Monday, 11 January 2016

Inspirational Patients - Alison Hilton

Lots of people run marathons these days. So why should I find it inspiring when an experienced runner manages to run one?

Well, most of us who are runners are familiar with being too injured to run properly. Sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months - but thankfully relatively few of us become so injured that we can't run properly for several years. How many times would we think we would have to give up? How many of us would believe we can recover? And how many of us do?

I first saw Alison in 2013 when she had been suffering painful achilles problems for nearly three years. Prior to this she had been regularly running 20 to 25 miles per week, but had reduced this to one long Monday run with her running club.

Regular readers of these missives won’t be surprised that I felt that pattern had to change - from the one weekly long run to several much shorter runs of 20 to 30 minutes. Of course this is very frustrating to someone who is used to and enjoys running further. But her achilles needed both the right levels of loading and time to adapt.

After four months of gradual build up she was back to running 8 to 9 miles but with only a minimal reaction. Through the next six months she slowly built up her running load. There were a few setbacks, but she backed off and stayed sensible.

Steady progress? Time for a marathon then!

After 12 months she was running at the level she had been four years earlier - it can be a long road. Then, in August 2014, Alison mentioned she wanted to run a marathon, twice the distance she had raced previously, within a year. Ambitious maybe?

As is often the way in life, she was coming back from a setback - chickenpox. Often innocuous in children it is almost always serious for adults. She had been wiped out for a while and needed to build up carefully.

She chose as her goal the Loch Ness Marathon in September 2015, appropriate perhaps as it is sponsored by Baxters. I thought a year should be enough time to prepare - but it might be a good idea not to aggravate the old injuries along the way. So we worked together on a plan that built up her mileage slowly at a level I thought her body could manage.

Another setback occurred in spring with an ITB injury which led to several weeks of no running. As Alison understates “there were one or two points along the road with my little setbacks that I genuinely thought I was going to have to give up running and find something else. I do tend to catastrophise and setbacks can become big mental hurdles for me. However Kim’s confidence in the approach we discussed and her general positivity made a huge difference and really did encourage me to stick at it.“

What I find particularly inspirational as a runner myself is the way she followed the plan, sensibly choosing to back off when she received the early warnings, not when it was already too late. This marathon was a real challenge for her but she approached it with both determination and common sense. Had either one of those been missing she probably wouldn’t have succeeded - something I’m still learning myself.

"My achilles feel better than they have in years."

“Looking back, I can absolutely see that the steady build of load was the way to go...having run hundreds of training miles and the marathon itself in a controlled and sensible way my achilles feel better than they have in years. Oh, and the cold baths were a revelation!”

As a runner who works with injured runners almost every day I am trying hard to follow my own advice, training consistently without breaks and building up the volume slowly year on year. This means having the good sense to back off when I have to - which is tough. I get doubts all the time.

I constantly have to fight the desire to push on too quickly and need to keep reminding myself the longer-term goals are usually more important than the immediate ones: this or that unimportant race, this or that non-critical session, this or that mileage total etc. Alison's recovery from years of injury and her sensible approach to setting and achieving her goals are a big source of inspiration for me.

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