It’s a typical September night here in Bristol UK. You know the kind. The damp grey, drizzled under foot kind. The leaves have turned and tumbled to paste on the ground kind. The students are rowdily back into the swing of another boozy academic year, kind. Draw in deep the steamy city air and heave a sigh, reader. Then cast your eye over that cosy-looking edge-of-Clifton bar, and in that shadowing corner, spy the short, twenties-ish girl with the fiery hair, tapping away at her laptop, writing this spiel, chiseling a frown line in concentration and drinking non-alcoholic beer.
Non-alcoholic beer?! NON-alcoholic beer? What are you, an amateur, woman?!
The answer, oh generalised judging voice of the genuine lager-consuming public, is yes! Yes I am. And proud, for I am an amateur in far more ways than one. I, am the amateur of amateur runners. Hence the amateur beer drinking. And my amateur tale of amateur running woe turned… well, OK, as it turns out.
You might recall, last time I wrote, that I’d sprained my ankle while commuter-running, and I was pretty upset about it. I mean, you would be, wouldn’t you? That first time around, I swapped running for spinning classes and Body Pump and Pilates, and every other week or so caved in and hopped on the treadmill regardless. Naturally my ailing ankle would shriek and swell afterwards. But as far as I was concerned, I was running and maintaining my fitness, and that was all that counted.
Limp ahead two months to January 2017, when Harry and I finally made our hankered-after move to Bristol (on a day as similarly dank and sodden). It was a beautiful thing. So beautiful, in fact, that the morning after, I threw on my running gear with gusto – without my trusty ankle support – and Went Too Soon. Just 0.8 miles down the road, I staggered and went right over on my ankle a second time, and knew I was back to square one, with a face-full of angry tears and expletives.
Being back at square one has often felt like a boomeranging inevitability with me and my running. Weeks spent over-enthusiastically building up my mileage undermined by fatigue or niggling injury. Numerous half marathon race entry fees left unfulfilled because I’d gone down with something at the last hurdle. Two ankle sprains in as many months (in chimes the small violin).
So when this particular square one landed back in January, I knew I had to suck it up and embrace the whole recovery thing properly this time, and stop with the dwelling and pouting.
Here’s what I did.
I swapped my bandage for a heavy-duty ankle support
I’d already bought one of those standard stretchy bandage-style supports after the first sprain saga, and decided the second time round that I needed to up my game. My mighty marathon-running, IRONMAN-smashing auntie, Jane Wood Rackham, advised me to go the whole Darth Vader and get one of these. This more shielded, adjustable, elasticated sports-ready ankle support was the business for giving me the assurance I needed to get back into my spectacular sweatfest right away. At first I would wear it in my spinning and Body Pump classes to give my rickety ankle the confidence boost of extra support and then wholly depended on it when I was ready to make my gradual transition back into running. As time went on, I was able to phase the heavy-duty support out in favour of the original trusty bandage, until at last I was comfortable enough to leave both safely stowed in my drawer.
I got enthusiastic about cross-training
Runners (or merely mortal ‘people who run’ like myself) are well known for their single-minded approach to fitness, despite all those Runner’s World articles hammering home the importance of mixing up your exercise disciplines. So when running was ruled out, I had to channel my running fixation in a different, non-weight-bearing direction. I picked cycling and spinning classes, weight rep training and (sitting-room carpet) Pilates as fresh obsessions, and got what all the fuss was about. As someone who had resigned herself long ago to not having any real core or upper body strength, seeing the results of my alternated training was a really pleasant surprise. I developed definition in my arms, legs and even somewhere in the region of my abs. The diversion made me more thankful and aware of my physical potential, and excited to return to running having learned how cross-training can support and strengthen my efforts long-term.
I fell in love with Pilates
I mentioned above about getting into ‘sitting-room carpet’ Pilates – and that’s with wholehearted thanks to the power of YouTube. Among other things, Pilates comes highly-recommended for strengthening ankles in rehab, so with a new mat in tow and a sliver of space left in front of our TV screen at home, I logged on and got into my Pilates 100 (if you’ve no idea what I’m on about, think lots of puffing and fast hand and leg actions while tautening your abs for minutes on end). With so many different free Pilates classes on YouTube, I got to sift out two unpretentious favourites from across The Pond that earned big plus points with me for not whiffing of corny dance beats or heavily make-upped women thrusting pelvicly. I salute you, Fitness Blender, for your ‘gimmick-free’, clean way of doing things; slowly building the reps and shifting the poses so that they just creep up on you.
Sean Vigue Fitness, meanwhile, is my hero…
Yoga and stretching are now part of my daily routine
…And not only in the realm of Pilates. I think it’s pretty fair to say my boyfriend has come to accept that the sound of the unfailingly positive lilt and idiosyncratic narration that typifies a Sean Vigue Fitness yoga class or stretching routine bouncing around the flat – distracting you just enough to sneak in some real challenging poses and sequences right there – are as much a part of our day-to-day now as breakfast! I’m not even kidding.
I have practised yoga on and off for a good 10 years for relaxation and mindfulness. But now I depend on it every day to keep my body moving; recovering from the latest run or warming up for the next; and continuing to strengthen not just my ankles, but my entire torso. And as Sean says, ‘It’s tax free, it’s equipment free, and NO ONE can take it away from you’. Holler.
I found myself a local sports therapist
I know not everyone has the funds to afford private support – not that I’m the highest earning wolf in the pack by any stretch – but if you do, it’s worth finding a local sports therapist to help you get on the straight and narrow of recovery, by, at the very least, booking yourself in for an initial assessment. For me, that was Bronwen Henley, a Bristol-based chiropractor who not only specialises in sports injuries, but was actually writing a dissertation on ankle sprains at the time, and she was worth every penny. She gave me practical strategies for helping my ankle recover from its overstretched elastic band state, and a warm, like minded sounding board. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that even though I am but a speck of an amateur runner, running means a huge amount to me; quite frankly, it encompasses everything I need to feel alive (hence why The Messy Runner even exists). Finding a therapist who understood that, even of me as that speck, made a real difference. Bronwen even encouraged me (hobbling skeptic that I was) to stop holding my breath and enter the ballot for next year’s London Marathon to help focus my recovery.
Wrapping this thing up, it’s worth pointing out that there is no quick fix after an ankle sprain. These, for me, have constituted real, long-term behaviour changes. And ultimately, frustrating as it has been, I’ve got to know my body better because of those fateful ankle crunches. Last Saturday I managed a nine mile long run. That’s the farthest distance I’ve covered in a single go since November 2016 and probably earlier. I could easily slip up again, but if I do, I’ll know what to do.
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