It’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.