Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Calf Pain that feels like you just ripped a muscle in your calf.

After the Atrial Ablation procedure 5 weeks ago I had to ease back into running.  Three weeks ago was my first real run after the procedure.  I ran three hill repeats and an easier one hour loop at Oak Mountain.  Two weeks ago I ran four hill reps followed by the same one hour loop.  Saturday, I ran 6 hard hill repeats, all between 12:10 and 12:40 followed by a 1 1/2 hour loop.  That run just about killed me, but it was a good run.  I have to jump back into training pretty hard because the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 is 100days from today.

Yesterday I ran at Veteran's Park on the flat 5K course and 5 miles into a 6 mile run I started to feel a discomfort in my right calf.  Within 200 yards it had become so intense I could no longer run so I hobbled back to my car.  I tried to stretch it out but it hurt too much so I left.  When I got home, I could barely walk.  I would have been concerned, but this is the third time this has happened.

The first time was 6 or 7 years ago.  I was about 10 miles into a 14 mile run when I started up a long gentle hill.  Like yesterday, I began to feel a slight discomfort in my right calf.  In less than a minute I had to stop and stretch my calf, but it did no good.  I managed to run only another 50 yards and I could go no further.  The pain was so bad I was sure I had torn a muscle.  Of course, that made no since because I had been running for well over an hour.  It was a long walk back to the car.

I could not run again for several weeks and the problem finally went away.  Then, in 2007 while training for the Mercedes Marathon, it happened again.  Two weeks before the race I was doing a fast two hour when again I noticed a pain in my right calf.  Again the pain became much worse very quickly but this time I stopped running before it got really bad.  I stretched a little and started walking back to my car.  This time I was able to run, very slowly, most of the way back.

I just so happened that an old friend of mine, John Cobb, the aerodynamics guru of cycling, was coming to Birmingham the next weekend to do bike setups for Vulcan Tri Club.  He was staying at my house and during a conversation I mentioned how frustrated I was because I didn't think I would be able to run Mercedes.  I explained what happened and he said, "I'll be right back," and left the room.  I minute later he came back carrying something that looked like a striped dumbbell.  He placed my lower leg on it and had me roll the sore part of my calf over it.  I just about went through the roof it hurt so bad.  I continued rolling my calf for a minute or two which was all I could stand.

John explained,  the problem is that muscles expand quickly with exercise and fascia, which surrounds the muscles, stretches very slowly.  At some point the muscles are no longer able to function correctly because they are severely restricted by the fascia.  He said that is what happened to me.  Rolling the muscles is actually stretching the fascia.  He told me to buy a roller and work on my calf and it would be fine by the race.  I was not able to find one in Birmingham but a guy was selling "The Stick" at the Mercedes Marathon expo Saturday afternoon.  I told him what had happened and asked if The Stick would fix it.  He said it would solve the problem and proceeded to demonstrate how it worked.  This hurt even more than what John had me do.  I was barely able to walk out of the expo and I was sure I would not be able to  run the race the next morning.

I got up planning on going down to the expo hall and finding the guy and demanding my money back for The Stick and telling him how he had ruined my chances to run the marathon.  I was really mad.  But guess what?  When I got up my calf was fine.  It was not even sore.  I ran the race without the slightest twinge in my calf.

Now I use "The Stick" occasionally but no as often as I should.  If I had used it after my weekend run, yesterdays problem would probably never have happened.  You can believer that I did roll my calf last night and this morning and I will continue to roll it.  I have no time sit out for injuries.  The next two weekends I have to run 5 hours and increase hill reps to 8.  To be on schedule for The Tahoe Rim Trail 100 I need to be running 6 hour with 8 hill repeats starting on April 23.  Then the following week, April 30th, run back to back 6 hour runs.  May 14th I will need to start 8 hour run.  I can't wait!

The point is this is:  If you are rapidly increasing the duration or intensity of your training runs I would recommend getting one of "The Sticks" or other similar roller.  But don't limit it's use to you calf.  Roll every muscle in you legs and hips.  It will even work on your shoulders and neck.  If you use a roller after every hard workout you probably not have the problem I had yesterday.  Actually a wine bottle works fine, too.


  1. Totally right. I have been using a foam roller and The Stick, religiously. Both have heavily aided in recovery. I even roll my shins now (thanks for the previous advice) and that seems to help (that, and investing in a pair of good shin sleeves). I look forward to your updates on the Tahoe Rim training!

  2. I also used The Stick but it didn't work on me. I injured my left calf and it was really painful. I became a painkiller dependent (4-5 tabs per day) and I knew that painkillers couldn't help me solve my problems with my leg. I tried different types of therapies and by far, only stem cell therapy worked for me. I had a 3-week treatment session with my ortho surgeon, Dr Grossman, and it went well. Although I experienced swelling and dizziness every after session, the therapy was effective. It's been 2 years now and I never had issues with my calves again. But of course, I am more careful in choosing which running shoes to wear and I don't buy online anymore. I normally go to shoe store to find a perfectly fitted pair. :)

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