A few weeks ago, on the coldest, snowiest day ever seen in recent years in the London area (probably); the half marathon I had signed up for appeared to still be taking place – when all other local races had been cancelled. Grrr!
“Nevermind”, I thought, this is what I have been training for. Let’s do it!
And so, wearing as many clothes as I could get away with, and still move, I set off for the Hampton Court Palace Half Marathon. Luckily, I managed to hook up with some lovely running friends and we started off together, chatting as we ran, which was an enjoyable distraction in the early part of the race. The latter half I ran alone and this is where bits of my body started to make themselves known.
You might think I’m strange but I welcome situations like this. In my clinic I am always suggesting various strategies, but I totally appreciate it’s not always me practising these techniques on a regular basis, so it is useful when a situation comes along which allows me to be a guinea pig. A bit like a doctor or a nurse having to be an in-patient for a while. It’s certainly a valuable learning experience!
So, up until about 10 miles I luckily did not have much pain to report. My knees have a tendency to complain on long runs but so far they had been very well-behaved. However, in the final few miles it began to feel particularly cold, and then became very muddy, which is not a fun terrain to run on! The run turned really heavy and slow going. Not surprisingly, my knees decided to kick off a bit. There is nothing wrong with my knees - they just, quite sensibly, don’t like running more than 10 miles! I decided that I would try out some techniques to keep them going.*
Firstly, the pain was more of a nagging ache than anything sharp, so I felt I could probably keep going. I started by simply encouraging them. I just used a kind but gentle mantra: “Come on, you can do it, you’ve done so well so far”. I was mindful not to nag but to gently coax. Knees, like children, respond better to kind encouragement!
This helped a bit and later when the pain resumed I decided to experiment with visualisation. I focused all my attention on imagining there were little air bags or marshmallows (alternating the image – I was hungry by this point!) inside my knee joints and every time my foot hit the floor the knees would feel soft and cushioned rather than the jarring sensation that was coming more naturally.
Don’t get me wrong, I did not miraculously turn into the Michelin man and spring along happily to the finish line! However, it did really help to take the edge off and I think it helped me achieve the one thing I wanted to do, which was reassure my brain that all was well, and there was no need to activate the pain alarm.
Right at the end (when I felt as if I was going to die) I simply resorted to mindful focus. I repeated the phrase: “You’re doing this now” as a reminder to stay in the present moment and not get pulled into the whining and complaining which is what my mind really wanted to do. No matter what was happening at this point I just kept steering myself back to this phrase and noting the physical sensations that went with it. It helped to remind myself that this is all I needed to do now.
Anyway, I did it, and surprisingly rather enjoyed it! I really felt that these techniques helped get me through at the end. I recommend trying them out.
And it was a great medal – I highly recommend it. But check the weather forecast first!
*NB: When you challenge pain a bit this does not mean ignore it. It’s important to acknowledge it and feel into what your body will and will not allow you to do. This isn’t ‘No pain, no gain’, rather finding the right balance for you on this particular day.