Tag Archives: injured

On (not) running

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I have taken a month off running in the hope that my absence shall allow my weakened right calf to recover. In my inactivity several friends have been telling me unexpectedly just how much they enjoy running: from R who jogs extraordinary distances on treadmills (on the advice of a physio who tells him this is the best way to protect his knees) and has sights on a sub-25 minute 5k; to Fin, racing 4 miles each evening; and another friend F, jogging in anticipation of moving to the US (I visualise her pacing around Central Park).

In four weeks’ absence I have already gained a pound or two. After months of deep sleep, I find myself waking more often. I have begun to suffer occasional nightmares – the word is probably too grand – but frantic dreams full of exotic monsters. They flit through my memory; I recall the anxiety and my raised heartbeat on waking far more vividly than the dreams themselves.

My legs remain in some similarly deep and vague sense wrong; I practice circulating my toes around my calf – as I type – and can feel residual knots in my leg. They are my own private barriers.

Trust your mechanic / To make you well

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The latest instalment of my achilles tendon injury resulted in a trip to the physiotherapist. In an hour of his company, he neither tried to massage my leg nor did he offer me ultrasound. Instead, the bulk of the time was given over to asking me questions: had I been running harder, or for longer, when I injured the the tendon two weeks ago? At first, I countered by insisting that I hadn’t been doing anything different, that I was simply prone to injury. But under sustained questioning, I began to remember everything just a bit more carefully.

In the two weeks before my injury I had switched to a much lighter shoe. Encouraged by a man in the shop, a runner with a sub-15 minute time for 5k, it felt right, and in my two training sessions immediately afterwards I noticed that I was running far higher up on my foot, with my weight towards my toes (not the heel).

I ran a good 5k time, and even experimented with running the 800 metre laps of my local park – cutting my best (recent) time for that version of the distance by about 40%. No-one watching would have thought me fast, but my legs felt a distant echo of the memory of speed. I was training harder.

I am prone to injury; my prioperception is shameful for a runner. I naturally overbalance, left or right, when my legs tighten. Often, when I run, my weight just seems to be collapsing unhappily downwards. But it wasn’t just a problem of my general weaknesses as a runner. By running faster, I can now see, I was putting more pressure on my lower legs and making myself more vulnerable to injury.

I return home with dotted lines on my left leg, like the marks you sometimes see on drawings of catttle to indicate the cuts of meat.

Running 10k; just about

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On Monday, I took part in the London Legal Walk. Normally, this is a stroll through the London parks but this year the walk was held on a loop running along the Embankment and the South Bank. I ran with two other barristers, Catherine, a civil specialist, and Peter, a 5-time marathon runner and the ex-convenor of the Bar marathoner’s team Rumpole’s Runners (approved, I am informed, by the late great John Mortimer himself).

I found the running heavy going: it was a week since I had last run (and then I only managed a mile) and 17 days since I had last torn my Achilles tendon. The pavements were busy with walkers, 6000 of whom were doing the walk with us, as well as pedestrians returning home from work. I found myself constantly darting left or right to make my way through the crowd. This repeated lateral movement constantly aggravated my tendon which was sore within a coupe of hundred metres of starting and got worse.

I felt as if my body was composed of two circuits, one (heart and lungs) affronted by the slow speed at which I was running, the other (my lower left leg) screaming to stop.

That said, the route itself was very agreeable. We were near the Thames for most of the distance, and there was a particular moment when we crossed from the North to the South bank, the sun high overhead, and with a breeze straight in our faces. The cooling wind seemed to have been privately commissioned for us, like a nice bespoke suit. I saw friends from Islington and Hackney law centres.

Together with Peter and Catherine, I was able to sustain a steady 10 minute per mile pace. We were even able to talk as we ran. Soon, and not soon enough for my sore achilles, we were back on Fleet Street and bounding along the last stretch of road to the Law Society.

Back in chambers, I did my best to fill myself with all the miracle cures that come recommended by sports physiotherapists, vitamin c, cherry juice, fish oil. I even managed to improvise an ice bath of sorts by running liquid from our water cooler into an empty metal bin. The next day, my leg was desperately sore, and I found myself sliding-hopping to work, bending with my right leg, and pulling the left across the ground behind me.

Running in the rain

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On Friday, I took part in the Serpentine end of the month 5k race; finishing in the perfectly average time of 22 minutes 47 seconds – about 10 seconds faster than I had run last autumn, which was the only timed race I’ve been in since I started running again roughly a year ago.

I like the Serpentine club: it is a huge club of around 2000 people, big enough so that there are always enough volunteers to marshal, time, organise, maintain a website, etc, etc, etc. There is a steady through-flow of people, but also a core of familair faces, some of whom I recall from my very first Serpentine runs which must have been 9 or so years ago. The club is by far the largest in London and has some of the city’s personality: frantic, focussed. As a runner, you learn gratitude for the other people who give you the opportunity to run. And there is nothing bad about being left along to focus on your own race; this is something that Steve Ovett was very mindful of, when he set up his own running club in Brighton in the early 1980s – the need to give a chance for people to run by themselves. It is a solitary activity.

The club does have its critics (the 10k-er who sold me my new Brooks; put it nicely on Monday; “that’s what I like about Serpentine, you show up at an event and there will be 10 Serpie runners, and only one or two from all the other clubs taking part.”)  And, if I’m honest, I’d like to know more people there. But the club has involved more people in running in London, and given more running visitors a temporary home, than anybody else could do.

I had hoped to meet a friend Ed at the race but missed him. Steve Platt (ex of the New Statesman) was running; but although we’ve spoken online, I’ve never spoken to him in the flesh. Hopefully we shall meet at another event.

As for the race itself: we were between showers, the ground was wet underfoot, and Hyde park unusually empty.

I know little about the top finishers – Jake Waldron won in 15:43 and 2nd, 3rd and 4th were all veterans coming in at in or about 16 minutes. But I was happy with my own running. After the best part of a month injured with a calf problem, and after feeling the same problem flare up again at around 800 metres, I was not at all certain I would finish. Instead, I ran my pace down until I was comfortable enough to continue and was even able to pick things up in the last 800 metres or so. And my last kilometre at 4 minutes 11 made me hopeful of better things to come in the summer.

Kilometre splits as follows: 4.46, 4.56, 4.24, 4.29, 4.11.

The year I ran the London marathon

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A few years ago, I ran the London marathon, for the first and only time. I am, as I’ve explained elsewhere on this blog, a natural middle-distance runner. My tread is heavy and I pronate; I am not suited to longer distances. I went into the race having run two half-marathons, the second in just over 100 minutes. After the half marathon, my knee was too sore for me to run. There were just six weeks to the marathon, and I doubted I would recover in time. I found a physiotherapist, who set to work on my knee, using the same ultrasound devices with which I was familiar from my achilles injuries years before.

To keep my heart and lungs fit while the treatment took effect, the physio suggested that I practise on one of his exercise bikes. This I did, in one hour slots, with the bike at maximum resistance. The look the physio gave me suggested that he found my injury hard to credit, if I could keep myself going at that rate, what really was wrong? After three or four lots of ultrasound, the injury was cured. Yet my knee and my legs remained weak, and I was nervous of trying to get back into running too fast. Even simple training before the marathon, I thought, would end in further injury.

As the race neared, I practised stretches, experimenting even for a time with yoga. I swam daily. For the last six weeks before the race I did not run once.

My partner and a good friend Leo took me to the start. I had my running things, a spare woollen sweater and my mobile phone which I later found ruined in an inch of water which had drained into my bag from an unsealed bottle.

Greenwich Park was full of people warming up by running in every direction of the compass, save the route you might have expected us all to follow, East from the park and out. I found my allocated starting point. All our possessions were loaded onto a lorry to be delivered to the race’s end. Having bagged up my clothes, I collected a device to record the moment at which I actually crossed the starting line. There were many runners in all sorts of fancy-dress costumes. To get from the assembly point to the start took a further ten-minute run.

My strategy was forced on me by the time I had spent injured. I intended to run the first six miles so slowly that I ought not fall apart later. This was easier than I had anticipated. Caught in the middle of a large crowd, my first two miles passed in a wonderfully slow 25 minutes.

The third mile passed in ten minutes. In Woolwich, I found a house where students had erected a barbecue in their front garden, the rich smell of cooking food floating in front of the crowd. I ran away from the distraction, completing the fourth miles in eight minutes, probably my fastest mile of the whole race.

I passed three Elvises, two red houses for Shelter. Other red houses sped past me. For most of the race I attempted to keep my pace steady at around 10 minutes per mile. To stop my body hurting, I drank water at every stop. Kindly spectators handed out fresh oranges, a short burst of energy, which faded quickly. Processed sugar proved to be the most efficient anaesthetic. I was grateful to the young boy handing out boiled mints. They endured, melting slowly on my tongue.

I had been placed in a group of fellow marathon rookies. Until about the 20-mile point, I seemed to be overtaking the runners immediately in front of me. This did not mean I was fast, the crowds were too thick to push through, and whenever I pushed on I just found myself stuck behind a further slow group ahead.

From four miles in, I passed runners even worse prepared than me. Some were stopping and starting, pushing themselves forwards in 100 metre bursts. I overtook others who had given up altogether on running, and just walked on grimly.

I enjoyed the pavements, which were full of well-meaning onlookers, adults, children of all ages. I despised the roads, they were my enemy. I remember a stretch of cobble-stones, on which my feet could not even land flat. My feet turned to blisters, my knees ached with pain. I loathed Steve Ovett, I swore down vengeance on Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams. I cursed Phidippides. For much of the race I was wondering how practical it would be to just stop, and exit the race with dignity. I looked hopefully on portable toilets, pubs, but none offered an anonymous exit.

I finished the race in the slow time of 4 hours, 24 minutes. Three months before I had been hoping to run the distance around an hour faster. My brain was always harking back to the runner I had been but was no more. It remains the only marathon I have run, I have never since wanted to run a second.