Time to throw in the towel?

Hi all,

Firstly, apologies for the length of this message and thank you in advance for sticking with me to the end. I'll start with a quick summary of me. I'm 48 and have been running since early 2015. before that, did nothing, ever. Office based and very unfit / and overweight. Like many, decided it would be good to get fit and got inspired by my father running a marathon and decided that I'd love to run one too. Never thought I would, but set a target of a half for mid 16.

I have a fairly obsessive nature and like to follow a plan. I also find it hard to deviate etc from the plan.

Anyway, started to train and follow a plan. Unfortunately I got injured a few weeks before with a shin problem, so pulled out of my planned half, but managed to get fit for an event a month later. Loved it and finished in a time I was really happy with for a first running event. 1.45.

Decided would try to run an autumn marathon and started to train. Found it hard work sticking to the plan and found the training really hard on the legs. My hamstrings were always so sore after long runs, but I assumed this was natural as I was running further than ever in my life.

Anyway, did the marathon in 3.55 and was really pleased again. However, was feeling quite beat up after the event and took it steady, but hamstrings incredibly sore on both sides. Went to see a variety of physios and had a lot of different opinions. Hamstring strain, Piriformis, etc. Kept running but was always so sore. After a few weeks found it hard to sit for long. Got to the point by end of 16 I couldn't manage the drive to the office without getting out the car to relieve the pressure and couldn't sit down for more than 15 minutes. Had a year of this. Was a regular flyer and was agony. had to watch TV standing etc. MRI was non conclusive and showed only minor damage. Physio decided was High Hamstring Tendonopothy, so spend months rehab. No better.

Decided I would have to live with it after an other doctor said I was injury free, but was suffering phantom pain.

2017 trained for London Marathon and got bi-lateral runners knee. Absolute agony. Had to pull out after my last 20 miler.8 weeks off and started to come back slowly. Worse knee braces for two years for every run. Started wearing Hoka in 19 and now running without, but still feel it.

Ran London is 2018 and had a lot of calf cramp in the heat. Badly bruised calfs after the race. had pain in them ever since. Not terrible, but touching them is really sore. Squeeze and I hit the roof.

Decided no marathons in 19 and reduced volume. hamstrings still bad and bad calfs. Ran about 1100 miles or so. Also got piriformis syndrome in right butt cheek. So pain sitting in hamstring and butt.

Started 2020 with sore hamstrings, but feeling a little better, sore tired calfs and piriformis syndrome. However, had a great training cycle for Manchester Marathon in spring. Got covid cancelled but was the fittest I've ever been. running 45 plus miles a week. Continued running 45+ since spring right through summer. Piriformis went and calfs improved. Hammies still an issue but used to it.

About a month ago started to feel my right achilles. Got worse and noticed it was fat compared to the left with lumps. Had a week off and started heel drops etc. Started running again, slowly increasing. Better but still sore. Yesterday same pain in the left one. Right feeling better, left getting worse.

I've got custom orthotics, seen doctors, had scans, more physios than you can shake a stick at. I've got rollers, lacrosse balls, etc.

As I sit here tonight, my right hamstring is very sore, left achilles is throbbing, calfs both sore, and bottom of feet feel bruised. I'm keeping mammies off the cushion to avoid pressure pain. I have not had one run in years that didn't hurt.

I've ran about 1200 miles YTD, but dropped to about 20 miles a week at the moment. Fitness falling, body hurting and trying to decide why I keep doing it. But running has become part of who I am. Take it away and I am not sure what's left. Won't bore you with my life, but things have been a little tough last few years.

I don't want to quit, but tired of pain, all the time. I've had time off, I've done physio, had MRI's, Ultrasound, Dry needling, Electrotherapy, you name it.

I've tried a million shoes......

I've never been quick, but am fairly obsessed with being my best. So always chasing faster times, seeing friends on strava improving and feel so frustrated with where I am. I hoped to get a 1.30 half and sub. 40 10k this year. I'm not far away, but the toll on the body is high.

Do I just give up and accept defeat? Or do I become a hobby jogger, forget the races, strava etc. Just once I do, I know that is the end of a lot of what. enjoy.....

Anyone had similar? Any advice?

Thanks for listening!


  • Hi StevenBUK,
    I’m no expert and am not really qualified to give you advice so please take my advice and anyone else who is not a sports gp / physio’s words with caution. I used to be a contemporary dancer and have taught Pilates and yoga for many years so am just coming at it from that background. What I feel to be true is this; the body is trying to tell you that you’re not doing something right. The body has its reasons and pain is it’s message to your control centre to please try something different. I don’t know what that is and it’s best if you find the solution by some trial and error. In view of all the injuries it sounds to me like you could do with some Pilates sessions. Not the Pilates that are group based classes in gyms. But rather studio based Pilates with a very experienced teacher who knows what she/he is doing. I think this might help offset some of the imbalances in your body and help create a better base for running. To find a well trained teacher you might want to try the ‘teacher finder’ on The Pilates Foundation website. With regard to the running are you overtraining? Or running when you shouldn’t be (compounding your injuries through doing it)? Might sticking only to easy short runs help if you must run? You mentioned being obsessive liking sticking to a plan. Could this be the root source of the issue? I am similar myself, but I do think we have to pair that with listening to the body’s messages and working in harmony with it rather than imposing will on it. Like I say, I just a guy on the internet with no qualifications to actually give advice on this, so please bare that in mind with my words above. Good luck!
    48 year old beginner running since April 2020
    Steven - well you have really been through the wars and I am full of admiration for your determination to overcome your injury problems.

    I'm no physio or have any medical knowledge but as a marathon runner for over 25 years and done my fair share of coaching my instinctive reaction to your post is that the injuries you have suffered are related to your back/glutes.   I absolutely agree with AKM72 that Pilates might really help you, it won't be a quick fix as it will take a long time to see results but it's certainly worth a try.   I've been doing Pilates for 5 years and has made a great difference to me and really helped with my running, less injuries, stronger core.    For the last year I've also been doing strength work in the gym, a specific plan for me as a runner, with emphasis on strengthening my glutes to try and injury proof myself as I get older.
  • Shades, would you be open to sharing your gym routine? Or rather the plan you started with? I appreciate you may not want to for all sorts of reasons and that would be ok. I think you have the perfect combination. Mindfully targeted weight training for specific reasons with some Pilates to offset the imbalances picked up elsewhere and to fine tune. I wouldn’t be surprised if your strength training included barbell squats and deadlifts, but am curious. <div>A highly ranked person on RunBritian recently started doing my Pilates class and said they can feel the benefits and also that his/her times have improved, which makes both of us feel good about the the place Pilates has in a runner’s week. </div>
    48 year old beginner running since April 2020
  • chamolkchamolk ✭✭✭
    Hi Steven

    I feel for you, man. Partly because your current targets are similar to that targets I had at the start of this year (unfortunately mine have fallen by the wayside for various reasons) 

    Being honest, no one here will give you more accurate advice than the specialists you've seen. What they can offer is their experience. From what you describe, I've no idea what's going on - shins, hamstring, knees, pirifornis, achilles - your issues seem to be over so many areas that it's hard to know where your issue is. The wide range of distribution suggests to me that it's not a specific area in your leg /legs. Biomechanics, footwear, spine, limb length discrepancy - could be any of them. 

    Assuming the people you've seen know what they're taking about, and there's no reason to expect that they've all missed something obvious, then we're not looking at a specific injury /localised issue

    Pilates, as suggested, sounds reasonable. But so does yoga, core work, strength work etc. Given your mileage and nature to push things (forgive me if I'm wrong, I assumed this from your post), my first suggestion personally would be to take a month (maybe two if you can allow yourself that much) off running - sounds awful, but if it means you dont have to pack it in competely then it's a small price. During this time off focus on cross training (different muscles used, allows your running muscles to recover, builds supporting muscles, keeps cardiovascular fitness), core and lower body strength training , then restart the running at a reduced level and increase gradually. See how it goes.

    I certainly don't think it's time to throw in the towel. I do think it's time to try something different if your current system isn't working. Reflect on what works and doesn't work. Ensure you're getting enough sleep, review your diet to ensure you're getting enough protein and plenty of fruit /veg , start a training log (if you haven't done so) to see any patterns in pain.

    Out of curiosity - the mri that showed minor damage - what area did it look at?

    Good luck
    Steven - a lot of sensible advice from chamolk there.

    apologies for hi-jacking the thread, just responding to AKM72's question

    AKM72 - I started the strength work last year as was reading how much muscle loss there can be when we get into our 60's, I was 63 then.    Luckily I have a great instructor in the gym, very knowledgeable about fat/muscle/weight management, he's a boxer.   So I started with 30% fat and got that down to 24% and a good gain in muscle too by lockdown.  I only lost about 9 pounds in weight but huge inches loss.   I started with a general workout in the gym and then asked for specific workouts for upper and lower body.  I'm now back in the gym and aiming for my target of 20% fat which for my age and as female is a reasonable target.   I use MFP and am on 40% carbs, 30% fat and 30% protein, 2300 calories a day.   I do 4 gyms sessions a week, 2 upper, 2 lower.   One gentle circuits class and one Pilates class.  Used to do 2 Pilates a week but instructor resigned during lockdown, I think I'm happy with just one a week now.   Running 50 miles a week but no long runs while doing the gym stuff, or at least getting used to it again as the gym does tire my legs.

    My lower body workout:-
    Leg Press
    Calf raises on Leg Press
    Squats on Smith machine
    Single leg squats on Smith machine
    Sumo Deadlifts with barbell
    Hip Thrusts with barbell
    Adductor Machine, inner
    Adductor Machine outer
    Glute Bridge Plate Drag 
  • Thanks everyone for the thoughts and advice. Looks like some strength training and flexibility is in order. Hard to keep motivated when always hurting!
    Steven - I can see you've had a tortuous time but maybe you should be a little kinder to yourself until you can run again pain free.  So, yes ditch Strava, being competitive while injured will only make things worse.

    Ease right back and only do what you can do pain free.   There's nothing to be gained by running when injured.

    In time you'll come back stronger and then you can call on that competitive nature of yours.
  • As a physio I see injuries as just something telling you to slow down and maybe change the way you are doing things. It doesn't mean to necessarily stop all together. Shades is right thought you need to be kind to yourself and give yourself a break.

    I agree go back to just enjoying the run vs. competition and Strava can be the worst for that! Ditch the watch all together and just enjoy the moment and the run and being outdoors! Listen to your body, if it hurts running then walk. Run/walk is nothing to be ashamed of its all time on feet! Do mix it up with biking, swimming, walking anything not always running every time. Weight training is also necessary, not heavy weights at low reps go for higher reps like 3 sets of 10 with lighter manageable weights. (Rarely do huge body builders run marathon distance!) You want to build endurance for your muscles so you want to be able to do things repetitively, running is repetitive. Definitely pay attention to form as well though. Don't quit just change your focus.
    panda - some great advice there.
  • Get you fitness fix elsewhere! I’ve gone through a similar story, one injury after another. Frustrating bordering on depressing. I’m 54 and similar story to you. Used to run as a kid but then absolutely nothing for 35+ years. That’s a lot of time to overturn. In the early months I suffered more calf & ankle injuries than I can count. A year or so ago I was up to about 35-40km per week and was running 21 minute parkrun, all good but for the occasional mild calf strain. Then my lads running coach challenged all kids and parents to a 1 mile time trial during lockdown. I ran a shade over 6 minutes which I was absolutely astounded by considering my age, but god have I paid for it. For the past 6 months I’ve been unable to run for more than about 2km without a sudden calf strain. The only way to deal with it is a TOTAL rest from running for several weeks. It’s mental torture, but in my experience it’s the only way. I’m now back to doing 15km or so a week, but my saviour has been the bikes. At first I didn’t have the leg strength to even get out of breath on the bike (think burning dead quads) but the strength has now built to the point where I can get as good a cardio workout as I can running. There is zero impact stress so injuries aren’t an issue (except crashing) and it’s without question made me a stronger runner. Running 5minute/km pace now feels like jogging and I’m now seriously thinking that the sub-20 5k is no longer off the table. Were it not for the cycling I would have probably thrown in the towel. Now, if I go for a run and feel even the slightest twinge I stop dead and walk home. Don’t carry on, even for a few paces, just to see if it will loosen up, because you really know that it won’t!
  • To the OP - I am in a similar position in some ways.
    Used to do bodyweight HIIT in lunch breaks to break up sitting at a desk all day in the office.
    Got a bit bored to some degree, so started introducing running once/twice a week and slowly increased my running distances over the last 2 years from initial 5k up to around 10 miles working up to what I had stabilised at a 7-min p/mile pace. I entered a few events, mainly 5k and 10k with a view to working up to a half marathon and beyond.

    However, since COVID kicked off back in March and WFH was imposed, I increased running to 3 times a week, mixed distances from 10k-10miles, and through what I believe to be a lack of proper desk setup, as well as less movement when working (i.e. walking to meetings, between car parks and the office etc no longer happening) I have been suffering a lot with what my PT says, is Piriformis Syndrome.
    Had to stop running altogether back in July because of complete numbness all the way down my right leg halfway through 'the last run'.

    I have had MRI and CT through a well renowned spinal specialist and he has diagnosed a small herniation in the L5/S1 region, as well as wear/tear and a 'little bit of arthritis' in the L4/L5. He said that Piriformis is something PTs band around but in all the cases where the patient has been referred to him (over 20 years in practice) it was found that only 1 person had real Piriformis syndrome and that was due to a hip replacement causing tightness in the muscle.

    Despite this, I persisted with the PT as I felt she was helping, went through a bunch of different core strengthening exercises/stretch routines, focussing on the buttock muscles, hips, hamstrings etc which had helped to the point I started running again pretty much entirely pain-free twice a week.

    Fast forward 2 months later, and the pain has returned in my right bum cheek, with real sharp pains down the right thigh mainly when moving my right leg laterally and when lying/sitting in bed if I lift the leg vertically. The only way I can describe it is it honestly feels like my right leg is hanging on by a thread when the shooting pain occurs.

    Now thinking that despite wanting to really get back out there and run (the mental benefits being the main reason, i.e. getting outside, the fresh air, the surroundings, peace and quiet from work meetings/young children etc), is it worth it with the pain I am suffering from as a result?
    I don't know whether the pain is as a result of the herniated disc/arthritis or whether it really is just Piriformis syndrome (symptoms are similar for both in some ways, though I believe it to be PS).
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