My knee and I

So what is going on then with my running, or lack thereof?

Well, as I said in previous posts, not a whole lot. I haven’t run properly since Chicago – six weeks ago. I’ve attempted to run to see how things feel, like an “up the road jobby” with Alfie or an attempt at parkrun.

The attempts to run were never with any real belief that I would be OK. My knee doesn’t feel right but I wanted an insight into what exactly felt wrong. Does that make sense?

I went to parkrun on Saturday in my running gear but with the very low expectation of finishing. I had my jacket on a nearby branch to fetch when (not if, but very much when) the discomfort would begin.

My knee hasn’t been right since the week before the Chicago marathon when it randomly became swollen the Monday after the Bournemouth Half Marathon, despite having felt nothing wrong with it at the time or after. Since the marathon it’s been very stiff and achy. It also has a rather disconcerting click from time to time.

Seeing my physio helped to a degree but ultimately it remained stubbornly the same. I had tape put on it to see if it was a tracking issue of my kneecap but it didn’t really improve things. I also took time off completely from leg exercises (such as squats and lunges) and cardio.

The stair machine and swimming weren’t really bothering it but I couldn’t say for absolute certain. I mean it felt OK when I did it and afterwards, but who knows really if it was just prolonging the issue? So I stopped. But again, there was no improvement.

So after the recommendation of a sports therapist, I booked an appointment with a knee consultant and went to see what he thought. I did this privately. While I have a huge amount of respect and love for the NHS, I realised I’m not really going to be seen very quickly due to the nature of this injury. It’s a very low level issue compared to what I imagine other people might be suffering who need to be seen more urgently. I acknowledge that I’m very privileged and grateful to be able to take this road and get seen so quickly.

So last week I had my appointment. The outcome of which I knew would be needing to have an MRI. There’s only so much that can be diagnosed from the outside, an MRI would (hopefully) clearly show what was wrong – or at least cross out a bunch of things. I had my MRI on Friday… and now I wait until Thursday for the results.

In the meantime I’ve still been going to the gym. I’m avoiding squats and lunges but I can still work on keeping my glutes strong with hip thrusts, kickbacks, resistance band work etc. As Kyle has now been coming to the gym too I’ve been able to work on my bench press and get to a new PB of 34kg for 5 reps. I’ve never had the confidence to really excel in this area because the fear of dropping the weight on my face has been STRONG.

I’ve added cardio back into my routine again in the form of the elliptical machine, which doesn’t cause my knee any issues. I’d like to do the stair machine but because there is so much knee flexion in it I’m worried it might be hurting it without me realising. So basically, I’m just tootling along for a bit with no running or major leg strength work.

I’m itching to find out what Thursday will bring with the results. Worst case is that I need surgery. My meniscus might be slightly torn (which would explain the disconcerting clicking). Or it could be something else. If it’s surgery I’ll deal with that as it comes.

My plan of action is…well, to get a plan of action. I want to know what I can do and what I shouldn’t do. If they tell me I can’t run for 6 months but I can do X and Y, then you better believe I will be doing that with the focus to come back stronger. I just need to have a goal and a focus. I want to run so badly but equally I know I need to sort this issue out.

I have days where I feel like crying and pounding my fists because it doesn’t seem fair. I work so hard in the gym. I’m not stupid with my training. I eat well and recover properly. Why can’t I run all the miles and marathons like everyone else? But I give myself a little shake (well, in reality Kyle and my parents talk me back to reason) and I focus on the good stuff. Because there’s a lot of that in my life thankfully.

Have you ever had surgery?

What do you do instead of running?

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!

A non-running update

So I haven’t been running for about two weeks.

It actually hasn’t been as hard as I thought it would be. Of course I’ve missed it. I’ve missed my lunchtime runs with Kyle, my parkrunning at the weekend and the lovely long runs on a Saturday. It has been sad in that respect.

I had a hard week last week with my granddad not being very well. My parents dashed up to see him in North Wales, while I had to stay behind to look after all the dogs. It was hard only knowing what was happening through phone calls and WhatsApp but there wasn’t much else I could do sadly. He’s such a strong man (he’s on Strava regularly walking and cycling!) and very competitive and strong-willed, so it was upsetting to have things change so suddenly. But because he is so strong-willed I really hope that he can pull through and get back to a relative normal.

Running would have been a great way to kill off some tension and stress, but I had to remain sensible and not make the niggle worse. Instead I was rather over-sensitive and delicate through the week – tough for all those around me I’m sure!

But with regards to the niggle, I’d rather take a bit of time now rather than have that insidious injury cycle that I’ve known far too well in my time. Instead I went to the gym a couple of times after work and the weekend to use the elliptical machine while watching Roma on my phone (a slow, black and white foreign film. Very good but I’m glad I watched it in a place of limited distractions).

What is my niggle exactly? I’m not sure but I know I’ve had something similar before. I’m almost certain it’s to do with my hamstring which has always had a weakness and why I can no longer do heavy deadlifts, It causes my calf to become quite uncomfortable and stiff, and can even make my foot feel a bit off. It’s like a nerve thing rather than a muscle thing. It just takes time and TLC to calm it down, and luckily it pretty much has calmed down.

Kyle has been lovely and helped take my mind off of not being able to run. He even came to a gym class with my on Saturday. Normally I’d be missing parkrun and being a bit grumpy about that, but instead we had a lovely lie in until 10.30am! Though to be fair we had a very late night after watching Glass and then going to Red Dog Saloon for ribs and chicken wings.

We went to a midday circuits class. I love going to the circuits classes. Yes they are super hard and intense, but because you’re only doing one exercise for 50 seconds and then changing you can get through it. It’s so varied and there’s always a good atmosphere with the others in the class, I really do enjoy it.

It was Kyle’s first time going (and I won’t lie, probably his last!). Though he used to do a lot of strength training in the past with his brother, this was an entirely different kettle of fish. Without sounding awfully patronising, he did really well. But he was a little broken afterwards (and a day or so later too). It did make me feel somewhat good that I’ve conditioned myself to not find the classes ridiculously hard – I mean, I’d be pretty rubbish if I was destroyed after each class despite having gone for so many months now! Though I should probably look to challenge myself each class and push up the weights to make it harder…

So I’m going to attempt running today. My leg genuinely feels normal, so I’m feeling rather positive. But we will see. Fingers crossed.

How do you cope with not running?

Have you ever gotten your partner to run or do a workout with you?

What was the last film you went to the cinema to see?

My motivations for the gym

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you probably know two key things about me. One, I see myself as quite the injury-prone runner. And two, I love leggings. Happily I’ve been able to complement these two things into a very productive outcome. Just hear me out…

I’m a big fan of going to the gym. Yes I love running, of course, but I do really enjoy going to the gym as well. It hasn’t always been this way. I saw the gym as the enemy. A place of bewilderment and boredom. I would drag myself there when I was no longer able to run because I was suffering from a sore knee, hip, painful IT band or something along those lines. So I’d go to a Spinning class or use the elliptical machine, grudgingly. But never sort the actual issue out – the root cause.

After numerous of physio appointments it finally got through to me that I needed to actually make strength training part of my weekly routine. Sadly I’m not one of those seemingly superhuman people who can just run and do nothing else.

It was tough though. It took a lot of research, YouTube videos, physio help and guidance to become stronger, confident and actually happy to go to the gym.Where do leggings come into it though? Well, one of the reasons I love the gym is that I can be a bit more exciting with my fitness clothing. I don’t wear leggings when I run because I just prefer to wear shorts… but at the gym, leggings are my staple. What you look like at the gym really doesn’t matter of course, but for me it really helps to be wearing something I feel comfortable and, yes, look good. It helps make me feel good.

I’m quite a boring person with what I wear normally so it’s nice to be a bit more “jazzy” at the gym where anything goes in terms of colours and patterns. One of the sites I love is The Sports Edit. They have a fantastic range of very stylish gym wear – and items that will last, not fast fashion that you will chuck away after a few months.I was sent a pair of leggings and a top from the site to review and I can happily say I’m in love. Now you know I know my leggings. I know what makes a decent pair, what’s flattering and, most importantly what actually works at the gym in terms of comfort and actually exercising. These leggings are GORGEOUS. I’m not really a huge pattern fan but these are subtly different. I love how sparkly they are (they don’t actually feel sparkly and don’t drop glitter everywhere – something I was a bit worried about).
They’re the Alloy Ombre High Waisted Leggings from the brand Beyond Yoga and when I wore them at the gym I got quite a few compliments. One person asked if they were they my “disco leggings” for Christmas. I mean, I guess he’s right, they’re perfect for the Christmas season! But I will be wearing them all year round 🙂 They have a lovely high-waisted fit, are thick enough to be squat proof but not too thick to not be breathable.
The top is the Under Armour Accelerate Tank White 2.0. I love how simple it is but also that the back is open to give a bit of air and also so you can show off your sports bra at the back (I have some quite nice sports bra with some funky strapping which is always a shame to cover up under a t-shirt). I’ll be wearing this top for both the gym and running.In terms of my gym routine, currently I’m at the gym three-four times a week. I tend to do circuit classes which work the entire body, but in a more weights-focused way. Think less cardio, more strength. I also ensure I do at least one legs and glutes focused day. We’re talking squats, lunges, hip thrusts, single leg work and resistance band routines. I’ll do heavy barbel squats and hip thrusts to really target increasing my strength and then higher rep, lighter weight exercises to focus more on the endurance of my muscles. I can happily say I’ve remained uninjured for a good while now and I’m almost certain it’s because of my stronger body.

What keeps you motivated at the gym?

Do you have different clothes for running compared to what you were at the gym?

Do you look for gymwear that will last a long time or whatever is cheapest? For me it’s generally long lasting and quality – but this does tend to be more expensive, but in the long run it works out better!

**Full Disclaimer: I was sent the leggings and top for free in exchange for a review on my blog. As always these are my own honest opinions!**

Post-Goodwood Marathon – what next?

So after the marathon last week I felt strangely really good. OK straight after I felt dreadful but the day after I was good.

I say strangely only because I’m so used to something feeling off or not right. I’m convinced I’m an injury prone runner (it would take a lot to stop feeling that way I think) but I guess I’ve found a happy balance of running, gym and general health that has kept me (*tough wood*) injury-free for most of this year. I’ve had a few calf niggles but actually nothing that has stopped me running consistently. I’m obviously really pleased about this! I just need to remain sensible in my training.

I didn’t go to the gym or run Monday and enjoyed a solid 9+ hours night sleep (having gone to bed so early and probably fallen asleep before nine o’clock). I was worried the god awful headache might have persisted but thankfully the awful pounding had disappeared. Had it not, I’d have taken the day off of work because there was no way I could have focused on a computer screen let alone concentrate on anything.Another irksome outcome of the marathon was that my right ankle was quite swollen. When I took my trainer and compression sock off after getting home it was a ridiculous size. I poked, prodded and moved about on it and it felt fine. I definitely hadn’t gone over on it during the race. I then remembered I had a bite on it the other day. The swelling was all around that. My mum mentioned that it might be due to the fact that I’d been wearing my compression sock all day and that probably hadn’t helped the bite situation. It looked terrible! Thankfully after a couple of days the swelling went down and I’m just left with a little bite mark now. But how weird, wouldn’t have had a clue that that could have happened. During the race itself I hadn’t noticed a thing.I was strangely glad to be going into work the next day it must be said. We had our sweepstakes Bake Off happening so I knew they’d definitely be cake. Happily the baker had brought in some crazy good rocky road (literally one of my favourite ‘cake’ things).

I also knew that another team were doing their own Bake Off competition and I’d already managed to muscle my way into trying their bakes too. In fact, when I got to my desk in the morning I was over the moon to find a brownie wrapped up and put under my mouse ready for me!So by 11 o ‘clock I had a chunk of rocky road, a brownie and a good slice of a five tiered chocolate cake to tide me over. Not to mention one of my colleagues had brought back Hershey’s chocolates from the States after his visit. I was well and truly making up for my calorie deficit from the day before 😉I don’t really believe in eating stupidly after a big race – at this point after 15 marathons my body is pretty used to running. But I do believe in enjoying yourself a little bit. I mean, to be fair, I hardly ever need an excuse to eat cake but I did feel like it was just that little bit less difficult in terms of sweet tolerance! I had a good appetite going on – the runger was STRONG.I was back running Tuesday. Nice and gentle I did 10k at lunch. I felt a bit tired but in general my legs felt fine. No niggles. Whoop whoop!So now with about six weeks until New York I’m not going to go ham on the training just yet. I’m enjoying running and it’s feeling good so I’m going to (hopefully) stay around 30-40 miles a week, though closer to 30 for the moment. I’m also loving the gym and doing regular circuit classes. It feels like my whole time working hard at the gym on my own for years has been training to then smash these circuit classes and see what I can do.I really do enjoy the classes. It helps to not have to think about what I’m going to do, and it’s nice to feel a bit competitive and try and work hard in a class. And they are HARD. I mean, to be fair, you get what you put in them so I always try to push myself on the weights I use, the number of reps I can get in and how hard I can push. And it’s nice have an instructor there to help with technique and form.

So yeah, things are going well. Lots of running, gym and of course cake!

Do you enjoy classes at the gym?

Have you been watching Bake Off?

What’s your favourite cake/baked item?