My left achilles tendon 1st starting bothering me about 3 weeks before the Carmel Marathon back in April 2015. It got so bad by marathon week that I nearly had to drop out of my 2nd marathon before ever crossing the starting line. Just 3 days before the race I could barely walk because I had such intense pain in my left achilles and foot, and I honestly believe the only way I was still able to run the marathon pain-free (except for the normal, shrieking pain of hitting the wall several miles before the end of the race and forcing yourself to keep running through the intense muscle spasms) is because I had lots of people pray for God to take away my achilles pain for the marathon. The weeks following the marathon I set PR’s for 5K and 4-miles and did lots of speed-work without any problems with my achilles.
Then I had a rough time running this summer. As I moved from Indiana to Alabama my running became sporadic for a few weeks because of the busyness of the move, and then when I got to Alabama I struggled adjusting to the heat, humidity and hills here. The Monday after we moved into our new house, I decided it was time to get serious about my running again, and even though I was running much slower because of the heat, I was running consistently again. I fell to the temptation to try a running streak, which I have seen others keep up endlessly for months or years, but in doing so I abandoned one of my own running principles that I have always followed: take at least 1 rest day per week. Even when I was marathon training and trying to hit high-mileage goals, I made it a priority to take a rest day, even if it meant running two-a-days or doing extra double-digit workouts throughout the week. This was partially because it is common advice from running coaches, but more-so it was because I felt called as a Christian to take a sabbath both from work and from exercise every week. This principle has served me well, but this summer I overreacted to the fitness I lost during June. Not only were my miles really low for a few weeks, but I quickly gained 20 lbs because I gorged myself with junk food on vacation and kept eating everything in sight even when I wasn’t running very much.
LOSING MY WAY
In my over-reaction I was determined to lose the weight and get my mileage back up quickly, so I started this ill-advised running streak, trying to rebuild my endurance. I kept it up for 5 weeks and 6 days. I ran 41 days in a row and while I was still running slow, my mileage came up quickly, too quickly. I went from barely running for a few weeks to logging the following mileage weeks in succession: 45 miles, 50 miles, 57 miles, 56 miles. This was all through July 2015, the hottest month ever recorded. I started to feel the fatigue of this mileage, which included two half-marathon distance runs and several 10-mile workouts, so I cut back for the next 2 weeks, logging 36 miles and 33 miles. During my cutback weeks, rather than taking it easy to let my body recover a bit, I picked up the intensity and started doing lots of speed-work as I was getting frustrated with how slow my pace was all summer. After 35 days of running, my left achilles started hurting again, and I still ran on it, including speed-work, for 6 more days without a rest day. Then on day 41 of my run streak, I was 5.9 miles into a progressive 10K run, and I was really kicking it hard to finish out the run, when I got a sudden, sharp pain at the bottom of my left calf/top of my achilles tendon. I instantly couldn’t run at all and had to limp home.
I knew I had pushed myself into this preventable injury, and I’ve just been hoping the last few weeks that this go-around with my achilles tendon is not a really serious injury. If I had just taken my weekly running sabbaths and increased my mileage more slowly, instead of jumping into 50-mile weeks in the 100º heat, this achilles injury probably would never have happened. If I had just taken a couple days off when my achilles 1st starting hurting, instead of running hard on it for 6 more days, it probably would have gone away quickly. Yet here I am more than a month later, still trying to get over this overtraining injury. I have had to scrap any fall marathon plans and abandon any hopes of running fast for the near future. I lost my way for a little while, ignored common-running-sense, ignored my wife telling me to take rest days, and ignored early warning signs of overtraining that my body was giving me. Now I am paying the price.
After my 41-day running streak ended in injury, I did not run a mile for 12 days. I biked once and did some hiking on our camping trip to Fall Creek Falls, but I basically took almost 2 weeks off. Then I tried alternating running days with biking, but I still was not running without achilles pain, partially because I was still trying to run fast. It was hard because the temperature had dropped a bit, and my muscles were well-rested from the time-off. Most of my body wanted to run fast again, but the achilles to my running is literally my achilles tendon. Even after a 12-day break, I was running in pain.
ACTIVE RECOVERY WITH MY STATIONARY BIKE
I believe in active recovery from injuries. I always just have to figure out what I can do that does not exacerbate the injury. The answer is almost always the same: my stationary bike (My model is the “Exerpeutic Folding Magnetic Upright Bike with Pulse”). It is probably the best $120 I have ever spent, and for the last 18 months, every time I have had any type of running injury, I have always defaulted back to my trusty stationary bike. It always allows me to get in some quality cardio workouts while also allowing injuries to heal. In fact, during my training for the Carmel Marathon a few months ago, my stationary bike helped me create a new long-run workout routine in which I would do 3 hours 45 minutes of endurance training on long-run days. If I ran for 2:30, I would follow that with 1:15 on the bike. My goal time for the marathon was 3:45, so I was hoping to get my body used to exercising for 3:45 (but without the wear and tear of running a full marathon every Friday). This is what I began to notice from these workouts: when I rode my stationary bike immediately after running 20 miles, my legs felt better and recovered faster than they did when I just ran 20 miles and stopped there for the day. My best training workout ever included a 21-mile run followed by a 21-mile bike-ride, and I felt great afterward, as biking was almost therapeutic.
So as I have been trying to beat this latest achilles tendon injury, my stationary bike has once again been key to my recovery. I have been doing some great biking workouts, which include speed segments, hills segments and endurance long-rides. All of these workouts are without achilles pain. Since running still hurt, I just did bike workouts for about a week. Then a few days ago I tried something new.
RUNNING WITH THE DOG
After lots of stationary-biking for a couple weeks, I was missing being outside. As a stay-at-home dad right now, I already spend enough time inside the house, so I like to get some fresh air when I can. So I started combining stationary biking with walking a couple miles outside. Then 3 days ago I decided to take Lucy (our family dog) with me, as she rarely goes anywhere beyond our backyard fence. Since I was not doing a fast or long workout, it was a good trial “run.” The 1st day with Lucy we did 3.18 miles. We walked the 1st mile and then slow-jogged the next 2.18, all on the grass in the TVA property by my house. I noticed that my achilles tendon area still felt uncomfortable that day, but it did not hurt nearly as badly as it did 3 weeks ago. I biked 27 miles that night, and when I woke up the next morning my legs felt great. Since I was feeling good, I got up that next day and biked another 15 miles 1st thing in the morning, and I felt great. So I decided to take Lucy out again that afternoon. This time we once again stayed mostly on grass and kept it slow. We added a mile from the day before and did 4.14 miles, 1 mile walking and 3.14 miles running. My achilles area felt really good that day.
RULES OF MY RECOVERY
After 2 successful days taking the dog with me, I took Lucy with me yesterday for the 3rd day in a row. I set these strict rules for myself:
Always walk the 1st mile, no matter how good I am feeling before that.
- This warms up my muscles and loosens up my tendons before any serious pounding occurs on my legs.
Always walk any major up-hill sections.
- Even if I am feeling great and have good momentum going, I must not run up big hills. Experts say that one of the worst things you can do with achilles injuries is run hills.
Always keep it really slow.
- Experts also say that speed-work is bad for achilles injuries.
- I normally rarely average over 9:00/mile at any distance, and I try to run as many miles as possible in the 7:00’s, with fast miles in the 6:00’s. However right now my rule is to run as slow as possible, and most of my miles are in the 9:45-10:30 range (slower if I have to walk up a hill).
- No matter how strong I feel or how much energy I have left at the end of the run, I absolutely do not sprint or kick it hard at the end.
Always run on grass wherever possible.
- Unless there is a steep drop-off to the side of the road, I run on the grass instead of the pavement and concrete. Obviously grass is softer than asphalt.
- Avoiding the road altogether is even better, so I just use the road to get to the park or the public TVA land. When Lucy and I get to run in open, grassy areas, I can extend her leash and let her run more freely, and we both enjoy it more that way.
Always have fun.
- I love running, and Lucy appears to love it too (up to a certain distance). I figure we might as well have fun with it! At the park, we have fun weaving between trees and running across dry creeks instead of taking the bridge. All those people on the paved trail look at us like we are crazy, but we enjoy it. For awhile I have been wanting to try trail running, and this experience has me itching to try it even more.
So for the time being, I am running by these 5 rules, and it seems to be working, at least after a few days. Yesterday we followed these rules on our 3rd run together, and Lucy and I went 7.26 miles, more than 3 miles further than the day before. Despite running longer than I have in several weeks, my achilles did not bother me at all! Running with Lucy really helps me to follow my rules too. Since she is not an experienced running-dog, walking the 1st mile and the uphills makes it easier for her. I don’t think she could go much faster than 10:00/mile right now, so it helps me keep my pace slow and not feel tempted to run fast. She’s a dog, so of course she prefers grass to the road, and she helps make things fun because it’s like a new adventure for her.
THE DOG DOES HAVE LIMITS
Yesterday I pushed Lucy to the max. I felt great and pain-free throughout our 7.26 mile run together. I was really enjoying it, and Lucy was too, until she wasn’t anymore. By about 6 miles she was lagging behind more and more, and at times it felt like she was only moving forward because the leash was forcing her to. I should have been a good dog-owner and slowed to a walk at this point, but we kept slow-jogging for a bit longer. Around 6.75 miles when we were running through a field along the water’s edge, Lucy finally just collapsed on the ground. I messaged Jennifer with this picture and caption:
I had to then carry Lucy the last half mile home. Lesson learned: Dogs do have limits, and running 7 miles in the afternoon summer heat is beyond those limits. Obviously I would have felt awful if I ran our family dog to death, but our kids would have been heartbroken and never forgiven me. After we got home it took Lucy an hour before she would sit-up off the floor and do anything but lay there panting, but 2 hours later she was running up and down the stairs and acting pretty normal. Next time I won’t run her more than about 5 miles, and if it is hot outside, I may carry a ziplock bag something so I can get her water at a water fountain. Running with Lucy really is helping my injury recovery, so today I am going to buy her a proper dog harness and hope that she will still run with me after her experience yesterday!