Injury to ultra – by Nicole Bunyon

At the beginning of this year I was coming off an amazing 2014 running year. I had run numbers half marathons, 3 marathons, a 30k trail race and a 60k ultra. I was being coached by a fantastic coach, and I felt stronger and fitter than ever before. I was looking full ahead at my race plan which was the 6 foot track and The North Face 50 trail events. It was to be the year of the trail ultra and I would try to find my way to 100km by the end of 2015.

I was out on a trail run one rainy Sunday with fellow RMA friend Natalie. We had driven up to The North Face 50 course to do a long run and get some more time on the course under our belt. I was only 400m in on the boardwalk when I was looking ahead at Nat’s back and not down at the ground when BAM. Down I went over two stairs that I had failed to see. I came down on my left ankle from height and with the cracking noise and the immediate agony I knew that it wasn’t good. I sat there for a minute and tried to regain my composure and when I did we thought we would try to push on for a bit. Well that lasted about 30 metres and I just couldn’t go any further. I told Nat to go on and I would meet her at the next checkpoint on the course and make sure that she was ok. I stopped and put my foot into the freezing waterfall next to me to give it some icing. The agony I felt brought me to a blubbering mess sitting all alone on the forest floor. Not because I was in pain, but because in those few minutes I knew that my goals and dreams for that year had come to a complete halt and had been stripped away from me. Words can’t express the pain I felt at that time and the desperation that I felt at just wanting to get back up and run. I know it sounds silly, but when you have worked so hard and gotten so far, to go down in one fell swoop left me heartbroken.

nicankle1

I regained my composure and hobbled…and I mean very very slowly as by now I couldn’t even weight bear on my foot back to the car which felt like it took an hour. I drove to the nearest petrol station on the highway and got them to give me a bag of ice and made my way to the checkpoint where I would meet Nat. I sat in the car crying with ice on my foot texting my coach and my husband to tell them what had happened and that I was okay. Dreams taken. Just like that.

Obviously I went straight to the hospital on my return from the mountains that day and they ruled out any breaks. So I rested and stayed put for a week. My ankle swelled up like I have never seen and the funny thing was that two days after I did it there was no pain at all. The day I was injured and the day after I was in agony. Later on someone told me that this was because I had probably damaged all the nerve endings. I thought well if I am in not in pain…I can run.

So the week after I damaged my ankle I was back running. Just slowly and easing into it, and I thought I was fine. In hindsight this was a very silly move. I even ran on the 6 foot track a few weeks after. I did a 35km training run thinking I would still be running the race….then my ankle started to swell. All the time. Even when I wasn’t running, but just walking around. Not good….

My physio referred me to a sports physician and he sent me for an MRI scan. It was then that it revealed a vast array of damage that I had no idea I had done. He told me no running for at least 6 weeks. The thought of this made me so so so upset. How on earth was the founder of Running Mums Australia not allowed to run?! How was I going to cope? Mentally running gives me so much. After a few hours I decided to listen to his advice. I cancelled my entry to the 6 foot track which broke my heart, however the North Face 50 was still a few months away….He said that I could do the bike and swimming without using my feet, so that is what I did. I got into the pool every few days and I also got onto my stationery bike. I kept up my fitness with both those things as I was determined not to let my running and hard work go down the plughole. I was committed and for six weeks I focused on staying fit and positive. I focused on being part of RMA and all the running events by being there to cheer or volunteer at parkrun etc so that I still felt a part of it, a part of the community. I missed training with my friends, and I missed the euphoria that running gave me, but I still knew If I did it right I would be back.

Six weeks came and went and I went back to my dr and he said that I was still not ready. At this point he gave me a cortisone injection into my ankle and said I needed to wait another month. I was two-ing and throw-ing with my coach, but we both knew that my North Face dream had to go also for this year. I reluctantly gave my entry away and re-focused my goal on just rehabilitating myself. Although it hurt to give these races away and watch on as friends ran them, I still was fulfilled by living through others and their accomplishments, and knowing that I would be back there.

A month on and I went back to my physician and I had not had any more swelling in the ankle, however my range was extremely compromised and I had the beginnings of plantar fasciitis.  He said it was time now to push the running. This way it would break down the scar tissue in the ankle joint and get my range to increase. I did this slowly, focussing on grass running around the oval. After a few months I could feel my range returning and decided to enter a race, but by this stage the PF had flared up so bad I was really struggling. I did the Oatley Fun run, and remember hobbling off afterwards. Then I lined up for the SMH Half Marathon. About 6k in I was in so much agony on my foot from the PF I practically had to limp all the way to the finish line stopping numerous times to stretch along the way….I must have been a sight the way I was running…..however to my astonishment I managed a HUGE pb and finished in one of my best times ever 1:48! I couldn’t believe it! This gave me confidence to not give up again and to use this experience as a way to fuel my passion for my ultra goal.

I contacted my masseuse Kim and she promptly fitted me in and she set me up on a treatment plan. I once again limited my running and got back on the bike, plus I changed my shoes. Along with her treatment things took quite a while, over a few months and I could feel my foot getting better and better, and the ankle was becoming less of an issue also. So I kept up this routine. When things started to come good I ramped up the mileage slowly (but probably quicker than I would have traditionally) so that I could run the half marathon at the Gold Coast and lead into the Centennial Park Ultra 50k in August. I even ran the Sydney Harbour 10k and broke my 10k PB! Things were looking up. At the Gold Coast I reached another PB and I focussed on staying un-injured for the next month leading into CPU. I knew that I didn’t have heaps of miles under my belt for this and only managed to get one 30k run in before the day as my longest run, however as it was a lap race I felt confident that it was okay as I wasn’t running off into the bush for 50k alone! If I came into trouble I knew that I would be okay in this situation.

I never doubted that I couldn’t do 50k and on the day the mind games that go through your head especially on a lap race really almost got me, but if it wasn’t for the support of my amazing friends my race would probably have not been as amazing as it turned out to be. I probably went out a little fast and that did leave me flat during the middle portion of the race, but as soon as I hit 40k I knew that I had it. I was so excited inside, because despite the horrible running year I had had and all the set-backs, I didn’t give up and I managed to get my second ultra under my belt after all. It was what I needed to move forward and look ahead to the next big goal.

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My story is not unfamiliar, and many of us go through trials and testing times when we run. I guess I share my story to tell you that you CAN overcome things. Be patient and believe in yourself. Listen to the advice given to you and go ahead and chase down those dreams.

I am not sure that the 100k is going to happen this year now, and perhaps I will change that plan and focus on my family more and do some other ultra races, and leave that goal to next year where I can fully commit, but what I do know is that I showed myself that giving up was never an option.

One response to “Injury to ultra – by Nicole Bunyon

  1. I loved this post! You really went through a lot but you persevered and made it through the injury. I’m sure it was agonizing both physically and mentally, but your recovery is very inspiring to any runner who has been injured. Nice Job!

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