My Journey ‘from Injured to Ninja’!
How to get injuries under control and run happy
Although I was always quite fit throughout my life having previously been a dancer, I’d been pretty much sedentary after I got married a couple decades ago. I always used to say I’d never run unless someone was chasing me, but after I lost my father to lung cancer in 2013, I wanted to do something to honour his memory, so I registered for a Race for Life 10k.
I proudly made my way round that lumpy 10k in Finsbury Park in roughly 1:09 and was mostly pleased that I hadn’t stopped! Instead of saying ‘never again’ I was immediately hooked and just like that, running had officially become part of my way of life.
Unfortunately, my uncapped enthusiasm resulted in the acquisition of one injury after another for a fair few years until I found SV at the Race for Life Half Marathon in Lee Valley Park (which I finished, injured…surprise, surprise!)
Over many years, countless 5k, 10k and halves, two Three Peaks Challenges, seven marathons and three ultramarathons later, I’ve been treated by the capable hands and sharp elbows of various members of the SV team.
Annabel owns my current favourite pair of elbows, and she’s asked me to share a bit about my journey – what I like to think of as ‘from injured to ninja!’ Accentuate the positive, right?! I thought it best to break down in terms of what has really helped me improve and stay fit, so here goes...
Understand why you run and train to your objectives
If you’re like me, you run because you want to be outdoors, clear your head, have some ‘me time’. You also want to constantly improve and challenge yourself, chase personal bests and set new goals that keep you motivated.
Some people are super fast; I’m not one of them! I have fairly short (albeit strong) legs and a long torso, not terribly shaped like a runner but I still run, and I absolutely love it.
Sometimes I walk in the middle of a run. It’s all okay because I know what my goals are, and I know I will reach them. Unless you race to win, it doesn’t matter what the person next to you is doing. For us mere mortals, comparison is the thief of joy. So for whatever your reason to run, if you run, firstly you must run happy. If you run to throttle yourself, you will more often than not come up injured!
Run on weird terrain
It’s said if you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always got. This really holds true for running on a single surface all the time.
To eliminate the fear and injury risk of running on varied terrain you have to train on it. To eliminate problems when the terrain becomes uncomfortable, you have to make it ordinary and rehearse how you execute your movement.
If you dislike running on a specific piece of terrain because it’s difficult, train on it until it becomes reflex.
There is nothing like achieving a PB on a segment that’s baffled you - or caused injury - in the past.
My running has improved a hundredfold and injuries are few and far between since I started trail running and mixing up the terrain in general.
You don’t have to be elite to have a great team around you
It took limping home in my second marathon (Chicago 2016) to make my mind up that it was time I learned how to run properly. I was using the run-walk method to try and avoid injury yet by mile seven, I was having niggles in my IT band and lower back, and by half way I could no longer run at all. I finished though, having walked the remainder.
I went to see Jess at SV, and she pointed me to Joe Best* at The Running School (TRS) who beyond question changed everything. We sorted my technique (which was abhorrent!) and I started incorporating strength training in earnest. I now see Annabel about every three weeks and always before a big race to loosen up those places where my tennis ball isn’t enough, and I’ve recently done a little top up series with Joe to ensure my technique is sound. If you are serious about running, get serious about running – get a great team to support you.
*Joe is now at Fix My Run in Manchester but the TRS team are all fab!
Learn the difference between pain and discomfort
Having picked up one injury after another as a new runner, I would often feel some random pain after a run and be terrified it was going to turn into another injury so I’d have a rest day. It was only when I tried the annual Marcothon* that I was able to correctly identify this 'pain' as mere discomfort.
By running day after day, you are going to have to run with 'pain' – but when you actually get out there, you’ll often find it was mere stiffness, and will work itself out after a mile or so. You even feel better afterwards, which may be the biggest surprise!
The biggest gains I’ve ever had were found in running that streak – by the end of the month I’d run a sub-30 min 5k for the first time ever, broke my 10k PB a few weeks later, and was finally able to run through a half for the first time in March. Now - unless I’m running an ultra, in a particularly hilly race, or generally feeling rubbish - I will run any distance 10 miles or less in its entirety. All because of a streak – try it, you will be blown away at your progress!
*Run every day in December for 25 minutes or 3 miles, whichever comes first.
Don’t waste an injury
Every injury you take on is a massive learning opportunity. How did it come on? How is it different from the last injury or last time the same injury came on? What can you do now to prevent it?
When you go to SV with an injury, listen carefully to your sports therapist. Ask loads of questions. Learn as much as you can about what went wrong and then do everything you can to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Training mistakes are blessings in disguise to help you build up knowledge of your body’s specific do’s and don’ts over time. If you fail to process you will fail to progress!
To hell with pills, the best medicine is HILLS
I can always feel when I’m lacking in hill training as my running feels laboured and weak. I like to think of all hill and strength training as coiling up a spring, getting ready to pounce on the next goal.
It’s especially important before a race, which is why tapering is so challenging. You can’t go overboard but if you slob around on the couch eating spaghetti bolognese and neglect to keep the spring loaded you will fizzle your way around the course.
If you aren’t near hills, try hill walking at pace on a treadmill.
This is my favourite routine:
Walk 2 mins at 5% incline
Increase to 10% incline and then continue to increase 0.5% every 30 secs until you reach 15% (still walking)
Stay at 15% for 5 mins, then deduct 0.5% every 30 secs until you get back to 10% incline (still walking)
Jog 5-10 minutes at 2-3% incline
Back up to 10% and repeat. If you want to push it, go to 8% and jog for a minute before you move to 10% with the walking ‘seesaw’
After the second 2-3% incline jog, walk to cool down until your heart rate falls below 120 (or whatever is recovery for you)
This hits more muscles than you can count and you will be sweating buckets by the end.
Strengthen your feet to make fitness complete
Ultras and trail running in general taught me the importance of having strong feet to prevent injury. When the kinetic chain begins with the foot and the foot is out of whack, you best believe it’s going to throw everything up the leg off as well and then do its work on the other side!
That is my current bugbear on the left hand side so – you guessed it, I’m asking questions, listening to my therapist and working hard to correct it.
Your feet take a particular beating in an ultra, wobbling around on super crazy terrain, climbing and descending killer hills, change of terrain, get wet, blisters, you name it.
I’m currently working on towel scrunches with my toes, picking up a tissue with toes and dropping it, repeat-repeat-repeat.
Heel drops on a step work the calves but are also doing wonders on my feet, and my new favourite piece of workout kit is my hedgehog for balance work.
I have learned that a little work every day will get me through those very late miles. Next year’s calendar includes the 86 mile Ridgeway Challenge and I will need to work hard to cross that finish line!
Strength train the day after a long run
Aside from the running streak last December, one of the best discoveries I’ve made is this: to best understand where you are weak and what you most need to strength train, go do a (very light) strength session the day after a long run.
Not only will you quickly identify the areas which are feeling sore and overused, but you will easily note any imbalances and be able to map out a good plan going forward.
In addition, I’ve often found it actually relieves the pain in an overworked area when I wake up those muscles which may not have been firing properly.
This is also a great time to release all the tight spots with my trusty tennis ball. Pressure on various points around the hips and glutes is just the right formula to keep me ticking along until my next session with Annabel’s elbows!
In the past six years, I’ve had more overuse injuries than I can count but I’ve now reached a point where they are few and far between. I know how to be patient and step back to prevent them getting worse and I’ve truly learned the difference between pain and discomfort, which is probably the most important thing for a new or amateur runner! When to say no and when to say go. Everyone says ‘listen to your body’ and in this instance, everyone is right!!
I’m not fast, nor elite, nor terribly competitive. If that sounds like you, and you are struggling with repetitive injuries, have a go at some of these ideas – I hope they help you out.
Proud of my current PBs!
1m: 8:12 5k: 29:10 10k: 1:00:25 Half: 2:17:54 Marathon: 5:29:08 50k: 8:29:52 50m: 16:58:35 100k: 22:48:34