The 2010 European 10,000m silver medallist battled back after surgery to secure victory at the Morrisons Great Birmingham Run and here he tells his story
When I crossed the finishing line on Sunday at the Morrisons Great Birmingham Run I’m a little embarrassed to write, but an overwhelming feeling of “ Oh no, I think I’m going to cry” came over me.
I know this isn’t the Olympic Games and some might think that’s a little over the top but the journey I have been on just to get back to this level of fitness has been a roller-coaster of emotion.
Ten months ago I went into an operating theatre to have a removal and clean up of my Achilles tendon. The surgeon wasn’t sure of the extent of damage he would find as the MRI scan is limited to what it can show, but it was enough to show I was making the right decision to have surgical intervention.
When I woke, the news was broken down for me. The bad news was the extent of the damage and that without the surgery basic quality of life would have been severely hampered. Recreational running would have been a no go. He continued to tell me he had removed 50% of my tendon, repairing and cleaning up the area. At this point I started to think the worst for my running career. However, he did give me hope that elite running could be possible once again, with a lot of hard work and sensible decision making.
This was all I needed to hear to make the call not to give up. I can only best describe this as blind positivity, like an injured animal not understanding what has happened and continuing on with its day.
After six months of hard work I was finally given the opportunity to take my first steps jogging. I had dedicated my time, money and energy into doing everything I could to build the strength back into my withered away calf and the endurance back into in my heart and lungs. Coming back from surgery means that you have to adapt to a new way of running, the range of motion through your calf and ankle is now permanently restricted and you have to adjust your mechanics to compensate for this.
This hasn’t come without its problems. There were so many times it felt like this was one hurdle too far and I really wasn’t going to get back. The support from my team was crucial to help me through physically and mentally, hitting the small check marks moving forward step by step.
The Great Run series has always been a favorite of mine. I always make space in the schedule to try and do at least one or two events per year. I pencilled in the Great Yorkshire, Great Birmingham and Great South events a long time ago and made these my motivation to spring myself back into contention and back on my journey towards the Rio Olympics next year.
Unfortunately just three weeks ago I had to pull out of the Great Yorkshire Run as I picked up an annoying niggle in my back that shot down to my calf. My medical team did a great job to manage and improve functionality in my leg in such a short time but during the race on Sunday it reared its ugly head at three miles in.
I had to find ways of running through the pain as I was so determined to finish and win this race. I knew if I could just hang with the other runners until the massive hill with three miles to go I could muster up enough energy to shoot for the win. Plus hair bands never lose and I was wearing one!
Sprinting at the end felt as foreign to my body as me walking into a hairdressers but I wanted it so bad that I just kept going. To win and share the moment with so many supporters and the Great Run team who greeted me at the finishing line was something I won’t forget. This is hopefully the turning point in my final chapter towards elite distance running success.
Everyone has their hurdles to overcome; there is no one I know that doesn’t have challenges in life or battles they face on a day to day basis. If there is one thing you can take away from running an endurance event like this it is that it is a true test of inner strength and willpower. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to get round the race, you will find more out about yourself and your character from attempting an endurance event like this.
Well done to everyone who took part in Birmingham and give yourselves a huge pat on the back, you deserve it. Oh and if anyone noticed the hair band I was wearing, don’t worry, Gareth Bale will get it back once I’m done with it. I just need to be able to see the finish line without my hair getting in the way!