Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon: It's smarter to avoid injuries than deal with them, says Mok Ying Ren

Marathon and half-marathon participants running along Marina Boulevard during the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore, on Dec 4, 2016.
Marathon and half-marathon participants running along Marina Boulevard during the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore, on Dec 4, 2016.PHOTO: ST FILE

Running is a weight-bearing sport - with every step that you take, your leg has to support the full weight of your body. This is unlike non-weight bearing ones like cycling, where your body is supported by a bicycle seat, and swimming, where your weight is compensated for by the buoyancy of water.

As the impact generated during running is greater than that in non-weight bearing sports, it is only natural that your muscles, bones and joints will have to absorb much more impact. Our bodies are generally able to adapt and cope with increasing-impact loads, and most people can run moderate amounts without significant injuries.

Having been a competitive triathlete and runner for the past 12 years, I have suffered a multitude of injuries, which often lead to frustration and heartbreak.

However, I have realised that most injuries arise from training too hard, too much or too soon.

TOO HARD, TOO MUCH

In 2011, I completed high-intensity workouts on the track regularly with my training partner and adviser, Jason Lawrence, so that I could achieve my goal of breaking the longstanding 5,000m Singapore record of 14min 57.61sec Nadarajan Ganesan set in 1995.

We did the maths: I would have to go faster than 72sec per lap to do it. And so we worked hard towards that. I was running lap after lap after lap each day, faster and faster each week.

The pressure was on.

Not long after, the sheer intensity and frequency of the sessions took a toll on my body and I found myself struggling with pain in the left heel. I was subsequently diagnosed with plantar fasciitis after a visit to Dr Cormac O'Muircheartaigh, the resident doctor at the then-Singapore Sports Council.

REHABILITATION OPTIONS

I was given a few treatment options, which included physiotherapy, extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT) and steroid injection. After doing as much as I could with ESWT and physiotherapy, and knowing full well that my condition could worsen, I decided to go ahead with a race in Japan at the Tokai University Sports Meet. I was fortunate to be able to set a national record that day - 14min 51.09sec.

I also managed to meet the qualifying mark for the 2011 SEA Games. Unfortunately, I had to forgo my participation as I was then barely even able to walk.

It was a painful decision as it was the first time I had qualified for an athletics event at the Games. Yet, it was an inevitable one. I knew I had to recover fully from the foot injury, otherwise it would severely impair my running ambitions.

EMOTIONAL FALLOUT

Beyond the physical injuries, numerous studies have shown that injured athletes commonly suffer from a degree of depression.

Unsurprisingly, one's emotional reaction will affect how well one complies with and responds to the rehabilitation and recovery regimen. My frustration and helplessness led to a strong sense of despair.

It was an uphill battle but I fought hard to stay calm and positive. I was lucky to have been kept busy and distracted by my final medical school examinations.

It was a long journey, but I finally made it through with six months of rest and physiotherapy.

As the old adage goes, prevention is better than cure. It is better to train smart, learn from past mistakes and avoid injuries altogether.

Following a progressive training plan, like the #RunWithMok training plan, will ensure that you progress gradually while minimising the risk of injury.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2017, with the headline 'It's smarter to avoid injuries than to deal with them'. Print Edition | Subscribe