DISCLAIMER: Although I know rather a lot about the following ailments, any advice, treatments and rehabilitation times are based on experience, not training. I am about as qualified to give medical advice as Gillian McKeith
A BRIEF HISTORY OF MY RUNNING
I have always loved running. I used to look forward to sports day just for the hundred metres. Being rather a rotund child, sprinting was my forte and I would cross the finish line first with a purple face and heaving bosom (which was considerable by the time I reached the grand old age of 15). I occasionally ran the two hundred metres, but I wasn’t quite so keen on that – it’s quite hard to move at speed whilst carrying so much excess weight and the long distance run wasn’t really my thing.
My mother began to run around the block in the evenings when I was about fourteen and, occasionally, I would join her. It never really took off, in my mind – I wanted to be thinner, but this painful pastime I partook in maybe once a week wasn’t doing anything to magically dissolve the fat. It’s not surprising, really. I vividly remember a time when we would go for a run and engineer a route that took us past the chippy, where we would pick up chips, rice and curry sauce and, rather wonkily, run the short distance home where we would consume aforementioned takeaway with gusto. More often than not, I wouldn’t want to go for the run itself and would just await my chips unexercised.
Rekindling the Love…
I started running in the morning, and daily, when I was nineteen. After my shaky introduction to road running, I just got up one morning and ran with my Mum; a mile and a half round trip that left me with a burning sensation in my throat and aching legs. But I persevered. Somewhere along the way I had developed a determination. I had also developed something of a waist-line thanks to a six month bout of starvation several years earlier, which, in retrospect, must have made the thing a whole lot easier. It was another six months before I began to get the running bug.
The original mile and a half runs have evolved, over time, into my current assortment of routes, ranging from six to thirteen and a half miles, the longer ones being the more regular runs that I make. I won’t go into too much detail about how much I love to run. Suffice it to say that it makes me emotional to the point of teary and I once wrote what can only be described as a dreadful ode based on my love of it. It has been my salvation and my downfall. If someone were considering taking up the sport and I was to either persuade or dissuade, I honestly don’t know what I’d do. Running has been like that awful kind of love affair – it hurts, it’s damaging and you know it’ll never last, but you know in some ways it will stay with you forever.
ANKLES, KNEES AND OTHER NIGGLES
Amongst other things, ankles are one of the most common areas of complaints caused by running, so it makes sense that the first hurdle I encountered was in my ankles. At that time, it was considered vastly “uncool” to tie your shoelaces – you either tucked them into your shoes loose, or let them dangle on the floor to be trampled to a dirty mulch. I was fourteen, I was fat and I would have done anything to be one of the cool kids, so the thought of tying my shoelaces to run never even entered my mind. Consequently, my ankles v.quickly became sore and then unbearably painful. It took a doctor one glance at the battered, untied trainers I wore everywhere (not just for running) to diagnose the problem. Luckily, I was young and hadn’t been running far or often and the damage was minimal. It hardly needs saying that you definitely need to tie your laces – they should feel tight enough to offer your ankle support, but not so tight that it affects the way your foot strikes the ground, or digs into your Achilles tendon.
Ankles aside, with the usual grievances I have been incredibly lucky. I had a v.brief period some years ago where my knees gave me a bit of jip and I have been lucky enough to have never suffered the beginners’ backache. I do, however, get the mysterious niggles. Recently whilst out running, there was a strange feeling in the back of my right knee – sort of felt like it needed to pop. After about two miles, there was a pinging sensation and a searing pain spread outwards from the back of my knee both up and down my leg. At this point, I should have turned back, but instead I proceeded to finish the ten mile run I’d started out to do, limping heavily onto my left leg. Please don’t try this at home. Due to my stubbornness, I was then unable to run for a week and it’s still quite stiff now, though I have no idea what it was that went. Not only can running on an injury like that cause long-term damage in the affected area, it can affect your alignment, which in turn can cause long-term damage in other areas. It is v.important to rest an injury, no matter how insignificant it may seem, and to rest for as long as it takes to stop hurting. Believe me, I know how hard this can be: there’s a reason that I’m sitting here instead of outside running!
I cannot emphasise how important your running shoes are. Your running shoes should only see you through a few months; approximately 500 miles, which isn’t far when you’re running 13 miles a day three or four days a week. I tend to abuse this somewhat, but my body always gives the age of my shoes away in the end. They might still look shiny and new, but the parts you can’t see have taken some pummelling and it’s time to get rid. And, shameful as it may seem, throw them away, don’t charity shop them – you won’t be doing anyone else any favours that way.
When you buy running shoes, you should buy the shoes that are most suited to your feet and gait and not go for the latest fad, the pair that make your feet look cute, the pair that matches your leggings or the cheapest/most expensive. My feet are like Cornish pasties. If I stand with my feet together, I look like I’m standing in a pink cowpat. So I need shoes that are round at the front, quite wide, but that still tie tight around the ankle. Your toes should not touch the end – even the smallest of discomforts can affect your bearing.
If you’re unsure about which shoes would suit you best, it might be worth getting your gait checked by a professional. Up and Running offers a service and the sales assistants don’t seem to push you to buy any shoes (at least, that was the case at Up and Running in Manchester Triangle). If that doesn’t float your boat, you could always just find a pair of flat shoes that you wear a lot and examine the soles – you should be able to see which part of your foot you apply the most pressure to when you walk by which parts are worn. I supinate, which means that I walk on the outside of my feet like a duck, but I still find that straight camber shoes suit me the best. Most people pronate when they walk, which means that they roll onto the inside of their feet. It’s probably advisable to consult a physiotherapist or similar before buying corrective shoes if you are unsure.
I have, thankfully, never been unfortunate enough to require major surgery. I have, however, had minor abdominal surgery twice and, of course, had a brief period of rehabilitation before attempting to run afterwards. The difficult thing to comprehend until it’s too late is that, whilst you might feel fine and be able to move around and walk after a couple of weeks, the impact of running is going to jar. The dangerous thing here is that it’ll typically only begin to really hurt after you’re so far from home, you’ll need to hitch a ride to get back to safety.
I waited six weeks before I attempted a run after my first operation (key hole surgery to remove a grumbling appendix and perform a laparoscopy on my womb – approx. 4 hours on the table). I got about a mile and a half before I was doubled over in agony. Never underestimate the pain that having parts of you removed can cause. Even if the scars are tiny, your flesh has been cut into and it needs time to heal. Whether I set myself back by trying to run too soon, or whether I just gave myself a bit of a shock, I guess I’ll never know; however, I do know that I didn’t run for a year after that and I’m pretty sure that if I’d rested as instructed, I would have been out and about in a matter of months.
If you’re considering running after surgery, ask your consultant how long it will take to heal and listen. I know it’s tempting, the minute you feel yourself on the mend, to don your running shoes and take to the tarmac, but you will only set yourself back. Personally, I would say for surgery on this scale, that three months would see you well on the way to recovery, but do ease yourself back in.