Two months feels like a long time when you can’t run. Two months ago, I was skipping up yet another mountain somewhere in the Alps en route to the finish of the 266km, eight-day Gore-Tex Transalpine-Run. I say skipping; at the time it felt more like crawling, but time does a great job of numbing the pain and effort. Right now, sitting at my desk with an injury, it’s difficult to imagine that was me. I knew the Transalpine-Run was a major undertaking; I knew there was a chance of picking up an injury; I knew I should be careful to recover properly… and yes, I listened to all the advice. Honestly, I did. But listening to advice is one thing… acting on it is something else entirely.
For my own sake and those of others, these are the stages that I went through during my post-Alps come-down. Perhaps you can recognise yourself in some of these. Maybe they can help us all not to make the same mistakes again next time.
Post-race days 1-2: Crash
This hit me pretty hard, which was no surprise. After a fraught journey home, the stomach bug that had been rumbling through the latter stages of the race knocked me for six. Two days in bed without eating ensued, leaving me tired and weak. At least it gave my feet and legs a chance to recover, or so I thought at the time. But if your body is fighting something else, it’s not going to be fixing sore muscles or replenishing depleted resources. Sorry, but sick days don’t count as recovery!
Post-race days 3-4: Mourning
The race is over. I miss my running partner (yes, really!) I miss all the friends we spent the week with. I’m a mess. I will never be able to race again. There is nothing to live for. And even more irrational: we could have done better. If only this, if only that. Mourning is an important phase after any race. Don’t fight it; it’s natural to feel this way when an immersive experience comes to an end. And it will pass soon enough.
Post-race days 5-14: Euphoria
This was the good bit. With the race still fresh in my mind and my body still attuned to the racing routine, everyday life felt easy. Getting up for work was a breeze compared to a 5am wake-up for a race start… and I was full of under-used energy. I resisted going for a run for as long as I could. Honestly I did. But it wasn’t long before I cracked. This is what I wrote in my training diary on day 7: So nice to be out running for no reason at all and with nothing to carry on my back. Ran quite fast once in the woods just because it was fun. I honestly didn’t expect to be able to run injury/illness/tiredness-free so soon after the Alps. But not getting carried away, nothing on the horizon for a bit race-wise, so still going to take it very easy for a good while.
The following week I ran every day and did a short 5k race too. The alarm bells should have been ringing. For me this is the danger zone; the post-race honeymoon period where everything and anything seems possible. I was planning training, I was thinking about Autumn races and generally feeling invincible. What I should have been doing was eating, sleeping and resting.
Post-race days 15-30: Denial
I’m fine. Really, I’m fine. No, you’re not listening… I’m fine. Wrong! In fact, you are a runaway train rolling inexorably towards an abyss. At least five people suggested that I might want to consider taking it a bit easier, but in my state of dizzy euphoria I simply put my hands over my ears and sang ‘la, la, la.’ In reality, my back hurt, my hip hurt and I felt tired on every run. Looking back at my training diary from this period, my posts are short and lacking in reflection. Not wanting to admit to myself that I was on a downward spiral, I simply stopped recording how I was feeling and followed my usual pig-headed niggle treatment plan:
Step 1: Go for a run and see how it feels after 15 minutes.
Step 2: If it fails to ease off, keep going and see if it gets any worse.
Step 3: See how it feels the next day. If in doubt, repeat steps 1 and 2.
Fool-proof. The proper injury, when it came, was acute and should have put me straight out of action. Instead I carried on running and cross-training through it. Lesson -listen to other people, but more importantly, listen to yourself.
Post-race days 31-45: Apathy
What’s the point? Of anything? Once I had been forced to pull out of the fell running relay championships, my ability to keep up the denial collapsed. Instead of looking ahead and putting a rehab plan together, I dwelt on the moment and felt sorry for myself. Boo-hoo, I can’t run. It’s not fair! None of it was my fault, of course -just bad luck. This phase lasted for longer than it should have and I don’t think I was much fun to live with. Sorry, family!
Post-race days 46 -onwards: Acceptance
This is the bit where I take responsibility for what has happened and begin to deal with it. Oddly, it took a drunken night out with a load of runners to get me to this point. They were all on a post-Berlin marathon high, where they had smashed PBs to run extremely impressive times in the 2.20s; I was in the midst of an angst-ridden slump. But they all got it and asked the right questions. ‘Knowing what you know now, was it worth it?’ The resounding answer is ‘yes’. I went into the Transalpine-Run with my eyes open. Illness, fatigue, injury -that’s all part of the game. After a few beers it all seemed so obvious. ‘Yes, I was an idiot. Now what am I going to do about it?’
I’m still injured. I’m not planning to start training again until I feel hungry for it. In the meantime I’m introducing my son to running -he recently took part his first race (Dobcroft Dash)… with hid dad by his side. The hunger will come sooner or later, as it always does. There will be other tough races to recover from in the future. Next time I will roll with the punches instead of kicking against the pricks.
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