mundane adventures in running
KLAXON: dull injury and training article for malingering runners who want to get back on track.
I am still in recovery after a training injury last year. From about February 2013, I went a bit mental for mileage. I wasn’t following any program apart from to run as much as I possibly could. I figured just trying to beat my weekly mileage week on week was enough of a plan.
What with me not being in my twenties anymore, I managed to fairly ruin my body. As my long runs got longer, and I started to do multiple runs in a day (running repeated 10ks, meeting to meeting in the course of work) it started to take its toll. I was topping out at a 100km a week, wasn’t allowing enough time to recover, and I just wasn’t ready for it. The first signs of injury were stabbing pains in my heals. I thought I’d broken them, a lovers leap fracture. My GP told me that I had plater fasciitis, that I should rest and do endless towel grab exercises. I carried on like that for a couple of months with no improvement. Instead of running, I was doing lots of heart rate stuff on a static bike and swimming. But I can’t just replace running with any random exercise: I really wanted to get back on my feet.
I kept trying to run, heading out for short, 3k jaunts round the park. I tried technical solutions too: got some shoes with more cushioning, tried wearing compression socks to bed at night. Lots of ice, ibuprofen gel, an £8 foot massage roller from Run and Become…
Sports massage relieved the problem to some extent. It was a good first line of defence against the pain. With just a couple of sessions focusing on my calves and feet, I could get through a day without having to ice and elevate my legs for an hour in the evening. It wasn’t enough to get me running again though.
Eventually, I admitted to myself that to get out there again, I needed more help. I’d had good experience of osteopaths before. After a nasty cycling accident, breaking my collarbone and a couple of ribs, followed by a second fall about a year later, again breaking a couple of ribs, my upper body was a wreck of tense, mismatched tendons and muscles pulling against each other in some horrible battle. Thanks to the British School of Osteopathy, a few manoeuvres and a lot of advice on stretching later I completely recovered.
This time round, I decided to try and get someone who was more of a sports specialist, not just a generic osteopath. I found a guy in Kent, not a million miles away from where I live, who was a trained osteopath and a runner and triathlete himself. Oh yeah, and a foot expert: pretty much the exact person I was after.
About five minutes into my first session Tom announced that my doctor had misdiagnosed, that I had achilles tendonitis not PF. Armed with this knowledge, he prescribed a course of off step calf raises, squats, pistol squats (as if I could…), and down facing dog. After a few sessions with him, and a couple of months of strengthening exercises, he had me back on track. My heels still hurt, my calves were still too tight, but I could feel everything getting better, and could run again.
I still get twinges now, and am very weary of over training. Stretching and strength training are
important, but not overdoing the running feels like the key..
So now, I’m approaching training gently. I want to improve, I want to achieve my overall goal of running a 100k race, but I don’t want wreck my body. I’ve made a commitment: to get better at running by running less.
My new regime is, per week:
Apart from that, I’ll try doing a couple of strength training sessions, a very gentle recovery run, a bit of cross training (easy stuff, commuting by bike, swimming), and a lot of meditation, stretching, foam roller and walking. This will reduce my weekly mileage, load most of the effort onto the long run (and let me recover fully afterwards). It will reduce my time spent exercising too (compared to last summer) and means I wont feel guilty spending loads too much time exercising when I am running; a four hour long run isn’t excessive if I’ve only spent 2 hours running in the week aside from that.
I’ve been on this for a few weeks now, and it’s working well. I push myself hard on my on days, and it makes me feel like I’ve earned my off days. My long runs and tempo runs are getting a bit easier. My 5k speeds are improving (I have started thinking about getting sub 20 on 5k as a serious short term goal). Most importantly, life below the waist is happy: I feel really strong, my legs are injury free, I feel supple and flexible. There’s still some residual Policeman’s Heel pain, but it’s barely there, it flairs up after long runs, and dies down when I stretch everything out properly.
It’s been a year since I first started having foot problems. I missed my goal of running 100k this summer, and it looks like I’ll miss the green chain marathon in a few weeks’ time. Still it’s been a learning experience: I know a lot more about my body, its limits and how to become stronger and more resilient. I’ve also learned to enjoy strength training. Calf raises, deadlifts, planks are more fun than they ever used to be. Overall though, I am really excited about training like this, and I am looking forward to an incredible few months of injury free running with crazy returns on training and some real adventures out on the streets, parks and trails of south east London.
* As an aside, this is the version that works for me, but it wouldn’t work for everyone. My long run and tempo run are totally not appropriate for a lot of runners… I don’t know many people who want to do a half marathon every week. Still, this formula should work for anyone: a long run, a fast but steady run and a third run with burst of effort (intervals, hills, fartlek). If you’ve plateau’d at your running, you want to improve quickly (to get faster, or just to make running more comfortable) this would probably work. So, don’t be put off by the numbers, this is a bonafide accessible training plan, just tone it up or down so it works for you.