A very valuable assessment, which I will follow up. I feel more confident about increasing my cycling mileage after making the recommended changes.
Sam, Maidenhead

Why Physiotherapy is essential to training injury free – by New DP Ambassador Sam Barley!

The recent ‘Dorney 10k’ marked my first race of the season, and – more importantly for me – marked my return to competition after a broken foot cut my 2019 season short. I wasn’t expecting my very best performance, instead treating the race as a way to supply my coach with data he could use to predict my Functional Threshold (a key indicator of fitness). To win in these circumstances was a nice bonus, and a confidence boost for 2020.

The road to recovery has been a long, slow process. That will sound familiar to anyone who has broken bones before, but to me it came as a bit of a shock. I hope that through sharing my experience, others can avoid the same thing happening to them.

The warning signs came as I was training up for my big ‘A’ race last year – the National middle-distance champs in Chester. I felt some pains in my left foot that I hadn’t felt before, so took some days off running before the big day. Come race morning I still didn’t know if I could run, but decided to ignore that until I’d completed the swim and bike. The race was going brilliantly until I trod on something out of T2 and had to stifle a scream, feeling a sharp pain in the bottom of my left foot. In the heat of the action I’m not sure if your thoughts make much sense but at the time, the decision to push through after all this dedication and hard work felt like the right choice to make. I gritted my teeth and finished the race, letting just one runner past and making it onto the third step of the podium. When the adrenaline wore off, I realised I was limping and headed to the GP to check things over. I immediately got referred for an X-ray which revealed a complete break of the 2nd metatarsal, which strangely didn’t sound nearly as painful as having to tell my fiancée I’d have a broken foot for our wedding four weeks later. It turns out that I didn’t need a cast, but that I shouldn’t consider running again for 8 weeks. 8 weeks in summer when the weather is lovely and the trails are dry feels like an awfully long time, so in those weeks off I plotted a return to running and new goal: racing a marathon in autumn and attempting to go sub 2:45. In hindsight this was a ludicrous idea and far too short a timeframe to be marathon fit within just a few months of a bone break. But at the time I didn’t know better and I certainly hadn’t broken any bones before, so I assumed it was achievable. I set myself a full-on training program, dropping swimming and cycling to devote all my time to running and following a sub 2:30 plan I’d found. The ramp rate was so extreme that I developed terrible shin pain, on more than one occasion literally falling through the front door in tears. So I’d ice my legs and go out the next day, again and again and again. Eventually it dawned on me that something wasn’t right so I went back to the GP to see if I could get another X-ray. Nothing showed up on the X-ray or later MRI, so with doctors scratching their heads I gave up on diagnosing the problem and instead set out to make sure it didn’t happen again. I’d been toying with the idea of getting a coach, having been self-coached to varying degrees of success for over 10 years. Like many athletes I don’t know when to stop, pushing my body without adequate rest and assuming that ‘more is more’ in terms of training. I needed a coach not to motivate me but to rein me in, telling me when to back off. Mikael came on board in September and initially prescribed me no run training whatsoever, eventually starting with 1 minute run / 1 minute walk which became 2 minute run / 1 minute walk and so forth until in December I could run continuously. It sounds pretty tedious and it was, but with a result like last Sunday it’s hard to knock the process.

In getting injured I’ve learnt that in order to get faster you need to look after your body; that super-hard bike session might make you feel like a hero but unless you support it with adequate rest, foam rolling, activation and mobility exercises (to name just a few), you’ll eventually get injured. That’s why I’m so excited to be working with the Drummond Clinic this year to make sure I can train consistently, injury-free, and achieve my goal of turning Pro in 2020. Physiotherapy may not be as sexy as a new set of carbon wheels but I can honestly say it is firmly at the top of my priority list after the benefits I’ve experienced in the last few months.

To summarise some of the lessons I learnt the hard way:

  • If you experience pain in training for more than three days in a row, stop! Go see a doctor or physio.
  • Losing a few days of training to get over a niggling pain is better than the months off training you could lose if that pain develops into something worse.
  • There are no shortcuts to getting fit. If you rush the process, you’re more likely to get injured and have to start from scratch again.
  • Be all-round strong. It’s tempting to put all our effort into just the three sports (if you’re a triathlete), but something like pilates, yoga or gym sessions could be the key to staying strong and making sure you can repeat those cardio sessions day in, day out.
I hope what I’ve had to say will help some of you avoid the same mistake, and stay fit & healthy in 2020! Good luck to all of you in your training.