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The Frustrations of Injury ~ Clare van Dam

There’s a more than decent chance it was me that added the last straw to the camel’s back (that turned out to be my back). It was January, the Christmas excess was behind and the Bath Half ahead. My distances were ticking up fast and I was feeling smug. Kerry MAY have mentioned once (or maybe twice) that to train to run longer distances you add “5 minutes extra per run: no more”. Yeah, well, I didn’t do that. Facepalm.  A sore lower back morphed into a tightly knotted piriformis (the ultimate pain in the arse) and other associated shooting, spreading, wildly frustrating pain. Even short runs left my legs and hips feeling like I’d run a marathon.

An MRI scan eventually revealed the non-compressive focal disc extrusions at two points in my lower back (sexy). In itself, a very common occurrence in those of us who’re aging gracelessly and often asymptomatic. In fact, I’d probably had them for years but the sudden change in load COULD have caused it to go from annoying niggle to full blown injury. (We always blame ourselves, don’t we? Is it easier than accepting things go wrong from time to time?).

I naturally I tackled the problem by throwing everything at it all at once. Over the course of the following year I had countless osteopath appointments, got pummelled by an excellent masseuse, upped my cycling, reduced my running to once or twice a week, didn’t run any races, religiously followed Kerry’s home core and strength programme, started Pilates (zzzzzzzzz), hung upside down by my ankles, got mildly, but lengthily electrocuted in a sort of wetsuit, stretched, twisted, moaned, cried, gave up, drank wine excessively, got up and carried on. Repeat ad infinitum.

It’s taken a year to believe the professionals and accept the injury itself isn’t going to get better. I still have a particularly nasty twinge in my leg and occasional serious back pain. BUT, it definitely is better than it was and I now have some tools to manage it. When I do run, it’s on soft surfaces and with as many hills as possible: a challenge in the pancake landscape of western Holland. I don’t go too far, and I keep the speed down (which is lucky because I’ve destroyed my condition with all this faffing around!). I accept that when I do go over 10km or join Kerry’s sprint classes I’ll be in pain afterwards and that it’ll be fine the next day. Running a race, when I know the red mist would descend and I’d go off like a nutter would be foolhardy at this stage.

And that’s where we are now. I now know (as I should have all along) that one ignores Kerry at one’s own peril. I know that Pilates gives ditch water a run for its money in the dull stakes but it’s very effective for the pelvic floor. And OK, it’s taught me to tuck my pelvis under which in turn supports my back and reduces the impact of running. I also know that getting electrocuted is unpleasant and I’m not sure it helps but that hanging upside down by my feet is effective and makes my hair grow thicker (not a word of a lie).

Running hard in a storm is still the ultimate alive feeling (Dennis was the best I’ve ever had). A trot in the spring sunshine along the beach and over some gnarly dunes is pretty good too. I love the mad hit of energy that surges out of nowhere at unexpected moments. And yes, I admit, I get a massive kick out of running as fast as possible. I may have to shelf the fast bit for a while still. That remains a struggle: a perpetual champing at a mental bit. Ultimately, I want to carry on running for many years to come and I have to keep telling myself that to do that, I need to take it easy and mix it up with other exercise. Which I’m mostly doing. Fucking annoying though. Living with the frustrations of injury.

– Clare Van Dam


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