Multi-sport races and injuries, how old or how young


Injuries are part and parcel of the athletes life and we all have to deal with them at some point. I've been suffering from a series of niggling injuries for nearly a year now and my latest problem, plantar fasciitis, has left me unable to run for the last two months. There's a good side and a bad side to this. The good side is that as multisport athletes almost any injury will still enable us to train on other disciplines. I've never spent so much time on my bike as I have done lately and if I can get some more paddling done I might even come out of all this better off.


The bad side is that the medical profession holds some amazing contradictions on how to treat most sports injuries. Plantar fasciitis is a common, if painful, injury and yet there is no agreement if it is even a foot injury or a problem higher up the leg that manifests itself in the foot. Treatment often involves anti-inflammatories and yet some doctors who have done surgery on the injury report that the majority of cases show no signs of inflammation.


The reason for all this is that no one dies from this type of injury and therefore there is precious little money for research. A few years ago I exchanged data with Dr. Tim Noakes, the author of "The Lore of Running". It was very clear from Tim that for endurance athletes (and their injuries) there is practically no research.


Several specialized web sites have been set up so at least we can view as much of the research as possible but overall the data is rarely enough to make definite conclusions.


The other bad side of course is that this spate of injuries is a result of age. My own father recently went to the doctor complaining of shortage of breath, to which he was told that it was normal for 73 year olds. It wasn't what my father wanted to hear: what he wanted was a solution so that he could compete in this years Paris-Brest-Paris 1200k bike race.


Fortunately more and more doctors are understanding that we don't want to hear "stop doing sport" and now often work out a way  to treat injuries without interrupting our training too much. However whatever miracles the medical profession can come up there is no escaping that power and speed decline with age.


Traditionally this has been less of an issue for endurance athletes as experience and mental strength often combined to defeat the enthusiasm of youth but in recent months more and more younger athletes have been winning the big races.


The notable exception has been the continued incredible achievements of Yiannis Kouros. I won't embarrass him too much as he is on this list but he was again named Ultrarunner of The Year for 2002 on the back of some outstanding results.


The swing towards youth raises different questions, such as how far should  teenagers be allowed be run and race while their bodies are still developing. My personal view is that I wouldn't encourage a teenager to run an ultra or race a multiday event but then I wouldn't deliberately set a minimum age for a race either. The recent Bonaqua Youth Challenge adventure race in Hong Kong probably got the balance just right and my own daughter, who was barely 5 days over the minimum age, is now a fully addicted adventure racer constantly asking her dad when the next race is.


When you see our sport spark such genuine (and in this case really unexpected) enthusiasm then even the worst of injuries don't seem so bad. All I've got to do now is get fit enough to race with the rest of my family......