Eccentric calf stretches explained

Image of healthy tendon.

Magnified image of a rat’s tendon.

About  5-12% of runners get Achilles tendinitis (or tendinosis if you are a science nerd) at least once in their lifetime. I’ve had a few rounds of it myself. As a minimalist runner, I’m more susceptible to Achilles pain than to knee- or shin injuries. I’ve never had anything crippling, but at times I’ve been worried about it. There are many different recommended treatments, from ultrasound to stretches to surgery. Many of these are prescribed based on experience, and are not necessarily backed up by science.

Eccentric calf stretches is one treatment has more going for it than a great name. It is also backed by several studies. The eccentric part is that you go down on one foot and up on two. The point is to lower your heels slowly while stretching your quads. In short it’s the opposite of a heel lift. I have never fully understood the theory behind it, so I was happy to find this article:

http://www.runningwritings.com/2011/08/injury-series-eccentric-exercise-and.html

It’s long, but it’s nice to have a bit of background knowledge. Apparently the whole point of eccentric stretches is that you:

  1. Don’t do any sudden or violent movements
  2. Avoid concentric stretches (normal heel lifts)
Keep it eccentric!

Keep it eccentric!

One theory of how it works is this: After overtraining, the tendon’s collagen fibers often grow back a bit messy. Typically, that can lead to a nodule or a weakened tendon. But when you carefully stretch the tendon while using your quad muscles (see image), you only break down the “messy” fibers that go the wrong way. The fibers that go the right way can handle more stretching before breaking, so they will stay intact. If you jump around or do concentric heel raises, you break down the bad tissue and the good, and the condition will heal more slowly.

It’s just a theory, but to me it makes sense. For me, knowing why I’m doing something is the only way to get it done.

Anyway I really recommend the article to all who are experiencing tendon trouble.

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Define rest day:

DHL-stafetten_467491aI was supposed to run a Cooper test today. I dream of running 3000m in 12 min, but anything over 2700 is considered good by the tests standards. The Cooper test has gone out of fashion it seems, but I remember it from my school days, so it could be fun to try it.

I went out with my wife and daughter as pacers (a very professional team), BUT unfortunately there was

  1. A big football game at the stadium (FCK – FC Vestsjælland)
  2. A basketball tournament in the park
  3. Stands and fences put up for the DHL relay race, with 100.000 participants!
  4. Sparta Copenhagen Games at the race track

Everywhere there were crowds of men in athletic shirts drinking, eating kebabs and smoking cigarettes. In short, literally nowhere to go for a run in the whole Østerbro area, if you want avoid traffic lights. So instead we went to the beach. I paced my wife for 5k, and then I ran as fast as I could for 1.3km. I was pretty tired anyway, but managed 1km in 03:50. Which brings me to the subject of rest days:

What people do on rest days is probably as different as day and night. I spent at least three hours standing up and singing on a stage yesterday, which made my legs tired today. Occasionally I have days when I don’t move around much and I feel like it really speeds up recovery. I sometimes envy people who have a “sit down”-job after races and long runs. But then again, some say that to keep moving is the best way to start recovery. At least I try to tell myself that.

Heston Blumenthal’s famous thrice cooked chips

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Deep fried potatoes may not be the healthiest food. My attitude is, that if I’m going to eat something greasy it better taste really good. I’m not going to waste my “junk food quota” on Oreos.

Heston Blumenthal puts his stamp of approval on these chips, and I hate to admit it: All that extra work is worth it. First you boil them, then you deep fry them lightly, and then you deep fry them until brown. I tested some yesterday after the first fry, and the thrice cooked ones are definitely better.

I did it!

ImageI felt like such a baby when I aborted my long run Friday, but in hindsight I’m pretty happy about my decision. It turns out my blister was pretty bad, and I walked funny all weekend. If you see the picture to the left you can see a saw tooth-edge on the insole. I had a bit of skin caught between that stiff insole and the outer liner, so the shoe was basically sawing my skin and then squeezing the blister with a force of my bodyweight times 2. I could blame the shoes, but my feet are so ridiculously wide, hardly any shoes fit me. I think I just need to break them in. To sum it up: The Innov8 Bare-x 150 is a great shoe, apart from the evil saw of Mordor under the ball of the foot.

Today I headed out in a well-tested pair of shoes, but because of the heat, it wasn’t the most comfortable 1h 20min. But thats not important: I made my target! I ran 17km @ 5min/km pace all the way! Around 8km I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to make it. My GPS watch’s battery was dying, and I was a bit discouraged to see what waiting for red lights did to my 1km splits, but it seems I picked up the pace again. I was lucky and found a guy in a triathlon suit who was running at about 4:30 pace, so I made a game out of trying to pass him, slowly but steadily. Without him, I probably wouldn’t have made my goal. It felt pretty good to be able to pick up my pace to around 4:00 so late in the run, around km 15.

As I said, It was a bit too hot today. I never complain about running in the rain, but when the sun is shining and temperature rises above 25°C, my body starts complaining. At one point I was running back and forth on a tiny stretch of tree-shaded path just to avoid direct sunlight. I could  see my pace dropping as soon as I was out in the sun. I’ve also read somewhere that a tech shirts isn’t always the best choice of garment in the heat, unless it’s very breathable. The fact that they keep you dry, also stops the body from cooling down. I’m fuzzy on the physics here, but my long sleeved shirt felt like a bad choice today.

I also saw a young woman bicycling with a cat on her shoulders!?! She was going at pretty high speed while cuddling her cat. How come that cat didn’t stick it’s claws out? Or was she wearing some sort of body armour?

After my run I had to lie down. All in all a pretty good training session, and I’m beginning to think that a 1:45 half marathon is within reach.

New shoe blues

shoes

Looks can be deceptive.

I feel so angry at myself. Today I was supposed to do a 16km tempo run @ 5:00/min, and it went surprisingly well until about 7 km when I got a blister under my right foot. My new shoe was literally pinching my toe with every step. I didn’t feel like running anymore. New shoes and cotton socks on a long run… bad idea. My only excuse is that I very rarely get blisters.

On the other hand I felt good with the pace today. I’ll just call it a tempo run and try again on Monday.

Locating Satellites…

… is what my watch was doing for about ten minutes today. I was happy though, because that meant a good long warm-up before some 2 min intervals. I felt like I put in some good work. Ten days of running in the forest has left me with an appetite for lactic acid. A bit of a routine run today, except for some green new shoes!

They’re called Innov8 Bare-x Lite 150, and they have a bit more cushioning than most of my shoes. I bought them because I came back from my holiday with a new insight that running on roads sort of sucks, and that a bit of rubber under your soles really help. According to some tests, about 10mm of rubber between your sole and the pavement is the most energy efficient shoe. (More efficient than running barefoot or with a 20mm sole, metabolically speaking.) Not that it matters much for a non-competitive runner, but it might be a pointer in the right direction.

Anyway they are really comfy, and they look very outdoorsy. They are my first pair of road-dedicated shoes, and I plan to use them less on gravel and grass than my other shoes. The rubber is harder than normal EVA, so they can probably last a good while, but I’m going to avoid gravel roads with these shoes, as they don’t have any protective, hard rubber under the sole. Which BTW makes them quite light.

Fall is here

After a 20km bike ride in the rain (for transportation), I was pretty frustrated. My 30 minute run in the warm rain felt like a visit to the spa in comparison.

Unless it’s freezing, I really enjoy running in the rain. Less people in the park, free cooling and fresh air.

Tomorrow it’s time for this week’s long run. 16 km in 1:20 is the plan.

New 1km PB

Just like a cheetah, I like to sleep alot.

Just like a cheetah, I like to sleep a lot.

Just snuck out for 20 minutes, jogged around a bit, did some odd looking warm-ups, and then I crushed my 1km record by more than half a minute! 3:21 is what my watch said, but I’ll probably do it again on a track to get it precise, because the watch can be off on such short distances. I ran on an almost flat stretch of pavement. What was fun though, was a familiar burning feeling in my lungs and upper body muscles, which I literally haven’t felt in 15 years. Not very comfortable, but brought back fond memories of beating my classmates in high school. I can’t believe I haven’t pushed my physical boundaries in 15 years! I also can’t understand how I could live without exercise for so long. It’s the best feeling in the world.

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The race track.

One thing that has changed, apart from me getting fitter, is that I have tested some more limits since last time, so I feel more certain that I’m not going to harm myself, that the pain is just pain. I can enjoy it more. Earlier I would feel subconsciously that something was wrong, and slow myself down. I think the interval training has really helped me enjoy the temporary pain of running. It’s also easier to push yourself when you have some energy reserves of course. My 5k goal is anything under 20 min.

IMAG1898I used the NB Minimus Trail shoes for this run, mainly because they’re the lightest I have. They don’t fit me very well, but for anyone with narrower feet they should be a good fit. At this speed I just want as little shoe as possible, and blisters is no issue. I guess you could say these shoes, for me, fit like a narrow racing flat. I can’t believe some guys can run a whole marathon at this pace: I can hardly get my heels down on the ground at 3:21 pace. It’s very close to sprinting.

My goal when I started running was to finish a 10k in 45 minutes, and it seems I can do that as well in the not too distant future. Then I need some new goals.

Lastly, when I say I’m starting to enjoy the pain, I don’t mean like this guy (Very watchable 1 hour video on Marathon des Sables featuring British rowing champion James Cracknell):

Extreme measures

Today I had one of those luxury runs that just feel good everywhere. I ran a 5km tempo run yesterday, so today I decided to postpone intervals to another day and just cruise for half an hour and enjoy looking at people in the park. The rain was pouring down, and in the park, a gigantic outdoor movie screen was being taken down. The audience seemed to take it well, all things considered. Danes are cool that way.

What does this have to do with extreme measures? Not much. But I’ve discovered once again, that not eating sugar can be a bit of a buzzkill. Summer holiday means lots of social eating, and in my family, that means muffins with the coffee, dessert after dinner and a piece of chocolate every now and then. I don’t complain when I’m served white bread, or sauces or dressings with sugar in them. but when I’ served ice cream for the third day in a row, I discretely just eat the fruit and leave the ice cream. My family are all super nice about it (most of them anyway), but it just struck me: is not eating sugar in any way extreme? I really think it shouldn’t be.

 

BTW I’ going to experiment with ice cream made with just milk, eggs, cream, and fruit (No added sugar). I’m going to start with banana, and then try to reduce different kinds of crushed berries and fruits to a concentrated syrup. I’m a bit curious to see how it works out.

Lost in the woods

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This was supposed to be a straight line, but I couldn’t find the path. Around the 6 km mark I was completely lost. The paths were overgrown, wet and full of fallen trees. Actually they might not have been paths at all, and it was getting dark at this time. Creepy feeling, although I was literally just 1km from the road. Thankfully I don’t watch horror movies.

I’ve been visiting my mother in Nøtterøy, Norway, and the forests here remind me why I started running as a kid, (and why I stopped when I moved to the city). It’s like a fairytale. It’s very hilly, and the paths here range from animal paths to dried up rivers, deserted foresting roads and hiking paths. The landscape changes from season to season, and from year to year. No wonder I loved the fantasy genre as a kid: These forests are the perfect background.

For instance, I went horse riding one day, and there were two deer jumping around me in in a big grass field while the sun was setting. Other places are dark and scary, with rock formations that look human made but aren’t, or inaccessible overgrown paths. Copenhagen, where I live, is flat and very densely populated, so I have a built-up need for wilderness.

All in all a great week. I’ve run over 35km, and my legs feel fine. Running on pavement will be a let down after this. Pavement is a trail runner’s treadmill.

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