Calf Strain and Running

You can’t run without your calf muscles. In fact, the three most important muscle groups in terms of propulsion for runners, are the hamstrings, glutes, and calves. In this article, you’ll find out how calf strain happens, how to treat calf strain, and some good preventive measures you can take to avoid this common running injury.

How Calf Strain Injuries Occur

Calf strains usually happen quickly. They often happen during speed sessions, hill workouts, or sprints. Fatigue is a factor in most calf strains, and age seems to play a big part as well. In fact, men over 40 have the greatest risk of calf injury.

Just recently, I suffered a calf strain at the end of a long threshold training workout. I was on the last 2-mile interval and I had already run 11 miles that day when it occurred. It felt like and deep ache for several strides and then quickly turned into a tight, burning, sensation at the base of my inner calf. I was forced to walk back home from that point on.

Calf Strain Injuries and Running

The calf consists of two muscles: the gastrocnemius and the soleus.  The gastrocnemius is the meatier upper part of the calf, and the soleus is the slender lower part of the muscle. Injuries most often occur in the upper part of the calf, but both are susceptible.

In my case, five factors contributed to my calf strain: increased weekly mileage, muscle tightness, workout fatigue, speed intervals, and new running shoes with zero drop heels. These five factors combined were too much for my soleus. Looking back, it seems like it should have been obvious I was heading for trouble. But, of course that’s how it is with most running injuries.

Treating Calf Strain Injuries

The best course of action immediately following a calf strain injury is to ice the injured area. If swelling occurs, an anti-inflammatory like Ibuprofen can help. Remember to follow the directions on the bottle. Gentle massage may also help the muscle recover and ease discomfort, depending upon the severity of injury.

Most doctors would recommend taking some time off from running until everything returns to normal. If you’re smart, you’ll do that. But, of course, you’re a runner so you probably won’t. If you must run, try tightly wrapping the are of the injury with an Ace bandage. Be careful not to cut off circulation in your lower leg. You can wear the bandage all day and during your runs. Use good judgement. If it hurts, stop running.

How to Prevent Calf Strains

You’ve heard this before. Regular stretching is the best way to reduce risk of muscular injury. The more pliable the muscle becomes, the less susceptible it will be to injury. If you haven’t already discovered the Pro Stretch, you may want to check it out. I purchased one last year after wrestling with plantar fasciitis. The Pro Stretch device provides a simple way to get a really good calf stretch.

You can also strengthen your calves by doing heel dips. However, walking on your toes both forwards and backwards for 15-30 seconds at a time without touching your heels, will give your calves a great workout that more closely mimics the real injury circumstances. Wait until you’ve fully recovered before starting a preventative strength routine.

[bctt tweet=”Enjoy the miles and avoid calf strain injuries. #RunSmarter”]

3 Running Mistakes That Are Holding You Back

Run smarter.

You may have decided to run faster, run farther, or run without injury this year. But, none of these things will happen unless you first resolve to run smarter. The first step in running smarter is to avoid repeating these three running mistakes. I guarantee that you’ve made some of them before. Probably within the last few days, if you’re being honest with yourself.

Running Mistake #1 – Too Fast on Easy Days

running mistakes, too fast

Easy, cowboy. Not every run is about proving your fitness to the passing cars. Easy runs should be done at a slower pace and lower intensity level. If you’re following a training plan that makes any sense at all, most of your runs fall into this category.

I used to run with a coworker named Jamie. We’d get together for a trail run after work every week or two. Jamie was a 20:30 5K guy who wanted to be 18:00 5K stud. His approach was to follow a P90x program and run a hard 3 miles, three times each week. After several months of this, he’d barely moved the needle on his race time and became frustrated. I suggested he might want to try some long slow runs, but he said that didn’t work for him. Being his friend, and not his coach, I decided to leave it at that. He stopped running soon after. What Jamie didn’t know is that magic happens during the easy runs.

[bctt tweet=”magic happens during the easy runs…”]

Easy runs strengthen your heart. Did you know that at 60% of your maximum heart rate (a very easy jog), your heart beats just as strong as it does at any effort level above 60%? Sure, it beats faster and works harder at higher levels. But, the force of the stroke remains the same. All kinds of miraculous adaptations occur within the body as you cruise along at an easy conversational pace. The small blood vessels that feed your muscles multiply and expand, muscle fibers become more efficient at converting fuel to energy, and your tenuous connective tissues become stronger and more resistant to injury.

These adaptations occur over time. And, because you’re running slower, you can run longer and spend more time building your running body. It may not feel like you’re doing much, but this is where the magic happens.

Running Mistake #2 – Too Slow on Hard Days

run too slow, running mistakes

Quality workouts or hard sessions require grit and determination. I get nervous before my tough workouts the same way that I get nervous before a race. I know it’s going to hurt. When distance runners say they enjoy speedwork, I always wonder if they’re doing it right. 

If you want to run faster, you’re going to have to embrace a little suffering. It’s scary to run outside your comfort zone, but that’s where personal records, glory, and success hide out. Tough practice sessions prepare us for tough races. But, for many runners, their ‘perception of effort‘ prevents them from pushing themselves and ultimately holds them back on race day.

The next time you run hill repeats, ask yourself what adjectives you’d use to describe the experience. If fun, exciting, and refreshing are on that list you’re probably doing it wrong. If you have a hard time focusing your thoughts, all your best word choices are vulgar, and you saw the grim reaper laughing at you on the second to last repetition, you’re probably doing it right.

[bctt tweet=”When distance runners say they enjoy speedwork, I always wonder if they’re doing it right. “]

Running Mistake #3 – Skipping Rest Days

rest, sleep, running

The enemy is not the missed workout, it’s the missed rest day. Sleep well, eat well, and know when to take a day off. Injuries sneak up on you when you’re overconfident and bulletproof. Take comfort in your weekly progress and don’t ask for too much, too soon. It never ends well.

Last spring, I learned that lesson the hard way. A nagging case of plantar fasciitis grew increasingly worse day by day, even as I was mowing down some 5K PRs and crushing it on the local road race circuit. Several weeks later, I was hobbling out of the doctor’s office on crutches with a stress fracture at the base of my heel. I missed the entire summer and most of the fall racing season.

Listen to your body and when rest when you’re tired. It’s really quite simple. One or two days of rest will make a huge difference in terms of running performance and energy levels. Rest days are the antidote to injury.

[bctt tweet=”The enemy is not the missed workout, it’s the missed rest day.”]

Making these running mistakes will lead to injury, plateaued performance, and burnout. It’s not a happy place for runners. This year, resolve to run smarter and avoid these pitfalls. You’ll discover a stronger, faster version of yourself by focusing your efforts and running with intent every time you lace up your shoes. Enjoy the miles!