Achilles Tendon Injury – Trail Run, Racing

Excerpted from: How To Run For Your Life. Pain Free With No Compensations.

I was poised on the starting line of a four-mile trail race at Old Fort Townsend having arrived at the event only moments before the starting gun. BANG! Off we all went, circling the lower RV camping slots before heading uphill past the Park Ranger’s on-site home. I felt pretty fit and found myself running uphill close behind the leading pack about a half-mile into the race. I was surprised at being so close behind these locally well-known, fast runners even at this early stage of the race.

Then another BANG! This time the sound resonated through my body and I felt an electric shock-like burning at my right Achilles tendon. I started to lose speed and position, but continued running.

I thought I could easily finish this four-mile race, albeit at a slower rate. That was my third poor decision of the day. The further I ran, the more I developed into a limping hobble. All manner of people passed me before I reached the finish line in the lower field.

I was glad I hadn’t bailed out and still managed to enjoy the event even with my self-imposed, increasing disability. I gimped over to my wife at our car and put some warmer clothes on before going for an electrolyte replacement drink and slice of orange. But in the two stationary minutes it took to don my sweats, my Achilles had seized so much that I could no longer walk on my right foot. I could only hop to the prize-giving ceremony to show gratitude to the organizers and applaud the winners.

Back at the car I started to feel sorry for myself and wondered what I’d done and how long before I’d stop hurting and enjoy running again. A hot shower at home made me feel a lot better.  What to do about my hurt? My wife, Ingrid, is a physical therapist and very knowledgeable regarding rehab of sports-related injuries. To be expected, she scolded me about being stupid for not warming up before the race and not stopping immediately when I felt the bang in my body. She couldn’t believe I was daft enough to gimp along to the finish line. So, I didn’t get much sympathy!

Ingrid started rehabbing me almost immediately by icing my right calf muscles and Achilles. She performed various sundry tests a little later to figure out the extent of the damage I’d inflicted upon myself. My Achilles tendon had not suffered a tear that needed surgical repair but had certainly experienced a massive strain and probable smaller tear. I received ultra-sound from Ingrid’s clinic and some hands-on work to reduce swelling and pain. After a couple of days I could bear weight on my right foot but wasn’t able to use full range of motion at the ankle joint.

Over the ensuing months the damage improved and I was able to enjoy hiking season in our local Olympic Mountains, but I still couldn’t jog or run. Every time my right boot toe stubbed on a rock, an electric shock-like pain rushed up my body and spiked hard for a split second in reactionary senses. It was something like the instantaneous shock you receive when too much Wasabi on your taste buds floods your brain and you think your forehead’s going to blow out!

For six months I couldn’t jog and it started to affect me physically and mentally. Physically I wasn’t as fit as I normally am and mentally I was champing at the bit to get cardio going again. But how?

I’d read somewhere that using an elliptical cardio machine didn’t involve much use of the calf muscles because the foot stays flat on the machine’s foot pads. The Achilles tendon attaches to the calf muscles and the back of the heel bone. If that tendon wasn’t going to be used much, then an elliptical cardio machine might not hurt me.

The proof is in the pudding, so I hopped onto the local gym’s equipment and tested things out. True to form, it didn’t pull on or hurt my Achilles tendon. I was overjoyed. Now I could get cardio fit again while slowly recovering from the earlier trauma.

Three months later―nine months since that fateful race―I traded the elliptical training for flat, smooth road runs. As time passed I increased my distances and began to tackle more challenging terrain.

It’s been fourteen years since my injury and I have no problems running on all types of terrain because of careful rehab and my commitment to correct any bad habits with my running form.

If you want to read more about typical runner’s injuries, and correct rehab, how to find root causes and how to rectify the issues with specific of exercises, stretches and strengthening with lots of photos, click on the cover page