We’ve all done it. That is, had an injury and carried on running despite it, through it. We tell ourselves we will loosen it, or burn it off, or that the exercise will help it repair. On occasion we keep on going and carry an injury so long that it never actually repairs, instead becoming a permanent scar or weakness to accompany us on all future runs (and play with our minds in the run up to important events).
But this time it’s different. I fear this one may be terminal. I fear I may have to stop running. And I mean stop, for good.
Last year I was going well: a couple of half marathons and a strong summer and I was that close to being able to run the full marathon at Robin Hood. But prudently I decided not to push it, to hold it over for this year… and by spring I wasn’t just planning an autumn marathon – I was contemplating Nottingham and Chester full marathons back-to-back.
It started fine, the fantastic (tough, beautiful and highly recommended) Harewood Half Marathon in February, and then in March the complete contrast of the half-marathon on Silverstone race circuit. The plan was to run my home-course Leeds Half at the beginning of May and then finish the month with the Liverpool Rock&Run Half – a new one for me, following a lovely family break there last year. That would have been my 48th Half and left me plotting my 50th, depending on what distance I chose for Robin Hood.
But the plan never happened. Mum became ill before Easter and after an intense spell passed away in April. This left me exhausted but I pressed on with Leeds in early May on almost zero training. I shouldn’t have. An earlier and deep-rooted injury rang its alarm bells and I knew Liverpool was off. I tried to pick up but never fully got going and the demands of work and moving house in July left me precious little time to rebuild. Giving up on 26.2 I was looking on-track for September’s Half at Robin Hood, when a totally unheralded Achilles rose up from nowhere and stopped me, dead. And that was pretty-much my year gone.
We have all had them. Those injuries where we are forced to acknowledge that our bodies have had enough, and rather than just easing off we have to take a proper break – six or eight weeks, typically. We then re-start from scratch, tentatively walk-jogging 20 metres, then 50, to see how it feels, and gradually having the confidence to build up the distance and frequency. At first it seems that the heart and lungs have shrunk to nothing, and it feels just awful; but soon they respond, the fitness and endurance build up and the form returns, and we are off, in awe of our body’s power to repair, and making plans again.
But not this time, it seems.
I have done the steps, I have done the building… but no response. Although with perseverance I can extend the duration, I am weeks in and rather than feeling the running return I can still barely jog. And rather than feeling the strength build, I can feel the injury stalking me. Whatever the length, and however I feel, I am stuck in second gear, and rather than celebrating how my body can respond, it seems I am throttled, permanently limited. Every time I run, I am acutely conscious that I am simultaneously barely plodding yet also holding the needle precariously close to the red zone.
Deep down, I know that if I try to push on, it will be dangerous. In truth I think I have known that for a couple of months, but I have put my fingers in my ears and screwed up my eyes and gone “blah-de blah-de blah blah…. not listening!!!” But now, also deep down, I have admitted it to myself.
I know the time has come to take advice. I know what the advice will be: enough, stop! I know that I may be allowed to carry on, to jog a little, at a slow pace, Saturday afternoons round the park.
But that’s not why I run. I run for those moments when, an hour into a 12-mile run, I actually forget that I’m running. My body is flowing all of its own accord and without me because I am somewhere else, my mind meandering wherever and my spirit soaring somewhere… well…, spiritual.
I’m not ready to become a middle-aged jogger in the park. In theory any run is something, and better than no run at all. But those are not my runs. And if I can’t run, nor can I see a substitute. Sure, I can go to the mountains more; and I could swim, go to a gym, use my bike more. All good exercise, but they have the fundamental limitation that you can’t just put your trainers on and go, and you can’t easily do them wherever your travels take you. And good though they may be, apart from when I’m in the mountains I don’t escape to those special places, the places of the mind and spirit.
Running isn’t something I do, it’s part of me, it’s what I am. And if I can’t run my runs, where does that leave me? Where can I go, if I can’t go to those places? I have no answer to that; and it feels bleak.
Time will tell, and very soon I think. Within the next couple of months I will either run Harewood again, or I will be sat with a specialist. And I think I already know which it will be, and what they will tell me. In my heart.
In parallel news, this may well be the last blogpost here.
One of the aspects of my running has always been the way my mind goes on its own runs when I am out. Trouble is, I had no-one to share it with, no-one to talk to, no-one who would understand, no-one with whom I could empty my head and heart and emotions. I started to write it down, and found I enjoyed doing that.
So I started T-A-R-S a couple of years ago. At first I had a lot to say, mind and feelings spilling out. And I had some nice feedback, which was nice. But by last year I was barely touching it. Even so I renewed anyway. This year I have hardly written anything except to update the Harewood review. So now the renewal reminders are arriving from WordPress, and I have decided to let it go. I am not sure I have anything worth saying, and certainly nothing new. So you have until mid-January to have a rummage around and see if there’s anything you want.