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Race for Fitness

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On Monday, August 2, three weeks before the Olympic marathon, I did my final 2hr 15min run down at the lake near Font-Romeu. It was as good, if not better, than any of the long runs I had done that summer. I was in very good form. The next day we left for England, where we would spend five days before going to the south of Spain to acclimatise for Athens.

We based ourselves on the edge of the Doñana National Park, south of Seville. There were lots of trails, we had a nice place to stay and the temperatures were close to Athens. We wanted to replicate my build-up for my previous marathons as much as possible.

On Sunday, August 8, exactly two weeks before the race, we did our last long training session: a two-hour tempo run in the evening to replicate the Athens marathon. Gerard (Hartmann, my physiotherapist) wasn’t feeling well and didn’t come. Gary (my husband) and I went in the car to the cycle path from where I would set off.

Warming up, I felt a little tightness in the vastus medialis muscle in the quadricep of my left leg. Had Gerard been there I would have asked him to have a look, but it didn’t seem serious enough to drive back. If it became sore during the run, I would stop. Through the first hour and a half I was aware of it, but it wasn’t painful. In the last half-hour it gave me a little more trouble, but as soon as the run was completed the leg seized up.

Gerard told me not to worry; the muscle causing the problem was not essential for running. As soon as he touched the area that was in spasm I was in agony. To loosen it, he had to be incredibly gentle with his massage and clever with his psychology; he didn’t want me worrying about this. The next morning it felt bruised but otherwise seemed OK. I went for my run as normal, but five minutes into the warm-up it was obvious there was a problem. It felt as if I couldn’t bend my leg properly. On the massage table, I didn’t have to be told it was serious. I could feel the same squeakiness in the area above my left knee that had been in my shin before the Chicago marathon two years before and again in 2003. Crepitus had come back to haunt me.

Gerard said the muscle didn’t seem to be damaged; it was aggravated and in an inflammatory cycle. By evening it felt better and the squeaky sensations had disappeared. The next morning, there was still no sign of the crepitus and I decided to give it another 24 hours before putting it to the test.

That afternoon we went for a 20-minute walk on the seafront and returned for more treatment. When Gerard looked at it, his face fell. “It’s back,” he said and I could tell that he was shaken. So we turned again to Dr Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt (the German doctor). We had to get this sorted and quickly. Gerard and I went to Munich.

Dr Müller said I needed an ultrasound scan so he would know what he was dealing with. That showed no damage to the muscle, just a lot of fluid between the muscle and the sheath, hence the crepitus. He treated the area that Wednesday with anti-inflammatory homeopathic injections.

Feeling much happier, we travelled back to Seville; I rested the next day and when I ran on Friday the leg felt OK. But an hour later the crepitus was back. Gerard, normally so reassuring, was freaked by what was happening. Here we were, nine days before the marathon, isolated, far from the medical back-up that we needed and the clock was ticking.

After a phone call to the doctor, I tried again to run on Saturday; again the leg was OK during the run, but the awful creakiness was back soon afterwards. Gerard tried to stay positive, but I could see his anxiety. I was scared all our hard work was going down the drain.

Mum and I spoke on the phone. I was upset. The injury and the uncertainty were making me stressed and, through the tears, I told Mum that I would fight it all the way.

“If it was a normal race, I would pull the plug on it. But I don’t know how I could survive if I can’t run in Athens.”

“Do you want me to come out and be with you?” “Thanks, but there’s nothing you could do. All we can do is hope it will clear up.”


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Read the book:

Running Battle
My relationship with Gary

Taking on the Cheats
Edmonton, ribbons and solutions

Race For Fitness
Desperate days before Athens

That Day
The marathon in Athens

Taking a gamble
10,000m - to run or not to run?