Thursday, 3 April 2014

Three strikes and out

A friend in the ultra running community told me this week "your ability to tackle the lows as well as the highs is the measure of your worth as a human being". This is good to remember when you are thrown into dealing with injury rather than achieving all of the running ambitions you've planned for the year.

The good news of late is that the fibula stress fracture has healed up nicely. It behaved during a 15 m
Bumped into this colourful crew on Saturday
ile out and back run from Balmaha on Saturday, my longest run since January. In fact I felt no pain with it over the entire weekend. Being back on a trail felt amazing!

The bad news is that my older soft tissue problems are back. I'm not sure they really went away but took a back seat to the fracture. They withstood Saturday's longer run in the sense they didn't stop me running but I can feel them pretty much constantly now, even walking. It's mainly pain and tightness in my right hamstring, an issue that I ignored last year (putting it down to normal post race and training niggles) before it culminated in an IT band injury and stopped me running properly at Glenmore/River Ayr Way.

The most ugly of news is that five miles into Sunday's 'recovery' run, where I took myself off for a fartlek trail run, I had sudden pain all over the middle of my back, like a spasm of all the muscles around my upper spine. This was new. I tried to continue running but couldn't, walking back to Tyndrum was hard enough. A bit of drama and quite a few tears later I got home to Edinburgh. I've since seen my osteopath who thinks it might be inflammation or sprain of a facet joint in my thoracic (upper) spine vertebra, with muscles around it spasming. I'd just last week been told by a biomechanical specialist that my QL muscle in left upper back was in spasm, but weirdly until Sunday hadn't had any pain there.

I'm determined to get to the root of all the injuries but I've had a few opinions over the months and it's fair to say I've been confused. I have confidence in each expert but their approaches sometimes conflict. Last autumn, my physio Guy Van Herp decided the hamstring/ITB problems were due to an SI joint in my pelvis jamming yet un-jamming it didn't seem to improve things, although the ITB inflammation improved after rest from running. Then my osteopath said the issues were being caused by weak glut muscles, outlining the need to work on strengthening (pilates), TRX etc. She also advised transitioning to minimalist footwear. Then in January when I stepped up the marathon training, the hamstring flared and the fibula pain started. When Guy's stress fracture tests pointed to a fibula fracture, I rested from weight-bearing for six weeks (pool running, cycling and Bikram yoga'ing like a demon).

Most recently, I saw Nigel McHollan, a Biomechanical Specialist based in Gullane (one of only five in the UK). He tells me my right glut muscles are overused/not firing in correct sequence, increasing strain on the hamstring. The left QL muscle in my back is also in spasm and left foot isn't functioning properly: the arch is dropping and I have a growth on my navicular bone, possibly related to ligament damage years ago. Either the foot or QL issue are at the heart of the issues down my right side (referred pain) so his treatment is isolating which one it is. 

So the body is in great shape! Is it any wonder I'm super paranoid every time I run a few miles. But saying that, I'm hopeful that we're at least en route to finding the cause of everything.

In any case, the only way forward has been to take away any pressure of racing. Without doing so, I really won't have recovery as the sole priority. I'd already changed race plans in February when I was offered a place in the Scotland team for the Anglo Celtic Plate 100k championship, which I was hopeful of taking on in early May. It's obviously now not an option - the Brighton marathon is out of the question this Sunday what with the back pain, and without being able to finish a marathon I probably shouldn't be comtemplating a race twice as long and punishing: co-codomol is not an acceptable fuel to get me through my first 100k. The Tahoe Rim Trail in July is a wait and see job, if anything it will be the 50 mile distance which I've dropped down to from the 100, but part of me wants to wait and run it in another year where I know I can perform at my peak.

So for now I'll be following advice from another friend - stay positive - as well as that of the right experts, and take each day as it comes with no pressure. Might even formulate a No-Training plan involving copius amounts of pilates, bikram and core work. Hey maybe I'll be biomechanical expert myself at the end of it all. 

**Whilst I am not running Brighton anymore, I'm still trying to raise more for the wonderful work of Marine Conservation Society across Scotland. Please throw a few in the pot if you can!**


  1. Your second paragraph got my hopes up that you were back on the mend, then.. ouch, wince, ouch. Sorry to hear you've gone from one injury to another.

    Accumulating injuries suggests that your loadd your have placed on it isn't matched by your recovery. It could be that your bio-mechanics or some underlying structural problem is at fault, or perhaps it's just a cascade of one injury resulting in compensation in your mechanics which in turn causes problems elsewhere in your body.

    The road recovery will probably mean concentrating on recovery. Eating to support your bodies repair. Making sure you as well as sleep. Active recovery that doesn't stress the body but keeps the blood moving. Getting as much sun-shine as you can will probably help your immune system too, it might be that having just gone through a really grey winter that your immune system has been suppressed and unable to fix your body - a holiday in the sun at the beach might be just what is required!

    I often hear how important it is to do core work to fix your bio-mechanics, but running itself is a great workout for your core so I am bit surprised at just how much this is stressed. I'd be concerned that one doesn't develop the right type of muscle strength from doing no running related core work, there is danger that you could end up with the wrong balance of strength and muscle coordination for running so when you do go out and run these in-balances cause new injuries.

    If it is that your running mechanics has become part of the problem then getting yourself filmed with a slow motion camera from different angles might help.

    Moving to more minimal shoes might assist gait retraining or help with becoming more aware of how your gait is put together. I'd caution diving in too quickly though. Rotating between different types of shoes in training will probably be a good thing as it'll load your body in different ways.

    For gait retraining and building your proprioceptive skills going barefoot might be sensible. One doesn't need to do much barefoot running to get a sense for how it effects your gait. Going barefoot can actually be quite liberating and fun, be it walking or running, it adds a whole set sensual awareness to being part of your environment.

    Practising balancing on each foot a few tiles a day can be a good way to develop proprioception too. Practising moving slowly and deliberately can help too. Have you tried Tai Chi? I guess Pilates and Bikram probably have a good overlap here but with a different focus.

    One thing you'll need to maintain/build back is your aerobic fitness and fat burning capacity, cycling, swimming and walking might be useful. At least that's my current plan as I've tweaked my calf doing a recovery run last weekend, so am now looking to rest up from running for a few more days, but still need to retain my aerobic fitness that I've trained so hard to build over the winter.

    Best of luck with the recovery.

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