"What's the point in a weekend if I can't go running?!" I wailed. "What's the point in ANY day if I can't run?! I'VE LOST MY IDENTITY!!!!"
My running shoes sat forlornly by the front door, laces drooping.
"Babe... I think you're being a bit dramatic..." Josh replied cautiously.
Fellow runners - back me up on this one! Being hit with an injury and being told that you have to take time off running sure feels like the end of the world - am I right?!
When running is as much a part of your life as breathing, the sudden, involuntary absence of it can leave one feeling completely in despair and a little bit lost.
I can pinpoint exactly where and when my first serious running injury occurred. It was early October 2021, and I was 34k into the virtual London Marathon. If I kept up this pace, I was on for another three-and-a half-hour marathon, but I was fast approaching 'the wall.'
My body was starting to tire, and as a result, my form was slipping. That all too familiar mid-marathon mental block was taking over my mind. I had brain fog and felt delirious.
I braced myself for the hill ahead, jumping up onto my tiptoes to ease the impact. As I met the incline, I felt my right knee jolt beneath me. For a few seconds, it seemed to stall and completely stiffen.
In the midst of a marathon, it can be really tricky to tell what is an injury and what is just inevitable pain.
My knee throbbed, but I was miles from home, so I gritted my teeth and ran through it. At the time, I genuinely believed it was simply your bogstandard wear and tear that would subside once I stopped running.
The pain didn't pass when I finished the race. While it wasn't deliberating, it was very much there, manifesting itself as a dull ache that worsened when I moved around after periods of rest.
Still, I refused to believe it was anything to worry about, failing to differentiate between an injury and normal post-marathon aches.
Three days after the marathon, I attempted a 5k, which I ended up abandoning half-way around due to my knee feeling very unstable.
This was when I started to become concerned...
To be on the safe side, I decided to reach out to a local physio, who said he could fit me in the following week. I was under strict instructions not to do any running whatsoever until I had seen him and he had assessed the damage. I explained that I had a 10k race at the weekend that I really didn't want to miss. My physio said that I was not to compete under any circumstances.
... No prizes for guessing what I did next, hey?!
Obviously, I brazenly ignored his advice and ran in the 10k event exactly a week after the marathon.
My knee was stiff the whole way round, but that was nothing compared to the pain that hit me when I finally crossed the finish line. If it had been a modest 5/10 for intensity before the 10k, it was now a raging 10/10.
I hobbled away from the course and sent an urgent message to my physio explaining that the pain had 'suddenly' got a whole lot worse.
You ran the 10k, didn't you? Was the disapproving reply.
The fact that I was now unable to walk brought home that I had done serious harm.
I was forced to accept that I was most likely looking at weeks, if not months, off running.
It couldn't have come at a worse time - in the four weeks before the marathon, I had finally got my 10k PB down to 40 minutes and been placed first female at both the Tatton Park 10k and the Stockport Urban 5k.
I was absolutely devastated.
It really is true what they say: injuries tend to occur when you're at your peak!
One of the things I like best about being a runner is the unspoken bond and community between us.
People who don't run simply don't understand.
To a non-runner, eight weeks of rest really doesn't sound like a big deal (in fact, it may even sound quite pleasant!). However, any runner knows that enforced respite can be catastrophic for mental well-being.
We all run for different reasons, but it's undeniable that we all get something almost other-worldly and magical out of our chosen pursuit; something that goes way beyond a temporary release of endorphins.
Whether you hit the road for liberty, headspace, happiness, power, or anything in-between, it's remarkable how fast running becomes a part of your routine, and indeed your life.
I frequently blog about my relationship with running. To recap: I started running in April 2014, when I first developed anorexia. For many years, running was a chore that I loathed - just another way for anorexia to exert its relentless control over my body. Every single day, I ran miles on my own; the physical pain a welcome release from the turmoil inside my mind.
In June 2021, I decided to enter a race on a complete whim (the Colshaw Hall 10k), and my life completely changed.
It's been nearly two years since my first taste of racing, and not a day goes by that I haven't thanked my lucky stars for that morning and the gift it gave me.
Running now presents as my freedom, rather than my shackles. Racing has taught me so much about myself, and from this, I have gained a new-found respect for my body.
The sheer joy that running now blesses me with is honestly something I find so hard to put into words.
Now, when I run, I feel strong, brave, and the very best version of myself. It's a feeling that I just can't get enough of. Running truly is my drug.
While I will probably always have anorexia, taking ownership of running has given me back some control and I am finally able to enjoy my life again.
Running has shown me how I can positively channel that need for control and turn into something productive that results in immense pride.
So as you can imagine... Without running, I feel that bit weaker and more exposed to my anorexia. This is why I find being injured so hard to deal with, and I know I'm not alone in that. Quite simply, runners are runners, and if there's one thing we collectively hate, it's NOT running!
When I was first sworn off running with the knee injury back in October 2021, I did not know how I was going to cope.
Friends and family tried to reassure me that time would pass quickly and I'd soon be back, but as I said earlier - those who aren't under the spell of running just don't understand.
For so many of us, running is not just a hobby or a sport, but a way of life - a necessity.
During that first period of injury, my initial plan - egged on by anorexia - was to simply starve myself. Without running (my 'healthy' control), I felt like everything was spiralling and I was fast sinking in the face of an ever-gathering tide.
Somehow, with a little help from running friends and my physio, I was able to pull through and come out the other side a much more resilient runner and person.
It was a really tough couple of months - I won't pretend that it wasn't. But it taught me a lot and left me better prepared for the next time (because as we're all too aware: injuries are very much a part of running!).
As my injury coincided with Christmas, I allowed my body time to rest and refuel, and I actually gained 4 pounds (at the time, a much needed increase on my skeletal frame)!
Since that fateful knee injury, I have been become acquainted with various running-related ailments.
I've pulled my groin twice - both during winter sessions whereby racing across slippery grass and vaulting over puddles has resulted in undesirable consequences.
Last June - amidst a flurry of a spontanous summer evening 10ks - I did my tendon in through overuse.
In the past 12 months, I've had bouts of runner's knee more often than I've had hot dinners (actually currently have this again RN! 😤)
More recently, I suffered with a stress fracture on my inner right ankle.
While I ran through both my groin strains and tendon pull, my stress fracture was a different kettle of fish entirely.
Once again, it wasn't just running that caused the pain to flare up - it was also walking. Every step sent an abrupt, sharp flash of pain through the arch of my foot up to the tendon above my ankle. My ankle bone ballooned and felt sensitive to touch.
Of course, there was initial panic as it dawned on me that I was going to have to step back from running for a few weeks.
But what can you do, really? You can't change the situation, no matter how frustrating it is.
I had to get on with it, so I revisited the state of mind that got me through my knee injury and took one day at a time, until I was finally able to lace up my trainers again.
So, from a runner to a runner, here are some tips that have helped me through various injuries...
🏃🏻♀️ Have a running-related goal to focus on.
While written off with my knee injury, my motive was to heal myself in time for the Malta Half Marathon, which was four months away.
While my injury ate into precious training time, it also encouraged me to resist the urge to return to running too early and jeaprodise any recovery that had already taken place. If I was going to get better, I was going to do it properly so that I reduced the risk of finding myself back in the same position again a few weeks down the line.
Malta became my main focus, and made my place at the starting line feel all the more special when it eventually did come around. I actually went on to place second female overall and first in my age category, with a massive PB!
🏃🏻♀️ Don't fret over missed races.
Having to pull out of events and races due to injury is undeniably annoying and disheartening, especially when dedicated training has taken place.
I was dismayed when the height of my knee injury conicided with the Tatton Park Half Marathon - an event I had been looking forward to for months.
I emailed the company (RunThrough) and explained the situation, withdrawing my entry. They were so understanding and even very kindly said they'd transfer my entry to another event of my choice once recovered. This was an enormous boost for me, and gave me something else to look forward to and work towards.
Most race directors are keen runners themselves and will offer a sympathetic ear when it comes to injury talk!
Withdraw your entry, know that it's for the best, and sign up to next year's event instead.
🏃🏻♀️ Work on healing your entire body, not just your injury.
Though we love our sport and wouldn't change it for the world, there's no doubt that repetitive running can take its toll on the body in many ways. A combination of early morning sessions, time spent outside in adverse weather conditions, and continual strain on the legs and feet can wreak havoc in the long run if we don't regularly remember to check in with ourselves.
While recently suffering from my tendon injury, I was baffled by the prospect of a Saturday morning lie-in. For the past three years, my weekend alarm has sounded at 05:30am for my weekly half marathon.
Enjoy the rare opportunity to lie-in. Even if, like me, your body still eagerly wakes at 6am, raring to go, don't feel as though you have to get up. Lie in bed and simply do nothing, read a book, or catch up on that Netflix series you've been meaning to watch. Yep, it'll feel alien and even a little bit naughty, but embrace it! Your body will really thank you for the rare 'down time.'
During the course of your injury, eat well, rest well and above all, be gentle with your body.
🏃🏻♀️ Find yourself a good physio.
Having a decent physio on hand who understands your individual motive and story is imperative if you're a keen runner.
I couldn't have got through my knee injury without my movement coach/ physio, Dave.
Dave took the time to get to know me as an athlete and quickly learned that running is so much more to me than just a sport, or a hobby.
He was sensitive to the fact that being signed off running would impact my mental health and trigger my anorexia, and would regularly send random texts between appointments just to see how I was doing. This meant so much to me.
Between us, we were able to hatch a recovery plan that ensured I was 'back on the road' as soon as possible, eliminating the desteuction to both my mental and physical health.
Dave suggested I tried Shockwave Therpay, which was nothing short of miraculous. If you're struggling with a longer-term injury or general pain (both running and non-running related), I would highly recommend looking into the revolutionary Shockwave Therapy. It's non-evasive and hugely proficient in speeding up recovery.
I noticed a massive improvement in my knee injury after just my first session.
🏃🏻♀️ Remeber that the vast majority of injuries don't last forever.
During the most challenging days of my knee injury, I genuinely felt as though I'd never run again. For 6 weeks, even walking caused me a great deal of discomfort, and I couldn't imagine ever being free from the pain. The idea of running just seemed utterly impossible.
I found myself Googling injury horror stories involving amputations, wheelchairs, and people being told that they'd NEVER RUN AGAIN.
Naturally, I convinced myself that this would be me: I'd fall into the unlucky (and exceedingly rare...) percentage who never recover.
I was tortured by the prospect.
In reality, almost every runner will obtain an injury at some point, but the good news is that most do clear up with a period of strict rest, or input from a physio.
Stay strong - the pain will pass, the injury will clear, and before you know it, you will be back out there.
🏃🏻♀️ It's also worth remembering that ALL runners get injured at some point.
It's the nature of our sport!
It's easy to feel almost isolated when you have your running routine snatched away from you, but know that you're not alone.
To put it bluntly: most runners are constantly either gingerly dodging injuries or unwillingly collecting them!
I found speaking with my running friends really helpful when I was feeling low. They all reassured me of similar past injuries that they were able to overcome, which reminded me to keep the faith.
🏃🏻♀️ Foam Roll.
Honestly, I can't recommend this enough!! Foam rolling has improved every injury I've ever had almost instantly. Yes, it's bloody painful and downright uncomfortable to begin with, but trust me: persevering will reap the rewards! I like to think of it a bit like plucking your eyebrows - painful, but you quickly adjust, and it's worth it for the end result (brows on fleek and/or nice, knot-free claves).
I try to foam roll my legs for 15 minutes every night after a shower.
I used to be plagued with excruciating nightly cramps in my calves, and foam rolling has even helped to put an end to them, too. (Josh will vouch for me when I tell you just how horrific my cramps used to be... one night he woke up to see me balanced on one leg, wailing and violently punching the bedroom wall 🤣).
🏃🏻♀️ Stock up on over-the-counter aids.
As a runner, it's always handy to keep deep freeze gel, heat pads and Voltarol in your medical drawer. Oh - and a spare bag of peas in the freezer!
These things are generally cheap and cheerful to buy and can provide immediate relief to injury.
I found Voltarol particularly effective for my knee injury.
Knee and ankle braces are also good to have in.
🏃🏻♀️ Reap the benefits of salt baths!
I would advise incorporating this into your overall healing procedure.
There are all kinds of salts specifically designed for post-exercise aches and pains on the market, but my favourite are West Lab, which can be picked up quite cheaply from Boots, or in bulk on Amazon.
A 20 minute salt bath three times a week worked wonders for my knee injury.
Even when I'm not injured, I find immense benefit in a salt bath after a half marathon, or before an event to relax my muscles.
🏃🏻♀️ Try another sport/hobby.
I'll be honest, I was pretty offended when someone suggested that I tried swimming while injured.
"Swimming?!" I replied increduously. "I'm a runner."
We runners are a special breed - when it comes to exercise, we generally have very little interest in anything else. Running is our passion, and we're fiercely loyal to our sport!
We're cynical when it comes to other forms of exercise, wondering how the hell anyone could possibly enjoy being cooped up in a sweaty gym when they could be racing down the county lanes instead.
This being said, trying your hand at another (low-impact) sport will ensure that your fitness levels don't take too much of a bashing during your time off running. And, as runners, we all know the secret of endorphins!
Of course, your ability to partake in another sport totally depends of the nature of your injury.
For the first few weeks of my knee injury, even waking the three steps to the printer at work was excruciating, so heading out for a 20 mile bike ride would have been unwise! But you'll know in yourself what you are capable of. Consult your physio and see what they recommend.
🏃🏻♀️ Volunteer to marshal at running events or your local Parkrun.
For most is us, a big part of our running adoration is down to the commaderie and friendship between fellow runners, and injuries needn't interfere with this!
Volunteering to marshal is a great way to support local events, catch up with mates, and remain immersed in the wonderful world of running.
Oh - and even if you've promised not to run, there'a no harm in partaking in ParkWALK instead!
🏃🏻♀️ Don't run before you can walk.
After a few weeks of intense shockwave therapy for my knee injury, my physio advised that I might be okay to try a steady 5k. The aim of this run was purely to see if there had been any decrease in stiffness and improvement to the injury.
I, however, set my timer and determinedly set off up the hills. As my first 5k went well, I pushed myself to run further and faster, until I had covered 12k at a relatively decent pace.
... I don't even need to tell you what happened next!
Obviously, my knee protested bitterly, and I was unable to walk again for the following few days. I was incredibly lucky that my stupidity didn't put me back at square one.
It's all too easy to 'get cocky' when you feel a slight improvement in your injury, but hang fire.
Doing too much too soon will most likely result in catastrophic consequences. You may also add additional weeks onto your recovery time.
Taking time off your schedule with an injury is one of the most frustrating predicaments a runner can find themselves in, but listening to your body is a must, especially if you want to get back out there as quickly as possible.
🏃🏻♀️ When you are able to run again, be realistic.
I would recommend that you don't time your first few workouts after injury.
Depending on how long you have been out of action, it's inevitable that your form might have temporarily suffered to some extent.
My 5k PB is 20:32, yet my first recorded time after my injury was around the 26 minute mark. I was mortified, but forced a a reality check upon myself.
It can disheartening to record run times way off your previous norms and PBs, but remember that this is totally normal. Your body is getting used to the activity again, and whether or not you realise it, you will be subconsciously running at a slower pace while awaiting the reaction from your [now hopefully fully healed] injury.
The good news is that - with hard work and dedication - your pre-injury form should be easy to regain. Build yourself back up slowly.
Leave the Garmin at home and simply enjoy just being able to run again. ❤️
Cara Jasmine Bradley ©