On day two with enough morphine on board to sink a horse, I was helped to stand, and with crutches, set off on a 25 minute journey to walk 10m. At the end of my walk I was exhausted, in serious pain and scared. I joked nervously and said “Just you watch, I’ll be running a marathon tomorrow”.
For some reason it stuck with me. And every time I achieved another milestone, shuffling the length of the hallway, and then getting home, I thought of where I came from. Which each new goal came challenges but a serious sense of achievement.
I had never really enjoyed running. I did it because it was a way of maintaining fitness. I had never run more than 10 km in one go. But at 3am with a serious back injury in the morning lying in hospital staring at the roof, listening to the beeps of machines, and feeling alone, all I wanted to do was run. I made a promise to myself. I was going to run one way or another, no wasn’t an answer and I was going to make myself a huge goal… I wasn’t just going to run, I was going to run a marathon in under a year!
My name is Kate, I am an Osteopath, and this is my own personal story of how I put life as a patient with a serious back injury, behind me. When my disc patients ask me if I have seen “this type of injury” before, I can now answer them honestly. Yes, all the time. I can also tell them that I too, have experienced this type of injury before. I know their frustration and pain first hand. But the best part is that I can tell them that ‘I know’, that with some hard work we can get them wherever it is that they want to go. No goal is unachievable with some effort.
There are really 2 choices when you injure yourself… dwell on it, or make a plan to get better. The hard stuff is all mental, the physical is just a matter of doing it!
As luck would have it, this is my area of expertise. What better way to put my skills to use than to prove you can rehab from anything! There is a list of things that you need to do in order to achieve ‘the ultimate rehab’:
- Make the big goal, but also little ones that help you get there.
- Set realistic steps and a time frame that is reasonable.
- Make a management plan.
- Get the right healthcare team around you.
- Encourage people to support your goals, so that when the going gets tough there is reason to persevere.
- So I sat down and broke it into a realistic list. Before I hurt my back I could run 7km, so I had a reasonable level of fitness.
Goal #1 Was pain management and acute phase treatment. I worked with my Osteopath (yes, even osteopaths have their own osteopaths) and GP through the acute phase to regain range of motion and decrease pain. I also did a lot of gentle stretching and icing to reduce inflammation once I could move a little better.
Goal #2. Was to start with some core strengthening. Clinical Pilates one on one sessions were so important to me at this stage. If you have an underlying weakness it is crucial to support it with core strength as soon as possible. I continued osteopathic treatment during this stage and by this time was significantly reducing the pain management drugs back to nothing.
Goal #3. Was to start doing some light running, over very short distances. Once the pain had gone I was able to gauge how much my body was tolerating. Initially I started with 500m runs and then walk home. I also had rest days in between to allow recovery.
Over the next couple of months I built up running – I had entered into the Xterra run series which was 7 runs in total over 21 weeks. They started at 6km. On the advice of my patients I missed the first 2 as I wasn’t ready (I’m super competitive, I knew I would push myself). I was really upset to miss the first 2 as I had worked so hard to get there. But making yourself accountable really helps. My patients knew I was rehab’ing and a few of them would hold me to task, “if it was me Kate, would you let me run?”
The feeling of running that first race was amazing! I cried happy tears around the course knowing I had completed the first real mental and physical hurdle. “I felt great after each osteopathic treatment and was running harder and faster than before.” I averaged 3 weeks between races for the next 6 months gradually increasing distances and getting more and more into it. I was getting regular osteopathic treatment still as now I was training harder than I was before I was injured.
Goal #4 Was to complete my first half marathon! Auckland marathon was 6 months into my rehab and half the goal distance. A fantastic marker to get to. I ran and wasn’t as happy as I had hoped to be as my time was much slower than my goal. But I reminded myself that I was sick when I ran and I was so so far ahead of where I had been six months earlier… I could always set a better time next year (I think I’m becoming addicted to running).
Goal #5 Was 30km for my 30th Birthday. This quickly turned into 32km when I set my course from Stillwater to Devonport and refused to finish at the bottom of North Head rather than the top!
My management plan had to include the “what if” scenario. There was a plan of attack should my body not be handling the running. But as it was, the back was feeling amazing. I got no pain with running and it was feeling the best it ever had!
Goal #6 Was to complete the Tussock Traverse. A 26km trail run through the Tongariro national park around Mt Ngauruhoe.
Trail running is amazing. It was also a strategic choice. Trail running is on uneven ground. Therefore you don’t tend to get repetitive strain type injuries from consistently hitting the ground with the same stride and follow through. It’s great for rehab as long as you are strong enough (that is where the pilates comes in). People with shin splints often find that they can trail run where they struggle to road run! I discovered the reason it is really good to get a good support team in place. 10 weeks out from the marathon I developed knee pain that stopped me running at all. What did I do? Visited my healthcare team. Osteopathy was step 1, an ultrasound to confirm the diagnosis was number 2. I now knew the forecast for recovery time. Massage therapist, Pilates and osteopath on board, REST break enforced and the appropriate treatment. The management plan says that I am again kicking goals.
Having a group of like-minded people that equally enjoy having a ‘geek out’ over the latest edition Garmin watch made me feel that I wasn’t too over enthusiastic about running….. and that it WAS normal.
I joined the ‘Run Fit Family’ and began training with the Albany Shoe Science run club on a weekly basis. These guys and girls are amazing and I am still running with them every week now! Having a group of like-minded people that equally enjoy having a ‘geek out’ over the latest edition Garmin watch made me feel that I wasn’t too over enthusiastic about running….. and that it WAS normal. Running with a group allowed you to have a bad day and be supported or be the support for someone else when you were having a great day. It was my new found running family that introduced me to Rotorua marathon, and suggested that I join the group trip that they make annually, making this ‘my marathon’. With a smile and a whole lot of support I accepted.
Race day was upon me, almost a year to the day of my injury. I was excited and nervous all in one go. I was ready to go, my parents flew up, my husband and I drove down and there was a buzz in the camp among the 30-odd that had come down to do a variety of distances. As I pinned on my number I knew I had one shot, and quietly I hoped that I could do it. I had done everything possible to prepare.
It was a stunning morning, and I was ready to run. As the gun sounded and we headed off I tried to keep to my goal pace and not run too quickly. Thankfully the crowd was thick and the first couple of km’s I had to stick to it. Around the 2km mark I slotted in on the heels of the 4hour 30 pace setters. I was happy here and refused to drop even a metre behind. The km’s started clicking by and I was happy. At 15km I was having a conversation with everyone that would have one back. And by 20km I didn’t really feel like I had started running. It was pure adrenaline and nothing was stopping me. We declared to have a dance party at every marker to the finish. By this stage the hills we mainly a thing of the past and it was now the trudge back down the lake and home. Still feeling good, glued to the back of the pace setter we climbed the last hill. There was a group of around 10 of us still sitting tight on the 4:30 time. But heading up the last hill a lady fell in front of us and both pace setters stopped to help her. We were told to keep going and that they would make sure she was ok.
At 15km I was having a conversation with everyone that would have one back. And by 20km I didn’t really feel like I had started running.
In an instant I had gone from someone else running my race for me, to trying to do it myself. I was the only one left in our little group with a watch, so I kept running the next few kilometres at our assigned pace. I felt like I was looking over my shoulder continuously to wait for ‘Mr 4:30’ to catch back up. The 30km drinks station approached and like an instant pick me up, a tap on the shoulder reviled that my pace setting job was over.
The last 12km were brutal, they required every ounce of psychological fortitude not to lay on a grassy patch under a power pole and go to sleep. The breaking point was the 35km drinks station. I’d prepared for the 32km wall and had saved mental energy, but now I was realising that there was very little left in the tank, what was left was only going to be worth something if my brain stuck out the tiredness. We had walked all of the drinks stations and I was in the process of doing the same for this one. Only I kept walking and didn’t start running again at the end. ‘Mr 4:30’ turned over his shoulder and gave me the look of, ‘you’ve just done 35, what’s 7km more?’, and I tell you what, it saved me. As I sprinted down the finish chute at the speed of a tortoise on a bad day, the tears started flowing. I had done it. In a time of 4:27 I crossed the finish line 33 mins faster than my goal (and pain free).
Hospital to marathon in under a year is possible, and more than anything else it’s given me the experience to say ‘if I can, you can, and if you want to, I can help you’. It also proved to me that running is an amazing and totally addictive sport…. And I get it!