This year was disappointing to say the least. Filled with hopes, desires and dreams, desperate to achieve and yet held back by the human body. The body, which can achieve so much more than thought possible, until pushed too far and then suddenly reduced to an insubordinate and empty vessel of frustration. The mind however can still continue to believe in the cause and through a combination of medicine, science and sheer determination occasionally this battle is won and despite the set backs one arrives at the start line ready to once again push the boundaries between human and superhero.
Unfortunately medicine, science and a stubbornness (which few can surpass) were not enough to get me to the start line of Comrades Marathon this year. I suffered the disappointment, cried the tears, experienced all the emotions of the race from the sidelines of the greatness that is the Comrades Marathon and then started to put back together the pieces by focusing on what I have learnt and how this can be utilised towards bettering my future endeavours.
Through my battle with injury I was fortunate to have a fantastic team from both a sports science and medical background at the high performance centre (HPC) in Pretoria. I learnt several methods of injury treatment as well as ways to keep fit during injury which, despite not fixing me this time, have a superb success rate. Notwithstanding the frustrations, the desire to overcome and succeed remained high and although I realized that due to the severity of my injury I would probably not make the Comrades start this year, I was also eager to learn and remember the various options available for injury treatment for future reference. As a result I documented my injury process through a journal as well as a couple of video clips. Going back to these I have realized that one should never give up hope, even when the outcome is not as one would have originally desired, the journey remains one full of life experiences and as such should be cherished. I thought I would share my experiences in the hope that at the least it would give you a laugh and at most a successful outcome from any future injuries you might having the misfortune of encountering.
In the week leading up to Two Oceans my left leg felt uncomfortable. I documented in my journal a few times that it felt as though the limb was not mine. It was functioning as it should and I was still running well but there was something strange going on. It would at times feel as though it wasn’t coordinated and although fulfilling the motion of running seemed to lack power and feel a little unresponsive. I was very confused as to what was going on and thought that my alignment might be out and that a visit to the chiro was due. I decided to delay my visit to the chiro until my return from Two Oceans as my running at that stage remained unaffected and I wasn’t too worried about it.
During Two Oceans the leg started to feel more and more uncoordinated – as though I had no control over its movement but it was just rolling along as a result of the force put out by the right leg. About 10 km’s into the race a sharp pain in my hamstring, followed by the left leg becoming completely unresponsive and dragging rather than lifting off the ground, forced me to stop on the sidelines and have a small panic attack. At this point I thought I had torn my hamstring.
TREATMENT & DIAGNOSIS
Later on that Saturday I went to see a physio in Cape Town who assured me that my hamstring was not torn but the pain was merely a cramp. This seemed slightly odd considering I was only 10kms into the race when this happened. When I returned to Pretoria the next day my physio treated the hamstring and glute (nothing like having a thousand needles in your arse to question your sanity) and advised me to rest for a few days before attempting to run again.
Utilising my rest period effectively I did what I should have done a week earlier and went to see my chiro. After lots of tugging, pulling, clicking, more needles and a pep talk about listening to my body I walked out feeling amazing and convinced that all was fine.
Sadly all was not fine, a few days later I attempted to run again and… BAM a few km’s in and the hamstring cramp returned followed by the left leg dragging. A small temper tantrum on the side of the road and an angry shuffle back to the HPC followed, where an appointment with the sports doc and a sonar was booked. The sonar picked up lots of muscle damage and tendonitis which… wait for it… is consistent with an athlete training as much as I was. In other words for any person not training to compete in the Comrades Marathon there would be a genuine concern, but for “the awesome” this damage is in the normal range and did not explain the injury. This was the first time that a sonar was unable to diagnose me and feeling desperate and despondent I knew I had reached that point in my athletic career where an MRI was necessary.
- THE MRI
I arrived at the hospital feeling anxious. My first MRI. I had no idea. In my recollection of the event it wasn’t pleasant. It was noisy and having to lie dead still for an hour was uncomfortable. I practiced my visualization skills, thinking about the Comrades Marathon and how happy I would be to run it, in an attempt to zone out from the MRI.
On the bright side, one hour in the torture chamber and we had a diagnosis. Unfortunately it was not good news. Turns out I had torn my QF (quadratus femoris) muscle (a small muscle under the glute) which had bled internally forming a hematoma around my sciatic nerve. This had restricted the nerve and explained the loss of function I was experiencing in my leg. This type of injury is usually caused from doing too many heavy squats and lunges in the gym and the hematoma which had formed was, at this stage, around the size of a tennis ball. Nothing short of a miracle was going to shrink that hematoma in only a few weeks. Realistically we knew it would take months to heal. We didn’t have that time, but what we did have was the latest in medical technology and an optimistic attitude – both of which have been documented to reduce healing time significantly. The journey towards the impossible therefore began.
- HYPERBARIC CHAMBER
The hyperbaric chamber is a time capsule, which transports you back into time so that you can prevent the act that caused the injury. Or that’s what it looks like anyway. In short it increases the atmospheric pressure around you, which allows your body to absorb more oxygen. This increase in oxygen promotes new generation of cells and essentially faster healing times. This is what is looks like…
I spent about 10 hours watching movies and praying for a miracle (and the return of my sanity) in that tank.
Ultrasound is used to reduce inflammation and swelling and we spent 20 minutes every day ultrasounding that hematoma and… yes it did shrink, but… not enough. Injury treatment and cross training can be very time consuming and I’m fairly certain that all the 5am starts to the day with an ultrasounding of my bottom caused a slight mutation of my brain function. I’m pretty sure that every pun on the bun was utilized in maintaining some humour to what was nothing short of a pain in the butt.
- AQUA JOGGING
This was where I had the most fun attempting to stay fit. There was much debate as to whether to use a flotation device or not. Coach Parry eventually concluded that I should just jog up and down where my feet could touch the ground rather than using a flotation device. It was an experience to say the least and I thought I had nailed it. The problem was I couldn’t get my heart rate up high enough to actually make the workout effective. I’m pretty sure that I was doing it wrong as research has shown this to be highly effective, but for me it was not. Here is my award winning version of the sport aqua jogging…
- ANTI GRAVITY TREADMILL
So I know tons of athletes who have utilized the antigravity treadmill effectively. It was weird. Maybe I didn’t give it enough opportunity but I found that the running motion rather than the gravity imposed was hurting my injury and as a result decided to stop this form of training.
- THE WATTBIKE
Much more familiar and much more comfortable, this was my winning cross training method. Hours and hours and hours on the wattbike.
THE TOP THINGS I HAVE LEARNT FROM THIS EXPERIENCE
- When something doesn’t feel right make the time to get it treated before it becomes a more serious issue
- Runners don’t have too lift such heavy weights in the gym – stop being so competitive and remember that strength work is to support the running, it is not the sport I am competing in. Sometimes less is more.
- I should table a motion towards the sport “Aquajogging” being included in the next Olympics.
- Wherever life takes you it is a choice to make the most of the journey. Disappointments happen but negative situations don’t need to result in a negative attitude. There is always something to laugh about, there is always something to learn, to make us better, to push us towards being the best humans we can be. And being the best that we can be is enough.