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  • Writer's pictureThomas Alexander

Comeback Kid

Updated: Feb 8

Other working titles for this update were, The King Has Returned, and Phoenix Rising, but they were perhaps a little bit dramatic to summarise where I'm at with my less than auspicious return to writing and my last update almost a year ago. I also saw one of my favourite hardcore bands, Comeback Kid a week ago, so the title seemed fitting, if not making me sound younger than I am and feel.

The Year That Wasn't

So, for those I've not lost in the first paragraph, let's take things back to last year and ironically, in January 2022, I said that:

My goal for the year is to have no regrets, only successes, lessons and opportunities.

When I wrote that, I probably didn't think the year would turn out to be a master's university degree of lessons and more than anything, an exercise in patience and positivity. In fact, you can probably call me Professor by now.

In March 2022, I ran the West Australian Marathon Club's Darlington half marathon. A smooth fire road trail run which is basically running uphill for the first half, turning around and running back down. Possibly the only scenario in which I'll ever achieve a positive timing split and a nice change from pounding pavement, also a good excuse to kill off an old pair of Hoka Carbon X2's, which the gravel did a great job of. I had been in the practice of writing up quick summaries of all my races but, noticed I didn't for this half and that's probably because of what transpired afterwards. I do remember making a quick reel of the highlights though, which is here, so consider yourself updated:

The following week was a heavier week building back up to longer distance running and whilst my shin was a little sore, I figured I'd make it through the next couple of long runs the following weekend and then had a rest day on the Monday. It's always a very fine line between 'normal' soreness from running and niggles which resolve overnight, and the beginning of an injury and this time, I got that judgement very wrong.

A day of rest turned into two, turned into three turned into... well, you get the point, and the soreness in my shin still remained. Funny how in the moment, a few days of interruption seems to be such a frustration yet it's a drop in the ocean in the scheme of things, an ocean I would shortly be adrift in! I don't recall specifically but 6 weeks tends to be the ballpark timeframe for a stress fracture and I suspected this was the case which was confirmed by bone scan. Naturally, in my head this meant shifting expectations for the season, cancelling a few favourite race entries and missing a few others that popped up.

This bone scan shows the spot of the injury on my right leg

One positive was finding a really good Sports Physician, and I find seeing sports-doctors much better in terms of injury management as they understand the mentality of not wanting to be completely immobile, but also the best path to returning to activity. Anyway, so the scan was followed up with an MRI a few weeks later which confirmed that the injury had healed and the doctor provided me with a very conservative plan to returning to running which incorporated strength and conditioning training. From memory, I even added a couple of extra weeks to the plan prior to commencing the gradual return to running program, which started with the usual run/walk type activities and doing some work on the bike to supplement.

Unfortunately, a few weeks into this, which involved very minimal running and low kilometres, the leg was still sore, even when riding, and so I reset expectations yet again but knowing that the scan was all clear I was on and off trying to progress. By this point we were in August and getting on for nearly 6 months without the ability to properly run and there was most definitely an inner battle to remain positive and to find other things to keep the mind busy. At this point I did book another appointment with the doctor to see what was going on with the potential that the injury had not healed as previously thought. Another MRI confirmed that it had so I was either a) crazy, b) experiencing ghost-pains or c) feeling irritations from potential scar tissue where the bone had healed. Either way, there was finally some confidence that running could be resumed, still slowly, but with less symptoms of the classic hypochondriac.

Another MRI confirmed that it had so I was either a) crazy, b) experiencing ghost-pains or c) feeling irritations from potential scar tissue where the bone had healed

By now, it was late 2022 and with the improving weather, I had been back on the bike a lot more and after finally purchasing a smart-trainer, was enjoying the Zwift racing league season online (for anyone living in a cave and unaware of Zwift, or who uses it and doesn't race - the races are sooo fun and addictive, highly recommended!). Perhaps part self-preservation, I really distanced myself mentally from the whole running scene throughout the year - hence no updates on here - because the feeling of missing out and not being part of the community is really hard to manage for me if I can't participate.

Zwift racing screenshot
Zwift racing is the most brutal fun you can have indoors!

It turns out that hitting stronger than ever functional threshold power tests on the bike does literally nothing for running but keeps life interesting in the off-season. Lucky enough to rediscover (it was in the next room) the bike throughout the last year and am still loving weekly races despite the perceived lack of transferable fitness.

2023 and Beyond

The day after a brutal Zwift race and Comeback Kid show that evening, I entered my first race of 2023 and the last year, the WAMC Penninsula Run (10km) which marked my return to mediocrity, after the hiatus of 2022, which I suspect is how the last year will be referred to in my biography - spoiler alert. A big fan of celebrating positives in any situation, this celebration would have ended after the first kilometre of this run. My legs felt heavy and dead right from the start and it was a challenge to maintain paces I would have regularly trained at - a confidence killer BUT, pain free from an injury perspective and fun to finally be back out there amongst other runners. Here you can see my triumphant finish, noting the almost imperceptible headshake at the line.

*Hint: if you play this video at 2x speed, it's much more impressive

In no rush to reinjure myself or to be even slightly competitive (perhaps acceptance rather than by desire), 2023 is going to be a year of rebuilding the ability to run more frequently, uninjured, and to enjoy the many benefits this brings outside of the physical. I am very grateful for the many supportive people in my life and in the online world that supported me through this injury, even if you didn't know you were, it makes the biggest difference. Writing about our struggles, triumphs and everything in-between is quite cathartic so I will try to be more regular with the updates again moving forward and hey, sharing the rougher times might help someone else out there feel less alone.

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