In 2016 Kasia, a regular client of Fitstuff Clinic & Run Lab and well-known face at Fitstuff Run Club, set herself the challenge of running 100 races of marathon distance or greater. The journey she has been on has unearthed not only our joyous running community, but pushed Kasia’s body to the limit. Since taking on this challenge we have been closely supporting her progression, from preventative sports massage to improving her running technique through our Run Lab. Here we explore Kasia’s three year journey and her plans for the future.
Standing on the start line of the Remembrance Day Marathon in 2017, Kasia had some very real doubts about even getting to the finish line of her 48th long distance race. Her ankle was already in a bad way and the starter’s gun hadn’t even sounded. Up until now, she had never dropped from a race, however that accomplishment now appeared to be in doubt. Throughout her 100 marathon journey Kasia’s right ankle had often been a source of frustration that was perhaps reaching breaking point.
New experiences and greater distances
Deciding to take on the Scott Snowdonia Trail Marathon as her first marathon in 2015 had initially been an exciting prospect: a spur of the moment decision that was, by her own admission, driven by her love of pushing the unknown just a little further. Yet by July reality was hitting home. An increase in mileage had highlighted underlying anemia that severely impacted her training. Whilst now under control, Kasia was all too aware of the impact this had had on her preparation. She felt woefully under prepared and – spontaneously – entered for The Ox in Wiltshire to provide some form of anchor ahead of the Snowdonia Marathon in July.
There was however a more complex issue. Kasia’s right Achilles was gradually deteriorating under the increased training load and whilst manageable, was failing to significantly improve. Tender and seemingly constantly inflamed, the impact of higher mileage was taking its toll. Kasia struggled through both The Ox and Snowdonia marathons before going on to complete a further four ultras and marathons in the Autumn of 2015. Yet her Achilles refused to improve, and visits to the doctor were managing the issue with regular stretching, but full recovery looked unlikely.
Mentally Kasia remained as buoyant as ever, and 2015 had been an eye-opening experience nonetheless. Within the longer distance races was a real sense of community that was deeply appealing. After a chance encounter with a fellow competitor also running The Ox, her thinking turned to a much larger project. Next to this chap, a bus driver running in a shabby football shirt and carrying a plastic bag of food, Kasia felt distinctly self-conscious; he was on his 177th marathon. Hearing of his achievements got Kasia’s brain firing and by the end of 2015 – and 6 marathons later – she had resolved to run 100 races of marathon distance or greater herself.
Running for Kasia has rarely been about times, rather the physical challenge of accumulative racing and the community that surrounds the sport. She joined the Fitstuff community in 2013 during a time of turbulent personal challenges; starting a new job and moving house. The Fitstuff group was a much needed anchor point and amidst the support of this community Kasia saw her own ambitions rise. Evenings were as much about the inspiration the group draw out of each other as competition, celebrating successes regardless of ability and supporting each other’s challenges.
Kasia began seeing our specialists in 2016 and benefitted greatly from a range of massage and taping treatment as well as strengthening to improve the underlying weakness in her Achilles. With this input she made rapid progress on her 100 objective, running a further 24 races by the end of 2016. Support from the Fitstuff community was invaluable, reinforced as well by regular contact with our specialists throughout the year. Our approach always aims to make continual consultation with clients and we look to work closely wherever possible in order to consider injuries holistically.
Emboldened by a supportive community, and feeling stronger than ever, Kasia began to think not only of the running 100 marathons, but of trying to run them quicker. Regular massage had aided her recovery and allowed for potential problems to be caught and fixed early before they had a chance to develop to injury. Whilst so much of running for Kasia is experiential, being in such strong physical shape got her thinking that she might be able to improve her times. In February 2017 she set a personal record of 4:42 and quickly dropped this to 4:22 in March 2017. It was clear that she was capable of a sub 4 hour marathon with the right preparation, however after March she hit a ceiling. Performances stagnated and even began to slow: Maraton Gdanski, 4:31; Fox Ultra, 4:49; Dorchester Marathon, 4:44.
Such a plateau was disheartening, and a period of reflection was needed. Kasia was all too aware, having looked at photos from previous races, that she had a number of weaknesses in her technique which if resolved could help contribute to her running faster and more efficiently. A consultation at our Run Lab used video analysis and movement assessment to identify a number of issues with Kasia’s form: over-striding, excessive heel striking, low heel lift and a slow leg turnover. With this information a detailed programme was devised that looked specifically at drills and exercises to improve Kasia’s weaknesses. Equally with a number of issues to improve upon, the programme was designed to vary focus and intensity within each weekly block to avoid over-working any one area too greatly.
Progression was gradual, beginning with slowing all the exercises to walking speed in order to properly learn the correct movement patterns. From here they were developed at increasing paces and ultimately to running. Between May and July 2017 Kasia worked closely with the clinic, reviewing her form each week and fine tuning issues with technique where required. Video analysis allowed for comparisons and improvements to be seen, and by July Kasia was feeling more fluid and moving more efficiently than ever. Trusting the process and the work that had been done she had a new found confidence in herself and went in to her summer marathons physically and mentally prepared.
With running feeling easier than ever, Kasia significantly improved her marathon PB, with a 3:56 at the Phoenix Summer marathon and a 3:57 at the Richmond marathon less than a month later. Her major focus however was still incomplete. Whilst such an improvement was welcome, Kasia’s continued motivation could only be satisfied for so long. Achieving times was not as fulfilling as she had hoped and, with this being her 43rd marathon, Kasia still had over 50 remaining to achieve her 100 target.
An old injury returns
Increasing from 18 marathons in 2016 to 28 in 2017 was a major step in Kasia’s training, and whilst she remained fit, she turned her ankle during a training run before The Remembrance Day marathon in Surrey. Determined to run nevertheless, she found herself on the start line uncertain and genuinely worried, it was clear her ankle was not in a good way. Yet next to her was another Fitstuff Run Club member who she’d agreed to accompany on their first marathon. It was out of the question that she might drop out, supporting a fellow runner was too important, and Kasia struggled through. Yet upon finishing it was clear something was serious. Her ankle was a purple swollen mess and weight bearing was proving difficult.
Kasia sent an urgent message to our clinic who immediately made time to assess the problem. With Kasia’s injury history readily available and having worked closely with her in past, our specialists diagnosed a posterior tibial tendonitis and quickly began designing a treatment programme. Kasia still had a number of races lined up for the end of 2017 and was committed to seeing them through. In the face of such a challenge we worked closely with Kasia, treating the injury with a combined approach of shock absorption inserts and extensive taping to support the injured tendon. Whilst future strength and rehabilitation work was needed our treatment proved effective, and Kasia’s tendon recovered sufficiently to run the Riverside marathon just one week later. A month later she completed her 50th marathon since 2015, the Bovington marathon in Dorset.
Gaining confidence and strength again Kasia progressed rapidly, working regularly with the clinic to aid her race recovery and to prevent any reoccurring injuries. 2018 saw yet more goals added to Kasia’s schedule, with 60, 80, 100km distances all completed as well as technical mountain races. With this support in place she went on to run a further 28 races in 2018, including 6 ultras which stands her current total at 80. The year has been the most positive so far and Kasia is currently planning to complete her final 20 marathons before July 2019. However the four years has taught Kasia a lot about how her body reacts to different conditions and being in tune with her day to day condition has allowed her to maintain consistency.
The final push
Whilst her plan for the final 20 marathons in 2019 is all but confirmed, with a recent change of job Kasia is consciously aware of a general fatigue that has begun to develop. Days have been gradually feeling harder and running does not seem to be coming as easily as it has done. Past experience suggests that something could be amiss and Kasia is proceeding with caution, consulting with Fitstuff Clinic to catch any undetected physical issues early before these develope to injury. With a period of rest Kasia is hoping to start 2019 strongly and finish her 100 marathons target before setting her sights on a potential 100 miler in the summer.
Our on-going work with Kasia is continuing to improve her movement and strength yet also increase our own understanding of her physiology in order to more provide more effective treatment. Working closely with such committed runners is what we at Fitstuff Clinic & Run Lab love to do, and our range of specialisms and experience allows us to be involved with an athlete at every step of their journey where required. We’re immensely proud of Kasia’s achievements over the last four years. To have been a part of her journey and assist her physical development, recovery and injury treatment has been a joy.