Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Trips can be disruptive. Even fun cycling trips. They dislodge us from routines. Some routines need dislodging, others not so. I tend to be singly focused when I go on a cycling trip. I don't run, avoid core work, and I fail to stretch. After all, I'm wicked wrecked from six and seven hour riding days, so why in the world would I do these other things?

Well, about 9 days passed with no running and almost as many days without stretching my hamstrings, something I usually do a few times per day, I went for my first run when I got back. It was an innocuous five miler at lunch last Wednesday. After a rest/travel day on Tuesday, which was sure to tighten me up even further, I felt ok heading out. I ran my typical just under 8 minute pace. Got back to work, showered, felt fine.

After sitting at my computer a short while, I got up, and nearly fell over. My left calf was seized up. I could not push off the ball of my foot whatsoever. Totally out of the blue. I had no indication things were going amok during the run. I thought maybe it was just a muscle spasm, tightness, or something that would resolve if I walked around a bit and stretched. But no. It persisted until I went to bed that night.

The next day, I felt much better, but a little pain was still there when pushing off the ball of my foot and I may have had a bit of a limp. By Saturday, I barely noticed any pain and did a hard 3hr hillfest ride. No problem.  After the ride, Dave's wife Beth asked if I knew about the half marathon Dave was thinking about doing this coming weekend. Huh? WTF! Dave is secretive about his training because he knows how nosy athletes are and it drives those around him crazy when he doesn't volunteer training information. I learn more from little random snippets from Beth than I do spending a week in the desert with Dave. So yeah, Dave has been getting in regular, long runs by his house which entail boat loads of vertical.

Sunday comes along, it is raining hard at my house when I got up, so what to do. It looked like Chelmsford just south of my house missed most of the rain. Maybe I could go for a long run down that way and hit the trails on the MTB afterwards. My longest run to date has been just over seven miles. It was time to up it a bit. I figured a flat paved rail trail 8 miler would be a safe bet. Have to keep up with the Penney's, you know.  I gave no concern for my tweaky calf, as there was no more residual pain. Never even registered.

I parked in Chelmsford center on the fairly new paved bike path. My planned route was to head about 3 miles out on rail path, a mile or two through cranberry bog trails, then return on back roads to rail path. Heading out at 8 minute pace felt good. About 3 miles out, still on paved rail path, I started feeling twinges in my calf again. Hmmm, seemed harmless enough, and if I went 3 miles before it started, I should be able to do another 5 without it getting too bad. I'd just tough it out if it did. I had no idea how big of a mistake I was making. Running is not like cycling.

After running through the cranberry bogs, where my paced dropped to 10-11 minutes, I was nearly disabled. Felt like a knife being thrust into my calf each step I pushed off. I stopped a couple times to relax the calf and stretch it a bit. Did not help. I had to get back, and I wasn't taking an hour by walking. Mistake grew bigger.

The roads I ended up on were pretty hilly, which only exacerbated the situation. In the hills, I ran into Cathy Rowell. She hoped I hadn't run all the way from my house out there.  I explained why I was ramping my running up a bit. I got into this little race called the Mt Washington Road Race, a foot race up Mt Washington in June. Dave and I signed up as a team, so we both made the lottery cut. Yeah, Dave is going to put the screws to me in this one, both physically and psychologically I'm sure.

After Cathy called me a nut case, I was back on my way, almost hobbling on one leg. Getting back to the car, I couldn't even lock my left knee out. I still planned on riding. I still didn't appreciate the risk. Riding wasn't actually that bad. Very different muscle dynamic, and it seems what I had damaged doesn't come into play on the bike. It still hurt like hell when bombing down root gardens where I had to suspend myself above the saddle. I was on my 29er hardtail.

When I got home, I was in rough shape. I didn't really know what I did. I've run five milers at much faster paces before. I can only speculate that hard riding, which tightens my hamstrings, and no stretching for over a week, made my back side as tight as a violin string. Then when I ran at a seemingly benign pace, I tweaked an underdeveloped muscle in my calf. It starts behind the knee and wraps around the inside of my calf almost down to the medial side of my heel. It seems to be a muscle used more for stability than one of the primary muscles mapped to the Achilles tendon.

Monday was a complete down day. I could barely walk around work. Today was better, but people would right away ask what I did, so I must still have a pretty noticeable limp. I did go out on my hardtail today for some dirt road repeats. I felt fine mashing high Watts on the bike. No surprise really. My cycling specific muscles should be very well developed.

So yesterday coach Al Lyman posted a timely link on FB about runners not training through pain. The article also notes that 70% of all runners are injured during a calender year. Why do people run again? Oh yeah, something about my bone density. I pushed through a little pain this weekend, and now who knows how long I'll need to lay off running. I suspect I have a muscle tear. Maybe not a major one, but disabling enough. I read these can take six weeks to heal, six weeks of laying low. Running seems very assymetrical. Injuries can randomly blindside you. Cycling seems to be the other way around. You can pummel your body into an overtrained stupor, but overuse injuries are much less common.


Anonymous said...

Hi Doug,

Be careful with your calf. I had the same problem and made the mistake of trying to run without it fully healing, which resulted in a cycle of re-injury. When you think it is better, start back to running very short distances on flat ground and build up mileage very slowly. It may even make sense to walk for a week before you plan on running again.

Good luck!


PatrickCT said...

Doug - isn't that the truth...maintaining running 'homeostasis' in the master's frame seems to require a lot of consistency/continuity - at least for some of us. When I first started reading this report, I thought, uh oh, hope it's not DVT (http://amysproston.blogspot.com/2012/03/plane-pain-diagnosis-dvt.html)...clearly that's not the case...an ongoing dose of key stretching, eccentric heel drops, single leg squats and foam rollers help me around the edges too...

the bully said...

I don't know man. I've totally phased out running at this point and when I run again it will be off road only. Some kind of weight lifting would be better? You make me nervous with the bone density thing. I'll be 38 this year and your story is "the only reason" I started running.

Secret training? Perhaps a secretly planted GPS on Dave's bike could be the solution. I'll keep My eye on him here at Fidelity and let you know.

Any EFTA races planned for you in 2012?

Peter Minde said...

Doug,I'm a trail runner/skier who rides occasionally. I agree with Toby and PatrickCT. Get back into running slow and careful. Keep up your stretching routine. You might want to see about physical therapy to address any muscle imbalances. Good luck going for Mt Washington.
See you back at the Lake Placid Loppet one of these days?


Hill Junkie said...

Patrick - I did wear my compression socks back from Arizona. Sometimes I wonder if things like DVT are overhyped, but it certainly is scary enough. My injury is unlike any I've had.

Bully - I just updated events I'm interested in hitting to the right. Probably won't do everything, as work/life/weather can get in the way. Sounds like Dave wants to try the EFTA Big Ring Rumpus on a singlespeed this year. I'll give it another go on my 29er hardtail.

Peter - I did a number on my calf. Three days out and I'm still babying it heavily. Ok on the bike, but not on foot. No running anytime soon, that's for sure. I believe Lake Placid is still a qualifier for the American Birkie. I need to do the Birkie, and I'll have to hit Lake Placid the season before so I don't end up in the last wave at the Birkie.

Cathy said...

Did I really call you a nut case??? :) I agree with the comment about trail running - as MKR and I have started to ease back into the running, the trails have been more friendly to us than the pavement - oh, except for the headers I've taken ;)

Heal up - it was great to see you out there!

Anonymous said...

I am a cyclist but run in the off season because I hate indoor training. Every time I crank it up to 8 miles + bad things start to happen to my body (like back spasms, pulled muscles and sore joints). I stretch all the time when I run but there seems to be structural limit for me where things just go off the rails. Very frustrating to be able to go long on a bike but not on my feet. Good luck figuring it all out. I want to become a runner but my middle aged, biker body ain't cooperating.


DaveP said...

Re Cathy's comment about headers: So I took a much deserved work break yesterday and went for a run in the Fidelity Trail System. I'm feeling the rhythm, enjoying the solitude of the forest when, BAM!!, next thing I know I faceplant onto some dirt and rocks. It happened very quick, indeed. I reopened my elbow. What do I do now? I did a quick body scan, determined I'd be okay and got back on my feet. I figured little scrapes and dust on my fancy running attire is far less painful then what I might, mentally, have to deal with back at work. Besides, I now had this additional adrenaline charge to put to use, so I finished my 5 mile run. Anyway, it was the most unexepected physical thing that has happened to me in quite some time.

solobreak said...

Sounds very similar to what happened to me in February 2011. If you poke around the net, coolrunning in particular, you'll find suggestions that you're right about it being a tear. And if it's deep, it will take a long time to heal. Not that unusual I don't think. You ramped up your running quickly in lifetime terms, and hills, speed, and running on the forefoot in general stresses the calf. Totally different than cycling and probably skiing where the foot is immobilized by a rigid sole. I'd suggest letting it heal, doing some walking, and very gently reconditioning it when you can run again. On the surface injuries make running look bad, but the 40 years or so of not running is your real problem. It will take a while to re-adapt. Good luck, and forget about Mt W this year.