By: Simon Hodkin
It started with building a simple woodshed, well a log store really. I was just lowering the roof onto the walls when I felt my back go. It’s like breaking a mirror; when it happens, it happens and there’s no going back. I hobbled around at a ninety degree angle for two days, then it was just stiff and sore and then by the following weekend I was running again. I even ran a 10k road race, a bit ouchy and a good two minutes or more off a PB but OK.
However, in the days that followed, my right knee didn’t feel quite right, and progressively got worse, a pain either side of the kneecap. I followed normal runners’ protocol, ie ignore it. On Bonfire Night I was running with my local club on an evening run and chatting to a fellow runner while limping heavily (it can be done). My gait was by now so unnatural that several fellow runners urged me to stop and with reluctance I did, and hobbled home.
My foolproof method of evaluating my injury was to continue to run at weekly parkruns, where I could just amble round and see how my knee felt. Progressively worse was the answer. Then I went on the first of several development days for Run Leaders in Bristol. There was a super all-weather pitch with a firm and grippy surface where we tried out new exercise routines. And of course it wasn’t supposed to be competitive but during one of the team relay sessions, I was putting more and more effort into the super-grippy surface, ideal for fast intervals. And also ideal for putting maximum pressure on a knee strain. Suddenly my knee was on fire and I limped out, swearing under my breath and then not under my breath. “Flippity, flip, flip, flip” I exclaimed. I think that quote may have auto-corrected itself. I’m not after sympathy but I returned to the classroom feeling sick with pain.
This time I took three weeks out. And then returned to my frankly-idiotic practice of testing my knee at parkruns. Each week my knee twinged if I put any pressure on it, so I continued to run lopsided. So I did what I should have done earlier and went to see a physio. He twisted and prodded my knee in all directions and finally announced: “Your knee’s fine”. “Then why does it hurt??” I said. “Because that’s where your injury hurts” he said. “Your problem is your ridiculously tight hamstrings”. (They’ve always been bad, but I do stretch. Well, a bit. Well, sometimes).
So he gave me some exercises to do, and I did do them daily, sometimes twice daily, and on both sides / both legs, which is a bit boring. But not as boring as not running. And I started to improve almost immediately. I had fortnightly checkup sessions with the physio, including a memorable one where he declared that my hip flexors were also tight and needed loosening. “I’m afraid this is going to hurt a little” he said. It b****y did, until I learned that the best response is to relax into the treatment and not fight it by tensing the muscles.
The other things I did was some cross-training. I bought an exercise bike and cycled a few days a week, listening to podcasts. I also started swimming (hate swimming) and have really noticed my swimming fitness improve.
I think it’s been pretty much four months off injured, all told. Now I have to get my fitness back. People, including myself, usually say breezily: “Oh you’ll get your fitness back again in no time”. But going from 80-100 miles a month to a weekly 5k amble is bound to make a difference, and at the moment I think I’d struggle with a 10k. The nice bit is that I’m beginning to ramp up the mileage slowly and seeing my pace improve. And the woodshed looks good too.