When your body tries to tell you some­thing, listen. You ig­nore it at your peril.

Runner's World South Africa - - Contents - BY SOLLY MALATSI

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.

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