Way back in November 2017 (or as I prefer to think of it - a few weeks ago) I ran the Florence Marathon. It rained, constantly, was freezing cold and was hard, as marathons tend to be, and I ran slightly slower than I planned to, finishing in 2h38. But I was delighted. Why?
A few weeks prior at the Beachy Head Marathon, a trail race across the South Downs and Seven Sisters near Eastbourne I landed awkwardly on my left foot after about 5 miles and my ankle folded underneath me. It was pretty sore - swearing out loud sore, hobbling for the next mile sore and running gingerly on more rocky and uphill terrain for the next 2 or 3 miles sore. As I was considering my options the pain eased and I settled into a rhythm. I was in fifth place at this point, and before halfway became reconciled that that would be my best finish position and resolved to enjoy the amazing scenery. Then, we had a nice long flat section on soft, forgiving ground that I knew preceded a downhill section and as my ankle eased on the soft ground, I just ran, and was surprised as the people ahead starting going backwards such that by the time we reached the seven sisters, I was up to 2nd!
Now, determined to get a podium place even when faced with at least one runner behind me taking a bit of a shortcut, I pushed on (relatively speaking) and held my place but to what cost? My ankle was sore and swollen. The good news was that, being a trauma rather than a classic running injury, I felt that if the pain and swelling could go, I should still be able to run in Florence, 4 weeks later. But I'd need help.
The wonderful folk at Fix London did exactly what they say they will do, and took a holistic approach to my treatment. Everyone was extremely positive and supportive throughout. Cate Boyle gave me acupuncture to reduce swelling and bruising in the ankle, and reduce stiffness in the calf that had been overworking as a result of an under-functioning ankle. Acupuncture is essentially designed to interfere with the pain signals that the body sends to the brain to protect you, and to help you distinguish what is real damage and what is your body telling you to protect yourself.
I had damaged the ligaments and tendons around my ankle for sure, but the advice from Helen O'Neill (Physio) was that with sprained ankles, the quicker you can perform proprioceptive exercises, the quicker AND stronger you will recover - sprained ankles are notorious for repeating themselves if they don't heal properly first time. This involved a lot of hopping, jumping and balance exercises, and the acupuncture enabled me to do those exercises with less pain, which freed me up to do them sooner than I might have done otherwise as well as do more of them which speeded up my rehab. I didn't run at all in this time, and nor could I even swim, but I trusted my training of the months prior and tried to relax. Within nine days I was gently jogging and by two weeks I was confident of doing some tempo work (in this case running at or slightly quicker than my marathon pace for sustained periods).
On discussion with my coach (me!) I selected the flattest, smoothest, least bendy, basically least stressful surface imaginable and did a session of tempo work for 30 mins in the west end of Victoria Park - roughly 5 laps on a Sunday morning. That went well, so the following week I did 70 minutes in 2 x blocks of 30 minutes, and 1 x 10 with rest in between. I was actually hoping to do 90 minutes in total but despite the ankle being largely pain free, it still wasn't functioning perfectly and my calf was overworking as a result so I stopped at 70 minutes as the calf was starting to tighten too much for my liking. I then had massage and a general working over by Joe Dale (massage therapist and Osteo) to ease that tightness and I felt as ready as I could possibly be.
Sure enough, in the race, I set off with no trouble but the calf was still compensating for the still under-functioning ankle and started to tighten around 15 miles and the the last 10k were tough on the limbs. I felt like I was going backwards, and my pace slowing to a limping shuffle, so I stopped paying attention to pace and time and completion was the only goal. I was surprised and delighted to see 2h 38 minutes on the clock as I approached the finish line, just 3 minutes outside my PB. I hadn't slowed any where near as much as i had imagined.
The delight was in part due to completing a tough race, but in the main it was because my body had managed to get through a road marathon, despite the significant trauma just a few week prior. Acupuncture + Physio + Massage + Osteo + empathetic support made ALL the difference.
At the end of the race though, walking was troublesome, both my calves were extremely tight. Guess who I visited on my return to the UK?