I snapped my Achilles heel on June 30th 2015. It happened during a typically low-skilled, high energy football performance on a crumbling five-a-side pitch in east London. I am regularly asked about the noise it made – “is it true that it sounds like a gun shot?” “Did everyone stop at the sound of it?” “Did any grown men cry?” Reassuring it did make a decent noise, although as the years have passed the story has morphed into some World War II epic with me screaming, “medic, MEDIC,” as everyone stopped playing, started crying and then gave me a standing ovation as a I was carried on shoulders off the pitch with Adagio for Strings rising in the background.
As a result I couldn’t run for the best part of two years as I tried to rehabilitate my flabby tendon back to health. I was gloriously unaware of the impact running had on my mental health until this period. Before my tendon snapped like a cheap thong, sport and particularly running were a constant in my life for the best part of 12 years, something I did almost daily without question. Often this was associated with training for events which I gleefully completed before hurriedly entering the next. This gave me a sense of self-worth and identity that, until it was taken away, I had no idea about.
When my physio first examined my tendon he used the analogy of cooked spaghetti – mine felt like the kind of pasta you have left bubbling on the hob and forgotten about for 40 minutes. A healthy tendon, I was told, should have the consistency of hard spaghetti packed tightly together. He made it clear that running again was by no means a given and so I started a programme of heel lifts and exercises that as the days, weeks, months and years passed saw my heel return to something near al-dente.
Finally in November 2016 I was able to start running (for one minute before walking for 5). For the past few months I have been running “properly” again. A great deal of this has been with my brother whose idea of a fun Friday night is running 26 miles around London on his own and then doing it again the next day. As I drag myself around the canals and parks of east London desperately trying to keep him in sight, the bile rising in the back of my throat, I often simply dream of the run ending. But every time I go there are moments, sometimes for a minute, sometimes for most of the run, when my breathing softens and a calmness spreads that I don’t experience doing anything else. In these moments I realise why I run and I understand how lucky I am to be able to do it.
I never thought that rupturing my Achilles heel would be good for my running and in many ways it is not. But I’ve never enjoyed it more.