Everything I’ve learnt with my hamstring injury

I wanted to write a post about my hamstring tendinopathy experience.

This might be fully pre-empting things but I feel somewhat confident I can write this post and that I’m mostly out of the woods).

The affected area was the top of my hamstring, right below my bum cheek. It wasn’t sharp or stabbing pain, more like a throbbing, dull ache. At the beginning I could feel this while walking, while lying down and especially when sitting. Sometimes I would feel an ache in my lower back and down my hamstring.

Running made it feel uncomfortable so at first I avoided this to let it calm down. Though I saw a very good physio who I heartily recommend (South Physiotherapy), it didn’t really help. I had acupuncture, massages, ultrasound… I still felt the discomfort.

I wanted to write this post because during my hamstring tendinopathy injury I read a lot online which was very negative and without solutions. I realise the spirit of the Internal and forums for health issues is not like a diary whereby people write about their issues, solve them and then go back to update people. When you’re fixed, you don’t go back. You just carry on with life. But I wanted something to put out there that might be helpful to someone like me. I know I’d have found this helpful.

Here are some sources that were useful though and hugely helped my recovery –> this journal article and this blog post.

Obviously I’ll preface this saying that I’m not a physio, doctor, coach or any sort of professional who has more than half a brain. I’m merely explaining how I overcame my issue. Whether it’s the full-on correct way or if it’s just something that works for me, I don’t know. But if you can take away anything from this post (if you have this injury) is that there is hope!

Though there appears to be minimal research out there for hamstring tendionopathy, what the two sources above agree is having a three step approach. The first step is to let the hamstring settle a bit. You don’t want to be doing hardcore leg strength workouts and you should probably stop running, especially avoid any sort of speedwork or hills which will aggravate the hamstring directly.

The not running part I was really good at. I stopped running completely for seven weeks. In hindsight, I don’t believe I needed to take this much time off had I not aggravating things further with trying to do too much strengthening and rehab at the gym in the early stages. But I read too much online, got carried away and attacked my hamstring with all manners of strengthening, from hamstring curls, Swiss ball bridges, sledge pushes and glute kickbacks. All of which I felt directly in my top hamstring but believed this was it “working” only to find the next few days it was far more niggly and nothing was improving. I also tried to replace running with using the elliptical machine, but this aggravated things too.

What I should have done at the beginning was focused primarily on isometric exercises. These are when you hold your muscle tightly. Nothing moves, but you’re squeezing the muscle. We’re talking static bridge holds. Eventually once I got past my over-enthusiastic gym endeavours and took a step back and focused on the bridge hold, things got calmer. The niggle was still there, but now it wasn’t getting worse or bugging me all the time and the isometric exercises were providing relief.

So, stage one: only do isometric exercises for the hamstring. The best example of this is literally the bridge hold (with a long lever base so it’s your hamstring working not your glute – so push your feet out further from your bum). Increase how long you can hold. Then when you’re solid with that, move to single leg and push the time on that. You can do this just lying on the floor, or you can do (as well as) putting your feet on a raised platform, like a coffee table.

Avoid at all costs: squats, lunges, glute kickbacks, hamstring curls (lying or sitting) and anything that makes the hamstring feel worse the next day. Tendons are a funny thing – it can take 24 hours before you realise you’ve screwed it up. Try and avoid long periods of sitting; get up and move around frequently. DO NOT STRETCH the hamstring. Don’t be tempted. It won’t feel better, it’ll aggravate it. It is literally the worst thing you can do to it.

Stage two is now where you can do a bit more. I found using the lying hamstring curl machine on the affected leg worked wonders. At first I aimed for high reps low weight but actually what really changed the game for me was low reps higher weight SLOWLY (heavy slow resistance).

What you should aim for is a weight that becomes challenging on the 8th rep. Aim for 8-10 reps. Don’t push through pain though! Pain is NOT a good thing. 3/10 discomfort is your marker. Your hamstring should feel tired afterwards but not painful at the time or later.

This is also when you can start to add a bit of running back in (again, no speedwork or hills though). It will still feel uncomfortable but if you have sharp pain, avoid and go back to stage 1. Mild discomfort that doesn’t get worse and that disappears after 24 hours is OK.

During this stage I also focused a lot on improving my adductor strength. I wanted the surrounding muscles to be strong. I used the adductor machine at the gym (that awful machine that people a few years ago used thinking it would zap inner thigh fat). I also laid down, put a medicine ball between my knees and gently straightened my legs out, then drew them back to my chest while all the time SQUEEZING the ball. This is a killer for the adductors and the core.

I still avoided squats and lunges but ramped up my glute work with resistance band walking, clams and heavy hip thrusts. Basically I was gently rehabbing my hamstring while super-powering everything else.

Running was frustrating (for me and everyone around me who had to hear me moan). It was still uncomfortable. Having a physio “re-align” my hips helped unlock me and changing my trainers definitely helped but it was more of a case of being sensible with when I did the rehab and when I ran. And keeping things easy and short – building up gradually. And trusting the process.

So many times after a run I was lost in my negativity and ready to give it all up. I’m very lucky to have such a patient and loving network of support around me. Even my mum, who’s a big supporter of my running but in general doesn’t care for the details, would ask more questions after every run, worrying for me and wanting things to be better. Kyle of course was a pillar of strength for me during this time.

But gradually things got better. My hamstring would niggle less, become uncomfortable later and later during a run. Afterwards it would feel better. I remember when I ran eight miles and that night I felt my hamstring gently throbbing while I laid in bed and I worried and worried. The isometric exercises helped calm things down and acted as a good pain relief. And taking bigger gaps between each run helped. Then long runs stopped bugging me during the night. My body was healing quicker as it adapted.

Stage three is adding back in things like squats and deadlifts. I’m not quite there yet. I think I could add them back in but with Chicago literally round the corner I want to avoid anything that aggrevates my hamstring.

Stage three is adding back in things like squats and deadlifts. I’m not quite there yet. I think I could add them back in but with Chicago literally round the corner I want to avoid anything that aggravates my hamstring. I’ve ramped my long runs up (two 15 milers under my belt) and feel confident I’m heading in the right direction and not putting my hamstring at risk of regression. Obviously 26.2 miles in a few weeks is really going to test things but my plan is to be sensible. Realistically I am terrified and worried of going back to square one. If this wasn’t Chicago I would have canned it.

Basically my advice for this injury is: it will take time to recover. There is no magic pill, no trainers, no massage technique, no amount of icing or medication, no stretching or foam roll battering that will make everything better.

Rest is also not best. During my injury I had friends and family, who were enduring my continual frustrations, saying I should stop everything I was doing. Stop going to the gym. While I will fully admit that there were a number of weeks I shouldn’t have gone quite as ham on the rehab as I did and should not have tried to replicate my running on the elliptical machine, rest would not have solved my issue either. This injury requires rehab which involves strengthening and monitoring. Gently getting into a position where you can actually build your hamstring back up without reaggravating things. It’s a delicate balance.

In terms of cross training, I found the stair machine to be the best thing. Cycling (including spin – which was horrendous for it), the rowing machine and the elliptical machine really didn’t work. But ultimately it’s the strengthening of the hamstring that is the way forward.

Sorry for such a waffle but I wanted to write down my findings for this. If this helps just one other person, then I’m happy.

Good luck!

Winchester parkrun and 15 miles – restraint and control

This weekend was a weekend of two halves I feel, weather-wise. Saturday was beautiful and then Sunday… ehhh less so.

On Saturday morning Kyle and I headed to Winchester to meet up with the lovely Emma. We’ve become good friends since I met her when I went to New York last year.

She’s also going to Chicago and doing the marathon this year. So we headed to do Winchester parkrun with her and then have some brunch. Happily parkrun was actually on this time as the last time we tried to do this it was cancelled.

It was a beautifully sunny day. I’ve done Winchester parkrun before, but at the end of running there from Hedge End with a group of my running club and we managed 18 miles in the end. So I wasn’t quite as fresh!

The course is a two lapper, which is always good, and mostly on grass. It’s flat and scenic and the loops not too sharp – if you were aiming for a good time it’s a good course to go for.

As I was planning a long run the next day I wasn’t aiming for anything more than a gentle plod. I haven’t run twice in a row for many weeks now, but as I was feeling so much better and my runs were going well I decided it was time to get back into my usual routine.

We saw Emma, listened to the run briefing (which was so hard to hear over the crowd of people and the woman just using her voice) and then headed to the start.

Kyle, not being quite as fragile as me right now, decided to go a bit faster so headed closer to the front. As we started I remember just how much I enjoyed parkruns when I wasn’t blasting out for a time. I mean it’s the story of my running life to be honest, anything short and fast is just not my thing.

It was really confident boosting though to realise that running around 8 minute miles felt like a breeze. My breathing was easy, I felt strong in my legs and like I could run for miles. As much as I was tempted to speed up significantly at the end (which I’m sure would not have felt easy or quite as enjoyable!) I managed to just sail through to the finish, unbothered by anyone zooming past me in a sprint finish. Control, Anna, CONTROL.

Kyle managed just over 21 minutes (holding himself back a little as he was conscious of his own long run the next day) and I got 23:30. Then we headed for brunch at Josie’s.

Kyle and I have been to Josie’s in Bishop Waltham before but not this one. It was a 20 minute wait for a table, which was fine. It just showed how popular it was! My stomach definitely kicked into gear though watching all the food coming out.

I managed to avoid the temptation of a fry-up and ordered mushrooms, egg and feta on toast instead. I’m glad I went for a change because this was so tasty! And super filling, surprisingly.

I mean it did also help that I shared a stack of maple pancakes with egg, sausage and bacon with Kyle as well. Details, details.

The pancakes here are super sweet, thick and incredible tasty. I’m not personally a huge pancake fan but sharing a portion hit the spot (I can only share food if I know I have more than enough!).

After having a lovely catch up with Emma we parted ways.

The next morning Kyle and I were up at 8.30am to head out for a long run. My plan was to run 15 miles and Kyle was to run 12. I was fully prepared to run less miles though if things felt off. I’m being suuuuuper cautious. We walked Alfie first and I started feeling nervous.

I always feel so nervous now before running. It’s ridiculous I know, but the memory of the injury and the fear of it coming back definitely haunts my running at the moment. But I needn’t have worried because as soon as I started running I felt it all slot into place and I was feeling good.

It was tipping it down though so we were wet pretty much from the get out. To be honest, I didn’t really mind though. It was fairly warm and it kept us nice and cool. The only annoying moments were if you stepped in a big puddle and soaked your trainer and my pony tail sticking to my back. But otherwise it was a lovely pleasant run. We did feel like quite the super heroes running with people looking at us like we were mad.

We passed a couple of other runners and swapped smug knowing nods – we are no fair weather runners. We are warriors.

We got to eight miles, where Kyle was to head back, making up his 12 miles, and I was to head onwards further to get my 15 miles. We stopped briefly for a quick photo and I waved goodbye and popped my podcast in.

A jokey photo Kyle took of me running off

As much as I love running with Kyle I do really enjoy running on my own. Just managing my pace however I fancy, zoning out and listening to a podcast. I will never get sick of it. I just love it so much.

The rain came and went a bit and I found myself getting stronger as the run carried on. There was an annoying long road that I ran down where cars hurtled through puddles, splashing me time and time again, but really I was so wet by then it didn’t matter.

My hamstring did niggle a bit towards the end, but manageably so, so nothing to worry about. I felt like this run was a lot more controlled and not quite as tough as the week’s before 15 miles. I sensibly didn’t blast the final miles which helped! So when I finished I didn’t feel quite as drained or broken.

The hot shower at home was so good. And the hot porridge and cup of tea went down a treat. Some things will never get old for me. Long running, porridge, tea… it just makes me a very content Anna!

So three weeks until Chicago now. I feel good… I mean of course I wish I had a few more week’s training under my Flipbelt and I hope the hamstring niggle eventually goes away completely but beggars can’t be choosers.

If I’m sensible in the lead-up and sensible on the day, I should be OK (TOUCH WOOD!!). I have no plans to blast the run or push myself too hard. I have nothing to gain from that. I want to be running after Chicago too and I don’t want to reignite any issues. I just want to gently and quietly tick this marathon off and then continue to run without issue afterwards. That to me sounds like perfection.

Do you enjoy running in the rain?

What’s your favourite pancake topper?

A very Anna weekend

Ahh I can’t tell you how happy it makes me feel to be able to write a post like this. My usual “Anna post” whereby I eat a lot of good food and run a lot of good miles. The only thing missing is a parkrun, but soon!

On Friday night Kyle and I met up with fellow running friends Ben and Caroline for some food in Portsmouth. We went to 7Bone Burger Co. which do exceptionally greasy, over-sized burgers that hit that certain spot.

I’ve been to 7Bone many many times (both in Portsmouth and Southampton). It’s not the greatest food you’ll ever eat and I imagine you’ll get far better burgers elsewhere but it’s really the whole package of the burger and sides.

I managed to steer myself away from just ordering chicken wings and ordering the fried chicken burger with added halloumi patty, with chicken wings on the side and frickles (fried pickles).

It was delicious. Adding a halloumi patty is the way forward!

it was lovely to see Ben and Caroline. They’re very similar to ourselves and so no one held back on their order. I do love couples who eat just as much as us 😉

The next day instead of parkrun I went to the gym for some stair machine time. I would have loved to have gone to parkrun but I’m still trying to not run twice in a row, just to be absolutely certain the hamstring has time to recover.

I wanted to hit a long run on Sunday and this was more important. I think soon I’ll be able to run twice in a row, but for now Chicago is too important to risk anything – regardless of how good everything feels right now!

So Sunday I got up after a little lie-in (let’s not be sensible and beat the heat of course…) and headed out for 12-15 miles. Psychologically it’s far easier to give yourself a range of miles. I have a great route that I can pretty much cut short from 6 miles onwards, and can increase to pretty much 18 miles. And it’s lovely and flat and along the sea front.

I adore these long runs and mentally have missed them so much when I was injured. It’s my time to listen to a podcast, zone out and just run. It’s one of my favourite parts of running. Long runs just seem to click for me (unlike speed work or shorter distances which absolutely do not click for me).

I was a bit nervous, as I always am with running at the moment but I needn’t have been. It just flowed. About six miles in I need I would be doing 15 miles. My hamstring barely made an appearance until towards the end when I could just start to feel the discomfort.

I probably shouldn’t have sped up in the final miles but it’s something that happens very naturally for me.

And when I finished, though very tired and sweaty, I was so happy. Don’t get my wrong, it was hard. Mentally and physically I felt every one of those miles, but it felt like I was making gains – like I was literally levelling up my running as I went. These are solid miles for my Chicago Marathon bank. I feel very positive right now.

And what better way to celebrate a great long run? A delicious roast dinner!

I went to Kyle’s dad’s for the rest of Sunday and enjoyed an incredible roast pork spread which was perfection.

Followed by a rich Lindt chocolate cake, I refuelled very well indeed.

A solid weekend in my book!

How was your weekend?

Do you have a particular burger you like? I much prefer chicken burgers.

How to Nail the Morning Routine

I have another colloborative post for you guys today, all about a morning routine. I am a HUGE routine-based person. I literally have my morning’s down to the minute… clothes laid out, gym bag ready, all my food sorted. Literally most work day mornings are identical. I mean it’s quite anal I’ll give you that, but I love how much time it saves me and how much less mental energy I have to exert when it’s half past stupid in the morning… hope you enjoy the article 🙂

There’s no point in hiding from the truth: mornings can truly suck, if not always, then at least often. Our alarms go off, and all we want to do is spend a little extra time in bed, but nope, we can’t — there’s that annoying old thing called life calling, and we have to rush around getting ready and then take ourselves off to work. But what if we could change the way we think about the mornings? What if we could — oh god — actually begin to enjoy them? Well, perhaps we can, if we make some small changes. Below, we take a look at a few ways you can make your mornings work for you.

Pexels – CC0 Licence

Sleep Well

First thing’s first: make sure you’re getting a good night’s sleep. There’s a big difference in our moods in the mornings following a splendid night of rest, and one where we barely got a few hours under our belt. If you’re consistently finding it difficult to hit the land of Nod, then look at changing your pre-sleep routine. Avoiding screen time, and taking the time to calm down your mind (be it through meditation, taking a bath, or reading) will do wonders.

Be Prepared

We might normally be able to take things in our stride, but first thing in the morning? Nope, at that time of day, even small things can knock us off stride. So make sure that you’re prepared for your mornings — it’ll make everything much smoother. First, keep things simple — an easy to make, healthy breakfast will get your day off to a good start. Second, keep the essentials in stock. If you’re a coffee lover (and who isn’t?), then set a subscription to TwoChimpsCoffee.com — you’ll get a regular delivery, so you never have that “oh no, I’m out of coffee” moment first thing in the morning.

A Spot of Exercise

One of the problems many people have first thing in the morning is that, oh, they’re so tired, all they want to do is stay in bed. To get around this torturous moment, it’s recommended that you put as much distance between you and your sleeping self as possible. Exercise is a terrific way to do this. Don’t overthink it — just get up and go for a short run. Even ten minutes will be enough to get the blood pumping. Once you get back, a cold shower will burst you into life — you will be ready to face the day. People hate the idea of cold showers, but there’s nothing like stepping out, feeling completely refreshed. Give it a go!

Calm and Relaxed

Everything is going to suck if you feel rushed, so why not slow down the time? By getting up earlier, you’ll have a chance to have a calm and relaxing morning. Spend some time nursing a cup of coffee, reading, enjoying the silence. It’ll make the day feel longer, and give you more time to enjoy for yourself — people who get up later have work on their mind all day! 

Do you exercise in the morning?

Do you have a set routine that you stick to?

What are your morning tips?

Game on, Chicago

I really don’t want to jinx things, but it looks like things are definitely getting there with my hamstring.

I obviously need to continue to play things safe and not suddenly be like wheyyyyyy 18 miler booooom. This hamstring injury (hamstring tendinopathy) is one that can easily be triggered again and regress. So I continue to proceed with caution. But *whispers* things are going well.

Daily discomfort is minimal – if it’s even there. Previously when it was at its worst, I’d feel it All. The. Time. I’d feel it walking. I’d feel it lying down. Now it’s rarely ever there. And happily sitting doesn’t trigger it anymore.

Most importantly, running isn’t an awful experience. There were runs at the start (like only a mile or a tester run) where it’d feel so uncomfortable that I’d feel this great stab of fear thinking “I cannot run 26.2 miles like this” and really doubt getting more training done. But now the discomfort is minimal. It’s still there, but every run it gets a bit less.

I ran 12 miles at the weekend and it was a run that gave me great confidence. Yes it did feel uncomfortable towards the end, but not the worst discomfort I’ve felt over this injury.

And the rest of the day it felt fine! Even the next day it felt absolutely fine. My first few runs when I was coming back I’d feel my hamstring discomfort a lot more post-run and that night and the next day, then it would die off again. But now it’s not there anymore.

Running those 12 miles felt like an absolute joy. Listening to a podcast, zoning out, having that time just running for a long time. Yes it was hard (Jesus how did 12 used to feel so easy??) and yes it wasn’t perfect, but it was so much better. I know I’m at that point in the injury lifecycle where it’s going. Every day is better, every run is better.

After speaking with a professional who knows a lot about this injury, he advised upping my hamstring strength routine and planning out my runs in relation to that a bit more sensibly. With the strength I was previously taking the weights very gently on the hamstring curl machine (as to not cause any regressions) and doing about 20 reps at light weight. Now I’ve upped the weight and I do around 10 reps, so it starts to get tough at the last rep. And he gave me a few more exercises to incorporate which focus primarily on my hamstring.

Previously I was very much focused on my glutes. But now I’m focusing on my hamstring (I still work my glutes and the surrounding muscles but the focus of my rehab is most definitely the hamstring now).

Single leg hamstring bridges

Just to be clear though, if you’re suffering from this issue too, you need to have a gentle and gradual build-up. It’s taken me many weeks to get to this point and it was only after talking to this specialist and him checking my strength and mobility that I was given the all clear to fully work the hamstring harder. The first few weeks of this injury you wouldn’t necessarilly do that.

I also asked if he thought me doing Chicago was sensible or if I’d do myself any long term damage. He said as long as I didn’t regress or get worse, Chicago would be fine. This is EXACTLY what I needed to hear. Someone who knows their stuff giving me solid advice. My mind is so much calmer now.

So going forward I’m running three times a week, one of those being a long run. Though realistically I won’t be going that long… probably 16 miles top. And between that I have set hamstring easy and hard days. So far so good! My hamstring is responding well. It’s getting stronger. The discomfort is getting less.

The thing about this injury is that you have to be patient, be sensible and not neglect rehab. It won’t get better on its own with rest. You have to push it and strengthen it. But it’s a very fine balance of not pushing it too hard and knowing when to back off. I think the past 15 or so weeks have evidently shown this for me! I’m going to do a more thorough post later on how I combatted this (though I don’t want to speak too soon because this could all fall down again!!).

I’ve read a lot of forums and I just want to put something positive into the Internet about this injury because so much of it was doom and gloom and never feeling normal again. I’m not quite back to normal, but eventually (all things being well and me not being an idiot) I hope to provide a bit of positivity from what I’ve learnt and experienced. (TOUCH WOOD!!)

Have you ever had a long-term injury?

Do you do regular strength work to keep an injury at bay?