This photo was from this past September when I competed in Melissa’s 10k road race in Banff, but this story is about a mistake one day that almost cost me both this race and a summer…
I have done Melissa’s 10k road race, or the 21k version of it, several times in the past. It has served as my motivation to get out and train for a long time now and a challenge I look forward to. This past year started out great as I began running in earnest when the snow finally left for good. Seeing as I had not run as much as in previous years, it was a test in physical and mental stamina to get myself to where I wanted to be.
This smooth start all changed one week in late June when I increased my distance too drastically and began to get Achilles tendon trouble that would not only limit my ability to run but make walking difficult. At this point, everybody probably thinks I should have known better, and they are 100% right. I like to think you are not defined by the mistakes you make but what you do after you make them.
To make a long story short, I could have just shut myself down, but that wasn’t an option since even though this was about personal achievement, there was indeed some form of bragging rights on the line given the group of guys I was going to the race with. I had to get there even if it meant having an excuse for poor performance in my back pocket at race time.
I treated myself the best I could – I used ultrasound, stretched my calf, did my own IMS (which is a treat), worked on an eccentric loading program to strengthen the tendon itself, taped, and iced. I learned firsthand how effective K-Tape is when I always admittedly had my doubts. Took more anti-inflammatory medication than I would like, with questionable results. All of that was the easy part; the real challenge was to try to keep running through it without setting myself back.
I had to choose my terrain carefully and stay flat or downhill whenever I could. I had to be careful to give myself enough recovery time. I could not cheat on my cool down and post-training stretching or I was set back.
I did a lot of walking stairs focusing on my mechanics and trying to “sneak up the stairs” if you can hear your feet jamming into the stair you are decelerating too much and it will be an issue… I did this at the Grandview stairs and would do 7-10 repetitions of the whole 237 stairs. When I was on holidays, I did the same thing in the stairwells of the hotels I stayed in. As the race neared and I was able to run more, I made sure my stride was shortened and tried to get my stride rate close to 180 per minute, if I couldn’t maintain a normal stride and began to favour my leg I quit and walked.
I finally ran 10k 12 days prior to the race, this was a modified 10k though, I walked up the Grandville stairs then ran downhill for the 1.5 k distance path along Fox drive would take me to the bottom and walked back up, and made this trip seven times to get my distance in.
Race day was not ideal as it was 0 degrees and snowing at race time, grounds were muddy, and skies were not welcoming. Even with these poor conditions, me, my green K-taped Achilles and wet feet crossed the finish line in just over 54 minutes, which given I could not train how I wanted to wasn’t bad at all. I had made a deal with myself that I would walk hills and save my Achilles even if it cost me time. This strategy worked well as I was able to finish and was able to walk afterwards and enjoy my day. Following a week off post-race, I started back on my program.
Lessons to be learned here are:
Try to keep some degree of consistency in off season times.
Be careful in the transition from indoor to outdoor running, the treadmill and trails are completely different, and you need to ease in more gradually than you think.
Don’t increase your time, speed, or distance too drastically ever– some sources say a 10% increase in a week is as high as you should go at any time. DON’T increase more than one variable at a time!
Listen to your body and don’t push through pain as you will pay for it, potentially for a long time. Get help if rest alone doesn’t resolve the issue.
Recovery takes work and discipline.Use alternative measures to train when you need to – you can still try to simulate what you are training for without irritating the problem. One of the worst things you can do is be “all or nothing.” Use the pool, stairs, bike, etc. to help you keep working.
Everyone should be aware of what their stride rate is. Take 30 seconds in the first couple of kilometres of your run and count the steps on one leg, multiply that by four and you will get your steps in one minute. Hopefully, you will be around 180 if you are under you need to shorten your stride just 10% without slowing your ground speed. This will reduce your impact stresses and the amount of deceleration and acceleration that happens with every step. You should do this in the middle of your run and in the last couple kilometres as well. As we get tired we tend to open up our stride and our rate declines, this is stressing knees and hips and ankles etc. Ideally, you should have a slightly higher rate in the middle and the end than the beginning.
Don’t forget your cool down; there is always time.