Has an injury dashed Paul’s sub-3 dream?
Runners run. That’s what we do, and it can take over our lives. Many of us start off simply trying to get healthy. We go for a run, we like it and then we run some more. We feel stronger, fitter and more alive, so the runs increase. Soon, running has become the primary thing, more important than health. Warning signs are ignored, and we run through colds and minor injuries. The endorphins kick in, the body adapts and we find a way because we believe running is the most important thing. For the last two years or so I’ve had a ganglion cyst on my right foot. It’s a smooth ridge of flesh on the side, pudgy to touch, but solid, painless and weird. I could still run on it so I did. Over time, the ganglion disappeared and I forgot about it while becoming aware of a general weakness or overcompensation there – an ever-so-slight limp and stiffness round the right tendon. Never mind. Run. It always eases off. No problem.
Then, after an 85-minute half marathon in Bath in March, the second toe on my right foot really hurt. Naturally, I ignored it and kept running – big mileage, long runs. The following week I got a pain on the right side of my foot, localised around the bone. It calmed down when I ran 10 miles on it but later I was limping round the house. That night, I was plunged into depression and self-diagnosis: Was it the metatarsal? Was I looking at five or six weeks out? London ruined! I slept fleetingly. After further Googling I concluded it might be my cuboid, which Youtube showed me would respond to manipulation. That night I stretched, grappled, strapped my foot up and did 5 x 2km reps at the track, happy as Larry. The week’s total was 86 miles, my highest by a good distance.
I had reached a place that many runners get to before a big event – running takes precedence, the secondary stuff such as long-term health can be dealt with at a later date. I am reminded of ultra-legend Scott Jurek, who, on the eve of a 100-mile trail race, tore ligaments in his ankle; he responded by smearing turmeric on it and wrapping it up with gaffer tape. We’re not normal.
I present myself to Andrew, a ganglion guru with a reputation for brutal massage. He prods my feet – yes, there are problems. It starts with my second toe, which is longer than my big toe. It’s called Morton’s toe, a symbol of enlightenment he says ( ha!). This leads to imbalances down my feet, which are flat. This sparks a long and tragic discussion on the state of my feet and ankles: collapsed arches, bounteous scar tissue, cuboid displacement that has led to numerous micro-tears, soft tissue not repairing – leading to what Andrew describes as zombie tissue in my feet. ‘This will hurt a bit,’ he says, ‘it’s a Chinese method, Tui-na.’ He begins to prod and scrunch, breaking down tissues, separating tendon from bone. We settle into a silent rhythm of winces and sharp inhalations as he finds balls of gristle and tissue to press on. At one point, when I’m on the verge of whimpering, he says, ‘I’m going to get some implements so I can go deeper.’ It sounded the most frightening sentence that had ever been said to me.
By the end I was a gooey mess of relaxed flesh, battered but relieved. I’d need more sessions, Andrew said, but the foot was coming back to life. I needed to buy a golf ball and use it to massage pressure points, and tiger balm to keep the blood flowing, I needed to stretch and swim. And rest, it needs rest.
‘ But can I run?’ I asked. ‘I need two more big mileage weeks, a taper and then a full marathon. Can I do it? Will it hold?’ He looked at me nervously. ‘ Yes.’