Saturday, 6 June 2015

Injury! Is my Comrades dream all over?

I think it's fair to say that my 2015 Comrades experience was not quite what I had planned.

Rewind to November 2014 when the decision was made to have another go at getting to the start of the Comrades Up run. I had entered the 2013 race after my 2012 debut (hoping to get my back to back medal) but sustained a stress fracture to my heel bone early in the year, putting me out of the race. I was disappointed but, thankfully, I hadn't booked flights or hotels!

Training started in early December, working on my base fitness initially and then building up weekly and monthly, following the Bill Rowan plan that I used in 2012 which secured me an 8.09 finish and an age category win.

Compton Downland 40
Races were booked, miles logged and cross training incorporated as the weeks and months ticked by. I worked damned hard and by the end of April had covered almost 1000 miles including 4 marathons (Malta, Stratford, Taunton and London), weekly back to back long runs and two 40 milers, one of which was the Compton Downland 40 at which I was first lady. I think I can say my endurance was improving!

And then came the glorious and much awaited taper. After months of building up the mileage and endurance it was time to attempt to run short and pacey to wake up the legs again. A local 10K was entered which went reasonably well (43.30) but the legs felt odd, particularly the left one which felt a bit unstable for the first mile or so. 'Probably just tiredness' I thought and dismissed it. Gave it a couple of days rest just in case and tried again on a 9 mile run. The legs again felt odd and incredibly tight. This was a warning that I should have heeded! Unfortunately, when everything is tired and achey it's hard to distinguish between fatigue and what might be something more serious. Two days later I could not run at all - my left calf/shin was too painful to run on, even for 2 steps on grass. Panic set in immediately. I only have 3 weeks to go and I can't actually run. This can't be happening to me!

Between that day and flying out to Durban on the 26th of May I did not run a step but iced, elevated and compressed my left calf/shin to within an inch of its life. A great Physio friend, Helen, massaged it, prodded it and pummelled it, assuring me that all would be OK. A second opinion also confirmed that it was probably muscular and didn't seem like a stress fracture. My chiro friend Cat even kindly employed her tuning fork on my shin - certain to cause pain if a fracture exists apparently - and that felt fine. But I was not convinced. Having been given a similar opinion in 2013 which turned out to be a fracture in the end, I was sceptical.

How and why could this be happening now? With 6 months of focused training in the bag, being more fit than I ever have been in my life, flights, hotels etc all booked too. The timing couldn't have been worse.

I went through so many emotions in the days leading up to the race: primarily worry that I wouldn't make the start line of this iconic race which means so much to me and the incredible disappointment and that would follow. My poor family and friends had to put up with me being quite a grump. I'm normally a very positive person, but this had got to me.

I packed my race kit as normal, although my heart wasn't in it. I kept thinking that I might not get to use any of this stuff after all. We flew to Durban and arrived on the Wednesday before Sunday's race. Even during the flight I was religiously applying layers and layers of ibuprofen gel!

Number pick-up
On the Thursday, the expo beckoned. If anyone has ever visited an expo when they aren't running the actual race they will sympathise with how I felt. Instead of feeling excited and wanting to try all the samples and talk to everyone about their Comrades hopes and dreams, I was withdrawn and quiet. Even picking up my number at the International Registration felt flat because I had no idea whether I would be using it. How could injury have taken his magical time away from me? I felt very resentful but tried hard to hide it.

We came upon a Physio stand where taping was taking place. I decided to ask if they could offer me any advice. Joyce, an elderly Physio listened to my tale of woe and declared: 'we can't do much for you here with that injury. you need to go and see sports injury professional Mark Marshall. I rate him incredibly highly - he will sort you out', upon which she proceeded to phone him to see if he could fit me in that day.

An hour later I was on the couch in Mark's office in Durban's impressive Moses Mbhida stadium, with him expertly prodding my calf and shin. Within 10 minutes he delivered the diagnosis: medial tibial stress syndrome - aka shin splint. He explained that the sheath surrounding the shin bone sometimes comes away from the bone under stress, causing inflammation and bleeding inside. He could palpably feel the inflammation in a particular spot about a quarter of the way up. It all made sense - the tightness, the pain, the inability to run.

I hung on his every word, waiting for the verdict as to whether or not anything could be done or whether my fate was sealed.

It turns out Mark has previously lived and worked in the UK. He stayed in Winchcombe which is 10 minutes away from where I live when he worked at Cheltenham and Gloucester hospitals a few years ago. We struck up a rapport and I felt I could trust his knowledge, experience and advice.

He talked about a lower leg brace that apparently you can run with but which is only available in America. Then he mentioned a much respected colleague and radiologist, Dr. Z, who might be able to perform a cortisone injection to bring down the inflammation. He could do it himself there and then, he explained if I was 'a fish and chip runner' but would rather that it was performed with ultra sound for accuracy for 'an athlete like you'. Get me! I think he must have thought I was someone else :)

He reassured me about how common the procedure was and then proceeded to text his colleague asking if he could squeeze me in that afternoon. Within 10 minutes he had a response - if I could get over to the Gateway Medical Centre that afternoon he would do it. This would never happen in the UK!

By this time I was starting to see some light at the end of a dark tunnel. What if it actually worked and I could run? I tried not to get too excited and to contain myself. My husband John remarked that I smiled for the first time since we arrived in South Africa (apparently).

The procedure was pretty quick, not painless I might add, but it was very professional and accurately guided. Dr.Z gave me no guarantees and said normally you should a week for the cortisone to work but said I could possibly try a small jog/walk on the Saturday morning - the day before the race - to see how it felt. I needed to do that rather than turn up on the start line not knowing whether I could run a step. Oh well, let's keep everything crossed then!

At the start of the Durban park run
Saturday morning arrives, as does the Durban North Beach 5K parkrun which is close to our hotel and a perfect test. After all, if I can't run 5K then I can't do Comrades. Simple.

We park up and line up on the promenade outside Mugg and Bean alongside hundreds of runners, joggers and walkers, among them many Comrades hats and even shout outs for previous winners taking part.

Off we go and I'm nervous and scared to start running. After a little walk I break into a jog and I'm running. It certainly isn't fast or fluid but I'm actually running, for the first time in 3 weeks! The shin feels tight with a dull ache but not painful. I can't believe it - how long will it last? I stop after about a mile and walk a bit - just in case. Then back to a slow jog followed by another walk and then running again, enjoying every step. I think I may have cried a bit too. As the park run comes to an end John gives me a big hug and asks "well?" Without hesitation I reply "I'm doing it". And I'm beaming :)).

1 comment:

  1. Sorry you had to go through all of that Mum. I know how hard you worked and you deserved to have the race of your life! So happy you managed to run! :D Even though you couldn't run to the best of your ability, I am insanely proud of you!! <3 You managed to run 87.7 km with an injury, in intense heat and up hill!! Think thats a pretty huge achievement to me :)