I'm an "older runner," and as one know that it takes a bit longer to heal from an injury. I'm also an experienced distance runner who should practice what I preach to those I coach! So, when I suffered a preventable calf injury during a half marathon this past weekend, and with just three weeks until my marathon, I had only myself to blame.
There were two major contributing factors: overuse and dehydration. The point-to-point route is one of the most popular in the state as it is mostly downhill. The danger is not allowing your quadriceps to recover adequately from taking the downhill stretches too aggressively. I probably set myself up for the injury on the long, nearly 2 mile downhill inside the first half of the route. The weather was a bit chilly, enough to wear arm warmers, but nearly perfect for a long run and that first long downhill stretch felt great after the 3.5 mile uphill climb.
I didn't start feeling any pain until my thighs started cramping around mile 10 and I started feeling a little lightheaded. Right then, I knew I was going into dehydration. Even though I carried my own flask of fluid, I am trained to take advantage of every hydration station. But, I was drinking at every other station. Considering I've been battling dehydration all season, I should have known better than to skip a station. I started downing Gu for the concentrated carbohydrates, ShotBloks for the salt, and water at the remaining hydration stations. That got me through the final 3 miles. But, once again, I ended up in the Med Tent with locked leg muscles shortly after crossing the finish line (I still managed to come in under 3 hours).
Therapy has been a combination of sports recovery massage, hot soaks, ingesting lots of electrolytes, heat therapy, self massage and stretches. I went for an easy 30-minute walk this afternoon, which felt good, but my legs are still aching.
Bottom line: whether you're a distance runner, a recreational neighborhood walker, or spend a lot of time on a treadmill, remember to hydrate well, warm up adequately prior to your workout and stretch gently afterward, and always listen to your body. If you do incur a calf injury, avoid trying to continue through it. Take some time off for healing and gradually ease back into your activity.
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