Yep. A few days after I write a blog entry about overcoming a year-long plantar fascia injury, and the day after I make my first appearance at a track training; I bump into the leg of the couch and (presumably) break my pinky toe on the right foot. So far, the prognosis is from 2 to 4 weeks of forced (running) break. The good part about injuring myself straight after another injury is that I can’t really lose much fitness.
On July 1st 2018, I ran my first 42k race, Marathon du Mont-Blanc. At the end of the same month, I also ran the 32km Saarschleifen Run. But somewhere in between on a training run, I jumped over a small stream and landed on the embankment with only the forefoot of my left leg.
Well. That didn’t last long. Posted a “daily training log” on the 19th, and promptly fell ill and didn’t do any training for the next few days. Would have preferred to take a sick day or two and recover at home, but forced myself to go to work because we’re short-staffed and there was plenty of work to do.
I did continue treatment on my left achilles, with another laser treatment (the third so far) on Monday 21st. I haven’t yet reached a conclusion whether these treatments help or not – there’s so many variables at play and the injury has been plaguing me for so long already that it’s hard to say exactly what is helping and what is not.
On Thursday, I headed to my club’s usual Thursday training, but instead of joining the group for the usual early fall routine (of easing back into winter training), I merely did laps on the grass. I did a total of 3.8km in a little under 25 minutes, with a break in the middle for some stretching. Afterwards, the Achilles didn’t feel all that pleasant, but once again it is difficult to know for sure whether this is still ongoing pain from the injury, or just an adverse reaction to the stress of running after almost two months off. One would mandate more of a break or maybe even more invasive measures (an operation), the other can be ignored, more or less.
I really like reading other people’s daily training logs. George Zack for example has been blogging about training and various races in Colorado and elsewhere for years, and it’s always motivating to see consistency not just in training and racing, but also in documenting it all.
One of the big reasons I’ve always been reluctant to blog daily training updates is that I am not a very consistent athlete. Back in 1998, before the format of “blogs” was popular, I was training almost every day and competing often; but all of that vanished in the early 2000s after a major Achilles injury. Back then it didn’t even occur to me to write about my training or the competitions I ran – in the infancy of all things internet, there wouldn’t have been much of an audience. I don’t have an audience now either, of course.
The same Achilles tendon is plaguing me again in 2015, so for the time being I can’t even have firm goals or post about them for fear of having the rug pulled out from under my feet. But still, maybe there is value in posting about little accomplishments; and maybe I’ll look back at this later and wish I’d documented more.
As for training today, the sports doctor had suggested I tentatively restart some easy jogging. A month ago, we’d already discussed that option, but back then it turned out to be too soon. Of course a month ago I’d gone running (partly) on trails, with some elevation gain; and I’d started with a whole 30 minutes.
So this time around, I scaled things down to the bare essentials: 20 minutes at 6:30min/km pace, on a flat and smooth running track. Afterwards, I did some stretching (feeling very much that I’d lost some more mobility over the past few months) and drove home. Throughout the rest of the afternoon and evening, I could feel the calf muscles tensing up and there was a noticeable pull in the Achilles tendons on both feet. This doesn’t bode well.
The injury on my left Achilles tendon continued to heavily influence all my sports activities in August. I had another two doctor visits and two physiotherapy appointments. Unfortunately, a limited test to return to running (as prescribed by the doctor) proved to be a little premature. The good news is that the inflammation is mostly gone. The bad news is that the Achilles is still not pain-free, there’s still less range of motion on the ankle (that I can’t seem to improve without adding to the pain, either) and adding any kind of intensity in running would probably quickly worsen my condition again at this point.
Track training: None. I didn’t even see a track during all of August.
Road&Trail Running: After a doctor visit on August 4th, I was supposed to slowly start running again. The idea was to gradually get the Achilles used to running again now that the inflammation was gone. Unfortunately, both test runs that I did (on August 8th and 11th) proved to induce too much pain even though they were slow (>6:30 min/km) and short (<30min). So the rest of the month I once again spent not running. 1h, 8km, 147m elevation.
Walking: 70km. Most of the month, I hovered at an average of around 3km each day, but with quite a few days off as well. On the last two days of the month, on vacation in Austria, I did some limited hiking (11km and 7km) which went OK. Two thirds of the elevation covered during the month was actually during these two days. 16h21, 70km, 2304m elevation.
Cycling: Here, the month went quite well. I did 12 outings, from around 50 minutes to almost 2 hours in length. Some sessions were on the road, others in the forest. My longest ride was on August 1st, when I did 51km. In the Alps, I finished off the month with a 750m elevation climb on a crappy rental bike that showed me how much I still need to improve in the saddle (and how much better it is to ride a decent bike than a crappy free hotel rental). 15h31, 297km, 4243m elevation gain.
Total time outside: 33h
Average body weight: 82.86kg. Body fat 15.28%. Major jump up both in weight (almost 2kg) and body fat (almost 1%). Didn’t eat healthy at all, and the cycling probably burns less calories than running would.
My left achilles tendon has been the biggest source of trouble in my entire athletics career, and by early July I was once again at a decisive point as far as the severety of the injury was concerned. There was a lot of inflammation around my left heel, and even just walking around hurt my foot. This was obviously the direct consequence of climbing 4000m of elevation over the course of 4 days in Chamonix in late June; but in general the previous months had seen a gradual worsening of the situation even though I’d already decreased my training volume and intensity.
Thankfully, I had already made an appointment with a doctor specializing in sports medicine; who on July 7th diagnosed a Haglund’s deformity. We initially agreed that I would try to maintain a certain level of training volume, so I still did a couple of runs in the easy 5-6km range throughout the next week; but these runs merely confirmed that the achilles definitely wasn’t going to get better if I kept subjecting it to impact forces. My last running activity for July was on the 16th, a simple 2km warm-up that was quite painful.
On my second appointment on July 24th, we decided instead that as long as the achilles didn’t improve, I’d keep not running; which of course meant that I would not be able to compete at the Red Bull 400 in late August.
Obviously, all of this had quite an impact on the type and quality of trainings I was able to do all throughout July:
Track trainings: Only 3 track trainings. Did warm-up, jumps and stretching on July 2nd, then regressed to merely doing a warm-up and stretching on July 14th and July 16th; and finally stopped going altogether to make sure I didn’t succumb to the temptation to run even after the start of my running break.
Road&Trail Running: Only 3 short sessions on mixed surface; which all confirmed that even just a 5-6km run was too much for the achilles in its current state. 18km, 2h12, 549m elevation.
Walking: 46km. Lower than previous months, which is both due to the achilles, as well as the high temperatures in July that made me less likely to go on my typical 1-hour lunch break walks. 11h09, 46km, 991m elevation
Cycling: I was planning to do quite a bit more cycling on the MTB to compensate for the lack of running; but I still only ended up with 7 sessions. Furthermore, I spent more time on the road than I did on the trails, with 4 road sessions and just 3 trail sessions. Still, I managed to spend more time on the saddle than ever before, so at least there’s that. 7h40, 184km, 1742m elevation
Total time outside: 25h
Average body weight: 81.03kg. Body fat 14.43%. Needless to say that a decrease in training volume had a negative impact on my body composition. I also didn’t do well as far as healthy eating was concerned. Gained 1.3kg on the monthly average, and went up almost 1% in body fat.
It was 4am on Sunday morning, and I couldn’t sleep. Since I wasn’t exactly feeling full of energy, I sat down in front of the computer and continued the mindless task of manually importing some of my old activity logs from Garmin Connect into Strava. In between cursing at my old Garmin 405 for having less than stellar GPS accuracy in those 2010 and 2011 activities; I realized something I’d almost forgotten: I had absolutely no endurance in 2010, and in between 2010 and 2012 I was doing quite a lot of walking before I was able to successfully do my first long distance runs of 10km and more. Which means that both my half-marathon as well as my decent sprint achievements in 2013 were built on a reasonable base of long, slow movement that gradually built up my body to withstand both the continued pounding of a long race as well as the aggressive acceleration in a sprint competition.
So here I am in 2014. I’ve been plagued by injuries because my expectations were exceeding my fitness, and my upper limit for endurance runs seems to be down below the 10km level again. While I sometimes like to pretend otherwise, 37 is starting to feel quite old in terms of athletics and sprinting.
And yet, I am doing very little walking these days. I haven’t even been doing proper long runs anymore; because my renewed interest in mountains and hills led me to concentrate on hard workouts that were probably way outside of my current fitness level. 2014 was very much split between high intensity and injury breaks.
So on Sunday afternoon, I set out to do a reasonable hike in the forest. I walked 12km, and it was a nice feeling to move at a comfortable level of exhaustion. I wasn’t beat up, and my achilles tendon wasn’t in pain.
All throughout the hike, my thoughts kept revolving around the the single word “reset”, and what implications such a “reset” would have on my athletic pursuits. What if I have been digging myself into a hole by chasing goals that are serious enough to require hard training efforts; while at the same time I’ve been compromising my base fitness by not doing enough groundwork? The proverb says that “we must learn to walk before we can run”. Maybe I have been doing too much running and not enough walking.
I had my final physical therapy session yesterday. I received two treatments per week, eight in total. While both the doctor and my physical therapist didn’t explicitly tell me to stop running, I dialed down both the number and intensity of physical activity over the past month. Part of that was a precaution – no use subjecting the achilles tendon to additional strain while it’s also getting treatment to hopefully improve it; but part was because I never felt too good about doing more, anyway. Some days the weather was crappy, other days I still had some lingering soreness in the areas around the achilles tendon. Most days, regardless of activity level, I felt tired and burned out; which means that despite my best intentions I did almost no cross training (weight training, indoor biking, etc.)
Overall, I think the achilles tendon is better now than it was a month ago. Unfortunately, it’s not perfect yet. I have an MRI lined up, but unfortunately the earliest I could get an appointment is two months from now. Which leaves me between a rock and a hard place: I could be cautious and stop most if not all running until the MRI (and lose a lot of fitness, which could lead to trouble down the line because then I’d need to be really careful when eventually ramping up my training from a standstill). Or I could throw caution to the wind, continue training with some lingering pain, and potentially either worsen the condition of the achilles tendon, get another partial tear (like in 2000), or worse. No matter which route I choose, two months from now I might look back and wish I’d chosen the other one: if I stop all training and then the MRI shows that there’s nothing fundamentally wrong I’ll be just as unhappy with having wasted two months than if I keep running and worsen the injury.
I suppose I could also just cut my losses, toss my running shoes, bury my ambitions, and adopt a sedentary lifestyle. Somehow, I don’t think I’d be happy with that.
So where do I go from here? I guess that for the remainder of the year and heading into 2015 I will try to maintain a reasonable volume of exercise. This should include both relaxed (long) runs to build my overall endurance and heart/lung capacity; but also high intensity sessions that better approximate the level of strain I’d have to endure during races or other challenging goals. At the same time, there’s definitely room for improvement in regular maintenance: strengthening my core muscles, working on my running form, doing preventive maintenance on hot spots (weak spots in muscles), etc.
I started track&field in 1987, and specialized in sprints more than twenty years ago. After my semi-official retirement in early 2006 followed some years where I didn’t compete at all (2006-2008, 2010). In the past few years, I occasionally came out of retirement, but most of my recent performances have hardly been something for the record books. Sprinting (and training for it) has been a large influence in my life; and continues to be something I feel passionate about. However, over the course of the last few months I’ve had no track training that was without pain in my left achilles; and increasingly it’s becoming a pattern that if I do a sprint training one evening, I can’t run or even walk without a limp the next day. This is neither enjoyable nor healthy. Just like in 2006 when I put a stop to my athletics career for the first time, doctor visits and physiotherapy haven’t brought a significant improvement (the pain always returns with the next athletic effort). So I suppose it’s time to reevaluate.
For a while already, I’ve been thinking about athletic challenges that go beyond a 100m sprint on a track. I’m increasingly drawn to runs that involve nature, and would love to be more active in the mountains. I also seem to suffer less after 10km on a trail – even with 500m of elevation change – than running a handful of 300m repeats on the track. So from here on out, I hope to re-orient my athletic pursuits towards the longer distances, in the hope that I will be less prone to injuries. I’m not closing the door entirely on track activities, but I suppose it will be healthier for me to trade the red or blue of a synthetic track for the brown, green or grey of the great outdoors.
Like most people I’m living a life that’s centered around sitting in an office for eight hours a day. I tremendously enjoy reading about the athletic pursuits of ultra runners, climbers and adventurers who get to spend hours, if not days, out in the mountains. I’ve always held the belief that it’s unhealthy to just “consume” other people’s achievements; and important to get involved in the sport and build your own experiences. From here on out, this blog will hopefully see more activity.
The past week has been challenging. Not only was my hip and groin area not happy after the 100m race on Saturday, but the left achilles tendon was also pretty sore. I’d constantly get the feeling that the entire area was not stretched enough to cope with things as simple as walking after getting out of bed or up from a chair.
When faced with such troubles, it’s easy to fall into the trap of doing less and less because every supplemental thing seems to hurt more. Which is what I mostly did all week long, not least because for three out of five days I was working from a different office location and therefore could neither go for a lunch run nor attend evening track trainings. I had two kiné appointments during the week (Wednesday and Friday), which of course also had an impact.
On Saturday, I decided that I couldn’t continue on this downward spiral, and that some movement to get the blood flowing would probably be beneficial.
So I drove up to nearby Gehaansbierg (not wanting to subject myself to a hill climb almost out of the door) and did six loops – three clockwise, three anti-clockwise. With one loop being close to 900m, that translates to a little over 5k; which seemed sufficient for my first trail run this month.
|Avg Pace:||7:06 min/km|
|Elevation Gain:||65 m|
|Avg HR:||153 bpm|
|Max HR:||162 bpm|
I tried to keep my heart rate below 150, and this along with the ongoing achilles (and ankle mobility) issues made for a very slow pace.
After this jog in the woods, I did three cold water baths (submerging the feet and calves in cold water) of at least 10 minutes each. I’d already done two 25 minute sessions of Compex on the Achilles tendon in the morning, and did 75 more minutes in the evening. I also did the old eccentric calf exercise I’ve been trying to do semi-regularly over the past few weeks; but didn’t do at all the past week. It was painful at first.
After all this, I’m relieved to find that the achilles tendon seems to feel better now on Sunday morning than it did on Saturday.