You know what they say – prevention is the best medicine. Wish it was as easy as that, but it can be. Apparently we were made for running so we should never struggle with calf pain, pulls and tears – right? Pah! It seems that some people were born to run injury free, while most were born to battle with injury. Yet there is wisdom that can be applied to reduce the likelihood of injury.
Your body needs all the nutrients and sustenance that it can process in order to build muscle and replenish energy resources. With out this you body will actually weaken as muscle is used as an energy resource. In the worst case you would hit a brick wall and stop. Actually that might not be the worst case scenario. If you are able to go on and push the boundaries while you are not eating correctly then you will most likely find that your muscles will suffer atrophy. And weakened muscles are most susceptible to injury.
Solution. Just eat right – the right kinds of food in the right proportions and at the right time. As well as follow a correct eating plan leading up to a race, for after the race and consider what you will need during the race (the best times for IronMan are in and around 8 hours – that’s two meals for some). See a dietitian if need be, but there is enough information on the internet to get a good plan. One place is LiveStrong.
Warm up and Stretching
In the past I was taught that I needed to launch into a stretching routine before a run. There was always a thought that maybe just maybe the stretching was causing the calf niggles and I was right. The best plan is to warm up before you stretch and to keep the real stretching for afterwards. Here are some ideas for warming up before hand (that I actively use):
- 2-3 Min brisk walk
- High knee skipping for 50m
- Running sideways for 50m; both sides
- Running backwards for 50m
- Running on the toes for 50m
- Gentle stretching the whole leg through a number of stretch techniques (gentle and short 10 – 20 seconds)
- Then if in a Race, packed shoulder to shoulder for 10 – 15 mins, try to keep the legs warm with some hopping and calf raises
Then after a run or a cycle for that matter. 30 seconds each with mild discomfort (don’t stretch too hard):
- Long leg calf stretch, seated or leaning against a wall
- Bent knee calf stretch. the goal is to get to the Achilles Tendon
- Hip Flexor stretch with the pigeon stretch
- Glutes Stretch on your back with one foot resting on the other knee and pulling the other knee towards you
- Quad stretch
- Inner thigh or groin stretch. Sit with you feet pulled towards you and facing each other.
Should be a no brainer, muscle consists of 70% – 75% water and that water helps regulate body temperature and help get nutrients to the body. Don’t drink enough and you will start operating like an engine without oil. So make sure that you drink enough before and during the race. Water stops are every 3 kms, usually, that’s water every 15 – 20min – hmmm I wonder if that is enough. Cycling is probably the easiest sport for hydration maintenance because of the water bottle cages on the bike, but with running not many people want to be burdened with the extra weight. An Idea would be to pick up 2 water ‘bags’ at the water point; drink one immediately and then sip at the other after 5 mins.
This is where I battle and is where I failed the test. Thinking that you are ready for that 21km after already logging your regular mileage is a recipe for disaster. That is what happened to me. Best to increase mileage by 10% ever other week just to be safe least you pick up a calf injury that could have been avoided with a little bit of free wisdom.
Assess Your Running Style
If you have not already, it will be good to have your running style assessed. Perhaps there are a few kinks in your technique that make you prone to injury. perhaps you are wearing the wrong show because you pronate or supinate. One of the most interesting factors I have considered in my running is heel strike. Traditionally I have always thought that I needed to get as much length in my stride as possible. This led to major heel strike and not only slowed me down with it breaking action but also cause more likelihood of injury because if the greater impact it caused. Check out this article and video on the matter, it may change your life.
Training in different discipline, be it cycling, swimming, rowing or even climbing, will keep you fit and strong while keeping you always from muscle over use problems. Swimming is an amazing thing in that it increases your lung capacity and hence VO2Max as well as keep you upper body strong for hill climbs and sprints. Cycling also helps a huge amount in conditioning you for long endurance events without the road impact.
One thing to bear in mind with switching between running and cycling; Running lengthens the muscles and cycling shortens them. So make sure you stretch those calves after a cycle, least you go an pull it as you get back to running after a long break.
In the end it all comes down to wisdom.
[Photo Credit: Neeta Lind]