There are certain moments in life that will dictate your path. Moments that have the potential to irreversibly change your future. The 17th of August 2014 should have been one of those moments for me. Everything was perfect, the course, the weather. My friends and family had arrived and were enjoying the sights of Zurich. My three teammates on the marathon team were fit and healthy and we were going in with the realistic possibility of picking up a team medal. I knew everything to know about the course. I had visualised every hill and turn a thousand times and more. And yet, it wasn’t to be. It’s been said many times before but never have I been so acutely aware that running truly is a cruel sport.
My troubles started on the 27th July, a week before the Commonwealths. After missing most of the months of May and June with injury, it was always going to be an uphill task to be ready in time for the marathon. When I finally got over the injury at the end of June, I sat down with my coach, Andy, and we decided that we would still keep trying for the marathon. However, with limited time, there was no option but to increase the milage and training dramatically. It was a risk that we were both willing to take and we knew that the risk of subsequent injury was high. Fitness was coming back quicker than we both imagined and the belief of winning the Zurich marathon was returning.
I woke up on Sunday morning, five days before the Commonwealths, feeling fresh and ready to tackle the hard, hilly twenty miles that lay ahead. With my ex training partner Ben Whitby screaming at me on the bike, I tore up Richmond Park. The first ten was a leisurely 55mins followed by the next ten in 50mins. I finished strong, comfortable and happy. I was back to a standard of fitness where I could potentially perform well in races. After some grub I crawled into bed, glad to be finished for the day. An hour later, while I was getting up from my sleepy haze, as I put my foot down, I felt pain. Not muscular tiredness, not a niggling pain but real pain. As much as I stretched that evening the pain in my hip didn’t ease. However, with the Commonwealths only a few days away I tried to put it to the back of my mind.
Warming up at the Glasgow track I knew things still weren’t right but training had gone decent enough during the week and I knew that I could run through the pain. With the adrenaline pumping and the crowds cheering I completed the twenty-five laps of the track, an experience that I will never forget. I would like to have been competitive but my focus was the marathon and due to the injuries, the fitness quite simply wasn’t there. On the two mile jog after I knew something was seriously up, it was painful to put any amount of pressure through my right leg. Not ideal sixteen days prior to a marathon.
The following day an ultrasound and MRI both revealed nothing major of note. With the thinking that it was simply an inflamed tendon, I was told that I could keep training through and while it would be painful, I wouldn’t do any further damage. So that’s what I did. You don’t have to tell a runner twice that he can train if he wants to. I ran, I did sessions, but the pain was constantly there. With seven days to go to the marathon I had my last hard session, three by 5k with 2min break. I started with a 15.40 to ease me into things, a slightly quicker 14.50 for the second one, followed by a 15.30 third one, by which time I was curled up in agony. There would be no warm down that day as I hobbled back home. The pain had become excruciating, the sort of pain that makes you want to scream out loudly. The next day I got in for another ultrasound and steroid injection into the hip. I was advised to stay off my feet for as long as possible. And so, that’s how I spent my week leading up to the marathon, lying on my living room floor, stretching and alternating between icing and hot water bottles. Needless to say, it was not ideal preparation but I knew I was fit, if only my hip would allow me to run.
When I got to Zurich, the excitement was building around the marathon, this was my opportunity to do something special. But my hip still had other ideas. Two days out, I tried to jog for the first time since the injection. Following two miles at 5.20s I was doubled over with pain. As I got back to the team hotel, I texted my coach asking what should I do, is there much point even starting. I think that once you begin to ask those questions, then you already know the answer. I tried to jog the next day and after about 800m I knew it wasn’t to be. I walked back to the hotel and tried to come to terms with the reality that I wouldn’t be competing. With Kevin Seaward, Sean Hehir and Thomas Frazer still having to compete the next day I made myself scarce, the last thing anyone wants before a marathon is someone injured hanging around. And so with my family and friends having flown over that morning to watch the race, I went and had dinner with them.
The following morning, I was on the athlete bus to the startline. It was such a surreal experience. I was surrounded by tension and yet I was completely relaxed. The temptation was so great just to throw on a pair of shorts and try to run but I knew it would have been pointless. Instead of running to victory and a new pb, I was handing out the water bottles to the team. They all had great runs and solid performances but for me, it will always be a day of what might have been. I got a second MRI the day I got back from Zurich. It revealed a labral tear in my hip. With conservative management being the mainstay of treatment I haven’t been able to do any training since the marathon.
And that’s where I am now, back in Belfast, working in A+E again. Medicine is something that I have grown to love and the work is both interesting and enjoyable. But part of me will always wish to be out there training, pushing myself to the limit. Rehab is coming along slowly and with an injury such as a labral tear, being patient is the key. Hopefully, however, with a bit of luck, I might soon be able to get back to doing the thing I love, running and racing. The past month hasn’t been great in terms of running but one thing that has come out of it, I am hungry. It will take me a few months to get back to where I want to be but when I do, I’m ready to fight, I’m ready to run hard, and hopefully with a bit of luck, I’ll finally be ready to win.