Back to bad old ways

A couple of weeks ago, I did an extended spell of gardening. Nothing creative or energetic – just basically tidying up fallen leaves and stuff. I sat down for a well-earned cup of tea afterwards, and when I stood up again, I felt an unfortunately rather familiar pain across my lower back. It was something I’ve not experienced for a few years now, to the point that I was almost feeling the bad old days of chronic back pain were behind me. Wrong.

“Just a bit of a twinge” I told myself, and went off to the gym to see if some stretching and gentle running, followed by a long shower, would help. So far, so good, but that evening, the transition from sitting to standing was still very uncomfortable, and the left half of my back was becoming stiff and lop-sided. Sleep was ok, but Monday was a problem: I was due to race a 200 metres and a sprint relay leg in the local Masters League, which would involve a 25 mile drive there and back. Tuesday wouldn’t be much better: I was committed to a 100 mile round trip to photograph some gardens. Which, if any, of these was going to help a sore back, and which would make it worse?

The League match went surprisingly well. I put on a comfortable back support, and lowered my expectations. The outcome was that my 200 metres time was good enough for top spot on the UK rankings for this year so far, for my age group. I also ran a storming leg in the relay. More to the point, I then got home in one piece, and slept well. Tuesday was a different matter, however. I was desperately sore, and only able to stand awkwardly. However, the garden photography that afternoon allowed me to walk around for several hours, and this helped. The long journey there and back definitely didn’t. Wednesday and Thursday were painful. I was fortunate to get a sports massage appointment on the Thursday afternoon. Mike eased the pain greatly, and gave me good advice, as always.

Friday and Saturday were something else. Drive in “Friday before Bank Holiday” M25/M40 traffic, spend the night in a hotel bed, and then race a Championships 100 and 200 metres on Saturday afternoon, before immediately driving home again. I arrived at the stadium, and made no secret of my ailing back. I had a couple of hours to try and talk myself out of racing. No one else would. The problem was, with a firm back support in place, jogging about, pre-warm up, on a hot, sunny afternoon, I didn’t feel too bad. Try as I could, I failed to convince myself not to race. Dangerous behaviour, because I’ve been there several times in the past, and it had always ended in tears.

My back problem goes back about 35 years. I suffered a bad accident, in which three lumbar vertebrae got moved. This caused disc damage, and came within literally millimetres of damaging my spinal cord. It summarily ended my hockey playing and my athletics career at that point, required regular hours in hospital traction, to ease the pressure on the discs, and hours of ultrasound treatment on the sacroiliac joint, on the rear of my left hip. There was much soft tissue damage to heal, too.

Fast forward three years. I was overweight, still learning to manage my damaged back, and seriously unfit. It was also the height of the second wave of the “jogging boom”. Reluctantly, and chaperoned by a good friend who also happened to be a medical man, I began pounding the streets, with an eye to running some 10k and half marathon events. I’m glad I did it (and those events), because it gave me back my fitness, my confidence, and most of my health. I joined my local gym (still a member), began walking in the mountains again, and was happy. Racing on the track was, I believed, well behind me. And so it was for the next ten years, interspersed with breakdowns of my back and hip, each time requiring a slow and organised process of recovery. Some of those incidents are worth a blog in their own right.

Then, out of the blue, I met an old track running friend, as I was walking to work. Pure chance: he lived miles and miles away, and I’d not seen him for almost fifteen years. We talked over coffee and he suggested it was time I got back on the track. Masters athletics was busy trying to get its act together, and my Club needed a sprinter.

I’ll resume that tale one day in another blog. Suffice it for now to say that right back then, I also wanted to talk myself out of something that could easily have been physically and emotionally catastrophic if it went wrong. And just as last weekend, I didn’t manage to talk myself out of it. And I’m glad.

Back to the present. By some miracle, I came away from the championships with two gold medals and a very respectable 100 metres time, albeit assisted by a following wind a bit over the allowable limit. I didn’t damage anything further, either. What I was doing went against everything my self-talk tells me, and the advice I’d give anyone in my situation.

But don’t mention the journey home…..

3 Responses to “Back to bad old ways”

  1. barbaracook7767 Says:

    Very interesting. I am always testing the feedback I get from listening to my body and listening to my self talk and wondering which is which . I would be interested in hearing if after your ride home and next day report is to no longer listen to self talk stories or is it still a mystery????

    • tomsprints Says:

      Very painful journey home, but next morning, remarkably good. Progress during the week, then I raced again, and won again. Too soon to tell whether I’m doing long term harm, but I’m certainly questioning whether I’m any real judge of what my body is currently feeling!!

  2. And Still It Goes On | Blog from a Faster Master Says:

    […] An older athlete rambles on…. « Back to bad old ways […]

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