Injury can be a difficult time in any athlete’s career, especially if the diagnosis isn’t clear and the timeline unknowing, but staying positive can be key.

With the impact of thousands of footfalls, bouncing around on muddy trails and the perilous combination of running and a sedentary work-life, many runners find themselves injured from time to time.

It can be from simple overuse (or under recovery) where time easing back is needed, or a clean break of a bone, which is painful but often simple at the same time. It will heal.

After 12 months, out injured from running, having only had one injury that needed longer than a few days off beforehand, still without a clear diagnosis, it felt important to write about this one. Probably more for me than the reader. Sorry.

The shape of my life, no kidding

We always hear it, like the fish that got away. When I picked up an injury late July 2019 I was in the shape of my life. Training for a 100 mile track race, I”d just completed 2 x (10min, 5min) with the 10s an average of 5:15s, the 5 minutes both under 5 minute miling. Worst of all, it all felt comfortable.

The day before there had been a bit of a ping whilst running a light stride. It felt uncomfortable, but I was nearly home so I just jogged it off. The next day it was okay after the warm up, then the jog home was a bit of a hobble.

Normally it would have been rest and seeing a physio as soon as possible, but it was our annual training camp in Chamonix, so instead it was hill runs and a six hour outing on the Sunday where the mains struggle was keeping up with the group and not showing just how much pain I was in every time we regrouped. Smile and wave.

The next bad decision I made was jumping straight on my bike.

Not one injury, but two

As with any athlete I had a real fear of losing fitness. A few days off wouldn’t have really harmed my fitness too much, even a week or two, but a poorly fitted bike likely caused more problems.

It seems like the initial injury was a tearing of a muscle around the glutei or hip region. Then a bike seat that was waaaaay too high caused other issues and it become really difficult for any physio to pinpoint what was going on.

So the logical step was to enter an ultra-distance bike race instead. If you’re a dedicated runner and want to get fixed as soon as possible, don’t enter an event in a different discipline whilst rehabbing. It can be… distracting.

So instead of dealing with one injury, there was now a couple of issues, piled on top of an older issue of an over worked right lateral chain that needed regular release. Plus a 1500km bike race to train for. It could be seen as a comedy of errors.

Why am I telling you this?

Hopefully some advice and lessons can come from my experience. Firstly, don’t smash the life out of your cross training to a level that inflicts a different injury.

Seems a bit obvious now, and I wouldn’t change the past as I’m loving the ultra-distance biking events, but how many athletes do we know you go wild on a rowing machine, bike, eliptigo, swimming etc. when injured.

If you want to recover from injury then cross training can be great, but at first just think about maintain fitness, not continuing to build it. It was a few weeks before deciding to bin the 100 mile track race, as I kept hoping the niggle would just clear up.

Oh to be back on the final stretch of a marathon with this happy face again.

The second reason is to say: Don’t give up hope

After another physio visit in the UK, 4-5 weeks of dedicated exercises for 80-90 minutes a day, and literally no improvement, I gave up hope of sorting my running injury.

It wasn’t a totally negative experience as the choice was made to invest fully in the biking for 2020 and then the whole COVID-19 thing happened and here in Italy we couldn’t run outside anyway.

It wasn’t until August, when friend Paul Tierney was looking at my weird feet at the end of a LEJOG day, that a comment from him, linked with the inspiration of watching Dan Lawson run the length of the country, brought that hope back.

Paul and I started doing some simple exercises around my feet. It looked like I was mainly using the outside of each of them to stand on, rather than pronating. It felt different straight away and my mind instantly drifted to entering 48hr races again.

Ration your hope

And here comes another lesson: don’t go too wild with your expectations recovering from injury.

We know that “comparison is the thief of joy” and many runners will struggle returning from injury as they want to run the same paces as before. This can lead to deflated motivation, but also more injury as you try to rush back to a former level.

It’s not a quick fix, rehab takes time. That’s the main message here. Whatever you injury, taking the time to heal properly and then gradually build back up, will hopefully lead to a stronger, less injury prone athlete in the future.

If after one week you can’t run 100 miles again, don’t despair.

Sometimes progress might slow, or even seem to go backwards, but that is when it’s important to build up that mental fortitude. Don’t “waste” all your hope dreaming of a big race finish in the future, focus on smaller goals, like running a few hours a week without issue.

It would probably help me if I stopped all this cycling, but there’s another 1100km race I’ve entered in October now and most of the running events I want to run have been cancelled anyway.

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