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Running has helped me deal with an unimaginable amount of stress by Sally Dowler

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Running has helped me deal with an unimaginable amount of stress, so to be advised not to run anymore was devastating. I tried to ignore the advice but my knee problems kept getting worse and worse until eventually  I was almost constantly in pain. I  wouldn’t describe myself as a natural athlete and I certainly wouldn’t say I was a natural runner but I shall  try and explain what running means to me and how I have coped with the transition to cycling.

In March 2002 my beautiful thirteen year old daughter ‘Milly’ was abducted and murdered on her way home from school. For six extremely long painful months we did not know what had happened to her. During this time I literally felt on the brink of insanity and the ‘not knowing’ was excruciatingly painful.

The pressure from the ‘not knowing’, the surrounding media and police questioning was virtually unbearable. I barely slept and I barely ate during this period, the adrenaline was constantly pumping through my body. I bought a treadmill and put it in the garage and sometimes at night when my mind felt like it was going to explode I would get up and run on the treadmill. I found the running motion strangely soothing and totally exhausting which was a good combination.

A year later I was persuaded to enter the Kingston breakfast run which was just over 8 miles. I was very focussed on achieving this and channelled lots of my energy into the preparation. After a while I began to look forward to my runs and was able to get some sort of mental relief from the consistent rhythm of the exercise. The first mile was always really hard work but after that , I began to relax into it and found it quite calming and was able to think through problems.

As every runner will understand, injuries are the bain of our lives and soooo frustrating. I started to get calf injuries and was constantly being told to rest my legs. This was not what I wanted to hear as strenuous exercise was the only thing that would provide me with any relief at all. My method of dealing with the stress was to go running, spinning, boxercise and swimming. Fortunately I was still able to swim so sometimes I would spend hours pounding up and down the pool.

I started doing ‘park run’ a few years ago and found the challenge of running 5km every Saturday morning a good weekly target for me and strangely comforting.  After doing 50 park runs you are entitled to a special t shirt and these t shirts are highly sought after like gold dust! I was absolutely determined to get my ‘50’ park run T shirt, however I was really struggling with calf injuries and knee pain and found that even with a great deal of physio I was often unable to run for weeks at a time. When my GP suggested to me that I should consider giving up running I practically had a ‘meltdown’. How on earth would I be able to cope with all the stress if I was unable to run?  I should mention that during these times I would be hell to live with! I only had to see another runner and I would get cross!!!

Eventually after ignoring my doctor and signing up for an exhaustive bout of intensive physio I decided to try some orthotics and to my surprise I was able to run pain free for the first time in years. However after just a few weeks my knee became so swollen that after each run I would spend hours in my cryo cuff trying to reduce the swelling. After running I struggled to get up and down stairs etc.

My physiotherapist eventually suggested that I visit Jonathan Bell a knee specialist who would understand my need to exercise. I scheduled an appointment with him and after looking at the results of my MRI he told me I had degenerative arthritis and a slight tear in my meniscus. Jonathan spent a long time talking to me about my need to exercise and why I liked certain activities. He said I could still run but basically it was going to hurt and it would only get worse. He suggested cycling might be a good alternative.

Being told you can’t or you shouldn’t run is really really really annoying. As well as being a strenuous exercise it has a meditative quality which helps soothe your mind. Meanwhile a friend told me she was selling her road bike and I just said I’ll buy it from you! It’s early days still, but at the moment I love going out on my bike and it has partially filled the gap that running has left in my life.

The thing about running is that you can do it anywhere and anytime, and all you really need is a pair of trainers and a good sports bra. My friend and I would go out for a run along the river together and chat and put the world to rights! Also at stressful times like Christmas day when there are no gym classes, you can just go for a run if needed.

One major benefit of not running is that I have now managed several weeks with no injuries and what a huge difference that has made. I still have to admit to being jealous when I see runners but cycling is a great alternative as you can do as little or as much as you like. Already I hate being overtaken, which in fairness happens all the time but it spurs me on to go faster! Cycling is not meditative as you have to concentrate on the road, you can’t switch off like you can when running but it is rhythmic and I feel quite exhilarated after a long cycle.

To find out more about our Knee Clinic click here