Ian and the broken back

Ian was ready to respond. A recent injury had changed his perspective. If you are bedside with an injury, this one is for you.

“I discovered on New Year’s Eve that I 

had two fractured vertebrae (they had been fractured for some months 

apparently and I’d continued running with occasional back pain!) So this 

last month has been really tough – a week in hospital in traction (face 

down, it was sheer hell) followed by kyphoplasty on one of the fractures 

and then four weeks in a back brace, I went through some of the most 

depressing days wondering if I’d ever be able to run again.

Like many people, running is for me not just about the feel good 

endorphin-related factor although I do love that post run glow, how clean 

you feel having sweated out a good 10 miles then cooled off and showered – 

nothing beats that. But also, the job I do is quite stressful in an 

operational environment where I need to be contactable around the clock. 

The 60 to 90 minutes I get with my phone left at home, iPod on and just me, 

running out in the countryside where I live, this is my saviour, my one 

thing for me, my single disconnect from the neediness that is work. So you 

can see potentially losing that was not something I wanted to face up to.

On Saturday, the back brace came off… and tonight I just did my first run 

– just a 10.5km and not going to break any records. But the feeling’s still 

there and I consider myself very, very lucky.

1. Why are you running?

I get a lot out of running on many different levels. Primarily, I have a 

stressful job with long hours in an operational environment managing a team 

of more than 20 people across Europe and North America. This team supports 

also our customer base. The nature of the job means that I need to be 

available pretty much 24×5 and at weekends during the day, for both 

internal calls when there are issues and customer escalations. At home, I 

have three dogs and five horses – a wonderful life really, split between 

city and countryside and I certainly can’t complain. That said, whilst the 

animals are absolutely life-enriching, they are another dependency and I 

sometimes feel with the combination of work and dependencies at home a bit 

like that dad you see at the fairground with the little child pulling on 

his hand incessantly going ‘dad, dad, dad, dad, dad….’ (though I don’t 

have children). Running is ‘my time’. It’s the 60-90 minutes five or so 

days per week that it’s me, my music and the countryside where I live – in 

sun, snow, rain, fog – I love it whatever the weather, however I’m feeling 

when I go out for the run – depressed or stressed with work, worried about 

any of the animals, down about some repair work to do on the house… 

nothing, but nothing fixes any problem like running does. The time to 

think, to be selfish, to be on my own, go where I want, leave my phone at 

home – the sense of having worked the body afterwards and finally the 

absolute feeling of cleanliness only sweating on a long run followed by a 

good shower can provide. I enjoy running races some weekends but, for me, 

the day to day is what it’s all about.

2. What got you started?

I started out around 15 years ago – a late one in my late 20s. A guy at 

work challenged me to run a marathon the following year. I took it 

seriously, stopped smoking (I know, I know!), turned vegetarian for a time 

– though I was never overweight I got far healthier than before and I ran 

that London marathon three years on the trot and am still running now. The 

challenger, for his part, reneged on it and never ran a step!

3. What keeps you moving when things get tough?

Difficult one. Things got very tough recently – I’d had a couple of months 

of back pain and when I finally went to the doctor about it, was diagnosed 

with two fractured vertebrae they say had been there for some time – and 

I’d been running half marathons regularly, travelling intercontinental with 

work, riding and mucking out my horses… it was a shock but more so when I 

ended up in traction, face down in hospital, for several days. The feeling 

of isolation and imprisonment not being able to move was pretty 

unbelievable. It’s hard to think what kept me going then, when I thought I 

may never run again. It was probably the kind of mantra repeating what is 

so important to me about running – the day to day part of it. I remember 

thinking that, as hard as it may be, I can stop running races at weekends, 

I don;t have to be able to do 10 or 20 miles, I just need those feelings of 

freedom and independence and I know I can get them if I can just do 10km 

then that would be enough. Feeling the total opposite of what running gives 

me (i.e. imprisoned and restricted) just magnified how running makes me 

feel and I was simply determined not to give in to what the doctors were 

saying, which was to change my job so less travel, sell my horses and swap 

running for knitting (yes!!!) I think the massive determination and “I can 

do it” attitude all of us runners have when you’re near the end of a tough 

race goes a long way into other areas of life and it must just be what got 

me through. I’m back running again now since just a few days ago 🙂

4.. What has running taught you that you apply to business/work? And how do 

you apply it?

I think the biggest thing is that when running, you’re in for the long 

haul. You won’t run a marathon next week if up until today you’ve only ever 

done 5k. There’s never a quick fix to an injury or a problem, it has to be 

careful, considered. Don’t diagnose yourself when you have a problem – 

you’ll only make it worse by fobbing yourself off and carrying on. 

All of this is applied to my work, in the environment I work in, there are 

quick and dirty fixes to problems, but they don’t last – the same as your 

body won’t last if you don’t treat it right and take care of it, see a 

specialist when you need and take the time to make it the best it can be. 

We want our product to be the lowest latency network, the highest 

bandwidth, the least amount of downtime, the best. Well in running, we all 

want to be winners, the fastest pace, the lowest injury rate… but it 

takes time and care and lots of patience. It translates pretty well into 

what we do in our business – I’m always persuading colleagues to take up 

running – around 50% of my team now, and still going 😉

Published by Brian Fretwell

Author, TEDx Speaker, Consultant Trying not to be a horrible human

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