Originally published 2nd April, 2012 on Critical Hits
This is me finishing the Edinburgh Half Marathon last May, in a respectable 1hr 42mins. Witness a man bruised and exhausted, but not defeated. Prior to the race, I’d been suffering from a mild knee injury: a nagging ache after a couple of kilometres that had emerged over the past fortnight. I rested up and didn’t run the week before the marathon, hoping I’d recover in time.
Within the first ten minutes of the race, I could feel the dull ache returning: not so bad that I had to stop, just that I knew it would be bad when I stopped. I was so excited that I blanked out the discomfort and kept on running. You know when people say “the atmosphere was electric”? I know what they mean now. A sea of bobbing heads, a multicoloured flood spilling across the city streets. I’ll never forget the surge of adrenaline I felt as we crossed the start line, and I’ll never forget the feeling of accomplishment at the end.
Post-race, I felt rough- but nothing unexpected, considering. My running buddy Andy and I went for a celebratory burger and then I chilled at home for a few hours. I left my flat to visit a friend, and that’s when I realised I couldn’t walk.
My knee was locked. It did not bend the way knees do. I scuttled down three flights of uneven Edinburgh stairs like an exhausted crab, side to side, then hobbled up the road. I was fucking broken. I had the next day off work and couldn’t walk either. Luckily, I quite happen to enjoy playing computer games, so that counted as rehabilitation.
I hoped that my knee would just heal as it had always done, but it did not. When I tried to run again, the pain became agonising within five minutes. I worked in retail at the time and so I was always on my feet; perhaps it demanded a level of rest my lifestyle didn’t support. People who know me know I love walking everywhere, and knees are pretty much essential for walking.
I went to a physiotherapist, who diagnosed a weak left quadriceps. I was given a hilarious set of exercises to perform and recover (or perhaps just embarrass), which I carried out diligently. I stopped running and started cross training because it was less stressful on the joint. I joined a gym in Oxford and lift hundreds of kilograms with my quads several times a week, swimming and gyming, cycling to and from work. Nothing worked.
That dull ache is there, whether I’m sitting down at this desk right now or even trying to sleep, punishing me for being stupid enough to run on an injury. It wasn’t like I poured petrol between two cans in front of a lit gas stove, though. Was I wrong to think my body would be stronger than this?
I worry it’ll never heal. Yesterday was a beautiful Spring morning; I wanted to run through it so badly, but instead I walked to the gym and pushed levers on a strange contraption instead. Later, I walked through the university parks and watched processions of joggers. How I envied their supple limbs, their carefree gait.
It’s often said that you shouldn’t run away from your problems. I can’t run away from this. I can’t run at all.