Injury Frustrations

This is one of those posts that’s mainly for me, a stake in the ground for my future reference, something to record my current state of mind and body – but perhaps it’s also a post that will resonate with some readers, if so, all the better.

Despite being a pessimist my whole life, I’ve never really struggled with negative thoughts, depression or any sort of what we now consider to be mental health issues. Over the past few years, I’ve become so laid back in my approach to life that I’m almost horizontal and subconsciously I’ve always subscribed to the old mantra that goes something like ‘accept the things you can’t change‘. This has been sorely tested over the last few weeks though and I’m currently battling a constant turmoil of annoyance, trepidation, frustration, despair and general unhappiness.

2019 was a terrible year, walking-wise, for me. I failed or bailed almost every walk I started (I wrote about it here), mostly due to being incredibly unfit and overweight and the year culminated in a fractured metatarsal that put paid to any proper walking for nearly four months.

In 2020, even after my foot felt better, the inability to prepare or train and the Covid pandemic of course, put paid to any plans I may have had. The few short walks I did manage were very tame, due again to lack of fitness and having put on even more weight. In June I pulled a calf muscle and that hampered me for another few weeks. I did almost no walking over the summer, other than local lockdown ambles thanks to my achilles tendon, which began to get really sore after 3-4 miles, so by September I’d stopped walking almost completely. I felt like a physical wreck!

Swollen beck, Little Punchard Gill
Manchester, from Blackstone Edge
Manchester, from Blackstone Edge

In November I had a word with myself, and snapped out of my despondancy and self-pity, working on the basis that I needed to have the ‘courage to change the things I can‘ (the other half of the old mantra). I decided that if my achilles became painful after 3-4 miles, I would just walk for 3 miles, to try and build up some strength in it. I ended up walking for 17 of the 30 days in the month and by the end I was able to walk 4 miles without any major pain in my right foot. I felt encouraged and enthused for the first time in ages.

In December I walked at least 3 miles every day of the month. Most days I managed 4 miles and towards the end of the month I did a couple of 6 mile walks without any significant pain from my achilles. I now had 31 consecutive days walking under my belt and I wanted to continue my streak. So I pushed on into January 2021, again walking every day and now managing a couple of 7 or 8 mile walks around my local paths. I started to feel so much better, both physically and mentally. I lost some of the weight I’d gained over the last 2 years and felt fully motivated to continue.

I walked every day in February too, averaging over 5 miles a day now, and feeling better each day. I did 90 consecutive day walks around my local area. Lockdown meant I couldn’t drive anywhere and although my walks were getting a bit ‘samey’, I’m lucky enough to have plenty of green paths beside the river less than 400 yards from home. Even the mud, wind, rain and snow didn’t stop me, I was fully enjoying the feeling of walking every day.

Then it all went to shit. On the 28th Feb, as I was about 1/2 a mile from home, I felt my left foot begin to hurt in the exactly the same way as my right foot hurt when I damaged it in December 2019. I got home and hoped it was just a bruise, but the next morning it was still really sore and a short walk to the post box confirmed my repressed fears, I’d damaged the fifth metatarsal again, albeit on the other foot. It’s hard to describe how disappointed I felt. I’d been feeling more motivated and enthused about walking, losing weight and getting properly hill fit than I had in years and I was part way to realising my goal too!

In January, my new-found enthusiasm had seen me planning a new series of walks, the Cross-Dales Trails. I planned and booked five walks, each of which I’m going to turn into a small guidebook, describing walks that traverse the Yorkshire Dales. I was a bit optimistic with the dates of the first couple of walks and had to move some bookings when it became clear that lockdown was going to last well beyond Easter, but they are all planned. My daily walks were getting me fit, I was losing weight and I was hoping to be fit enough to enjoy these walks, not struggle through them as I have been over the last couple of years. Then my foot goes and dies on me. Not only was I denied the joy of my daily walk, but there was now the prospect of having the enjoyment of all the walks I had planned snatched away from me too. Even if I could walk them pain-free, would I be puffing up the hills and struggling along them? The prospect was both terrifying and devastating.

Flooded path on my local walk
Snow storm on my local walk
Snow storm on my local walk

It’s early April now. I’ve not walked further than my car, or around the supermarket in over 5 weeks. My foot doesn’t hurt anymore, but I still feel it twinge every now and again, so I know it’s not quite right. I know how long it took for my right foot to heal from the similar injury and it’s destroying my morale. Time is dragging, the weather outside is wonderful, lockdown has eased, so I could travel to a walk and yet I CAN’T DO ANYTHING! I have three consolations right now, and they are all that’s really keeping my hopes alive – I’d like to say keeping my spirits up, but that would be a lie!

1. The current injury to my left foot doesn’t seem to have been as bad as the injury to my right 16 months ago. In December 2019 I had to walk 10 miles on the injured foot and I couldn’t put any weight on it for several days after. It was over three months before I managed another hill walk. This time I only had to walk 1/2 a mile on it and it’s never felt as painful as my right foot did. I’m hoping, therefore, that the healing process will be quicker.

2. Thanks to lockdown, I’ve had to move my first multi-day walk of the year to 22nd May. It was supposed to have been last week. Without lockdown I would already have missed one walk and probably the next, which was scheduled for next week. Now I stand a chance of both giving my foot a chance to heal, and building up some level of fitness in time for the first walk.

3. Even though I’ve not been able to exercise, I have been doing well at keeping my food intake to a reasonable level. This means I’ve still been able to lose some weight, albeit at a reduced rate, while I’ve not been exercising. I lost a huge amount of weight in 2004 and 2005 (about 7 stone or 44 kg in today’s money) and mostly managed to keep it off until about 2013. Since then I’ve yoyo’d a lot, but each year putting some of the original weight loss back on. This year I seem to have found a more sustainable approach and I’ve lost 14kg since the start of the year. My motivation to continue that loss is still high, compared to many recent years when I’ve started the year well, but slipped back into old ways by May.

There are six weeks between now and when I begin my first Cross-Dales Trail walk. That will be a five-day walk from Settle to Richmond, with a couple of big days. Two weeks after that I have a six-day walk planned along the Eden Way. If all goes well, I can give my foot another two weeks to heal and still have time to regain some fitness. My good friend Chris Pilgrim has agreed to join me for some weekend hikes along the Yorkshire Wolds Way, and we have a couple of these weekends pencilled in before I have to set out from Settle.

I still feel nervous about the timings. I can’t leave my foot for too long, or I won’t be fit, but if I test it too early and it fails again, it will set me back 2-3 months! It’s a really difficult juggling act and it’s like a black cloud hovering over me.

4 thoughts on “Injury Frustrations”

  1. Timothy Hodges

    Hi Stuart. I have to say that I am genuinely impressed with your weight management! The precautionary approach to your current injury seems reasonable to me. I’m not a specialist in these matters but as I grow older I find I benefit from starting slow and doing less (time/distance/frequency) than my mind says I can. So, I have to say In think Vivien poses a very good question. Over the winter, I started back running despite my ongoing knee issues. Someone very modest distances at a slow pace. I was fine until I went from 3 times to 4 times a week. I should have known better at my age…. After a month long break I’ve started back and things seem to be going better. I certainly don’t want to risk my long distance walking and share your real concern about the sustainability of it. Fingers crossed for you and I hope we can find ourselves walking together again when (ever) I can get back to the UK!

  2. Sorry to read of your issues, very frustrating for you. Backpacker which is on Twitter have recently posted some exercises to help build leg strength and may be worth a look at. They can all be done at home. Hope your fitness returns soon.

  3. Hi Stuart,
    So frustrating for you and all sorts of other negative feelings which are totally understandable. The weight problem is a sod for many of us especially if we’re in the middle-aged zone – god forbid I passed that some years back! I went on the keto diet, lost all the pounds necessary to achieve the desired weight and then had two awful episodes out on the trail where I ‘hit the wall’, could not have moved even if I were threatened by a mad axe-man. That was the end of serious dieting and I am now relying on keeping to no more than the weight carried on the C2C. Has it occurred to you that you might have pushed too much and walking every day is not giving any weak points chance to heal. “Bloody obvious” I hear you shout!
    Hope your enforced rest is short and successful, and I look forward to hearing more news from you.

  4. Sorry to read about your injury woes. I share your frustration. I’ve kept active during lockdown and was looking forward to the restrictions being lifted and taking my caravan to Castleton for a couple of weeks walking in the Peak District. However, I’ve recently started to get problems with my sacroiliac joint resulting in pain which radiates down the back of my left leg. I’m hoping that treatment by a chiropractor, and a brief period of rest might bring about some improvement but fear that this won’t happen as quickly as I would like. It is so frustrating when injury interferes with long held plans. I hope that your foot heals soon.

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