Archive for January, 2017

Did You Get Healed?

January 28, 2017

So sang (Sir) Van Morrison. Well, not yet is the answer. But I’m working on it.

We’ve reached that part of winter where I’d normally be well into speed training, working from a platform of strength and stamina training put in during the months up to Christmas. Only not this year. I won’t bore you by repeating the background. It’s in the last episode of this blog.

I am very comfortable at present with my decision to set competition aside for now, and to concentrate of the various aspects of rehabilitation I need to see my way through. The idea of doing this without the spectre of competition haunting me might seem commonplace to some athletes, but truly and honestly, it’s a new thing for me. In the past, whatever the injury (and I include clinical depression in this), there has always been a point, either in my head or in my diary, by which I expected to be back racing again. I strongly suspect (with the luxury of that lovely thing known as hindsight), that this has meant skimped rehab of some injuries, and it probably underpins the years of leg, back, foot, knee niggles etc that seem to form the background music to my progress.

When, fairly suddenly and without warning, my left shoulder pretty much refused to function without considerable pain, it was one of those “oh fuck” moments. You know – an injury that immediately brings with it a sense of foreboding, often accompanied by a minute or two of cold sweats.

A couple of months down the road, with expert advice and several sessions of acupuncture on board, I have a rehab plan. In case the simple logic of it is useful to others, it goes like this:

Stage 1. Diagnosis. I am a firm believer in the principle of “know thine enemy”. I’m (basically) past this stage, and as I write this, I’m hoping I’m coming towards the end of:

Stage 2. Work to achieve full, pain-free range of movement without load This has been vital to me, in terms of introducing a sense of normality. That’s to say, if I can successfully and convincingly achieve this stage, it’s much easier to believe the next stages are also realistic. There may well be occasions when Stage 2 loops back to Stage 1 and progress slows down. This happened, for example, when I thought I’d recovered full, pain-free movement, but then extended my arm behind me to put on a fairly close-fitting jacket, only to find a part of my normal range of movement that had somehow escaped attention! Once I’m sure Stage 2 is in the bag, it’s then time for:

Stage 3: Exercise to establish full, pain-free range of movement under modest load This is the crux, and the stage I’ll be giving most time for. Too much load too soon might trigger a setback; too little for too long might give a misleading impression of progress. This is also the stage where expert monitoring will be vital, to help ensure the range of movement is indeed full, and the loading is not excessive. I think there will come a point where the abilities in my right shoulder (the good one) become my benchmark. At present, it is a bit shocking to discover how much more mobile and strong it is, compared to its damaged opposite number. Through Stages 2 and 3, I’ll be aiming to maintain a good standard of general fitness, but not at the level I’d aspire to as an active athlete. That would be a bit risky, I think. Then, as day follows night, we’ll have:

Stage 4: Gradually reinstating mobility and strength in the left shoulder to a point that pretty much matches that of the right one I say “pretty much” because it has never really been equally capable. Something to do with me being so right-handed perhaps. This will be a stage that needs to mesh in well with more specific fitness training. That’s because a key element of equality between the two shoulders for me will be the ability of both to function together under rapid movement. The left shoulder might have regained a semblance of strength by this point, but will it be able to cope with the rapid movement I need to sprint, and the sudden transition to fast arm movement upon coming out of starting blocks, for example? All being well, with stability, strength and normality thus regained, we reach:

Stage 5: Resumption of proper training I actually hope to reach this point when there is little or nothing of a competitive kind to tempt me back on the track. I need to leave headroom to loop back to an earlier stage if necessary – though hopefully not Stage 1, of course.

I don’t have a timescale for any of this. It’s probably not even helpful to know that Stage 2 has occupied almost a month at this point. Well, how long is a piece of string? It’s almost certain to be the key stage, and failure to achieve it as a foundation within what seems to be a “reasonable” length of time might be the first trigger for a rethink. Staying rehab-focussed and not allowing things simply to drift will be vital.

Onwards and upwards.

The Straight Line and the Curve

January 1, 2017

My title comes from a fairly recent song about an Elizabethan mystic. The “straight line and the curve” are rather neat euphemisms for a sprinter to adopt!

I’ve not written a new chapter for this blog for a while. There are many reasons for that. I’m writing this one on New Year’s Day, which is probably a day better than many for “resolutions”, but believe me, it hasn’t been easy to reach this point.

My summer track season in 2016 fizzled out in a very unsatisfactory manner, as described in one of my last blogs here. During the early autumn, training, such as it was without (m)any definable targets, was ok, but not very enjoyable. I was working at a level that, a year before, I’d probably have been pleased with, even if it didn’t seem all that hard. Then the injuries began.

First was a persistent pain in the ball of my right foot. Then, gradually, it was matched by one in the left foot too. I’d had something similar in my left foot back in 2012/13. It had responded to treatment for a malfunctioning medial arch, and has been kept in check since then by decent, high arch insoles in whatever shoes I wear. This time, renewing these had little or no effect, and I needed to give myself permission to ease right off on any running or high impact activity. After all, I thought, at that point there was a long way to go to next year’s track season. I’m currently trying recommended toe flexibility exercises, which give short term relief, but I’m still not doing any running.

Next, a bit out of nowhere, I began to get excruciating pain in my left shoulder whenever I extended my arm, raised it above my head, pulled or pushed on it, etc. I’ve had a clunky left shoulder since I was about 18, a legacy of a pedal bike crash, but this pain was new, and wasn’t near the old damage. Reading up Doctor Google’s diagnosis strongly suggests I’ve begun to develop a fairly classic kind of rotator cuff problem. If that’s so, it seems it might well be something that rest and physical therapies won’t necessarily influence, thus leading to an operation as a remedy. Rest and regular doses of anti-inflammatories are the initial actions. Even the limited training I was able to do before has been very compromised. In relation to where I “ought” to be with only about six weeks to the start of the indoor track season, I’m nowhere.

I’ve been pretty fortunate to avoid them in the last few years, but then I caught a rather bad cold. It went on to my chest, and such was the associated hacking cough that my back muscles went into spasm. Now, I’m well familiar with anything my perennially bad back can throw at me. There is a pattern. Countering it involves a perhaps paradoxical mix of sessions of laying on the floor, propped up slightly on my elbows, coupled with a regime of going for very gentle walks as often as possible. After a week of this, as I write, I’m sleeping more comfortably, and feeling that each day is bringing small gains. However, the sound I keep hearing isn’t my cough, but the noise of further nails being banged into the coffin of my preparations for racing on the track in 2017.

Clinical depression is one of the scariest and nastiest things that has ever happened to me. I’m about four years out of that pit now, but one of the fastest ways back into it that I can imagine is to fall back to a point where training for my sport merely becomes a persistent form of physical and mental self-harm. I’ve written before about the horrors of simply “beating myself up” in training. I’m never going there again, and have become pretty acutely alive to the symptoms.

So, as New Year 2017 approached, the athlete in me needed to make plans. I sat down with the calendar, but quickly found that I lacked the courage to make those leaps of faith involved in committing to specific races on specific days, booking accommodation and travel to big events, and so on.

I’m 62, coming up 63. In the last ten years, and the last two in particular, I’ve been racing at levels of success I’ve not sustained since the days of my youth. And I’m in no way ready yet to “hang up my spikes”. Things would be so much easier if I was! However, everything that has happened to me in the last three months is leading me towards the decision to give racing a miss in 2017.

I’m making my decisions one bite at a time. Missing out of an indoor track season, and staying away from championship-level events in the summer, worked pretty well for me during 2013, while I sorted my foot problems. Initially that might be my chosen route for 2017: sort the injuries slowly and properly, stay well, mentally and physically, and gradually, gradually get myself to a situation where winter training 2017/18 becomes a reality.

There are acts of faith in all that, of course. Will I still want to carry on? Will I still be able to carry on? I can only respond to those questions with a old joke I once heard on the radio: “I can most definitely say, without fear of contradiction: “Perhaps”. One step at a time.

“Between the world of the straight line and the curve,
The sun and the moon will rule regardless”
(Jim Moray)

There are still other things to be worked through, but they’re for another time.