One Runner’s Journey: From 2 stress fractures in 2 years to running 40km a week again

“December 2016 I was sitting in the waiting room at Westmead Hospital, waiting to have an MRI taken. I felt like it was deja-vu, as this wasn’t my first visit. At that point I pondered how on earth I was in this position again, and what on earth I had done wrong to be here.”

If you are reading this, I hope that you absorb my common theme; the message that I am portraying in this blog about what exactly it is that I did wrong so that you can avoid my mistakes.

You may be about to purchase an entry into a big race; I mean BIG race – Ultra Trail Australia 22km or the 50km event,  and be contemplating what you need to do to get there uninjured; what you need to do to get there injury free. We all want to get to that race pain free and feeling fantastic but more importantly, finish the race feeling strong, happy and elated.

My road to 2 stress fractures is not uncommon, we read about them and hear stories about them. We are ultimately scared of the thought of having one as it means time out from running and training and potentially time out from the things that make us happy.

My first stress fracture was undiagnosed for some time. I had no idea what was going on, I could walk fine but when I tried to run my body just wouldn’t let me. It wasn’t until a good friend (also a GP) told me to get a scan done to find out what was going on, that I decided to bite the bullet and look into why I could no longer run.

It was after Sydney Trail Series November 2015 that the pain began. This was 9 months after I had taken up running and I had decided to do the 20km trail running event. It was also not long after Coastal Classic (another 29km trail run in September) and on the back of running City to Surf (14km), Sutherland to Surf (11km), and not to mention my first ever Half Marathon in May – only 4 months after taking up running! I had no real clue about load, I would just say to myself “Yep I can do that!”, and off I would go.

You may say I am not one to shy away from a challenge – I am head strong and stubborn about my goals! I would run haphazardly around family and work commitments with no plan or understanding of load and recovery. I would run silly distances just because I could. I thought I was indestructible! That was until my first MRI, which put me out of training for 3 months, which meant no exercise at all. It was hard, very hard.

After that (and still not having learned much about load), I trained the best I could for UTA50 which was to be held in the May of the following year. I had already purchased my entry after all, and again my stubborn head said that I could do it. I had only 10 weeks of training in the lead up to this ULTRA marathon, and just before the event I had another scare! This time I tore my butt muscles, but no stress fracture – phew!

I went into UTA50 2016 under-cooked and with a plan to do the best I could. I finished the event but not to the best of my ability – I wanted more. I rested for only one week (my bad!) and then jumped straight into more events. Again, I ran Sutherland to Surf, City to Surf, Centennial Park Ultra and also Coastal Classic. All with the same approach of haphazard training, training around the kids and work, and busting out the hills!

I had a goal of wanting to qualify for the prestigious Sixfoot Track Marathon and Coastal Classic was my way in. I put everything into the event, but unfortunately fell short on my time. I was pretty devastated. My stubborn brain told me to try one last time for a qualifying time for Sixfoot, and so a mad dash to run in the Mt Stromlo 30km distance undid me. Once again, only managing a few weeks of haphazard training and running lots of hills, broke me. I woke up one morning ready to go for a long bike ride and that was it – I could NOT WALK! This scared me a lot. I was unable to weight bare at all and no pain killers would take the edge away. This was not good.

This brings me to where I was now sitting – in Westmead Hospital AGAIN, waiting for an MRI on a suspected stress fracture. The next day I got the dreaded phone call I was not wanting to hear, “Nicole, you have a Femoral Neck stress fracture and need to get onto crutches straight away or you might damage your hip permanently.” This news sent chills down my spine and a million questions raced through my head – “WHY? What did I do this time? How come no one else I know gets them?” I was now out of UTA for 2017 too.

There is a common theme in this message that I am hoping that you have picked up on as you’ve read about my journey. Train smart and be careful. As hard as it is (and as stubborn as you may be), listen to the experts, find out as much as you can about run training and be sensible.

My top tips are:

  • Be CONSISTENT in your training and only load according to principles laid out in endurance running.
  • Don’t forget your RECOVERY. Give your body time to ADAPT to the load you are placing on it.
  • Get your FUELING right. I wasn’t eating enough for the training I was doing and certainly not enough to allow for tissue repair and healing.

If you are patient and stick to these general principles, your journey should go a lot more smoothly than mine. I hope you have enjoyed reading this, and my hope for what you take away from this, is not to scare you, but to dream big and accomplish great things without forgetting to do it with respect to your training and preparation for what is to come.

On that note, I am fully recovered and my training is much better now. I am getting stronger and well on my way to UTA100 2018. See you on the mountain!

– Nicole


If you need help on your journey, we can help you out with training and a personalised running program. https://rachelsrunners.com/about/sessions-services/

We also have some fantastic affiliated Health Care Practitioners who can support you along the way in regards to body maintenance including chiropractic, physiotherapy, massage, strength, rehab, nutrition and podiatry. https://rachelsrunners.com/preferred-health-care-practitioners/

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