In January I was lucky enough to get a big breakthrough in the pant department. Having spent years in the same old holey boxers, Comfyballs took pity on my balls and offered me an ambassador role in return for some of the latest ball squeeze avoidance technology. As an ultra-runner with a few course records to my name and hopes of pushing into the elite ranks this year, I jumped at the opportunity to give my neglected balls an easier ride on the trails. Unfortunately, however, my knee clearly felt jealous and I’ve been plagued by injury woes ever since.
There’s no two ways about it, being injured sucks. It’s right up there with finding your first grey hairs or discovering your partners been enjoying too much time with the milkman. It can be as depressing as a night in with only James Blunt for company on the Sonos. Don’t get me wrong, a niggle is no bad thing, it can be a great excuse to sit on the sofa for a few days and spend some quality time reacquainting yourself with old friends Ben and Jerry. But from those little niggles do full blown injuries grow without the right rest and management.
All budding athletes go through it, especially ultra-runners. By getting into ultra’s you are embracing a life of permanent niggles. Fortunately, however, by virtue of the very nature of the ultra-beast, all ultra-runners are also incredibly stubborn and capable of ignoring running pain. In fact, the only other thing that unites all ultra-runners is their love of talking about their niggles, that and the state of their toes. Fascinating topics to fellow athletes but enough to bore the sh*t out of family and loved ones and significantly reduce friendship circles. As the sport limits time for socialising and encourages abstinence, this is clearly natural ultra-running selection at its finest.
Niggle free running is a rare luxury amongst runners and invariably interpreted as a sign that they could be doing more training. The true challenge is determining what is a niggle and what is something more sinister that might have those James Blunt like consequences. Too often upcoming races, unexpected training opportunities or the love of being out running, overcome common sense and we end up hitting the trail when we should be resting up. Before one knows it that tight calf, stiff achillies, knee ache or sore foot is an acute pain and an ever-present feature of day to day activities. Now is clearly the time to rest, so what do we do, apart from complaining to anyone that will listen, leave it a few days until the pain is more like a dull ache and the draw of the trails is too much, and then out the door we go. It makes sense to go steady at first, right? Wrong, with so much pent up energy from the Ben and Jerry’s binges you can’t help but find yourself bounding along the trail and by the time the pain is back you’re too far from home to walk it. This time round you dig out a pack of frozen peas, do a bit of stretching and presume it will make all the difference. You may even allow an extra day of rest but dare not risk more or all your fitness will evaporate, obesity will set in and hopes of doing that race you’ve been planning for all year will be ruined. The cycle repeats and before you know it you’re months on and your fitness and confidence are shot. If only you’d embraced the TV life, ignored the call of the trails and rested properly at the start, you’d be flying again by now.
The cleverer ones amongst us, those that have been through a few injuries, learn to listen to their bodies and seek professional advice early on. The rest, like me, who share a shocking memory, which is perhaps another common ultra-running trait – after all why would you put yourself through such repeated mental and physical running punishment otherwise – get caught up in the excitement of training and moving on to the next challenge, completely forget about historic injuries and repeat the same mistakes again and again.
As you will have guessed, I’m now over 2 months into a knee niggle and am finally seeking professional help. The prognosis? Tendonitis of the knee requiring proper rest, strength work and possibly even insoles. As you will have guessed, this isn’t the first time, and no doubt won’t be the last time, I’ve ignored a so-called niggle with serious consequences. It’s been a thoroughly depressing time, not helped by discovering my first grey hairs. On the plus side, however, at least my balls are now finally being well looked after. I’ve also reconnected with old mates (not just Ben and Jerry) over a few too many beers and grown my toenails back. The key is not to dwell on the injury but use the opportunity to put all the unexpected free time and unspent energy into something else, be that work, family or your darts ambitions for after you hang up your trail shoes. One thing I do know is you only really appreciate being fit and healthy when you are injured. Make the most of it, listen to your body and don’t be scared to rest, properly rest.
Authors note: just to clarify, my wife has not run off with the milkman, though my daughter’s hair colour is suspiciously similar to that of the electricians, and I also have nothing against James Blunt.