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Run, Run, as Slow as You Can

Posted Sep 10 2011 12:00am

I can always be caught when I'm running.

February 2009, I tore my gastrocnemius muscle. It was an almost complete tear and I was offered surgery to repair it. I chose to avoid surgery and instead wore a walking boot for 4 months. I went to physical therapy for months and eventually made a full recovery. I've had very little trouble with that leg since then. I ran an 8K race in March of this year, finishing it in 57ish minutes. So, maybe 11 minute miles. Nothing to write home about, but, hey. What can you do.

I remember the sports orthopedist telling me that I'd probably never run fast or long distance again, but I figured that I've done one half marathon and several 8-10k's, so I don't have anything to prove and I was fine with that.

In May, I realized that I'd be in the black belt rotation for the upcoming year. I knew the requirements were tough. 60 push ups, 110 sit ups in 2 minutes, 4 endurance rounds, run 2 miles in less than 17 minutes. That run right there would be my Achilles' heel. I knew that, and so I started running in earnest then. I kept the runs to 1 mile, choosing to focus on cutting the time down. i ran a couple of times a week in May, June, July and August.

I just couldn't do it. Could NOT get that run down below 10 minutes. Every time I tried to run either harder or faster, my calf muscle would cramp up and I'd have to walk. I increased my warm up and stretch before and after. I returned to foam rolling and started using a lacrosse ball.

There's a phrase in that article, The knot remains a knot, laughing in the face of the stretch. Oh, man, truer words were never written.I felt as if I was on the verge of a "charley horse" almost every day. I'd run, and then spend the next two days stretching my leg and rolling and working it out. Lather, rinse, repeat. It reminded me of how I felt in the months before the Great Injury of '09. I remember going for a couple of massages, requesting that extra time be spent on that leg. I remember stretching it over and over and always feeling like I was on the verge of a cramp. 

I drink a lot of water and take calcium/magnesium/potassium to stave off cramps, but I made sure that I was not skimping on those and really tried to focus on correct form. I bought new sneakers, had the running store check my stride, and tried, as best I could, not to obsess. I did worry, though.

Yesterday I returned to the Sports Orthopedist to discuss my right calf muscle. After looking at my leg and listening to my story, he told me that, most likely, the muscle is beginning to separate - if it was attached to the bone to begin with. Partially separated. Most likely aggravated by increased stress and running.

I received a fascinating lesson - really, it totally was, because I had NO idea - on the anatomy and physiology of the leg and how it works when you run. Forgive me if I don't present this correctly, but walking engages the bottom of the foot, and jogging moves up into the achilles. As you full on run, the achilles pulls on the calf muscles for rebound and spring - and that's right where my trouble lies. He likened it to holding a weight in your hand and doing a bicep curl - and then holding it. After a while, that muscle is going to cramp up, and that's what is going on in my leg.

No running. Well, no. No running past a comfort level, and nothing below a ten minute mile. No sprinting. No jumping.

So, how does this work, knowing that I'm in Black Belt rotation?

I had to get a medical waiver.

Part of me is relieved and part of me is pissed off.

I'm relieved because I was afraid I'd mess up my leg badly if I pushed it, and I apparently was on the road to doing so. Tearing that muscle, feeling the pop and the tear, was the worst pain of my life - including having six babies. I NEVER want to do that again. No belt of any rank or color is worth that.

But I'd be a liar if I didn't say that earning a black belt with the medical waiver feels like cheating. Like I'm taking the easy way out, as if I'm not really earning it. And I'm afraid of what people will think, which is totally silly and pointless. I've earned that stupid belt. It's not a gift.

So why do I feel so upset by this?

I feel as if my body has betrayed me.

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