Why hillwalkers need to take injury seriously

Why hillwalkers need to take injury seriously

The mechanics of taking a single step are anything but simple. Each time our feet make contact with the ground, the impact creates a shockwave that erupts through our limbs. Our brains subconsciously anticipate each footfall and make tiny adjustments to ensure the energy efficiently dissipates through our limbs. And it’s not just our legs. Our head, spine, hips and arms all have a part to play in keeping us balanced.

Hillwalking and running, although good for us, can increase the stress on our bodies. And we just expect them to cope. I’ve been lucky to remain injury-free for much of my hillwalking career. And I’ve always felt sorry for people blighted by injury. It seems a cruel twist of fate to see athletes reaching their peak, only to be forced to withdraw due to injury. And if that’s your livelihood, it can bring additional stresses and strains too.

Increasing the amount of time I spend on my feet means I’ve started to succumb to injury. It began with a careless run around the garden whilst on lockdown. I wanted to see if it was possible to complete a 5k around the raised beds. I put a podcast on and started a repetitive circuit around the garden with a gentle hop over a small wall to break up the monotony.

It was doable but the tight turns and repetitive nature of the circuit clearly took its toll. I woke up the next day with a sore heel. It felt bruised and tender but I continued to walk around on it in bare feet on the hard floor.

By the end of the day the pain was becoming an issue. I’d started limping around, no doubt putting strain on other parts of my foot. The next day, I couldn’t put weight on it. This being unprecedented, I reached for my laptop and did some research. After treating it with ice, rest, supportive shoes and some gentle stretching, it eventually calmed down. As did my ambitions for a garden half-marathon!

I’ve since seen a physio about some other niggles. Diplomatically describing my lower leg muscles as ‘sub-optimal’, I now have some strength exercises which should build things up in that department. It’s taught me an important lesson too. No longer can I arrogantly skip around the hills, doing ever bigger days and just expecting my body to cope. No longer can I neglect the warm up or avoid strength training on my days off. It’s made me feel more nervous about damaging my body. But more sobering is the thought of a prolonged period of rest. Heading up mountains is how I keep my mental and physical health in check.

Exercise is important. And injury has given me a new-found respect for my body and what I ask it to do day-in-day-out. I need to look after it and be grateful everyday for what it allows me to do. Gratitude, self-care, patience. All important qualities for anyone who loves the hills and wants to ensure they remain physically up to it.

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