As a youngster I did every sport going, I was competitive, and I enjoyed the social side of things too. I was fairly decent at all sports and through my early teens I really wanted to be the next best thing on the England Hockey team!
However, amongst all the hockey games I managed to get a spot on the greater Manchester schools XC team in 2004. At the English Schools I progressed surprisingly to finish 23rd. After this a fellow team and school mate’s parent spotted my improvement and encouraged me to come down to the local club and I started to go down to Stockport Harriers.
From here I got an insight into training, I was coached by the Dave Turnbull at Stockport Harriers and he introduced me to a lot of different aspects surrounding running. I was still juggling my hockey as well as running, most weekends would involve two hockey matches, one hill session, on long run, and a hockey skills session with the odd tennis game in there too.
At the age of 16 I qualified to run for GB at the Euro XC, I was the youngest on the team at the time and it was a fabulous experience. From here I took the decision to put aside my hockey career, I had new goals and aspirations, this time in running.
I continued to train quite happily, meeting new friends and visiting different places. I went to the World XC in Kenya and the Euro juniors in Hengalo. I made plenty of mistakes too and was constantly learning. The 2007 Euro XC trials I fell over mid race resulting in me sprinting back to the front, but sadly I then faded back down in about 30th place. I was so disheartened I then trained exceptionally hard over the xmas period. Dave and I took the opportunity while not in school to get in some double training days and some extra miles. However, after a GB international at the start of 2008 I came away with some foot pain. This pain was eventually revealed as a navicular stress fracture of my left foot, and not a small one.
From here everything seemed to spiral. At the time I had no knowledge of such an injury nor the extent or severity of it. When I was given crutches and a dreaded air cast boot I was absolutely mortified. I had no physio, very little medical guidance and was left abandoned. My coach or parents didn’t really understand things either and we were all just left bemused. I set my sites on getting to Loughborough university as a student, to hopefully become the athlete I wanted to be.
I was 18 at this stage, and I had still had had no menstrual cycle. I had been to GPs, gynaecologists, bone metabolism specialists and sports medics. I had all the tests but still no period had arrived. I was only informed of the term ‘Female athlete triad’ once my fracture was diagnosed, but I felt I ate well, albeit very healthily and controlled, and I was strong and so I never took much notice. Eventually I got back to some kind of running, I went to Loughborough and knew this was the place for me. 2008 xmas time came around and I developed a stress response in my left metatarsals. The boot came out again. At Easter time 2009 I was put on the OCP, my periods started and everything was working, everyone was happy. I have been on that pill up until just six months ago, a total of 8 years. I continued to pursue my running career, determined to find that inner athlete I knew I could be.
Fast forward, after a further three stress responses, another stress fracture, bone bruising, cellulitis and anaemia, to 2012, an X-ray revealed quite an unexpected finding, Two compression fractures of the spine at T7 and T8. A compression fracture of the spine is where the vertebra become squished and will always remain that way, something that is normally associated with elderly women with osteoporosis. I was sent to a metabolic bone clinic and underwent bone scans, yes this showed osteoporosis. I had a Z score in my spine that was below the legible score line it was that low. I was prescribed bisphosphonates that would hopefully halt any bone metabolism and stop any further decline. By this time, I was under the watchful eye of Mick Woods. A fantastic coach who took me to a level of athletics I only ever dreamed of. We were then always cautious of this issue and worked around it and quite closely with physios too. Surprisingly I actually went on to then win Euro XC that winter and I was finally makings strides in the way I always hoped I would.
More scans over the next years showed more and more fractures develop, some I knew about, some I didn’t. But when I did the pain was unbelievable, I wouldn’t be able to sit up straight, my breathing was laboured, and I was tired all the time but couldn’t sleep in any position due to the pain. Alongside this I ended up having navicular surgery to my left foot in 2013, 2014 I had a 10cm hamstring tear and 2015 I tore my plantar fascia midway through a marathon whilst well on target for a Rio qualifying time.
At the start of 2016 my back re-emerged, I perhaps had rushed my training to try and make London marathon in attempt for Olympic qualification, the end result were further fractures. Upon investigation, it seems as though I have compression fractures in my spine at T5,6,7,8,9,10 and 11, I have lost 3 cm in height, my spine is permanently bent and I still had never had a natural period.
Teriparatide treatment was the next prescription, a daily subcutaneous injection for 18 months with the hope of increasing my bone health and preventing these fractures. I didn’t make Rio and further injuries excluded me from the Europeans that summer too. I had two surgeries on my hips to repair labral tears. Next up was to try and qualify for the Gold coast. This unfortunately ended in another spinal fracture and a rib fracture to go with it.
Now, I am married, I have a PhD near completion and I want to start a family sometime in the near future. I am no longer on the OCP and I have now managed to get my body to a healthy state and managed to start my cycles, at age 28.
If I had known more about the severity of bone issues and the importance of good nutrition and regular cycles, if my coach had known, if my parents had known, I may not be in the position I am in now. I may not have had all those injuries. I may have been to an Olympic games by now.
In no point during any of this do I blame anyone or any medic. Each person helped me the best way they could. I was most likely a hard individual to work with.
This is where I hope this story adds to the many others of stressing the importance of these physiological processes, and how they can help young athletes become senior athletes. I intend to use this experience through everything I provide in RunScience and to help prevent this problem from rearing its ugly head all too often!
This article has been reproduced in Athletics Weekly on May 10th and May 17th