11 months ago, I fell in a mountain race (read post here) and cut my knee very badly. For a short period it was the most painful thing I have ever experienced, but the shock kicked in quickly, and the pain was replaced with a fear. I thought I had completely severed my patella tendon, which would mean the end of my running. The small hospital I was taken to in Italy was clean and professional, but no one spoke any English. I asked everyone I saw, “will I be able to run again”, but no one could understand me.
I was left to fully contemplate my life without running. I have always acted abit breezy around my running. I have plenty of friends who are not runners. I have interests that are not related to running. But, faced with this very real possibility that running might be taken away from me forever, that thin facade of indifference crumbled instantly. I couldn’t breathe.
After 4 of the longest hours of my life, the surgeon who operated on me deigned to inform me (with a laugh) that my patella tendon was fine and I should be back running in 1 or 2 months.
Since that time, my knee has hurt me every day. For months I would get what I called ‘phantom pains’, where that initial excruciating agony would flood back, as if my nerves were reliving the indelible trauma. My knee hurts every time I walk up stairs, kneel on the floor, or break into a run.
I realised early on that if this pain wasn’t going to go away, and yet I was determined still to run, then the only thing I could do would be reframe the issue in my mind. I resolved never to mention my pains to anyone.
I wanted to get back to my previous level. Any excuse or self-pity was just going to prevent that.
I feel like, this week, I have finally equalled or surpassed where I was pre-injury. I learnt something so valuable through this ‘reframing’ that I want to share it.
Every time my knee hurts me, I am automatically flooded with gratitude that I can run. I am reminded what a gift it is to be fit and healthy, after that abject fear I felt in the small Italian hospital. Because of my knee injury, I feel gratitude every single day of my life. I am a happier person now than I was before the injury. It is hard to be angry/sad/negative and grateful at the same time. All of those silly little running related worries I used to indulge in, they have all vanished. Many people have experienced similar psychological phenomena, it is termed as Posttraumatic Growth and can trigger all sorts of benefits (read more here).
It has led me to reevaluate lots of my long held beliefs. There is a widely held theory that running, and particularly racing, is a ‘type 2 fun’; meaning, you can only enjoy it once it is over. I spent a large part of my life believing that. I would say the majority of runners think you have to ‘suffer’ through a race, ‘work hard enough’, get on the ‘pain train’. I’m not into that anymore. I’m not going to feel guilty cos I didn’t hurt enough.
I want type 1 and type 2 fun. I want to enjoy running while I am running. I don’t just want to suffer through races and wait till the pain has subsided before I can think back fondly. That sounds crazy to me now.
Sunday night is the Ladywell 10,000m, hosted by my club, Kent AC. Last year I ran 31min flat, so this year the goal is obviously sub 31. I know that I am in shape to do it. But that can lead to it’s own problems. The weather is forecast to be perfect, the track is fast, the atmosphere is brilliant (and with a bias towards me), I can’t ask for a better opportunity. All this can add to the pressure to perform, there is nowhere to hide, no excuses to offer. But I am feeling confident, I just have to ‘run the mile I am in’ six times, and I will get what I want.
Race starts. I know, pretty much instantly, that I will run sub 31 tonight.
I spend the first 3km sitting in behind a little group helped along by very good runner Max Nicholls. When you are in race mode, adrenaline and noradrenaline are released into the blood stream. These hormones have many performance enhancing effects, including increased memory recall, attention and concentration.
I am running around the track I have run around for the past 25 years, since I was a kid, since it was made of dirt. The colours of the summer evening seem more vivid, I can smell the grass, I can hear my family and friends cheering, I can hear the announcer talk about me. I can hear the athletes around me breathing, can tell how tired they are. I can feel the track springing underneath me, it feels brilliant. Everything is zen.
Friend and teammate, Owen Hind, is doing his upmost to snap me out of it. He is the only spectator to have run a sub 30min 10km. A very quick time, which kinda gives him the authority to cajole me as much as he wants, and he does, every lap. One particular favourite is:
“This is not fucking good enough Russell, you are a professional athlete, do some fucking work!” (lap 2 of 25)
I just go with the flow. Max drops out, the group disbands, I am running solo, 100m behind the leader.
I run the penultimate mile too slowly, people normally do. I could try and convince myself there is a lion chasing me or something; but there isn’t. I’m in a leafy park in South London, and everyone else is going calmly about their business. Maybe if I pushed hard and hurt more I could finish 10 seconds quicker, maybe not. I am running at the limit of my technique, and lots of people comment after on how I looked relaxed and smooth. If I were to go over the edge, it could easily result in diminishing returns, i.e. working harder to run slower.
Besides, I know I will speed up again in the last mile, and I do. I run a track pb of 30.42 and finish 2nd.
One of the best races of my life. A personal victory against the knee injury I had, and just feeling light and springy throughout, with my friends and family watching, very special.
Thanks loads to everyone at Kent AC who volunteered, and especially Adrian Lowther who put the whole thing together.
I get in my van and start the drive for home at 8pm. Headlight fails so have to change it at services. Legs get restless so do warmdown jog around carpark (shudve done that BEFORE the McDonalds chocolate milkshake). Arrive home 2.30am to amazing hug from Nina. Peanut butter and jam sandwich, cuppa, bed.
Now two weeks of tapering down before Berlin Marathon start now.
Non-running related highlight of the week
Smooth pint of Birra Moretti on Friday night with sister and brother-in-law. Also, excellent coffee in trendy East Dulwich cafe, Sunday morning with my folks.
Best thing on the internet this week:
Clip of me running in Ladywell 10000m. Hey, it’s my blog!
Thing I’m digging this week:
ESPN 30 for 30 podcasts
|Monday||REST||5tm @ 6.30min miling|
|Tuesday||REST||6 x 600m (1min rest) in 1.45. 1 x 400m in 58. 8 miles total|
|It was a New Years resolution (read blog post here) to run 400m in under a minute. Tick|
|Wednesday||6tm @ 7min miling||10 @ 8min miling|
|PM run on beautiful trails of Wales Coast Walk|
|Thursday||6tm @ 7min miling||8|
|Friday||6tm @ 7min miling||Drive to London (7hrs!)|
|Saturday||Dulwich parkrun – 16.35. 10 miles total||REST|
|Feel smooth and easy in parkrun. Everything looking good for race|
|Sunday||4 @ 9min miling||Ladywell 10,000m – 2nd. 30.42 PB. 8 miles total. Drive to Wales|
|easy shakeout run AM, execute race well PM. Arrive home 2.30am; tired and wired|
|TOTAL:||71 miles||tm = treadmill|