Of Mania and Achilles Tendinitis.

My right Achilles tendon is fine today, after running 10km yesterday. I mean fine as in no pain, no stiffness in the morning. Based on experience, I wouldn’t go for a run today though… I’ve looked at my training blog (finally some use for it) to try to determine if there’s a pattern before any crisis or pain in my feet and legs, but there’s really no system to it. I had some pain and swelling under the right foot after stepping on a sharp stone a few weeks back, which lasted ten days or so. Seems easy enough to self-diagnose.  Six months ago I  started running much too suddely, and developed a case of Achilles tendinosis, also self diagnosed, I should add. But this round of Achilles pain is a bit of a mystery.

When I started running last spring, I hadn’t run regularly in fifteen years. I had previously had some knee issues, probably aggravated by being slightly overweight at the time, and possibly by those stability Asics I’ve later grown to hate. Can’t remember the model number, unfortunately, or I would warn against them. They must have had at least a 4cm heel, because I kept sliding into the front of the shoe. Enough said, I had some bad experience with running, so I googled running technique and found some entertaining Youtube videos by some dr Silberman, New Jersey, analysing the gait of a runner heel striking vs. forefoot striking. I think I watched it a few times before watching many more videos advocating the same footstrike, so I decided to try it. And the effect was immediate. Already on my fifth run I ran 11 km wich is longer than I had ever run before. So it definitely worked for me.

Then I did something stupid: I got completely manic about running. After only two weeks of running I ran every day, between 4 and 10 km. A few weeks in I would occasionally run twice in a day. I remember reasoning like this: “Kids run all the time, so why should’nt I?” Inevitably something went wrong, and that something was my left Achilles tendon. After that I started taking two days rest between each run, which was painful, mentally, because I would like to run every day. Then I took about two weeks without running, and when I started carefully, the pain was insignificant unless I ran the day after a long run. I managed to finish a half-marathon, partially heel striking, with no discomfort. My left tendon is fine now, but I still try to be careful.

And then it happened again: A week back my right achilles tendon acted up, and it’s now the limiting factor of my running. It seems I still have a hard time in keeping my distances short enough. Simply put I must try not to run more than 4km at the time, which has proved to be my “safe” distance. Because of those first weeks of invincibility it’s hard to accept that I am still a beginner, and that I probably need to ease into it more than most. I weight 82 kilos, which is heavy for a runner, and I’m simply not used to this amount of exercise. It’s important for me to accept that I am still a far way from being a marathoner. Part of the problem is, I seem to enjoy long distance running the most.

I have started thinking about reverting to heel striking in padded shoes, but I don’t want the pain in my knees to return, and, more importantly, it feels weird now that I’m used to forefoot striking. The fact that my left foot is now seemingly healed and strong enough to carry me for long runs, I am optimistic that my right foot will follow, and that if I just keep at it, slowly my legs will get the necessary strength and robustness. It is a trial for my patience though.

About healing of Achilles tendon injury, it can be good to know that while a broken bone usually heals back stronger than before, a tendon is often weakened my old injuries, and can become a lifelong annoyance. With regular exercise it gets stronger, but with overuse it gets weaker. If you are contemplating barefoot/forefoot/minimal/natural running, please don’t go from 0 to 10km immediately like I did, even if it feels good at the time.

I still have the urge to run every day, and I hope that someday I will be able to.

Here’s my game plan:

  • Better warm up.
  • Shorter runs, but maybe more frequent.
  • Never continue after feeling any discomfort.
  • Lose weight.

Sounds easy enough. But there are some Vivobarefoot trail shoes on their way to my door via mail…

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