Of Mania and Achilles Tendinitis.

My right Achilles tendon is fine today, after running 10km yesterday. I mean fine as in no pain, no stiffness in the morning. Based on experience, I wouldn’t go for a run today though… I’ve looked at my training blog (finally some use for it) to try to determine if there’s a pattern before any crisis or pain in my feet and legs, but there’s really no system to it. I had some pain and swelling under the right foot after stepping on a sharp stone a few weeks back, which lasted ten days or so. Seems easy enough to self-diagnose.  Six months ago I  started running much too suddely, and developed a case of Achilles tendinosis, also self diagnosed, I should add. But this round of Achilles pain is a bit of a mystery.

When I started running last spring, I hadn’t run regularly in fifteen years. I had previously had some knee issues, probably aggravated by being slightly overweight at the time, and possibly by those stability Asics I’ve later grown to hate. Can’t remember the model number, unfortunately, or I would warn against them. They must have had at least a 4cm heel, because I kept sliding into the front of the shoe. Enough said, I had some bad experience with running, so I googled running technique and found some entertaining Youtube videos by some dr Silberman, New Jersey, analysing the gait of a runner heel striking vs. forefoot striking. I think I watched it a few times before watching many more videos advocating the same footstrike, so I decided to try it. And the effect was immediate. Already on my fifth run I ran 11 km wich is longer than I had ever run before. So it definitely worked for me.

Then I did something stupid: I got completely manic about running. After only two weeks of running I ran every day, between 4 and 10 km. A few weeks in I would occasionally run twice in a day. I remember reasoning like this: “Kids run all the time, so why should’nt I?” Inevitably something went wrong, and that something was my left Achilles tendon. After that I started taking two days rest between each run, which was painful, mentally, because I would like to run every day. Then I took about two weeks without running, and when I started carefully, the pain was insignificant unless I ran the day after a long run. I managed to finish a half-marathon, partially heel striking, with no discomfort. My left tendon is fine now, but I still try to be careful.

And then it happened again: A week back my right achilles tendon acted up, and it’s now the limiting factor of my running. It seems I still have a hard time in keeping my distances short enough. Simply put I must try not to run more than 4km at the time, which has proved to be my “safe” distance. Because of those first weeks of invincibility it’s hard to accept that I am still a beginner, and that I probably need to ease into it more than most. I weight 82 kilos, which is heavy for a runner, and I’m simply not used to this amount of exercise. It’s important for me to accept that I am still a far way from being a marathoner. Part of the problem is, I seem to enjoy long distance running the most.

I have started thinking about reverting to heel striking in padded shoes, but I don’t want the pain in my knees to return, and, more importantly, it feels weird now that I’m used to forefoot striking. The fact that my left foot is now seemingly healed and strong enough to carry me for long runs, I am optimistic that my right foot will follow, and that if I just keep at it, slowly my legs will get the necessary strength and robustness. It is a trial for my patience though.

About healing of Achilles tendon injury, it can be good to know that while a broken bone usually heals back stronger than before, a tendon is often weakened my old injuries, and can become a lifelong annoyance. With regular exercise it gets stronger, but with overuse it gets weaker. If you are contemplating barefoot/forefoot/minimal/natural running, please don’t go from 0 to 10km immediately like I did, even if it feels good at the time.

I still have the urge to run every day, and I hope that someday I will be able to.

Here’s my game plan:

  • Better warm up.
  • Shorter runs, but maybe more frequent.
  • Never continue after feeling any discomfort.
  • Lose weight.

Sounds easy enough. But there are some Vivobarefoot trail shoes on their way to my door via mail…

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4 thoughts on “Of Mania and Achilles Tendinitis.

  1. Jean-Serge Cardinal says:

    Wow, exactly my case, please let me know how you’re doing now, you can E-mail me, no problem


    • tyrmi says:

      Hi! It’s been a couple of years. The upside is that I’m not having any pain at all, but I still feel a slight tightness in my right ankle. Not when running, but typically after sitting still for too long. I usually warm up at 10 minutes or as long as I can stand running slowly. It doesn’t bother me, just reminds me to be careful. If I could go back in time and give myself some advice, I would tell myself to take up skateboarding or rock climbing for a few months, and then go back to running with fresh healed legs.

      • Jean-Serge Cardinal says:

        Good news you’re still running barefoot!

        Thanks a lot for the advice. My story looks a lot like yours, I started in minimalist in 2011 just to run faster but got insertionnal achilles tendinosis/bursitis on my right ankle. Long story short It took me 3 years to recover and last year was my first year injury free in sandals. But this winter it’s my left ankle that suffers, mainly because of running with shoes. The back pressure from the heel counter I think. Also lack of vitamin D maybe. So now I’m back to square one but with my left ankle. Like you said I took 1 month in the gym doing stairs and elliptique. Now I’m trying to come back. I hope I’ll be OK in the next few months. I’m doing too much and the pain comes back. I need discipline to go back gradually.

        If you have any other advice let me know.

        Thanks a lot.

      • tyrmi says:

        I don’t actually run barefoot so much. I have a pair of VivoBarefoot shoes that have lasted me a long time, and go a little bit barefoot in the summer. Barefoot running (instead of minimal shoes) is one of the things that helped me get over the tendonitis. I couldn’t run with just any crazy gait, and I couldn’t run very far.

        You might know more about running than I do, but I can try to give advice anyway.

        The one thing that helped me a lot was that I read somewhere you need to take the ego out of running, and rediscover why you like to run. While recovering, go run thinking “What a beautiful day” or “I am great for just getting out here” rather than “first 10 minutes @ 7/ mile pace, and then 4X800m intervals, and tomorrow I’ll do junk miles”. That whole pseudo-professional attitude that you find in Runnners World is not helpful. Just enjoy running and know you’re getting stronger, even running little and slowly. It’s easy to say be patient, but you need some motivation to be patient, and for me that motivation is that I want to still be running in ten years, so I HAVE TO keep in fun and sustainable, mentally and physically. Muscles develop over weeks, but tendons and bones need time to adapt, for me it was years.

        The second thing is frequency. Back when I was injured, some weeks I just ran two or three short runs, and for a while I ran every day but really slow and just a mile or two. That actually seemed to work. Somehow my tendon felt worse after full rest, but a lot better after easy running. They say the problem with the Achilles tendon is the blood flow is bad, so inactivity weakens it, and makes healing difficult. It need to be in constant repair to thrive, but not be overloaded. In Tim Noakes’ book you can read about the marathoners of the early 1900’s, and they used to walk as much as they ran.

        The third thing is technique, to get your heel all the way down in the resting phase of the gait. I see a lot of runners very far up on their toes with straight backs. I think it’s great that people go take classes in barefoot running, but if you look at the pro’s, they look a lot like they’re just out for a jog, with a relaxed style, even though they’re going blazing fast. If you’re knee doesn’t hurt then you are landing soft enough.

        Oh and last but not least, being light really helps. Every pound you lose means 2.5 pounds less force on your legs while running. I thought I was pretty slender, but then it turned out I could lose another 28 pounds/13kg and still look like myself. It’s like my ankles and knees say “thank you” with every step- But if you are a fast runner already then you probably don’t need that advice. 😉

        So there it is, hope you can use some of it. As I said I’m not a coach or even experienced runner, so I can only speak from a personal point of view.

        Oh and running trail is great too, it doesn’t feel as hard on the legs, and lets me explore some new places.

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