Meet the runner - Michelle Dorrington
Michelle is a talented runner but one that has been held back by injuries over the last couple of years. She talks about her journey so far. This is an important blog post and one I know many will identify with. Michelle is incredibly brave to talk so honestly.
I’m an emergency medicine, junior doctor so as you can imagine my life is chaos! Outside of work I love sport, coffee, food, baking and just being outside. Most of my ‘spare time’ is filled with running or other sport and exploring new places (and finding the best cafes!).
I’m a member of Southampton AC although haven’t raced much for them yet and have yet to make it to a training session with the club! I have been mostly self-coached since I started running with very appreciated input from a friend over the last few years but am exploring working with a coach properly as I get back into running after a couple of years of intermittent injuries.
I got into running by accident and with a challenge! At school the furthest I would run on sports day was about 200m! I enjoyed sport generally and played netball for school and a local team and remember having a high jump battle with a friend to see if one of us could break the school record! At sixth form college I lost my interest a bit but eventually joined a gym and then on A-Level results day went to buy my first pair of running trainers and started the Couch to 5k which I built on a bit during my gap year and first year at university. In my first year at university I joined the swim team and mixed this with running and going to the gym. As I went to Newcastle University my Mum jokingly challenged me to do the Great North Run and I got a place in the ballot for the start of my second year, so I entered a few 10km races, so I had some race experience. I remember meeting my Mum at the Great North Run finish and feeling like I could have run further….and well from there I got hooked!
I hadn’t raced at all in 2020 before lockdown. I ran at Southampton parkrun at the end of 2019, but I didn’t actually race last year either due to injury (more on this in a bit). Although if it counts, I spent a week in Lanzarote in March (getting back the day before they locked down Spain!) with a triathlon group where I swam and cycled further than I ever have in my life…how I miss the pool, the smooth roads and the sunshine!
My training week has to fit around work and at the moment I am building back up again really slowly, but I try and base it around this sort of structure…
Mon: Short easy run and drills.
Tues: Session and strength work.
Wed: Easy run and a swim if I can.
Thurs: Session and strength work.
Fri: supposedly a rest day but it usually ends up containing an easy turbo ride and some yoga.
Sat: sometimes a parkrun, sometimes an easy run plus some gym work.
Sun: long run (ideally some yoga but that often doesn’t happen!).
Strangely I love shorter reps. I love doing 200s and 400s! I’d say 1k (3 minutes recovery), 10 x 400m (100m recovery) is probably my favourite session of all time…. it hurts in the middle few 400s!!! I do also enjoy a hill session too!
Luckily, I am still working (I’d go insane if I wasn’t!)! But one of the big things I miss is the gym – it’s always where you would find me when I wasn’t at work, be it actually in the gym, in the pool or doing work and drinking coffee in the café! On days when I am not at work I’m quite unmotivated (despite having assignment work to do for a post-graduate qualification) and am finding myself spending more time in bed, making everything take twice as long as it should and going for walks just to get out (I hate being stuck inside!). I have discovered a few new places to run near me, so all is not lost!
My best performances were at the Plusnet Yorkshire 10 mile race in 2016, 63:42 PB and 3rd female (for the second year in a row). It was one of those days where everything just came together. I also excelled at the Isle of Man Track & Field Championships 5k in 2016, running 18:50. I was the island 5k champion that year! This was the first (and so far, only) time I’d ever raced 5k on a track and only my 3rd time ever racing on the track (the other two were within the same month!) and despite the rain it was great fun.
There’s one race up in Newcastle I DNF’d not long after the start – it was pouring with rain, windy and cold and I had a niggle but that’s not really a performance! Apart from that I didn’t have a good day at Gosport Half Marathon in 2017. Although it’s my PB (by 6 seconds) it did not feel like a PB performance, but I learnt a lot from it – don’t try and run with guys you know are quicker than you (especially in the first 2-3 miles!), I hate lapped courses, I don’t do very well in windy weather (I already knew that to be honest) and my pre-race and race nutrition needed more experimenting with!
My favourite piece of kit is a toss-up between my Garmin 935 which has allowed me to explore without getting lost when I’m in new places and my new Tifosi Swift prescription sunglasses. I can now actually see where I am going when I run and no longer mistake bollards for people ahead of me!
My favourite running book isn’t strictly about running (a third of it is!) but Chrissie Wellington’s autobiography, A Life Without Limits, is a prime example of how life is full of ups and downs!
I’m not passionate about other sports as much as running! Since I was a kid, I have been obsessed with watching the Olympics on TV (pretty much every sport) but these days it’s mostly athletics, triathlon, netball and a bit of football. I do enjoy swimming, cycling, lifting weights and a bit of yoga/Pilates but will quite happily have a go at anything!
I’ve lost my running mojo many, many times! And mostly due to injury! As I got more into running and with being away at uni I had more control over what I ate and found that naturally as I ran more I lost a bit of weight, got faster and then started to look at other ways to improve my performance – for me that was my diet. Partly consciously and partly subconsciously I wanted to make my nutrition “perfect” and alongside that my intake reduced. This led me into a spiral of under fuelling and overtraining. As a result, I’ve had far more injuries than I should have including two stress fractures. The second one was investigated further by the Sports & Exercise Medicine service in Oxford and I was diagnosed with RED-S (Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport) – something I had been aware of for a while and knew I ticked a few boxes for.
RED-S is probably best summarised by this quote from the Health4Performance website (http://www.health4performance.co.uk):
“RED-S is a condition caused by low energy availability, where nutritional intake is insufficient to cover the energy demands of both exercise training and bodily processes. This situation of low energy availability can have adverse effects on many biological systems, such as menstrual function (periods), endocrine system (hormones), musculoskeletal (bone and muscle), gastrointestinal (digestive), cardiovascular system (heart and circulation), immune function and growth and development. As a result of these changes to physical functioning, many aspects of sport and dance performance may be negatively affected, including decreased response to training, impaired co-ordination and increased injury risk. Likewise, there may be psychological effects that either cause, or are the result of RED-S.”
Back to my story and apart from some signposting unfortunately the support of the Sports & Exercise Medicine service ends at diagnosis (I suspect due to NHS funding). Seeing the effects of the low energy availability in your own investigation results really makes things hit home but addressing it is the biggest challenge and whilst I’m in a better place than I was it’s an ongoing bumpy road. More and more people are sharing their stories of RED-S and this, alongside increased awareness and an expanding bank of resources will hopefully prevent people falling into similar traps!
You can find Michelle on twitter @mdorrington92 and on Instagram @michelle.dorrington92.
Some RED-S resources & articles: