Running can be a cruel sport. Three weeks ago, I was filled with elation after completing the Cardiff World Half Marathon. Finishing 14th and first non-African born athlete, the London marathon, in my eyes, was little more than a formality. A box ticking exercise to rubber stamp my selection to the Olympic Games. Looking at the running conversion tables, my time in Cardiff equated to a sub 2.11.30 marathon clocking, several minutes quicker than the 2.15 time of the other Irish qualifiers. There was no doubt in my mind that I was in shape for running well inside 2.15. Some questioned whether I would even still compete in London, given that I was a class ahead of any other Irish athlete in Cardiff. However, it felt like the logical conclusion to this block of training. A holiday booked for the day after the marathon was to provide as much relief for my mind, as it would for my body. I would then return ready and prepared to build again for the challenges that lay ahead in the summer. That was the plan and I knew that nothing short of injury would prevent me from achieving my goal.
Five days after Cardiff and the legs were returning to normal. With three relatively hard runs left in the marathon training schedule, it was time to crack on. Driving up to the track near my coach’s house, everything felt fine. Ninety minutes later, a perfect track session was completed and we were all feeling optimistic about the weeks ahead. Little did I know that that was the last time I would run painfree. I tried an easy recovery jog that evening. After a slow two miles, I knew that something was wrong. My left foot was throbbing at rest and I was in real agony when any pressure was put through it. Seeing my brother, a sport’s consultant, that evening, he believed that I had irritated a fat pad on the sole of my foot. It should settle quickly I was told and three days of rest were prescribed. However, three days later and the pain was still as bad as ever. Another three days of no running were taken, with still no improvement. It was time to step up the management plan. That evening an MRI scan revealed an irritated fat pad, bursitis under the ball of my foot and a stress response at the base of my 5th metatarsal.
With my pain maximal around the bursa location, a steroid and anaesthetic injection was given. Forty-eight hours later and it was time to try and jog again. A slow two mile plod later, I was still in pain, but at least it had not worsened. ‘Maybe the injection is just taking longer to work than usual’ I told myself. The following day I tried to jog again and managed forty seconds before I succumbed to the pain. Something was definitely still wrong. It was decided that the stress response was causing more pain than originally believed. After pushing hard in racing flats around the uneven surface in Cardiff, combined with a track session in lighter shoes, my metatarsal was giving out warning signs. Annoyingly, the only treatment available was a period of rest. Time was the one thing that I lacked, with the marathon just around the corner.
I was crosstraining like an animal in the gym, the pool and on the bike. I knew that I was still ridiculously fit, if only the pain in my foot would settle. After four days of non-weight bearing activities, I returned to see a sport’s doctor. I was now walking painfree but any light jogging immediately bought back the pain. There is one option left, I was told. We could inject your foot around the bone with anaesthetic. You will be able to run the marathon, but it is pretty much guaranteed that you will have a full blown fracture by the end of the race. With anything upwards of a ten week recovery time required for a fracture, I was left with a choice. Do I get the injection, run sub 2.15 in London and get picked for Rio but in doing so sacrifice any real chance of performing well at the championships. Alternatively, do I skip London, let the metatarsal heal and hope that the selectors take into account all that I have done this year so far with my two wins and 14th place in the World championships. After a long discussion with my coach and family, the decision was made. If I want to achieve the top three placing in Amsterdam and top ten position in Rio that I believe I am capable of, I need to be smart and professional now. I wanted London to be the time for me to show the selectors what I am truly capable of over the marathon distance. I did not want them to have to make a choice. Undoubtedly, my run in Cardiff has shown where I am in terms of fitness, in comparison to the other qualifiers. In addition, it has shown the potential that I possess of achieving something special in this summer’s championships when wearing the green vest of Ireland, if given the chance.
The past three weeks have mentally been the toughest that I have had to endure in the past few years. There are no words in the English language that can accurately sum up how I am currently feeling. Intense frustration, bitter disappointment, anger, sorrowfulness…the list could go on. After such a high in Cardiff and expectations for London, things are so much tougher. The not knowing whether the pain would resolve in time added a constant daily stress over the past three weeks. At least now the decision has been made. Sitting here writing this I still believe that I could go run sub 2.15 relatively comfortably, the fitness is still there. If only the pain in my foot would disappear. Even more annoyingly, by the morning of race day, the pain should have settled completely. The recovery timeframe is to return jogging within ten days and back to full training within three weeks. I want to say a massive thank you to the many healthcare staff who have helped me over the past three weeks, as well as those friends and family who have supported me recently. The 2016 London marathon should have been a day to celebrate and remember. Sadly now, it will be a case of what might have been. Good luck to everyone competing and believe me, never take your painfree body for granted. You are the lucky ones.