I am embarrassed to admit this, but I have been dealing with yet another running injury. As with most of my self-induced damage, the culprit is the simple wear and tear of overdoing a good thing.
I should know better. When something starts to hurt, the smart runner backs down. Unfortunately, I am not always as smart as I’d like to be. My Achilles heel, if you will, when it comes to overuse injuries is my well-oiled routine. While a solid exercise routine is usually an asset, I am such a creature of habit that it takes an awfully loud signal for me to question whether a scheduled run is a good idea.
This latest injury is an oddball pain on the lower right side of my right calf muscle. I noticed it at the end of a Thursday morning run and then again midway through a run Sunday morning. Then lo and behold, it flared up again with 3 miles to go that next Tuesday morning. By the time I ran back to my car, I had regrettably crossed the line into sports injury world. I wonder if I will ever learn to master the delicate balance between ignoring discomfort and heeding my body’s communication signals.
One thing I have learned is how to launch an injury recovery operation.
Step 1 is recon: What did I do to cause this injury? The usual suspects: sudden increase in mileage (no), too many steps in high-heeled shoes (yes), back-to-back running days (no), a new activity (no), new athletic shoes (yes—I started wearing a new cleated shoe to spin class), muscle weakness (perhaps).
For good measure, I adopt intervention tactics on all fronts — I stop running, park all shoes with heels or cleats in the back of my closet, reprioritize strength-training exercises and double down on swimming and water jogging.
Step 2 is rest and ice. I take a TBD rest period from running (and anything else that irritates the injured area) and apply ice packs frequently. I find myself in this boat so often that I now keep ice packs in my freezer at home as well as in the breakroom freezer at work.
Step 3 is therapy. Different injuries require different therapies, but massage is a generally accepted recovery tool. Targeted massage can loosen muscles and increase blood flow to damaged tissues. When the tenderness of a new injury simmers down, usually within two to three days, I aim to massage the area for a few minutes several times a day.
Step 4 is test, rest, repeat. When the pain is completely gone, it is time for a test run. My general MO is to run one half mile. If that goes well, I will wait two days and then run 1 mile. Then wait a few days and run 1.5 miles, and so on. This morning I finished a 4.5-mile route around Cottonwood Park pain free. Though I have been down this road many times before, literally, the joy I felt on the home stretch, sensing the injury is all but gone, transformed me from a sleep-deprived curmudgeon to a grateful optimist ready to tackle the day.
With a delayed start to summer looming, the outdoor enthusiast in many of us will be tempted to overdo those warm-weather activities we miss and love— hiking, inline skating, softball, outdoor tennis and pickle ball, cycling, sand volleyball, water skiing. The smart ones will listen to the body’s cues and masterfully execute the moderation required to enjoy many months of play. Here’s hoping you and I are among them.