITY TO (TEMPORARILY) REPLACE RUNNING
Inspired by Becca of @redfaced_runner – a fellow injured runner who swapped the tarmac for the tide and now races in open-water swims – I decided to start swimming! On at least two of my three gym sessions per week I would get in the pool and do laps. It didn’t give me the runners high I was craving, but it certainly gave me back a few of my good old friends, the endorphins.
As my injury lessened and my strength progressed, Dr. Alex allowed me to go on the bikes and I began swimming once a week and cycling on the exercise bike too.
Looking back, I probably should have been a bit more serious when telling people, especially my work colleagues. Quitting running cold turkey is no doubt the same as quitting cigarettes. It is my addiction, a healthy one, but an addiction nonetheless and there is nothing wrong with opening up and telling people you’re struggling without it.
However, the support I had through my friends and family (who would even come the gym with me) and the support I’ve had on Instagram from you guys has been phenomenal, reading your comments and messages has been a huge part of my recovery and my motivation to get back out there, so I highly recommend being vocal about your injury and not keeping it to yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, advice and support.
It was certainly a summer of highs and lows, but earlier this month, after 102 days without it in my life, I made a decision to get back out there and run. I’m still slowly getting used to it, with my runs being between just one and three miles and my pace being a very very slow one. It feels like I’m starting all over again, but goodness me it feels so good to be back out there.
If there is one thing this summer has taught me *Soppy Moment Alert* it is to appreciate every single physical step I run in this world. I honestly didn’t realise how lucky I am to be a runner, until I could no longer run. Don’t take those one milers for granted guys, every step is a gift. And for anyone reading this who isn’t a runner, I suggest you put on a pair of trainers and go and take that first step, trust me, it WILL change your world.