Tuesday, June 12, 2012


My left calf exploded again. Literally, just running along, at conversation pace. This happened to me back in March without warning. Dave and I were half way out on an eight mile loop at lunch today when something popped in my left calf. It was so violent, I nearly hit the ground. Dave thought I got stung by a bee or something. Felt like an arrow right through the meaty part of the calf.  I told Dave to keep going. I though maybe I could walk it out, but didn't realize how bad my calf was wrecked initially. I did not have my cell phone with me. It was a very long four mile hobble back to the office.

When this happened in March, it took a week for my calf to come around. And that was laying low. In four days, I'm supposed to run up Mt Washington. That was to be my capstone event for the summer. Now I'm out just like that. My calf is worse off than last time, and I don't want to provoke a season ending injury.

What is it about running? This random bullshit does not happen on the bike. Now I have to figure out why this recurs and try to prevent it from happening again. The more I learn about running, the more I'm convinced it is all about injury management, not really about enjoying exercise or training. It seems something is always getting broke and needs fixing and then constant preventative maintenance. I suspect at some point, long-time runners have a huge preventative maintenance check list. This does not sound like fun to me.

There is an eery similarity of training stress leading up to both the March and June calf blow-ups. These are:
  1. Week or more of little to no running prior to injury
  2. Huge off-road hike-a-bikes in carbon soled shoes in days prior to injury
  3. First run after the light week produced unusual left calf pain and I ran through it
  4. Injury occurred on second run after light week, with no discomfort before hand
  5. Injury occurred 3-4 miles into easy run on flat terrain with no warning
My left and right legs are not the same since my ankle fracture in 2010. When I first began physical therapy, my left calf was 50% smaller than my right, and I had no dorsiflexion whatsoever (where calf muscle elongates). Thus the need for many weeks of PT. Running has brought back more of my range of motion, but my left ankle still lags right by a few degrees. I believe the range limiter is from my left calf muscle being shorter than my right.

My medial gastrocnemius muscle is extremely tender.
No bleeding evidence visible.

If I continue running long term, I must figure this out. I thought I did a pretty good job stretching my calves. But maybe not. Did the huge hike-a-bike stress on Sunday (all toe push-off with heavy mountain bike) make my calves tight? Can muscle fibers get weakened with no sensation that something is about to pop? Did I take too much time off from running prior to each injury, maybe letting my calves tighten up? Who knows.

I've read calf injuries are far more prevalent in weekend warrior type athletes. My running could almost be classified as such. Perhaps on extended periods where I don't have planned training runs, I at least need to go out for an easy 2-3 miles. Maybe I need to stretch my calves before I run (I usually avoid stretching before I'm warmed up).

So here I am, trying to divine what went wrong on a hopelessly incomplete data set. This is probably no different than ancient mystic explaining how Earth, wind and fire worked.  Not very happy right now. This might not seriously impact riding, but I can barely walk right now, let alone run.


Alec Petro said...


I have run alot....7 marathons and more road races and triathlons than I can count. I guarantee Ive had more calf injuries than you have had. Ive run competitively since I was 12 and in the past 2 years because of serious calf injuries similar to yours Ive decided to mostly stop running, ESPECIALLY up hill where the strain on the calf is greatest. If you must run, you should think about running with heel lifts 3/8-1/2" high in both sneakers...this definately decreases the strain on the Achilles/Calf. But it only gets worse if you are prone to these injuries....like you said- those injuries just dont happen when riding. Hope you recover soon. Alec

PatrickCT said...

Doug - sorry to hear about your latest calf challenges. Your outline of the 'recipe' leading up to the event makes sense...I'm your age and ride, x-country ski and run a bunch -- 2 items have minimized running injuries for me: 1) consistency/frequency with slow mileage increases and 2) active lower leg strengthening (e.g eccentric heel drops [stave off achilles issues, PF and seem to solidify the calves], some concentric calf work and single leg squats). Hope the recovery is quick. Patrick

Peter Minde said...

Doug, I primarily run, xc ski, roller ski. I agree with Patrick above about the strength exercises. And I'm wondering if you gave yourself enough time to recover from the Cannon Mt race.

I don't recall if you do strength training. If you're not doing it now, it's something to consider. Lastly, how good is your physical therapist? There are PTs who just go through the motions and there are PTs who are really good. I've had more than my share of PT.

Get well soon. See you at the LP Loppet?

DaveP said...

Probably pushing your bike up at a very steep angle would make for an awkward unnatural position with your body too, I would think.

Who knows, maybe I'm out too, as my son has a cold, my wife is just getting one.....that leaves me next in line. Boo.

solobreak said...

Running is definitely about injury management. Especially for long time cyclists like us whose "fitness" greatly exceeds our running. As I blabbed here before, we underestimate the amount of time our bodies will take to adapt to running. Most runners learn the hard way I suspect. Once the injury cycle begins, it's much harder to get out of it. You probably have a tear that developed the last time. It healed, but not completely. Now it tore again. I hope I'm wrong. But I'd suggest (again!) that you pussify your run training for many months or YEARS to give your calves and feet a chance to catch up to the rest of your body.

After 7 years of trying to avoid injuries, I haven't run in 6 months. Now my riding is going so well that I'm afraid to start running again. But I will.

The good news is that I guarantee if you stop running for a month, you'll be absolutely flying on the bike.

Where is the party this weekend?

Rob Hult said...

I am not a physio expert, but my instinct says that pushing your bike up a 30% grade for several miles in carbon cycling shoes is what did you in. I personally have more problems with my running if it does not make up at least 30% of my weekly training. You need some RICE to recover.

Alex said...

Oh man, BUMMER! I was looking forward to getting crushed by you this weekend. I second what everyone else said, pretty much about everything.

Those eccentric heel drops work wonders for any calf/achilles issues. I do a lot of core/hip/mobility/stability work, primarily because I'm a skier, but also because it does help to prevent running injuries. I found the most surefire way to stay uninjured (relatively speaking) was to keep my mileage super consistent, and completely baby myself when increasing miles. Like you, I have way more fitness than is good for me, so could really easily overdo it. I kept running ~10mi/wk all winter, and that made a huge difference come spring. Junk miles aren't actually all that junky in running, turns out.

Also related to body-maintenance, I use the stick religiously on my calves, and that seems to have really helped with knots and strains.

Heal up fast, hilljunkie!

Anonymous said...

Solobreak's comment is dead on and exactly what I wanted to say.

Your overall fitness far exceeds your legs running capabilities. Your aerobic fitness is high enough that you can go out for a run and have the endurance capacity to run until you cripple your legs.

As a skier and biker I am in the very same position.

You say you are running 2-3 hours per week. Think of the lengths and speed you are running at. 8 mile runs, sub 8 minute miles. Now imagine someone with no carryover fitness who started running at the same time as you. Do you think they'd be able to run the same distance, speed, and time as you do? NO WAY!

Without carryover fitness a new entrant to running has an aerobic fitness level that matches their legs running abilities. So they tend to get tired before they can cause damage to their legs. With decades of carryover fitness, your aerobic engine is many many times more capable then your lower legs running preparedness. The result--your body feels great while ticking over the miles...but your lower legs are being destroyed because they aren't ready for it yet.

I've been trying to figure out a solution to this myself for over 10years. Still haven't found one yet.

DaveP said...

Cycling does not increase bone density. Since running is out, I guess it is time to lift weights. Yeah, baby!

Hey! What about doing Washington on crutches?

Fat Doug on Crutches

Anonymous said...

its pretty obvious that your calf does not have the range to allow you to run up hill for any prolonged period of time. you need to work on increasing the range of your dorsiflexion. Until you do so you'll suffer the same fate. Stretch your calf - increase the strength of your dorsiflexors.
That said I'll just say I've read combat reports that were less dramatic then your ride reports.