What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

I realise that I have been off the grid for a little while now. Since the end of November, I have been suffering with a knee injury. I explained about it in a previous post a little, so I won’t go into too much detail over that side of it. You can read about it from last year here – you only need to read the first few paragraphs to get the idea.

At the start of the year, the pain got increasingly worse on the outside of my left knee, and I made the decision to see a chiropractor that a friend had seen in the Spring of 2016 and had recommended to me. My knee wasn’t getting any better by itself, so I booked in to see him less than a week later.

The first session was the longest, as we discussed everything you could think of about my health and training, and some more stuff too! I was told it was all relevant though, and that he would explain why once I had answered all the questions. When I had, I was told that things like stomach or period pain could be relevant, as your stomach can’t actually give you pain, so it is referred in muscles and tissue around it, which can. I already knew about fascia (the connective tissue covering all your muscles), so I could understand how this could happen.

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A diagram of fascia, to help with some understanding of it

Fascia, as I mentioned before, covers almost your whole body under your skin, in lots of layers that should be able to move over each other without causing you any problems. If you imagine it like a sheet of cling film; when the sheet is laid out, you can move any corner or piece of it any way you want, and it will go where you want it to. Now pin a part of it down with your finger – it won’t move as freely and may restrict or pull on other parts of the sheet. This is exactly the same as the fascia in your body. More of that later.

So, after a long discussion and a visual analysis of my body, i.e. were my shoulders and hips square, etc; it was down to business. He used physical tests to check for weak spots and referred pain – that is, when pushing, moving or stretching the body in one way, it may cause pain in another area (almost like a map that your body is giving out to try to help find the cause). He then performed several chiropractic moves (a lot of sudden movements and jolts, or as he called it, “adjustments”) on various parts of my body to try and help relieve the pain. It would be revealed at the end of the session that he had actually done a lot of adjustments – and a hell of a lot more than he would usually do in one session.

I was advised to book another appointment 4 days later on the Friday, and then one for the Monday after that – a week later. I did as I was asked. I saw no improvement over the next session, but continued on with the course of treatment – you can’t expect miracles instantly! I carried out the stretch I was given for my hip flexors as there is an imbalance in my hips and the surrounding area as instructed. The left hip flexor – the same side as the knee pain – is incredibly tight and the aim was to try and loosen it up a bit. I was to do the stretch twice a day, on both sides to keep things even, for 30 seconds per side.

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The most painful thing happened in the third session. I was to experience fascial treatment. As I explained before about the layers of connective tissue and how sometimes they could get stuck, I would soon find out how it felt when you tried to release the stuck points. Using what I could only describe as a normal touch on any other part of your body, he would find a point in my leg, ankle or foot, in this case, and then using a circular motion, move over it until it started to free off.

You’re probably thinking that it doesn’t sound too bad (unless you have been unfortunate enough to experience such treatment), however I can honestly say that I was trying not to leap off the bench in pain. It was like he was trying to separate the layers of my skin with a knife. I would to grin and bear it until it eventually it wasn’t too bad and we both agreed that it was freeing off. Then he would go off and find another spot to torture!

The next morning, I was in work (on a Saturday of all days!), and it was still really sore. It would be for a few more days, in fact. It was sore when I walked, in the points where it had been released, especially down the inside of my leg. I tried to jog a distance of probably 20m and the soreness was shooting up the inside of my leg. I took the wise decision to have the weekend off from running!

After about 2 and a half weeks of treatment, going back every few days, I reached my final meeting for the course of treatment. The sessions were getting a bit shorter each time and there was minor improvement. I was advised that the next time I should be expected back would be approximately 3 weeks time, if I needed to and that it would gradually improve over those weeks. It wouldn’t be an instant fix, where I woke up one morning and everything would be as right as rain – I wish it was that simple!

So I am currently 2 and a half weeks away from when I last went into physio. I have been exploring several possibilities in the time since then, and although there is a small amount of improvement, I am sad to say it is still not great!

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An apt Under Armour advert I found

I tried 2 weeks complete rest whilst I was undergoing physiotherapy – that made the pain worse! It is much better if I keep it moving, albeit at a slower pace than I am used to. Don’t get me wrong – I am glad that I can still move about and do some exercise, but I am definitely itching to get back up to speed. I just know that I have to be careful and rein it in when I need to. Taking extra days rest if I have done a longer run, or cutting pace and distance down can all help. I was very proud of myself this morning for not pushing on to do an extra 200m swimming and speeding through a few lengths just to make the total distance up to 2000m. I settled for a round 1800m, which I had taken at a steady pace and not aggravated my knee too much.

I went for an appointment at the doctors, as I was after a referral for an MRI scan, ideally, so that I could see, for my peace of mind, what was going on inside my leg. The doctor, despite being told that I had already seen a couple of physiotherapists, did a few tests on my legs just how the physio had, and recommended me for an x-ray. Not quite what I had wanted, but they wanted to rule out any bone issues. Fine, I thought, I will play your game! So I immediately went up the road to the hospital and got the x-ray done as a walk-in.

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Not my knee, unfortunately – I didn’t get to have a browse of that! Different x-ray views of the knee, though.

A week later, I still had not heard a word about my results, so I rang up. The best way I can describe the voice of the receptionist (without sounding insulting) is as a very overly cheerful-sounding, kind of air-head voiced lady. Imagine that as you read on. The conversation went as follows (almost verbatim).

Me: Hi, I had an x-ray last Friday and I still haven’t heard from anyone about my results.

Receptionist: Oh no, you have to ring up for those!

I would like to add here that the doctor confirmed my home address and telephone numbers and DID NOT tell me at any point to ring for my results. I was waiting for a letter or a phone call. I decided to let this one slide.

Receptionist: Okay, so I will just have a look for those results for you. So, there is nothing wrong with your knee, and there are no abnormalities! Okay then?

She genuinely sounded like she thought that was the end of the conversation and that I would be hanging up now….

Me: Uhm, should I book another appointment then…? Because my knee isn’t right still and….-

Receptionist: Oh no, the doctor has looked at your x-ray and has referred you onto a knee clinic!

I am still not sure if I was meant to have guessed this information, but she clearly thought that I was somehow privy to it already! I had to laugh, really.

Receptionist: So, they will be in touch with you to arrange an appointment soon, but I can’t tell you when that will be. Okay?

I had to leave the conversation there. So, if I haven’t heard anything back from them by Friday, which will be a week from when I spoke to the lady about my results, and two weeks since I had an x-ray, then I will be phoning up again to find out what is going on! Watch this space – I really hope I hear from them soon.

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Another thing I organised was a bike fitting. This may seem strange to some, as I have had my bike for at least a couple of years now, but I tried to ride it a week before the fitting and I had to stop after 7 minutes, because it was causing great discomfort and pain in my knee. I was worried that the physiotherapy had straightened my body out and got it functioning in a normal manner again exercise-wise, and that now it wasn’t compensating for itself on the bike, it was revealing where the cause of the pain was. I also didn’t feel like the ride on the bike had been the same since I had made the transition from a mountain bike style cleat/shoe to a road bike cleat/shoe towards the end of last year, and despite several attempts to adjust the bike to where it needed to be, I was convinced that it was someone else’s turn to have a go.

It was a very in-depth meeting that lasted almost 2 hours. I explained everything from my injury to my training, and the chap doing the fitting seemed genuinely interested and attentative (unlike, I must say, my doctor). He took in all the imformation I gave him and asked plenty of sensible questions about it all. I felt like I could be onto something here. He had all these different bits of kit to test and measure the way I was riding the bike – he had popped it onto a turbo trainer in the back room of the shop – and would make an adjustment to the saddle, pedals or my shoes according to what he found. It was fascinating!

Amongst several other things, there was a laser pointer which helped us both see when my knee was moving out to the side, and when it wasn’t after some adjustments and things. Also, a special toolwas used for measuring the angle that my leg was sitting at at the bottom of the pedal stroke. The laser was used for checking across my foot and leg as well. One thing would be checked, I would hop off the bike, an adjustment would be made and then I would pedal for a while to see what the difference was.

To cut a long story short, I have high arched feet. This causes them to roll in when I run, or participate in other sporting activities. I have a different design of running shoe to support the arch in my foot, so it wasn’t a huge surprise when I was told ths, actually. When your foot is locked into postion in your cycling shoes, which are in turn attached to the bike, they can’t move. This means that if the cleats, pedals, saddle, etc. aren’t set up in the correct position, that it could cause pain in your knee, for example, where it is moving to the side to compensate. I was offered up a wedge in the front of my shoes and also some insoles.

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The insoles in question!

We agreed that the insoles were the best option and pretty much eliminated any movement in both knees. The only drawback – they were custom ones, which would need to be moulded to my feet, so they would be mine and at a hefty price tag for a pair of insoles! I had them fitted there and then, as I could see the improvement they were making before they were a true fit to my feet, and it’s my knee, so I wanted it to be right. You would not believe the difference it makes to riding again for me! Time to rebuild my cycling training again. I am looking into using Zwift, possibly, which is a sort of online virtual training partner in a video game format for indoor cycling.

I have ordered some orthopedic insoles for high-arched feet for my work, running and everyday shoes in addition, to see if there is a difference in using them with more support throughout the day. I hope that this will be a simple solution to getting back on the track.

I have also been using kinesiology tape (or KT tape). The brand I went for was Rock Tape, purely because that was the brand that the shop next door to my workplace had in stock. I am aware that there are other good brands of tape you can get. It had come highly recommended from a lady at the running club, who had had a knee injury and pain in the almost the same point before. That was enough for me, and I rushed out to get some.

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Some examples of kinesiology tape in action. It can be applied to various parts of the body – not just knees!

The idea behind it, from what I can gather, is that the tape lifts the skin and creates a small space between the skin and the muscle, helping with better blood flow, reducing pressure from swelling or from injured muscles, and allowing smooth muscle movement. It is different from athletic ‘strapping tape’, and still lets you have a full range of movement.

I’ll be honest – I hardly notice that the tape is there, and I think it has been helping with a small amount of pain. I have to give testament to its durability, too. It stays on for probably 3-5 days (before the edges and corner start peeling up), and it gets some abuse on my body. I have sent it through the swimming pool, showers and a bath, for a run and a cycle, and it has still lasted for 4 days before it started to peel away. I will continue to use this unless ill-advised by the clinic (if I even get to hear from them soon!).

That’s about all I have to say for now. I am continuing with my stretch on my hip flexor, running at a slower pace and not as frequently to try and minimise impact, cycling with a corrective purpose now – my body will have to adapt to the changes made to the bike positioning – and using the kinesiology tape and insoles to try to improve everyday use and pain.

I will keep the site updated when I get some more (and hopefully better news).

For now though, thank you for reading and being patient! I hope to be posting on here soon with some better news! I have a couple of races (London Winter Run and Wokingham Half Marathon) that I will pop some posts on for when I get a chance, so there should be some more content soon.

Amanda x

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Busting a Gut

New Year’s Eve 2016 had my focus diverted to The Gut Buster. This is an event that I have previously participated in and had thoroughly enjoyed . It is also the third and final part of the Winter Trail Series I had entered; this one known as ‘The Classic’. There are 2 distances on offer in this race – 10km or 10 miles – and it usually sells out before race day, so if you are looking at running this one next time, make sure you get signed up in advance! The 10km race is 50/50 off-road/road, whereas the 10 mile race is 60/40. The course is over various terrains, including roads, trails, woodland paths, tracks, a ford, and various types of fields.

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A photo from last year’s event, running up the final hill through the famous cabbage patch!

Those of you who have been following me closely, or know me personally, may know that I have been struggling the last few weeks with a knee injury. I will touch on that as briefly as I can, although there is a relevant point to it all and it has been a big part of my training complications for a few weeks! I had a pain in the outer lower corner of my left knee that manifested as a small niggle originally on my push bike attached to the turbo trainer at the beginning of the month. I rested it off and thought nothing more of it. It then developed into a slightly more annoying niggle, until it has become a pain and irritation to me, and my training. Strangely enough, it gets worse with swimming and doesn’t seem to bother me too much when I run. I had rested off before the Muddy Welly run, as I had explained in my previous post (managing an 8 mile run on 11th December, because I thought it was a 10 mile event, not a 10k (doh!) – my last long run), and it had not improved with rest.

I visited a physio on 21st December – nothing says happy birthday like a physiotherapist bending your legs in ways I am fairly sure they shouldn’t go – and they advised me that since they couldn’t find a physical problem, to keep training on it and come back when it was worse. I was informed that my left glute was weaker than my right (only I could get one weak arse cheek, much to the ridicule of a few friends), and was given some exercises to strengthen it, as well as foam rolling every day, in case it was ITBS (illiotibial band syndrome). I also had to try and find a pattern in my pain; something I had attempted the couple of weeks before going, but to no avail. I made a pain table, which I have been filling out like a weirdo in a lot of detail and I am yet to find a pattern.

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My wonderful birthday cake from a friend (me in cake form!)

I had some advice from a friend as well that my patella tendon could be tight, and she showed me a little exercise you can do to ease this. Don’t read the next couple of sentences if you are easily grossed out by this kind of thing, as my co-workers have been pulling vomiting faces when I do it – skip to the next paragraph – if not, read on! You have to have your leg straight, knee exposed, on a flat surface, with your quad relaxed, and you need to find the kneecap (it should move around a little with your fingers). Then, the idea is to gently move it up and down, then side to side, 30 times for each direction. It can feel weird, but I think it has been helping me out a bit.

The swimming pool shifted into its Christmas opening hours by the time I had seen a physio, so I am not sure if the pain is still there swimming (I am lucky enough to work all through the festive period, so no midday swims for me!). It has not been too much of an issue running, although I have been so cautious over increasing distance, getting obsessive over my running form and how my legs are tracking when I run, that I haven’t necessarily made much of a training gain over the last 10 days before The Gut Buster.

My mileage had dropped off almost completely for a week, had been low for others, and I knew that it would be a mistake to pile the miles on hard, especially over a mixed terrain course, as this could lead to further injury. With that in mind, I had a difficult decision to make. Something that went against every fibre of my being, and something that I had never done before. After a discussion with my sensible swimming partner, it was decided – I would be dropping down a distance on race day and running the 10k event, not the 10 mile. It was a decision I thought long and hard about, and one that was not easy to make, however I convinced myself it was the right one and that I hadn’t actually run the 10k route, so it would be a different challenge to the previous year.

Back to race day. It was a 6°C morning, the race start was 11am for 10 milers, and 11:05 for 10k runners, leaving plenty of time for a lie-in, or to do your local Parkrun! I had been interested, before injury, in running the local Reading Parkrun and then participating in the 10 mile event, but now I was downgrading the distance, I had to put my sensible head on and resist running a 5k on top of the 10 I had planned for later on.

All race parking was off-site this year. It doesn’t sound as bad as it does at first. You can park your car for free in the Mereoak Park & Ride, which is just off Junction 11 of the M4, where free shuttle buses run every 10 minutes to Butlers Land Farm, where the race is. They run from 8:50am to 10:20am, giving you plenty of time to get there, and the journey is only about 10 minutes long. There are portaloos galore upon arrival, a huge barn space to drop your bags off so they stay nice and dry, as well as a food stall and a couple of registration tents. This is all dotted about the farm courtyard and adjacent area.

I arrived at the farm with my wonderfully supportive boyfriend just before 10am, having had an enjoyable lay in and a pleasant, easy journey to the race. I picked up my number from the 10 mile tent, and headed over to the 10k one to let them know I would be doing the shorter distance; also feeling the need to protect my pride and explain that I had a knee injury (not that I had given up on training and got scared), although I am sure the lady did not have that much interest in it! Having successfully picked up my race pack, I headed into a corner of the courtyard sheltered from the wind to attach the necessary race bits. Number on, chip attached to laces, watch on, warm clothes attached to me until I needed to warm up – all good to go!

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Race briefing in the farm courtyard. Spot a familiar face?

40 minutes and a trip to the ‘luxury loos’ later, I went for a warm up along the road and found a track (Byways on the signpost), which I thought would be a good woodland trail to get my legs moving in the right way for the race. I ran half a mile down there, encountering several male entrants of the race who had taken a liking to the trail for a slightly different use (a urinal) and then turned around and headed back to the farm, where I did a few exercises (high knees, etc.). It was plenty warm enough when you were running, although I was still glad to have a compression top on under my club vest for the cold air and compression tights on for my dodgy legs/knees.

Immediately after my warm up, I stretched and went over to the race briefing, which would start imminently, with an impressive collection of 632 runners huddled together. An entertaining breifing awaited us, as always with My Sporting Times, as we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to one of the race organisers, who ran through the usual bits and pieces, with promise of lots of mud (there would be no complaints of a lack of mud this year, they claimed) and unfortunately, for the first time for this event, a ford empty of water! After being reminded that ‘only a moron could get lost’, that it is meant to be fun, and that there was a couple of changes in the route, they were ready to unleash us all a little bit later than planned with an “Oggy oggy oggy, oi oi oi!”.

The start was at the same point as the finish this year, whereas we had walked up the road to the start line last year. I watched jealously as the 10 mile lot set off, wishing it were me (I must be mad), and then lined up near the front of the pack for the 10k race, hoping to get away from the mud/puddle dodgers before the bottleneck mentioned at the briefing happened near the start.

We were set off to a short count down into the first field, with a man playing a comical trombone tune, the likes of which you would find someone doing a silly walk to on a comedy sketch show. I giggled to msyelf as I pushed on through the mud, trying not to slip around too much – luckily my trusty Salomons were doing their job well. Turning a few corners in the fields, we soon reached a spot I was familiar with from last year as I ran a short distance across the road. Ahead, was a juicy hill to sink my teeth into. I recalled that it was fairly steep, offroad, and went on for a little while until it curves up and round a bend, leading to a lovely descent. I gritted my teeth, determined not to have to walk and pushed on to the top. I even passed the woman running with her extremely excited dog, giving myself a little pat on the back as I extended the gap between us.

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A happy face, pushing on at the start, before the first hill!

You reach another road through the farm at this point, which winds round the beautiful countryside, passing some horses and eventually meeting the disappointingly dry ford. The chap that had turned up to film everyone running through, or avoiding the ford – shame on those of you – expressed his disinterest in filming it, and switched his camera off. I knuckled down and pushed on. There was another tasty hill up ahead and I was determined to keep moving.

I knew not to go too hard too fast, in case I encountered some knee problems and we were just shy of 2 miles into the race when the 2nd climb started. I remembered this one from last year, where my hamstrings had tightened up and it had been a real struggle. I was going to make it up there in one clean swoop this time. I plodded up, focusing not on speed, but just one foot in front of the other, and the next 50m of road. Soon I could see the brow of the hill and hear the marshals cheering everyone on, congratulating every runner who made it to the top. I certainly wouldn’t miss out on that!

Opposite the top of this hill, I spotted a faster runner leaving a trail and heading out to my right, whilst I turned to my left and was treated with the view of a downhill. I would be where that other runner was in no time, I thought. The downwards trot soon joined another muddy path  with another little hill (see a pattern here?), but also a water station. I gratefully accepted a cup of water, downed it and continued up, feeling clumps of mud getting displaced by the tread of my shoes and hitting the backs of my legs. As you peak the top of the small incline, you are greeted by 2 points of interest – a 5km marker on the left (the halfway point – HOORAY!), and to the right, some ruins of a Roman town with some supporters cheering everyone on. I didn’t stop to read the historical sign, but chewed up the mud back down into a woodland trail, taking advantage of my shoes on this terrain.

The route through the woodland was undulating but fairly wide, which was quite pleasant as you could still manage to overtake, where people in their road shoes started to struggle with the mud-caked treads of their shoes. The path wound round for a while and then met a wide, gravel private road through some gates. There are quite a few gates in this race, which cause a short stop to squeeze through, and you can get a little bundled up here, but it didn’t put me off at all today. The gravel track meets another road breifly, before getting back onto a footpath, bringing me out where I had spotted that runner earlier and also the 4 mile point – excellent!

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Awaiting us all at the finish. The medal/bottle opener!

A short spell of tarmac lead me through another gate and into a long, rolling field, heading out onto a road. I gained some speed up here, overtaking people on the rougher parts of the fields, my shoes churning up the mud. As I hurtled further down the mudslide, more and more people were running wider, trying to find a grassier, sturdier piece of land to plant their feet into. I opted to stand my ground and positively plough through, which served me well until about 100m from the end of the field, where it was so muddy that I just had to trust my footing and glide through the mud.

I faced another familiar incline as I turned left out of the field, which again, I was determined to conquer. I took it in my stride, trying my best to stamp the mud out of the bottoms of my shoes for traction, and as I reached the top, bee-lining for a line of supporters with young children holding their hands out for some high-fives. I urged a man to keep running as I could see the familiar slump of I’ve-had-enough-of-running-uphill, but he was so close to the summit, that I urged him to continue: “well done, you’re almost there”. I got my high-fives in with the small supporters and earnt my downhill drop. The man came back past me, but I would see him again later on.

As you turn a corner here, round the long, winding lane, there is a further water station, where the 10 mile route re-joins the 10k route – a point I remembered from last year, where a cup of water at the top of a climb was a lovely little boost to get me going again around the 8 mile mark, if I recall correctly –  and you could also hear the tannoy at race HQ booming across the countryside. We were close! As I descended again, I thought to myself, “Maybe I could have managed with the 10 mile route. This is half of that and I feel absolutely fine in my legs. My knee has hardly complained. It is going well!”.

That thought was put to rest a mere kilometer later, on the nose. I entered a field that was flat and could see the last split for the 2 distances. I took the right hand one for the 10k, through a gate, up a short, sharp hill onto a concrete bridge and spotted the 9km marker. As I reached this point, I entered another extremely lumpy field that twisted and turned your lower half every which way it could. My knee twanged. NO! I was on target for a sub-hour time, which I was feeling pleased about for a hilly cross country event. I was now in a battle against myself: “It’s only a kilometer; just push on! Grin and bear it – you will be fine!”, one part of me was saying. The other part was screaming at me, “There’s no point in injuring yourself further for the sake of a minute or so!”.

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A photo that does not do the final climb any justice! Panting my way to the bitter end.

I opted for a sort of middle ground. Not crawling pace, but not racing. Enough to get me out of the lumpy field and onto the last finish straight through the famous cabbage patch that wasn’t looking too cabbage-y. This was it, the last 400m! It is a tough finish, but I find that makes it all the more rewarding. There is a camber to the climb, as you are going up the field on a bit of a diagonal. It is farmed into rows and super muddy, as well as pretty steep! But that close to the finish, you can’t give up! Or so I thought….

Don’t worry, it wasn’t me – I’m made of tougher stuff – but the man I had egged on earlier had slowed to a walk. I huffed and puffed, “Come on, you’re finishing wih me”, and with that he started running again with a thank you. We pushed each other on, trying to keep up and he caught my hand to finish together, but realised it was too soon and it was making running up the field awkward. We stopped after about 10 seconds, and just focused on reaching the top for a photo finish.

A few more grunts and groans and a lot more effort and we were crowned with our finishers medals; doubling up as a bottle opener for the evening’s celebrations (it did get some use!). There was also some mulled wine, mince pies and a bottle of water if we fancied. Soon me and my boyfriend were on the bus back to the car park, and on our way home.

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Extremely happy and proud with my medal, in the warm bus to the car park.

I love this event and will definitely look at coming back again, as I seem to have a score to settle with both distances now! The 10 mile is definitely one that I would love to complete again, when I am in a better condition to do so. I think that since I had had such a good year, especially the last 6 months, it was disappointing to have to rein things in a little at the end, rather than go out with a bang, and I was also disappointed to not have been in the perfect position for marathon training in January. I will still be able to pick things up, having been cautious, and I have definitely made the right decisions so far, as the knee appears to be holding up OK and dare I say it, feeling better?!

A quick recap of the year sees me gain these PBs in the following distances:
1 mile: 00:07:34
5 km: 00:25:51
10km: 00:53:34
13.1 mi: 01:59:32

Here’s to a hopefully good and maybe even better year of sport in 2017!

Thanks for reading, as always.

Amanda x