Athlete Journal: Andrew Read, Entry 18 – Calf Gone Silly Buggers

Last week I was sitting here feeling pleased with myself for another solid week of training. This week I’m off running for 2 more weeks because my OTHER calf has decided to play silly buggers.

Click here to read other journal entries and articles by Andrew Read, and look for his new journal every Monday as he trains for Ironman Melbourne.

Journal Entry 18 – Calf Gone Silly Buggers

Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast and if you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it.” Perhaps it’s the relativity of time that makes everything seem to fly past these days, as my age advances more and more. Christmas no longer seems to take so long to come around each year and I watch amazed as my brother’s adorable kids get bigger.

But it always catches me by surprise when things change suddenly.

This time last week I was sitting here feeling particularly pleased with myself for another solid week of training without hurting myself. This week I’m off running for two more weeks because now my other calf has decided to play silly buggers. And it all happened without any warning at all.

With all the troubles I’ve been having with my left calf over the last few months I have been running scared every single time I go out. The last tear happened as I went from a sidewalk over the gutter and onto then road, and then stepped up a slight incline to get back onto the next part of the sidewalk. One step put me out for six weeks. So I’ve been performing non-stop assessments on myself every step of every run.

How are my calves feeling? Is that new tightness or just fatigue? Is it getting worse or is it the same? What did I just step up, is that going to hurt me?

But it had been weeks since any indication that anything was wrong – until Tuesday that is.

I run a regular 8km loop around my house that is essentially a square made by major roads. When I got to the diagonally opposite corner from my house, halfway almost exactly, my right calf just tightened up. I stopped running immediately and slowly walked for a few minutes to let it settle down. A quick rub, some gentle stretching to test, and a little practice trot to see what was happening and it was still there. So I walked some more and stretched a bit more and it became a bit better.

The odd part was the section I was running on is nearly perfectly flat and I wasn’t running hard. I’d run this exact same stretch the week before four times and had no problems. See how quickly the world can change? One second cruising along running easily the next I’m ready to be put down for being lame.

My super therapist, Matt Hopkinson of Glenferrie Sports Medicine, had a look at it the next day and confirmed what I already knew – slight tear needing two weeks off running. To make that worse he told me to stay off the bike as he didn’t want me out of the seat at all to help it heal faster.

So what does that leave in training terms? Swimming. I’ve swum every day for the last four days and done over 14km in those sessions. I promised myself I’d swim every day until I could run again and once I am able to ride I will add that back in, too.

One of the things that I don’t generally notice with my training is a build up of fatigue in upper or lower body. Because I structure my training to give my upper and lower body a rest on alternate days I generally don’t get any accumulated fatigue from session to session. With four swims in four days I have to be honest and say my swim yesterday was far from easy. My arms felt heavy throughout and I struggled to stick to my plan, as mentally I needed a break.

In true self-destructive style when I realized how weak I was being mentally I punished myself with some hard 200m sets of individual medley (IM). I did these as 25m butterfly, 25m backstroke, 25m breastroke, 25m freestyle, and then repeated it for 200m each rep. I did five of these with one-minute rest between each. I will admit to using fins as my butterfly is more like a moth than the graceful and beautiful butterfly I wish it looked like. They did the job and hardened me up enough that I no longer felt like I’d been slacking. While the Ironman swim is best done freestyle, all the strokes contribute to helping your feel in the water that ultimately is the thing that makes you faster. (This article describes it far better than I ever could.)

So while it’s been a bad week for running and injury (again) it hasn’t been all bad. Certainly the silver lining has been the bonus swim time and I’m back on the bike again this afternoon.

As always in life there’s a lesson here. Set backs are going to happen. You’re going to eat bad food every now and then or blow off training or even get hurt. But the faster you get over it and back to your plan, or as close to it as possible, the less damage will be done. I can honestly say that my body is as fatigued as it normally is at this point in a week and even though I’d love to be running I know I’m not losing fitness. Take the good with the bad, minimize the damage and get back to your plan as quickly as possible.

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