“I took this journey through the mirror, took a chance to take my time, just to watch the cold hard steel of burden, come and break my heart and spine.” While the lyrics to The Amity Affliction’s song, “Olde English 800”, are used to describe the depths of despair in lead singer Joel Birch’s life, I believe the words from the chorus adequately describe the injuries that come along with trying to train at a high level. This journey that we take with training is a chance to be our best and see what we can become through the sport. Unfortunately, the cold hard steel of burden in the song can symbolize the injuries that come along and crush our metaphorical heart and spine.
I am currently on my fourth week of no training and I must say, it has been an incredibly difficult endeavour to not be able to do something that you love for this stretch of time. In the past, I have been fairly lucky to have no injuries that took me out longer than about a week. I remember when I used to train with Clint Smith, he told me that the only natural ability that I had was being able to run a lot of miles without getting hurt. He was right, for the most part, until now. I have dealt with SI issues the past two years off and on but nothing too debilitating to the point where I needed more than about ten days off. I steadily increased my mileage over the past few years to be comfortably in the 190-210 kilometre range per week. I feel as though this is the perfect range for me of being able to work hard without the exhaustion which comes with higher mileage. I have even been doing lower leg and glute strength exercises to combat the weak points in my body. Despite this, I still got injured with the same injury I had in 2014.
Back when I first was dealing with this ailment, I was not entirely sure what it was. Google search can be a great tool but often will lead to you thinking “worst case scenario” when it comes to health concerns. Eventually I went to physio and had to get orthotics for an issue called “tibialis posterior dysfunction”. While it said to be only the 26th most common running injury, this is the second time I’ve had to deal with it, although it has been much more severe this time around. The tibialis posterior works as a stabilizing muscle that runs down the calf before the tendon attaches under the ankle. The pain I have felt is at the insertion point just under the ankle bone. When I first had it, I stupidly trained through it by running only uphill at 15% incline on the treadmill. When going uphill, there seemed to be no issues with pain so I did this for a month and it eventually just disappeared. That was on my right foot and it has not been an issue since. This time however, it is on my left foot and every time I think it’s getting better, I try to run only to be in pain again within about 20 minutes.
Why is this 26th most common running injury the one that I have had to deal with twice? For myself, the answer is relatively simple and it comes down to poor biomechanics. I am not genetically predisposed as a runner. I received incredibly flat feet and bowed legs which in turn have caused excessive pronation issues which means more strain on my tibialis posterior. The muscle has to continually stabilize itself when I am running due to my pronation. Someone with a high arch is significantly less likely to develop this injury as they do not need to stabilize their foot continuously when it hits the ground. I get scared reading online about how people have required surgery to repair themselves with this ailment and how some people take north of eight months off before the muscle and tendon are back to normal, and even still, strengthening exercises are needed to ensure the problem is held at bay.
I have been to physio multiple times and massage once to help with the pain but as soon as I get the go to attempt to run again, I end up hurting and having to hit reset on my recovery. What is the worst part about this is that I will be completely pain free and get my hopes up that I can return to training before trying to run. You do not know if it is healed until trying to run on it and then if it hurts, you are having to take even more time to get it back to where it was before. I have been doing everything I possibly can to battle this and here we are nearly a full month later and it is not better. I seriously have no clue what to do but I can not stand this whole not training thing.
I was motivated to bike a few weeks ago and put in over two hours every day that week on the bike to hit just over 500k, by far the most I have biked ever, but I now severely lack motivation. I have not done any sort of cross training or physical activity within the past nearly two weeks and I am just a frustrated, bitter mess. While everyone talks about the physical side of injuries, no one ever seems to talk about the mental aspect of them. I find I am more recluse than ever right now, both with people and social media. I am actively trying to stay away from things like Strava or twitter and Instagram because I am so sour with this ordeal. It seems as though most injured athletes seem to be similar though, as they go dark on social media when they can not do something they love. I realize that I have significantly more time to myself during this stretch of no running and reading about the injury and wallowing in my sorrow have become demoralizing.
Sitting around reading about running injuries brings nothing but negative thoughts and angered emotional sentiments so I have been trying to find some other outlet to hold me over until I can train again. That outlet is music. For some people that might not know me, I was on scholarship at Western University to study opera performance but ultimately dropped out as I was not liking the program or style of learning and environment which came with university. I decided to never sing again and I stopped playing the violin, which I have been playing since I was five. Over the past month however, I have dusted off the violin and sheet music and thoroughly enjoyed messing around on the violin, guitar and singing like I used to. It’s one of those things where you forget how much you love doing something until you stop or find that passion again. Similarly to running, music is a way that I can exude emotion or vent out frustrations and joy and I firmly believe that it has been the only way to keep me sane without running this past month. I want to be able to run as soon as possible again but I want to continue to play violin, guitar and sing as it brings me positivity and happiness in my life as does going for a 20+ mile long run with the guys on a Sunday morning and drinking copious amounts of coffee afterwards.
Although this injury has been one of the more trying times in my running, it has taught me the importance of balance and self reflection. I know that it is a mere matter of time before I can begin and get back to the level I know I can be at but I will have a new perspective once I get back there. I have also learned that I need various aspects of my life to be used as an outlet, not just running. I hope that I will be back some time in the next two weeks to start running again but I hope that I can continue to keep the passion that I have for music in my life going forward.
Thanks for reading,