At last, the long promised post on how I overcame some serious and chronic injuries at the start of my running career with my feet and just lately, with my knees. Remember, I’ve got no medical qualifications or expertise: this is just what worked for me. Enjoy!
Persistent yet mysterious injuries annoy me the most.
When I twist an ankle and wind up limping, I know it’s because I landed awkwardly. When I skin my knees from falling onto asphalt, I know why I’ve got road rash. When I get sunburn, I know I’ll be right in a few days. And, like the song says, that I should’ve worn sunscreen.
My point is these injuries hurt but I know their cause and that I’ll be better in a few days.
Then there are the mysterious and persistent injuries. They have no obvious cause and don’t seem to have an obvious timescale for getting better. Twice in my running life, these chronic injuries were serious enough that they almost make me stop completely.
I’d like to share with you how, with some determined detective work; I got through the worst injury crises of my running life.
Flayed flesh that fecked my feet
It’s obvious but feet are one of the most important parts of your body when you run.
When you run, your feet strike the ground laden with a force equal to three or four times your bodyweight. Our feet act as part of a system with our ankles, shins, knees, muscles and hips: nature’s perfect biomechanical marvel to propel us along. Our feet are the interface between our bodies and the ground – supporting the entirety of the multiplied force of our bodies on two little pads of flesh and bone.
That makes your running shoes the most important piece of running kit. The right footwear will do two essential things –
- cushion your feet as you land
- help support your legs as they whirl away like Billy Whizz (link).
Properly fitting shoes that match your own running style – or gait – are a must. It’s outside the scope of this article here’s a good article that explains why. As I found to my cost, the wrong shoes will do more harm than good.
Before I got into running, I read up on all this. Going to the specialist running shop, I had my gait analysed by running on a treadmill. Here, the action of my feet landing was analysed by the trained staff. With this information, they could recommend the best type of shoe and I bought my first proper running trainers. In my case, it’s a type of support shoe.
And for a time, all was well. I got into running without injury. After about 500 miles, I noticed the cushioning wasn’t as effective and it was time to replace them. Off I trotted to a running shop. Only to find my usual brand wasn’t in stock.
This isn’t an unusual occurrence for me. I’ve got weird big feet – not quite UK size 13, not quite UK size 14. This means I’ve always been used to taking whatever shoes are available that fit. And, I thought, a support-type trainer is a support-type trainer. I bought them, noticing that they felt comfortable yet slightly different under the arch.
Such a small thing; yet that tiny difference sent my feet to hell and back; when I flayed myself alive.
The Run of Blood!
One night, I wore my new shoes on a 5k run around town. As they were new, I was expecting a little time to get used to how my feet felt in them. Part of me expected there would be some blistering as I worked to break them in. Sure enough, the little hot bubbles of pain appeared part way through the run. When I got home, I was expecting to see some blisters. As the shoes came loose, I was surprised to see my white socks stained pink from blood. Getting my first aid kit ready, I slipped the sock off with some difficulty. And saw carnage.
A huge chunk of the skin on the sole of both my feet had been rubbed off – they hung from the sole of my feet like a sheet pegged to a washing line. The air stung the exposed flesh beneath and I was gobsmacked.
It started to hurt.
Numbly, I broke out my bigger first aid kit (the one I keep for major traumas, earthquakes and zombie apocalypses). Using an aerosol disinfectant on the red-raw soles of my feet led to tears. Carefully, I smoothed the flaps of skin back over the flesh, thinking if nothing else, they might help prevent infection. I dressed them using the funny little square bandages you only think you’ll need for gunshot wounds. Running out of medical tape, I raided my supply of gaffer tape to keep everything together.
The next day was terrible. At the time, I had a desk job, thank goodness. Even then, I could not put any weight on the arches of my feet. The pain was blunted slightly only with painkillers. I was very frustrated and I was angry too – I had just bought these new trainers and, having spent a lot of money on them, was reluctant to replace them. So, I determined it must be my soft feet and they’ll be OK once they have time to toughen up.
However, after a few fruitless weeks of trying to get these bloody trainers to work and using up quite a few square bandages, I admitted defeat and went back to the running shop. Discussing it with one of the sales reps, we came to the conclusion that the rubbing of my feet against the support arch was flaying the skin from my soles.
We figured out that, because of my unusual sized feet, Size 14 was just a bit too large while Size 13, which I had tried to fit into before, too small. I went back to the previous brand I was using and started wearing an extra pair of socks. This means my feet no longer slide around inside my shoe, I get the support I need and I always know which brand best suits my need.
And, to this day, I’ve never had a repeat of the Run of Blood. My blistering problems have eased as well.
How I got Runner’s Knee – from walking
WARNING: Graphic content.
These are my knees. I took the photo a few weeks ago.
After the Sydney marathon in September 2014, I was feeling strained and took a rest from running. I was feeling some tenderness in my knees, which I put down to the heavy training schedule. I was in the process of changing jobs and figured not running would mean they’d have time to recover.
The pain didn’t go away – it felt like a vertical band drawn over the front of my knee cap. When I squatted, there was a clicking and popping noise. Having stopped running, I was surprised to see the pain didn’t lessen. It wasn’t crippling pain – more a long term chronic ache.
From my bits of research on the internet, the best fit description of my symptoms seemed to match patellofemoral pain syndrome – or Runner’s Knee. Essentially, the strain of running can cause pressures on the knee and the kneecap rubs against the thighbone, causing irritation.
I thought I wasn’t going to get out of this one – was my running career over?
Then, one day, I made an interesting discovery. One Saturday, I was pottering around town and decided to wear an old pair of trainers. These were a spare pair I didn’t use for running. After a day walking around town in them, I noticed something interesting. The ache in my pain was a lot less. This made me curious and I started looking at my normal shoes – and found the answer to my problem.
Runner’s Knee from…worn out street shoes
Picture of worn heels
As discussed before, I got weird shaped feet. This means when I find a pair of shoes I like, I wear them to death. We also discussed how I wear a support type of trainer – where the sole comes to support my arch. My usual walking style had worn out the heel of my shoes. This meant I was forcing myself to walk at an unusual gait, causing the problems in my knees.
The cure was simple – new shoes and some orthopaedic insoles. The insoles mimic the support given by my trainers and correct my gait. Since then, my knees have felt good – no more issues. But that’s not the end of it.
Recently, I’ve joined a gym and embraced cross training. A couple of times a week, I’ll use the bikes or the cross trainer. That way, I’m working to strengthen my knees without wearing them out from running. While the orthopaedics solved stopped the problem getting worse and threw it into reverse, hopefully some cross training will help build resilience into my legs.
Apart from the mental blocks from before [link], these are the second and third worst threats to my running career Patient and determined investigation and an awareness of my body got me through these very serious crises.
The physical pain from these injuries is not to be overlooked. It hurt – like hell (especially the feet). But it didn’t kill me and has helped show me that there can be a way through injury. That’s not to say I was reckless – far from it. I was cautious and stopped running so I could find out the cause and cure it.
Interestingly, I think physical problems are much easier then mental [link to post] to solve. I think it’s because they are physical – it’s the corporal body hurting, not the soul, and there’s no blame or guilt attached as there is an external problem to solve.