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.