It’s been 1 month since I’ve run pain free.
Iten, Kenya can be a hard place to be when you’re injured as the majority of people around you are training twice a day.
Following a 6 week spell of disrupted training due to constant travel with work and visa applications, mid-May saw me excited to resume full training – possibly too excited. I decided to have a week of easy/steady paced runs to ease back into things. The Monday to Saturday saw me clock up more miles than planned but I felt good.
Sunday is of course long run day (not for Kenyans but I stick to a similar schedule out here as to when in the UK). I woke at 5am and drove out to the famous Moiben route with two training partners Boaz and Kiprotich. I wanted to do 16 miles starting at around 7.30 minutes per mile and working our way down to 6.30 minutes per mile at the quickest. 10km into the run we were already clocking 6.10 per mile and instead of slowing down I went with the flow.
These are the runs I live for and with so many injuries in the past it is hard to not get excited when you are running well and injury free. However, sometimes ‘less is more’ and this is something I should have remembered at this point. My coach Lewis Walker had said those exact words to me in March as we mapped out the training plan for this spell in Kenya. I finished the 16 miles with 6.22 per mile average and although I felt ok afterwards it turns out that run was probably too much load compared to my current capacity.
That week totaled 61 miles and although that is around 25% less than my biggest weeks of mileage, it was most likely too much too soon considering the past 5 weeks had been 30 miles at most. Sometimes the old increasing by 10% rule isn’t a bad one to roll with!
From the next morning of Monday 27th May onwards I have been troubled with medial knee pain in my left leg – a similar pain as the one which resulted in knee surgery in 2016. During the past 4 weeks I have received great advice from my coach Lewis Walker, my family, physios here in Kenya and in the UK and also massage from therapists locally in Iten. This has been a period of reflection and discovery which I hope can benefit me in the long run. When you get back to running after injury is so easy to forget about doing the exercises that got you back in the first place.
Although I haven’t found the solution to this injury yet, it seems that it is linked with tension in the left leg – probably due to general weakness. Since the surgery it has probably never been strong enough. Hopefully the massage on adductors, hip flexors, quadriceps and psoas combined with weights 3 x per week under the guidance of elite athletics and cycling coach Ciaran Fitzpatrick out here will get me back to running before I leave. Being out in Kenya for this 5-6 month spell was supposed to be a training filled period with a view to seriously revising 5k and 10k personal bests on return. Life doesn’t always go to plan so you have to stay positive and determined no matter what it throws at you.
I’m fortunate to have represented my country indoors and outdoors and to have won a Scottish 1,500m titles indoors and out – both being memories that I will cherish forever. Nevertheless, these were 4 years ago and in running terms I don’t want to only be remembered for achievements as a 26 year old. I want to achieve more.
Now and again people fondly refer to my victory over Andrew Butchart in that 1,500m final on home soil in 2015 (he had already run the 5,000m an hour or so before!) Of course it is something I am proud of but I have often thought ‘would I have rather had his 4 years since then instead of my injury riddled spell?’. Its safe to say I have spent more than 50% of the time since that race injured and only taken part in a handful of races as a result – something which is frustrating in itself when you dedicate so much of your time to training. Butchart has gone on to represent GB in Olympic and World Championships as well as running some cracking times over 5,000m and 10,000m. In all honesty, I wouldn’t trade places – maybe running wise I should want to but taking into account the things GEF have achieved since then and with Mary and Dahlia coming into my life, I am happy with my life. Even running wise alone, that win in Aberdeen meant so much to me in the wake of my friend Neil’s passing. The victory was inspired by him and for his family.
I am ready to work hard but right now my body won’t let me. One day, it will. You have to stay positive and believe that you will be back to your best.
A family friend of ours always says that if he doesn’t recognise someone he knows through running, he always says “how’s the injury?” and 9 times out of 10 the conversation which follows reminds him of who the person is. Injuries are common and part of the parcel of our sport. I am not unique and there are people facing much more challenging situations.
Recently I have been Googling for various motivational quotes to help during this setback but in all honesty not many of them inspire me the way they used to. The idea of ‘the comeback’ used to motivate me so much, especially after the knee surgery. However, there are only so many ‘comebacks’ I can get motivated for before it just becomes repetitive. There is one quote which has resonated with me:
This strikes a chord because it is applicable to how you respond to anything in life. It is very easy to get annoyed or angry with the smallest of things each day, especially when you are already frustrated with not being able to run. However, the response you have to these situations or injury can dictate the happiness or success of your day. Don’t allow negatives to create more negatives.
Despite currently not being able to run I still have the option to wake up and train. It is easy to forget that the option is a privilege. It is so important to think about why you want to run, who you do it for and those who no longer have the option to wake up and run or do what they love. When waking up for an early morning run or when feeling down about injury, I often think to myself ‘what would Neil want me to do here?, would he want me to hit the snooze button or give up?’. No, he would want me to wake up and run and never give up. Think about the people who mean the most to you, whether they are still around or no longer here – and think what they would want you to do.
During my work with GEF I regularly meet people smiling and even thriving in the face of adversity. I’m surrounded by stories of setbacks much worse than my own – Iten can be a hard place to be when injured but equally I’m the lucky one here.
One of these inspiring individuals is Simon Mwangi. Two years ago he relocated to Iten with his mother and siblings in order for him to train with the best runners on the planet. He lives in a very basic mud house a few miles down the steep valley road from Iten. His mother shares a broken single bed with his 5 younger siblings whilst Simon sleeps on a thin piece of foam on the mud floor of the living room.
Each day Simon runs 3 miles up the steep and dangerous valley road, in his worn out training shoes to meet his training partners for runs and sessions. In 2018 his efforts paid off, or at least he thought they had when he won the Ndakaini Half Marathon in Kenya. The prize for the winner was to be a life changing 300,000 kenyan shillings (approx £2,300 pounds). To this day the organisers have not paid any of the athletes.
Over the past couple of weeks I have got to know Simon better. He is a humble, polite and calm guy with bucket loads of determination. He was churning out 80+ mile weeks of running in completely worn out training shoes that were full of holes so we surprised him with a new pair of training and racing shoes from Champions Running Store in Iten. He couldn’t stop smiling the whole way back to his home.
During the journey home he told me how his mother suffers from stomach ulcers and other ailments but undeterred she works hard on their small farm on a daily basis. Many a time he has felt like giving up but his mother’s example and encouragement have kept him going. She regularly tells him to have faith and keep running up that hill.
Thanks to support from fellow runner and Kenya Experience guest, AJ, Simon has been able to get his first passport – something which he is very proud of! This is the first step of hopefully getting some races for Simon later this year in Europe around September/October. If anyone knows of any potential 10k, 1/2 or marathon races with prize money on offer around that time, I’d be grateful if you could get in touch. In due course we also hope to be able to support his family in some way with school fees and shelter.
If Simon and his mum can thrive in the face of a lifetime of adversity, I am sure I can overcome a 4 week injury.
Thanks for reading.