Results Day

It is GCSE results day. For once we are far removed from the students who are receiving their grades. With the early morning sun bouncing in silver streaks across the surface of the pool, Bolton seems a long way from here.

We’re on holiday, but that doesn’t stop my daughter from refreshing her email every minute as she waits for her RE result to arrive. She gets a grade 9 which is just reward for the hard work that she’s put into it throughout YR10. Her final year at high school looks promising.

Less so my Achilles Tendon.

My last run was nine days ago. It has ached, burned, throbbed. I can’t swim. I can walk quite well in Crocs, but the trainers I’ve brought with me irritate it after a few hours.

It is tempting to throw the towel in with it all: with swimming, cycling, running. I could live a life that is acceptable to me without any of these things. But I don’t want acceptability. I want to live and running has been such an integral part of me that I feel cheated out of my own life. I vacillate between acceptance, anger, and if I’m honest what at times feels a bit like grief. I’m now 13 months into trying walk normally.

But I tap these words on an iPhone half way up a Greek hill. In a mile in each direction there are restaurants and tavernas. My family is getting ready for an evening out. My children are successful in their own individual ways, and more importantly seem happy. My Achilles woes seem inconsequential when I remember what I have to be grateful for.

Behind me, in an olive grove that seems parched, the bushes seem to be thriving despite the relentless sun and the searing heat. In the end, life finds a way.

I give up

A few months ago, I gave up.

The Achilles tendonitis that I had suffered from since the second of the Sale Sizzler 5K races last July had finally beaten me. I got out of the pool with a pain so intense in my Achilles and foot that I, perhaps rather dramatically, thought that I had done it a serious mischief. A few days later some rather spectacular bruising came out. I gave up.

The most painful injury I’ve ever had

Until that point, I’d tried to manage my training through a mixture of cycling, swimming, and some running. Nothing odd there: I was, after all, training for my second Ironman. But I also had an element of denial. Each time my Achilles stabbed in the early morning, or ached throughout the day, I lied as I told myself that it would somehow just get better.

It didn’t.

The drive home from the pool filled me with despair. There was no chance I could do an Ironman if I couldn’t use the clutch pedal. I deferred my entry until 2023. I sulked for a couple of days. I gave up.

That’s when things started to improve.

I knew what I couldn’t do, so I concentrated on what I could. My first goal was being able to get down stairs properly in the morning. I made the deliberate choice to recover the health of my tendon. Pain-free life had to be the priority. With very gentle stretching each time I got in and out of bed, I could negotiate the stairs within a week. From there, walking. Then, walking on a range of surfaces. Next, walking using the full range of foot movement. I added in strength work, stretching, and more walking. I used my Garmin to turn the number of steps I took each day into a game. Over the course of a couple of months, I started doing what I couldn’t. Last week, I swam for the first time in several months. 

Giving up means that, sometimes, we have to accept things as they are. In our endlessly Instagrammed world, we are constantly bombarded with content that tells us that we should ‘smash it’ and ‘beat yesterday’. As a teacher and coach I, I get it. We have unbelievable levels of potential and we should, in our laughably short lives, work on bringing this into the light. We are more powerful than we think. But we are also human. We have our failings and our weaknesses. The act of giving up means that we acknowledge these. Once we stop fighting against what is not meant to be, we can focus attention on what we can do instead.

Giving up is sometimes the first step towards getting better.

Will I ever run again?

It’s Saturday morning. I haven’t set my alarm. My daughter is away with school; my son doesn’t have a football match. I can’t run. Sleep wins. Or rather, my body clock does: I’m awake by 6:30, anyway.

I walk round to Bolton parkrun. The plan is to walk, and, if I have no pain at all from my Achilles, I’ll jog for about a mile. This has been the case for the last week while I’m still recovering from a serious bout of Achilles tendonitis. I’ve been struggling with this for the last nine months and this morning I’m not about to wreck the huge progress I’ve made over the last ten weeks. My rehab routine involves lots of foot strength work, calf strengthening and stretching, lots of walking, but no running.

It also gives me thinking time: will I ever run again?

I focus on embracing the uncertainty of being so badly injured. There is little point wallowing about and feeling sorry for myself. I acknowledged the deep disappointment of having to defer my Ironman entry until 2023 a long time ago. Today, I’m just grateful to be able to walk without pain. I’ve been pain free for a while and so I decide to jog a little.

It feels great.