I took up running after a break-up eight years ago and I’ve credited it with keeping me sane ever since. Whenever I felt stressed at work, suffered from writer’s block or found myself obsessively fretting over something, I’d pull on my trainers and dash out of the door.
And being partial to the odd pie, roast dinner, glass of wine and bag of Twirl Bites, it’s also kept my spare tyre at bay.
Since my first 10k event in Manchester in 2009 I’ve progressed to half-marathons and team ultra-marathons, and I did my first marathon in Rotterdam last April. After losing a well-paid writing gig in 2011, instead of self-medicating with wine, I did the adidas 24hr Thunder Run with no training and couldn’t walk for a week.
But my love of running has skidded to an abrupt halt. A niggling knee injury that I’d stupidly ignored eventually got too much to bear, so in January I (literally) buckled and saw physio Amy at the White Rooms clinic where I live in Lymm, Cheshire.
Amy inspected my puffy knee. The news was not good
Out came my corned-beef legs so that Amy could inspect my puffy knee. The news was not good: she told me one of my legs was longer than the other; my biomechanics (the natural motion of my body) were out; my kneecap was mal-tracking, which is where the pinching sensation was coming from; I had arthritis; and there’d be no more regular long-distance running for me…
And now it feels like that’s all everyone else ever seems to do! My Facebook newsfeed seems to be an endless stream of posts about race times, maps of marathon training routes and photos of pals crossing finish lines.
My friend Jane has swapped her usual wine-and-pizza for running, and thanks to us being linked via MyFitnessPal, the app pings every day to brag that “Jane has run 5km!”
Meanwhile, I’m reduced walking my dog Daisy in running gear, powering along on the pavement as fast as I can as fresh-faced runners glide past like gazelles. While I smile and nod at them (as they wonder why I’m exercising so half-heartedly) it’s through gritted teeth, because I want to be running too.
In Sainsbury’s the girl behind the checkout, a keen runner, keeps asking me if I’ve signed up for nearby races. Each time I grumpily mumble, “No. Still injured.”
This week, Amy gingerly asked how I felt about my future with running. “I know I’m going to have to cut it back or I’ll keep ending up back in here – no offence,” I replied. “Yes, that would make sense,” said Amy. “I’d say build up to, say, three miles over the next few months, but on the flat and on grass ideally.’
I wanted to have a small weep. I went home and typed a sheepish message, updating my teammates for the Lightning Run that there was no way I’d be joining them for three 10k laps when I can only run half of one. I know that my ‘runvy’ will really kick in that weekend when they pop up on my newsfeed in their official event T-shirts and medals.
I’ve learned that it’s not the end of the world when you can’t run
But what I have learned is that it’s not the end of the world when you can’t run. As well as walking and swimming, I’ve been following an online programme with personal trainer Julia Buckley that uses weights and HIIT. Instead of doing cardio, I do my physio exercises, squats with an exercise ball, crab walks with a Thera-Band, clams and loads of stretching.
I still get to sweat and enjoy those endorphins but my upper body is reaping the benefits too. Since slowing down in January I’ve managed to maintain my weight, my body fat is down to 22%, and Amy says I’ve recovered well. I can’t wait to get back to running, and I savour that one 5k I’m allowed to do each week, but I’ve learned being injured isn’t all bad: I can still eat pies and keep to a healthy weight.
Just don’t ask if I’m doing the Great Manchester Run this year, or you might get a punch in the face.
Julia Buckley’s tips for dealing with being injured
1. “Don’t sit around thinking that you can’t do anything. Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t. So with a knee injury, for example, you can still train the arms, shoulders, back, chest and core.”
2. “Tailor your diet to better support your goals. Research and try out some new recipes. Make yourself some eating plans, and compile a shopping list for putting these meals together.”
3. “Work on your core and glutes: they stabilise your leg for each stride, which will help prevent injury when you can get back to running. Pilates is great for this, and my online training plan Extreme Inferno features a range of exercises that’ll help this area.”