I went to see Lauren Shelley on Monday. She’s a specialist physiotherapist, and she’s worked with a few people I know to rebuild them after injury; not quite bionic man style. She’s an excellent runner, competed on a world level and it was her self-massage for runners workshop Jeremy and I went to last year which helped my Six Inch Trail Marathon preparation a lot. My back is getting better, but I thought it was telling that I’ve had two back injuries in the past two years, both at L5. I know that my seated posture doesn’t help any and I’m working on it. Also, my workplace is getting me a new desk chair with more lumbar support, but I had a gut feeling that it was to do with distance running.
I had a sore lower back after Longest Run in June 2014; I ran 6 of the seven parkrun courses in the one day, and afterwards my lower back ached. I had a leg and lumbar massage and it eased. We went on holiday not long after, and I sprained a facet joint at L5. I had treatment until August and then I ran Six Inch in December. I was able to train through my treatment period; while I didn’t go hard while I was having treatment, I could train through it.
This year’s injury was at the end of June, this time to the disc, and not the facet joint. Initially I responded to treatment quite well, and it seemed a safe, if calculated risk to do the Gold Coast half marathon July 5th – not as a PB attempt, as previously intended, but as a catered long run in pleasant surroundings. But my terrible lead up from the start of May onwards meant I would tear a tendon in my foot the Friday after the race, due to insufficient training time on my feet combined with shoes that weren’t supportive enough. And my back improved with treatment, but I kept relapsing. I’ve read the notes from my physio – they’d have “Discharge next visit?” and then the next entry would have something along the lines of “Inflammation and pain – severe, ibuprofen, paracetamol…” etc etc.
So I stopped running. Just for a month, just to see if it would help. I will admit that it helped when I actually did consciously refrain from running in that month. You’ll remember my Waterous Trail on Foot ultra aid station accidental running; I wore my Fitbit all day and night, so it’s easy to calculate that according to it, I walked 18,761 steps and 13.4km from 6am that Saturday morning to 3am Sunday morning when we got home. Fitbit is fairly clever; you can record any exercise (cycling, a yoga class, etc) via the app, but the device can work out some of it by itself, and it worked out that of that 13.4km travelled I ran 4.78km of it. Whoops.
I walked Champion Lakes parkrun as tail runner, and I was fine walking round, but not long after stopping I was very much not fine, and once we got home I lay on my belly on the lounge room floor with ice on my back and watched 8 episodes straight of The West Wing. So the next week on parkrunday I walked 1 lap (2 km) of Pioneer and pulled up OK.
Which brought me to Monday’s appointment with Lauren.
I explained that I wasn’t there for a second opinion; that I thought the diagnosis was correct, and the treatment has been successful, once I stopped running and just let the inflammation die down and the disc to settle. What I was to see Lauren for was the why. Why did I get what felt essentially like the same injury twice? What can I do to stop it happening again, and perhaps; how can I become a better runner?
She took notes throughout, while I gave my litany of recent proper injuries:
- Sprained neck facet joint in January 2012 swimming
- Tore left medial collateral ligament in end of July 2012 just standing up at work
- Tore right hamstring start of September 2012 the Friday after the City to Surf
- Sprained facet joint in lumbar July 2014 while holidaying in Paris
- Disc injury in lumbar June 2015 at work, or commuting, or breathing wrong one morning.
I explained that the medial collateral ligament was likely a repercussion of my bike crash in 2009, and that I’d not completed my physiotherapy sessions to rebuild the strength and movement after the stitches were taken out of my knee.
Lauren asked if I had any races coming up, and I said no; all I’d had planned was Six Inch and I’d mentally waved the race goodbye in August, accepted that fact in September, and actually voiced that fact in October. So if there was something that I needed to work on, we had no timeframe to try and cram it all into.
I explained that I wanted to run again, and I wanted to be good at it, because I couldn’t cycle anymore, and I didn’t want to lose another activity that I could do with my epically bad hand-eye coordination. I explained the timeline of the decay of my cycling. I’d crashed my bike in June 2009 and had only worked out in January 2012 that the bike wasn’t reassembled correctly after the crash.
I’d spent 2009-2012 trying to work out what was wrong with my bike, or me. I slowly felt less safe on the bike because it felt like my bike handling skills regressed. Why did I go from being confident enough to ride one handed and occasionally giving no hands a very fast attempt to finding it difficult to take a hand off the handle bars to execute a shoulder check for road traffic? I had numbness and/or burning pain down my leg into my right foot through to the toes. I struggled to be as fast as I used to be, and to be completely honest I wasn’t very fast to begin with. My back would ache like I had my period, my fingers would go numb, my shoulders and neck would burn fire and what finally stopped me cycling was after every ride I would develop swelling in my groin lymph nodes.
Every ounce of fun got wrung out of riding my bike. A long ride was something to endure, rather than a test of endurance. I’d sold the bike early 2012, but I still had similar problems on my new bike. So I started to run instead.
Lauren said that all my muscles and my sense memory of cycling would have changed over those three years trying to ride as easily as I used to. Even on my new bike my body now naturally goes into those contortions that it learnt after the crash. I can still ride my ladies shopper bike easily and happily, because that hadn’t changed and my sense memory of riding it is from back when I used to ride it everywhere, before I bought my first road bike.
Lauren did a full examination; testing muscles and movement – I don’t use a gym, so I’ve never really looked in a mirror at how my body moves; but you could see my pelvis easily shift one way, but not the other. I could only do a one legged squat with difficulty on one side, and with serious concentration on the other. She told me what I did know – that I don’t have core strength and what likely was the final straw for my back this time round was loosening up my glute muscles – it turns out that they were the only thing holding my trunk; so once they were loose my poor sitting posture allowed my disc to move.
Later on I summarised my issues and made Lauren laugh: all my injuries had healed, and healed fairly well; to 95% of what they were. The problem was, I have had a lot of injuries, and all those spare five percents add up to a lot of brokenness.
My post crash cycling muscle changes, my running injuries and my lack of core strength all combine and cause some unevenness which if I weren’t a runner wouldn’t have been an issue. But as my regular physiotherapist says, you run and it’s quite an impact, so if you have a weakness, it’s going to make itself known sooner rather than later.
I miss cycling, and I miss riding with Jeremy. I’d only known him five months when I crashed, so with him I’ve been a terrible cyclist for far longer than I’ve been a good one, but he doesn’t mind me being slow, and sometimes I even believe him when he says it. I want to ride again, if only to help justify the number of bikes we own.
I think that my experience with cycling is why I’m so determined to fix what is wrong with me at the moment. I spent years making adjustments; increasing this, decreasing that, swapping out this, more padding, less padding, higher, lower, wider, thinner, all the time to no avail. Lauren intends for me to run with less risk of injury, and she intends to get me cycling regularly again.
You can’t entirely eliminate the risk of injury; otherwise in 2007 I’d never have torn a muscle in my left calf when I found a hollow in someone’s front lawn while walking an enthusiastic Rottweiler, but if I can decrease my chance of injury – well, I’ll take that.
This parkrunday we went to Bibra Lake. I walked the first four kilometres, and the final kilometre I ran. I ran like I always did, and it felt a bit of an effort, which in retrospect is because I ran about 5.30 pace, but I ran. There was no pain Saturday, and I had no pain Sunday. Life is good.