As I write this, it’s been almost a week since I’ve gone for a run. My calf injury kept reemerging, creating cycles of a couple good runs, then a run with calf tightness and discomfort towards the end, a couple days off, and repeat. I suspect that the temporary painless periods were the result of the inflammation going down and new scar tissue growing into the strained muscle, and the subsequent return of pain was due to the new tissue being too weak to handle real runs and becoming re-injured.
I buckled down last Monday and decided to just take a whole week completely off – no running, and no calf strengthening (just stretching and foam rolling). I’m feeling surprisingly ok with this thanks to consistently icy streets and a relatively high-volume cross-training regimen.
Although I’ve been forced off the road bike due to the ice, winter has opened up the possibilities of indoor trainer rides (good for dark evenings), snowshoeing, skate skiing, and classic skiing. The skate skiing is by far my favorite option, since it closely mimics running effort and speed but works totally different muscles. I’m re-focusing my ‘athlete’ mindset, and concentrating on the joys of still being able to get outdoors even if it’s not in my running shoes.
I’ve also decided to address some of the chronic weaknesses that I suspect are contributing to my propensity for injury even at relatively low mileage. The IT band exercises that I’ve been performing regularly have kept that particular issue at bay, so I an hopeful that addressing my other weaknesses will have a similarly strong effect.
In order to identify where else I’m weak or lack mobility, I took a functional movement screening test. I learned about this test back in an undergrad conditioning course. The idea is that you can test several primary movement patterns via a set of 7 scored exercises and then focus on addressing specific identified weaknesses in strength, coordination, and mobility. My results indicated that I have plenty of room to improve:
As indicated by this testing and past experience, my main weaknesses are:
- Calf tightness/low ankle mobility (part of why deep squat is so bad)
- Hip mobility (ditto, + the active straight leg raise)
- Thoracic mobility (the deep squat requires an overhead press – mine is severely limited by my thoracic spine tightness)
- Foot weakness (mainly based on experience rather than this test, but I can tell that it contributes to the inline-lunge low score on one side)
Based on these results I plan to perform calf/ankle mobility exercises, more consistent hamstring and hip flexor stretching and strengthening, thoracic spine extension and rotation exercises, and to continue with the foot exercises (and skiing! Kills my arch/stabilizer muscles) during this heavy cross-training period. Next week I’ll incorporate some short runs (1-2 miles if pain free) and calf strengthening in addition to the mobility exercises).
Hopefully being smart now and addressing these chronic weaknesses will lead to the ability to actually race this Spring! I love my cross-training activities but I really, really, REALLY miss racing.