When It All Goes To Shit – Turning Injury Into A Positive

Feels like an age since I updated the blog with a personal post, but I’ve not been doing so well of late. Of course there are others dealing with much worse, but injury among other stuff has been hard to deal with. Things are now on the up though and I think theres some important lessons to learn hence the post. So lets go back to March, when it all began.

I started 2018 in great form, consistently placing top ten in the Esk Valley Fell races, earning a park run PB of 18:02 (grrr, still pissed at those 3 seconds) and feeling in top form just in time for my ‘A’ race, the Hardmoors Wainstones marathon. Then life threw a curveball…

Its not always your own injuries that effect training

It was a Saturday in late March and I’d just finished a hard session. During my usual recovery routine – stretch, eat, sleep, eat – the phone interrupted my slumber, irritated I answered to screams and crying. It was my wife, I couldn’t make much out, other than the words ‘its hanging, bebe, its hanging’. I threw on whatever clothes I could find and sprinted downstairs, Diana was down the road and laid out on the floor screaming.

Turns out she had slipped, leaving her right leg behind, falling with all her weight on the ankle joint, you don’t need me to tell you what happened next. As I approached it was clear things were bad. I got the car and helped her in, the foot was literally dangling, I tried not to show my concern. Skipping the gruesome bits, my wife needed surgery on three breaks and what seemed like a jigsaw puzzle. The next week I was back and forth to hospital and that was just the beginning.

When Diana finally came home, I had to care for her, making dinner, washing and all the other chores, alongside a 6.30-5.30 job and somehow keep training. Of course concern for her recovery was constant but on a selfish note, I was petrified of losing all I had built over two years. But, the stress and extra workload led to exhaustion, my right ankle flared up, an overuse injury and while it settled in time for Wainstones, I knew things weren’t right. But my wife was going through far worse so I got on with it.

I ran the race of my life at Wainstones, the Winter training had paid off and led to first place, completely unexpected. Then it all unravelled, first I got Impetigo on my neck, a nasty infectious rash. I was out on my ass and my immune system shot. No sooner did I get over that my ankle issues came back with vengeance. Due to race in the Keswick Mountain Festival, Jayson suggested I pull out. I didn’t heed the advice and went onto finish 10th but my ankle was seriously bad now, clicking with every movement and painful to walk. While all this was going on, life at home was still as stressful with my wife needing months and months to even get off crutches.

Recognising when to pull back

Its the hardest thing, when you feel so fit and on form to simply stop running. The thoughts, ‘it’ll pass’ are just excuses to carry on. In hindsight, I should have seen what I was doing to myself and taken three full weeks off. Yes I was fit, but I wasn’t healthy. Instead, I entered the Scafell Skyrace and fell further down the hole.

Scafell Sky race photo

After that I did finally decide to rest, but I soon learned how bad the injury had got, one week, two, three and things weren’t fully settled. Then as my wife was starting to walk again and myself finally run, I broke my toe in the Kitchen!

4-6 weeks out, no running. I was gutted and struggled mentally but started at the gym, determined to lose as little fitness as possible. I then jumped back into running after 4 weeks and despite early warning signs, pushed through a little discomfort. Of course this was my body saying, ‘hey, your not fully healed’. Sure enough my Physio confirmed, I’d re-fractured my toe by running too soon.

My toe fractured for a second time, I finally stopped obsessing about running and focussed on the gym full time. I now saw it as a phase of training and a way to be my best self come the return. If I had done this from the start and learned to let go of what I can’t control the whole experience would have been easier and much more beneficial…but I did this in the end and do you now what, I’ll be a better runner for not running!

Finding time to be a better runner

So, how on earth can all this be a positive? How can failing in the second half of my season be good and spending three months out before a further few months building back up be the best thing that has happened to me? Because it gave me time, time to heal, time to build strength, work on my weakness’ and become resilient.

Running breaks down fine muscle fibres, when we take a break, these muscles have time to fully repair. With running out the question, I went to the gym 5-6 days a week. Focusing on my legs, core and upper body. Doing pull-up challenges to keep me motivated, 2K rowing PB’s for cardio and the cross trainer for tempo sessions. In a nutshell I spent months working on everything I lacked time for while running.

One example, pre-injury I struggled to get all the way down in my squat, so we focussed on my leg strength. I used resistance bands to do box squats, single leg squats and weighted squats. I then started doing single leg pistol squats, one became two then three and eventually 7 on each leg. I then progressed to pistol squats on a wobble cushion. I have trebled my pull-up PB, but theres a tonne of other stuff.

We fall into a trap of believing to run well we simply practise running, but theres so much more too it. Muscle strength is very important and undervalued, so few do strength and conditioning yet its vital to success.

But most importantly, the ankle issues I experienced were a result of my technique. My orignal training volume and stress turned the smallest of things, like not activating my glutes and hamstrings into a lay-off, this would have effected me at some point regardless and was an area which needed work. I am now dealing with this and learning to use different muscles to solve the problem. In doing this it should make me a better runner all round, not just injury free.

Marginal gains

Not only do I now feel strong, but I took the time out to research what else might help on my return. Addressing my diet is one, cutting out dairy, refined sugar and eating less meat. I feel less bloated and have more energy since doing so.

Jayson suggested I ditch the Garmin for a month and run purely on time. I tend to get bogged down by stats, I can have a great run, yet feel bad about it because my pace wasn’t quite where I’d like. This leads to running too fast and training the wrong system. So I ran for the fun of running, just myself and a little music with no idea how far or how fast I was going. My only guidance being perceived effort of exertion.

The experience has been liberating, I didn’t realise how trapped I felt before. Of course anxiety made it a negative experiment at first but the more I ran free of mechanics the more I enjoyed the sessions.

Coming back

I am now a few months back into running, with an eye on January as a come back to racing. I have lost some fitness, in the ability to just run for as long as I please, but that will come back naturally with training. What wouldn’t naturally develop is the strength I have built during the lay-off, hence why I believe injury was a blessing in disguise.

The other bonus of being injured is I am forced to build up slowly. This is annoying, but gives time to work on form and proper running technique. Not to mention gratitude, I will be so grateful for that first long run out on the Moors. I mean just going for as long as you please. I wouldn’t feel like that without the experience of been injured for so long. When I do eventually come back to full fitness, I should be in a much better position.

And for those wondering about the wife, 8 months on and she’s still in pain. While she can walk for an hour, the ankle gets quite painful after. I can’t imagine going through that and not knowing where or what the end looks like…but we’re both in a much better place now and looking forward to life returning to normal in 2019.

Support System

A quick note on the people that make me tick. When going through a rough patch, whether that be injury or lack of form the people surrounding you, offering advise and setting the tone hold the key. I am extremely lucky to have fallen on a fantastic support system over the last few years. Jayson Cavill sets my every move and takes care of the plan, leaving me to focus on the doing. Ian Mulrooney – my Physio – speaks the language of the body. Without his help diagnosing injuries and setting a path for recovery I’d be lost.

I’d highly recommend getting your own support system, they generally come at a cost but you get what you pay for.

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Darren Smith

Training with purpose since October 2016 Darren has gone from trailing the pack to winning local races and the times keep on falling. A true believer in hard work over natural talent he writes to help others realise their true potential. Darren's race schedule for 2018 includes the Hardmoors Wainstones marathon (1st place), Keswick Mountain Festival (10th place), Scafell Skyrace and Salomon Ring Of Steall (World Championship race.)

2 thoughts on “When It All Goes To Shit – Turning Injury Into A Positive

  • November 28, 2018 at 8:30 pm

    Amazing inspiring blog . Thankyou for sharing i can relate to so much of this post having serious injury myself . It’s so difficult to watch people pull away whilst you are stood stil with injury .

    • November 28, 2018 at 9:04 pm

      Thank you Caroline, I hope some of it helped lift your spirits a little. Its too easy to see the negatives of injury and get down, but there is so much we can do that our friends and other runners simply won’t, because they’d rather be out doing what we can’t. Hope you are on the mend and back at it soon, use the time well πŸ™‚


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