Two years ago I fractured my second metatarsal and got injured. The tiniest most ridiculously insignificant crack in my toe, part of my body I had never really paid any attention to before. (Confession: I had to google “metatarsal” after my diagnosis).
But this tiny insignificant injury ruined me for running for four long months. I was devastated. Suddenly, a whole calendar filled with running events emptied as quickly as our wine cellar. A week after my diagnosis, I steamed with envy as my partner smashed out the Roller Coaster 43km, a run we’d be training for together. How could this tiny insignificant flaw stop me from doing what I love?
The thing is, injuries happen. And in the running world, they happen a lot. Next time you’re standing at the start line, take a look at the runners around you and count the number of legs held together with neon tape. There’s hardly a runner around who isn’t nursing some kind of niggle.
But it’s all relative. As some footy guy* once said, “Sure there have been injuries and deaths in football – but none of them serious.” Running is the same. Kind of. Whether you have a fractured toe or a broken leg, it’s the way you deal with your injury that counts. It’s how you stop yourself from becoming that person who feels like punching a wall every time someone says the word “run” or who sobs watching your running mates post their finishing times from the weekend’s event.
Here are some tips from a couple of runners on the bench
Get the right help
Whether it’s a physiotherapist, podiatrist, kinesiologist or exorcist, getting the right help really makes a difference to your length of recovery and sanity, as South Australian runner Sarah Parobec knows only too well.
“I stopped running in January after a vert training run and I’ve just been able to start walking again this week. Usually peroneal tenosynovitis wouldn’t take this long to heal but for some reason I got a really severe case,” she says. “I’ve seen three physios, three doctors, two orthopaedic specialists and have had X-ray, Ultrasound, and MRI to confirm it’s nothing more serious. The new physio I’m seeing basically told me that I’ve been badly managed and just passed around from one person to the next.”
Get stuck in
“I have actually found that the best things I have done during my injury has been to volunteer and be involved at events,” says Sarah. “I was worried about going to Oscars [Hut2Hut 100km in Victoria] and the Hubert 100 and being sad that I wasn’t running. But the reality is, at all those events and while crewing for my partner’s long runs on the weekends, I have been able to be around people who love the same thing as me (running!), who are pushing their limits and achieving great things.”
There are huge advantages to crewing and volunteering when injured – and when not injured for that matter – and it’s not just that warm fuzzy feeling you get when runners shed tears of joy when you hand them a jelly snake. For Sarah, it’s about connecting with people: “When I’m out there running, I don’t really talk to people. So I’ve been able to make so many closer connections with friends, and make new friends, simply because I’ve been forced to focus less on myself and more on supporting other people’s great adventures!”
Just keep moving
Victorian runner and co-founder of Oscars 100 Hut2Hut, Michelle Martello-Payne has been injured on and off – mostly off – for the last two and a half years. In fact, the first time we met was running in the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria, where she fell down the hill, tearing her cartilage and suffering severe bone bruising in the process. “After two years off running, I have appreciated just being able to move,” she says. “Previously I loved trail running and would never have gone for a hike – I mean, “why walk when you can run?” But being injured makes you appreciate just being able to be mobile. I’m thankful to be out there moving and experiencing nature.”
Get out of your comfort zone
Confession: I’d rather spend an hour locked in a room with screaming kids high on jelly snakes than in a swimming pool. When the physio reassured me that swimming would be a great way to keep up my fitness, I sank into the corner and begged her to find me something else. The last time I went swimming – proper swimming, not just paddling in the sea – I was 12 and the teacher made me tread water in my pyjamas. Just walking into the changing rooms of my local pool filled me with dread, a feeling that switched quickly to humiliation when I lowered myself into the super-slow lane and spent an hour (okay, 20 minutes) being overtaken by purple-haired goggled pensioners.
But Michelle says it’s worth persisting just to stay sane. “I’m in the pool a lot. I deep water run and swim laps. Once I was allowed some load through the foot, I would go on brisk walks incorporating hills to get my heart rate up. I also tried hot yoga for the first time.”
I too persisted with swimming (though I’ll never truly love it) and tried new things. One of these was aqua jogging. Granted, I only went twice and it was the strangest experience I’ve ever had in or out of water, but it took my mind of my injury and made me laugh until I cried.
Cry it out
Okay, so sometimes it’s going to be a bit shit. You’ll see filtered photos of running shoes hitting leafy trails on Instagram, watch your so-called running mates steal course record after course record on Strava, and want to throw your phone at someone.
But it’s okay just to admit that things are a bit shit and let it out. “I’ve come to accept that I’m going to have crappy moments and just need to cry it out, and that’s okay,” says Sarah. “But have a cry and let it out, then move on and focus on something else.”
Being injured sucks, but it’s part of being an athlete. So what’s the final piece of advice you should take away? As legendary footy coach John Kennedy once said, “Injuries above the neck don’t count.” If that doesn’t work for you, American football coach Vince Lombardi arguably had wiser words: “It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get up.”
*Ex AFL football operations manager Adrian Anderson.