Needles, she said. I’m going to stick some needles into your leg. What foul quackery is this thought I. My ankle hurts and she wants to hurt it some more by sticking a bunch of needles into it.
I lay down on the bench and put my head through the hole. I’ve always hated needles. Dentistry has poisoned my mind against such barbaric instruments. However, the physio seems to know what she’s doing, so I steel myself to whatever is to come. She assures me that it won’t hurt but I squeal pathetically every time she introduces a new needle. She assures me that the latest one hasn’t yet pierced the skin. “That’s just the tube” she says. I am baffled. That really hurt. I would be rubbish at tattoos. She goes into the next room to get something and I look around at my ankle. There are several small spikes sticking out of it. It looks extremely alarming. I look away and she returns to remove the needles and massage the tendon. Surprisingly it seems that she can now touch that achilles tendon without me squealing and leaping into the air. The needles thing seems to have eased the pain a little. I suspect the relief is only temporary but it feels good nevertheless. Apparently its purpose is to increase blood flow into the tendon. These tendon thingies don’t get so much blood and it seems that if you’re trying to fix them then blood is just the thing that their little tendon selves desperately need.
I’ve been seeing a physiotherapist for a few months now. It started with my hamstring problems just before the London Marathon. Then there was a debilitating knee problem after the marathon and now I have achilles tendon pains. It seems that I am receiving a crash course in runners injuries.
The knee pains were absolutely dreadful. It was they that put paid to my Edinburgh Marathon at mile 16. Michelle (the physio) explained to me that it was an imbalance in the muscles that had pulled the knee out of alignment. This caused the knee to scrape on things it shouldn’t be scraping on and therefore inflicted loadsa pain. She is very realistic and realises that runners are ridiculously stupid creatures and will still attempt to run whatever the injury. She therefore taped up the leg to try hold the muscles in place and stop any more inflammation. Unfortunately this doesn’t last long as the tape tends to work loose after a few days. I am, however, learning (albeit very slowly) that I really should cut back on the running and take up other forms of exercise until my injuries heal. Even when they have healed then it seems to make sense to look after the other muscles that work together with the leg muscles. She is trying to talk me into Pilates classes but I’m not overly attracted by the idea. I am however doing the exercises she has given me to pull that knee back into place. There are bum exercises and some more to strengthen the inside of my knee and these exercises seem to have worked. I have had no more pain from that knee. I have had pain from my achilles tendon though.
It’s an overuse injury she says. My heart sinks when I hear this.I know that the only real answer to an overuse injury is to stop using it. I take a look on the Internet and everywhere I see the answer, it’s an overuse injury.
The physio has me standing on steps and pushing my heels down over the edge. I have to do 30 of these quite slowly every day. I also have to do calf stretches, ice the tendon, heat the tendon and then still maintain all those knee exercises. This fixing my legs business is becoming a full time activity. I am also under strict instructions to attend the gym, do some swimming and lots of bicycle rides. Frankly all I want to do is the thing that I enjoy; just to run. I must be patient though. My time will come once this tendon is mended.
I am running alongside the sea, heading out of Edinburgh and everything seems to be going well. There is some pain in the knee but it has dissolved into a background ache rather than the grinding hurt I had felt before. I was enjoying the course and I felt pretty good. Despite all my fears it seemed that this, my second marathon was going to go much smoother than I expected.
So why was I so fearful about this run?
Well, it had all begun a few weeks ago. I had run the London Marathon 4 weeks previously and even though I had emerged aching and hurting I had suffered no injury. I rested for a week afterwards and then settled back into my usual running routine. All the next week was fine until Friday when I popped out for a nice gentle 10k around the park and down the busway. Near the end of this run I felt a bit of a twinge in the knee. Hmmm, slightly worrying thinks I but I’m sure that it’s nothing to worry about. A couple of hours later I am finding it quite painful to walk. Every time I bent the knee, the back of the kneecap felt as if it was scraping backwards and forwards over jagged glass. I went to parkrun the following day and only managed the first kilometre before I limped sadly from the course. With the Edinburgh marathon only 2 weeks away, drastic action was called for. I rang around and booked an appointment with a physiotherapist.
The physiotherapist that I chose was from Vinery Studios in Cambridge. Darryl from the local running shop, ‘Up and Running’ told me that they had been doing some work with Vinery Studios so I thought I would give it a go. I booked an hour session with Michelle for Tuesday very much hoping that she would be able to help.
Michelle looked at my leg, asked me some questions and did a bit of prodding. She then got me to lay down and do various leg raises in different positions. “I am going to push down on your leg and I want you to resist as hard as you can.” I resisted and the leg was pushed down as easily as you might slide a glass along a polished table. She readjusted me and instructed me to resist again. The sliding glass on polished table thing repeated itself all too easily. Michelle made her diagnosis. My quads, it seems are reasonably strong. Apparently this is often the case with runners. It’s one of the muscles that we very much rely upon. Michelle tells me the strong muscle interacting with the weak muscles will have pulled the knee out of alignment. This causes it to scrape against things that it shouldn’t be scraping against. She gave me a bunch of exercises to do and I went home and set to, in the hope that I could whip these muscles into shape before the Edinburgh marathon.
I tried out out my knee the following weekend and although it was fairly painful it didn’t feel too bad. I ran 16 kilometres and my confidence soared. Running the Edinburgh marathon now looked like something that I might be able to do. I saw the physio again the following Tuesday and she seemed pleased with progress. I could do all those fancy clever things like walking up and down stairs. “Do you think I might be able to run the Edinburgh Marathon” I asked hopefully. Michelle thought it might be possible but advised me to stop if it began to hurt. I floated away in a sea of happy complacency until I came to do a gentle run two days before the marathon. The pain was back and it continued after I had stopped running, inflicting all sorts of hideous discomfort upon me. I checked the website to see whether it would be possible to get a refund or a deferral if I pulled out of the Edinburgh marathon but it assured me that they didn’t hold truck with any of that sort of thing. I resolved to run but knew that having to quit during the race was a distinct possibility.
So I’m running along and thinking that maybe things are going to be OK. The course is nice although it maybe seems a little disingenuous calling it the Edinburgh Marathon when so little of it is in Edinburgh. Maybe something such as East Lothian Marathon or Musselburgh Marathon might be more appropriate, or possibly they could get really cocky and call it The Scottish Marathon. This latter suggestion might possibly upset all those other people who run marathon events in Scotland.
We run around a few streets in Edinburgh and then head out to the coast. There is mile after mile of sea and sand on our left hand side and a lovely cooling breeze coming off the sea. Everyone is now settling down to their regular pace after the hustle and bustle of the first 7 or 8 kilometres. A chap called Steve runs alongside me and begins to chat. He’s from Woking and is telling me how much marathons terrify him. He sounds as if he is faster and more experienced than I at this thing but the marathon still frightens him every time. We compare training and talk about all those runner type things such as intervals, long runs, hydration etc. All those topics that we can put non runners to sleep with at dinner parties. Steve is also worried about injury problems and feels that he hasn’t had the training that he would like to have had. We compare trials and tribulations but also look to chat about the good things such as the scenery and that astoundingly welcome sea breeze.
Musselburgh eventually hoves into view and is a welcome sight. Even though we are only a third of the way through we know that next time we come into Musselburgh the race will be done. We make progress.
I am enjoying the interaction with the spectators although am acutely aware of the vast difference between this event and the London Marathon. In London the levels of craziness just seem to go higher and higher. People are screaming and shouting and encouraging each other to become massively excited about the whole experience. The crowds infect the runners with their excitement and the runners respond so encouraging the crowds even more. In Edinburgh there is support but it is more at the level I am accustomed to in the smaller races that I have taken part in around Cambridge. There are some people shouting out especially as I am wearing a London Marathon, Save The Rhino shirt with my name emblazoned across the front. I make sure that I acknowledge every shout. I feel obliged to do so but don’t feel that this is a bad thing. Obligations can often feel like a burden but this one feels an absolute joy.
Looking across the road we see the leaders start to come through. The winner was a chap called Kiprono.I hadn’t heard of him before this.
I was imagining myself coming back this way and really looking forward to it. It was a gentle downhill and the breeze would be behind me urging me onwards.
At around 15 miles Steve asked me for his Lucozade bottle. I dig around in his back pack and hand it to him. My leg is hurting so I cadged some ibuprofen gel from him. His tendons were hurting and he asked me to rub some gel on his knee also.
Steve ran on, I stepped out to try and catch up and found the knee pain had increased dramatically. I gritted my teeth and tried to carry on and then suddenly discovered that I could no longer put any weight on my left leg without it buckling from the pain. I staggered over to the side of the road and found a tree to prop myself upon with one leg held in the air. A marshall came to help, asked if I needed medical assistance and I said yes.
While we were waiting I heard various exchanges on his radio. Not everyone was as willing to stop and receive assistance. Someone else apparently was weaving all over the road in considerable distress, bumping into other runners. Marshalls had asked him to stop but he didn’t seem to hear them and carried on. Someone was shouting over the radio, “stand in front of him, it’s the only way to stop them when they are like this.” I had no such problems stopping myself running. Putting any weight on that leg at all sent huge rolling waves of agony flashing out sharply from my knee. I wasn’t keen on the notion of letting that foot touch the ground anytime soon. The doctor appeared a few minutes later and offered me several tablets. I swallowed them down and then he asked me what I was going to do. I was a bit nonplussed by the question as I didn’t feel that I had much in the way of options. I decided that telling him that I was just going to stand here on one leg and whimper probably wasn’t an answer that anyone wanted to hear. Instead I suggested that maybe I would try to find my wife who had said that she would try and connect up with me at mile sixteen. I reckoned that I was past mile 15 but wasn’t entirely sure. The doctor and the marshall didn’t know where we were other than we were in their sector thirteen. I reckoned that I needed to get moving and put left foot down to try walking. I howled in pain and stopped again. I called Carrie and told her the news. She said that she was in a taxi trying to find the course and asked where I was. I couldn’t really give her any specific information. I tried to walk again and found that if I kept the knee very straight indeed that it could bear a little weight. I limped forward. People were asking me all the time whether they could help but there wasn’t much that anyone could do. What I needed was transport to the end to collect my baggage but no one was in a position to offer me that. Some kind people did give me a bottle of orange though and that was very welcome indeed.
The doctor caught me up again and pointed across the other side of the road. There was a footpath there going up to a village. He reckoned that might be a good way to connect up with my wife. I concurred and attempted to cross the road. There was a constant stream of runners but eventually I saw a gap and with the speed of a snail attempting to slide across dry sand hauled myself over to the other side. I reached the footpath and began the long slow walk over the golf course. People were passing to and fro asking if they could assist me at all. I obviously looked in a very bad way indeed. I thanked them for their concern, managed to find out where I was (Longniddry) and told them that I was meeting my wife. That was the plan anyway although phone reception had become increasingly patchy so I wasn’t entirely sure how much she had heard of my description of the current location.
On and on I walked. It seemed like forever but I was learning a technique that minimised the pain a little. I found that if I could keep my left leg very straight when I put my foot on the ground then it didn’t hurt too much. If my knee bent laterally at all then there was huge amounts of pain. Avoid that I thought. It took massive amounts of concentration to keep that leg straight and I could only take very tiny steps as I had to stop the knee attempting to bend at all.
My journey across the golf course was a very long trek indeed. At the other end I emerged on to another footpath and began limping up that one. Over a hedge I saw someone running. Carrie was there looking quite frantic. I yelled out that I was here and she did a kind of mad muppet flailing with her arms thing and whirled around to find her way back to the path that I was on. A couple of minutes later she found me and flung herself into my arms. It was very good to be reunited again.
Carrie pointed me at the train station and we began our long slow walk up the hill. A very tall man appeared from nowhere and asked if we wanted a lift up to the train station. “Yes, absolutely!” yells I, “that would be brilliant”. He vanishes for several minutes and then reappears in a car and drives us to the train station. I think he must have seen us from his living room window and made the decision to help. Just a downright wonderful thing to do. Thank you tall man from Longniddry. You are a damn fine chap.
The trains from Longniddry are only once every hour so I had plenty of time to sit in the station feeling sorry for myself. Despite wanting to hide away I still needed to make my way to the finish. I had put some warm clothes into a bag at the start and that bag was now waiting for me at the finish line in Musselburgh. We boarded the train and arrived in Musselburgh to find that the train station was nearly two miles away from Musselburgh. How bizarre. Fortunately there was a bus and that took me within about a half mile of the finish. Carrie and I limped along the high street but I was moving very slowly indeed. She decided to stash me in a Subway (where I bought a sandwich), take my number and go on to collect my bag. She also collected a friend of ours called Lynn who had arranged to meet us at the finish line. They came back for me and we all went back to find another bus at my micro slow limping speed. Back in Edinburgh there was a long slow trudge to Waverley station. At Waverley we caught a train to Ian and Elaine’s house in Linlithgow. Then it was time to relax with ice on knee, raised foot and beer. The physio hadn’t mentioned anything about beer in her recommendations but I’m sure that was just an oversight.
A poor broken marathon runner am I.
There may be rather fewer races in my immediate future than I had planned. This knee is very painful indeed.