Injuries and getting back to running by Steve Birkinshaw

Everyone who does sport has an injury at some point. They are really annoying, all you want to do is go out do your sport but you can’t. I have been lucky, from the age of twenty to last year (aged 44) I had not really had any serious injuries. When I was about 19-20 I had bad problems with my knees. My main sport at the time was orienteering and I had over a year off.  At that age I do not really cope very well, I got incredibly frustrated, I was desperate to just get out running but I couldn’t.

Since then the worst thing I have had has been ligament damage in my ankle. But after a few weeks I have been able to bike and then after a few more weeks start running again.

Last year leading up to the Dragon’s Back Race I had been having a lot of niggles. Occasionally I had quite a lot of pain around my right knee when I was descending.  I had seen various physiotherapists and an osteopath but no one seemed to be able to pinpoint the problem, apart from there did not seem to be any problem with the actual knee. It is very hard to work out what the problem is with an intermittent injury and one that is referred from somewhere else. Basically I carried on running and just descended a bit slower and more carefully when out running. I hoped it would go away!

At the Dragon’s Back the intermittent problem was still there but not getting any worse, as the descents were all taken at a gentle pace. Much worse was the tendonitis at the bottom of the front of the left leg just above the ankle. This started on the fourth day and was very painful all the fifth day. The tendonitis was OK again a couple of weeks later so I started running again. But then the pain around the right knee started to get worse again. I tried to do the OMM (Original Mountain Marathon), after 3 hours through the first day my right knee started clicking badly and became very sore. We finished the day and overnight my knee was really badly swollen. So we had to retire and not do the second day.

After the swelling had gone down a bit I could see the tracking of the knee cap was completely wrong.  The inside quad muscle (Vastus medialis) was completely wasted away. It seems the descending over the last 8 months or so had been sore and in trying to protect myself from the pain I had been descending all wrong, everything had gone out of line. It was time for a lengthy lay off.

Unlike twenty odd years earlier, this time I have been much more relaxed and happy about being injured. Now I have a family, I have not been wallowing in self-pity, I have been enjoying being with the family more. I couple of other things have put my injury in perspective. Firstly, seeing my younger sister with Multiple sclerosis. She was also really fit and active but can now only walk around her house with a stick and needs a wheelchair to get any sort of distance. But whenever I see her she is always so positive and goes rowing as it is a sport she can manage. Secondly one of the races I did after the Dragon’s Back before I got injured was the Ian Hodgson Mountain relay. Darren Holloway, who was a similar standard in Fell Running and a similar age to me tragically died of a heart attack during the race. These two events have put my injury in perspective and made me more determined to enjoy my days out on the hills and fells, while I still can and at whatever level I can.

A couple of months after the OMM I started doing some gentle running. It hurt everywhere to start with but gradually I have got better. I have visited the physiotherapist lots of times as well as getting Acupuncture, Bowen technique and Osteopath treatment. Each person I have seen has helped somewhat and I can now run almost pain free. The original problem of pain around my knee can be recreated by pressing on the main quadriceps muscles and moving the leg at the same time. A lot of stretching on this muscle has helped a great deal.

Over the last month or so, I have been taking part in Fell Races again. I am not quite back to full speed yet but that does not matter, it is just great to be out running and racing again.

(Photo credits – Paul Dobson at

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