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Trust Issues

by @garyfallsover
Monday 30th March 2015

A year ago Run247 columnist Gary Dalton was preparing for one of the toughest races out there, the Tor des Geants (330 km - 24,000m D+). This year he grappling with an even harder challenge: how to stay on friendly terms with a body, that isn't quite as enthusiastic about ultra running as his mind

I have trust issues. Now I know that sounds very dramatic and dare I say it American, but it’s true. I don’t trust my left knee. We’ve been through an awful lot together and for the most part he’s been good to me. Carried me through some tough times, made it to the finish line of some great races, carried me over the try line at some important games. But every now and then, just when I need him the most, he lets me down. Just past the mid way point on the UTMB it dislocated. Two days in to the Tor des Geants my medial meniscus developed a tear and three days after that the whole knee failed, cartilage, tendon and muscles torn.  So you could say we have a complicated history my left knee and I.

I last ran without knee pain in the second week of September 2014, somewhere on a Col in the Aosta valley in northern Italy. I was taking part in a race called the Tor des Geants, an absolute monster over 330km of Alpine trails with over 24,000 metres of climb. My race report is HERE if you fancy a read. A couple of days into the race my knee failed but I did what most runners do.  I denied it was as bad as it was and I carried on.

That decision and the subsequent damage I caused have meant that I’ve spent the intervening six months moaning on twitter and facebook, reading blogs and sports science articles and doing pretty much everything running related bar actually running. And it’s brought me to where I am now. Three weeks into training again, still dealing with the pain but even worse with the feeling that at some point it’ll go wrong again, that it’ll fail just when I need it and I’ll have to drop from another race. Because despite what the doctors have said, despite the scans and the treatment and the strengthening exercises I just don’t trust my knee. And I’m having some major issues with that.

You see I’ve always been quite happy in my own deluded little word believing that, despite the evidence that I was a middle aged fart rapidly approaching my 44th birthday, desperately trying to ignore both the receding hairline and expanding waistline, there still lived inside me, carefully concealed; the same whippet who could run 100m in 11.4 seconds, who could skin a full back on the outside and who was perfectly capable of running a marathon in under 3 hours. If I wanted to of course. Which I didn’t. Of course.

But as it has a habit of doing, reality intruded with the subtlety of Abu Hamza at a Bar Mitzvah. I can’t do the things I used to do. I am getting older. And much as I wish it wasn’t the case the years I’ve spent doing a variety of sports have come back to take their toll. And so it comes back to the realisation that I can no longer rely blindly on my body to do the things I want it to do. I need to take more care of it. The days of playing a game of rugby on a Saturday and going for a run on the Sunday are long gone. Nowadays I need a nap after watching a game. But this doesn’t mean that I’m ready to give in just yet.

Like a lot of guys I’m not fan of admitting frailties and I’m even less of a fan of admitting that I can’t just ignore problems in the hope they’ll go away. Getting older, recurring injuries and niggles won’t go away. They won’t get better and I can’t just run through them.

After the Tor I suffered what I can only describe as a hissy fit. I effectively retired from running, which, incidentally, is remarkably easy to do when you have an inflexible knee brace from hip to ankle. I told my friends, family and quite frankly anyone who sat anywhere near me that I was out. And for a little while I believed it. You see I was upset at my knee. I was angry with it. I thought it had let me down and I’d never forgive it for my DNF. But after a period of time I figured out that not only could I not walk away from the sport while I was still capable of enjoying it, it was I who had let me knee down. You see I treated it like it, and I, were still 22. And I expected it to be able to do things a 22 year old knee could do. I found it incredibly difficult to accept that it and I have our best years behind us and for anyone that’s a difficult thing to take.

So this year I’m trying something different. I’m trusting that my coach, Run247 columnist, Team GB and inov-8 athlete Robbie Britton does actually know better than me about how best to build up to a race. I’m getting regular sports massages. I have the always fantastic guys and girls at Profeet looking after my feet and insoles. I’ve seen a strength and conditioning coach and for the first time I’ve actually done some of the exercises too. But most importantly I’ve accepted I’m not 22 anymore and I can’t do what I once did. I’m not saying I’m ok with that but I’m getting there. Because I really have no choice if I want to enjoy the years I have got left without this endless cycle of injury and recovery.

So I’ve booked my first Yoga session. I’ve bought the headband, the foam mat and I’ve researched the best coffee shops to chill out in afterwards with the devotees. I’ve learned the correct pronunciation of Namaste and though I haven’t quite worked out how to centre myself, I’m certainly not quite as wonky as I used to be. Because I’d quite like a few more years in the sport if I can get them. But my knee and I will have to come to some kind of understanding and that, unfortunately, is still a work in progress.


About The Author

Gary Dalton

Gary Dalton is a rugby loving, crime fighting, white Irish Muslim ultra runner. Despite all this he's not a complete eejit. 

Gary is originally from the west of Ireland and can't actually remember when he moved to London - he blames a heavy diet of being tackled by prop forwards and potatoes for the memory loss. He hates going out for runs, canals and borderline hypothermia and loves ice cream and going out for runs. 


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