Training Injuries Before an Ultramaraton Race. Can They be a Help Rather Than a Hindrance ?

Training Injuries Before an Ultramaraton Race. Can They be a Help Rather Than a Hindrance ?


“Buffalo Stampede Grand Slam”, Bright, Victoria, Australia 8th, 9th & 10th April 2016

4th place and over the moon


What if? Perhaps it helped?
I hadn’t broken my toe and smashed my quad, would I have run faster? F***! What if? Maybe it kicked my ego in to touch; I’d have to think and plan smarter  
Injury & Disaster Help or hindrance?

It’s been more than month since I completed The Grand Slam at ‘The Buffalo Stampede’, and I haven’t stopped pondering the above thoughts.

Even though the final six weeks of my perfect preparation had been totally rail-roaded by not one, but two injuries; I began to wonder if it had actually been the reason things had eventually gone so well. Had it helped?

What Occurred? Sky Running

There are many other endurance events, but this was Sky Running.

Sky Races can be the toughest thing most runners have ever tackled…

For me Buffalo literally presented new horizons. It had ascent and descent, the like of which few other races include, and that’s just in the first 12km.

tom pic
Beautiful Mt Buffalo.

Photo: Tom Le Lievre

Generally it’s about steepness… As much vert up and down as can be squeezed into the course. The three days consisted of a 26km, 77km and a 42km with the option of entering all three; The Grand Slam 144km & 9672m elevation. This was my intended race; I’d be one of the ‘Slammers’.

INJURY #1. Six Weeks to Race Day 


‘The curious incident of the cockroach in the night’

Busted big toe

Injuries rarely come at a good time, but with my training going perfectly, I was on top of things. I was running quicker across training routes than ever and feeling stronger.

And then there was the cockroach.

It was 4am Sunday morning and my son, Sandy, was ill. While I was up seeing to him, a cockroach the size of a ‘mouse’ ran across the bathroom floor. We rarely get them upstairs and picking up the laundry basket I went for the triple smash…. This thing just shook it off or teleported??? Then it ran under the bathroom mat beside the wall. I’m not a big killer of creatures generally, but if I do, I want it to be painless and instant.

I swung my right foot and stamped as hard as I could. The mat instantly skidded towards the wall and my big toe smashed into it. Anything but painless… the bloody cocky ‘legged it’ across the floor and hid behind the toilet. Meanwhile I hopped up and down trying not to wake the rest of the family by swearing under my breath.

Picking up some mouthwash, I poured a cap-full onto the vicious beast. It flipped onto its back and almost instantly stopped wriggling!!


The radiographer arrived and the doctor confirmed what I really didn’t want to hear: The cockroach was alive… Nah!

Doc: “yeah you’ve broken your big toe”

Me: “…..but I have a race in six weeks!!

Doc: “ah… well I reckon you’ll make the event, give it fourteen days. How far is it?”

 Me: “It’s a… errmm….about 144km, it’s a three day running event..”

Doc: “oh!? You may want to see how it feels then?”


Two weeks… it seemed like the end of the world. I couldn’t believe it. The ridiculousness of it.. The karma, irony, stupidity?! How did I feel at the time? Gutted, doesn’t come close. This was an absolute disaster!

At first it was just annoying, like a couple of days off. Soon though, the doubt and frustration started to kick in. But I knew I’d put in good groundwork; my body was holding up, I was feeling good and gaining confidence. What now?

Pragmatism: “Ok, it is what it is,” I thought.

Coach Andy suggested cycling. I hit the same Broken Head trail road I’d run on and, gingerly at first, used my 20 yr old ‘mountain bike’. It had some benefit but, as Andy and I agreed, it couldn’t replace running.

Kriss Hendy wrote me a gym programme to keep me ticking over. I’ve never really ‘done’ gyms, but Kriss quickly put me at ease. He showed me around some of the equipment I could use that would be running specific; his guidance allowed me to maintain my strength and have some focus.

Losing Fitness?

Nevertheless my fitness felt like it was ebbing away. I’d had very little experience in dealing with this sort of frustration. What if I went all that way just to DNF on the 2nd or 3rd day?

All but two of last year’s entrants DNF’d.

I wanted to give a good account of myself. And not just finish it but be ready to be as competitive as I could.

(Racing ‘down south’, in the Victorian Alps for the first time, I’d booked flights, rented a car and paid the entry fee. The financial outlay began to mentally exaggerate the wastefulness of my ‘actions’. Thankfully I was able to crash at a mate’s (Cam O’Leary), who was racing the Sky Marathon on the Sunday.)

Two Weeks Later Things Start to ‘Look Up’

I’d had a couple of sneaky trots, but not ‘ran’ properly. Fifteen days later, I went out for about 45 minutes. I focussed on keeping my foot as flat as possible and feeling for any sharp pains. All good. It just felt nice to be moving.

I only did 70km that week, but started to regain a little confidence. By the following 100km+ week we’d introduced a hill rep session and speed work (not full-on). I’d missed a few of the long runs, so was keen to get one in, before thoughts of tapering arose. Things were looking Bright, Victoria.

And then……

INJURY #2.  Three Weeks to Race Day 


‘a polite good morning, and crash’

The summit of Mount Warning, NSW is just over 1150m and so, if started from the bottom river crossing (elevation approx. 50m), you ‘benefit’ from the whole climb.

If I did it three times I’d be gaining about 3000m ascent and descent over 40km+. Perfect.

Crash, Bang, Wallop

Bouncing along very nicely on my 2nd descent, I’d greeted and ran around numerous day walkers. But on a particularly wet boulder section, I looked up to say good morning to two older gents. My right foot slipped outwards towards a small drop off, my left leg went the same way; horizontally I crashed to the ground, landing perfectly on my left quad and Iliotibial Band (IT Band).

Avoiding my knee and hip seemed like a small blessing. The pain was intense. Like a massive dead leg. The two fellas asked if I’d broken anything. Still holding my breath I gave them the thumbs up and whispered “I think I’m all good, thanks”.

Keep on Running

I finished the run – including another final ascent and very painful descent.

Surprisingly, over the next few days I was able to run, so I did.

By midweek the feeling in my quad was ‘weird’. It felt like lumpy jelly. Fluid had built up in-between the muscle tissue and the doctor informed me I had a fairly decent haematoma (solid swelling of clotted blood within the tissues). He added that although initially rest would have been wiser, at this stage and with bruising appearing in my calves, mobility and running was as good as anything.


When I was running, it felt fine. But man, whenever I sat, and then stood up?! It was not good; an intense ‘painful’ sensation spreading towards my knee.

Well at least I was running. Although things were anything but perfect now.

What if I was doing more damage? The race was only two and a half weeks away. I’d lost so much training time. Maybe I shouldn’t even make the trip down, if it could end up being pointless.

Help or Hindrance?

The uncertainty, the fear, the ‘risk’ – did something potentially positive. It reeled me in. My confidence had been severely dealt a blow and so inevitably my ego was firmly left at the starting line.

And so it began…..Day 1 : 26km Elevation – 2013m

Made it to the line – everyone’s keen

My toe and quad were holding up and I hadn’t had any trouble at all in my last training runs. I was worried I was undertrained from the weeks lost, but tried to tell myself ‘better to be undercooked’.

The first of three days saw me conservatively start and find a pace that delivered me 26km later (over some seriously ugly, steep trail) to the finish line; feeling strong, laughing and actually enjoying this thing.

Day 1 – done

 5th place : 3hr 49mins

Day 2 : 77km Elevation –4654m

The 77km Ultra Sky Race had seen many of last years ‘Slammers’ pull the pin, either during or after this one.

Day 2  – Coming up!

Although cautious, my toe and quad injuries had given me little to worry about, in fact I’d barely had to think about them.

I woke up feeling pretty good on Saturday morning. Whooping, cow bells, cheering and the race was underway.  I set off exactly the same as Day 1 and ran within a minute or two of the previous days turn around point.

The bottom-line had to be to get through today unscathed and be ready for Day 3. Look after the toe and quad, and carefully pace myself through todays 77km’s. Be on that starting line tomorrow.

The summit of Buffalo is only halfway and then it’s ‘back the way you came’. It’s an amazing event. Athletes from the Ultra, as well as fellow Slammers supported each other constantly, cow bell touting crew and volunteers were lining sections of the course. My adopted crew were unreal! Cam O’Leary with his family and mates were here for his Sky Marathon the next day, with friend Duncan Gow. They’d all stepped forward to help.

I crossed the line and finished feeling pretty good…. How would the nights recovery go?

5th place : 11hrs 57 mins (Total 15hrs 39mins)

Day 3 : 42.2km  Elevation – 3005

The final day! The main focus of my whole event, as far as I’ve seen it. My alarm wakes me and the first thing I think is;

right! how’s the legs? how’s the toe?

A final horizontal stretch and I clamber to my feet in the dark. I shake them a bit and find they still belong to me. I slowly make my way to the bathroom and then onto the kitchen. I do a ten metre jog around and smile.

I Reckon This Thing’s Gunna Get Done.

I took off pretty much the same as the previous two days and hit the early hills (Mystic and Clearspot), with the poles and the same effort as before.

But now on the downhill sections and particularly on the flats, I could move with much more purpose. I didn’t have to concern myself with tomorrow for the first time all weekend. I pushed along feeling strong.

Even the final “Big Walk”, a 10km ascent up to Mount Buffalo was disappearing beneath my feet and head, faster than the day before. Now with 130 of the weekend km’s behind me, I was shifting, power hiking and running. The last 8km’s even include a short narrow squeeze through a cave section. I crossed the line in 6hrs 16mins; total time 22hrs 03mins. Grand Slammed!

Maybe it Kicked My Ego in to Touch; I’d Had to Think and Plan Smarter  

The extra planning and preparation had panned out nicely:

  • I was the 4th ‘Slammer’ to cross the line on Day 3, only a few minutes behind the 1st and 2nd placed lads.
  • Finishing competitively had been the goal!
  • I’d completed it an hour quicker than last year’s winning time which had been my only comparison pre event.
  • I’d secured the 4th place for the overall ‘Grand Slam’ too… Woohooo!!!

I was over the moon.

I had trained well. On race day nothing went wrong and I paced myself (personally) to perfection.

Buffalo Stampede profile
Day 1 and 2 profile, Day 3 no return from Mt Buffalo plus drop bag, distance and vert.

The Toe & The Fall?

It caused two weeks of missed training.  I’d have been in better shape and ran faster. But maybe it reeled me in and helped me respect the challenge. Achievable and digestible. I’d approached each day calmly and simply.

With a clean bill of health I could have gone out too fast, not paced myself and ended up with a DNF!!! Or could I have made up twenty minutes here or there?

When I look back at the race I remember how conservative it had felt. But those time differences are costly and require faster quad smashing descents and risk the main thing I personally fear – uncooperative legs!!!

Will I Ever Know?

I’ve ran races that have had perfect preparation go ‘pear shaped’. In this case, the unintentional accidents/injuries and sweaty km’s locked in my legs, combined to make this race not just a successful weekend, but simply more fun. I genuinely had a ball. I’d learned heaps alone from running a three day ‘staged’ event. My nutrition was dialled, my aid station stops got quicker and my pacing all improved considerably. Success!!!!?


as clear as mud

In searching for a specific conclusion,  I fear I have failed… It’s just not that simple.

But as ‘what if?’ questions induce ‘Interstella” scenarios, with infinite possibilities, I had this genuine last minute thought …..

Was There a Best Path? 

The one I had; was the one I got.  It was the best path, because this time it worked out. 

More importantly my legs held up.

Thanks legs.

Thanks Cam.


(Cheers heaps for reading. Leave a comment or share; it’s nice to have folks read it!!)

 Special Thanks to:

  • Christine and the kids (Sandy and Stella)
  • Coach Andy DuBois: Mile27
  • Crew: Cam O’Leary and Emma Grace, Jacquellyn and Aidan O’Leary, Duncan and Esther Gow
  • Crew Photographers: Cam O’Leary, Emma Grace, Jacquellyn and Aidan O’Leary
  • Byron Bay Runners: Whatsapp and Facebook team
  • All the runners and volunteers
  • Race director:Sean Greenhill
  • Kriss Hendy:
  • Photographer: Tom Le Lievre
  • Special mention to these three Slammers, who ran, motivated and were epic all weekend: Pat Bowring, Micheal Dalgamo, Christian Warren
  •  Steve Richards: editing skills
  • Christine Byrne: editing skills