An injury setback before the Gold Coast half marathon

Following my win at the Canberra Marathon I wanted to ramp up my training, but my body had other plans. After being side lined by injury, I'm hoping to get back to running this week.

I’ve been quiet for some time. After winning the Canberra Marathon, I was always planning to take a couple weeks off, both from running and writing about my running. But those two weeks have turned into more than a month of silence, as I’ve struggle with an injury.

I can list several excuses for not keeping up the blog: I’ve been doing some casual teaching at a high school, fairly regularly, and I’ve also been busy being a dad. Between the work and parenting schedule, it’s felt hard to set achievable goals with RunCreature. But the main reason has been injury.

I haven’t really been running, so I wasn’t sure what to write about. I didn’t want to whinge about my foot injury, so I went quiet. As a result, the website and my Target 2:20 journal have lain mostly dormant.

I’ve used this training diary as a way to document my progress and to stay accountable. And in that regard, I think it’s been helpful. But over the past six weeks, I haven’t really been progressing. I’ve been mostly idle and, at times, I’ve felt upset and frustrated. It’s been a challenging time.

When I started this site, however, the goal was to be honest about my training and the entire running journey; the good and the bad, and even the ugly. Injury comes with the territory and how we overcome these challenges is important; it’s a testament to our toughness, and resolve, and our resiliency. So it’s time to write.

What exactly happened?

If you followed my blog, you’ll recall I was experiencing some pretty bad heel pain. It came on after the NSW 5000-metre championships in February and it never settled. The diagnosis was plantar fasciitis.

My foot was in a lot of pain going into the Canberra Marathon, but it was much worse afterwards. In the immediate aftermath of the race, I could hardly walk. And for about a week, I was limping around on the foot. I knew it was going to bad post-race, but that didn’t make the discomfort any easier to accept.

When I eventually tried to run again, the pain in my heel was more pronounced than it had been in the build-up. Every step was, not quite agonising, but not far off. In simple terms, running straight-up wasn’t enjoyable.

I struggled for several weeks trying to string together one solid week of training, but I couldn’t. My body simply wasn’t up to the task. My foot was sore, and to make matters worse, other little niggles in my hamstring and IT band were beginning to flare-up as well. I was in the wars.

Backing-off and getting healthy

As a runner, this was the incredibly frustrating thing. I was riding a big emotional high after the marathon win and I was amped-up for the next big race: the half marathon at the Gold Coast.

I wanted to keep the ball rolling, keep progressing, keep chasing faster and faster times. But my body — and my foot, more specifically — were operating on an entirely different agenda. They had their wires irreparably crossed.

I needed to take steps to try to resolve the injury issue — and not just for my running, but for life, more generally.

Yeah, it sucked not being able to get back into training mode, but more than that, I was tired of waking up and limping around the apartment every morning; feeling like I couldn’t pick up or play with my daughter without grimacing in pain. The injury was affecting my mood.

I knew taking time off from training to mend the injury would likely hurt my chances of being in peak shape for the Gold Coast, but in the end, it was an easy call.

Cortisone injection and embracing cross-training

My physiotherapist recommended a shot of cortisone, which I eventually got after a scan. The scan revealed some significant thickening of the plantar fascia and a minor (2mm x 3mm) tear, along with a heel spur. The scan was the first step to understanding the injury in more concrete terms.

The recommendation (from the sports doctor, my physio and a podiatrist) was two weeks of no running, with the first week in a moon-boot. The podiatrist suggested the boot might help isolate the heel and allow the tear to mend.

And so, here I am. It’s Wednesday 26 May. Tomorrow I’ll be able (in theory) to run again. I know two weeks isn’t that long, and I shouldn’t complain, but… well, it certainly gives me a newfound appreciation for athletes who have to endure much more significant injury layoffs and rehab programs.

I’ve complied with the health advice, and done my best to maintain some fitness over the last two weeks. I’ve cross-trained every day, trying to mimic (time-wise) what a regular running day might look like. That’s typically been 45 minutes to an hour each day, with one RPM class per week to simulate a speed session, and then two hours of cardio each Sunday.

Those long cardio sessions have typically been split between the stationary bike, the erg-ski and the elliptical machine. On top of that, I’ve been trying very hard to do all the strength and rehab work recommended by my physio.

It’s been monotonous, and time-consuming, but I’ve been getting it done.

Some good news

The good news is that my foot is feeling much better. The cortisone injection offered significant and nearly instantaneous relief from the pain. It’s actually quite remarkable and has left me thinking about how well I might run on a pain-free foot in future.

I tried to not let my plantar fasciitis affect my Canberra Marathon: neither the race nor the preparation. And I think I did a pretty good job of that. I entered a kind of tunnel-vision mode. I was determined to get to the start line at all costs, and that meant battling through pain and discomfort in training, and in the late stages of the race (by the 20km mark of the marathon I was very aware of my pain).

I built-up a kind of mental forcefield. When the race finished, however, the walls of that forcefield dissolved, and the pain they’d been helping me fend off felt suddenly more acute.

I’d almost forgotten what it was like to have a pain-free foot. It’s awesome! I’m hopeful I can stay pain-free, if I rehab correctly and make some minor adjustments to my running gait. And I’m excited about going into future races feeling (closer to) 100 per cent healthy.

Room for improvement

There’s another bit of good news: with some biomechanical tweaks, I could (in theory) improve my speed and running economy. After filming me run at marathon pace on the treadmill, my podiatrist was fairly certain what was causing my pain: repeated heel striking, and the consequent trauma that inflicts over thousands of kilometres.

I like to think of myself as a runner who gets up on the forefoot, especially when I’m at speed. But that’s simply not the case. When I pound the pavement, and the track, it appears I also pound my heel. The footage (which I’ll try to get) was pretty eye-opening. Every step, a forceful impact on the heel. And it seems to be most pronounced on my left side.

The good news in this revelation is this: I’m not activating my calf muscles until far too late in my running stride. If I can engage my calves earlier — while my foot is still ahead of my torso, rather than underneath or behind it — then I could theoretically find more lift, power and speed.

The challenge, of course, is making those biomechanical adjustments. Can I change my stride, or my posture, to find and ultimately optimise that added lift? That’s not necessarily an easy adjustment to make. Furthermore, can I strengthen my calves enough to handle greater load? That’s another important question, and it’s a focus with my rehab moving forward. Calf raises, calf raises, calf raises. And more calf raises.

Gold Coast and beyond

As I ease back into running later this week, I’m hoping I can keep the pain from resurfacing. The goal is to start easy: day-on, day-off. If I’m feeling okay, I’ll gradually ramp-up the mileage.

I’m still planning on racing the half marathon in the Gold Coast. My wife and I have already booked a mini holiday, hoping to get some sunshine before she returns to work from maternity leave.

Even with all my cross-training, I know it’s unlikely I’ll be in top shape, but I’m okay with that. Especially if I can race pain-free. Just like Canberra, we have a good crew of runners heading up to Goldie and it will be awesome to line-up alongside them for a solid hit-out, as more than a few will be chasing that sub-70 minute barrier.

As for Target 2:20, that goal still remains very much in play. I’m as hungry as ever to hit that mark, and go even faster in a spring marathon. For now, however, I’ll be focusing this training diary on the Gold Coast build, as I try to get into race shape over the next five weeks.

If you’ve been following this journey, thanks for your continued support and for reading, and sorry for going quiet. I’m back and you can follow me on Strava. Or message me if you have any questions or tips at myles@runcreature.com. And you can help us grow RunCreature by reading and sharing our great content.

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I’m Myles Gough. I’m a distance runner, writer and teacher. I started RunCreature to tell stories about athletes, runners, and the issues that matter to our community. 

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