At first it was a dull pain in my calf. As the run continued, the pain became sharper. After another half mile I began to alter my gait to ease the pain. Then I realise, I am injured.
When I get home I find that my soleus (the smaller calf muscle that emerges from the achilles tendon) has gone into spasm and has a lateral anterior knot. I attack the bulge with my thumbs but it won’t soften. The knot is tangled and tied tight. It’s painful and it is a very unusual place to get one.
The acid-bitter frustration of injury is familiar territory to every runner. It is exacerbated by the fact that this time I was being careful and taking it easy. It is unfair, somehow. I have been drowning in exam papers. I have been trapped inside marking 107 scripts (214 essays) and keeping up with emails and the kind of report writing that is the mainstay of so many peoples’ jobs. I need this time out. I need to be able to escape from this snowy mogul of paperwork. I need air. Desperately.
The next day, I continue kneading at the knot. It’s stubborn, so I decide to skip my run and rest, instead – more work. Two more days go by (of more work), and even though it still hurts, it is softer. I head out for another run; slowly, carefully. The muscle is not happy but I manage the run OK.
On the following day, a Sunday, frustrated with my coralled existence (of having to perform a pointless administrative task of uploading a reading list, item by item, to a website – that, if it were a friend it would be one of those ‘difficult’ ones that wants precisely 2/3 of a spoon of sugar in their tea) I decided to walk, not run, up to Blackheath. It is only a couple of miles. The sun is shining and I imagine that this low-level activity is good for the knot that is still quite painful. Halfway there, I have a sudden, sharp, stabbing pain in the upper part of my calf. My other calf muscles (the gastrocs) have now gone into spasm, too.
I grab my leg; the knot is the size of a squash ball. How can my fitness level have dropped so severely that I can’t even walk a mile? It wasn’t the discomfort that bothered me, but the fact that with every pulse of pain I was being reminded of the fact that I would have to spend even more time inside, at my computer, on the couch, marking.
The following morning I manage to get into my local physio. I found this amazing fellow when I was training for the marathon. Since then I have clung to him, limpet-like. I start telling him what has happened and as I’m doing this he begins to smile.
“Why are you smiling?”
“Is your back stiff?”
“Yes, a little, but nothing like my calves.”
“I think it’s your back.”
He was right, too. I didn’t have a running injury, but a marking one.
As I sat for hours, marking, inputting data, screen-adminning, my lower back stiffened, hardened, swelled, slowly disrupting neural pathways from foot, to leg, to trunk, to spine. As the signals travelled up and down they became garbled and interpreted threat where there was none, so my lower leg (the end of the communication line) went into panic to protect itself from the perceived hazardous activity of walking a mile to Blackheath.