For those of you following my tales of woe regarding my 5 inch calf tear you’ll know that this week is a pivotal one in my recovery journey. After last weeks 40k total ( a massive week!) the prudent thing to do would be to add 10-15% and aim for a 45-50k week. At all times I should be keeping a lid on pace and just enjoy ‘smelling the roses’ and the fact I’m running at all after such a long lay off. Of course this is probably not going to happen. Those silly ‘add 10%’ a week rules don’t apply to ‘real runners’ like me do they ? Even typing this I know the right thing to do and the wrong thing to do but will almost certainly listen to the little devil on my shoulder encouraging distance over common sense. Will this aggravate the injury ? Of course not, well I hope not. This is the quandary all runners find themselves in and it doesn’t just apply to injury prevention.
Moderation is the key to most running related subjects. Food intake, moderation; injury recovery, moderation; intervals/speed work, moderation, the list goes on. Moderation though is hard for runners as we normally live by not being moderate. An ultra runner who runs 160k races is not moderate, a marathon runner aiming for a sub3 is not moderate, runners who run twice a day every day is not moderate. What we do is not about moderation it is about excess or extremes, so to expect us to become ‘moderate’ is alien to us which is how I justify my ‘BK rules of injury recovery’.
I have my training log for the last 9 years where I have documented every run and kept weekly , monthly and annual totals. This gives me the confidence to examine my recovery distances from previous injuries and using this experience set my own recovery program. This is not limited by an ‘add 10%’ mantra but instead listens to my body and past experiences to set my boundaries. To this end I will aim for a 100k week this week in the, probably futile, attempt to get myself fit enough to run the Perth marathon in 3 weeks with the sub3 bus driven by my friend Ray ‘Smiles’ Lampard. My physio would go bananas if he knew of my devious plan so I hope he doesn’t read this or even find out pre-marathon. (Anyone who knows my physio please keep this to yourself.)
There are glitches in my ‘run sub3 or die trying plan’ of course. The first one, barring the obvious calf breakdown, is my ability to run 42 kilometres at 4min/k average pace when on the weekend I was very happy with a 14k run at 5:18min/k average. Even at this pace I was certainly tested and my previous 9 years of constant running seem to have been dismissed by my body as history and all running parameters reset according to 8 weeks of little or no exercise. Running is a harsh mistress and will beat you down at any given opportunity, recovering from injury is a perfect example of this. Eight weeks ago I was a few days out from the Bunbury Marathon harbouring thoughts of a podium finish and a possible sub 2:40 marathon, now I’m lucky to run 14k at around the 4 hour marathon pace. How did this happen so quickly, how can nine years of running constantly disappear in eight weeks ?
The only bright spot in this sad tale of running woe is the ability to return from ‘whence you came’. As I have mentioned before I follow the ‘recovery is three times longer than the time out injured’ mantra. Given I was out for 6-8 weeks I’m looking at 3 months before I should be back to my pre-injury levels of fitness. No problem, being a young runner (??) I have time on my side……
An article by Sabrina Grotewold from Competitor.com highlights so useful points regarding recovery. Point 4 is all the justification I need in the paragraph below for my BK recovery plan of course…..
Making an intelligent comeback to running after taking time off due to injury requires a gradual approach that some runners might find frustrating, but ask yourself this: Would you rather make slow, pain-free progress toward building a healthy running base, or jump back into running and possibly experience a setback that leads to prolonged pain or re-injury?
Your re-entry to running plan should be formed strategically from the following five factors:
1. The severity of your injury—a stress fracture or injury that required surgery differs vastly from tendonitis.
2. How long you were sidelined from running.
3. Your fitness level prior to getting injured.
4. How many years of experience you have as a runner.
5. Whether you could cross-train during your layoff.
According to DeeAnn Dougherty, a Portland-based physical therapist and RRCA and USATF-certified distance running coach, the worst thing a runner can do post-injury is doing too much too soon—particularly, increasing distance and speed simultaneously. “It’s about being really conservative, always opting for less than more, and avoiding pain. It helps to have a coach or medical professional help with the return to run in order to set parameters.”
Dougherty suggests that runners be able to walk for 30 minutes pain-free before returning to running post-injury. Depending, of course, on the aforementioned five factors, Dougherty’s rules of thumb can be applied: For two weeks off, start back with 50 percent of previous weekly mileage; for four weeks, start back at 30 percent; for six to eight weeks or longer, start with a walk/jog. “After a 10-minute walk to warm up, jog for 100 meters then walk 100m for four laps on a track—jog the straights and walk the curves—followed by a 10-minute walk. Add one lap each time—a max of every other day—for up to eight laps, then gradually increase the running and decrease the walking until you’re running two miles straight.”
In this case, all running is easy and Dougherty recommends straying from hills and any speed work until you’re back to running 75-80 percent of your mileage prior to the injury. San Marcos, Calif.-based Jenn Gill, an RRCA-certified coach, recommends that runners build their base to a consistent 20 miles per week before incorporating any speed elements. “If you can’t run the miles, you can’t run them fast,” she says. “You can probably throw in some strides if you’ve been running pain-free for four weeks, depending on how experienced you are.”
If you feel pain while running during your comeback, stop running. Go back to walking until all pain subsides.
Discovering the root of what caused the injury should also be a priority, as this knowledge can prevent re-injury. “Is it a strength, biomechanics or flexibility issue,” Gill says, “was it a training error, or is it your shoes?”
If you’re mobile during your layoff from running, cross-training on the bike or elliptical, combined with functional strength training, foam rolling and stretching will do wonders for your sanity and fitness level. During your down time, get into a routine that includes a dynamic warm-up, 10-15 minutes of core work and functional strength exercises such as squats, lunges, clams, planks and superman (see sidebar), followed by some yoga poses—the bridge and pigeon pose are great for runners. Building muscular as well as tendon, joint and ligament strength will only help your running form and economy when you resume running. Just make sure to keep up the strength and stretching when you start running again.
“If there’s nothing else you do strength-wise, you have to work your core because it’s your center and that’s where all of your power comes from,” Gill says. “If it’s not strong, when you get tired, your running form will change because your core will collapse.”
I’m currently at that most dangerous time in injury rehabilitation, the stage where you feel totally cured and think about ramping your mileage right back up to what it was pre-injury. Forget all that ‘increase by 10%‘ rubbish, that’s for other people. I’m fixed so I can go right back to 150k a week, trouble free. Probably not the right attitude and you have to be very strong not to listen to the little voice on your shoulder urging you to do more.
To tell you the truth I have been hampered by general fitness, or lack of general fitness. These last 8 weeks of little or no running have sapped my cardio strength, and although expected it is still a sobering feeling when 5min/k average feels like a tempo run ! Yesterday I was chasing a runner who was certainly new to the game but he made me work very hard whereas pre-injury he would have been a blur in my rear view mirror as I exploded past him with ease.
At the physio today we discussed injury prevention and all the formulas for adding distance to your weekly mileage. As my weekly mileage is so small, and has been for months, adding 10% a week would take me months to get to any decent weekly total. There is also a formula, used for football players apparently, where you average out your last 4 weeks and then multiple by 1.5 for your weekly total. Again as my last 4 weeks would average out to virtually zero this formula is also unusable. So what do I do ?
It comes down to common sense and a certain degree of ‘fear of re-injury’. Combine these factors should give you an obtainable mileage without pushing yourself into the ‘death zone’. For me I’ll hit 30k this week if I run the weekend. (I can’t believe I typed that after hitting 200k a week around Christmas and averaging 150k a week pre-injury.) A good total next week would be 50k in my view, maybe a tad higher if I feel good, with at least two days rest. So 5 * 10k looks to be the go for next week. After that I’ll move up to 70-80k and then the following week back into triple figures.
I still have a full racing calendar for the second half of the year and there’s always a marathon around the corner so there really is no need to rush the recovery. Talking of recovery I found this article on the holy grail of recovery drinks, apparently. The good old fashioned chocolate milk. Is this true good to be true ? Not sure but if Sir Mo Farah drinks it after his hard runs then it can’t be all bad. I was a big fan of Brownes Mocha in a previous life and only gave up my one 600ml Brownes Mocha a day in the middle of last year. It was my only real vice but the 38g of sugar made it hard to justify. I did lose some weight after dropping the mocha but my life was darker because of it, the sacrifices we make as runners.
Mo Farrah has a penchant for chocolate milk after races and intense training sessions, but far from being a rare moment when the double Olympic champion strays from his almost monastic nutritional regime, this is actually a vital part of his post-run recovery programme.
The explosion of research in sports science over the past decade has allowed elite athletes to approach every aspect of racing in minute detail in a bid to gain even the smallest of edges. And as unlikely as it sounds, there is a growing belief that a humble bottle of chocolate milk may be the best recovery drink out there: “We now know that chocolate milk has the ideal carbohydrate-to-protein ratio, which your muscles require to replenish glycogen levels,” says Kelly Pritchett of the department of foods and nutrition at the University of Georgia.
The surprisingly revitalising qualities of chocolate milk were only discovered by accident. A scientific study looking at the best beverages for post-exercise rehydration was supposed to pit the finest electrolyte sports drinks on the market against each other. Nine elite cyclists were taken through a series of glycogen-depleting exercises, consuming various recovery drinks in between, while a handful were given just milk as a control to gauge the relative benefits of each drink. But in an unexpected twist, the cyclists on milk outperformed their rivals by a considerable margin.
Initially this was thought to be a fluke, but sports scientists from a variety of different institutions have since repeated the experiment with similar results. Chocolate milk contains a three-to-one ratio of carbohydrate grams to protein grams which appears to enhance glycogen replenishment, as well as far more potassium, calcium and vitamin D than most sports drinks. Crucially, chocolate milk also appears to be naturally tuned to human digestive systems – the dairy-intolerant or allergic clearly notwithstanding – containing exactly the right balance of fast-absorbing proteins such as whey protein (which pumps essential amino acids into the bloodstream promoting muscle growth and repair), and slow-absorbing proteins such as casein (which keeps amino acids in the blood stream many hours later,
In response, the manufacturers of Gatorade and other similar post-exercise thirst quenchers have attempted to copy the optimal carbohydrate-protein ratio found in milk, but even with their upgraded products, they cannot outperform the real thing.
“The key thing is there are still no studies which have found chocolate milk to be inferior, so it’s always either equal or superior to your over-the-counter recovery drinks,” Pritchett says. “And from a cost standpoint, on a weekly basis you’re looking at maybe £7 a week versus up to £24. So it’s more economical.”
While it may appear that the chocolate is only there to make it taste nice, the extra sugar actually plays a key part in ensuring you’re getting the post-exercise recommendations for carbohydrate: an 8oz glass of chocolate milk contains about 30-35g of carbohydrate compared to just 12g in normal milk.
With athletes including Farah constantly seeking ways to push the boundaries, several studies have also investigated whether alternative milks such as almond or soy may prove even more effective recovery beverages. But while it was found neither contains the optimum balance that makes low-fat chocolate milk ideal – with soy lacking the carbohydrate content and almond lacking the requisite amount of protein – this research did reveal that timing is crucial.
“In order to enhance recovery, the key is to get the carbohydrate and protein you need in the first two hours after exercise,” says Pritchett. “We say this is the window of opportunity, as the ability to replace muscle glycogen is boosted during that period when you have increased blood flow going to the muscles. If you wait longer, it could take more time to restore your natural levels.”
Chocolate milk has also been found to be an excellent drink for runners taking part in intense multi-day endurance events. Last September, 52-year-old Tom Denniss, a mathematics researcher from Sydney, broke the world record for a round-the-world run, completing more than 600 consecutive marathons to cover 26,000km in just 622 days. Denniss firmly believes that chocolate milk made a huge difference to his ability to clock up the miles without sustaining injury: “To recover I just sat down at the end of each day, and before the day started, and I’d mix up a litre of chocolate milk,” he said. “I found that was really important for hydration. I had always been a reasonably big milk drinker anyway, but I thought that was just me, just what I liked. It turns out it contains exactly the right sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium electrochemical balance which the body requires for the muscle synapses to fire.”
Denniss’s route took him across five continents through some of the most remote locations on the planet, from the Andes mountain range to the Nullarbor desert, and he admitted that the ready availability of milk proved to be a godsend.
“You can’t be too precious about anything because you never know what you can find. You can’t rely on electrolyte drinks, as those won’t be available when you’re running through the Malyasian jungle.”
Such challenges put a vast calorific demand on the body – studies on Tour De France cyclists show that they need to consume around 7,000-8,000 calories a day to maintain performance levels. Actually eating that amount of food is nigh-on impossible, which makes chocolate milk again ideal.
“Chocolate milk is a very effective recovery beverage especially when doing something like multiple marathons back to back,” Pritchett confirms. “You’re not going to be able to recover if you can’t get in the carbs and the protein, and the nice thing about it is that it’s convenient and it’s an easy way to get something in if you find you don’t want to eat after exercise.”
My first hit out on Saturday night was a 3k run where it felt I was running around the 4min/k pace which turned out a tad slower according to my Garmin. (see below) 5:45min/k average which would please my physiotherapist but did nothing for my state of mind. How can a pace so far off what I’m use to seem so hard ? Where has the last 9 years of constant running fitness disappeared to ?
Sticking to my plan I ran 4k today and again suffered the ‘post injury’ pace curse that makes 5min/k pace feel like a tempo run. No worries, I knew this was coming and it’s just good to be ‘out there’ running again, at any pace. I have the City to Surf Marathon in August and to be ready for this I need complete recovery, this entails ‘small steps for big gains’. Patience , when it comes to injury recovery, really is a virtue. Rush a recovery and you’ re only heading back down the same path, muscles need time to recover and there really is no shortcut. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt running so slow and feeling exhausted at the end but you need to keep in mind your pace will return with your cardio fitness.
Personally I feel the best way to look at recovery is something that everybody needs to do at sometime in their career and it really is all about taking it slow to make sure the recovery is as good as it can be. On the bright side your fitness does return quite quickly but more importantly it just feels so good to be out there running, pace is secondary. My two runs this week have been so satisfying as my calf feels good and I know it is well on the way to a full recovery. If I can adhere to my plan I’m sure my physiotherapist will give me the green light, and after a brief discussion about injury prevention, I’ll be let loose back into the world of double up days and massive weekly distances, heaven to me. It’s then be on for a big City to Surf Marathon, Rottnest Marathon , 6 Inch Ultra Marathon and the Australian Age Group 100k record at the ADU in January. Plenty of things to keep me motivated but first things first I have to rest before my big 4k Wednesday, baby steps…..
Well its been over 6 weeks since I tore my calf muscle at the Bridges 10k warm down and stopped running. I’ve had a lot of people ask me how I’ve been coping and they can’t believe I could go from running twice a day , everyday, to nothing and not start climbing the wall. Well I’m happy to report (I think?) that I’ve handled not running very well, maybe too well.
Initially , as per my earlier post on the 5 stages of injury, I was in denial but seeing the ultrasound of the 5cm tear left me in no doubt I needed complete rest which would help me towards complete recovery. I have embraced this complete rest rather well truth be told and now enter my third week of no exercise at all. Of course there has been the obligatory weight gain and I hit the scales 3kg heavier than when I injured myself six weeks ago. Happy enough with that as I’m also using this time as ‘down time’ and letting my hair down. (in the literal sense only of course, I do miss my hair ? ) . I even treated myself to two glasses of wine over this six week period which for me is a lot. (my normal annual intake is about 4 glasses.)
So when do I start running ? This is the million dollar question. A calf tear of my magnitude would normally be a 6-8 week recovery period , minimum. ( Why do health professionals give you recovery windows ? All runners when told the recovery period is 6-8 weeks only really hear 6 weeks. They then take a week off because they are better than everybody else and then another week because health professionals are overly cautious. This brings it down to 4 weeks. Factor in the ‘ my injury is probably not that bad’ and you can justify another week, so we’re moving towards 3 weeks. Finally add in a bit of ‘ my muscle is probably stronger than most and also recovers better’ and we’ve turned a 6-8 week recovery window to 2 weeks max. ?) I have been very cautious with this calf injury as I cannot afford to keep tearing the calf and continually reinjuring myself, as is a common theme with calf tears. Being on the wrong side of 50 I need to make sure when I return I come back 100% so I can try and recapture some of that lost fitness. I must admit a part of me is holding back because I am worried about breaking down again. This is the first time I have had this worry and I’m putting it down to having such a good 2016, and start of 2017, and worrying I may never get back to that level of fitness as Father Time tried to ‘drag me back to the pack.’ I have also picked up a slight hamstring ‘niggle’ walking the dogs and this has also got me concerned as I know I may compensate for this when I start back running and do more damage.
Am I actually making excuses for not running ? This is the worry. Am I too worried about starting back and finding I cannot reach the same targets I set and achieved earlier in the year? This may be the real reason I have been ok with not running. Of course you also need to factor in I’ve moved house and brought two golden retriever puppies since my injury, so I’ve had other things on my mind. These ‘distractions’ will become less of an issue over the next few weeks so maybe that will help me realign my focus back to where it needs to be. ? On the flipside of this argument is the change in attitude needed for me to embrace this calf tear as ‘a setback and another challenge to be overcome’. Can I get back to where I was pre-injury and even get better , with the added rest helping reinvigorate my tiring muscles.? I was due a rest, I must admit but was not expecting it to because of a calf tear.
The right mental approach will be paramount for the success or failure of my return. I need to start slow and just start racking up ‘time on legs’ , distance fist and then add pace, rule no1 of my golden rules of running. It doesn’t matter how fast the pace is really, it is just time on feet and not doing any damage to the calf. To this end it will be grass running only initially, probably with two golden retriever puppies snapping at my heels . ( A recipe for disaster?) First sign of any calf problems and I will stop of course and reevaluate the next stage.
There is a stretch goal that is always in the back of my mind and the complete wrong thing to do, probably undoing all my good work. The Perth Marathon is on the 18th June. If I was to start running again tomorrow I would have a month to get into sub3 form and run with the boys. Currently Mark C., Mark L., Mike and Jon are all looking to run sub3 and it would be good to run with them on the sub bus (to be driven by my mate Ray , on my left in the photo below of the bridges presentations.) Can I do it ? If the calf holds up I think I can but there is no margin for error, even a few days setback will scupper the plan but there is a small chance if….
Of course this is completely the wrong thing to do. I should rest a few more weeks and then take it very easy for a month before looking to the Rottnest marathon in October. Even miss the City to Surf marathon in August (a race where I am one of only 20 people to complete all 8 previous marathons.) This is my physio’s approach but what do they know ? Even typing this I could be in trouble if he reads my blog.
I always said I’d need a full month for Perth and a sub3 ( to continue my sub3 streak which currently sits on 25 in a row) so tomorrow is ‘d-day’. I will try and run 6-8k on grass and then if that goes ok build up slowly. I’ll know pretty quickly as the last two previous runs I broke down at 4k both times. I have rested for 3 weeks since so I should be ok for this distance. If not, no worries, there’s always another marathon in the calendar and all this extra weight will keep me warm as we move into winter.