I FELT it go. The difference between being free of injury and not, is quite marked. Immediately there is a sharp pain, nothing too much to worry about as these pains come and go.
But, I could feel the body responding straight away. It’s like the signal goes up and the body swings into the old routine of “here we go again!” – injury-fixing mode.
The area of complaint, and it won’t be a surprise to rowers, is the lower back, which starts to stiffen up.
From here the response varies. If it’s low-level, this is as far as it goes. And a week later I’ll be fine.
Or movement continues to diminish, the body recognises that movement is a bad thing, and it does as much as it can to stop me moving. This is where I was last October.
From there I couldn’t even tie my own shoelaces.
I couldn’t bend over to pick up my new-born son.
In fact leaning over to clean my teeth was too painful, the only way to achieve this was to hold my breath to support my lower back. Even lifting my legs out of bed was a no-no.
The only reassuring thing was familiarity. I’ve been in this position too many times to count, I know the drill.
The ‘best’ one was three months before the Beijing Olympics and my first gold medal.
For the last 13 years, my lower back has been my ‘Achilles heel’. I’ve done a lot to find out how to support it, and not push it too far.
Some people would like to wrap me in cotton wool, but that’s just not me.
I’ve talked before about the need to give 100 per cent, to walk the red line. Injuries are part and parcel of this.
The only way to find out how far I can push my back is to step over the line.
I don’t think many top athletes ever get through their career without learning to live with injuries.
But I don’t see injuries as a wholly negative thing – if you can control them.
They make me think how my body is put together, giving me a better understanding of the machine I use to get me those gold medals. Injuries make me take note.
Then they give me an opportunity to think outside the box, teaches me to be flexible and learn how to keep pushing on while my body fixes itself.
This time, I used bikes, a ski-ing machine and specific weights programmes to keep me going and my back stress-free.
And that’s a huge lesson. The body is an expert at repairing injuries.
Patience, being honest with myself and my body is better than pointless treatment.
So I spent two months away from rowing and staying off the weights.
Finally, in mid-December I was back in a boat, and by Christmas, feeling robust again.