Running on Despite Sports Injuries

We all want to finish but make sure you finish right…
April 23, 2014

I think I am invincible. I have managed to go on expeditions without much preparation or planning. I have trained hard but haven’t trained on the specific mode of transport and I have managed to complete my journey without any sports injuries. Now I tell people they are so much more capable than they think they are.

But I have been lucky.

Since immersing myself in the adventure world, it’s scary to hear how many people run into problems; and worst of all, how many people have to pull the plug on a challenge due to a sports injury. Even our very own Catalina Gerstle from Chile had to drop out of the GODZone race on day one due to a knee injury. What could be worse? All that training. All that build up. And you barely make it through day one. And it happens… all the time.

Sean Conway, who I supported in a kayak on his length of Britain swim, has the ultimate ‘running on despite injury’ story:

Back in 2012, he was attempting to break the world record for cycling around the world. He left London on February 18, 2012 and 3 weeks, in he was way ahead of schedule, averaging nearly 180 miles per day. He didn’t know his name, but he was winning. Instantly his dreams were shattered in America when a driver hit him while doing 50 miles an hour. He suffered severe whiplash, a concussion, torn ligaments and a compression fracture to his spine. He was distraught.

A hospitable family took him in, and one month later he had recovered from the worst of his sports injuries and was on the road again, determined to finish the challenge he set out to do for the charity, Solar Aid. His average speed dropped down to 140 miles per day (which is still impressive considering he wasn’t even a cyclist) and it became a race to get back to London in time for the Olympics. He arrived back in London with a week to spare, having covered 16,000 miles, 12,000 of them with a fractured spine.

©Sean Conway

©Sean Conway

Sean made it around the world, but when injured, he forced himself to slow down and created himself new targets to soften the blow once he knew that he wasn’t going to win the record. Giving up the record this time meant he was physically able to swim the length of Britain the following year. That has to be worth the sacrifice.

Dave Cornthwaite, who I supported via stand-up paddleboard on his big swim down the Lower Missouri River back in 2012, ran into sports injury complications on his ElliptiGo journey around Europe last year. Dave founded the Expedition 1000 Project, an ambitious series of twenty-five journeys lasting at least 1,000 miles in length, each one using a different method of non-motorized transport.

©Dave Cornthwaite

©Dave Cornthwaite

The EliptiGo journey was the eighth on the list and after 7 weeks and 2,000 miles on the road, a back injury forced him to retire to prevent long-term damage. While he finished before he wanted to, he managed to push himself to complete enough of the journey to validate it for his project. Still, when you don’t reach ‘the end,’ you have to deal with the mental guilt – and he even had to take the rest of the year off to recover. He cautiously pushed himself but stopped before a sports injury ended his endurance career. Now he is back adventuring around the world.

Paul Huckleberry Everitt was on a giant bikecar expedition from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Victoria, British Columbia. He was set to be away from home for 6 months and had spent 11 months planning it. But within 6 days, due to the overall weight of the vehicle, his knee exploded while cycling; and he could no longer pedal the bikecar. However, after five days on a fold up bicycle, he took the intense strain off his knee and managed to build up enough strength in his knee to get back on the bikecar.


©Paul Huckleberry Everitt

So while he had to temporarily adjust the expedition, persevering despite injury enabled him to continue. And in the end, he completed the entire expedition within 157 days and covered 4,210 miles. It could have been anything but a happy ending if he'd forced himself to stay on the bikecar. He definitely wouldn't have finished and might not be walking.

The moral of the story is…

Whether you carry on playing football with that broken collarbone, finish that race with something wrong or continue an expedition with a serious sports injury, make sure you stay aware of your body. Running on despite injuries can be a risky game; but if you are as competitive and stubborn as me, it takes a lot to make you stop. So try to train as much as possible to iron out any problems beforehand and if you are going to carry on, make sure you take it easy, listen to your body and stop before you regret it. Not winning that one time may mean you’re able to race for the rest of your life.

Image from  Copyright: Dirima  


Emily Bell

Cycling, Hiking, Kayaking, Trail Running, Stand-Up Paddle Boarding
Favorite Gear
RAB waterproofs, Merrell Barefoot Running Gloves
Social Media
Sign Up