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The Joy of MRI

Monday, March 7th, 2016

David Sawyer running gardening injury

I’ve been gardening again.

This can only mean one thing.

I’m injured.

And It Was All Going So Well

After an ill-fated attempt to go sub-3 at a marathon on no training, I finally got “back to it” in late October.

I don’t know what I was expecting after three to four months out but it wasn’t another three months of 40+ miles a week to regain form.

But eventually it came.

With 12 weeks to go to London, I PB’d a Giffnock North session I’ve done six times before (3×2 miles with half mile jog recoveries at 5:48 average pace on the efforts).

My goal was achievable (if the stars aligned).

I did the Renfrewshire 5-Miler four days later in around 30 minutes (two minutes slower than last year but the conditions were atrocious).

I had a quick banana, performed no stretching, then ran another 13 miles along the cycle track over the moors to Bridge of Weir (it was meant to be with two mates but only one made it. The other injured himself while in great shape and has been out ever since).

Not My Finest Hour

In retrospect this wasn’t my finest hour.

I remember thinking I had a tight right calf the day before but neglected to foam roll. I should have warmed up for the race. I should have warmed down.

And I should have stopped when my lower calf started niggling half way into the run back.

But if long distance runners stopped every time they had a niggle they wouldn’t get very far.

That was four weeks ago. And aside from a one-day comeback I haven’t run since.

I’m deferring my London place to 2017 and refocussing on a potential Scottish marathon in June. Then Berlin later in the year. Unfinished business.


The irony is it’s another Achilles-related problem (where the Achilles meets the soleus) that’s sidelining me.

It seems to be healing but there’s still a worrying notch and some tightness.

I’ll know more after physio appointments four and five today and tomorrow. I’m secretly hoping I’ll be running by next weekend. We’ll see.

Which brings me neatly to the meat of this post. Over the past 13 months I’ve been struggling with a troublesome left Achilles.

Most of the time it doesn’t stop me running (my marathon PB was achieved while suffering from it).

But it’s always there, and forces other bits of my body to compensate for its inflexibility (hence the current injury).

I’ve written about this before. But never documented what I’ve done to try and make it better.

Hopefully this might help anybody facing a similar challenge. Here goes:

23 Things I Tried to Mend My Achilles

  • I have seen seven different physio’s (approximately 20 appointments).
  • Gone through numerous tubes of Ibuprofen and Arnica gels.
  • Manipulated my Achilles between thumb and forefinger. Whenever I can be bothered.
  • Scraped my Achilles with the back of a spoon.
  • Tried ditching speedwork.
  • Tried running with a heel strike.
  • Changed my make and model of trainers.
  • Started getting a massage every two weeks.
  • Taken up Pilates to strengthen my core.
  • Iced it every night with a gel icepack.
  • Sought advice from numerous local runners who’ve undergone similar issues.
  • Eaten flaxseed.
  • Every time the kids have Haribo’s, I have a pack (gelatine).
  • Undergone needling.
  • Seen two podiatrists.
  • Seen two biomechanics specialists.
  • Spent just shy of 300 quid on some carbon fibre insoles I don’t use.
  • Got some great reinforced insoles on the NHS, which they cut to shape.
  • Used co-codamol (and something stronger they use to tranquillize elephants…kidding).
  • Rolled my foot and heel over lacrosse ball, nightly.
  • Practised gripping a pen by curling my toes around it, nightly.
  • Am hopeful of being prescribed GTN patches (commonly used to treat angina) by my GP.
  • And la piece de resistance, bought some £60 Achilles-massaging socks, ran a marathon, and still have the scars to prove it.

Not Through Want of Trying

So, as you can tell, I haven’t NOT recovered from this injury through want of trying.

Most people would have given up all hope of fixing their Achilles and just ran on it.

After all, I can run on it. It’s just that every sensible bone in my body says running on an injury is not a long-term solution. And I want to be running for the rest of my life.

Then, three weeks ago something amazing happened. I was referred for an MRI scan.

Running MRI scan David Sawyer Glasgow

“Your 13-month-long wait for an MRI scan is over, Sir. Come through my benevolent door.”

Cue Bird Song, Happy Music, Joy, Angels

And last night – feeling a bit like Woody Allen in the orgasmatron – I laid inside a futurustic white tube listening to Motown for 25 minutes while magnetic and radio waves coursed through my left foot.

Within two weeks I’ll find out what’s wrong with the damn thing (the Achilles is the most complex tendon in the body AND no blood gets down there to help it heal).

I might not like what they tell me but at least I’ll know my options.

Incidentally, this is, obviously, the short version. If anyone reads this post and wants more detail on the steps (many successful; some not) I’ve taken to recover from this persistent Achilles injury, please get in touch. I’m more than happy to share what I’ve learnt.

P.S. Happy Ending

I wrote this post early this morning. Since then I’ve been to a new physio. Two, in fact, if you count the student who took copious notes before checking with her teacher.

I did 45 one-leg heel raises on my right foot. Without complaint.

He said run. I smiled. Three hours later l ran. 5k. Along Blackloch towards Coursehouse reservoir and back. It was sunny. Very sunny.

I laboured up the hill. Turned. And ran, faster and faster, back to the car.

Now, I don’t feel any discomfort.

Only tomorrow will tell whether I can (gradually) resume training.

Whatever, it’s a step in the right direction.