Lessons Learned from My Latest Achilles Tendonosis Issues

What did I learn this time from this particular bout of Achilles tendon – whatever the hell it was?

A LOT!

First, the Achilles tendon and, yes, other body parts just don’t work like they used to. Everything still works, just not as well, and the Achilles will be my Achilles Heel for the remainder of my running life.

Second, I can no longer rely on the boom, bust, then heal, then repeat, training methods that I have done so much of over the years. According to most of what I read, this is simply part of the aging process. Therefore, I will need to take proactive measures to ensure that the downtime from future Achilles issues or other injuries is minimized. In other words, if I want to keep running at the levels I want, I will have to make prehab and strength work a higher priority.

Third, prehab, strength, mobilization and smarter training methods will become more of a focus than they have been.

How did this injury happen?

In a word – stoopidity.

I didn’t take the warning signs of impending Achilles’ problems seriously enough. Back in March, before the Achilles tendon decided it had had enough, it grumbled and complained for about a week, and I mostly ignored it. 

Primarily because I had recently finished reading The Lost Art of Running by Shane Benzie and had changed a few things to increase my running efficiency. These changes resulted in significant improvements to pace and stride length over in a short time. 

In other words, I was finally starting to run decently for the first time in a while, plus I also had gotten a new pair of running shoes that I was running well in.

Those two factors, plus my stubbornness, resulted in blind spots that led to the initial Achilles issue in my left leg. Which was simply too much too soon of good running.

Once the Achilles got my attention, I tried various things to see if I could keep running through the discomfort/pain. When I should have used the K.I.S.S. method and routines, I knew would work if I gave them a chance.

However, being impatient to get back to running, I didn’t want to take the time necessary and paid for it in the long run. I continually searched on the Internet for miracle cures from Dr. Google that would let me run sooner and not have the Achilles bother going forward.

Then each time the Achilles started to feel better over the next couple of weeks, like a dummy, I would attempt to run 2-3 miles, at a faster than I should have pace. Which resulted in too much load on the injured Achilles, and it was back to square one multiple times.

In other words, I wanted to get back to running so much that I prolonged how long I couldn’t run. 

Yeah, stoopid is as stoopid does.

What I Should Have Done

First and foremost, there are no MIRACLE CURES FOR ACHILLES TENDONOSIS, which is very true for any injury. As much as I and every other runner who suffers this injury and wants to find one on the Internet, the only cure is time, patience, and hard work.

This is what I should have done:

  • Ice the Achilles when I got home and then again that night and every day until I could walk pain-free and then ice if it swelled up a little after a run or workout.
  • Rest the body until the pain got back to reasonable levels
  • Start the Alfredson Achilles tendon rehab routine – Yes, it sucks, it hurts, it takes time out of my day to do the rehab twice a day. It also works for me. 
  • Accept that once an Achilles grumbles like this, it will probably take 8-12 weeks to get back to regular training. Needless to say, I didn’t want to admit it would take weeks, not days, for me to get back to running without significant discomfort.
  • Slowly return to running with a run/walk plan and shut down the running or walking if the Achilles complained too loudly until the discomfort became more tolerable again. I couldn’t swallow my ego or pride initially, which made the duration of the injury longer than it needed to be.

Unfortunately, I didn’t do any of those things initially, and to make matters worse, I went out and purchased a Stryd running pod shortly after the injury. So, of course, I wanted to get out there and see what running with Power was all about. Which didn’t help me any with being patient about rehabbing the Achilles injury.

Reminder to self. When rehabbing an injury, don’t go out and buy new gadgets or shoes that will only make you want to get out the door and go for a run. It defeats the purpose of being attempting to be patient.

Finally

Finally, I figured out what I needed to do, especially since I had difficulty simply walking, much less running, with the discomfort and pain in the left Achilles.

Once I finally let the tendon rest (no running), 2 x a day icing, started doing mobilization and the eccentric loading exercises, the leg slowly improved. When I was able to walk mostly discomfort-free, I began to add in some run/walking or was that walk/running. 

Now that most of the discomfort is gone, I have done a slow work-up using a run/walk plan to get back to running. While continuing to do “the Alfredson’s” eccentric calf drops rehab routine, mobilization, icing as necessary, and strength work to improve everything else as well.

Still Challenging

The past couple of weeks were also the most challenging time for me.

Being patient to get back to running is not something I am all that good at, and doing the run/walk routines was tough on the old ego. Since I had always been taught that walking is not a part of running (I have learned that it is). However, old running philosophies that you have held for so long do die hard, it seems.

The reality is that

When I look back with 20/20 hindsight, I can see the many mistakes I made before the Achilles tendon became an issue and then my misguided efforts to return to running before it had healed enough for running. Sadly, it took numerous blunders before I finally gave in and did I had to do if I wanted to be running this summer and achieve my Fall running goals.

The awful part is that I knew all of this information before the injury and ignored what I needed to do. Instead I did what so many of us tend to do, look for the miracle cure from Dr. Google, so we can get back to our running sooner. Again, there are no miracle cures, an injury takes as long as it takes to heal, and if you do too much too soon, you will simply delay your return to running.

While the Achilles is not fully healed yet, it has healed enough that I can run and not create more problems resulting from running. Yes, I fully anticipate a few more setbacks and bad days going forward. However, that too is part of the healing and rehab process. Two steps forward, then one step back, but it is progress.

Who knows precisely what the future holds for me as a runner? I have many realistic goals, a few dreams, and even a few wild-arse fantasies about the runner I want to become. However, becoming that runner and making them become a reality will require hard work, changing many of my running philosophies or expectations, training methods, and adding in complementary non-running activities.

It needs to start with making injury prevention a priority, not a challenge to keep doing more.

The bottom line is that I can continue to improve as a runner. 

However, they just might not be the improvements, goals, dreams or fantasies I had before this injury. As circumstances change and my body’s abilities change, the better runner Harold will become should be more focused on remaining healthy, having fun, and worrying less about the clock’s times or place at a finish line. 

That is how most runners equate improvement – our race times, and maybe that has been my problem. I focus so much on improving my times that I neglect the rest and tie myself up in knots, attempting to prepare myself to meet those time goals.

Let’s be honest, I am not the runner I once was and am not sure of the runner I will be. All I can work on is the runner that I am now. That this is what my running focus will be going forward has been a long and challenging process for me to accept. I hate to acknowledge that aging does bring changes that can be delayed slightly but are still inevitable.

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