Do you remember that line in the Baz Luhrmann Sunscreen song about your knees? “Be kind to your knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.” I’d never really registered the significance of it until the day, a few weeks ago, when my right knee “went”.
I’d got right up to 15 miles without any niggles. I have friends who take ibuprofen every time they run to get through the pain in their knees (not advisable) so I guess I had a vague sense that I was lucky. But, it’s always the way, that you don’t really know what you’ve got till it’s gone. So when I was 15-miles into an 18-miler and the pain started in my knee, I tried to block it out. Very quickly it became un-block-out-able and by the end I was in tears.
The next day a pavement with even the slightest hint of a gradient was more than I could bear.
I already knew I hadn’t got into my marathon training early enough and now I couldn’t run at all. PANIC STATIONS.
I rested my leg for a couple of weeks and tried just a few short runs, but the best I could do was about 30 minutes before I was in pain again. I was fretting, watching the days tick by and the miles, well, not.
So finally I went to see a sports therapist, Simon Heale who was recommended to me by a friend – and who I’d strongly recommend to any Londoner in a similar plight. He established that I have an overuse injury (mainly a lot of tightness and irritation in my IT band – a ligament that runs from the hip down to the knee), which any fellow runners out there might well be familiar with, as it’s pretty common.
He knows his stuff about how to recover from injury – and he’s a hugely calming influence. So I wanted to share the lessons I learnt from him:
1. DON’T BE SURPRISED Marathon running is meant to be hard. Injury is your body’s way of telling you that it’s finding it a tough slog. It shouldn’t come as a huge shock. Simon told me this, not in an annoying “get over it” way, but because he basically wanted me to stop being angry at my body and see a dodgy knee as all part of the challenge. A pretty cool perspective.
2. STRETCH Yes, I know you know this. I knew it too. But realistically I was doing about 3 stretches for 5 seconds after a run and then moving on with my life. Simon advocates stretching every day (not just on running days) and spending a good deal of time on it – maybe 25-30 seconds holding each one, focusing on legs, hips and bum.
3. ICE IT If you can’t bear an ice bath after a run (Simon suggested this, I laughed) then he recommends blasting your legs with cold water after your normal hot shower to get the blood flowing to your muscles to help them repair. (I have also started icing and elevating my knee for 20 mins every day. I’ve been using a Thera Pearl ice pack, which is wicked because it has little pea-shaped beads inside it so it moulds to the shape of your knee, like the classic bag of peas but reusable).
4. BUILD STRENGTH Again, another one I knew. But kind of ignored. Simon said weak glutes (the muscles that sit at the top of your bum/just below your lower back) is one of the biggest issues for causing injury in runners. So, again every day, he recommends doing exercises such as squats, bridges and lunges, that strengthen them. At least 3 sets of each.
5. CHILL OUT ‘It’s better to be “undercooked” than “overcooked”,’ Simon warned me. If you’re a newbie marathon runner like me you’re probably panicking and thinking you should run as much as possible. But, unless you’re racing for a set time, Simon says stick to 3 runs a week max, don’t obsess about your schedule (if it says to run 10 miles and you only feel you’ve got 6 in you, do 6), and remain calm. Apparently, the stress hormone cortisol, affects the body’s ability to repair. So fretting could actually stop your body from restoring itself after runs so you have the strength you need next time.
I’ve been following his advice for a couple of weeks (along with getting sports massage from him. I would’ve used to consider this an indulgence. I have now re-framed it as part of the sensible prep for a marathon) and my knee is definitely feeling better. I can’t say I’ve got to grips with number 5 yet though. I’m clocking less miles and feel like my fitness has suffered. But hey, better than not make it to the line at all right? RIGHT?
Anyone else suffering from injury? I give you free reign to have a good moan about it in the comments.
VITALS: You can turn my frown upside down by sponsoring me here: https://www.justgiving.com/jessicaruns/
p.s. If you’ve never been injured, you will write this post off as boring. I know, I was the same. But honestly, HONESTLY, if you can start doing the above now and never have to go through the horror of thinking your knees have packed up it’s worth it.