It was back in July a day after my birthday that I felt a sudden tug in my calf whilst running Stewart Park run. It was my 249th parkrun. Everything should have been set fair on that sunny summer’s morning. I was pretty much in sight of the finishing line so I skipped and hopped the remaining couple of hundred yards to the line, against the sage advice of seasoned volunteer Kenny Salkeld standing close to the finish. Little was I to know that it was an injury that would sideline me totally for a couple of months and still be causing me grief for the remainder of the year.
This is the story of how I got back on the road to recovery thanks to the expert advice and treatment of physio Tracey Arnell and my recuperation on Fairy Dell Trim Trail. Fairy Dell has a trail of outdoor gym equipment that is totally free to use in a delightful park in south Middlesbrough.
I don’t know as much as I should about how the body all works but what I did know back in July was that I could hardly walk afterwards. I limped very, very slowly to Teesside Sports Injury Centre, on University of Teesside campus. By that time I realised all too well that the calf is connected to the Achilles. About five years earlier I was diagnosed with a slight tear in my Achilles and following physio and lengthy rehab I changed my running footwear for ever before getting back to running park runs. I knew it was my Achilles heel again.
Tracey was superb in the Sports Injury Centre for getting me back on my feet again, giving me good advice for cross training to stay fit and keeping my feet on the ground. She also was not a scary physio. She didn’t inflict pain during treatment. She did however cast doubt on whether running the Great North Run. Even then it was possibly not on the cards any longer.
I was out of action for a fair while but slowly the treatments and especially the exercises Tracey set me to do started to have a positive effect. Several times a week I would drive along to Fairy Dell and go on the Health Walker, ideal because there is no contact with the ground and so my tendons would not be subjected to any extra stress. After a few goes I could move on to the Mini Ski and watch the wildlife in the wooded ravine below. Then in later sessions I could try out the Handle Boat and finally Ski Stepper would come into play.
Unfortunately when I tried to step up beyond even a 15 minute session I had a set back of a couple of weeks and had to start from scratch again. It felt like one step forward and two steps back, quite literally.
But gradually I started to win. It was gradual enough for me to actually start to see squirrels gathering their stores for the winter and leaves begin to change colour and even fall. Things you cannot see inside a gym.
Tracey gave me the green light to run Middlesbrough 10k at the start of September but not to push it and to apply the ice straight afterwards. I was well strapped and taped up. It was excellent I felt like a proper footballer or athlete with loads of bandaging and luminous green tape. Tracey said that if I was still feeling OK maybe I could try to run a little faster over the last kilometer or so. And I did. That was real progress.
A month later and I decided to try and risk the Redcar half marathon. I was very much short of race fitness and had still only managed a couple of training sessions with my running clubs Swift Tees and Billingham Marsh House Harriers. By the second half of the race I was completely running on empty so I was glad of the support from a few people cheering the runners along the Esplanade. I tried to hang on to Swift Tee Alison Tapper as she sped past. Meanwhile, my Billingham running mate Jill Maddren raced past well ahead in the other direction but still found the energy and compassion to say “come on.” My harriers coach Ian Harris also urged me on. I could hardly quit and let everyone down. Anyway, I had a date with the sea. I limped into the North Sea straight after limping over the finish line.
Then I finally completed my 250th parkrun and the cakes that were baked in my honour and the card I received from Swift Tees were splendid. To cut a long recovery story short I gradually got back to running if not at full speed then near it. Much to my astonishment I actually ended up breaking my personal best for 10k at Scarborough in November. I couldn’t believe that.
Then in December I was shocked once more to find I had won the Swift-Tees summer league trophy. That was unbelievable and I suppose a reward for all the hours spent on the Trim Trail in Fairy Dell park. The shield and trophy were both presented to me by legendary runner/official Sid Rudd and the inspirational Swift-tees founder, Rosanne Lightfoot.
I still have to battle with my Achilles but it is much better. I still use the trim trail and would recommend it. I think I prefer to do gym stuff outside watching the seasons change. There can be no better setting for my money. And of course it is free.
I have to thank expert physio Tracey Arnell, formerly of Teesside Sports Injury Centre but now Skelton Sports Injury and Rehabilitation. Also my patient coaches, Craig Lightfoot at Swift-Tees, Ian Harris and Louise Dykes at Billingham March House Harriers and all those that have to put up with me moaning and lagging behind holding them up in last place in training for the past half year or more. Am so thankful for the support of those running and non running friends.
Tracey Arnell is now running her on practice Skelton Sports Injury and Rehabilitation Centre
Fairy Dell Trim Trail info is www.thefriendsoffairydell.co.uk/fitness.html