Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Switching to de-calf

“It’s a heavy burden to look up at the mountain 
and want to start the climb.”
-Abby Wambach

I don’t generally write much about my running. I know that’s weird (and I do realize that this is supposed to be a running blog), but I’ve never really felt I have a lot to offer when it comes to the documentation of my runs, the things that I eat, or the way that I train. As a mediocre-at-best runner, taking my advice just isn’t going to get you very far. Well okay, it might get you a little further, it just won't get you there much faster. And you definitely don’t want to be taking my advice on the subjects of diet or fashionable sports apparel. But after running more days of my life over the last thirty years than I have not, I do know a lot about being a runner. And I love writing about that. Running is more than just the backdrop of my life; in many ways it’s the very canvas upon which the layers of my days get painted.

It's time to learn a few new techniques
At the moment, that canvas is looking a little barren. I’m now nearly five weeks out from the nasty calf muscle tear I sustained in my last marathon, and am adapting to a new (and hopefully very temporary) identity as a person who doesn’t run. But I’ve still got a few more weeks without running ahead of me, so I’ve pulled out some new paints and am learning a few new brushstrokes. I don’t have a lot to teach you about the way that I run, but I do have a few words to say about the way that I don’t run. I hope you'll learn from my mistakes, my friends. Muscle strain + marathon = stupid. Just don't do it.

I had to wait for the swelling, discoloration, and pain to resolve before I could start any activity, which took nearly three weeks. I did continue to walk my dog regularly, but did so slowly and with great difficulty, careful to avoid hills or movement that required any real “pushing off” on that calf muscle. I walk about ten miles a week with her, but don’t usually consider it exercise, because we’re moving pretty slowly. I also continued with the weekly yoga class that I attend on Mondays, because it’s restorative and not strenuous, and I can protect that muscle by adapting the poses. But until I could use the muscle without pain, I did nothing during those three weeks that required physical exertion or elevated my heart rate. In short: it sucked.

Last week I was able to add in some additional walking - on my own, dog-free, and at a pace that at least makes me sweat a little. I did this on three mornings, for a total of eight miles, and eventually got used to the feeling of just walking fast for the sake of walking fast – not just a warm-up before breaking out into a run for my “real” workout. I went back to the gym twice, and got in one relatively gentle strength workout (that still left me plenty sore) and a half mile in the pool. I swam in the shallow indoor pool that I usually avoid because it’s kept warm for people with arthritis, figuring this would be easier on the damaged muscle. And in fact, it was really nice to get in and out of the warm water in comfort rather than with the usual blue lips and chattering teeth, and to be able to stand in my lane and stretch out all those happy muscles that had been used for the first time in many weeks. In short: last week sucked a lot less.

Learning to appreciate the joys of walking.
This week brings more miles of walking, a little more weight at the gym, more stretching and strengthening of the calf muscle, and a few more laps in the pool. I’m trying to adapt my eating habits to reflect my much lower calorie output, and am doing battle with the negative thoughts and feelings of overwhelm at the mountain of recovery that’s still ahead of me. And this week, I expect, will suck even less than the one before it. Whether I’m running or not, I’m a runner, and I’m ready for the climb.

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