Once you get past the initial muscular aches and pains when you first start a running program, it is all too easy for running to be become an essential and almost addictive part of your life. Combine that with the rush when you first get involved in organized races, and it is all too easy to want to squeeze just one more session out of yourself. Or to just push through that extra mile in training to see how far you can go. All very reasonable, you may think. And it is also very common, seeing runners push their limits without a care in the world. Unfortunately, that is why roughly 50% of all runners get injured at least once every year. I’m as guilty as the next man – or woman. So I have just begun a series of physiotherapy – sometimes called physical therapy – in order to address a couple of running injuries, one in each leg. I cannot help but think if I had caved in sooner and gone to the physio room earlier, I’d have avoided about 18 weeks off.
In my case, I had had a busy period in June, running two 10K races (the Humber Bridge and Jane Tomlinson Leeds 10Ks), along with training and a couple of parkrun 5K time trials. Then I had allowed myself a couple of days off before plunging into a 10 week half-marathon training program. I got to week two, when on a steady flat run on the way to a local steep hill for a strength session, managed to twang something in my left leg. I ignored it and continued with my hill sprints followed by a 2km jog back home. Everything was fine, until the next day when it turned it out I couldn’t walk at all without limping in agony! I’ll save the full story about this and the physiotherapy treatment for another blog post, but it turned out to be a popliteus muscle injury. Not a very common one apparently, and many people haven’t even heard of this muscle, but it is crucial for unlocking the leg at the knee joint.
Of course, I left the injury completely alone apart from the usual RICE – rest, ice, compression, elevation – treatment at home. After a week or two I should have gone to see the sports physio to get checked out. In the event, I tried some very short 1km runs and still felt pain, so it took about 10 weeks before I could run again, but still with a nagging tightness behind the knee. I managed to splutter my way through another parkrun 5K in August, before exploding the calf in my right leg during the very next run – about 2km in. By this stage I was not very happy, and was dropping out of races left, right and center, obviously missing the half-marathon I originally planned to do, as well as a couple of 10K races.
After three weeks of rest, I began running again, and during the second jaunt around the local streets, managed to injure the calf again. And each time I took a couple of weeks off and got back to running, the same thing happened. It was at this point I finally conceded, and decided it was time to get some physiotherapy treatment.
I will describe the assessments, treatments and exercises in a future article, but needless to say, I have been banned from running until the physio has fixed these injuries, and it turned out the popliteus injury probably would not have just fixed itself over time.
So I urge you, with my cautionary tale, to go and see your physician or physical therapy practitioner if you start to get a little running pain that persists for a while. I’m a running addict and it’s been sheer hell watching the summer months slide by without being able to stride around the parks and trails, or take part in huge races and feel the primal thrill of running in a pack with other people. And if I had just gone for professional help at the end of August, I’d probably be fit by now and would have run the McCain Yorkshire Coast 10K this morning. It’s now a big rush to see if I can get my legs fixed and my cardiovascular fitness back for the Leeds Abbey Dash in three weeks time.
Don’t be like me. If something doesn’t feel right during a run, get it checked out before you find yourself sidelined!