Defending champion Felix Limo's presence on the start line for Sunday's Flora London Marathon owes a lot to the innovative work of an unconventional doctor, the 26-year-old Kenyan revealed today.
Limo, who's hoping to put a year of injury woes behind him when he defends his London title on Sunday, described how a physiotherapist in Kenya used a hammer to treat him for a debilitating back injury.
Limo overcame one of the highest quality fields ever assembled to win last year's race in 2:06:39, but was unable to defend his Chicago Marathon title in October after dislocating his back, an injury that kept him from serious training until January.
�"I missed three months of training after September," he explained. �"I was doing some Fartlek, sprint training sessions when one leg slipped away from me and I dislocated my lower back. That's why I pulled out of Chicago.
�"I went to see a doctor in Kenya who treated it by hitting me with his hand and with a small hammer. The hammer hurt a bit but you have to persevere with the pain if you want to get better. I just lay there and let him get on with it."
Limo, who also won the Berlin and Rotterdam marathons in 2004, took the London crown by just two seconds last year when he outsprinted his countryman Martin Lel on the Mall. His chances of repeating the victory this year improved significantly when he was able to start training properly again early this year.
�"I still had some fear that the back pain would return," he said. �"I had to do a lot of exercises to strengthen it. And I was still a bit cautious when I started training again. I had to be careful about the kind of terrain I ran on."
Limo is not alone among this year's elite field to have suffered injury problems. USA's Khalid Khannouchi, the London Marathon record holder, has had operations on both feet since he set what was then a world record of 2:05:38 to win in 2002.
And Lel, the 2005 champion, has also been unable to complete a full marathon since he just missed out on a second consecutive victory here last year.
�"I was injured in August when I got cramp in my calf muscle," explained the 28-year-old Kenyan. �"I started to train again in November but I only trained hard from December."
After finishing first and second on his previous two London outings, logic suggests Lel is destined for third place this year, although he sensibly refused to predict his own position.
�"It's always a challenge to win a marathon, even when you are trained and fit," he said. �"But I am ready now and hoping for a quick race on Sunday."
Khannouchi's injury worries have been rather longer term than his Kenyan rivals.
�"Since I won in 2002 things haven't been so good," admitted the 35-year-old former Moroccan. �"I had deep inflammation in the joint of my second metatarsal, in both feet. I have been troubled for three years with my left foot, and one with my right, and have had surgery to both."
Khannouchi, who finished fourth last year on his first return to London since his record-setting run, admitted that he is not yet back to his best shape.
�"I am still a bit cautious when I'm training," he said. �"When I started training for the London Marathon I felt better, but it's not 100 per cent, to be honest. I feel 90-95 per cent better."
However, Khannouchi did put in eight or nine weeks hard training at altitude in New Mexico, before finishing his London Marathon preparation at sea level near San Diego, and recently won a half marathon in Korea, running 64:58, �"just to test my feet really", he said.
�"Now I am comfortable with the racing shoes I'm going to use in London," he added. �"So everything is good."