Category Archives: injury

The Elle Running blog: a few thoughts from a runner/physio.

This week on Twitter the lovely running blogger Laura retweeted a link to the Elle Running blog which had a feature entitled Claire Danes is running wrong. The author, Amy Lawrenson, looks at people’s feet while they run and she has decided that because Clare Danes is a heel strike runner, she is doing it wrong. According to Amy, heel striking is the worst possible way to run. She goes on to say that when you are heel striking you are putting immense pressure through the joints of the lower limb which could lead to problems. She says that we ‘should’ be running on our mid or fore foot.

Amy’s blog caused a bit of an uproar among some of the running bloggers I know, the main reason being that it could put of potential lady runners from trying to run or that runners could become embarrassed. Amy subsequently updated her feature:

‘We had some feedback on Twitter about this post. I was told by a physio that my heel striking was contributing to some pain I was getting in my knee and hip. A midfoot or forefoot strike was deemed to be preferable. Never feel embarrassed about how you run or scared to get out there! The best advice would be that if you want to take up running regularly then go for a gait analysis and speak with an expert who will assess your running style and discuss any tweaks you may want to make. I do believe that heel striking isn’t great for you but others feel the opposite, the best thing is to find what works, and is safe, for you’.

For me as a runner and a Physiotherapist who treats runners, I just wanted to raise some other points that had been niggling me:

My problem is that the author is applying the advice given by her physio for her individual case to the general running population. Someone looking for advice about running could read this and try and apply it to themselves, which would most likely result in an injury. You can’t just change from heel strike running to fore foot or mid foot strike. It needs time and work to transition. I had a chat with a guy from Salomon who told me that their athletes take up to three years to fully transition from mid foot to fore foot/barefoot running style.

I also need to mention the runners that I’ve seen in clinic who have read about fore foot and barefoot running and tried it.These are runners who probably had no real issues with the way they were running before but they’ve read about the latest running trend and naturally assumed they should be doing it. This is what has made me sad about running lately. There is so much advice out there but running is an individual activity performed by people of all genotypes and phenotypes: you simply cannot generalise what is right for one person to another. The research has not yet proven that fore foot striking or barefoot running is superior to heel or mid foot strike. Adharanand Finn trained with some of the best runners in the world when he wrote ‘Running with the Kenyans’ but even he discovered great variability in running style among the athletes he ran with.

I would also love for an agreement on what defines a ‘gait analysis’. Do we mean being asked to run on a treadmill in the shop while the shop assistant watches us try different trainers? Or do we mean a biomechanics lab where an individual is stripped down to their shorts, key points marked on their body and then filmed running on a treadmill while being picked to pieces from the trunk downwards or the feet up? (for me I love seeing what happens at the hips and work down, it’s not just about the feet people!). And if it is the latter then what about the potential stress that a ‘bad’ gait analysis could cause? Does the person giving the analysis give advice and exercises? If it ain’t broke do we need to fix it? Anecdotally I have seen people who have been given orthotics for flat feet and they’ve ended up with a world of other problems. This type of gait analysis isn’t that simple and I really don’t think everyone needs it.

I tweeted that I didn’t think everyone needs a gait analyis to run and it triggered a great debate among the runners I follow. One person felt that gait analysis by a physio helped to identify that the wrong trainers had been causing their knee pain. Another said that having gait analysis had enabled them to adjust their running style to help them avoid buying necessary trainers. Many other people felt that speaking to the people in the running shops had helped them buy the trainers that were right for them. But none of these people were instructed to run in a dramatically different manner.

I have had niggles and injuries of late and I am a mid foot runner. But as someone else said on twitter the answer is not always round the foot or issues with foot wear. It can be about so much more (usually inducing a back injury from lifting a toddler over here). I think the Elle Running blog may have had the best of intentions in sharing a running experience but picking on the way another runner is running is just the wrong way to go about it. I would like to know how Claire Danes herself feels about her running. If she’s not injured and she’s enjoying running then I’d say she’s probably running about right.

What do you think? Should everyone try and transition to fore foot running? Does everyone need a biomechanical analysis before running?

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Injured and One Year On.

I realised today that next month it will be a year since I injured myself. A year since that ill fated decision to lift my toddler son up off the ground while carrying bags of shopping leading to me being unable to run for six months. A year since I injured my back.

Even though the back pain and nerve pain have dissipated, I have been left with the after effects of the injury plus lots of niggles that keep flaring up, preventing me from a much wanted return to regular running. The physical effects have been obvious to me, what was not so obvious were the mental effects.

The longer I was injured the lower I became in mood. When getting back into running wasn’t as straight forward as I liked this was amplified further. Over the last few months especially these thoughts and feelings have been much worse and it’s only recently for some reason that I can acknowledge how I’ve been feeling. Which is ridiculous because, you know, it’s just running. Right?

Well no it’s not just running to me. Running is one of the things in my life that gives me confidence to do other things. Running has been a release for me when I’ve been finding things tough emotionally. Running has been my way to escape the pressures of tough life situations. Running has been a way to make me feel invincible and like I could take on anything. But with prolonged injury things like this have floated through my mind:

‘I’m rubbish, why do I bother?’

‘I should just give up running now, I’m getting too old for it’.

‘I hate myself’.

‘I hate running’.

‘I’m never getting over this, I may as well just leave it’.

‘Who was I kidding trying to be a runner anyway?’.

As my time being injured extended before me, the chipping away at my confidence and self image continued, gradually extending itself into other areas of life. And then last week a couple of things happened which made me realise how low I had become and how unbelievably crap I was feeling about myself. I was put into two situations where I had to talk about myself and had to sell myself both as a professional and as a person. I struggled with both and it was a shock to me. I’ve become so low that I can’t even bring myself to talk about my good points, because right now I’m not totally convinced I have any to share. Pathetic? Probably, but I can only be honest about how I have been feeling.

Have I been depressed? Possibly, my husband occasionally expresses the opinion that he thinks I am. I then feel guilty because my husband has actual clinical depression and all I did was hurt myself a bit so that I couldn’t run. Daft. However I then think about literature I’ve read about pain and how the pain and emotional neural pathways are very closely linked within the brain and I guess it is possible that large amounts of pain over an extended period can affect your mood level. I’ve certainly seen it in patients I’ve treated so why do I think I’m automatically immune?

This isn’t really a self pity post. If it comes across like that I apologise, it’s really not intended to be. I just needed to share how being injured as a runner can affect you emotionally and socially. Bravado and staying upbeat and positive can last so long but injury isn’t just a limp or a grimace of pain. Injury goes far, far deeper. If you are one of those injured runners right now, don’t be so hard on yourself and while you’re letting your body heal, make sure your mind and soul are looked after too.

Crossroads

My life seems to resemble a period of undirected running training right now. You know those periods where you’re between races and you’re just ticking over? Those times where you wonder whether to turn one way or the other during a run and for some reason you feel hesitant? I have come to a cross roads and I really have no idea where to turn.

My youngest son has started school and I always had this time in my head for when I would be able to get things moving on for myself. I had planned to do more running, have a decent training plan set up, be working more or at least have a plan in place for kick starting my career. Well now that time has come and I’m just floundering, really splashing about with no idea what I’m supposed to do.

For the last few years I feel like I’ve sacrificed myself for others: my children while they have been really small and supporting my husband through his period of illness. I’ve been the one who’s kept trucking on and on and all of a sudden I don’t feel quite needed any more. Surplus to requirements. I don’t seem to have running available to me either, I’m still injured. And my enthusiasm for CrossFit has waned as I just don’t feel I’m up being around loads of super positive high fiving people right now (doesn’t that sound awful?). I just feel lost, so totally and utterly lost and I don’t know what to do.

Being injured really doesn’t help matters because running is where I find clarity and I find it strengthens me mentally. Running is where I go when I need to make sense of things and I can’t do it and this seems to compound my floundering even more. Possibly this is where my insomnia has been stemming from too. I have weird guilt about being at home and not feeling that I’m contributing, guilt about not being able to run and endless supplies of mother’s guilt.  I am going round and round in my head trying to figure out what I should do for the best but the answer is not forthcoming. Instead I seem to be run down and weepy. I hate feeling like this, impotent and out of control.

My head is just full of endless thoughts and I don’t know which way I should turn. I just feel like I need to stop thinking. Maybe I need to just rest and stop and just embrace being for a while. Hopefully then I’ll be able to see the wood for the trees.

No Running. Just Camping and Dolphins.

So recently I wrote a post called Strong Before Long. I should also have included the words Strong Before Fast. A week last Tuesday I was feeling really happy about running again and I decided to head down to the running club at the CrossFit Box I train at from time to time. It was a session that I really enjoyed: 1km, 800m, 600m, 400m and 200m. It was hard work but I love intervals, always have, it’s how most of my training was done years ago. I completed the session and I felt kind of happy with my calf.

Next morning I was not so happy. My calf felt tight but not a normal ‘done exercise’ tightness, more like a painful ‘what the feck have I done now’ tightness. It seemed to ease after a bit of walking around but it didn’t feel right. I decided to err on the side of caution and rest off for a couple of days. By the Friday I was sure I was fine so I headed out, determined I was going to aim for around 10k.

I took it slowly, making my pace nice and steady. There was a niggle down my calf and into my shin but I was sure once the blood started flowing it would ease. I stopped a couple of times to stretch and eventually things seemed to settle. But around the 5 mile mark I felt the niggle return and then a distinct ‘ouch’ pain deep in my calf. I slowed to a jog, stretched again and aimed for home. I wasn’t limping but I wasn’t happy.

Instead of getting all emotional and upset this time I was realistic. I called myself every name under the sun and realised that maybe a hard interval session on concrete (duh) probably wasn’t the best for someone coming back from injury. Instead I focussed on getting ready for my first ever camping trip with the boys. As in MY first time ever sleeping in a tent, not just my first trip with the kids.

As always when I’m packing to go somewhere I packed my running gear. This was a positive move from me despite the soreness in my calf. I had enjoyed running along the coast in Cornwall so much at Easter that I really hoped I’d be able to do the same along the Pembrokeshire coast. After we arrived and set up the tent on Monday I noticed that there were a fair few runners around and this started to give me the itch to go out running. It’s infectious, runner see’s runners and immediately wants to go for a run. The NHS should investigate this phenomenon. I waited until the following afternoon and after giving my husband a headache, debating with myself whether to go or not, I finally went.

It did not go well. I was on unfamiliar narrow country roads. Cars whizzed past really quickly. I tried to stick to the ‘face the traffic’ rule but that rule makes no difference when the roads are so twisty turny that cars can’t see you until they’re on the corner. I tried to follow a bridle path but it turned out this was the way to someone’s house. Whoops. I started to feel my calf cramp and feeling very despondent I went back to the camp site.

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But instead of bitching and moaning I decided to get on with my family holiday. It was out of my control, I just had to wait it out again, rest it and see what happened. In the meantime there were more pressing things to be done like go to the beach, cook on the camp stove, fly kites, climb cliffs and watching dolphins.

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I think I can make running a bit more of a big deal than it actually is. It means a great deal to me but I’m not running for world peace or finding a cure for cancer. It’s just running and while it’s not great for me right now there are so many other things that are. I need to ease off the intervals and the long running for now. Focus on getting myself comfortable and ready to start training for the London Marathon next April. My first ever camping holiday has reminded me that sometimes there are things that are more important and just as much fun as running. Not running isn’t always the end of the world.

Strong Before Long.

‘If you’re struggling with injuries learn to run strong before you run long’ @BrianRunCoach

This tweet appeared in my timeline over the weekend and it really resonated with me. Getting rid of all these niggles has been hard and I’ve clearly been making many mistakes. I’ve been doing things that deep down I know are wrong for me and I should know better.

The list of mistakes I’ve made is long:

  • In my desperation to get back up to my previous volume of training I’ve increased my mileage too far too soon.
  • I’d only been doing long steady runs.
  • I ignored a pain in my calf, continued to train over it and made it worse.
  • I eventually rested by calf but didn’t give it enough time, returned to running and set myself back.

These things are mistakes that many other runners make and I’m sure I won’t be the last. Then there are other little things that are personal to me too, like just doing steady runs when I know I don’t get my running buzz from just doing long runs. I love intervals and running fast, always have. I had started to run with music. Something I never used to do, knowing deep down it wasn’t for me but doing it anyway because people seem to be really surprised that I don’t listen to music while running (all my long training runs for my marathon were without music).

So what am I doing to make things right for me and running?

Backing off.

That is what I’m doing. I’ve gone back to an old favourite route of mine which takes me about 40 minutes. This run is comfortable and I’m not getting any calf pain while I do it. I’m also sticking to every other day for the time being. The calf seems to be a little bit tight the day after a run but is resolved with stretches. Still I would rather this tightness eased before I even considered doing runs on consecutive days.

Ditched the music

and I am so much happier running for it. Running has always been my time to zone out and focus on my running, and probably without realising it, my breathing. I’ve run since I was eleven years old and I wonder if suddenly introducing the music (at age 33) upset my rhythm and distracted me too much. After a few runs I’ve already found that I feel more fluid and natural without the iPod.

I’m mixing it up

I’m going to try and mix the steady runs with some interval sessions. I find that even though the steady runs give me my endurance base and my engine, the intervals and faster sessions help me to improve. I’ve read so many running articles advising that runners should stick with long and slow to see improvement, but I don’t think my biology responds to that. My original base is from middle distance and I’ve always found that I thrive on this type of training and I find it strengthens me above all else.

This is the new plan. Marathon training for London is a few months away yet so the aim is definitely to be strong and niggle free before I go long. I am going back to what feels comfortable and natural, building my running foundations again before I try to ramp up the miles. Strong before long will be my mantra for now.

Thank you to @simon_lamb who retweeted the original quote in his time line. It gave me the much needed running inspiration I needed.

It’s Not All About Me

On Saturday I managed to get out running for the first time in ages. I was staying with my parents in West London and I had optimistically taken my running gear should I feel brave enough to test my calf out. It just so happens that on Saturday I felt confident to try it out, mainly because I’d run around with my children on Friday afternoon with no calf pain retribution. This odd little subjective measure felt like it was a green light to get out again.

As I got changed into my running gear on Saturday morning my Mum spotted me and asked if she could come running with me. I looked at my watch and worked out that I could take my Mum to the park across the road, do her walk run with her and still have time to jog up to the start of the Crane Parkrun.

Mum had kindly loaned me one of her sports bras as I had been a doofus and forgotten mine (interesting situation considering she’s an ample 36D and I’m a 32 *whisper whisper*). The least I could do now was help her with her running. We walked across the road to the park and we got jogging. We did a minute on, minute off and during the minute on I would chat to her, making sure she could still chat to me and wasn’t going to quickly. At the ten minute mark she was ready to quit but I suggested one more go, I stretched this minute to a minute and a half without telling her.

‘That was a long minute’, she said when we stopped to walk.

‘That’s because it wasn’t a minute’. She laughed and we walked for a minute. Then we jogged another minute, walked and then when we were nearing the gate I got her to keep going until we’d run another minute and a half. All told my Mum had managed 17 and a half minutes of exercise. I was thrilled for her and so so proud. My Mum is 64 and from a generation where exercise was something that men did. When she was at school she wasn’t allowed to do sport because of her asthma and when I was a teenage athlete she was always perplexed that I enjoyed running, fascinated that I wanted to train rather than stay at home. Maybe now she’ll see why I love it so much.

I walked Mum home and then headed up to Crane Park for my first Parkrun there. I joined 68 runners in a lovely park tucked away in suburban West London, an event that is shadowed by it’s much larger and more established neighbour in Bushy Park. It was a pleasure to help support a smaller event and I really enjoyed it, despite feeling the burn of having done so little running of late. I even slowed to help a young lad who had a stitch. His thanks to me was to run ahead of me in a burst of speed.

When I got home I felt the glow, not just of running but of the fact I’d been able to share running with other people for the morning. I’ve got so used to training on my own I’d forgotten how good it feels to help someone who is getting into running or to be surrounded by the running community at Parkrun. Saturday’s running wasn’t all about me and it felt good not to be looking so inwardly, something of a bad habit of mine as a runner.

If you want more information about Crane Parkrun, perfect if you’re living in Whitton, Hanworth, Feltham, Hampton (take the 111 in the opposite direction to Bushy) or Twickenham then go to http://www.parkrun.org.uk/crane/. I also heard that they’re desperate for volunteers at the moment (they had no marshalls on the course) so if you want some good running karma then maybe try and help them out (bit far for me in South Wales but I might give them a shout when I’m next up).

P.S I managed a 23.40 5k on Saturday. So chuffed after my lack of running lately.

Help! Fear of Cycling!

So with being injured I have been trying to keep up my fitness by training in other ways. CrossFit has been part of that, mainly because lifting weights seems to help with the frustration while also making me feel a little bit like Wonder Woman.

Lego Wonder Woman was so strong she could whip metal chains using just her hair.

Lego Wonder Woman was so strong she could whip metal chains using just her hair.

I have been aqua jogging and I managed an hour session which was great. While I was doing it I thought it was really easy but afterwards I felt that lovely achy limbed feeling that you get after a decent run. Plus it had the bonus of being an hour work out without having to stop due to pain. Aqua jogging is a complete hassle though especially with two children on summer holiday. There is no way I can go to a pool, leave them in a creche and go off on my own. They would go potty as they both love the swimming pool. So I’ve been thinking of alternatives that would fit into my life the same way running always has and cycling seems to be the obvious choice.

I can ride a bike no problem. I have the old primary school cycling proficiency certificate so I know I’m qualified (that’s a joke by the way). I ride up and down the road teaching my son to ride his bike. I’ve had sessions sitting with the bike on the turbo trainer but in this heat it’s really not appealing to sit indoors on a bike that should be moving outside. So I should probably take my bike out for a spin. The only problem is I’m a bit terrified of riding on the road.

So what am I actually terrified of?

  • cars whizzing past me on the high speed limit roads.
  • cars going past me on the small one track roads where we live.
  • cars being impatient with me.
  • other cyclists being impatient with me.
  • forgetting what to do when I come to a junction or a roundabout.
  • falling off and hurting myself or the bike breaking when I’m far from home.

I’m sure I’m building this up into more than it needs to be but I’ve built it up so much in my mind that me actually going out on a bike seems like an impossibility. A few times I’ve intended to go but I’ve actually chickened out and made an excuse to do something else. I really want to give it a go because I think it would help me get over this injury and I really believe I would enjoy it. So how do I get over this fear of getting out on my bike?

Not quite a bike built for two.

Not quite a bike built for two.

P.S I know I’ve been wanging on about being injured on my running blog but I came across this lovely blog by Eilish McColgan. She’s been struggling with a stress fracture and I know we are worlds apart in terms of running and ability but it was a relief to read that I’m not the only one who gets obsessed with running when they’re injured!