Until recently, being injured was, to me, a little like marriage – something scary that happened to other people, but that would probably catch up with me one day.
Unfortunately, stepping up my running about 10 months ago revealed some flaws in my form – namely that my right-hand glutes are embarrassingly lazy, and can’t be bothered to properly haul my legs around after them.
Lazy glutes = overloaded knee = ligament inflammation = a trip to the physio. Exercises are doled out, I do enough to make the ligament pain go away and then throw myself back into even more running. But my glutes are still lazy, so this time the exercise overstrains the IT Band, resulting in ITB inflammation over the knee. Hurrah, back to the physio, and this time it’s my Paris marathon training that goes down the drain.
Anyone who’s been injured will know just how uniquely frustrating it is, particularly when you’re essentially a single-discipline athlete (I use the word in its loosest sense), and cross-training doesn’t give you the same rush.
But, apparently in every cloud a silver lining, so I’ve tried to be philosophical and consider the lessons I might have learned from my time off.
After a month of not being able to run at all, I afraid to say I’m no more tolerant. I have not found my centre, discovered acceptance or come to a better understanding of myself. (I think you have to actually go through some real suffering for that, not just have a bit of a gippy knee.)
Apparently yoga’s a good journey to calm, but I’ve tried that and I’m about as likely to be prime minister as I am to enjoy spending 5 minutes in downward dog connecting with my inner tree. I’m a fundamentally angry person, which is why I like running. It’s hard to be pissed off when you’re either high on endorphins or so exhausted you can’t chew.
Recovering from an injury takes a lot of self-discipline. Going to the gym every day to do physio-approved exercises with less than marginal gains takes some serious mental bargaining. You know the only thing more boring than listening to someone talk about their physiotherapy? Doing the bloody thing.
If your idea of a decent gym session is producing enough sweat to disgust a rational human being, a gentle bit of stretching won’t really cut it. To distract yourself, I recommend making an angry music playlist or catching up on podcasts.
3. Staying fit
Even if you’re unable to run, keeping up the cardio is essential, so that when you go back into training you don’t have to start again from scratch. For a full fortnight, my exercise regime was to diligently lift a wine glass from table to mouth, and practise eating as many Maltesers as physically possible in the space of one feature film.
Eventually I returned to the gym, armed with those deadly dull physio sheets, and had to look beyond the treadmill to get my endorphin kicks. After some experiments, I now have a whole load of respect for cyclists and rowers. Those machines are instruments of torture.
It’s hard to stay upbeat when you can feel your fitness and PBs slipping away from you. Meanwhile your friends are running faster and further, and buying the newest Flyknits you really, really want but can’t justify.
I have just one tip for you. Stay off Instagram.
Social media, full of shiny photos of fit, happy people finishing that half you were meant to be running, is not the place for you right now. It’s easier to keep various snarky thoughts to yourself if you don’t have the ammunition of a keyboard. If you can’t be happy, be absent. (Of course, if you’re the kind of person who thrives on other people’s happiness when you’re miserable, do what you want. I don’t understand you.)
There are actually several things I’m thankful for over the past couple of months. To myself for being wimp enough to stop running as soon as I recognised bad pain (as opposed to the good stuff). To my job for supplying health insurance, so I haven’t had to pay through the nose for physio.
To my physio for being endlessly patient with me and referring me to a consultant. And then to that consultant for shooting a dose of cortisone into my knee so I could get back to running as soon as possible. Because if there’s one lesson I’ve learned, it’s that I’m grumpy as hell without it.