Recovering from injury: Q&A with Andy Mouncey

Last updated: 06-Nov-18

By Alice Morrison

Andy Mouncey had thirty years of sport under his belt – thirteen of which were in ultra trail running. Then, disaster struck and he got an injury that just would not heal. Running is his business as well as his pleasure and his life is inextricably linked with the sport. So, what did he do to mend and how has he coped? He took the time out to talk Alice Morrison through it, and share his advice on what to do if you are unlucky enough to suffer a similar fate.

Q. Andy, tell us a little bit about yourself.

A. I am married, with two small boys, and live in the north of England. I have run my own business for the last 15 years: Triathlon was my sport for 17 years till 2003 since then it’s been trail ultras.

Q. How did your injury first manifest itself and what did you do about it?

A. I got a pain in the ball of my left foot after a run that I thought was just bruising. I’d bashed it on a rock or something. RICE didn’t fix it after a couple of weeks so it was off to X-ray.

Q. What happened after the realisation that this was going to take a long time? How did you cope mentally? What process did you go through with your doctors?

A. That first X-ray (May 2014) was inconclusive though the symptoms pointed towards a stress or partial fracture of the foot even though I wasn’t completely convinced. Not least because I’ve got about 30 years of training history in me, so this big running lark is hardly new. I’d not changed shoes or racked up my mileage and I’d not had a fall. Your typical NHS GP and consultant is a tad sketchy on runners and running and my first contacts didn’t exactly fill me with confidence. Waiting 10 weeks for results doesn’t exactly help either.

In the end, I went through two cycles of misdiagnosis and erroneous treatment. This added six months to the process. Worse, the knock-on effects from THIS – my foot was immobilized which in effect turned it into a block of wood – added about the same again. I had to both undo the cumulative dysfunction that had set in and start a treatment consistent with the actual problem, which had changed and become chronic. The first breakthrough came when I swallowed hard and went private for consultations and MRI and bone scans. The second breakthrough came when I ignored key parts of that advice, followed my intuition and effectively did the opposite, and worked with a local practitioner who knew me and my body.

What I eventually established was that the original problem was in one of the seasmoid bones in my foot. These are tiny pea-shaped bones under the ball of the foot. One of mine was in two parts – not a problem in itself apparently and likely to have been that way since birth – held together by strong fibres. In May last year, they decided to part company. Errors in diagnosis and delays in results meant that secondary and tertiary symptoms set in complicating and exacerbating the problem. What should have been fairly simple to treat, turned into a many-headed monstrous nightmare that I allowed to affect much of my personal, work and family life.

Q. What did you learn from this process, what tips can you pass on to other runners?

A. The scan is not the territory – just because it ain’t on the scan doesn’t mean it don’t exist. If you feel it, then it’s there alright.

  • Consultants are not God. They are not the expert on you, and they can put too much faith in reports and scans.
  • You are the expert on you. Especially so if you have a ton of self knowledge and emotional intelligence honed in part by decades of training.
  • Pay attention to your intuition. If your little voice keeps pulling you back to something then odds are it’s worth being pulled back to.
  • Be prepared to kiss a few frogs. Sorry!
  • We are designed to move. So, unless something is physically broken, then immobilization should NOT be part of treatment.
  • Keep a diary. I have done since I was a teenager and it’s a godsend for revealing patterns, trends and linking cause and effect over time.
  • Unless you are very lucky, odds are you will have to look outside the NHS to get a breakthrough if you’re stuck. It won’t be cheap, but it will be fast and that may make a difference between sorting the original problem, or a whole set of new ones.
  • If it’s complicated, then you need someone who knows the sport and has decades of experience working and treating healthy and broken people, and someone who will get their hands on your injury. Decades of experience mean they can piece together the ‘possible’ from the likely and unlikely patterns. The good ones are open minded enough to know what they don’t know and are honest enough to tell you so.
  • Keep looking. There are people who care in this world and there IS a solution out there. If it’s soft tissue, it WILL heal.
  • Change one thing at a time so you can monitor cause and effect.
  • That change might have to be 180 degrees, but if you are going round in circles then being brave enough to do the opposite of well-meaning advice COULD be the pattern-breaker. It sure was for me.
  • Of course it’s important and it is only running. Get perspective: No-one’s trying to shoot you for what you believe and odds are you know where your next meal is coming from.

Q. Where are you now. What is the prognosis going forward?

A. I recently completed a 50 minute jog pain free on road and have just started to include very short relaxed sprint uphill efforts as a way of putting more force through the structure while minimizing impact. The foot can be sore for a while afterwards, but so far it’s holding up. It’s taken two months to build to this and I started with 5 x 200 paces jog/100 paces walk. So this is monumental progress.

I started swimming again over the summer, after 12 years out of the water. I am also building my biking back up. While the prognosis is good, the timescale is uncertain. I’m pretty much working week by week, and I can see my future training being much more of a mix of running, cycling and swimming. Just to make sure that sticks, I’ve entered an Ironman race next July. As you do…

If you want to keep up with Andy’s progress, his blog is here. Or follow him on Twitter (@AndyMouncey).

Other great pieces for you to read:

Top 10 Ultras for Beginners
UTAT review
Finishing the 6633 Ultra, interview with Gavan Henningan
10 things you need to know about ultramarathon running

"What should have been fairly simple to treat, turned into a many-headed monstrous nightmare"

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