Just One More BY SOLLY MALATSI
When your body tries to tell you something, listen. You ignore it at your peril.
the exact moment I sustained my injury. I’d just finished a 20km run, on a glorious day in February; there had been no crack or niggle. My preparation for the Comrades had been going well, and I already had a sub-four-hour qualifying marathon in the bag.
But later that day, I felt a stinging pain in my right shin. I tested it out at my workplace by walking from the ground floor to the fifth – and it hurt. To be on the safe side, I called my physiotherapist to explain what had happened, and booked a session for the following day. My only concern then was that this was the first time my right leg had acted up.
“Don’t run until I’ve assessed the damage,” she warned. “It could be worse than it feels. Don’t take chances, Solly.”
Half-heartedly, I promised her: I wouldn’t run.
But I was only 11km away from reaching my February target of 300km. All I needed was one more run. Just one more. Giving up when I was that close to a significant milestone would have been tantamount to pulling defeat from the jaws of victory.
So the following morning, I took a painkiller before my run, to minimise the pain. I also made a concerted effort not to think about my discomfort.
The first kilometre was fine. So was the second, and the third.
According to my pace watch, I was averaging 6.30/km, which by my standards was slow. Nonetheless, I was happy with my discipline.
But by the fourth kilometre, that stinging sensation in my shin had returned. And it was potent. Still, either relentless fortitude or reckless resilience made me persist to the fifth kilometre.
But it was becoming abundantly clear that I had inflicted more damage to my shins: now, the pain was excruciating. Every step stung.
Change of plan
“Just get to six kays,” I whispered to myself, in consolation. “Then rest for a while, and then jog back to the gym.”
I walked and jogged. But by the time I got there, I was in devastating pain. I couldn’t run at all, let alone reach my monthly milestone.
Sometimes, novice runners make the mistake of ignoring the warning signs their bodies send them. They see resting as giving up, a sign of weakness – or in my case, defeat.
Mental strength is a rare skill, yet all athletes must have it to realise their athletic goals. But the hard work, loneliness, discipline and indefatigable hunger for selfimprovement it takes to push for faster times and longer distances often makes it hard for us to accept it when our bodies fail to respond.
My body needed rest, and I should have been mentally strong enough to skip that run; because deep down, I knew, lay the guilt-ridden knowledge that I was putting my body at risk of long-term physical damage.
There was bad news. My physiotherapist diagnosed a severe stress fracture. She recommended that I undergo a dual-phase bone scan on both tibias.
Devastatingly, it revealed that I had indeed sustained a stress fracture on the distal third of my right tibia – one so severe that the only way it could heal was if I spent six weeks on crutches, and abstained from running for three months.
Which turned out, in the end, to be the longest three months of my life…
“… the guilt- ridden knowledge that I was putting my body at risk…”
Solly Malatsi is a Member of Parliament and one of ASICS South Africa’s Frontrunner athletes.