The Running Injury Learning Curve by Emily McClelland


On the final half mile of the Tuesday evening club run I pushed hard wanting to get that all important sprint finish in…. That’s when I felt a sharp unknown pain on my knee across the knee cap. I ignored it and finished the run. My knee ached for the rest of the evening. The following day I could hardly walk, I couldn’t bend my left leg, the pain with every step and knee bend changing position made me feel nauseas. I knew it wasn’t good. It took 5 days for the pain to subside and with that I attempted a little run, then another, and then one more before the sharp pain returned again. I stubbornly repeated this pattern for some 8 weeks hoping by some miracle that each week I’d be ok again to run one of the many races I was booked into. As the weeks went by I cancelled one race by one, only managing to run the MK Rocket 5k after the osteopath had “pulled me about” to promptly break a few days later. Finally I gave up, realising (eventually) that I needed proper rest. When I cancelled my next 3 months of races it took the pressure off so I could concentrate on doing nothing.

In short – I got injured by doing too much too soon, I added on too many miles before I was ready and then I never let myself recover afterwards, that was the final nail in the coffin. There you go, I said it out loud!

The effects of not running hit me hard immediately from the first week; I was no longer getting the huge benefits of endorphins that each run released, I could no longer eat the same amount of calories in a day, I no longer had my de stress run that I’d learnt to rely on and the hardest thing of all, my running goals had been removed from my sights; No more first marathon with an aim for a GFA, no more 3x half marathon goal, and thus it went on – I felt lost, completely de motivated and lost all get up and go. I regularly saw the sports therapist and an osteopath, I wanted and needed to get better; however my body was reacting and was being taken over by tension and stress; I needed to handle and deal with the emotions so my body could relax and become capable of recovering.

Running lets you go everywhere!


As different parts of my body hurt it was hard to be diagnosed with exactly what was wrong. The pain in my knee was “runners knee”, an excruciating pain across the kneecap and inside of the knee, to touch it felt bruised and every time the knee bent it felt like a bruise was being pushed. However the knee wasn’t the root of the problem it just took the brunt of what was going on and reacted to the many tight muscles and ligaments. Piriformis syndrome was talked about, as was limited pelvis and lower back movement, hamstring tightness and hip flexors.

I wanted to learn and understand more about running and the human body. I started off with the motivational book “Born to Run” by Chris McDougal about the Mexican tribe of ultra runners and the USA’s famed ultra runners; I took confidence from the fact that we are born to run… for all the reasons explained it made perfect sense; on a distance test we could outrun the fastest of mammals, the way we are designed to sweat as we run, we are upright mammals to absorb less heat, the only purpose of our achilles is to run, and thus the list went on.

Next I read Ross Edgley’s “The World’s fittest Book”, he spoke in-depth about the importance of core and basic strength to be able to perform any chosen sport and how important these basic principles are to avoid injury. Next up came the book “Eat & Run” by USA’s ultra runner Scott Jurek, more of an autobiography but it encouraged me once again of how we are born to run and just how capable and able the human body is. All these books touched on barefoot running and this made me realise how important foot placement is. I’m not yet ready to run down the street shoeless in the barefoot method just yet but I understand why modern padded trainers and how orthotics actually create problems. Each foot is made up of 28 bones, 30 joints and 100 muscles and we wrap that up in a padded shoe, in essence we put our foot in a coffin and then expect it to work; as the saying goes with equines; “no foot, no horse”. Whenever possible we should be walking around barefoot to allow the whole of our foot to function as it is meant too.

My osteopath begged me to read Helen Hall’s “Even with your shoes on” and by the first chapter I was hooked, she puts the utmost importance on our posture, vertical sagittal plane; most of us aren’t straight, we’re wonky as hell thanks to modern life. Helen talks in great depth about form with a step by step guide to injury free running starting with being vertical; it all makes perfect sense. “Chi running” by Danny Dreyer backs up what Helen says with the added be at one with nature approach. But the final book to link it all together was “Primate change” by Vybarr Cregan-Reid a fascinating read on how modern life is literally killing us – after reading this book I feel positively allergic to sitting in a chair; our glutes are not designed to be sat on, they are meant to drive us, sit on your glutes and they fall asleep which explains why mine don’t fire. Further more sitting down shortens your hip flexors which restricts the movement of your pelvis and your lumbar area which can result in an anterior tilt pelvis (which I have). None of these things are good! If you isolate an area of your body, be it a joint for example for just two hours it will start to lose it’s ability to do as it’s meant to, we know this from when people are in a cast having broken a bone and they have to relearn to use the hand, motion, body part etc. Most of us are sat for 15 hours a day and unless we can change our career we aren’t able to greatly change that. When possible we need to get up and move; we NEED to be active. These books all quote Gary Ward’s “Anatomy in motion” like the gospel and his YouTube videos are great for some exercises.


From all the reading I feel far more in tune with my body, and my body sensory is far improved; am I vertical, where is my foot landing, is my pelvis tilting, am I relaxed, etc. if you expect your body to perform you need to understand it and treat it well.

14 weeks post injury, 6 weeks off no running and 2 weeks of complete rest I started to run again; slowly, short distances only using everything I had learnt and I am still learning as I continue to read Helen Hall’s book like my bible. After 2 weeks complete rest I felt incredibly tight, but then that makes sense, I’ve been sitting, my pelvis is hugely restricted from all those shortened ligaments; but I am doing my pelvis wall cogs, glute bridges, quad lifts, and thus the list goes on. 3 weeks into running I was running 5km, I felt incredibly unfit, my cardio ability has unsurprisingly disappeared however I am delighted to be running, I am relaxing into the run and when something feels uncomfortable I do not ignore it I think about it and my body and assess what I’m doing, I think vertical, relax my legs from the hips so they swing a little more freely and make sure my arms are not swinging across my body but are controlled yet relaxed going with the motion of my body, then that uncomfortable feeling goes. It took 3-4 weeks for any aching in my hamstring to go which was in direct relation to the injury.

I recall one day at work where I had been sitting in the car, work and car for 11 hours straight with less than 1000 steps taken, my left leg was extremely uncomfortable. I could feel it spasming in different areas, I could feel everything tightening like it was screaming out to move; it was meant to be my rest day however “resting” right now would be being cruel to my body, it needed to get out. I felt like I was taking a big risk, I could run and I could push it and end up back at square one. However with my new found knowledge of my body I did go out for a run, but not before doing my 10 minute walk warm up, (Helen isn’t big on pre run stretching but she does preach 10 minutes of walking to get the blood around to all parts of your body muscles and ligaments. Next check you are vertical and then do some ankle flexes to open up your ankle joints – I run a steady 5km and walk for a good 15 minutes post run. My leg felt tonnes better post run.

Out running

Many people will think I am running too much at 5 times a week. However I’ve come to realise that my body needs movement, so as long as I’m being sensible on pace and distance I know my body will thank me for being active; I will strive for a run or a decent walk everyday and I will look to incorporate swimming and cycling back into my routine. It takes me back to my horse days; a half hour hack around the countryside was a day off for my competition horse because it was good for him physically and mentally, when he had a few days off he stiffened in his shoulder which affected his whole body and then cost me dearly with the physio!

I’m now nearly 9 weeks back running with 34 runs complete, I’m doing my long runs according to heart rate zones, working on interval training and doing my best to get my fitness to where it was pre injury. I’ve got my first half marathon in the middle of October and where I don’t expect to run it at my original goal pace I’ll be delighted to do it and pick up some bling! I’m not naive enough to think I won’t become injured again but I will strive to continue reading and learning about running and the human body in a bid to not fall down the same path again.

NB. Emily wrote this back in August. Since writing, she completed that half marathon in October at Oxford and ran her second half at the Dirt Half in November. She has also run a Rushmere parkrun PB and has been competing in the cross country league for LFR. Emily is now training for the London Marathon. Look out for her blogs in the future on her training!

You can see more of Emily on her personal blog here: