In July 2014, I decided to be an idiot.
First, this is a story of being stupid in training and not listening to your body.
Second, this is my story of recovering despite being stupid.
June 25, 2014: I met with a local track coach to evaluate my potential as a sprinter. He tells me I should be doing more jumping to build elastic strength, but to be cautious about the volume.
July 11, 2014: Knowing that depth jumps and drop jumps are strong medicine – to be avoided until sufficient progressive preparation has taken place, to be carefully regulated in terms of number of reps and height of drop, to be largely reserved until jumps in place and horizontal jumps and box jumps are completely exhausted as useful training tools – I decide it would be prudent to do some sort of jump on every day that I do the Olympic lifts…which is 4 days per week…
July 19, 2014: I figure it would be smart to count the number of contacts I have each training session, since reliable resources say 10-15 contacts is optimal. My first day taking notes, I have 31 contacts. The next day, I note significant stiffness throughout my body.
July 21, 2014: 24 more contacts for good measure.
July 24, 2014: 50 contacts, just to test those limits.
August 9, 2014: Having returned from a weightlifting camp at the Olympic Training Site of Northern Michigan University, I realize I love track more than other sports. I decide to do 80 jumps in my enthusiasm.
August 10, 2014: I note some tightness in my left Achilles/heel from the jumps.
August 17, 2014: After 5 training sessions in six days, I note a strange sensation in my left ankle during my warm-up bounds. Instead of stopping the session, I write off that feeling, and train hard.
August 18-24, 2014: I continue lifting, attempting to sprint (painfully), and neglecting the bizarre pain in my ankles every day.
August 25, 2014: I have a partial Achilles tear – evidenced by a loud POP during my warm-up and excruciating pain concentrated on my heel. I attribute this injury to the last two weeks of sprinting and jumping, neglecting the 6 weeks of unreasonable behavior before those.
Beginning September 3, 2014, I jogged on grass every third day and threw medicine balls to build power. The jog was miserable and painful. The next morning, my ankle would be so stiff that I couldn’t stand up out of bed. The morning after that, I would apply an ice bag to my ankle, massage it by hand, then waddle – gingerly – around my house for 20 minutes until things loosened up
After three weeks, I was gathering some momentum. Hill sprints on a grass hill in cushy shoes, massage work on the ankle and calf in between reps; dozens of build-up runs; jogging often. In January 2015, I visited the University of California and practiced on their track for a week. Things were wonderful.
February 2, 2015: I note that I should increase my sprinting and jumping volume gradually because I’ve been pain free for about a week. So I enter a meet and double the number of contacts in training, naturally.
I worked hard, ran fast, and took careful notes until March 28, 2015 when I set a satisfying 200m PR.
Then, for the next five months, I rode a tailspin of stupid “more-is-better” decisions right into a partial tear to my right Achilles. It came during a 100m race and I just kept running.
September 1, 2015: Two weeks after that dumb race, having “rested,” I decide to start preparing for track again. I’ve gained 8 lbs since July, become a whole second slower over 100 meters, still have pain every morning, and haven’t lifted consistently. It’s going to be a long, slow road.
So I started lifting with some friends twice a week, wrote out a full track warm-up for myself, and ran two hill sprints twice weekly. No jumps, no med ball throws, no competitions. I visited a pole vault coach, to learn something new and to receive some encouragement.
Two decent days of training – uncomfortable, but manageable – had to be followed by two days completely off. For three weeks.
I drop into a community track meet. I high jump the same height as a 12-year old boy and attempt to pole vault in spikes. Can barely walk for two days after. More jogging on grass, a little jump rope in cushy shoes, even fewer hill sprints and more hill “trots.” Discouraged slightly, I resume O lifting, figuring being more explosive can only help my recovery. I also start doing calf raises in my lifting warm-ups – 2 sets of 30.
October 23, 2015: I hiked Mt. Si in Washington. Something about hiking a mountain pumps you up. I entered a pole vault meet the following week, jump in my flats, set a massive PR, and think I’m ready to really run fast again.
November 6, 2015: I realize that lifting will do nothing to make me much faster. Only running and jumping will do that. So I run, sometimes fast but usually slow, every other day. I ice bath twice per week. I massage my calves, feet, and hamstrings every single day, frequently twice. I wear my cushy shoes for everything, I do calf raises all day long, and I remind myself every morning and night that I can and will get faster…eventually.
January 31, February 6, and February 28, 2016: I compete in a series of track meets and PR everything. I run my first 110m hurdles race in 9 years and win. Ankles were a little tender after each meet, but not terrible.
March 21, 2016: I run some time trials and performance tests. I PR everything except my strength test (as I haven’t been lifting) and wake up pain-free. I’m still massaging daily and doing calf raises, but I’ve worn spikes for a few reps and things look good.
April 26, 2016: I run my best-ever 10 meter fly, running on a softer (slower) surface. I’ve had four weeks of multiple full-volume sprinting sessions with some reasonable – powerful! – jumping and consistently wake up with no pain the next day. After a DEXA scan, I’ve lost all the extra weight and increased my lower leg bone density. I’ve run several 100 and 200 meter time trials on the track in my spikes with no discomfort at all.
Today is May 10, 2016. I’m not in pain. Despite hurting both Achilles tendons, I never truly stopped running. According to the Sports Injury Clinic website, “it is unlikely that you will be able to return to competition within four to six months.”
Bunk. It took a few tries, because I was foolish about training decisions, but I rehabbed twice from partial tears and both times, returned to competition and improved my performances within five months.
This series isn’t about the professionally recommended route. Whether your injuries were accidental or foolishly, ignorantly self-imposed, you have to be stubborn. You have to work – around the pain, most of the time; through the pain, some of the time. You have to keep the faith that you’ll heal. You have to test your limits and try your luck. But more than anything, you have to hate the thought of leaving your sport so much that you just can’t stop.
I’m with you, because I’ve been there.
In the next installment, instead of analyzing my stupid decisions, we’ll look at an athlete of mine who did everything right – and got hurt anyway. She’s been a warrior throughout the recovery and her story is begging to be told.