No ifs no butts: How to cope if injured before the MdS

No, I’ve not had butt implants. And I’m not pleased to see you. That’s a bag of ice down my pants.

injured before MdS

I’d been building up to the Marathon des Sables (a 150-mile footrace in the Sahara Desert) for three years injury free before I came unstuck. Then, with only 70 days to go, my left glute went as tight as a piglet’s arse and everywhere from my lower back to my calf went into spasm.

So, I completely freaked out and went all Kim Kardashian. It’s over before it’s begun, I thought: three years of training; a small fortune on kit and all the cash I’d raised to help diabetics like me across the world (why not donate here?!). What a waste.

Then I pulled my head out of my arse and did something about it. I found some of the most inspiring people on the planet to tell me what’s what. And they know their stuff; they’re all MdS veterans, including the event’s fastest ever woman and British man. Here’s what I learned…

Lesson 1: Keep things in perspective

You ARE going to the MdS and you WILL finish. Rest, do some gentle, non aggravating exercise and you will still turn up fitter than me and many others. I walked the whole MdS last year apart from the marathon stage and finished half way down the field. Stop fretting and let yourself get excited: You are going and you’re not letting anyone down!”

Kevin Webber, ABSOLUTE legend

All perspective flew out of the window when my butt started aching. Kev returned it. He’s run three MdS’s since being diagnosed with incurable prostate cancer in 2014. He was given a year to live two years ago but instead of giving up, he’s confounding the doctors and squeezing every last drop out of life.

He’s raised hundreds of thousands for Prostate Cancer UK (why not donate here?!), run some of the world’s toughest ultra marathons and gone on a mission to spread his message: Make the most of it. I hope to share some miles with him at this year’s MdS. Puts the pain in my arse in perspective, doesn’t it?

Lesson 2: Rest, no ifs, no buts

“It doesn’t matter if you have the best plan ever, nothing will ever go perfectly. Be safe. It’s far better to arrive at the race not completely 100% fit, then arrive injured and not be able to finish or not turn up at all. You’re not going to lose that much performance if you take some time off to heel” 

Tom Evans, the MdS’s fastest ever Brit

Before Buttgate I was clocking up 50 plus miles and four gym sessions a week. Stopping to rest was difficult. Initially, I swapped the runs for swims and continued doing core work and press up variations because I was scared of losing fitness.

But the butt continued bothering me. It was only when I stopped everything that I began to see any improvement. Tom is right: nothing ever goes perfectly; better to get there and finish with a slower time than push too hard and not finish at all.

Lesson 3: Find a good physio

“See a good physiotherapist and maybe have an MRI if they suggest worthwhile. A good physio should be able to diagnose and put you on a rehab program. There are lots of things you can do instead of running to maintain fitness. You can finish the event walking should it come to that. I’ve coached a lot of people through injury and never had anyone not go to the race or not complete. Be patient and don’t panic”

Elisabet Barnes, the MdS’s fastest ever woman

If anyone knows their stuff, it’s Elisabet. She’s won the MdS twice and in 2017 became the event’s fastest ever female, finishing in a blistering 23 hours 16 minutes. So I jumped to it and found Kevin Hall, a physio specialising in running based near where I live in Hove.

Kevin also knows his stuff. He identified the cause of my spasming buttock, etc: my sciatic nerve, which runs beneath the affected areas. He recommended gentle sciatic mobilisations little and often. Best of all, he said I should start running again, slowly building up the distance. I did two miles the next day. It felt fantastic!

Lesson 4: Do strength & conditioning

I was in your boat last year. I damaged my SI joint just before Christmas, 2017, and didn’t run until MdS that April. Between the injury and event, I did a lot of strength & conditioning, targeting the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, calves, etc) twice a week. Just because you are not able to run doesn’t mean you can’t strengthen those areas in the meantime. I finished in 268th place, almost twice as fast as in 2015. Keep the faith” 

Gerrit Durnin, MdS finisher 2015, 2018

Keep the faith: Gerrit’s words were a huge encouragement. I had visions of all the strength & conditioning I’d been doing for the past few years coming undone, but I’ve since discovered there’s lots I can do without aggravating the sciatic nerve or the muscles that surround it while I heel.

Crossfit is off the cards for the moment. Instead I’m doing hot yoga and running in the local pool to help me get used to the heat and build strength, without the intensity and impact of Crossfit.

Even with this and my gradual return to running, I can only dream of finishing anywhere near 268th place. That Gerrit did this after four months’ off makes him a champ in my book. He’s running the London Marathon for Save the Rhinos in April 2019. Why not donate here?!

Lesson 5: Chill!

“I had a severe chest infection seven to eight weeks before and so didn’t do any training for that time. I walked most of the MdS but it was fine.  You are best taking it steady now and not risk further injury. Walking meant I saw the most amazing scenery, saw loads of animals and critters and talked to some amazing people. I had a lot of fun!”

Niki Doeg, MdS finisher 2018

In other words, chill out. It’s not like I was ever aiming for a place on the podium. Sure, I want to see how much I can get out of myself and raise funds to help type 1s around the world, but I’m also doing this for the experience.

Seeing the landscapes, people and wildlife of the Moroccan Sahara and having some fun is also a motivation, of course. By following all this advice, I hope I’ll be able to achieve all this. Why not follow me on Facebook to see if I do?

Disclaimer: I am just an idiot type 1 diabetic with a stupid idea: to run the Marathon des Sables. Don’t take anything I say or do as advice. That’s why I’ve asked people who know what they’re talking about for this post. While you’re here… you might wonder why I’m doing all this. Well, I want to help find a cure for type 1 diabetes and help those living around the world with the condition. I am raising funds for diabetes charities T1International, JDRF and Diabetes UK. If you could spare a small amount, you can do so here. Thanks!


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