Category: Injury

The South Downs Way 100, or reflections on being a dot

100 miles, 12,700 feet, average rainfall 52mm

In the age of Strava, we’re used to being visible, to being watched. If it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen. But the dramatic rise in popularity of ultra endurance events and multi-day adventure racing over recent years has seen the emergence of a curious new form of spectatorship. So-called “dot-watching” enables followers to track runners around courses in real time from the comfort of their own homes. Like the Eye of Sauron, now, there really is nowhere to hide.

If you actually stop and think about it, following a small dot around a screen for an entire weekend is a slightly strange pursuit. Especially when you consider that many of the people we so enthusiastically share our tracker links with have little or no context for the types of events we’re undertaking. How many dot watchers, for example, have been dots themselves? Do all dot watchers want to become dots? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean that watching the relentless forward progress of these tiny dots quietly going about their business can’t still be reassuring, and perhaps a little bit captivating. Especially when set against the mundane, everyday settings in which we often consume them; at work, in bed, or on the sofa. But what does it actually feel like to be a dot? To be out there in the dark, the wind, the rain, hour after hour. Do dots have feelings too?

Until very recently, I’m not sure I would have been best placed to answer this question. Two years ago, at the South Downs Way 100, I was the very worst kind of dot. You know the kind. It’s the one that hasn’t moved for a while. And I mean, quite a while. At first, you think it might be your internet connection. Or, more likely, the tracker itself has just momentarily dropped signal. But now, to make matters worse, this dot isn’t actually a dot any longer. No, this dot has become the thing that all dots fear; the strange little flashing bed icon!!! Some dots, the lucky ones, will miraculously reverse this unwanted transformation and regain their status as dots to begin their onward progress towards the finish. But, alas, I was not one of those.

It sounds a little bit dramatic now as I write it, but my DNF at the 30-mile point on the South Downs Way 100 in 2022 actually prompted something of an existential crisis. It certainly didn’t help that I’d planned the run as the centerpiece of my 40th birthday celebrations. I was quite literally racing the moment, at 2am in the morning, that I would step triumphantly from one decade into another. I’d decided this would be the final, definitive act of my 30s. A fitting end to another decade of running.  As it happened (thanks to my hip, and probably poor pacing and lack of mental preparation), I turned 40 sitting on the sofa in an Airbnb in Eastbourne with a beer in my hand, not as a strong little dot, but as a vulnerable and fragile voyeur, hidden from view, watching all the other dots doing what dots are actually supposed to do, moving towards the finish!

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, I’d gone from participating in the race to consuming it online. In reality, I’d waited for a good couple of hours to be picked up from the checkpoint I’d dropped out at. I’d been driven nearly 70 miles back to our accommodation, where I’d enjoyed a shower, two meals and a nap, and the dots were still at it, just being dots, and most still had a very long way to go. On the one hand, this was a sobering and unappealing thought. On the other, it provided an enticing glimpse into the unfathomable persistence of these tiny little dots. I simply needed to know more. My time as a dot had been so brief. If only I’d known that I wouldn’t be a dot forever, I would have soaked up every precious moment. So, I did what any rational human being would do in my place, and I signed up immediately for the Lakeland 100. I would be a dot once again!

I’m pleased to say that this time around, my experience as a dot was a much happier one. I set off at a more reasonable pace, I kept my ego in check, and I ran strongly throughout the entire race to finish in 22h and 50 minutes, well under my 24-hour target. Suddenly, all the bad memories from last year were forgotten. I’d become the dot I’d always imagined I would be; effervescent, bright, and proudly visible in my moment of glory. 

Finally, our curious little preoccupation with dot watching all made perfect sense because, ultimately, a dot can only really be a dot if someone’s watching it.

Matt John

Subs bench : February 2024

Every now and then we like to check in with our injured clubmates. Injury and illness happen to most of us sooner or later, and it’s hard when a big chunk of your life is suddenly unavailable. So here is a brief update of our current crop of not-currently-runners. We miss you and wish you a swift recovery.

Ruth Dorrington

I am injured quite frequently. Some are regular overuse injuries or wear and tear (aka old age). However, I’ve inflicted a fair few ludicrous ones on myself. For example, I have given myself whiplash by running into an overhanging branch with such force I knocked myself off my feet. I have tripped over whilst running and landed on the only protruding rock in a 5-mile radius, cracking a rib, then done the exact same thing somewhere else 6 weeks later.

I’ve also had injuries where the physio/podiatrist/osteopath has called a colleague into the treatment room, saying, “Take a look at this, it’s really weird! What do you think it is?” Never very comforting. Little wonder that I am welcomed so cordially by aforementioned therapists: they must hear a giant mental ker-ching as I walk through the door.

So, have the decades of injuries given me a patient stoicism when confronted with another cycle of rest, recovery and re-hab? Definitely not! Each new injury is the very end of the world. Every person I see out running while I am injured is a stab to my heart. Every missed race is mourned with much weeping and wailing.
However, when I am running, I am truly grateful for every step and celebrate every little milestone!

Dominique Lynch

Why are you on the subs bench?
I’m on the subs bench after taking a tumble during a race and continuing on to the finish line (which was another 10miles!)

It’s the first time I’ve sprained my ankle or had an injury that has prevented me from running. I wouldn’t recommend it at all.

How long have you been out?
I’ve been out for about nine months on and off.

What have you been doing, if anything, to keep mentally and physically fit?
I’ve had lots of physio and have been religiously doing the exercises recommended to me. My ankle is still very stiff and my attempts to get back to running end in soreness for several days after.

I’ve been going on lots of walks and to Pilates classes 2-3 a week. I definitely don’t get the dopamine hit that running gives you but it feels good to be outdoors and move my body.

I think keeping mentally fit has been the hardest part of all. It’s easy to slip into thinking if I’ll ever been back on the hills again or if I do to what capacity.

What do you miss about running, if anything?
Everything but mostly the people from NLFR!

Rose George

Why are you on the subs bench?

I’ve got a stress fracture in my left shin. This is weird as my left leg never usually bothers me. Right glute, right tibial tendon, right everything, but not usually left. I got a twinge in my shin the week before Auld Lang Syne, but thought nothing of it because see above about left leg. I did a ten mile moorland run on the Friday through about five different weather systems and had to take a lot of painkillers. At that point I should have rested but I wanted to run six miles dressed as Melchior with my clubmates at Auld Lang Syne, and stupidly I did. My shin hurt throughout and it hasn’t stopped hurting since.

How long have you been out?

Since January 31, 2023.

What have you been doing, if anything, to keep mentally and physically fit?
I immediately stopped running and haven’t tried since. I thought it was a shin splint (muscle or tendon) but after a couple of weeks with no improvement I went to the physio who was so convinced it was a stress fracture, she only did half an appointment. She gave me some crutches and sent me to Wharfedale minor injuries, where I got an X-ray. This showed no fracture but stress fractures don’t often show on X-rays. The nurse told me that what I thought had been good low-impact stuff (walking a lot and cycling) was entirely the wrong thing to do. Great. I used crutches for a couple of weeks, but then stopped using them and noticed no difference. I’ve iced and elevated, applied comfrey poultices, taken a lot of co-codamol, and try hard to stay fit and not eat like I’m still running 30 miles a week (having just had a custard tart for breakfast). I can swim, though ideally without using my legs (the kicking motion isn’t great), I can cycle on a turbo if it’s on the flat. I’m not supposed to walk excessively, but I’m not very good at heeding that. Yoga is OK as long as I’m careful about not putting too much weight on my left leg. The thought of running is as horrific as the thought of hopping on one leg. I’m going to be out for a while yet.

I’ve dealt with the mental grief in two ways: by marshalling when I can, at park run or at the Trog. That gave me the camaraderie and race atmosphere that I really miss, even if I was only taking numbers and offering sweets. But I am just trying not to think about it because if I do, I miss it horribly. My swimming has improved massively though and I’m pretty chuffed that I can now swim a mile front crawl which I’d never done before. Marginal gains.

What do you miss about running, if anything?
Everything and everyone. The head-clearing of running. The friendships. The social runs on the moors. The moors. The grousing grouse. The glee of night runs with headtorches. The pure joy of running downhill. Scraping mud off my legs with a toothbrush in the shower.