The Story of My Calves

Posted by Filed Under: Running Injuries

phsyiologically speakingIt’s time to set the time machine back about 23 years. I had been fighting off a lower-body injury, which forced me to train almost exclusively on an exercise bike. No big deal to those of us accustomed to injuries, but extremely boring, and as I later found out, a contributor to a running injury.

I was training for the Junior Canadian National Cross Country Championships, and was able to get very fit on the bike and then have a few weeks of running before the race. I felt in peak shape and physically prepared for making the Canadian team.

The race was held in November in Victoria, Canada. The conditions were ideal, crisp and cool with no rain. I did my usual pre-race warm up. I felt really strong and proceeded to put on my racing spikes (big mistake) just before heading to the start line.

As with most national level races, the competition was tight, and I found myself in a pack of about eight runners as we hit the 3 km mark in about 8:20 into the 7.5 km race. I was feeling bold and decided to surge at the 4 km marker and was able to pull away from the pack with only one other runner in tow. Everything was going great until I felt an incredible spasm in both of my calf muscles. I was shocked at the severity and persistence of the spasms. I was only able to run a few more steps then, wham! Over and over this occurred, and then, one by one, seven runners were able to overtake me, placing me 8th overall, just missing qualifying for the national team. Later, I spent a week limping around with torn up and knotted calves.

On Your Toes
So what happened? In my job I see runners with calf strain injuries quite regularly. What I now know (trust me on this one) is that when you are not used to running on your toes when doing speed work or wearing spikes, you will quickly overload your calve muscles and either cramp or tear them. When I was bike training, essentially I was not doing any running on my toes, as opposed to when I was wearing racing spikes or flats.

The moral of the story here is to practice toe running (speed work) prior to your competition, preferably in the footwear you will be competing in. Again, as the old adage advises, “Don’t try anything different during the race.” Thanks to my personal experience I have solved a number of my patients’ “mysterious” calf injuries.

About Lee Miller D.C.

9536 - 87 Street Edmonton, Alberta T6C 3J1 Phone: (780) 426-6777 Fax: (780) 469-6930

  1. Pete on October 4th at 8:56 am

    Good article. I messed up my calves when I started doing steep hill work, and found myself on my toes a lot. Would you agree that “toe running” could include hills, in addition to the speed work that you mention?

  2. Dr. Lee Miller on October 4th at 9:06 am

    Hi Pete,

    I agree that “toe running” would include hills, especially steeper hills. Any training that requires a more explosive type of toe off will stress the calve muscles. The function of the calve muscles is to allow plantar flexion, which is to point the toes towards the ground.

  3. Blaine Moore (Run to Win) on October 4th at 9:19 am

    The idea is to work and train the muscles that you will be using. Just like you would not want to go into a gym and do 400 pound calf raises on your first set in your first workout, you do not want to run your first race off of no speedwork or run steep hill repeats for the first week of your training program.

  4. Wallace Muff on October 6th at 7:08 am

    There is no such thing as “running on your toes,” period. Check out the best runners (sprinters and distance,) they all land on the balls of their feet.
    Hope this helps.

  5. Dr. Lee Miller on October 6th at 9:20 am

    I am referring to the phase of the gait cycle called “toe off”. In essence, this phase is done more forcefully in certain types of running such as speedwork and hill training. The entire gait cycle comprises all the phases of foot movement from heel strike to toe off.