My return from injury
Runners suffer from injuries. It is an inevitable outcome of pavement pounding and does not discriminate on gender or ability, recreational joggers to elite runners all have their share of aches and pains. However, when looked at with a positive perspective, injuries can create an invaluable opportunity for development. Here’s my experience of injury and how, with the support of friends and family, I’ve worked to overcome it…
Having competed in school cross-countries, I joined Lasswade AC at the age of eleven and tried my hand in multiple events as a junior, deciding to focus on endurance events. Under the guidance of Linda, Kirk, Gilly (then Andy), I have progressed on to represent Scotland (in track, cross-country, road and mountain running) and Great Britain (Mountain Running); winning both my first British title and an U20 World Cup last year in Mountain Running. Having had a few minor injuries over the years, nothing could have prepared me for the cycling accident I was to have in October 2019. In the shape of my life and a week away from flying to Argentina for the World Mountain Running Championships, I was hit by an oncoming driver while cycling. Waking up hours later with unstable neck fractures, shattered pelvis and broken ribs, it was clear that I wouldn’t be running at the Worlds – or, for that matter, anywhere else for a long time. Fast forward five months, and I am well on track to being faster and fitter than ever before.
Coming to terms with what had happened was an undulating process. Initially, all I felt were disbelief and disappointment (and very sleepy). All I had worked towards for the past few months, hours of training and dedication, had been destroyed through no fault of my own. Beyond feeling gutted, I also felt guilty about the work my coaches had put in to get me to that level of fitness. Negative feelings can be a downward spiral but, as a friend reminded me, I needed to thank my lucky stars. My mindset changed gradually as I realised that, ultimately, my fitness and strength had given me another shot at life. I still had an amazing network of support surrounding me. I still had the chance to explore and develop; there are hundreds of races each year and – at the end of the day – we should run because we enjoy it. Focusing on small achievements as I tried to build back some routine into my day and looking back at photos of all the good times sport had brought me restored my motivation slowly. Some days were distinctly better than others, serving as a harsh reminder of how far I had to go. Taking a deep breath and reminding myself that worrying about things beyond my control were not helpful set me straight. Why give up on something which has given you so much?
After two months lying in bed, a trip to the end of our street – supported by my boyfriend for the entire 400 metres – took fifteen minutes of shuffling: its fair to say I was the un-fittest I have ever been. Ironically, this gave me the benefit of hindsight on previous injuries: even though you’ve lost fitness, you can still return to form with a bit of grit and perseverance. Nevertheless, my motivation was building as the desire to feel fit, healthy and be able to do what I loved grew. Accepting that this would take an indefinite period of time and that I shouldn’t make comparisons to previous form were key as I began to build back up. Taking steps gradually and ensuring that I retained plenty of rest days (so training did not inhibit my recovery), while keeping my sessions varied and based on feel were key to keeping motivated: no-one but yourself is putting the pressure of success on you. One day of missed training doesn’t do any damage, if anything it helps your body and mind to recover. I began to set alternative goals, keeping a post-it wall of personal achievements: stretching, cooking, yoga …. the list of opportunities was endless.
One of the biggest boosts to my recovery was the support – visits, phone-calls, cards and gifts – from friends and family because it made me remember that I wasn’t alone. After the initial upset of being unable to train and compete has settled, many injured athletes find the isolation associated with no-longer training in a group to be a big, and often overlooked, burden. Before this hit me, I began to organise ways to keep in contact with my club, coaches and training partners. By volunteering at training (e.g. timing sessions, collecting subs), marshalling at events (Parkrun are always looking for volunteers) and helping organise teams (e.g. booking transport, handing out course maps) I benefited myself while simultaneously giving something back to the club/community.
Sitting here writing this, three weeks into lockdown, I am once again reminded of how much we take for granted in life. Often, its only when we can’t have or do something that we understand its importance. When my primary short-term goal had been returning to group training, this came as a big blow. Nevertheless, it has provided some time to explore new routes and improve my fitness further before we can return to our old routines. My long-term goals remain the same and provide an overarching incentive for training: to represent Great Britain in track, cross-country and road; eventually making the Olympic team (which would be a dream come true). I think that Dina-Asher Smith’s philosophy of making small steps towards a bigger goal is a great way to approach athletics, as even if you don’t make the final aim you have still achieved lots of little things along the way. Moreover, I believe that this quote from Heidi Davis (GB Mountain Runner) sums up the reason I have worked so hard to return to fitness:
“My goal is to really enjoy this sport. To appreciate every step I take. To really enjoy every place this sport takes me and to be thankful and grateful for all that it gives me. So I would say my biggest goal is just to enjoy this life for as long as I can and to be happy and healthy whilst doing so”.