Wet Behind the Sneakers, or “How Chasing Down Gazelles on the African Plain Has Led Me Back Into the Pool”

Posted: January 20, 2017 in Injuries and Owies, Run, The Plan
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It’s definitely not the way I anticipated beginning 2017.

It happened the Sunday before the Christmas weekend.  I went out for an anticipated long 100 minute progression run (I run in increments of 20 minutes now).  Shitty thing was, Mother Nature decided to throw me a curve ball as she is apt to from time to time by hurling down an epic ice storm the night before.

So, yeah, no progressions that day.

No problem – long, slow distance it was then – and out the door I went after my morning breakfast, coffee and poop ritual.  I had already convinced myself that if I managed to keep it slow and steady, I could still complete the 100 minutes and the workout could still be chalked up as a success.  The only other option was to do it on the treadmill at the gym and, yeah, no.  Fuck no!

Thing is though, I don’t think I felt solid pavement under my feet once.  Every road I ran – even the back roads that I thought would have been at least somewhat gravely and forgiving traction-wise – had fuck all to offer as far as solid footing was concerned.  In fact, to give you some idea what I was up against today, I got passed along Gilmore Rd. by an elderly couple…on skates.

Yes, skates.

There they went merrily on their way down the middle of the road in the middle of Buttfuck Stevensville on old beat up skates going heaven-knows-where.  Needless to say, my pace completely sucked (5:54min/km) and by the end of 90 minutes my quads were so shot that when my neighbor passed by and jokingly called out if I wanted a ride home I was all like “fuck ya!”, shut off the Garmin and hoped in – which is why for those of you who follow me on Strava, my run stopped abruptly at the corner of Nigh and Ridge Rds.  I just didn’t have the wherewithal to navigate the last 3k of black ice home again.

F-u-c-k that.

The next day, my right shin was tight…very tight.  So much so, I bunked off running for the rest of the week and for the first time in 8 years, I did nothing on Christmas Day.

Nothing.

I usually run a half marathon distance Christmas Morning (it’s a tradition) and there was the one year that I rowed a half marathon instead (click HERE), but this year:  nada.

Things started to get better gradually and the following weekend I started running easy for 60 minutes or so and successfully completed two of those, along with a few short drill and tempo runs during the week.  I thought things were progressing well so I decided to push my luck and try a short fartlek run again.

I’m such an idiot.

My only success that day was that I managed to complete the first 5 x 2 minute hard intervals (7.83k).  ‘Ol Thunder n’ Lightning felt tired but I cold attribute that to the 3 minutes of squats I did this morning as part of my 28 Day Challenge (click HERE).  But shortly afterwards, it was a quick slippery shit show of a slide straight to the bottom when my right calf/shin pretty much stiffened up forcing me to hobble like Paul Sheldon after his run in with Annie.  I could have kept running but I knew that would have be really special kind of stupid.  So, instead, in a bit of a panic as it was starting to rain down sleet and I was already cold, wet and still some distance from home, I did what I have never done before…stuck out my thumb and shamefully hitched a ride home with my tail between my legs.

How.  Embarrassing.

So what the hell went so wrong around the 7k mark when all my other runs the past two weeks have been getting progressively better?  Well, the last time I truly suffered on one of these runs I was wearing those exact same shoes (ASICS GEL 3030-2).  Upon inspection of my Strava account upon getting home I saw that they now have exactly 482.6 kilometers on them, give or take the treadmills sessions I’ve done over the past year or so, yeah, maybe this aggravation of my calf/shin issue is a by-product of that?

Well, that and my being a dumbass of course.

So now I’m on the injured list again.

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Fucksticks.

I’m quite confident at this point that what I’m dealing with is muscular and while I’m still injured, I’m not necessary damaged per se.  In other words, nothing popped indicated a torn muscle or ligament.  So that’s good.

However, it’s still sore.

As it turns out, there is a very good likelihood that I am suffered from what’s known as an “increased neural drive” to my right calf muscle.

Don’t panic, I’m not dying.

Here’s the skinny as I understand it, when you perform any action for an extended period of time – in my case, running – the body has two ways to power that movement, through the natural fuel that I consume (carbohydrates, proteins, and what have you) or through an automatic neural activation from the brain to the muscles themselves, known as neutral drive to the muscle.

The human body is essentially designed to move, specifically over long periods and distances, so once the primary fuel source begins to deplete itself that automatic neural drive begins to kick in and take over allowing the body to keep going by wiring electrical synapses directly to the muscle.  When it comes down to it, our bodies are primarily wired to be instinctively cavemen-like and we have evolved to allow us to keep running as there are gazelles to catch and mouths to feed, so to speak, so we have to keep going in order to survive.  This is likely what happened on that first long run when things began to go terribly wrong; I was tired, under-fueled and running with a poor form on the ice.

The problem is, that once this automatic neural drive kicks on, it doesn’t necessarily know when to cease and desist meaning that even though I had stopped and didn’t need to run anymore, unconsciously, my body was still in lion-mode chasing down gazelles on the African plain.

It definitely sounds cooler when I explain it that way, right? (thanks Dr. Burr)

Anyway, now that it’s fired up and causing me grief, what can I do in the meantime until it decides that enough is enough?  So while I go through my physio treatments with Dr. Burr at the amazing Legacy Health & Performance to coax my calf to give up on the gazelles already and just be, the question remains:

Now what?

My concern then is how do I continue with my training so that I a) don’t necessarily lose all my acquired run fitness and b) promote healing and no make the issue any worse?

My options then are twofold:

  1. Walking/slow shuffling
  2. Shallow water running

That’s if I don’t consider sitting on the couch doing nothing but eating bags of Ring-Ding’s mind you.

Luckily, I don’t.

Walking or the “slow shuffle” is aimed at replacing the longer non-stop runs. If the injury is not too severe then this can take the form of long hikes and to add resistance, the use of a weight jacket.  Now, I have no intension on strapping any more weight onto this already hulking frame, thank you very much, but I get the point. This type of shuffling would have the same duration of my current long distance times (ie. 60 minutes).  Case in point, Chrissie Wellington when training for Ironman Frankfurt completed all her runs as hikes and finished the race just a few seconds off the World Record.

I’m not so sure it would play out this way for me, of course, but it definitely beats the Ring-Ding’s.

I could do this slow shuffle (below any pain discomfort) on the track upstairs at my local gym on the outside lane in place of my Sunday long runs.  I’m sure it’ll be gutting to be lapped by all the old ladies walkers but if it’s aiding in m recovery while keeping me moving – so be it!

I’ll think of it as building mental strength through self-control.  I’ll just keep “shuffling” while everyone else just walks laps (literally) around me. This type of training has been adapted from Kenyan runners training methodologies.

For many Kenyan groups it is not even a debatable point on whether to ‘push on’ in continuing with the group track work. Injured athletes will often shuffle on the outside lane till their compatriots have finished. Very few carry the Western propensity to push on or hard when injured. The pace instead dictated by the ‘no pain level’.  Think of it as discipline in its most basic form.

And then there’s “shallow water running”, carried out in waist deep water.  Luckily, my local pool has such a wading pool for the kiddies.  This exercise would build (or maintain, however you wish to look at it) strength while still keeping in touch with the ground.  The run mechanics would change,  sure, as this form of running forces me onto the ball of the foot but the big advantage is that, hopefully, I can get back run form quickly.  Varying the depth of the water can even assist with the rehabilitation of various injuries until transitioning back to normal running.

I gave this specific shallow water workout a trial this past weekend and, holy shit!  It’s absolutely challenging!

What’ya know?

In fact, after 6-7 minutes of Figure-8’s I was absolutely sweating buckets seeing as how humid it was.  I’ve never considered this before seeing as how I’m always swimming in the pool and therefore submerged in water.  I’m not so sure the other people in the wading pool with me were as thrilled about my hard work (ie. perspiration) was I was but, meh, fuck ‘em.

After running repetitive Figure-8’s from the shallow end to waist deep water what I can absolutely guarantee you is that my legs were toast!  However, there was no pain.  So that’s definitely good.  The only drag was my having to constantly avoid all the mothers and babies and kids and whatever the hell it is that the creepy old dude was doing in the corner.

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There is also the deep water variety that I could perform with a floatation belt, but I’m not sure I’m 100% ready to delve into that level of crazy just yet.  If this injury goes on longer than another week or so, I will explore that option more closely but for the time being I think the shallow water running and track shuffling will suffice.

So my plan over the next two weeks or so is to supplement my three weekly runs with either a shallow water session or track shuffle and, hopefully, get myself back on track in February without having sacrificed too much fitness.

Knock on wood.

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