Down, But Not Out

Last Sunday marked three weeks to the Bolder Boulder, and my training plan was right on track. I was up early to run a brisk 6 miles on a country road. At mile 2, the road starts a half mile, not-too-bad climb. I felt good, so I pushed hard with each stride, springing up the hill on the balls of my feet.

About halfway up, I felt a pain in my left calf. It seemed to come from nowhere. With each step, the pain got worse, and within 50 strides I had to stop and could barely walk. The pain was mid-calf, right where the Achilles tendon connects with the gastronemius muscle. When I bent over and probed it with my fingers, it hurt.

As I limped back to my car, I brooded. I've been fortunate rarely to suffer running injuries. Plenty of others, but not from running. But here I was limping down the road with my favorite race only a few weeks away. I figured the odds of quick recovery by then were slim; by definition, TOJs take more time to heal. I felt sorry for myself and pissed at the bulls on the other side of the fence looking at me as if to say what's your problem, you usually run by?

When I got home, following my wife's good advice, I threw ice in a plastic supermarket bag and wrapped it tight around the calf with the ACE bandage I kept from my last knee surgery over 10 years ago. I followed the RICE protocol for a couple of hours: rest, ice, compression and elevation, which worked. Though it hurt, the pain was tolerable. I looked up my condition on the internet and assessed it as a Grade 1 strain. No big deal, just need some rest.

The next two days, I rested completely. On the third day, I did a workout with a 35 lb. kettlebell. The calf felt a little sore, but in no way affected the workout. The next day I ran for about 3.5 miles with my wife. I could feel my calf, but it wasn't bad. The day after the run, I did another 35 lb. kettlebell workout and 20 minutes on an elliptical. Again, not too bad.

Then on the sixth day (yesterday) after the injury, I went back to country road for a run. I started with my wife, then, feeling good and ready to push my pace, pulled away after a few hundred yards. Less than a mile into the run, the calf pain came right back at the same intensity as the original injury. I went home and RICE'd it again.

I remembered seeing a good article about "Running Injuries and Aging" by Allen Griffiths in Colorado Runner. He suggested nutrition is key to speedy recovery, especially eating additional protein because most tendons and muscles are made from it. I'm eating more protein.

I also read portions of Nicholas DiNubile', M.D.'s (he's an orthopaedic surgeon) book FrameWork, which is full of useful information about training the muscles and skeleton. Of course, there's an excellent section on injuries, which describes in enlightening detail what happens at the site where a soft-tissue (muscles are soft-tissue, unlike bones) injury occurs, and the amazingly complex biochemistry of the healing process. Once you realize all that's going on, it becomes obvious to a TOJ, even one who subscribes to silly ideas of mind over matter, that the injured area really must rest. Period, no running.

Based on what I see in my training log, I don't think running caused the calf pull. It was the cumulative result of running intervals on concrete, followed by a tough kettlebell workout (to which I'm still adjusting because I've only been doing it a few weeks) that greatly tightened my leg muscles the day before the injury. Then I did no stretching before that run. I will stretch next time before I run after a hard session with kettlebells.

Today, I let my lower legs rest. I jumped on my bike for the first time this spring. I was paranoid about losing my cardio-fitness as I waited to resume running. Biking is mainly a thigh intensive exercise. The calf felt fine. I wore a heart rate monitor and elevated my pulse beyond what I normally do on long runs.

Earlier this week, I was talking to an Emergency Room doctor at work. He asked why I was limping. I told him what had happened. He shook his head and said, "You don't know how often I see people who are pushing it beyond what they normally do. That's almost always when these injuries happen. The less fit they are, the worse it is. You should be okay pretty quickly if you rest it."

I didn't get what he was saying then, but I do now. It would sure be great to run on Memorial Day. TOJ's may be slow, but they aren't stupid. Life's too short for injuries.

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