Are we failing our injured marathon runners?

Clinic is always extra busy this time of year, with patients desperately hoping to be cured of their various ailments, so that they can participate in the London marathon. Whilst I’m typically one of those annoyingly positive people, sometimes even a positive outlook still isn’t enough to pull off the required miracle.

Yep. I’ve told four people today that they will not be running The London. And it sucks. For both them and I.

I’ve run a lot of marathons, and I know that nothing wounds the heart of the runner more than not being able to run. The training for the London marathon requires a certain kind of pig-headed discipline necessary for getting up at a depressingly dark hour to stomp around before work, in the wind, driving rain and urban fox poo.
Whilst we might feel virtuous at the end of a training session, I suspect that for many of us we don’t particularly enjoy the arduous miles, but somehow we drag ourselves out because we thrive on the journey to becoming a marathoner.

Being told you can’t run can plummet a runner into a kind of bereavement. They may experience the following stages.

Denial “Surely that pain in my groin is simply a pulled hip flexor? What do you mean it’s a femoral neck stress fracture?”

Anger “I can’t believe I’m injured again! This happened last year when I had to pull out because of my ankle sprain”

Bargaining “What if I just cross trained and walked around the course?” (Nice try, but I wouldn’t trust myself to ‘just walk it’ either!)

Depression “I’m gutted; I can’t run and I’ve raised twenty grand for charity.”

Acceptance “I guess I’ll be watching the race in the pub.”

Whilst many of us are great at helping to heal bodies, I think sometimes we need to help heal our runners’ souls too.

To many non-runners, the idea of being told not to run might even seem appealing. Runners aren’t cut from the same cloth as non-runners however, so resist any urge that you might have to suggest it’s time that they hung up their Asics. That’s a quick way to ruin a lovely clinical relationship.

Instead, I find it helps to remind our broken runners that every great athlete will have spent a considerable amount of time injured, and with the right rehab, they can often return stronger and faster than before.

Try getting them to focus on the things they can do during their recovery. So, as well as the ubiquitous cross training and core work, might they be able to spend more time in the pool with a swim coach, and really nail that front crawl body roll technique. Who knows, they might even make it to Transition 1 faster in their next triathlon. Then they’ll really love you.

We’re making 2017 the year of injury education. We want to raise awareness about sport injury management and prevention, for patients and clinicians alike.

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Dr Cath x